Bradford’s Cona steakhouse rated 5/5 to achieve legendary statusHALAL STATUS Fully Halal
This is far from just a restaurant, this is a process for us. It’s a vision – Armi Ahmed, Cona owner
If there’s one restaurant in the UK’s Halal food and drinks sector that epitomises the meaning of the phrase ‘word-of-mouth’, it has to be Cona in Bradford.
With minimal online coverage since it came on the scene eight years ago, its owner, Armi Ahmed, has slowly but surely carved out (excuse the pun) a reputation which must, now, be verging on the legendary.
You’d never think though that a renowned steakhouse would be located in an area as austere-looking as Little Germany’s East Parade, much less guess that the Victorian building in which Cona resides is actually a restaurant.
Imagine the surprise, then, at entering through ostensibly bleak, unadorned, and windowless black doors, only to be met by a sumptuously moody interior that’s defined by a colour scheme of dark shades and hues, with leather-cushioned seating and sturdy marbled tables.
In short, Cona is an elegant, fully Halal, 45-cover venue, which unabashedly shows off a staggering array of world class beef in a refrigerated display unit strategically placed near the entrance.
What’s perhaps most surprising of all, given the evident ambition of being the best Halal steakhouse in the country, is that this venture was, and still is, Armi’s first foray into the challenging world of restaurateuring.
And it all stemmed from his love of fine foods and a vocation for cooking, such that he would base his holidays around high-end restaurants as far afield as Tokyo and places like Copenhagen and San Francisco.
We wanted to create a market which never really existed and that’s what we’re passionate about… improving the Halal food landscape
“Every time I’d go to these restaurants,” Armi tells us, “I was limited, since I could only eat fish or veg.” Persuaded by family and friends to launch a restaurant, Cona was born, with Armi fully involved in teaching his kitchen how to bring the menu, personally planned and designed by him, to fruition.
“When we first started out, we wanted to showcase what Halal food could potentially be. We wanted to create a market which never existed really,” he reveals.
Motivated by a saying attributed to the famous renaissance painter Leonardo Da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Cona aimed at being an “ingredient-led, flavour-driven restaurant”.
But, despite endeavouring to “go through the process of only sourcing the finest Halal ingredients”, Armi discovered early on that the Halal UK market at that time simply could not supply the quality of meat he envisioned serving.
This led to “a long journey” that involved Armi personally travelling to various cattle-rearing nations, visiting “hundreds of farms” to see the process for himself, before he “found the top three producers of Halal beef in the world” – Japan, America, and Australia – and was able to procure the finest Halal beef, which included Japanese wagyu.
Even today, “none of the meat [at Cona] – the lamb, the chicken, the beef – comes from this country, because we don’t really believe in it,” he stresses.
“It’s sad to say, but everything is battery farmed, everything is mass produced. It’s for a particular type of market and it’s produced for the cheap takeaways. It’s produced for the curry houses who do stuff in bulk.”
With their organic vegetables grown especially for them, the bread baked inhouse, “and other details which most Halal restaurants do not do”, the hardwork at Cona began to pay off, with word-of-mouth persuading diners to travel from across the country to try their food.
For Armi, Cona eventually transformed into something so much more: “This is far from just a restaurant, this is a process for us. It’s a vision.
“We wanted to create a market which never really existed and that’s what we’re passionate about.
“We’re passionate about improving the Halal food landscape in general. So I think we need more restaurants like this, to then hopefully eat better at home. That’s my ultimate aim.”
As for the future, then while he says about Cona: “We never stand still; we continue to grow,” Armi believes that since it is important to have a flagship restaurant, he “would like to open up a Cona 2” in London.
As simple as this may look, there’s far more going on here than meets the eyes. For instance, while we’ve already mentioned that Cona bake their own bread on a daily basis, in this case Pavai, they’ve also marinated their own Italian green olives rather than serve up pre-marinated olives, which they find too intensely flavoured. Consequently, theirs go through a 72-hour marination process in extra virgin olive oil and chilli oil. Similarly, their Pesto is freshly-made every day with fresh basil, parlsey, olive oil and garlic.
Although Cona usually work with a classic brown or white Ciabatta, we couldn’t care less, because the Pavai, while being beautifully saturated in the butter-infused garlic, was light and uber-crispy; the pesto deep in flavour with that zingy edge; and the preparation process behind those subtly marinated olives entirely justified. A superb little palate-primer.RECOMMENDED
When it comes to flavour profiles for lamb chops, this was an utterly unique experience thanks to the combination of a couple of Far Eastern ingredients.
But what will make this live long in the memory is the Japanese spice mixture called togarashi this was marinated in.
Not only was there a hint of spiciness to it, but its toasty sweetness was complimented by the smokiness imparted by the grill.
Add to that the gentle tanginess delivered by the accompanying soy and ponzu dip, and this was one of the best chops we’ve had this year.RECOMMENDED
There’s a number of them about, including the famous P.F. Chang’s Dynamite Shrimp; but we bet you you haven’t had anything like this King Prawn Tempura before.
With a light and crispy batter surrounding prawns still boasting that bite of perfectly cooked crustaceans, it was the buttery richness of the fermented chilli sauce, with gentle heat enhanced by the addition of the sliced red chilli segments, which undergirded this tremendously satisfying plate of food.RECOMMENDED
Here was another example of Armi managing to live up to Cona’s motto of “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” by allowing the sheer quality of the few ingredients in this dish to shine for all they’re worth.
