“If music be the food of love…” 

I love live music, I love eating out, and I love spending time with my friends, so I’m pretty excited about my birthday as I’ll be doing all these things in one evening.

I’m going out for a meal with my friend Emily before watching a band at the Howard Assembly Room (one of my favourite Leeds venues). We’re off to see Orchestra Baobab, an African band formed in the 70s “playing multi-lingual, multi-ethnic music with a strong Cuban flavour.”

The only thing better than a night out with food and music is a themed night out with food and music, so we’re going to head somewhere beforehand to get us into the mood for some Cuban beats – probably a tasty meal with some rum cocktails at Revolucion de Cuba.

Cocktails at Revolucion de Cuba

This got me thinking about other themed nights you could have involving world music and matching cuisine. There are loads of events coming up at the Howard Assembly Room that sound pretty cool, so I’ve come up with some suggestions for some ‘themed’ evenings. I’ve not been too precise with the regions as it’s quite hard to match the exact countries with restaurants in Leeds, so in some instances I’ve gone for places which will give a general flavour!

  • Germany – 19 January
    Music: Anne Schwanewilms and Malcolm Martineau. “Praised by the New York Times for her ‘vocal refinement’ and ‘pliant lyricism’, Anne Schwanewilms ranks among today’s finest lyric sopranos… In partnership with pianist Malcolm Martineau she showcases her soaring, crystalline voice with a compellingly beautiful and varied programme of Strauss and Wolf songs.”
    Food and drink: The Bierkeller (Headrow). A favourite with stag and hen parties, this can get pretty lively later on, but is a little quieter earlier in the evening. You can actually get “Bavarian inspired” food  (mainly bratwurst!) from here, as well as steins full of beer. If you plan ahead, you can buy some Germanic biscuits from Bloom Bakers – a home bakery in North Leeds – to enjoy for desert.
  • New York – 27 January
    Music: Douglas – Ribot – Ibarra: New Sanctuary. “New Sanctuary brings together three of New York’s most protean improvisers: Dave Douglas on trumpet, Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, John Zorn) on guitar and Susie Ibarra on drums and electronics. The group plays an energetic and lyrical new composition by the relentlessly inventive Douglas, improvising with new sounds and approaches.”
    Food and drink: Manahatta (Merrion Street). “Bringing a taste of New York to downtown Leeds”, Manahatta serves both food and cocktails in a funky ‘Big Apple’ bar. Better still, they have a 50% off food offer in January when you pre-book.

    New Sanctuary

  • Nordic – 3 March.
    Music: múm. “Playful electronica, ambient sounds, experimental indie pop: the prolific and globally fêted Icelandic band múm has never fit into conventional categories. Fresh from a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, the founding members of múm… perform an improvised live score to People on Sunday, a masterpiece of silent film.” The film is actually about Berlin, so maybe you could combine your evening with the Bierkeller!
    Food and drink: Stories Cafe (Roundhay Road). Stories Cafe closes at 5pm so it’s a place for lunch rather than dinner. It’s an independent cafe “inspired by Scandinavian design and nordic cuisine”. I’ve not been before but as two of its suppliers are North Star coffee roasters and Noisette Bakehouse, I trust that it’s good! It’s breaking my Leeds barrier, but there’s also Norse in Harrogate which I’ve heard very good things about.
  • Britain – 6 March
    Music: Bill Laurance. “Bill Laurance is a British pianist and composer; a world-renowned multi instrumentalist, composer and producer dubbed a ‘jazz maestro’ by The Guardian.”
    Food and drink: There are plenty of British restaurants in Leeds but Crafthouse came up on top when I did a Google search! Known for its excellent steak, Crafthouse is somewhere I’ve been meaning to go to forever after hearing friends regularly mention it. Or there’s always fish and chips of course at Nash’s Fish & Chip Restaurant just around the corner from Leeds Grand on Merrion Street.
    For drinks, the first place that sprung to mind was The Adelphi on Hunslet Road. Again, there are plenty of British places to go for drinks in Leeds, but the Adelphi has a very British pub feel to it. It’s also are one of the few places that serve my new(ish) favourite non-alcoholic drinks – those Cawston Press cans. (Try the Rhubarb one – it’s delicious.) If you enjoy Bill Laurance and fancy some more jazz, there are plenty of bars in Leeds where you can listen to some jazz with a drink throughout the week (check out Leeds-List for some suggestions.)

    Bill Laurance

  • France – 23 March
    Music: Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe. “Four hands, one piano. Long term collaborators Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe draw out the orchestral qualities of the piano to the full, in this joy-filled programme of Classical and Late Romantic music.” Okay, so I’ve cheated a bit here. This concert features pieces by composers from around the world, but as Ravel and Debussy are on the billing, I’m going to lean towards a French theme.
    Food and drink: Sous Le Nez (Quebec Street). I’m more of a street food fan nowadays and am quite happy to eat off a paper plate rather than in a fancy restaurant, but if given the choice to “go somewhere nice” for a special occasion, Sous Le Nez is always a strong contender. They do classic meat, veg and wine very well. It sounds like such a small thing, but the vegetables are always served piping hot here and are so delicious. C’est magnifique!
  • India – 25 March
    Music: Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali. “Rizwan-Muazzam is a Qawwali group headed by the internationally acclaimed Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s nephews, Rizwan and Muazzam… They sing in Farsi (Persian), Punjabi, and Urdu with an intensity that has led one commentator to call them, only half in jest, ‘the Qawwali Clash’.”
    Food and drink: Bundobust (Mill Hill). I’m sure there are plenty of excellent places to eat South Asian food in Leeds, but Bundobust is by far my favourite. I’ve already raved about how excellent it is, but my view still stands.
  • Africa – 7 April
    Music: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. “Formed in refugee camps, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have risen from the ashes of civil war and destruction to create their glowing brand of Afro-pop inflected with baskeda (Sierra Leonian reggae) and defined by a jubilant spirit of resistance. After a decade-long adventure that has taken them from the squalor of the camps to the world’s biggest stages, this most inspirational band has evolved to become one of Africa’s most recognised.”
    Food and drink: Cafe Moor (Kirkgate Market). Cafe Moor serves North African and Middle Eastern street food. It’s only open until 5pm so you’ll have to go for lunch or an early tea. Serving fresh and flavoursome food, this is a favourite with Leeds workers on their lunch breaks. This would be another good place to go if you’re seeing Orchestra Baobab.

It’s worth keeping an eye on what new street food vans are in Trinity Kitchen as well as they have new vendors often offering international dishes every six weeks.

If you fancy going for a drink after your concert, North Bar is just a few doors down and you can get 10% off when you show your Howard Assembly Room ticket. With “imported beers from the continent and the US” you can get a taste of the world one drink at a time, without having to leave the city centre.

Let me know if there’s anywhere I’ve missed out – I’d love to discover some new international restaurants.


(All artist descriptions and images have been taken from the Opera North website and used with permission.)