This post originally appeared on The Culture Vulture blog.
Everyone has an opinion on what the best restaurant in their local area is. I’m sure that we’ve all passed on a glowing recommendation for the ‘best Italian restaurant’, extolled the virtues of the ‘best Indian restaurant’, or enthusiastically tweeted about the ‘best Chinese restaurant catering for small children in a square mile of Roundhay Park’. Ok, that last one may be a step too far, but you get the point.
Touted around far too often, ‘best’ can be a problematic description. As @philkirby eloquently put in his recent article ‘Why would anyone say that Leeds was the “best city”?’, best can be a divisive term that can aggravate anyone whose idea of ‘best’ differs from the one proffered. It’s also a highly subjective term, which in turn makes it a highly contested term which can have no crowned winner. How can one restaurant be termed ‘the best’ when there are so many restaurants sharing the same glowing accolades from their customers?
So why, you may ask, have I written a post entitled ‘ The best restaurant in Leeds?’?
It may be a problematic term, but ‘best’ is a term that I love. Local recommendations have unlocked many a treasured eating experience for me, and I believe that there’s nothing better than hearing someone talk passionately about the best restaurant in their home town, the best wine bar they encountered in Tuscany or the best street food that they discovered in Vietnam. Yes, ‘best’ can become meaningless, but its mere inclusion in a sentence is enough to pique my interest and incite me to find out why a restaurant deserves such a badge of honour.
So I’m going to tell you about the restaurant that I think is the best in Leeds. Five and a half miles outside the city centre, lies the little village of Rodley. Burrowed in a valley through which the Leeds-Liverpool canal runs, it’s a passing-through village for many, close to the snarling ring road and in spitting distance of the Leeds-Bradford airport. But it hides many charming secrets, the ‘best’ of which is slowly being let out of the proverbial bag. Ephesus.
I’ll never forget my first meal at Ephesus. It was the Summer of 2012, I’d not long moved to Rodley and had been intrigued by this tiny little bistro just a minute from my house. It’s an unassuming, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of place, with a modest decked exterior overlooking the backed-up traffic that snails its way through Rodley. An unlikely spot for a culinary haven, but intriguing nonetheless. If the name hadn’t already given it away, a scan of the menu confirmed its Turkish roots, one of my very favourite cuisines. With a promising array of veggie options and a great earlybird offer, I needed no more convincing to give it a go and dragged my OH along for dinner.
Upon stepping through the front door, we found ourselves in a small dining room crowded with a smattering of tables. The room is no bigger than many people’s lounges, simply decorated with crimson walls adorned with a select few traditional turkish paintings. A petite kitchen overlooks the dining area, from which the sensational scents of the Mediterranean infiltrated our senses, along with strange but endearing incarnations of pop songs treated to an Arabian makeover.
As we bemusedly absorbed our surroundings, a friendly waiter greeted us and showed us to our seats, arming us with menus. We quickly ordered, and didn’t wait long before our food arrived. And that was that, the beginnings of my love affair with Ephesus.
It may be small and modestly decorated, but Ephesus really knows its food. Run by talented Turkish chefs, Ephesus focuses on simple Turkish classics cooked to perfection. Mere recollection of the menu induces seismic waves of desire to rumble in my stomach, and I genuinely crave its food on a daily basis.
An even bigger plus point for me is its vegetarian credentials. The menu reads like a vegetarian dream, with no less than 21 vegetarian options. Yes, I’ve counted. Carnivorous folk need not worry either, as the menu is overflowing with meat and seafood dishes, which I’ve been informed are pretty sensational. Its array of hot and cold starters are perfect for when you want to get your mezze on, or as us Yorkshire folk call it, fuddle. It also does a cracking deal of two courses for a mere £11.99, and there’s even 30% off if you fancy taking it away to enjoy in your PJs, which I do more often than I should really admit…
Although I’ve tried almost every single veggie item on the menu and never experienced anything less than sensational, there are some dishes that I can’t resist returning to again. And again. And again. The Hummus, often overlooked when dining out, is the very best I have ever tasted. There it is, that word again. A rich and creamy whir of chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini and parsley, it positively zings with the addition of a not-so-secret bunch of weapons – jalapenos. Served with freshly-baked turkish bread, it’s a ravishing twist on an old faithful.
Accompanying the Hummus, and every single dish on the menu, are two freshly made Turkish classic dips – Cacik and Ezme. The Cacik is a velvety yoghurt infused with herbs (often parsley and dill), lemon and garlic, which tempers the more spicy dishes on Ephesus’s menu. The Ezme is a dip predominantly made of crushed tomatoes, parsley, chilies (and their seeds), and complements every dish on the menu exquisitely.
Onto the mains. Out of a surprisingly varied range of vegetarian options, I struggle to resist the allure of the Roasted Vegetables. It may sound simple, but simplicity, when done well, can be nothing short of divine. Mediterranean staples such as aubergines and courgettes are roasted in a luscious blend of spices and olive oil, which reduces them to soft, melt-in-the-mouth morsels of magic. These vegetables are then drizzled with a creamy yoghurt streaked with paprika and copious amounts of garlic, and served with a generous pile of nutty bulgur rice. Words or pictures will never do justice to this most opulent of dishes, and all I can do is urge you to try for yourself.
Since moving to Rodley, Ephesus has become a regular ritual. I’ve introduced many friends to its celestial delights, treated my mum for a slap-up mother’s day feast that she’s since raved about, and I’ll be celebrating my birthday there in a few weeks. And of course, there’s the all-too-frequent takeaways pictured above, that last for days due to Ephesus’s generous portions.
We’re definitely not the only ones to fall under the Ephesus spell. I walk past Ephesus every day, and although this requires the utmost strength in resisting its charms, there are few who manage. Ephesus is always packed. This is not only a testament to the fantastic food, but the warm reception you always receive at Ephesus, whether you’re eating in or taking away. It’s not fancy fine dining, but honest Turkish food, from the heart, served by chefs and waiters who really care. It’s this blend of factors that means Ephesus is crowned as the best restaurant in Leeds in my eyes, and I’m sure in the eyes of many others too.
Leeds is a city blessed with many amazing local independent restaurants, and I’m sure that residents of other neighbourhoods will have their own opinions on what the ‘best restaurant in Leeds’ is. And that’s great. Every neighbourhood deserves an Ephesus.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think is the ‘best restaurant in Leeds’?