This year, to coincide with Heritage Open Days 2021, the Local and Family History Library have created an Edible Leeds Trail. The trail highlights past and present areas of the city centre connected to the food and drink industry and can be followed in order as a 45 minute walk.
1. Leeds Town Hall
The Town Hall has been the site of many famous banquets, including its own opening gala on 7 September 1858. Queen Victoria herself was the guest of honour at the Town Hall’s celebration, enjoying a sumptuous feast catered by Godfrey Wood and including dishes such as Potage de Tortue, Cuisse de boeuf, Remolade Italienne, Jambon de York, Gelee a la Dantzig and Eigenbatin Torte. Later, during World War II, the Town Hall was home to the Civic Restaurant, opened in 1942 as a communal wartime feeding centre. After the War, the venue became a ‘proper’ restaurant in 1959, known as Ye Old English Dining Room, before closing in 1966.
2. Yorkshire School of Cookery, Cookridge Street (approximate)
The Yorkshire Ladies’ Council of Education was established in 1871 with the primary aim of supporting women’s education. In 1873 a special meeting of the Council was held to assess the desirability of a programme of cookery lectures for working women around Yorkshire; the first such School of Cookery being launched in Leeds on 10 February 1874, in temporary accommodation on Cookridge Street. The first class was oversubscribed by at least 100 women. So successful were the classes that permanent accommodation was found on Albion Street in 1875; the School continuing under different names for almost a century, until merging with Leeds Polytechnic in 1966.
3. Da Mario’s, The Headrow
While not the first modern Italian restaurant in Leeds city centre – a branch of Soho’s La Trattoria Terrazza opened on Greek Street in the early 1970s – Da Mario’s was perhaps the most well-known; a Leeds institution serving-up pizza and pasta dishes for over forty years since its opening in the mid-1970s. Sadly, the much-loved restaurant closed sometime during 2020-2021.
4. Schofield’s Café, The Headrow
Former site of Snowden Schofield’s famous department store, which included the Old English Café, based in the King’s Chamber of the 17th-century Red Hall – purchased by Schofield in 1913 and incorporated into his growing shopping complex. While the café and restaurant are both fondly-remembered, the site truly earns its place in local history by being – reputedly – the site of the first Espresso coffee bar in Leeds, opening in September of 1954.
5. Youngman’s Fish and Chip restaurant, New Briggate
Gerald Priestland famously called Leeds “the intellectual capital of fish and chips” – and he had a point, with the town’s love of the dish developing so rapidly after the arrival of the first fish and chip shop around 1881 that there were said to be around 800 such shops across the city by 1909. Probably the most well-known in the city centre was Youngman’s, named for proprietor Henry Robert Youngman, who moved to Leeds in the 1880s and entered the fish and chip trade soon after. Beginning in Hunslet, Youngman moving to increasingly larger premises, culminating in the opening of his New Briggate venue in 1928. With seating for 150 patrons, Youngman’s was described by one American visitor as “the most up-to date and efficient of its kind.”
6. North Bar, New Briggate
Established in July 1997, North Bar can lay claim to being the country’s first craft beer bar, even if owners John Gyngell and Christian Townsley didn’t intend anything more than opening “somewhere ace to drink” at a time Leeds sorely needed it. An expanded drinks list soon began incorporating increasing numbers of imported beers, with the first draught Erdinger, Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Lager in the UK all being poured at North Bar. The venue retains its reputation for excellence today, sitting at the heart of a larger business that encompasses five sister venues around Leeds, as well as the spin-off North Brewing brewery, which itself includes two bars of its own.
7. Duchess of York, Vicar Lane (Hugo Boss store)
While better known for hosting live music in the 1980s and 1990s – playing host to legendary names like Nirvana and Radiohead – the much-missed Duchess of York pub does have some interesting culinary associations, alongside gig-goer memories of the spilt, sticky lager covering the venue’s floor: when Miranda McMullen was hired to run the pub in 1995 she transformed its dingy interior, introducing “hot food, with vegetarian options” at a time Leeds was short of at least the latter; earlier, in 1993, Oasis had performed at the Duchess in front of just two people – both reportedly more focused on their kebabs than the soon-to-be infamous band.
8. The Man Behind the Curtain, Vicar Lane
Opening in 2014, The Man Behind the Curtain is currently Leeds city centre’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, earning one star in 2015 and retaining it ever since. The Man Behind the Curtain follows in the footsteps of three other city centre restaurants, all awarded one star, though now all closed: Poole Court on The Calls (1995-2005), Rascasse on Water Lane (1997-2000) and Guellar (2002). The current Michelin guide also awards eight other city centre restaurants its Michelin plate, an indication of ‘good food’.
