Coffee and Cocktails at La Bottega Milanese

Last week was lovely for several reasons, one of which was the Coffee and Cocktails Fusion Experience event at La Bottega Milanese, a collaboration between Bottega and The Maven as part of Leeds Indie Food 2016. Hosted at the Bond Court branch on Wednesday night, it gave a select group a chance to listen to the wisdom of Alex Galantino, owner of La Bottega/coffee king, and Nino Antonino, owner of The Maven/master mixologist. Continue reading

Park Square, summer in Leeds

Things I Love About Summer in Leeds

Recently, the lovely Sophie Cliff wrote a blog post about all the things she’s looking forward to this summer. It made me smile so much I was already thinking about doing my own post on a similar topic, and then this bout of hot sunshine hit us this weekend and it’s reminded me about all the things I love doing when the weather is warm in Leeds. So here are all the things I’m looking forward to doing in Leeds this summer… Continue reading

Gin and tonic at Old Tom's Gin Kitchen, Leeds

Review: Old Tom’s Gin Kitchen at The Hedonist Project

This is just going to be a short appreciation post about my new favourite haunt – The Hedonist Project’s latest incarnation, Old Tom’s Gin Kitchen. I love their idea of a ‘permanent pop-up’; a bar that always exists in the same place but can look completely different from one visit to the next, but their winter venture, a Whisky Parlour, was unavailable to me due to me really, really hating whisky. Gin, on the other hand, is my drink of choice, and I’m already hooked on Old Tom’s. Continue reading

Leeds Indie Food 2016 Wishlist

It barely seems 5 minutes since we were at Leeds Feast saying goodbye to the first Leeds Indie Food Festival, but it’s been a whole year and now it’s back bigger and better! There’s a fantastic calendar this year, showcasing Leeds’ best independents and covering such a wide range of themes that there really is something for everyone. It’s been hard to choose, but here are my top picks for this year’s Leeds Indie Food. Continue reading

A Night Out at Cocktails in the City Leeds

Last week I spent an evening at one of the most highly-anticipated events of the month – Cocktails in the City. I wasn’t able to go last year so I was really excited about attending this year, even though I ended up feeling so burnt out from a busy week I called it a night early and didn’t take advantage of half the stuff that was happening. Oops. However I did get to try four really amazing cocktails from some of Leeds’ best bars, and spend an evening in the Town Hall, which is one of my favourite buildings in Leeds, so I’m still calling that a win! Continue reading

A Foodie’s Guide to Edinburgh

I recently made my first journey up to Edinburgh, and had a huge revelation. Scotland’s capital is a foodie paradise! I love food, and good tea and coffee, and amazing cocktails, and one of my top priorities when visiting a new city is hunting out all the best places to eat and drink. I scribbled down countless places when I was gathering ideas, barely got to half of them, and found some other gems while I was there that I hadn’t even heard about. Here’s my foodie guide to Edinburgh…

Spoon

If I’d been a student in Edinburgh, this is the kind of place where I would have spent all my spare time (and money). Hidden a floor above street level up a nondescript flight of stairs, Spoon is a haven of peace and quiet serving up delicious breakfasts, cakes and coffees in the kind of retro 70s kitchenware your Grandma used to own. It feels spacious yet cosy, with mismatched tables, chairs and sofas scattered around and thin curtains acting as partitions.

We went for breakfast, and chose a cooked breakfast and porridge with a generous splodge of strawberry jam. Both were lovely and filling, but my highlight was my hot chocolate, made dark and creamy with a deliciously smooth consistency. It was all I could do not to grab a book, order another and spend the whole day on one of their sofas…

Breakfast at Spoon, Edinburgh

Oink

Oink has a basic premise – just really simple, really tasty hog roast sandwiches. There are two shops in Edinburgh centre – we went to the Grassmarket branch for a quick warming lunch on our last day. Choose from three sizes, pick white or brown bread, add a topping of sage & onion stuffing or haggis, and a dressing of apple, bbq or chilli sauce, and you’re good to go! The shop is tiny so avoid the middle of lunchtime if you want a hope of getting a seat, and stop by an ATM on the way; it’s cash only.

