A dilemma – To Freebie or not to freebie?

I started writing the blog over 14 months ago because of my love of eating out and documenting it with photographs. For months it was reviews on establishments around the UK and abroad, from Michelin starred to my local curry house – all places I’d chosen to go to and paid for out of my own pocket. I’ve reviewed A LOT, and over a number of months there have been many a freebie flying around, but I think it’s come to the point where I am not doing them anymore.

I’ve been in a dilemma for a while now. It’s been creeping up on me and really kicked off after reviewing COSMO and Wasabi. I’ve been at odds with myself about getting freebies and also reviewing chains ever since. I know some people may think, ‘what about all the freebies, that’s great’. Yes, there are positives and negatives to this, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s very easy to accept everything, but I am going to gratefully decline all such offers from now on. 

I’m not really sure why I’m feeling the need to declare this, but I suppose as a blogger I have some sort of obligation to provide a service to others. Some people may disagree. I know that before I started blogging I used to read Leeds Grub and The Leeds Guide regularly to inform me of where to go/not go to eat myself. 

Basically it comes down to this; the blog is my outlet for writing about places I want to try for the first time or revisit, but also pay for out of my own pocket. It’s one of the things I really enjoy doing and luckily, is a regular occurrence so content to write about has never been lacking.

But after accepting freebies and adding them to the mix, it’s gradually worn me down and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m NOT comfortable receiving freebies and I won’t be doing them in the future.

What’s your opinion on this, what do you think?

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Easter lunch @ Browns, Leeds

As far as chain restaurants go, I’ve always had the impression that Browns has a reputation of being a pretty ‘safe’ meal option. My last encounter being 3/4 years ago I assume was an average meal, as I have no particularly positive or negative memories of it. What’s even stranger is I have no photos of it either, I have photos from virtually every single good meal out for the last 13 years at least!! No joke; just ask my poor, poor husband!

Since then I’ve known it more for the odd after-work drink with colleagues, jostling my way through the rest of Leeds city workers to get to the bar.

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So after receiving an invite to review their service I was intrigued taking the other half for an Easter Monday lunch. It was still fairly early and not particularly busy when we arrived, but one of the problems I’ve always found is where do you go if you’ve got a reservation or would like a table? Maybe I’m just really unobservant! The signs have never really jumped at me, but luckily as we walked near their beautiful grand piano we were greeted and taken to a table in a lovely spot of their upper dining area.

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During the day they offer a ‘Lunch and Early Menu’ with dishes to choose from, such as traditional fare Fish & Chips and Steak pie to something more adventurous, like Crispy chilli duck flatbread and Ricotta, beetroot and truffle Tortellini.

In terms of price; the lunch menu – starters are £3, main courses and sandwiches are £6-£12. Whereas the Early Menu is priced at £6-£9.50 (starters) and £10-£19 (main courses).

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Having already had a morning of bacon and eggs I wasn’t after anything particularly large, so seeing some smaller main courses was definitely a good thing . 

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The starters looked very inviting, I’d stuck to the lunch menu and ordered the baked mushrooms (£3). They were woody and meaty in flavour, had been cooked well so still had shape and weren’t too mushy. The fricassee was lovely, with plenty of garlic and a hint of madeira, I would have liked more chilli though. It was an enjoyable first course all in all.

Baked flat mushrooms
Baked flat mushrooms

The OH loves goat’s cheese (£7), and there was a generous round of it coated in a walnut crust, sitting on top of golden beetroot discs with a Pico de gallo salsa, (an uncooked salad of chopped tomato, white onion, and chillies) and a sweet pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. It went down REALLY well and was finished in a matter of minutes. I think he was a happy man and LOVED it!

Roasted Goat's cheese
Roasted Goat’s cheese

For £6, my Crab and King Prawn Linguine was a decent size. Everything was well cooked – al dente pasta tossed thoroughly in a nicely flavoured coriander pesto, the prawns were moist and juicy and the dish had plenty of crab woven through it. A topping of raw Lamb’s lettuce gave a little nutty tanginess to the dish. I could feel my cheeks developing a rosy glow, but I would have welcomed a little more chilli. Overall I was pretty happy with it. 

Crab & King Prawn linguine
Crab & King Prawn Linguine

The OH’s fish & chips at £9, was also portioned up well, plenty of thin cut chips that were as good chips should be – golden, crisp and fluffy on the inside. The Pollock was well cooked with a thin crispy batter. The accompanying sauces were on the whole very good, with homemade tomato and tartare sauces all hitting the right spots, while the peas were more crushed than mushy, so even though had good flavour from mint and peas, the OH wasn’t so fussed on the texture. 

