Hidden away in the basement of Northern Quarter cocktail bar Alvarium, you’ll find Black Leaf, the plant-based restaurant that was really making a name for itself before the pandemic hit, and will be looking to kick-start that momentum once again with the help of a brilliant new Head Chef and an exciting new menu.
Kicking things off a couple of weeks back with a small but very impressive Bar Menu upstairs in Alvarium, the creativity of flavours and experimentation on display gave us all a small insight into what to expect from Black Leaf’s new menu.
Head Chef Grace Stubbs made a very impressive first impression there – and she looks to be following it up with something truly special indeed.
Thrown in young at the deep end, Grace’s first ever foray into a kitchen was at her family’s Tea Room in Alderley Edge, an environment that she excelled and thrived in, enjoying the pressure and the creativity and never looking back.
That creativity is something that Grace has enjoyed the most about developing the vegan menu for Black Leaf over the past few months, a process that must be considerably more difficult than meat-based dishes?
“It’s one of the things I find most challenging about the role, but also the most exciting. In developing the menu I used many of the flavours that I’ve experimented with in the past, with the ultimate aim for this to be a great restaurant that just happens to be vegan.”
A look at the menu that Grace has poured over and developed over the last few months and it certainly doesn’t feel vegan AT ALL. You’ll find “butter“, “crème fraiche“, “boiled eggs” and even a “baked camembert” – all big dairy favourites that make you wonder how in the hell she’s managed to re-create them for a vegan diet.
“I really wanted to fuck with people’s heads! Taking a dish or an ingredient that people know isn’t vegan and re-creating for a plant-based diet has certainly been challenging, but I love it when people come down here and ask me how I did it.”
I did exactly that when I took a bite out of the ‘hard-boiled egg’ perched on top of the stunning Spring Ramen Bowl (£12.50), but Grace wasn’t giving anything away. I decided not to bother asking about the Baked Camembert (£6) and the Lemon Meringue Tart (£6) and just enjoy them.
“One of the most important things is that I wanted Black Leaf to be accessible for people who aren’t vegan too”.
And I must say – this new menu really knocks it out of the park. It’s creative, full of flavour and the whole vegan ‘thing’ is secondary to the quality of the dishes themselves. The plant-based restrictions set down on Grace has forced her to be experimental like never before and try new and impressive things with classic dishes.
The Tomato & Tamarind Curry (£12), with a coriander chutney and garlic flatbread is better than anything else you’d find in the city centre, and the Crispy Duck Pancakes (£8) are not just impressive from a technical point of view but they’re also damn tasty indeed.
Similarly, the Fish Tacos (£14.50) are a must-try, and once again show off the experience and deft touch of a truly talented chef. Quite how Grace does it is, again, something best left a secret – just sit down and enjoy every mouthful.
Someone with the confidence to put a Crème Brûlée (£4.50) on the menu at a vegan restaurant deserves a huge pat on the back, and the fact that it’s bloody delicious too – is a true testament to what has been achieved here at this subterranean Northern Quarter eatery.
My only advice would be to get yourself down there as soon as you can – even if you’re not vegan – you’re going to absolutely love it.