9. Kirkgate Market
The home of Leeds’ fruit and vegetable market since its move from Briggate in 1822. Initially an open-air market before a handsome glass and cast iron building was erected in 1857. Further development came in 1875, when an extensive row of shops was added to the back of the market hall and, in 1904, the Victorian market hall was replaced by the Leeds City Market Hall. Today, as well as the traditional fruit and veg sellers, the market complex is also home to a street food hall – including such local legends as Manjit’s Kitchen. Manjit’s started as a Twitter-run home delivery service in 2010, branching out to a mobile van at local events, before a move to a permanent home in Kirkgate in 2016. Their vegetarian Punjabi street food continues to win plaudits around Leeds – and beyond.
10. Collinsons Café, King Edward Street (Jigsaw store)
Popular city centre café, part of a small chain which included namesake venues on Wellington Street and Albion Street; all owned and managed by Halifax coffee merchants. The King Edward Street branch opened around 1907 and remained a popular spot for Leeds folk for the next sixty years. It’s most famous, however, for its poignant link to the tragedy befalling the RMS Titanic in 1912: Wallace Hartley, the bandleader of the passenger liner at the time of its sinking, was a regular performer at the King Edward Street café – when his body was recovered a silver matchbox was found in his pocket, engraved with the message ‘From Collinson’s Staff, Leeds.’
11. King Edward restaurant, King Edward Street
Called “the last word in style” by Donald Tate in his 1988 book A History of Cafes and Restaurants in Leeds, this city centre restaurant was designed by influential architect Frank Matcham, the nationally renowned theatre designer (including the Empire Theatre in Leeds). In 1904 the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Robert Armitage, said the King Edward was “the finest building he had seen in the course of his life”, befitting its reputation of being the handsomest grill room in the United Kingdom.
12. The Market, Briggate
The story of the markets in Leeds begins in 1207, when Maurice Paynell, the Lord of the Manor, granted the first Leeds borough charter. The heart of the new borough was to be a broad street, deliberately designed to be a market place, situated close to the places where goods were manufactured. The markets ran from Leeds bridge to the top of Briggate, and included stalls for fruit, vegetables, corn and meat. Briggate remained the home of these food markets until the 1820s, when the markets were moved to several newly-built sites, including the covered market on Vicar’s Croft (where Kirkgate Market is today); the Bazaar between Briggate and Vicar Lane; the Central Market on Duncan Street; and the South Market in Meadow Lane.
13. Bull and Mouth Coaching Inn, Briggate
One of many coaching inns in Leeds town centre during the 18th and 19th-centuries. The Bull and Mouth was in operation as a coaching inn by 1800 and was known as one of the great town bases for heavy luggage waggons, with cellar stables accommodating thirty horses. The Inn was also home during the 19th-century to John Wright’s Dining Room, offering the classic businessman’s lunch for commercial travellers: roast and boiled meats, vegetables, squares of Yorkshire pudding and fruit pie or pudding for dessert.
14. F.W. Woolworths, Briggate
The Leeds branch of the U.S.-based F.W. Woolworth Company opened on the Headrow in 1913. The store moved to a new, enlarged Briggate site in 1928 – bringing with it the first self-service restaurant in the town, with seating for 500 customers.
15. McDonald’s, corner of Duncan Street and Briggate
So familiar today as to seem unremarkable, but this branch of McDonald’s has an interesting history: not just the first branch of the popular fast-food burger franchise in Leeds, but the first in all of Yorkshire. First opened in 1985 and initially managed by George Michniewicz, the son of Polish migrants who had fled their native country to escape the Soviet Union’s oppressive regime. Michniewicz is now the head of a McDonald’s empire consisting of 14 restaurants across East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire with a combined turnover of £54m a year.
16. William Buck, Briggate
William Buck’s was a well-known grocer, coffee roaster and importer of foreign fruits, based at 51 Briggate, and operating from the 1830s to 1922 (later as Buck & Jackson and then as William Green and Sons). The shop mainly sold high class groceries to the middle-classes in the pre-supermarket era. Buck’s could be found immediately to the left of Turk’s Head Yard.
17. The Pack Horse, Pack Horse Yard, off Briggate
All the pubs that can be found down the evocative alleyways off Briggate have fascinating histories. Whitelocks, for instance, has been called “the very heart of Leeds” by John Betjeman. The Pack Horse deserves a special mention, however, for being the oldest pub in Leeds city centre, in operation since 1615 (when it was known as the Nags Head).
18. The Bread Arch, Commercial Street
On October 5 1894 the people of Leeds were amazed by the sight of a literal ‘bread arch’ installed across the Briggate end of Commercial Street. The arch was built to welcome the Duke of York, later King George V, and his wife Mary, Duchess of York, on their visit to Leeds to open the Medical School and Library at Yorkshire College, later the University of Leeds. The bread arch was created by a partnership with the Mitre proprietor Henry Child, architect Thomas Winn, and baker W. Morris, who baked 1500 loaves which were then placed on an iron and wooden frame. The arch was dismantled the following day, and the bread distributed to the poor.
