If you want to discover a different side of Leeds, you need to hunt out the cool, quirky independents that make the city unique – and we’re here to help you do just that.
Leeds is defined by its independents. They give the city a unique personality, offering an experience you won’t get anywhere else. You’ll find them in the most unusual and unexpected places, tucked down alleyways, hidden off the beaten track and even nestled in magnificent landmarks – so be sure to seek them out.
When it comes to eating out, the city’s independents rule the roost. You can have just about anything – Mediterranean feasts, Basque tapas, even Korean barbecue. But whatever you choose, they always put their own personal mark on it.
You can jump straight from the train into two of the city’s finest independents. Friends of Ham tows the line between bar and restaurant with its selection of charcuterie, wash down with quality beers and wines, while Bundobust mixes craft beer and Indian street food to impressive effect.
For lunch, try Humpit, a little independent eatery in Leeds Corn Exchange. Word of their homemade hummus has spread far beyond Leeds, tempting people in to eat under the beautiful canopy of the landmark’s impressive domed roof. Alternatively, stop in Trinity Kitchen – here you’ll find Rola Wala, with their Indian wraps filled with beetroot channa dal or Bengali spiced beef, as well as a host of street food vendors who change every six weeks.
You might be surprised to find that Leeds Kirkgate Market has also become a street food hub, with six permanent eateries now housed in their new events and dining space. You can have Indian curries at Manjit’s Kitchen, Caribbean food at Jenny’s Jerk Chicken and homemade Yorkshire pudding wraps at The Yorkshire Wrap Company, as well as Vietnamese street food from Bánh & Mee, a nice cuppa at Teapot and everything from tandoori pizza to baklava at Zm Zm Bakery.
In the evening, Shears Yard promises a memorable, one-off experience. It’s a stunning restaurant with exposed brickwork, original beams and twinkling lights, where they serve up a menu of creative dishes using seasonal, locally sourced produce. Or why not transport yourself to warmer climes with a visit to Souvlaki, where they cook up Greek delicacies in a restaurant that’s full of character?
Fancy something a little bit different? At Bulgogi Grill, you can cook up your own Korean dinner on the grill built into your table – barbecue marinated meats and veggies, then wrap them up in lettuce leaves with fresh sauces and sides. Tharavadu is equally good – this award-winning Indian restaurant specialises in Kashmiri cuisine, so chances are, you’ll be able to try something you’ve never had before.
That’s just a taste of what the city’s independent eateries have to offer – check out our full guide for more ideas.
Some of the city’s finest bars are independents, and they go all out to create a unique experience. Take Belgrave Music Hall and Headrow House for example. Two sister bars, they’re known for multi-tasking. Belgrave has a ground floor bar, famed for its craft beer and street food, while upstairs there’s a popular music venue and a rooftop terrace that comes into its own in the summer. Headrow House, on the other hand, offers a bistro, a beer hall, a gig venue, a cocktail bar and two rooftop beer gardens.
But they’re not the only indie bars that are multi-taskers. Outlaws Yacht Club is a relaxed space that serves up good food and booze, as well as holding regular art exhibitions and music industry talks, while The Reliance is a vintage-chic bar and restaurant that has the same focus on quality in both its guises.
It’s not unusual for the city’s independents to take a DIY approach to booze either. Northern Monk and North Brewing Co. both serve their beer in taprooms on site, while Jake’s make liquor in their still and Blind Tyger infuse their high end spirits with unique flavours, like Yorkshire rhubarb.
If you’re after something handpicked rather than homemade, try The Decanter where you’ll find a small but perfectly formed selection of wine – each label has been tried, tested and hand selected by the owners to offer something a little different. The beers are handpicked at North Bar too, but here they offer a massive choice of over 150 beers from all over the world.
Want to party until the wee hours? Try Smokestack, a cool New Orleans inspired bar where they make a wicked cocktail, with a soundtrack of soul, jazz and blues to get you on the dance floor, or head to Milo, a rock’n’roll bar that brings in a constant procession of live bands.
That’s just a taste of what the city’s independent bars have to offer – check out our full guide for more ideas.
You’ll find plenty of high street and designer stores in Leeds, but you won’t want to miss the independents. They make the city’s shopping scene that little bit more unique, offering everything from clothes and accessories to gifts, food and beer, all with personal service that often comes from the owners themselves.
Leeds Corn Exchange is a must-visit – they’ve packed a vast array of shops into one of the most beautiful landmarks in the city – and you’ll also find a host of independents in the city’s historic arcades, which are unique to Leeds and well worth exploring.
Our Handmade Collective, Fabrication and the Great Yorkshire Shop should be top of the list. They all work with local designers and makers, bringing together a world of lovely pieces all under one roof – think traditional Yorkshire sweets, handmade ornaments and one-off works of art.
There are gifts galore at all three, but you could also try Culture Vulture, which is full of unusual items that range from sugar skull bunting to Pusheen goodies, The Traditional Shaving Company, where you can pick up all manner of grooming products for gents, and Yellow Sunrise, a veritable treasure trove of exotic finds.
If it’s fashion you’re after, head to Lambert’s Yard, an independent store and events space that showcases the work of emerging designers, with the likes of Wood Wood, Aquascutum and Antipodium all calling it home. Other standout stores include The Hip Store on Vicar Lane, a cool as heck indie filled with designer threads for guys, Welcome, a skate store that stocks the latest gear alongside the boards themselves and Best Vintage, a huge shop full of pre-loved fashion.
When it comes to independents, you simply have to visit Leeds Kirkgate Market. You’ll find butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers here, with fresh produce perfect for cooking up something tasty – be sure to drop by Malcolm Michaels for an impressive array of meat and cheese alongside award-winning pies. But don’t be deceived, it’s not all food – you’ll also find haberdasheries, florists, beauty stores and more.
That’s just a taste of what the city’s independent shops have to offer – check out our full guide for more ideas.