City's first all vegan diner - Cantina - still offers big flavours and full bellies
It used to be a transport hub - now it's helping take punters to new places on the culinary map.
The Old Red Bus Station is, you might have guessed, a former transport hub which closed in 1994 - one of Leeds’s many heritage buildings repurposed for the city’s thriving food and drink scene.
It was a familiar sight, having been here before for a drink or two in the past, but in terms of a dining experience it was a little jarring at first. We tried to sit upstairs, away from the clubby music, which seemed loudest around the right corner of the bar in the most intimate part of the place, but it was closed mid-week. We settled for the high, long tables to the left of the entrance and took a look at the menu once we were able to squeeze by a post obstructing entry to one of the benches. The atmosphere was nice, not too hectic, and they’ve done well to keep the decor sparse. There’s a few nods to Yorkshire lingo slapped on the walls, referencing the site’s origins, and for the most part staff reflect this proud tradition of friendly cheer too.
What’s the menu like?
Cantina, which has claimed to be the first all-vegan diner in the city, has done well to make its menu appeal to those who don’t want to sacrifice big flavours and full bellies. Hence dishes like the Hellfire Burger (£.8.50), a battered seitan (a wheat gluten protein) patty with sriracha sauce, beer battered onion rings, jalapeños and vegan mayo. There’s a limited selection of ‘Big Bites’ of this kind, which come with fries or sweet potato salad, along with ‘Bar Bites’ (extras such as deep-friend Oreo skewers), deals, milkshakes and mocktails.
Now onto the food
I had the Hellfire Burger, which had a really good texture - plenty of soft, crisp and moist elements melding in a brioche bun - and a had big fiery flavour. My partner enjoyed the Mac Got Fat (£8.50), a deep fried mac ‘n’ cheese patty with black bean chilli and salad. Though she said she couldn’t taste the cheese, the ludicrous pasta-in-a-burger indulgence of it was a winner.
There is a sense with vegan replicas of traditionally meaty foods that some sleight of hand is in order. Despite the claims of an emerging meat-free industry, seitan and vegan cheese will never taste like the real thing, so a bit of intuition with flavour is needed, and they’ve done it well here. Elements which could fall flat have been lifted with deep frying for crispness or a good combination of flavours.
The fries were fine, a portion of onion rings (£3.50) was a nice accompaniment, but loaded nachos (£4) could have been made anywhere, I felt. The onion rings also came without the vegan garlic mayo as advertised, annoyingly.
How much was the bill? Was it value for money?
It was certainly worth the £33 for two mains, two sides and two drinks. Just don’t go to Cantina expecting an intimate, elegant dining experience.
Address: Vicar Lane, Leeds, LS2 7NL
Telephone: 0113 345 4390
Opening hours: Monday (Early May Bank Holiday) Closed, Tuesday 11am–12am, Wednesday 11am–12am, Thursday 11am–12am, Friday 11am–4am, Saturday 11am–4am, Sunday Closed