Fish & Chips
Fish & Chips

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the food, and the service was great! Our server Philip was friendly and attentive throughout, I couldn’t fault him really. I’d recommend it certainly for a leisurely lunch, I can’t comment if the quality of our experience would change during a dinner service when Browns can get very busy. 

Food: Reasonably priced lunch menu. A varied choice of dishes if not a little safe, but has a good range of classics and family favourites. They could push the boat out a little with some more adventurous plates. 

Service: Friendly, polite and attentive without being too in your face. 

Atmosphere: Relaxed ambience, we were sat by the windows in the corner so had a lovely view of the restaurant.

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to write a review of the food and service, so our meal was complimentary.

Browns
72 The Headrow
Leeds
LS1 8EQ
0113 243 9353
http://www.browns-restaurants.co.uk/locations/leeds/

Browns on Urbanspoon

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Gusto Italiano @ Lazy Lounge, Leeds

Gusto Italiano‘s, ‘Taste of Italy’ Night is an event hosted by Mario Olianos held at Lazy Lounge on Wellington Street. It’s a monthly feast I’ve wanted to go to for AGES, after reading wonderful things about the evening from Leeds blogger Where’s Lisa. Luckily, Mario was in search of local bloggers to attend last Thursday, so I duly attended with my friend Alice.

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All the food is lovingly prepared by Mario, a Sardinian native, who you may have seen selling his Italian produce at Briggate Farmers market. 

Being a believer in collaborating with other independents Mario invites a local food hero to each event. This months guest was Adam Thur from The Pastry Stall and previous guests have included Costello’s Bakery, The Yummy Yank and George & Joseph.

Mario lays all the food out in a corner of the Lazy Lounge upstairs mezzanine, and even though I’d seen photos on Twitter before, it didn’t prepare me for the reality of it. This was like a foodie dream come true!! 

Gusto Italiano feast!

Mario happily talked us through the buffet and spoke with passion about what comes naturally; generously feeding people who love food (much of it homemade) with simple flavours which reflect his homeland.

There was a beautiful array of Italian, and in particular Sardinian treats for both meat and non-meat eaters, with the whole idea of grazing. Including bruschetta topped with aubergine and tomato which were showed off on a mirrored table. Great, simple flavours done well!

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Tomato and basil bruschetta
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Roasted aubergine, red onion and pepper bruschetta

An incredibly enjoyable frittata which was thin and light and a generous platter of three meats  -  Parma ham, Mortadella and Salami Napoli.

Courgette frittata
Frittata
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Meat platter

A vibrant homemade salad – Polpa di Granchi alla Catalana made with crab stick was a revelation, it was light, but still flavourful from red onion, tomatoes and shredded crab running through it.

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Polpa di Granchi alla Catalana

Mario’s an artisan who produces his own cheese using Yorkshire produce, and in an impressive line-up brought along three homemade Pecorino cheeses at 10, 20, and 30 days old. I’m not the biggest cheese fan and even I found myself enjoying them; lovely and creamy, complementing the rest of the dishes well. In addition, there were also two mature Pecorino cheeses giving plenty of choice.

Selection of cheeses
Selection of cheeses, including Mario’s homemade Pecorino

Mario’s homemade Carta di Musica, a flat bread who’s name comes from being paper-thin, allowing sheet music to be read through it before being cooked.

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Carta di Musica (Music bread)

A selection of sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and balsamic glazed baby onions, as well as a freshly made Caprese salad to add a whole host of flavours and textures to your plate.

Insalata Caprese
Insalata Caprese
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Sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes in olive oil

With freshly made Margherita pizzas from neighbours Primo, there was LOTS of potential to become incredibly full with the feast in front of us. 

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Primo’s Margherita pizza

As you can imagine it was difficult not to indulge, but of course there had to be room to sample the stunning patisserie made by Adam from The Pastry Stall. It all looked picture perfect, and my photos don’t do them justice in the slightest.

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Everything was absolutely exquisite and beautifully made; lemon meringue pies with perfect balance of sharp lemon with sweetness from the meringue.

The macaron were TO DIE FOR!!! A lovely size, completely melt in the mouth and not too sweet. Fresh fruit tartlets filled with creme patisierre were also a complete winner.

A Straciatella cheesecake which I heard was a total winner of a dessert, with chocolate covered popping candy. Thom is obviously a very talented pastry chef!

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Individual cheesecake, lemon meringue, macaron and fruit tartlet with creme patissiere
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Macaron!!!!

The evening is an absolute bargain for £10.99 and you can eat as much or as little as you want, but believe me you’ll find yourself going for seconds because it’s just so yummy! I wasn’t the only one to think so, as there were a number of regulars who are completely hooked on Mario’s food and buy in 100% to his passion for feeding people with wonderful produce.