Starting with the soothingly creamy truffle-based sauce, progressing onto the soft enoki mushrooms, before ending with a very generous grating of vegetarian parmesan, the full experience here was completed by the marriage of the layers of umami goodness with the earthy flavours of the crispy dehydrated rocket leaves and plentiful shavings of fresh truffle from Italy. In short, unlike anything we’ve had in quite some time.
We are the only restaurant in the country to serve Japanese wagyu as part of your Sunday roast…
If we ask whether you’ve ever had a Sunday lunch with wagyu before, you’ll understand why it was always ever going to be their Sunday Lunch.
While most other restaurants offer either top- and silver-side, or rump and sirloin, Cona’s main meat is a fillet of beef, with the option of upgrading to a piece of wagyu.
In fact, Armi emphatically declared: “We are the only restaurant in the country to serve Japanese wagyu as part of your Sunday Roast.”
And so, after being recommended the Japanese Wagyu Sirloin A1 on account of its marbling, our Sunday turned into something life transformative, with every element in this elaborate lunch playing its carefully conceived part in delivering what turned out to be the best Sunday roast we’ve ever had.
What makes this lunch such a decadent one is that everything rightfully revolves around the wagyu.
Hence, while potatoes are traditionally cooked in goose or duck fat, which Cona normally do using the latter, in this case, the wagyu’s fat was cleverly utilised in its stead.
And to raise the bar to unsurpassable heights, not only were we served a skillet full of wagyu bone marrow, but thin slices of perfectly pink wagyu meat for contrastive purposes.
In short, our Sunday roast comprised of Japanese Wagyu Sirloin A1, roast potatoes cooked in wagyu beef fat, seasoned vegetables, smoked cauliflower purée, cavolo nero (a type of kale), green beans, heritage carrots, mashed potato with chicken skin, and, of course, being in Yorkshire, proper Yorkshire pudding.
While you might react to the above picture of perfection with the acronym ‘wtf’, we opted for the more refined word ‘meticulous’ to describe its overall look, taste and execution.
Just look at that towering Yorkshire pudding. The roast potatoes were exquisitely executed, with a crispy-cum-cruncy exterior, and, most importantly, the meaty aroma of the wagyu fat it was cooked in.
While you take our word over how wonderful the aforementioned seasonal vegetables were (much needed as a counter-balance), it was that stunning wagyu bone marrow which, when mixed with the buttery-rich gravy, was to die for, if you’d pardon the expression. Absolutely sublime.
And finally, the pièce de résistance, which was served two ways (admittedly more for this review, as well as the fact that Armi as the affable host he is, was, by this stage, showing off Cona’s undoubted brilliance): in strip form and sliced.
As for the former, then this was beautifully soft and chewy, and worth slowly savouring.
Whilst the latter couldn’t strike a better textural balance, with that distinct meaty-umaminess filtering through with every bite. All in all, one for the ages.
This Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice Cream is “the first item I wrote, and it’s the only item that’s survived in eight years of trading”, Armi told us.
Fondants can be a tricky number. This rise suggests that the kitchen know what they’re doing. The deep chocolatey taste and the gooey liquid middle confirmed things. Add to that the smooth scoop of ice cream, in which the salt really came through nicely, as well as the chocolate soil for that textural contrast, and this was a delicious eat.RECOMMENDED
Unbelievable texture, is what we thought when trying this. Unlike any cheesecake we’ve ever had before. The reason?
Behold: Having combined the two techniques by which a cheesecake is made – baked and set – Armi claims that “no one’s ever really done that before” (and it only took him six months to develop too).
If they are the first, then what a first it is. The secret here is to combine the two with a ratio of 30% set and 70% baked.
What you end up with is an almost silky-smooth texture, with the vanilla coming through in spades, and the cheese dissolving on the palate.
Add to that the ultra thin biscuit bottom, and we came away emotional. The best cheesecake we’ve ever had!
But that’s not tall. Armi served it with a strawberry jam before insisting that we firstly try the cheesecake without before enjoying it with. The strawberry jam’s zesty-fruitiness just elevated the experience to another level.RECOMMENDED
Of course, being in Yorkshire, we couldn’t leave without trying their Bakewell Tart; except that here too Cona refused to play things safe.
In place of the classical ingredients of almonds and raspberry, Armi has luxuriated his version with pistachio and morello cherries, and paired it with a homemade pistachio ice cream for good measure, along with a dollop of strawberry and basil coulis.
There’s nothing ordinary about the pistachio they use either, with Cona preferring the quality of either Sicilian bronte, Iranian or Californian – the three top producers of pistachio.
Again, the best way to try this is au natural, before moving to the ice cream, and finally with the strawberry and basil.
The result is just building flavour upon flavour, culminating in a bakewell tart that’s staggeringly unique.
After an epic experience, all that was remaining was to wash things down with a hot beverage.
- NO/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
- DISABLED FACILITIES
Yet, the more we've come to hear of them as the years have rolled by, the more evidence has mounted, albeit anecdotal, that Cona are a cut above the rest (excuse the pun) not just as a fully Halal steakhouse, but as a fully Halal restaurant too.
For us, they must hold the distinction of being the very first restaurant to level-up the Halal steak sector and push it towards the higher end of the dine-in spectrum. Eight years later, they're going strong. Eight years later, we finally got the chance to pay them a visit with their reputation if not already, then at least verging on the legendary.
It should go without saying that we went in with extremely high expectations. But when all was said and masticated, we exited the establishment with a one-word conclusion: legendary.
We've provided an extensive introduction for Cona because, aside from the fact that they've lived up to the hype to score a perfect 5/5, Armi Ahmed's efforts in making Cona the place of legends deserves some small degree of recognition, at least for posterity's sake.
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