19. Mitre Hotel, Commercial Street
The Mitre Hotel was located at 46 Commercial Street, near the junction with Briggate. Previously known as the Horse and Jockey, it was bought in 1888 by Henry Child who rebuilt it as The Mitre, earning the pub a reputation as the nearest Leeds equivalent to a London chop-house. There were several alterations between 1888 and 1907, including the bar moving to the basement, accessed by steps at street level. The discreet, below-street location made it a popular evening meeting place for gay men in the 1950s. Privacy was enhanced by ornate booths where lunches were sold to business clientele during the day.
20. Leeds Coffee House, Boar Lane
Coffee and cocoa houses were increasingly popular in Leeds during the 19th-century, with their popularity peaking around the 1880s. These establishments – between a smaller café and the larger hotels or inns – served food as well as drinks. One well-known venue in its time was the Leeds Coffee House where, from the 1840s, businessmen could dine on chops, full dinners, coffee and beers. Originally known as Philip Clarke’s Leeds Coffee house, it was taken over by Thomas Green in 1849, but sadly demolished in 1867 when Boar Lane was widened. You can read more about coffee in Leeds in a longer article on this blog.
21. White Horse restaurant, Boar Lane
Part of the Fairburn family of five restaurants across Leeds – and probably the best known. The first opened in the 1880s – the Albert in East Parade and the Atheneum in Park Lane – with the White Horse in operation from around 1900. It was still run by a member of the Fairburn family when it closed on February 28 1970.
22. York Café / Kee Hong, Boar Lane
Site of two important Leeds restaurants. Firstly, the York Café, a well-established, long-running vegetarian restaurant in the first half of the 20th-century and, then, from 1958, Kee Hong, Leeds’ city centre’s first Chinese restaurant.
23. Jacomelli’s, Boar Lane
One of the most famous and most fondly-remembered restaurants in Leeds’ whole history, Jacomelli’s brought a touch of continental cooking to the city when it was opened on Boar Lane in 1906. Initially operated by Anthony and Francis Jacomelli, sons of Anthony Jacomelli, an Italian-Swiss restaurateur in London and Bristol, the venue was eventually sold to the Berni Chain in 1967 before the building was demolished in 1973.
24. Powolny’s Restaurant, Bond Street
Adolph Powolny came to Leeds from Saxony in 1857, aged just 18, recruited by local caterer Godfrey Wood on the recommendation of a friend. Trained as an ‘artistic confectioner’ in his homeland, Powolny was an important member of Wood’s team that catered the visit of Queen Victoria to Leeds for the opening of the Town Hall in 1858. Just four years later Adolph opened his own restaurant on Bond Street, which quickly gained a reputation for excellent fine dining across the North – a favourite of visiting royalty and other dignitaries. Adapting to the times, Powolny’s survived into the 20th-century, eventually closing in 1960.
25. Banquet for Gladstone, City Square
High-profile banquets were a major part of the political scene in Leeds during the 19th-century: spectacular, partisan displays of fellowship and patronage – always accompanied by elaborate feasts of formidable gastric excess. Probably the peak of these electoral blowouts was that held by the Liberal party in October 1881, to mark the visit to Leeds of William Gladstone, recently elected as M.P. for Leeds (though he declined the seat). Held within the courtyard of the Coloured (Mixed) Cloth Hall, today’s City Square, the banquet hosted 1,500 attendees in a specially-constructed hall; 28 dishes were prepared, based on Joules Gouffe’s royal cookery book Le Livre de Cuisine (1867).
26. Conservative Pavillion, Park Row
Almost certainly the most extraordinary political banquet ever held in Leeds, the Grand Conservative Festival took place in April 1838 as a partisan celebration of Sir Francis Burdett switching allegiance from Liberal to Tory. Leading architect R.D. Chantrell was commissioned to design a special and magnificent pavilion for the banquet, located on Park Row, with room for almost 1,200 attendees. Incredibly, after hosting a sumptuous dinner on Monday April 16 and a Grand Ball on the following Friday, the entire Pavilion complex – measuring 120 by 80ft – was dismantled and the site cleared: a stunning display of wealth and power.
27. Tiled Hall Café, Central Library & Art Gallery
The Tiled Hall was originally the Central Library Reading Room, and from 1888 to 1955 it functioned as a sculpture court for the new Art Gallery. Later uses included the Library’s Commercial & Technical department; during this time panelled walls and a mezzanine floor obscured the Victorian tile work beneath. The magnificent hall was renovated extensively in 2007, with the help of English Heritage, to reveal the original fabric of the room. The space is now one of the most popular and iconic eateries in the city of Leeds, joining the Library and Art Gallery complexes.