The Noise of Strangers Pop-Up Restaurant
Listen to this:
Ya hear that? That’s the noise of strangers.
Okay. Maybe not.
The Noise Of Strangers is a feast for the eyes and the tongue rather than the ears. Revealed to the world via cryptic tweets and images hinting at their location, one you could suss out if your knowledge of Leeds fire hydrants or parking chevrons was sufficient, your knowledge of the menu was limited to the key three or four ingredients of each of the five courses, with no idea how they’d be prepared or presented. Razor Clam, samphire, lemon. Lamb, pea, olive, feta. Quoi? You put your money where your mouth is and trust them to deliver. It makes its popup presale-only debut in an unused retail space down near Leeds Armories, with a beautiful calming view of the river through the would-be shopfront. The night has managed to sell out just by word of mouth, and there’s a nice buzz about the place when we arrive in the early sunny evening of Wednesday 21st May.
Their use of the occupied Unspace nothingness is disarming and charming. Candles and mirrors rest up against the pillars and walls. Huge bare bulbs light the table, scattered sofas and tables offer you comfort. Beautiful negative spaces abound between the makeshift kitchen and equally makeshift bar. You feel like the hero of a story who stumbles on a magic feast, the best he’s ever experienced, but returns to its location the next day to find a ruin clearly abandoned for years. The whole evening had a magical feel as a result.
After a prosecco reception, we took our seats for some bread and butter to get us going. Three butters were on offer: sea salt, parmesan and caramelised (the result of purposeful burning of the butter during cooking to caramelise the natural sugar content). All were fantastic, the latter having a particularly nice sweetness to it. If it’s possible to be excited by butter for what was to come, well, we were.
The first dish proper was the only one I was uncertain of. Seafood and me are hit and miss at the best of times, and I’ve been disappointed by shellfish before. I’m now interested again in trying them out. Nice and citrusy, it wasn’t greasy or oversalty at all. This was melt in your mouth stuff, and the extra sea salt tastefully sprinkled on the fringes was definitely not needed. The presentation was great, and really set the par for what followed.
Smoked duck and gingerbread pain d’epice made up the bulk of the next course, with slivers of apple providing some extra sharpness amongst the flavours. With its mild spicyness neutered by the smooth tasty pate, the gingerbread biscuit element was not very crunchy, but nor did it want to be. Like with the clam, every flavour worked carefully together, and with no clashing textures. Get a fork with every element of the dish Masterchef-style and the meal really comes alive. The whole is greater than the sum of its already great parts.
The riot of colours that was the salmon and beetroot proved as easy on the pallet as it was on the eye. The salmon itself was almost indistinguishable in colour and appearance from the beetroot, which made for a nice surprise when that lovely fish taste comes through in your forkfull. The goats cheese fried in breadcrumbs complemented everything nicely, taking away the sweetness of the beetroot.
I am a big fan of lamb, so after what had come before it I had increasingly high hopes of this course. I was not to be disappointed. While perhaps the least adventurous of the courses in terms of flavour combinations and presentation, it was done to absolute perfection and shows you don’t have to be overfancy to make something awesome. Sweet pea puree coupled with the saltiness of the olives gave a real interesting mixture of flavours. Succulent meat and soft potato just made for one delicious mouthful after another. Not chewy at all, it seemed to dissolve in the mouth in the best way possible.
The dessert was a vanilla pannecota topped with balsamic, soft meringue, strawberries and hidden sprinkles of black pepper. Yeah, that last bit caught me out too. Hidden under the pannecota, the pepper hits you sneakily at the back of the throat with a nice kick that worked wonders with the rest. With a lovely smooth texture, the fruity flavours combined with the pepper kick was divine.
The evening was capped off with a coffee and macaroons. The latter were served in a bunch on a plate to be “shared” with those either side of you. A macaroon free-for-all ensued, with a lot of darting in and out hands and avoiding of eye contact. Nonchalant whistling as you stared off into the distance while hovering a hand over your next choice worked well for me. Having had them at Hepworth’s Delicatessen before, I knew they’d be great.
The coffee deserves a paragraph to itself, if not a whole article. It was a total revelation. A North Star brew served with an information sheet about its origins and preparation (a real nice touch, this), the Rwanda Gashonga as its known was gorgeous. It tasted like no coffee I’ve ever had. Rich cherry taste, plummy and blackcurrant notes and not a hint of bitterness. There’s a reason this was served with no milk or sugar. If I was being disingenuous, I’d sell it as the strongest most flavoursome tea I’ve ever had flavour-wise. But I don’t want to be disingenuous, so I’ll just say if you ever get chance try it. It’s phenomenal. Even my companion who doesn’t enjoy coffee at all drank some without pulling a face. Until we made her have a second sip and the magic was spoilt. But honestly, it’s ace.
I was blown away by this evening. The atmosphere was wonderful, the space relaxing and chilled and the food and drink the best I’ve had in a long time. I will be immediately buying a ticket for the next one as soon as they become available. I’ll just have to keep my eyes peeled for when it is. I may even guess the location right this time.