The evening was ALL about enjoying wonderful food, with like-minded people who love the good things in life – good conversation and great authentic food.

What another fantastic example of independent businesses collaborating together for the greater good.  Booking on one of Mario’s ‘Taste of Italy’ events is a fantastic idea for lovers of great food and conversation in a relaxed setting. A well of the Gusto Italiano evening, Mario also hosts Cena Sarda where guests are treated to a traditional Sardinian meal, which many of the guests I met on Thursday said is a MUST!! 

I definitely recommend Gusto Italiano ‘Taste of Italy’!!

Food: Delicious, authentic, lots of homemade produce, caters for meat-eaters and non-meat eaters with ease.

Atmosphere: Lovely relaxed atmosphere, ideal for meeting other food lovers.

Value for money: A bargain for the quality of food.

Gusto Italiano ‘Taste of Italy’
Lazy Lounge
Wellington St
Leeds
West Yorkshire
LS1 4JY
0113 244 605
http://lazy-lounge.com

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Twisted Burger Company @ Aire Bar, Leeds

Does Leeds need ANOTHER burger establishment? I’m sure you’ve seen how the burger has been a major growth in Leeds’ food zeitgeist for a while now. There’s a hell of a lot of competition around so a new burger joint has to stand out, with New York Burger Kitchen, It Bar and Patty Smith’s @ The Belgrave amongst others in the city centre alone. After attending their launch a few weeks ago there was definitely enough interest, but whether the burgers would be up to the task was another question.

Originally hailing from Sheffield, Twisted Burger Company have been drafted in by Aire bar on Call Lane. Already with an ardent following since setting up shop at The Harley near Sheffield University, evidence of their heritage was on show with Henderson’s Relish on the table, a nice little touch.

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After having read a number of reviews I was hoping it was going to be good, and took the other half (burger lover) along for the ride. With eight burgers on the main menu and the option to build your own (If It Ain’t Broke) with a number of different toppings and sides  to choose from.

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I’m never particularly adventurous when it comes to burgers, I like them simple and straightforward opting for an If It Ain’t Broke - a double beef patty, Monterey Jack and streaky smoked bacon with Harley House fries. The other half chose the Super Supersize Me with Regular Joe Fries.

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If It AIn’t Broke – double beef patty with Monterey Jack and streaky smoked bacon

The Harley House fries were good – a generous portion of lightly crisp skinny fries with a pleasant Cajun spice. I hate to say it, but these were the best bit of the meal! I was underwhelmed with my burger, I tend to like my patties pink  in the middle but this can be forgiven when cooked through, if the meat is flavourful. The beef  was just adequate and under seasoned. Why have two thin patties (cooked through) when you can have one thicker one (cooked pink)? Obviously it’s just my opinion of course. The streaky bacon wasn’t crisp and had at times VERY big bits of fat, not just the long lines of fat that are accustomed with streaky bacon. Again, this would’ve been forgiven IF it was crispy! It was quite greasy too.

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Harley House Fries

The other half was less than impressed with his, and he hates saying anything bad about a burger! Very greasy, the brioche bun fell apart within two bites and on inspection was saturated with grease, not meat juice. The bacon had the same issues as mine and even though the Techno Burger sauce was good, for a burger of that size there wasn’t enough of it. The Regular Joe fries ended up soaking up a lot of the grease from the burger too. 

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Super Supersize Me

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I was pretty gutted that we hadn’t had the best experience as I know many people have loved them. I hope this was just a blip! The staff were lovely and when we mentioned a couple of our niggles (I wanted to save all of it for the review) they were receptive and took them on board. This is only their 3rd week in residency at Aire Bar so I hope they’ll improve their consistency.

Since writing this post I tried to find out more about the rules on cooking burgers pink etc, and I did find a number of articles that mentioned stopping restaurants serving burgers rare or medium rare due to health and safety reasons. Some also mentioned the importance of the internal temperature of the patty.  OK, so fair enough I can fully understand those reasons, there were unfortunately other negatives though.

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to review Twisted Burger Company in exchange for an honest, unbiased review, therefore my meal was a complimentary one.

Aire Bar
32-34 The Calls
Leeds
LS2 7EW
 

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Perky Peacock, York – The North’s Coffee Community, pt VIII

For my second coffee hit in York I paid a visit to the Perky Peacock, located at Lendal bridge on the River Ouse. York is full of historic buildings, but this place has a historically interesting and quirky spot, hidden in an old toll booth (Postern Tower) overlooking the river. Opened by Nicola Peacock, an award winning barista four and a half years ago. It’s great spot, next to the river where rowers and York river boats frequently pass by, close to the main tourist trap of Medieval York and the train station.

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Originally from Thirsk, Nicola got her Philosophy degree at York University, travelled around the USA and then got bored doing mundane office work. It wasn’t until the age of 21 did Nicola actually have her first taste of coffee, and for a period before Perky Peacock was born ran a mobile coffee shop with an espresso machine in a smart car! One of the unusual things she found was she couldn’t trade within the city walls, so Nicola would park up on the edge of the walls luring in coffee lovers, who quickly became regulars! 

Nicola soon realised how much interest she had in coffee as a product, she loved the customer interaction and producing something great from a humble source is at the heart of what she does.

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During this time she noticed the Postern Tower on her coffee route, it’s part of York’s famous city walls and was originally built as a toll tower to help restrict ships access to the town centre. As she was eager to discover who owned it, she posted letters through the letter box constantly to find out who was in possession of the place. Eventually finding out that York Boat who run the cruises along the river did, it worked out perfectly as Nicola has the space above, while the boating company still has the mooring. 

Once inside the tower it has a quirky, oldie worldy feel and bags of character, I loved the wooden beams, the mix of furniture and decor make it really cosy and homely. With there being just four tables I’d say it’s small, but perfectly formed, making the most of the unusual space well. A great view is to be had if you can nab a table overlooking the river too.

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As you’d expect from a barista who’s competed at the UK Barista Championships the coffee is pretty darn good, their seasonal espresso is from Cornwall based Origin coffee roasters. Only using coffee from roasters which deal in Direct Trade is of major importance to Nicola, it means that the best beans are 100% traceable and sustainable, grown by farmers they have built strong relationships with, ensuring they get a fair price for their crop and that the environment is well maintained. For guest coffees they have James’ Gourmet Coffee, who are based in Ross-on-Wye.

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At the time I visited they were using Hunda Oli, an Ethopian espresso with delicate flavours of peach, apricot, lemon and jasmine. I had this in a lovely flat white made on their San Remo Verona machine, by barista Gabby Collet, who’d recently come 6th in the Latte Art category (the highest placed female) at the UK Barista Championships!

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Gorgeous latte art by Gabby Collet – best female latte artist at UK Barista Championships 2014

All the cakes are baked by Nicola’s mam, who has a tonne of baking experience, having baked for Harvey Nichols in the past. Coming from a farm she understands the importance of local produce, so stays close to home wherever possible, such as using local butchers on the Shambles. 

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Whether you’re a local, a city worker, or doing the touristy thing and walking the city walls, like you do; you’ll probably find yourself at Lendal Bridge where you’ll see a medieval stone tower with a slate roof – why don’t you pop inside, you’ll get treated well with excellent coffee and banter, a spot of food and a great view from a beautiful, historic part of York. 

The Perky Peacock
The Postern Tower
Lendal Bridge
York
YO1 6HU
 01904 613511
http://perkypeacockcoffee.co.uk

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La Casita, Ilkley

When I think of food in Ilkley, images of Lishman’s the butchers and Michelin starred The Box Tree restaurant spring to mind. So last night I ventured out to try recently opened Tapas restaurant La Casita, opened by chef Simon Miller, Oliver Renton and Ben Riley. Their chef Simon Miller has reached the quarter finals of Masterchef the Professionals, and had decent credentials from working at The Box Tree and The Fleece in Otley, amongst others.

The restaurant itself is housed on the upper level of the Victorian Arcade, with an outside dining area and bar the first thing you see on the mezzanine level.

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The main restaurant has two adjoining rooms, and even though wasn’t the biggest of spaces it didn’t feel cramped.

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There was a decent range of wines at fairly reasonable prices on their list, so I chose a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£21) which I found crisp, zingy with a decent amount of acidity to cut through any richness in our food.

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The menu is broken down into Aperitivos (£1.80 – £8.50), Vegetariano (£4.20 – £8.50), Carne (£5.50 – £15.50), Pescados (£6 – £8.50) and a Charcuterie platter selection (£11.50).

Before the meal I’d compared the menu to, in my opinion, arguably the best tapas restaurant in Leeds at the moment Ambiente. In terms of price, dishes tend to be pricier at La Casita than Ambiente, and having the opportunity to eat at both I’d be able to compare the food and see if it warranted this. 

The waiter suggested ordering five dishes to share, but we opted for four. I did find the waitress a little pushy when ordering, as she tried to get us to order the John Dory special as well, but we stuck to our guns.

Having travelled through Northern and Southern Spain over the years I think I’ve a good knowledge of tapas, in particular the classics, so I purposefully chose the Tortilla and Albondigas which are good standards that can be compared.

After ordering the food arrived after 30 mins, and even though they arrived together, I personally feel this is TOO long. What do you reckon?

Everything did look great though, the two classic dishes Tortilla and Albondigas, I’d say I liked them but I’ve certainly had much better elsewhere. The Tortilla had ‘OK’ flavour and needed more seasoning, the best ones are just set in the centre with more give, this didn’t hit the mark for me in that respect. The garlic aioli that accompanied it was very good though and brought the dish to life.

Tortilla de Patatas - Spanish tortilla with garlic aioli
Tortilla de Patatas – Spanish tortilla with garlic aioli

The meatballs at £6 a pop, I found were overpriced, so I’d hoped the food itself would meet the demands of its price tag. On flavour the meatballs had a smoky meatiness, but were a little dense and I didn’t get any spice whatsoever in the tomato sauce sadly.

Albondigas el Estilo Español - Meatballs in tomato sauce
Albondigas el Estilo Español – Meatballs in spicy tomato sauce

The Bacalao dish I enjoyed, but if I hadn’t known it was Bacalao I wouldn’t have guessed. The firm texture was apparent, but the saltiness I’d expected wasn’t. I even asked the waiter to check it was and where it was from, it was a little disconcerting he didn’t know himself and kept asking the kitchen! The spiced lentils and tomato gave the dish extra texture and flavour which I liked, but to say the bit I liked most was the accompaniment isn’t the best, is it?

Bacalao Laminado - Flaked cod with spiced lentils
Bacalao Laminado – Flaked cod with spiced lentils

Our last dish of Ox cheeks was definitely the stand out dish of the evening and was dreamy. Completely melt in the mouth and zero effort was needed to eat these bad boys. Cooked in a wonderfully rich and unctuous red wine sauce.

Carrillada en Cocción Lenta - Ox cheeks, slow cooked in red wine
Carrillada en Cocción Lenta – Ox cheeks, slow cooked in red wine

Neither of us felt the need for a fifth dish or even a dessert, I did have a nosey at the menu though. I found it a little odd they only had a selection of parfait. Yes, there may be seven different varieties, but of the same thing. Maybe they should be pushing the boat out a little and have more options to choose from, and I don’t mean more parfait either.  

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I found service a little hit and miss, they were friendly, but at times  slow. With the importance of provenance of ingredients I also felt that staff should know more about the dishes and where the main ingredients come from.

Overall I’m probably being ultra picky with some of my views, but for the price of the dishes I feel I need to be, especially when there are very good alternatives closer to home.

Food: Some dishes had lovely parts to them, but overall needs to be more consistent in flavours and a little overpriced. 

Service: Hit and miss, a little slow at times, staff need more knowledge of the dishes, such as provenance of their ingredients.  Generally friendly and welcoming.

Atmosphere: There was a pleasantly  warm atmosphere, the restaurant is set in a lovely beautiful Victorian arcade.

DISCLAIMER: I had been invited to go to write an honest, unbiased review based on my experience. The meal was 50% complimentary.
La Casita
Victorian Arcade
Ilkley
West Yorkshire
LS29 9DY 
01943 601062
http://www.lacasitailkley.co.uk

La Casita on Urbanspoon

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Upshot Espresso, Sheffield – The North’s Coffee Community, pt VII

My latest review has brought me to Sheffield for the first time on my indie coffee exploration, and I must admit I’m still really enjoying the ride and venturing outside of Leeds! Upshot Espresso came onto my coffee radar during North Star’s Latte Art Throw Down, when one of their baristas competed in the event.

Originally from Doncaster, Upshot Espresso started life when Sam and his Dad opened the place 2 years ago. Found on busy Glossop Road, near the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and Sheffield University, their main custom comes from both of these establishments.

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It’s a light, relaxed space and with an inviting low level counter showing off their prized EK-43 grinder, the creme de la creme of grinders and a yummy selection of baked goods, either produced by an artisan baker in Penistone or by their resident baker Lauren. With a semi-rustic feel from reclaimed wood pine floor boards for counter tops and old army bridge supports for the window table, I chatted to Sam who is the Head Barista/owner of the shop at said window, which for me was the best seat in the house!

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Like some other great coffee establishments a low coffee counter lends itself well to interaction and building relationships with customers. They can show off different brewing methods, such as V60 and Aeropress, and a nice bit of latte art. Yeah, I know that doesn’t mean the coffee’s good, but I personally can’t get enough of it!

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In this case the coffee’s great, they have two different espressos on at a time, and three filters, swearing by artisan roasters like Square Mile and Workshop. They regularly host guest coffees too, just to mix it up a little bit and keep it interesting. Provenance and traceability plays an important part in their choices of roasters and coffee, so using artisan roasters is at the top of Upshot’s priorities. 

