Soba is a chain of bar/Asian street food restaurants in Scotland and, naturally, when they thought of opening south of the border our beloved Leeds was the first place they came to.
The bar has opened upstairs from The Pit in the Grand Arcade, in the greenhouse-like space previously occupied by Handpicked Hall (RIP). If you go upstairs in this bar on a sunny day, as we did, you can expect to roast! But it is nice to have some light in a bar for a change, and it feels very open and sunny. It looks like this upstairs place turns into more of a club with a DJ and dance floor in the evenings, and it might be fun to go dancing in broad daylight up here in the middle of summer. The whole space is vast: its previous incarnation was an entire shopping centre and they’ve turned it all over to this bar so you can expect to find somewhere to sit.
The street food (mostly Japanese and south-east Asian) and cocktails are the specialities but of course we were here for the beer. On keg they had Dogfish Head DNA, Sam Adams, Estrella, Blue Moon, Asahi and Cobra and a few more interesting beers in the fridge including 2x Brooklyn, 2x Anchor, Hitachino, Singha etc. Nothing you wouldn’t find elsewhere but still nice to see in a bar which isn’t specializing in beer. Sadly the prices were really steep, we thought, even for Merrion Street.
The décor is your usual Merrion Street stuff with graffiti and neon everywhere. When we visited the crowd was extremely mixed and it soon filled up at dinner time, which is a good sign for its survival even with giant bars either side of it. There are a lot of staff and they were very friendly, even when I spilled my beer all over the cash register… oops.
The cocktail bar / street food café / nightclub / greenhouse thing about this bar left us thinking we aren’t really sure what it is or what its niche is, but it’s a formula that’s worked very well in Scotland and I can expect it will do the same down here.
Tags: beer garden, coffee, dance floor, food
The beer selection has lots of surplus to requirements samey beers which don’t really provide much choice of flavour. Pacifico and and Kirin Ichiban may be from opposite ends of the globe but what do they offer? The same thing. Also it’s £2.70 for half an Estrella?! Are we through the looking glass here or what? Prices are not listed for beer which leaves things, in my opinion, deliberately unclear. It was £3.80 for a 330ml bottle of Pacifico which is more along Leeds usual lines.
Food was really good, although we came because of an offer. I wouldn’t have paid the basic restaurant prices which are £10+ for mains which simply doesn’t reflect the ingredients or the local restaurant market. Also, the place advertises itself as street food but it’s very much a restaurant with a hidden away kitchen- it was extremely conventional.
The main atrium upstairs is impressive if you’re lucky enough to be seated there. The rest of the seating is in very gloomy cavernous rooms. I also hit my head on the light fitting above the table- twice. Once I’d put down to an accident, twice, it just feels like a design flaw. I’m under 6ft tall.
It was odd trying to get served for food- despite 90% of the huge, huge building being empty there are designated dining tables and when we enquired about food the staff threw obstacles in the way rather than finding space for 2! It was as if they didn’t really want us there. We offered to wait 20-30 minutes and go to the bar for a drink- which also none of the staff seemed to think of. Did they not even want us to stop for a drink? Then when we were seated no-one came with a menu and I had to ask for one myself ten minutes in. Luckily the food turned up on time and was delicious.
Lets hope some of these issues are just teething problems they can iron out.