Frederick’s Coffee House

Fredericks’s is what I want my living room to look like; the walls are a beautiful shade of blue-green that is perfectly matched to the quirky furniture, and the huge windows looking out onto the street let in tons of light. Framed artwork and chalkboard menus hang on the walls, and by the entrance is a white bar stacked with cakes.

I had porridge with fruit compote and a Japanese Cherry tea (their list of teas is amazing!), and it was one of the most perfectly cooked bowls of porridge I’ve ever had. Creamy and not too thick, the berries mingled in perfectly and was much sweeter than berry compote often is. The cherry on top was the bowl – glass with a bright blue paisley print. So pretty!

Frederick's Coffee House, Edinburgh

The Holyrood 9A

Love beer and burgers? Then you’ll love The Holyrood 9A. Even if you don’t love beer and burgers, you’ll still love the Holyrood 9A.  This bar is the perfect ‘pub with a modern twist’, combining dark wood and leather seating to create a relaxed and homey atmosphere. They specialise in craft beer and have a huge range to choose from, but also have some decent wines; my two glasses of Malbec went down way too easily! We didn’t stay for a meal but many around us were, and the burgers looked incredible. We did nibble on some onion rings and sweet potato fries, and if they’re any indication of the quality of the burgers, we really missed out.

The Hanging Bat

The Hanging Bat is another beer place – any beer fan is going to feel totally frustrated with the lack of insight in this post as I barely drink beer and know next to nothing about it. However the Hanging Bat is worth a stop whether you’re a beer nut or not; they of course stock a wide range of drinks and have a good bbq-themed menu featuring chicken wings, beer mac & cheese and a large list of hotdogs. It’s  a great place for an informal meal; the food came on a tray with everything packaged in cardboard boxes, and you don’t feel guilty eating with your hands and smearing sauce all over your face. They also serve their beer in very cute schooners, wisely engraved with a plea of ‘Please don’t take me, I’m spoken for’.

Food at The Hanging Bat, Edinburgh

Bramble

We only stopped by Bramble briefly for a cocktail, but I left with the feeling that if I was a local it would be one of my regular haunts. It’s hard to spot as it’s underground with no sign; turn right just past Urban Angel and just keep your eyes peeled for a bouncer standing on some stairs by a tailor’s shop.

The cocktail menu is pretty extensive and there are a range of options no mater what your drink of choice is. I chose a Mint 500 – gin, elderflower, apple and lemon juice, mint and basil – and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. There’s not a lot of room inside so we ended up standing, otherwise we would probably have stayed longer!

Edinburgh Gin Distillery/Heads & Tales

As a massive gin fan, I couldn’t possibly go to Edinburgh without dropping by their gin distillery. I booked tickets for their Connoisseur tour online a few days before; this package costs £25/person and includes a tour and talk on the history of gin, plus a 5-shot tasting and a small bottle of gin to take hoe. A bargain in my opinion! Our guide was really informative and entertaining, and made the session really fun. The building is hard to find (ignore your smartphone map and just go to the Huxley), but really cool; it’s underground and the tastings are held in cosy brick-lined alcoves. According to our guide, it originally served as the coal store for the house above it.

Gin tasting at Edinburgh Gin Distillery

In the evenings the tour rooms are transformed into a bar called Heads & Tales, where the defining factor is their ‘GIY’ menu where you choose your preferred gin, flavour and glass and allow the bartender to mix you a cocktail based on your selections. I chose Edinburgh gin and rose in a champagne flute and got a prosecco and gin cocktail with a lovely fragrant taste. I also enjoyed a ‘Tea With the Queen’ from their set cocktail menu, with was Earl Grey mixed with Tanqueray and came in a teacup!

Cocktail at Heads and Tales, Edinburgh

Have you been to Edinburgh? Did you love it as much as I did? Share your favourite places in the comments!

