The day job has encroached more than it should have done these past few weeks, as my lovely loyal regular readers will know. As a result, Christmas has been steadily creeping up, almost without my noticing, and certainly without my feeling at all ‘Christmassy’. However, this weekend my daughter-in-law came to stay and we decided to celebrate by visiting Brasserie Forty 4, otherwise known as 44 The Calls, in Leeds. (More about this shortly.) My daughter-in-law discovered that the German Christmas market in Leeds had opened last weekend. It’s been a regular Advent feature in Leeds for several years, but I hadn’t visited it since (I think) 2010. We decided to make a detour.
Leeds is one of my favourite cities and I’ve always loved Leeds crowds. They’re good-humoured, not pushy, and enter into the spirit of things. I was therefore delighted suddenly to find myself in the midst of one in the Christmas market and astounded at the number of people who were there. We had a very happy hour wandering around the stalls, watching people taking rides on the beautiful Victorian manège* or, if they felt more adventurous, on a sort of super-cakewalk that lifted them high in the air and juddered up and down before finally releasing them; as my husband remarked rather dourly, “I hope none of them has been drinking the beer.”
German Christmas markets are renowned for the beautiful artefacts that are sold at them – hand-carved Christmas tree decorations, wind-chimes made from naturally polished stones and all kinds of intricate small gifts fashioned from beeswax. But, more than anything, they are about the food. It is street food at its best: currywurst of improbable length unashamedly greedy, tea-breads, candy-floss, giant ginger biscuits (lebkuchen) proclaiming “ich liebe dich” in brightly-coloured icing-sugar and, of course, the drinks: Weissbier or fruit beers, gluhwein or coffee laced with liqueurs. One stall was selling gluhwein with amaretto, rum and cream: a heady drink, I’m certain, and probably one that would have a more significant effect on your head than intended, the following day.
As we were eating at Brasserie Forty 4, reluctantly we confined ourselves to a gluhwein each before going on our way. The restaurant , which has a Michelin star, is located in a wonderful old warehouse that was originally built to serve the Leeds – Liverpool canal. The area was developed in the eighteenth century. Later, The Calls became the city’s red light district. Today, the whole area has been redeveloped and is home to some very swish but tastefully-constructed flats, as well as being one of the centres of the city’s vibrant night life. The restaurant has been there since 1975 – well before the redevelopment took place – and has always had an excellent reputation. Its owner was responsible for creating the restaurant at Pool Court, another of Yorkshire’s famous restaurants. Dining there is a rare treat; in fact, I think yesterday was only my fourth occasion. (I remember the first one well: it was a launch lunch to celebrate the publication of Howard Jacobson’s first novel.)
So: Christmas is coming and it’s on my radar at last. If you happen to be in Leeds at some point during the next four weeks, I recommend a visit to the Christmas market and, if you have something special to celebrate, or just want to get into the mood for the festivities, you could top it with lunch or dinner at Brasserie Forty 4 (but book first!).