Nell’s Ultimate Guide to Eating Out in Leeds Post-Lockdown
8th August 2020
Nell, owner and tour guide at Leeds Food Tours, tells you what to expect while dining out in Leeds as lockdown restrictions begin to lift…
Pubs and restaurants may have been open again for a few weeks now, but that doesn’t mean that everything is back to normal. I know there’s still a lot of nervousness when it comes to going out for food and drinking, especially in a city centre environment.
And that’s absolutely fine! It’s normal to feel nervous, and there’s no pressure to venture out before you’re ready. In fact, most restaurants are still doing takeaways and home cooking kits for anyone who would prefer to stay at home.
LIVIN’Italy have just this week launched their twice baked, cook-at-home pizzas, Eat Your Greens are still doing their ‘heat your greens’ meals, and The Swine That Dines are still offering their ‘Swine at Home’ three course meals to reheat at home.
But if you’re ready to get back out and about, this post is here to tell you what it’s like to dine out in Leeds in this post-lockdown era. I’ve not had the chance to experience everywhere that I would like to, so I’m sure there are plenty more restaurants that are doing an excellent job of keeping the people of Leeds safe and well fed.
What’s it Like to Eat Out in Leeds Now?
The first weekend in particular felt a little odd, as staff and customers were trying to get used to a new way of working, you could see that everyone was a little unsure and even nervous.
Guidelines were adhered to everywhere, but there seemed to be a split between venues that felt more focused on cleanliness and staying Covid-secure, and venues that were focused on making sure customers felt relaxed and could take some time away from thinking about Covid to enjoy their meal.
As time has gone on, things have evened out. The one-way systems are still in place, but the signs and floor stickers aren’t as overbearing. There are still hand sanitiser stations at doors and often bottles of sanitiser on tables, but it’s just part of the routine now.
Staff are mindful of safety measures and work hard to ensure safety, but it’s now second nature and hardly noticeable. People are happy to adhere to the rules whilst dining out, and it’s really no big deal, even when you have to give your name and phone number on arrival.
Now that we’ve reached August and the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme has begun, there’s a lovely atmosphere in Leeds, and restaurants are buzzing! Tables of people enjoying food and drink outside of venues has given the city a European feel, and even Call Lane feels like a sophisticated, café-culture location.
(Wapentake – credit Nell, Leeds Food Tours)
Where to Eat in Leeds in the ‘New Normal’
La Casita, home to authentic Spanish tapas created using fine Yorkshire ingredients, was the first venue that I set foot in when pubs and restaurants re-opened… I was there at 11.57am on 4th July, waiting for the doors to open at midday!
They phoned the day before to confirm my booking, run over their safety policies and ask if I had any questions or concerns, which was hugely helpful in putting me at ease. It may just have been because it was the first weekend, but it was appreciated, nonetheless.
As La Casita is a small restaurant and the tables were spaced at two metres, it felt empty at first and I wasn’t sure that they would be able to create much of an atmosphere. However, as soon as the tables began to fill up, everything felt pretty natural.
Staff weren’t wearing masks, but you could ask them to do so if you wanted. They kept their distance and were constantly sanitising their hands, but subtly so that you weren’t constantly reminded of the situation.
Each table has a QR code on it, allowing you to order food from your phone and reduce contact between staff and customers. However, if you preferred to order in the normal way, that was fine too.
Dining at Stuzzi is always a wonderful experience, and it’s no different now. There are less tables, but it’s a large enough space that it’s not really noticeable, menus are disposable and there is a one-way system which makes finding the toilets a bit of a journey!
The staff wear face coverings but not visors. Wine is an important part of the dining experience at Stuzzi, and I was impressed that our waiter was still able to smell the wine cork through their mask!
The relaxing environment and attentive yet calm staff offered the perfect environment to immerse myself in enjoying spectacular Italian small plates such as beetroot arancini, deep fried pigs head terrine, and the most flavour-packed meatballs I’ve ever tasted.
