There are certain things that people spend many years looking forward to – be it their wedding, their first house, or their first child. For me, it was “my first visit to Cona”. Though I will certainly be murdered by my wife for posting such a statement, there is no disputing the fact that Cona continues to be the most highly regarded halal dining experience in the country. Named after a small town in Northern Italy, Cona was born from the vision and enthusiasm of Armi Ahmed, who fell in love with the food and heritage that the community had to offer. Naturally, Armi sought – and succeeded, to bring a part of Cona back to the UK. In doing so, he managed to transform the landscape of halal dining, and entwined the philosophies of wholesome / tayyib produce, and a “purely halal” fine dining experience.
For me – a man who was born on the southern coast of Britain and raised within the realms of the capital, anything “beyond the wall” of the M25 is very much akin to “wildling territory”. And yet, when I first heard of Cona, I found myself suddenly and inexplicably inclined to visit the city of Bradford – far more than any sane Londoner would dare to admit. Years passed by, and just as I began to wonder whether I would get an opportunity or excuse to venture north, Paanwala announced that she would be getting married in Blackpool. “Congratulations!” I shouted, “That’s great news!” I yelled, as I secretly planned a diversion to Bradford, and disguised which destination I was more excited about.
The menu at Cona is very much dynamic, and varies on both a weekly and seasonal basis, reflecting the fresh, seasonal produce that is painstakingly sourced. After giving us a warm welcome, Armi took charge of our starters, and proceeded to bring forth a helping of wholesome bread, rich, homemade pesto, soft, creamy burrata, and best of all – a plate of delicate wagyu charcuterie. Vibrant, moreish, and unapologetically hands-on, the combination was gratifying in every sense of the word.
Wagyu Charcuterie *Recommended*
Next, came the mushroom and truffle spaghetti – a dish which Steak was initially reluctant about, on account of her general aversion to mushroom-based dishes. After taking just two bites however, she declared that Cona’s truffle spaghetti would be her choice of a “final meal”. Mortal words fail to describe the sheer intensity encountered within the spaghetti, which was packed with layers upon layers of bursting umami richness, and an aromatic potency that simply pushed our senses over the edge. Though I am a faithful man, this year, I may very well be writing a second Valentines day card to a plate of spaghetti.
Truffle Spaghetti *Must-Eat*
Already infatuated with our starters, we were introduced promptly to our choice of main course – a 32-day dry-aged A5 wagyu sirloin steak, which arrived with a surprise topping of ethically-sourced foie gras and – as per the theme of the night, a generous shaving of truffle. Tragically, as a result of a mix-up with tickets, we received a medium steak as opposed to medium-rare, and so I do not believe that we were able to experience this particular cut at its very best. Fortunately however, it remained tender and buttery, with a beautiful, even crust on all sides, whilst the soft foie gras melted away in the mouth. The accompanying selection of beef jus, peppercorn sauce, and creamed spinach also did well to impress, though ultimately, it was the intense beef jus that stole the limelight.
A5 Wagyu Sirloin *Must-Eat*
To accompany our steak, Armi brought forth a deadly duo of truffle chips and lobster mac and cheese. As expected, the truffle chips were addictively sharp and pungent, whilst the lobster mac and cheese was delicate, yet rich, and oozed with vibrant flavours.
Lobster Mac & Cheese *Recommended*
As our stomachs ballooned up to our throats, our words became incomprehensible, and so, rather than trying to decipher our dessert order, Armi took it upon himself to bring us a small portion of each one. First up, was the Valrhona chocolate fondant, served with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. As per the first sign of a dastardly good fondant, the delicate cake casing collapsed at the sight of a spoon, and released its oozing molten chocolate core. This was in turn, contrasted by the cool, silky salted caramel ice cream, resulting in a decadence that was worth the guilt.
Chocolate Fondant w/ salted caramel ice cream *Recommended*
Next, we tried the baked strawberry cheesecake, which promptly took us by surprise. Texturally, the cheesecake was incredibly light and fluffy, and though nowhere near as rich or as bold as the fondant, it stood tall as our unanimous favourite.
Baked Strawberry Cheesecake *Recommended*
To draw our evening to a close, the cherry bakewell tart arrived to honour us with its offerings. Though we appreciated the mixture of delicate, soft, and crisp textures, it didn’t quite stand out as much when compared to the intense fondant, and the heavenly baked cheesecake that we had eaten alongside it.
Cherry Bakewell Tart
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Generally, starters cost around £8-£10, mains range from £20 for the likes of corn-fed chicken, right through to £150 for monumental cuts of steak, and desserts cost around £7-£8. A meal at Cona will undoubtedly cost you anywhere between £60 to £100 per person, depending on which items (and how many) you decide to order. For that price however, you receive an exemplary halal dining experience that has been lovingly crafted with incredible ingredients, and one that is quite unlike anything else currently available within the UK. As a Londoner, you can throw in the additional cost of petrol and time required to get to Bradford in the first place, and I will still say that it’s more than worthwhile.
Despite the tragic mix-up of our steak orders, service remained incredibly professional, attentive, and above all, personal throughout our evening, and this seemed to be the case for the other patrons. Both Armi and his team ensured that each meal ran smoothly, and that guests were hosted appropriately, with a “table-side manner” that would rival my own. (Truth be told, my chair-side manner is really just “extract first, ask questions later”).
Decor / Ambience: 3.5/5
Inside, you will find a stone-coloured decor that is neither shouty nor drab. It’s smart, sharp and conventional – like a trustworthy accountant, and the ambience is very much laid-back. Here, the food does the talking, and the only elaborate, ornate feature is the rather impressive dry-ager on display near the entrance. Should a Bradfordian ever wish to make a vegan friend cry, a quick peep here may do the trick.
There are certain restaurants that can be described as a “culinary experience”. At Cona, one can encounter individual dishes that are, quite frankly, an experience in their own right. For us, Cona was everything we expected it to be and more, and there is no doubt that for every minor excursion into the northern realms from here on out, I will be frantically looking for any flimsy, half-hearted excuse to divert to Bradford.
Address: 20 East Parade, Bradford BD1 5HD
Telephone: 01274 727747
Disclaimer: This visit and review was overt due to our acquaintance with the owner, but was NOT based on a complimentary invitation.