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…

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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?

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?

July in Pictures

So, what have I been up to in July? Unfortunately not writing as many blog posts as I’d have liked; I’m trying to get to two a week but this month has passed in a blur of work, moving house (twice) and planning exciting trips. Not that I’m complaining, I just need to get myself some self discipline. I’m great at keeping up-to-date with the content calendars I create at work, but somehow I’m a lot more slack here…

So, July’s whirlwind has included two new houses, first visits to a few places around Leeds including Northern Monk Refectory, the new Gusto restaurant on Greek Street and the latest Five Guys branch, and many, many cocktails! Let’s take a look at how it looked through my camera lens…

Prosecco at Gusto, Leeds Strawberry and passionfruit mess, Gusto LeedsPraline Soother, Hotel Chocolat Summer PartyMe and Emma, Hotel Chocolat partyFive Guys burger, LeedsLatte at Love Rouge Bakery IMG_20150722_183158Cocktails at The Alchemist Screwball cocktail, The AlchemistBreakfast as Northern Monk RefectoryScrewball, Roundhay Park

My August has already got off to a great start – I’ve successfully co-hosted my first blogger event at work (more on that to come!), tomorrow I’m jetting off to Croatia, and we’re only 3 days in!

Have a wonderful month everyone…

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…

Hotel Chocolat’s Summer Party

On Tuesday night I attended Hotel Chocolat’s summer party at their Roast & Conch Restaurant in Leeds. The event was held to promote the restaurant’s new summer menu, as well as showcasing some of their cocktails and new stock, and in exchange for my £15 ticket I was plied all night with cocktails, canapés and delicious chocolates. However I couldn’t help but feel that the night fell somewhat short…

Chocolate display, Hotel Chocolat Summer Party

I arrived with my friend just after 6pm, and we were greeted by a member of staff who took our tickets and directed us into the cafe where cocktails were lined up on the bar. We had the choice of a praline martini-type tipple called a praline soother, or a summery rum punch. After a lot of deliberation I chose the soother, which was deliciously cream without being too rich.

Praline Soother, Hotel Chocolat Summer PartyPraline Soother, Hotel Chocolat Summer Party

As we sipped our drinks we started to wander around the cafe. One table had a range of dishes from their menu laid out for show which was interesting; I never even knew that Roast & Conch did brunch! They all looked delicious but annoyingly none of them had labels to show what they were. I was perked up, however, by a delicious carrot cake chocolate!

Food display, Hotel Chocolat Summer PartyFod display, Hotel Chocolat Summer Party

By the time we’d finished our cocktails, taken the necessary selfies and browsed the food display, it was nearing 7pm. This was where our issues started. Aside from being handed a few tasters by waiters bearing platters, no staff had come round to chat to us or let us know what was going to happen throughout the night, and truth be told we felt a little lost. We wandered upstairs, but were only met by more guests and food that, however beautiful it looked, we couldn’t eat. My one solace was a slice of salted caramel brownie, that I will definitely be sneaking back to the cafe for fairly soon. Probably more than once.

Desserts at Hotel Chocolat Summer Party Desserts at Hotel Chocolat Summer Party

We floated around for a while longer, had a few more free drinks and some chocolate samples, but ultimately left around 8pm. When my friend heard about the event from a sales assistant at the store she was given the impression that there were going to be lots of things going on, but after two hours we had eaten all the chocolate we could stomach and were, to be honest, a little bored. Speaking of freebies though, we did get a pretty beautiful goodie bag, featuring a chocolate lolly, delicious fruit bombes, and some mojito chocolates with more of a kick than your average cocktail.

Hotel Chocolat Summer Party goodie bag Hotel Chocolat Summer Party goodie bag

As someone who currently spends a large portion of her working week planning events, I felt frustrated because I felt like the organisers had missed so many opportunities to make the evening into more than just a night of free food and drink. There could have been chocolate-making demonstrations, cocktail masterclasses, food and wine pairing workshops, chefs talking guests through the dishes on display…but instead it was just your standard night at a bar, with more free stuff. A lovely night, but at £15 a ticket I felt short-changed. Thanks for the freebies Hotel Chocolat, but next year let’s see some fireworks!

Review: Gusto, Leeds

Last week I managed to score a great deal; my colleagues and I were offered the chance to go to the new Gusto restaurant on Greek Street for the soft launch and enjoy all the food we wanted…absolutely free! Of course we would have been mad to turn this down, so we booked our table and headed town for what would become a very, very long lunch.

We had to pay for our own drinks, but as we were getting an entire meal free of charge we didn’t mind splashing out on some rosé prosecco to kick us off. At £25 a bottle between three of us it doesn’t break the bank, and also meant we didn’t go back to work sloshed for the afternoon.

Prosecco at Gusto, Leeds

We were seated quickly and our waitress immediately arrived with menus to run us through the specials. It was a busy lunchtime and some of the starters had already run out when we arrived at 1.30, but luckily nothing I wanted to order. We were offered some nibbles while we looked at the menu which we accepted, and a server brought over focaccia bread with oil and balsamic vinegar, olives and sun dried tomatoes. The tomatoes were a little bland and could have benefited from a drizzle of olive oil, but the focaccia was delicious – my ongoing struggle to not fill up on bread before a big meal continues!

Focaccia at Gusto, LeedsAntipasti at Gusto, Leeds

I ordered tomato and basil bruschetta to start, followed by a medium rare fillet steak with roasted tomatoes and fries. The bruschetta topping was gorgeous, the fresh tomato soaked in oil (if you hadn’t already realised, yes I am a bit obsessed with olive oil), but the bread base was quite hard and brittle. It would possibly have been easier to eat if I’d abandoned my cutlery, but Gusto doesn’t really feel like a finger-food kind of place…

My steak was pretty delicious, chargrilled on the outside but the perfect ‘rare side of medium rare’ on the inside, and flavoured with a splash of garlic butter. However I would comment that there are plenty of better places to get a good steak in Leeds, and if I came back to Gusto I’d probably go with a pasta dish and save my money for a specialist steak restaurant.

Steak at Gusto, Leeds

We were all pretty full by this point but the dessert menu was a strong list, tempting most of my table. I caved to peer pressure and decided on a chocolate and coffee mousse, but when I came to order I found it was sold out. I was initially disappointed, but when my second choice – a strawberry and passionfruit mess – arrived, I found myself thanking my lucky stars for all the people who had scoffed the mousses. The mess was perfect; flaky meringue filled with a light, fluffy cream and drizzled with fresh strawberries and passionfruit. Its flawless presentation was just the cherry on top.

Strawberry and passionfruit mess, Gusto Leeds

Gusto definitely has its work cut out; I had a good meal and the suburban branch in Cookridge does well, but it will be interesting to see how it fares in the more competitive environment of city centre. It’s a tough scene – stalwarts Bibis and Salvo’s (Headingley) have been dominating the Leeds Italian scene for years, while newer independents such as LIVIN’italy and Ipsum Vinoteca are enjoying brilliant success. Chains have their place in any city, but with Zizzi, Carluccio’s and San Carlo already at home here, Gusto may struggle to distinguish itself from the crowd. Welcome to Leeds Gusto, hope you can handle it!