Review: Ox Club, Leeds

I’m calling this a review, but in reality it’s basically a love letter to what has instantly become one of my favourite brunch spots in Leeds city centre. Ox Club in Headrow House has only been open a few months, but it’s already made a huge impression on the city, and on me! The food is delicious, the decor beautiful, and to be quite frank any place that has a dedicated brunch sitting that runs until 3.30pm deserves all the medals.

The first time I visited was during Ox Club’s first proper weekend, when they were very kindly offering 50% off to draw in the customers. The consequence, of course, was that it was crazy busy, and we were lucky to get a table. However the waitresses were friendly and immediately dropped off a bottle of water at our table before taking our drink orders. This is one of the only places I am happy to order tea; usually I’m a neurotic tea fiend who truly believes that only I can make a tea exactly the way I like it…but Ox Club do a really good cuppa.

Avocado on toast at Ox Club, Leeds Continue reading

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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!

Review: Archie’s Bar & Kitchen, Leeds

The latest addition to ever-expanding Granary Wharf is Archie’s Bar & Kitchen, a bizarre mix of VW camper vans and industrial decor in primary colours with an ‘under the sea’-themed dancefloor thrown in for good measure. I’ve been twice now, for weekend brunch and weekday night dinner, and for the life of me I can’t work out exactly what their deal is. That’s not to say I don’t like it – in fact I’m sure I’ll be returning again – but I’m pretty sure I’ll never get to the bottom of exactly what the decorators were going for. What’s life without a little mystery anyway?

I must admit I found the dinner menu to be slightly underwhelming – I think they were going for British classics crossed with the seaside, but I can’t be quite sure. I went for the brisket burger and it was nice, served with coleslaw and a generous helping of light, crispy chips, but if you’re craving a burger there are plenty of better options in Leeds. Apart from this, the party was already getting underway in the bar, making the dining experience a little loud.

But enough, negative, onto the brunch. Oh, the brunch. For a start it’s served until 2pm; I do love those non-judgemental restaurants that serve breakfast foods way into the afternoon. The restaurant was a little quiet when we arrived around midday but I think we were in the lull between breakfast and lunch as it soon got busy during our meal. We chose to sit at one of the high tables in the bar area, where food gets prepared in an adorable orange VW camper van.

VW camper van at Archie's, Leeds

The brunch menu covers pretty much anything you could want – breakfast and lunch foods, sweet and savoury. I have a real sweet tooth so I was ton between the banana pancakes and brioche toast with berries and pear. I opted for the pancakes which came in a stack of three with banana slices layered in the middle, drizzled with caramel sauce and topped with mascarpone and fruit.

Pancakes at Archie's, Leeds

The plate looked small when it arrived but trust me, it’s more than enough. The pancakes are light and fluffy but filling, and sweet enough that you can just about finish them, but probably wouldn’t want any more. And only £4 – bargain much?! I broke the sweetness up with a delicious fresh orange juice (and bits of sausage stolen off the boyf’s plate of cooked breakfast).

Fresh orange juice at Archie's, Leeds

The prices are good too – after 2 filling plates of food, a fresh orange and a mint tea the bill came in at just £18, and I stayed full for the whole day. A price I’m definitely willing to pay. Pretty sure I’ll be returning here to try out a few more delicious brunchy treats…

5 Favourite Lunch Hour Spots in Leeds

Ah, the lunch hour. The one hour of the working day when your boss can’t bother you, and you instead get to venture out into Leeds city centre to be bothered by all the other office workers escaping their bothersome bosses.

Seriously, I feel lucky to have a job that I enjoy, but sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day is not natural, so my lunch hour is sacred to me. Budget constraints mean that I bring lunch from home most of the time, but once or twice a week I like to leave the office and walk for my lunch. So where do I go?

Sesame

Sesame is one of my go-to ‘no frills’ places; if I originally wanted a simple homemade lunch but didn’t get out of bed in time to actually make it, this is where I go instead. I usually get one of their salad boxes, which feel super healthy and are great value – a £2.80 box allows you to pick 6 salad portions from a choice of bowls that feature fresh vegetables, rice, cous cous, pasta and beans, plus a cooked meat and a dollop of tzatziki or houmous. This box is dubbed ‘small’ but the staff are perfectly happy to stuff the box full to bursting, and it fills me up for the day! The cherry on top? In summer you can go straight over the road and eat it in Park Square.

Park Square, Leeds

Wasabi

I’ve never been a big fan of sushi, but I fell in love with bento boxes while travelling around Japan when I was 22. Wasabi, while unfortunately a suited yuppie central during weekday lunchtimes (6 individual pieces of sushi at £1.50 a pop – who are you, Bill Gates?!), actually does pretty decent Japanese food. The hot food counter tends to be both cheaper and more filling; my fave is Chicken Teriyaki for just under £5. I count this as my main meal of the day as I rarely eat dinner after demolishing one of these. In fact the ensuing food coma is a real problem when you’ve still got a whole afternoon of work to do.

Humpit

Got the giggles at the name out of the way? Good, then let’s begin. Humpit is almost purely vegan, featuring chiefly around (of course) hummus and pitta, with chickpeas, mushrooms, falafel and salsa chipping in to add further flavour. The menu isn’t big but it’s definitely beautiful – after tasting their homemade hummus you’ll never be able to stomach the supermarket stuff ever again, and the still lemonade is delicious. The staff are lovely and they enjoy a great location; the shop itself is small and has limited seating but there are plenty of additional tables ‘outside’ under the beautiful ceiling of the Corn Exchange.