Just a couple of doors down from La Casita in Granary Wharf is LIVIN’Italy, home to (in my opinion) the best pizza in Leeds. I had lunch here with a couple of friends, and never would have known that there was an ongoing global pandemic.
There was space between the tables and staff were wearing masks, but there weren’t disposable menus (I think they are all wipe-down though) or arrow stickers on the floor. Social distancing is quite difficult here because of the narrow staircase, but I still felt safe and relaxed, and devoured my pizza.
(LIVIN’Italy – credit Robert Norbury)
Blue Sakura are a little different in that they have a temperature scanner at the door, and you won’t be allowed in if you have a high temperature. All you do is tap your wrist against the scanner and it takes just a second, so it’s nothing intimidating.
As Blue Sakura is a spacious restaurant anyway, it could pretty much operate as normal. Other than the temperature scanner and staff wearing masks, it didn’t feel any different to visiting pre-lockdown.
I’ll add in here that Blue Sakura is my favourite restaurant in Leeds, so I was extra glad that the ‘new normal’ here was a positive experience. If you like sushi and haven’t been, make sure that changes as soon as possible!
Power Corruption & Lies
I hadn’t been to Power Corruption & Lies, a pan-Asian small plate restaurant on Call Lane, until this week, so it’s hard to compare now to then. When you enter there is a sheet of rules, including things like paying by card only and not entering if you have symptoms. There is also signage in the toilets to make sure that you social distance and don’t loiter in front of the mirrors.
Other than that, and a couple of tables roped off to ensure suitable distance, it felt completely normal. Staff weren’t wearing masks, but personally this didn’t worry me. The food was excellent and much more filling than I imagined it would be, considering its quite the trendy venue!
Matt Healy X The Foundry
I visited Matt Healy X The Foundry on the first weekend of re-opening, and the staff were rushed off their feet! However, they still went out of their way to make sure that everyone was well looked after.
There were probably half the number of tables that there were prior to lockdown, but the restaurant still felt busy enough to have an atmosphere. Again staff weren’t wearing masks, but they made an effort to step away from tables as soon as food had been served. There was also hand sanitiser on every table!
You’ll find one of the best Sunday roasts in Leeds at this restaurant, at a very reasonable price for the quality too.
(Matt Healy x The Foundry – credit Will Stanley)
Wapentake took a little more time to reopen than other venues due to their layout, making it more difficult to ensure social distancing. But they’ve moved their tables around and opened up their lovely courtyard to make sure there is space for everyone.
Wapentake are all about creating a little piece of Yorkshire and celebrating local life. In fitting with this, they have signs placed around the venue requesting that you use hand sanitiser and keep a distance, all written in Yorkshire dialect. I absolutely loved this, as it put a light-hearted spin on the situation without taking away from the seriousness of the guidelines.
The staff were as friendly and caring as always, and the food was as hearty and delicious as it should be.
The White Swan
The White Swan are one of the few places that still are bringing drinks over on a tray and asking you to pick them up off the tray yourself. In the first couple of weeks this seemed to be a requirement everywhere, but over time it appears to have been forgotten. There were also one-way stickers on the floor and the tables were nicely spaced out.
Staff didn’t wear masks, but they did keep their distance as much as possible. It felt great to be back in a pub and enjoy pub grub, perfect pints and friendly service.
(The White Swan – credit Nell, Leeds Food Tours)
I hope this has given you some reassurance if you’re wanting to start dining out in Leeds again. As strange as it is seeing waiters wearing masks, you soon get used to it and I promise you’ll feel at ease once you get settled at your table.
Nell owns and runs Leeds Food Tours. Leeds Food Tours champions independent eateries and local suppliers and aims to show you a good time by feeding you a tonne of tasty food whilst sharing a knowledge of Leeds’ culinary scene, along with some of the history of food & drink in Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond.