I can’t lie, health conscious food is not something I usually look for when I’m dining out. Meals out are generally a treat, something I don’t eat at home and, let’s face it, preferably something fried. I know I know, that’s not the right attitude. But sadly, a carb lover never changes her spots. However, being a diabetic, my choices are often limited, so I appreciate that something of a food haven exists for those with dietary requirements, and that a diet-savvy alternative is there for those who want to dine out without fearing the calorie intake.
About two weeks ago I had lunch at Filmore & Union in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds City Centre. It’s kind of an odd spot. A cluster of tables sectioned off in the middle of a shopping centre, albeit a beautiful and upmarket one, the design of the place is modern and rustic. It’s gorgeous but it’s not an obvious lunch choice, especially on such a cold and blustery day in January. Arriving with hands bundled in pockets, I was pleased to see patio heaters belting out waves of warmth, with an army of fluffy throws on the backs of chairs, perfect for covering chilly knees. Obviously this kind of venue will flourish in the summer, but I snuggled up and within 5 minutes I’d already forgotten the draft. The environment was relaxed, some customers sipping on tea, others tucking in for 2 courses. The restaurant manages to be airy, open and light but without being loud. Holding a conversation across a table was easy, unlike a lot of shopping centre eateries, and the presence of other diners and wait staff was unobtrusive.
We started with juices. Just the menu itself is a pretty good read, packed full of seasonal information and health tips plus information on the brand’s philosophy. Eat Clean, Eat Pure is the idea. To your smoothie or juice, you can add loads of healthy boosters including chia seeds, echinacea and vanilla whey protein powder, depending on what you’re in the market for. I opted for the Joluxe Immune Booster (£3.75) juice. It’s made up of blended yellow pepper, carrot, ginger and orange. I topped it off with an Aloe Vera shot (£2) for an added kick up the immune system’s backside. Aloe Vera is a super healer, they say, great for digestion.
Now I’m not big on fruit, I’m a naturally savoury person, so I was interested in trying something vegetable heavy. The juice was zingy, tangy, it seriously sang inside my mouth. I genuinely felt shaken up after I drank it, more alert and productive for the few hours that followed. Plus it left none of the sticky aftertaste I dislike from packaged juices. The best thing about it was purely how orange it was, a great change from the dull greens and browns I usually associate with juices and smoothies. Lauren’s smoothie, Super Antioxidant (£4.95) was packed with strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, apple, mint leaves and coconut water. Jen went for the Raw Choco Fix (also £4.95), made from almond milk, raw cacao, raw cashews, banana and agave syrup. It was weirdly chocolate bar like, but with none of the sickly, cloying characteristics. Healthy and indulgent at the same time! None of the three drinks we tried were overly sweet or filling, which contrasts with the juice bar experiences I’ve had before. They felt clean, simple and fresh.
For my main I went for an Open Steak Bagel with Sweet Onions, Tomato Salsa and Tzatziki (£12.95). The steak was cooked perfectly, pink in the middle and with a charred crust. There was barely a chew to it and loads of fresh, juicy crunch from the salsa. I was pleased with the generous portions, wrongly thinking eating healthy meant eating small, the bagel came piled high. On the whole, I enjoyed it, my only criticism is that the dish was a little sweet. The sweet potato and caraway chips promised a bit of spice but I couldn’t taste the caraway and I didn’t really think they were necessary, they left a sweet aftertaste I could’ve done without, with no crunch or heat to balance them. The salsa, onions and tzatziki were all very good, but without something spicy or sharp to cut through it the bagel fell just short of full marks. I’d have preferred it with a small side salad or slaw, and maybe a slick of wholegrain mustard on its lid. My second choice would’ve been what Lauren ate, the Asian Smoked Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes (£10.95). Again a generous portion, two round fishcakes sat atop curly kale and orange segments, with pomegranates and almonds dotted in. The dish was an absolute beauty.
The ingredients in all our mains were clearly so fresh, their colours jumped off the white background. Obviously nothing had been sitting around, there wasn’t a wilted leaf or past-best vegetable in sight. They looked, shock horror, like they’d been pulled right from the ground. Imagine that! The 100% Fresh, 100% Natural produce is a huge part of what Filmore & Union are offering and for me that’s a massive plus. They make a point to source their ingredients from the local area, so there’s every chance your lunch has come from ground to plate within hours.
We finished off with dessert, of course. I have never seen so many beautiful but virtuous looking cakes in one place at one time. The counter was overflowing with platters and cake stands offering everything from a gluten free lemon & polenta cake to a vegan chocolate and blackberry cake. It looked good. Like, the kind of good where there’s absolutely no guilt to come from ordering a pudding. It feels like it’s actually the right thing to do. The whole menu obviously caters fantastically for those with dietary requirements and the cakes really don’t disappoint, with more range than I’ve ever seen before. I opted for a Banana, Oat and Flaxseed Muffin (£3.75). There are a lot of oats in my diet for their low GI credentials (again, the diabetic thing), keeping blood sugars level without the peaks and troughs that simple carbs can bring, something that the whole F&U menu boasts. The muffin was a good way to round off the meal, it was fluffy, and came with a deep, nutty texture you don’t find in mass-products desserts in chain coffee shops and cafes. I loved it and I will go back for it again, maybe to take out for breakfast on my way to work. The other desserts our table ordered looked scrumptious, without fail. Even the giant Granola Bar (£3.95) got me salivating. It was so interesting to see a sweet menu really come alive with unusual ingredients, not a nasty in sight. Plus, every dessert comes with a little pot of natural yoghurt and a few berries. A lovely little touch, as if your halo could shine any brighter.
It was lovely to go back to work without the hangover from a too-large lunch. So many times I’ve come a cropper to grabbing something too heavy in my lunch hour, giving me a headache and having me snoozing at my desk all afternoon long, to-do list forgotten. It’s good to know that you can eat a great meal and leave with a spring in your step, without the threat of the inevitable sugar come down. I’d really recommend Filmore & Union to those looking for not just low cal or carb, but a nourishing, nutritious option for lunchtimes, breakfasts or early evenings. For me, it’s probably best as a brunch spot. They have a great bagel menu, plus muesli, porridge, granola and more. They have a good range of teas and organic coffees, and I’ve already waxed lyrical about the healing power of the juices. It’s also an ideal fit for its environment. The Victoria Quarter is beautiful, with a huge sky light, amazing architecture and luxury stores. F&U is a great pitstop to rest your aching feet, or a great place to drop off anyone who’s holding you back. Got a husband dragging his feet? A nagging teenager? Leave them here, there’s free wifi. The prices are, I think, slightly high. So just bear that in mind when you’re adding extra shots to your smoothie.
I think it’s also important to add that the staff were incredibly knowledgeable about the menu. They answered all our questions, made some great recommendations and really had me feeling like I was in safe hands. If you’re gluten free or vegan, lactose intolerant or allergic to anything, you can really put your confidence in this lot and you won’t leave unhappy.
If you eat clean or you’re trying to be good, you’re going to love this place. If you’re partial to a chicken nugget… maybe not, but give it a go, it might change your life! I haven’t been converted, I’m afraid I’m too devoted to burgers, but I am interested in trying more. Open to eat in and take out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 8am-7pm, Thursday 8am – 8pm, Sunday 9am-6pm.
Disclaimer: The Victoria Quarter invited me down to try Filmore & Union free of charge. That has had no effect whatsoever on my opinion. All honesty here, friends.