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At the time I visited there was Square Mile’s Red Brick Seasonal Espresso with 60% La Serrania from Columbia and 40% Santa Ana from Brazil giving  brownie sweetness, vanilla aromas and dried fruit finish. Also on the books was James Gourmet‘s Sulawesi Tana Toraja AA Espresso with its rich, silky body, hint of asparagus, sweetness, fruit and floral notes.

On filter they had an Ethiopian Doyo from local artisan roasters Foundry and Columbian filters Finca El Agrado and Finca La Esmerelda from Workshop.

They are also the purveyor of fine teas using a nice selection from the Canton Tea Co, and are happy to talk tea as much as they are to talk coffee!

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La Spaziale S9 machine

Sam and barista Fran were both friendly, immediately approachable and informative, without feeling the need to dish out every single bit of information on the coffee. They have a great relationship and rapport with their regular customers, which was seen first hand as they joked about with one of them while I was there.

Collaboration with other good indies in Sheffield is important to them, just last week during UK Coffee Week, Upshot hosted a cupping event where local indie Tamper got stuck in too. Sam has also been a guest barista with the team at Bean & Bud in Harrogate. In the future they’d like to host more cupping events and possibly run evening classes such as latte art. 

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Head Barista/owner Sam

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On the food side, at the moment they have a small menu which they are in the process of expanding in the near future. One of the key things is that everything they do matches the standard of the coffee they serve to customers.

During my afternoon I had a much needed piccolo using Square Mile and  a slice of the Apple Streusel tart which was scrumptious! 

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The only reason I tend to come into Sheffield is to visit my best mate, but at least I know where I can get a great coffee and cake fix, a spot of banter in a relaxed environment from a fantastic independent.

I’m looking forward to see what else Sheffield has to offer in terms of artisan independents now!!

Upshot Espresso
355 Glossop Rd
Sheffield
S10 2HP
0114 278 0333
http://www.upshotespresso.co.uk
@UpshotEspresso

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White Cloth Gallery, Leeds

Even though I eat out a lot and love anything related to good food, I do have many other interests including art, architecture, cinema, theatre and sport. One of my favourite places in Leeds is White Cloth Gallery, just a stones throw away from Leeds City train station on Aire Street.

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Unfortunately, I’ve had little chance to get there recently, but I’ve always been a fan of the place. Whether to watch a great film, put the world to rights with an after work drink, or spend a quick half an hour wandering around one of their exhibitions; my most favourite so far has been their David Bowie retrospective exhibition last year. But with White Cloth good food and drink also comes into the mix, so I say ‘all the better for it’. I normally park nearby when I venture into town, and have walked past countless times eager to have another go at their pizza. My one and only pizza there was at least a year ago if not longer! 

White Cloth has a fair sized menu, considering the actual size of the place and their mini kitchen. I must remember that the venue is a gallery/exhibition space, not really a cafe and certainly not a restaurant, so you wouldn’t expect the menu to be too diverse. This said their menu is split into a range of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and hot stuff, all ranging from £3.95 – £7 respectively .

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White Cloth has some intriguing sounding pizzas on their menu (£7), in particular the Longhorn beef chilli con carne pizza, but I found myself automatically gravitating towards either the meatballs or pulled pork. Oh I love a decent meat ball (if you remember my write up on YMCO!), so being a creature of habit the Spicy Pork Meatball pizza it was, with a lovely glass of their house dry white wine. Yes, I probably should’ve asked what the wine was, but I forgot and basically was in desperate need of some liquid refreshment, after a long day/week at work. Thankfully it was crisp, light and dry, extremely quaffable as it happened too!

My friend and I had sat with a perfect view into their tiny kitchen, and I could see them making the pizza. A fresh pizza base was topped, cooked and placed in front of us within ten minutes. Not bad!! 

Spicy pork sausage meatball, red onion marmalade & rocket oil
Spicy pork sausage meatball, red onion marmalade & rocket oil

The pizza was as good as I remembered, visually it was pretty with the colours of red onion and the rocket oil which brought it to life. The uber thin base was great and was topped generously with tasty spicy pork sausage meatball, red onion marmalade & rocket oil which was a revelation. At first sight I thought at £7, it may be overpriced, but when it arrived it was more than a decent sized pizza for one, in fact I shared a few slices with my friend.

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A pizza and a glass of house dry white wine was £11 in total.  

I definitely RECOMMEND White Cloth Gallery for a pizza and a decent after work drink. What’s even better is that you can get a culture fix and have a gander at one of their fantastic exhibitions.

Food: Pizza was decent, lovely thin base, lovely flavours and heat where there was supposed to be, loved the rocket oil too. Small, concise menu with choices for non-meat eaters.

Service: pleasant staff, quick and efficient. It wasn’t too busy at the time, but I’ve eaten at quieter places with much slower service!

Atmosphere: the place has a good after work buzz.

White Cloth Gallery 
24-26 Aire Street
Leeds
LS1 4HT
0113 2181923
http://www.whiteclothgallery.com/cafe-bar-2/

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Belgrave Street Feast pt IV, Leeds

Last Saturday was the latest Belgrave Street Feast and if it was anything like last month’s, it had promised to be a fantastic family day of feasting on wonderful street food.

My day was a mixture of whistlestop tours – a morning appointment in York, zipping back for Street Feast, then being a dutiful wife taking the other half to a hockey dinner. So when I arrived it was already VERY busy and was obvious too see the word had got out how great the event is.

New street traders this month were Manchester’s Arepa!Arepa! Arepa!, Newcastle’s Tasty Thai Deli and Leeds’ own Street Fodder and Belgrave’s new experiment Taco Wall.

I’d made it my mission to try an Arepa from Manchester’s Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! For those of you, like I was, unfamiliar with an Arepa, they’re traditionally eaten in Columbia and Venezuela and are basically flatbreads made with a maize based flour, (100% gluten flee – BONUS!) Cooked on a hot plate and filled with whatever you fancy.

Arepa and plantain on the hot plate
Arepa and plantain cooking on the hot plate

I always like asking what they’d recommend so when asked the question ‘do you eat meat?’ regular readers probably know the answer was a definite ‘yes’, then they said it was cooked in beer! There it was – a deal had been done and that was it, the Sobrebarriga Arepa was the one for me! With the selection of condiments at my disposal they recommended the Chipotle sauce, so who was I to think any different.

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Sobrebarriga Arepa
SobreBarriga Arepa

It was absolutely DELICIOUS and the best thing I ate all day!! For 4 quid, this so-called ‘beef sandwich’ was something that fitted easily in one hand, but WOW was it filling!!! Slow cooked, tender beef with the flavours of cumin and garlic in the background, the hint of beer was evident too. With the additional Chipotle sauce giving up its rich smokiness in service to the Arepa, what a match made in heaven! The flatbread (which had a delicate flavour of its own, probably from the corn) was a great vehicle to hold it all in. It soaked up all the juices too, so every last bite was full of flavour. 

My verdict – Arepa are extremely YUMMY and one of my FAVOURITES at Street Feast so far! These certainly made a regular beef sandwich pale into insignificance for me! Plans are already afoot for them to make a return to Leeds soon, I cannot wait! 

I couldn’t decide what to have next, having tried all but Tasty Thai Deli and the new Taco Wall before. Belgrave’s new in-house Street Food Lab experiment ‘Taco Wall’ had Fish Tacos (£3.50) on the go. I love battered, deep fried fish and when I saw them being dished up I was immediately sold. 

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Fish Taco
Fish Taco

Served on a little pancake the fish came with a selection of bits and pieces, like pickled cucumber, pepper, pineapple and coriander with a yoghurt sauce. I really liked the additional pieces, but for me the fish whilst well cooked, was a little under seasoned and could’ve done with a pinch of good old salt to bring out more flavour. Considering it was their first time out, fair play to them, with a couple of tweaks I’ll be back for more!

As always Sarah from Noisette Bakehouse had her ‘A game’ on, with a beautiful selection of cakes and sweet treats to woo all customers.

Noisette Bakehouse
Noisette Bakehouse

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Last month I never made it to the roof terrace, so I made the effort this time to see what was going on up there to find Hepworth’s Deli serving a lovely selection of bakes, and also a colourful salad bar too.

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Hepworth's Salad bar
Hepworth’s Salad bar

My time was nearly up and I wanted to be able to walk back to my car with a snack, so after seeing the boys at The Grub & Grog Shop I went for the recommended Veg Sandwich.

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A snip at just £3.50, I walked out VERY happy! Filled with lovely vegetables cooked and treated well, packed with flavours from the sweet parsnip to the pickled veg, such as the carrot, I loved the hint of garlic running through the sandwich and the beautiful salad leaves and pretty edible flowers. Basically street food at its best – portable, tasty, bargainous and made locally!

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The Grub & Grog’s veg sandwich on the move!!

Street Feast will be back next month on the 10th May, I’ll see you there for another day of feasting!!!

Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen
1-1A Cross Belgrave Street
Leeds
LS2 8JP

0113 2346160
http://www.belgravemusichall.com

 

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Spring Espresso, York – The North’s Coffee Community, pt VI

When I first started this series on The North’s Coffee Community I focussed on Leeds and Harrogate, but since speaking to different people involved in coffee it’s got me looking further afield, such as York.

I love York with all its history, iconic architecture and cobbled streets – this is one of the UK’s great cities in my opinion. Having old friends living near the racecourse I’ve visited the place many times over the years. But with my love for coffee developing only recently, I really had no idea of their fantastic independent artisan coffee shops, and I don’t mean Betty’s!

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For my first Coffee Community post in York, I’m starting with Spring Espresso, after a gratefully received recommendation from Ruth at Bean & Bud in Harrogate.

Spring Espresso first opened in Autumn 2011, on Fossgate. The owners, Steve and Tracey previously worked for the Cafe2U franchise, selling coffee around the area from a red van before opening their own place.

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As with many of these coffee community stories, I’ve found that there are people who are seemingly woven into the fabric of these stories. Tracey and Dave Olejnik (Laynes Espresso) have been friends for years, both possessing a love and obsession of coffee in the days before Laynes, when Dave worked at Opposite in Leeds. As Dave opened Laynes in Leeds city centre, Tracey and Steve saw a gap in the market in historic York, where Third Wave coffee hadn’t really found its way into this part of Yorkshire.

With their spot on Fossgate, they’ve built a space with an open feel and calm ambience. This was fully intended with Tracey wanting a relaxing environment where every customer could be seen in one glance. They’ve even implemented the principles of feng shui into the layout of the shop to guide energy flow through the shop!

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One of the first things you can’t help but notice is the stand-out branding on the walls. Steve once served in the Air Force so I assume that’s the link to Spring’s logo, very cool it is too!!

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Another thing I admired was their attention to detail, with customer service being one thing they pride themselves on, greeting customers across a low-level counter means their much-loved Synesso Hydra machine is on show, baristas can’t hide behind brewing apparatus or paraphernalia, and it encourages interaction and builds a dynamic between barista and the customer.

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After recently watching a BBC programme on the coffee scene in the UK, they mentioned a certain coffee chain, which I won’t name who style themselves on the old school traditional Italian coffee shop. I’m SO glad Spring Espresso haven’t gone down that road, and instead have a lovely space with great pieces of furniture made from wood lovingly salvaged from old Yorkshire mills. A prime example is the gorgeous low level circular table at the front of the shop, made from a 17C pulley wheel previously used in a Sheffield mill.

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So what about the coffee, they champion London’s Square Mile Red Brick and often host guest coffees, from artisan roasters like Caravan. Using coffee from Direct Trade is very important to Tracey and Steve, where coffee is bought straight from the growers. Relationships based on respect are built and is mutually beneficial to all parties, where growers are helped to grow the best coffee, often in very difficult environments and circumstances.

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After spending the morning with Tracey and Steve, chatting whilst I drank a fantastic latte made with Square Mile’s Red Brick seasonal espresso, the love and passion they have for what they do, the extensive knowledge and experience they have at their fingertips was highly enviable and infectious!!! I think I was a little in awe when I found out that Steve’s competed in the UK Barista Championships many times, having achieved 3rd place in 2012. So this team REALLY do know their stuff and blew me away with it!

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They know their tea as well, 2013 saw them winning BSA 2013 Accreditation and Best Drink award for Best Tea!!! These guys are certainly not one trick ponies, using 10 speciality teas from the Canton Tea Co.

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Spring Espresso use 10 speciality teas from Canton Tea Co.

I visited on a quiet Sunday morning (9:30am) and when I arrived a lot of their regulars were already in there, a couple of hours later the place was full – I have a feeling this a very common occurrence!!

The baked goods are all made by Tracey’s fair hands and I did spot her version of the Bostock slice. I was so tempted to go home with one, next time I’ll definitely snaffle one up!!

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Tracey and Steve are in the process of opening a second shop in the city centre, with the same great coffee and service, but with extra square footage they’ll be able to serve more of the York masses and tourists from far and wide! You are lucky, lucky people!

York for me isn’t just a city I’ll visit for it’s history and architecture anymore, it’s somewhere I can drink wonderful artisan coffee from some lovely people, who really know what they are doing. Oh yeah, it’s an independent too!!

Spring Espresso
45 Fossgate
York
YO1 9TF
07779 294149
http://www.springespresso.co.uk

A Leeds based food blog written by a girl from Wales who enjoys good food and wine.

JACK MONROE

Anti-poverty campaigner for Oxfam and Child POverty Action Group, and supporting the Trussell Trust. Guardian recipe columnist. Mother. Food blogger. Cookbook author. Twitter@ :MsJackMonroe

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