Lunch at Humpit, Leeds

Wolf Street Food

Wolf has opened recently on St Paul’s Street in the financial district, a kind of Italian answer to Subway or Barburrito. Pick your ‘base’ – pasta, salad, wrap or focaccia bread – add meat, toppings and sauce, and you’ve got your meal. The formula is simple but leads to a very varied meal; I ordered a salad and ended up with a generous portion of tender pink steak, roasted peppers and 4 different vegetables on a bed of leaves. Not too shabby. I also feel it’s worth mentioning that they put spaghetti in their wraps – clearly these guys aren’t messing around.

Zaap Thai

Zaap isn’t an obvious choice for a quick lunch – unlike the other places on my list it’s not a cafe or a to-go place but a restaurant, where you usually have to write off an hour and a half to get through your meal. However Zaap is a restaurant in the loosest sense; it’s casual, cheap, and at lunchtime it’s usually quiet enough that you can order, eat and be back in the office in an hour. On an evening I tend to go for Thai curries, but at lunch it’s super fast to order several starters and have a tapas-style Thai buffet. Obviously this is a bit more pricey than a meal deal from Boots…but actually not as much more as you would expect.

Zaap Thai steamed buns

Fellow city centre workers! Where do you go to escape your computer and refuel?

Battle of the Burger at Canal Mills

On Saturday I trekked out to Canal Mills to take part in the meaty deliciousness that was Battle of the Burger! Over Friday and Saturday, six burger joints came together to fight it out for supreme burger champs, and they definitely brought their A game. Luckily the vendors were working to a £3 price point and producing mini burgers, so between us the boy and I managed to try five out of the six (yes, I was the wimp who threw the towel in after two). So who came out on top?

Battle of the Burger - Black Swan

The winner was announced earlier today, and it was Geordie visitor The Fat Hippo who came out on top after winning round 2 of the Newcastle leg back in July. I picked this as my second burger and I can attest that they fully deserved the title – the meat was tender, their signature Fat Hippo sauce is delicious, and it included a slice of chorizo which is always a winner in my book. Plus it came in a proper burger box with their cute little logo stamped on the inside of the lid!

Battle of the Burger Leeds - Fat Hippo

HOWEVER. My personal preference was for my first burger, courtesy of Sela Bar’s BoozyQ. Their offering was christened All The Beerburger and they weren’t kidding; somewhere along the line they managed to include Camden Pale, Beavertown Black Betty and two different kinds of stout. I’m not a beer fan at all, but like any reasonable person I was seduced by the promise of caramelised onions and candied bacon, and I wasn’t disappointed. What really sealed the deal for me was the brioche bun – it was so light and fluffy but kept the burger together really well, avoiding the the sorry, soggy end suffered by more mediocre buns.

Battle of the Burger - Black Swan sign

Admittedly I’d had an early start so I was pretty hangry by the time I arrived around 5pm, which could have swayed my judgement, but BoozyQ was my winner. Unfortunately my attack of the hangries also meant I’d devoured most of the burger before it even occurred to me to get a photo. Big sadface, but here’s a picture of The Old Yorkshire Pit’s offering instead!

Battle of the Burger - The Yorkshire Pit

Were you at Battle of the Burger? Who was your winner?

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?

Review: Love Rouge Bakery, Headingley

If you live in Headingley and have a weakness for cake, you’re probably familiar with Love Rouge Bakery. If you’re struggling to place the name, it’s the almost painfully adorable cafe tucked away next to Dare, with a fabulous vintage interior and a random musing about cupcakes chalked on a board outside. You’ll have walked past it a million times, and possibly drooled on their window upon catching sight of the cakes.

Cupcakes at Love Rouge Bakery, Headingley

You may not have guessed this yet but I’m a big fan of the cupcakes from Love Rouge; there are so many different flavours and they always look so beautiful! Chocolate & peanut butter is one of my favourites; I’m of the personal opinion that everything is a little bit better with a schmear of peanut butter on it. What I didn’t know is that they also do a pretty awesome breakfast menu, which was revealed to me a few weekends ago when I went for a girly catch up with a few friends.

Love Rouge Bakery, HeadingleyLove Rouge Bakery, Headingley

I put in my usual coffee order of a latte; I’ve only recently started drinking coffee and still need a lot of milk to make it taste good to me. I’m also more than a little seduced by late art and Love Rouge are fantastic at it – on this occasion I got an expertly drawn rose on top of my froth! Also note the incredibly cute cup and saucer…

Latte at Love Rouge Bakery

We gazed longingly at the cakes in the counter as we queued up to order, but all reluctantly agreed that 10am was a pretty unacceptable time to eat cupcakes. Instead I went for American-style pancakes – a short stack of thick, fluffy pancakes topped with crispy bacon and a generous drizzle of maple syrup. I’m fairly convinced they contained my recommended calorie intake for the whole day, but I have absolutely no regrets; they were delicious. I only wish they looked more appealing through my camera lens – my friend’s Eggs Benedict was a lot more photogenic…

Pancake breakfast at Love Rouge Bakery, Headingley

I love going out for breakfast and Love Rouge has definitely been added to the list of go-to options. All that’s left for me to do is drop by to test out the lunch menu, probably with a cupcake for dessert…