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At the age of 66, and three years into his second career as the chairman of Notes, a company that specialises in coffee, food, wine and the appreciation of classical music and film, Alan Goulden has had to face a new challenge: what to put on his first-ever breakfast menu.
It is now being served at the fourth branch of Notes, following the success of the company’s three London cafés, in the heart of Leeds. And it is doing great trade, not just to Goulden’s delight but also to that of Marion, his wife and business partner.
The other six restaurateurs on the first floor of the Trinity shopping centre, known as Trinity Kitchen, are also smiling, as are the teams behind the pop-up carts that have been attracting hordes of customers since launching a few weeks ago.
Their collective path to Leeds is almost as unlikely as that of Andrew Turf, who, as leasing manager for the shopping centre’s owners, Land Securities, has masterminded this unusual but exciting eating area.
Born in Chicago into the family that started the homeware store Crate & Barrel, Turf moved to Los Angeles before being lured to London. Having met the 33-year-old on several occasions, I get the impression that his life outside the office falls into two halves: eating, drinking or undertaking commercial espionage in bars, cafés and restaurants around the world and working it off in the gym.
Three years ago, Turf was handed the challenge of creating a successful venture out of 20,000sq ft of far-from-attractive space in the centre of Leeds that, to compound his problems, was located not on the ground floor, as any retailer would demand, but up an escalator. He decided to turn this challenge into the pursuit of pleasure.
Trinity Kitchen now comprises seven permanent restaurants, all of which are new to Leeds: Pho Café for Vietnamese food; the 360 champagne bar, which was packed when I visited it at 3.30pm (mainly, to Turf’s delight, with young women); Tortilla, PizzaLuxe and Chicago Rib Shack for Mexican, Italian and American food, respectively; and Chip + Fish, ostensibly serving British fish and chips but in fact masterminded by two Frenchmen, Pascal Aussignac and Vincent Labeyrie, who originally made their name at Club Gascon in London. Their lobster roll and chips at £11.50 seemed, unsurprisingly, particularly popular with Yorkshire customers.
Although permanent, these restaurants operate on a 10-year lease, shorter than most commercial leases. Alongside are five pop-ups that operate on four-week leases. Every month their kitchens are taken down from the first floor by a hydraulic lift that brings in their replacements.
Turf has selected the latter with guidance from Richard Johnson, who initiated the British Street Food Awards. The initial line-up includes Indian food from Manjit’s Kitchen; Italian snacks from Gurmetti; Scottish recipes via the back of a converted horsebox from Katie & Kim; tea and cakes from The Marvellous Tea Dance; and Big Apple Hot Dogs from Abiye Cole – loquacious and unmissable in his red beret, red trousers and Big Apple Hot Dogs T-shirt.
Trinity Kitchen breaks the mould of so many depressing food courts through this juxtaposition of the permanent and the temporary. But this sense of its overall appeal as more than the sum of its various parts is also due to a colourful but singularly non-interventionist design. There are no walls delineating any one restaurateur from another, no divisions between the permanent and the pop-ups, and the seating for 700 is communal.
This last factor brought another smile to Turf’s face as he watched an elderly woman being served a box of ultra-thin pizza by Laura Paige, the young Colombian who founded PizzaLuxe, while her husband sat opposite with a piece of banana cake and a cappuccino from Notes.
But what has brought most cheer to the Gouldens is quite how different their new profession is from their former one when, as music retailers, they had to deal with such giants as EMI, Universal and Sony. Goulden shakes his head as he recalls how these companies struggled to deal with online downloading.
Nothing like this, he now fully appreciates, stands between a customer in search of a Notes full English breakfast and a freshly made cappuccino.
Trinity Leeds, Albion Street, Leeds LS1 5AT, trinityleeds.com
More columns at www.ft.com/lander