Intimate, innovative and interesting - Simon Richardson feels like he's at a secret gig
It was a very different Swine that Dines that Leeds Confidential visited back in 2016. Back then, owners Jo and Stuart Myers were rushed off their feet running the popular Greedy Pig during the day, while catering for a growing independent food scene in the evenings. In the end something had to give, and in May the pig hung up its trotters for good, to be replaced by the full-time swine.
The Pig hasn’t been cut up and repurposed as food just yet though. As soon as I walk into the Swine that Dines, I can feel its ghost enveloping me like a warm hug from a loved one. It’s a relaxed, cosy atmosphere that makes you think of your local café, with a familiar counter and table setup and a row of little pigs lined up high on the main wall, watching you from above.
I’ve been here twenty minutes without eating part of an animal and I’ve barely even noticed.
It’s a completely unpretentious setting that is matched by the laid-back, friendly attitude of the owners. Indeed, as I chat to Jo, I feel like I’m being welcomed into the… what’s the collective noun for a group of pigs? A snout? Anyway, there are only a few tables and they’re all full, so it’s a popular club, whatever you choose to call it.
The menu has been made to match the intimacy. Each plate is for sharing, which, as a man with a reputation for being fiercely protective of his food, immediately summons forth a bead of nervous sweat from my brow. I stare my partner down with aggressive determination. It’s ON.
The total price of the main seven-plate menu comes in at an impressive £49.50. If anywhere else offers better value for money, I’m yet to have been, though we do add on the optional sides as a greed buffer.
The first two dishes arrive together, adding a new level of challenge to the eating contest I’ve utterly fabricated in my strange little head. The heritage tomato dish is crunchy and fresh, with any acidity tempered by a creamy, whipped feta – although the advertised chilli doesn’t materialise.
The other opener is a kind of cucumber tempura, which plays a starring role in the evening, ably supported by a cast of pickled ginger and a sweet potato purée that hides a hidden crunch beneath. I’ve been here twenty minutes without eating part of an animal and I’ve barely even noticed.
Next to arrive is a lightly curried leek dish with a taramasalata-like cod roe and some deliciously crunchy samphire. It comes out with the side dish that I’ve been waiting for ever since I saw it on the menu – a melt-in-the-mouth plate of duck ham (£7), whose saltiness is balanced out perfectly by the sweetness of the accompanying kohlrabi and apple. It’s ironically difficult to remember to “savour the flavour” when something is this good.
Once I’ve restrained myself from licking and then eating the plate, there’s another curry-esque dish – this time, it’s green beans with a touch too much cinnamon, although this is balanced out by a whack of fresh coriander. We also get a rich boudin noir, which has the edge taken off with a sweet prune flavour, although the peas don’t add anything.
To finish, a rich rabbit faggot is slightly spoiled by a mismatch of textures with some crunchy fava beans, and some skewered oyster mushrooms with scallions are a delicious, smoky-sweet mix, but slightly overdone in parts. We also tried the cheesy croquettes (£5), which are a smooth, gooey comfort eater’s paradise.
There are a couple of dessert options – a strawberry tart with cream cheese ice cream (£5) and a Yorkshire blue ice cream with poached pear (£5). I was warned that the latter was “not for everyone”. I should have heeded these words; it’s over-powering and I can’t get my head, or mouth, around it. We leave fully sated despite having only spent £75 on eleven dishes (it’s BYO on the booze front).
You can tell that the Swine that Dines has sprung forth from a supper club-type concept. There’s plenty of imagination here, bravery too, in trying new dishes and flavour combinations. But inevitably, with such a frequently changing menu, not every idea is going to work or be refined to its maximum potential.
Still, rather than being a criticism, it's thrilling to join the owners in their culinary experiments, to experience the enthusiasm and some of the magic (they must have some kind of supernatural powers to be able to pull this off with such few staff and space).
They’re hot on sustainability too, with only high-welfare meat used and a regular nose-to-tail menu that uses as much of the animal as possible (doffed caps to Fergus Henderson). They also do a monthly series of vegetarian evenings, 'Roots to Shoots', and their love of vegetarian food is clear to see.
The whole thing feels like going to a small venue to see a band do a secret acoustic set; intimate, interesting and something that you want to share with friends, but also keep to yourself. It's certainly worth the price of admission.
58 North St, Leeds LS2 7PN. Tel: 07477 834227
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Heritage tomato 8, cucumber 9, leek 8, duck ham 9, green beans 6.5, boudin noir 7, mushrooms 7.5, rabbit 7.5, croquettes 8, strawberry tart 7, Yorkshire blue ice cream 3
Not a hint of pretentiousness
Relaxed, cosy and welcoming.