5 Dull Chains and the Independents That Do It Better

Ever wander around a new city and get a vague sense of deja-vu? Everywhere you look things are the same, but slightly different, and you start to question whether you’ve been here before. Suddenly your gaze rests on a Starbucks, and you realise that your mind isn’t playing tricks on you, you’ve just seen this Starbucks a thousand times in a thousand different places.

Leeds is no different. In city centre alone, I believe we currently have 7 Starbucks, 6 Costa Coffee, 5 Subway and 3 each of McDonald’s and Nando’s. Those are some big numbers for a city so compact you’re rarely more than 15 minutes’ walk away from anything else. Luckily, the independents are fighting back, and despite being the underdog, they’ve got a lot on their side. Apart from having a spark of originality and staff who tend to have a genuine passion for what they’re doing, the product is higher quality, locally-sourced, and despite all this – wait for it – you often pay less money for all this indie delicious-ness.

Convinced that you should break up with your favourite chain immediately? Good. Now find out where you can go to ease the pain – I promise it won’t just be a one night stand…

Costa Coffee La Bottega Milanese

“You know what I could really go for? A bland cup of foam and a pre-packaged panini”… said nobody, ever. Enter La Bottega Milanese, blending the best of Milan and Yorkshire to create great coffee, fresh paninis and beautiful Italian desserts. Their method clearly works; they occupy a premium spot in The Light and last year opened their second location at Bond Court (where the staff can often be found using their chalkboard to direct playful insults at the Costa Coffee next door). The decor is a refreshing change from average Leeds coffee shop, and the cherry on top? Their Leeds Light location is open as late as 9pm.

La Bottega Milanese coffee, Leeds

Subway Brod

Amid claims of overly-salted bread, questionable additives and calorie counts to rival McDonald’s, I’ve never been a huge Subway fan. Anywhere that has to produce a synthetic smell and pump it out of every store is pretty suspicious in my book. Brod, on the other hand, is a lunchtime favourite that I seem to share with half of Leeds’ workforce – I don’t think I’ve ever seen the place without a queue out the door. Despite this, everyone gets served within 5 minutes and the sandwiches are amazing. Prices range from around £2.50-£3.50, and don’t forget to pick up a brownie.

Byron Burger Patty Smith’s

Byron has so many branches now and always seems to be full…am I ust missing something? I’m not saying i was terrible, but having been once I found their burgers to be a bit cold, exceedingly average, and not worth a second visit. Plus they are PRICEY – get yourself to Patty Smith’s at the Belgrave instead and you can get a Dirty Burger for a fiver, and add chips for £1.50. The brioche buns are Yorkshire-bred (pun intended), the patties are made on site, and the burger name is so appropriate. You’ll know what I mean when you try it.

Patty Smith's Dirty Burger

La Tasca Viva Cuba

La Tasca seem to do a hell of a lot of offers – 2 for 1s and the like – but they really should for the price of their dishes and mediocrity of the food. La Tasca has a lot of competition from independents tapas places in Leeds; Ambiente and Sandinista are fab, and there are several others on my to-visit list including Bilbao and Pintura. However there’ll always be a special place in my heart for Viva Cuba. Yes it looks like a dive from the outside, but inside is delicious food, colourful Cuban decor and sangria that goes down like fruit juice.

Pizza Express Ecco Pizzeria

I’m going to be totally honest here – I don’t completely totally hate Pizza Express. Occasionally I’ll pick up a decent discount voucher and head along for a pizza that’s actually quite tasty, but when eating at the Headingley branch I’m always haunted by the fact that Ecco is just down the street. They use a wood-fired oven and are dedicated to the authenticity of their Neapolitan pizzas, going so far as to import all the key ingredients from Naples. There are so many original toppings to choose from it always takes me a good 15 minutes to choose one, but I never dither over a scoop of homemade gelato for dessert.

Pizza at Ecco Pizzeria, Leeds

So guys, what chain have you sacked off for a better and brighter independent?