The Cat’s Pyjamas, Leeds 

Hmmmm….Indian street food….small plates in Leeds….definitely rings a bell?! Leeds has its fair share of outstanding establishments – Bundobust and Manjit’s Kitchen automatically spring to mind, then there’s Prashad further afield in Drighlington who’ve flown the flag of great Indian food for years! So when The Cat’s Pyjamas opened in Headingley, I wondered how it would compare to these already well-loved spots, also how it would fit into the area itself. Back in the day, Headingley and Woodhouse Lane were the perfect places for a messy curry, I remember many a memorable night spent at Tariqs, Akmals or even Nafees (a late-nighter, think it’s now the Balti King?), so along with Khana Bombay Cafe is there a new breed of curry houses populating this part of Leeds?

I’d missed their launch event, but a few positive reviews and tempting food snaps on Instagram was enough to get us turning up on spec a few weeks ago. Already quite busy at 6pm, we managed to nick a table in-between bookings. One early plus was the varied gluten free menu, which kept my husband happy! Pity we were still a tad full from lunch at Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana, so instead of ordering a table full we sensibly chose a pickle tray/poppadoms, a couple of starters and a curry with rice. Of the two starters my favourite was the Keralan beef fry, an unexpected dish as the cow is considered a sacred animal in many parts of India, Kerala being an exception. Here the meat was beautifully tender and highly spiced. The Tandoori mixed grill didn’t really blow me away – the tikka prawns were juicy and gilafi seekh kebab (lamb) well flavoured, but I found the malai tikka (chicken) lacklustre, even though a mint chutney helped bring it to life I found it a bit wanting. 

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Tandoori mixed grill,  Keralan beef fry

The Kheema Matar was generously portioned up and as it was packed with minced lamb it was filling and I doubt I could’ve eaten the whole thing on my own. This highly flavoured dish came with a warming smack of heat and the addition of peas provided some sweetness to the dish.

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Kheema matar and pilau rice

Overall I liked the food, there were a lot of positives, but still a work in progress. Also considering it’s in Headingley, the place isn’t particularly cheap and I feel you get better value and tastier food elsewhere. 

The Cat’s Pyjamas

53 Otley Rd

Leeds

LS6 3AB

http://www.thecatspjs.co.uk

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Chicago

Ok, so why visit Chicago?? It’s probably not the first place that springs to mind when picking a North American holiday, but as we found out it’s got lots going for it. Before the trip my knowledge of the city came from stuff like the Chicago marathon, their love of deep dish pizza, Edward Hopper’s painting ‘Nighthawks’, being called the Windy City and watching The Good Wife. Fairly standard stuff, apart from that I was a bit clueless. 

Here’s some great things about the city:

It’s so flat!!

Chicago’s dead easy to get around on foot, but if walking big distances aren’t your thing or you want to venture further afield, the L (elevated train system) is cheap and straightforward to use. On our walkabouts we found Chicagoans so likeable and friendly, the city was far less crowded than New York and I’d say a lot more relaxed too.

Make the most of FREE stuff!!

One of the best things was the amount of free stuff to enjoy, including:

Millenium Park 

A public park slap bang in the Loop where you’ll find Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavillion and the Crown Fountain. Definitely a tourist magnet, Cloud Gate’s seen from North Michigan Avenue and is a landmark that just lures people in.

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Free views anyone?!

As much as I wanted to experience the Sky Deck in the Willis Tower, I didn’t like price tag, especially when I found out a well known ‘secret’ spot with a fantastic view for free in the John Hancock Centre. Venturing up to the Signature Room on the 95th floor rewarded us with a great view for nowt, in our case we nipped into the ladies toilets where the photo was taken, as the restaurant wasn’t open yet. 

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We got another free view at Cindy’s in the Chicago Athletic Association, this cool bar has a terrace overlooking Millennium park and cracking cocktails to go with it!

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Chicago Cultural Centre

We loved its Tiffany-stained glass domes, marble lobbies and mother of pearl mosaics. 

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Lincoln Park Zoo 

Easy to get to, lots of different animals (200+ species) to see and free to boot; what’s not to like?! We spent a couple of hours there easy!

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Museum of Contemporary Photography

Centrally located, just off Millennium Park and the Chicago Institute of Art. It was one of our lasts stops before our plane back to the UK and I’m glad we managed to fit it in as this small but perfectly formed museum likes to show contemporary work from new national and international photographers.  

Public art 

The city has so much free art on display, some donated by world famous artists, such as Picasso, Miro, Chagall and Henry Moore. We saw many wandering around the city, whilst many were in the city’s municipal buildings. 

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Garfield Park Conservatory 

Easily reached with a trip on the L, this is one of the largest conservatories in the country and was well worth a trip out. There’s a beautiful palm house, fern room, dessert house and tonnes more. If you LOVE succulents, cacti, ferns and palms you will absolutely LOVE this place!

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National Museum of Mexican Art

Another highlight reached by a trip out of town on the L, this museum’s located in the Pilsen neighbourhood. The area itself has lots of character with street art and this gem of a museum, full of thought provoking and beautiful pieces. I wished we’d been able to spend more time to really explore Pilsen, in particular see the colourful murals and try out some of amazing Mexican food we kept smelling. 

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Explore the outer neighbourhoods

I kept reading about Chicago’s hipster suburbs and in hindsight we should’ve done more of it. The 606 is a useful stretch to consider – an elevated park trail linking four neighbourhoods together (Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Bucktown). A couple of hours spent in Wicker Park before our flight home were definitely well spent, soaking in a bit of suburban culture and a tasty Furious Spoon ramen feed en route.

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Chicago by night

Many of the buildings become illuminated and bring the city’s skyline to life at night. 

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Obviously not everything’s free (shame), here’s some of our favourites:

Chicago Institute of Art 

A place I could’ve stayed all day – their collection of American Art, Impressionist and Post Impressionist pieces were plenty to satisfy my artistic needs. One high point was seeing Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, I was like an excited child when I spotted it from afar! 

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Architecture boat tour

This was one of the best things we did – learning about the history of the city, the architects and their buildings that shaped the area after the Great Chicago Fire from interesting and knowledgeable guides. I can’t recommend doing this more, 75 minutes well spent!!

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Great food scene

Maybe it doesn’t possess the reputation of other cities, such as New York and San Francisco, but Chicago has plenty going on. With lots of fantastic independent restaurants and bars, the city has a great food and drink scene to brag about, it’s not all deep dish pizzas and hotdogs either! 

Some of our food highlights included:

Minghin Cuisine – this all day dim sum joint was our first port of call after landing in the city. With lots of dim sum classics and roasted meats to choose from, I was completely in my element and ordered far too much (no surprise there!), and ended up being so full I couldn’t manage any more food until the following day!

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Korean at Crisp was a great lunch stop – quick service, inexpensive menu choices (korean burritos, bibimbap, sandwiches, fried chicken etc) and really tasty food. My Seoul steak bowl of bulgogi beef and rice, paired with two awesome sauces was particularly good, inparticular their mayo based ‘atomic sauce’ and ‘smoky spicy BBQ,’ a spicy gochujang sauce.

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Japanese at Momotaro was booked weeks in advance after reading fab reviews. The restaurant, located in popular Fulton Market District had an interesting cocktail list and mixologists who definitely knew their stuff. Waiting staff were helpful, which was much needed as the menu covers a lot of bases, so even for those knowledgeable with Japanese cuisine it may take of bit of deciphering. For me the hot dishes stood out more compared to the sushi, but on the whole we enjoyed the experience.

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The Publican in Fulton Market District is one of the city’s current hotspots (along with Momotaro), it’s basically a large beer hall serving great food and lots of it! Expect a menu heavily laden with seafood and pork dishes, brought to diners sitting at long communal tables stretching across the hall from end to end.

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Tanta, this Peruvian restaurant really showed off the art of fusion food, with a concoction of European and Asian influences their menu makes a point of the cuisine’s diversity. I really liked the helpful serving staff, great cocktails; the Pisco Sour is recommended, great plates ideal for sharing and a lively atmosphere. We really loved the anticuchos skewers with New York strip, potatoes, corn and huacatay and the chafe aeropuerto, a side dish  of pork fried rice in a hot bowl, topped with a shrimp tortilla and a huge smack of spicy garlic in there for good measure. Enough to get scare off vampires! 

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Frontera Grill (N. Clark Street) was our Saturday brunch spot. A popular haunt with locals and tourists alike, it soon became full after we arrived and I’m not surprised – great brunch cocktails, lots of choice on the menu, really friendly staff and tasty food.

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Coffee 

Chicago has great specialty coffee shops committed to serving direct trade coffee, we visited a few whilst we were there including Bowtruss, Intelligentsia and Asado. These three are definitely worth popping into with skilful baristas and great coffee!

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Doughnuts

I had no idea Chicago had a thing for doughnuts, but the city has shops aplenty with a huge variety for anyone with a sweet tooth to try! We saw many people going in for breakfast, one with a coffee seemed the done thing, from a long list we tried Firecakes, Do-Rite and Glazed and Infused, our favourite was definitely Firecakes. Personally I  found many just too big and too sweet (emphasising my lack of a sweet tooth), however saying that I still wish we’d managed to try The Doughnut Vault and Bombobar also.

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Have you been to Chicago, what did you make of it?

Is there anything we should’ve done that we didn’t?! 

Norse, Harrogate 

Norse has become one of the North’s best restaurants over the last couple of years, earning a fantastic reputation for quality. If you haven’t heard if it, it’s basically located in Baltzersens  – a cracking Scandinavian cafe in the heart of Harrogate, North Yorkshire. The place produces food influenced by Nordic cuisine and places great importance of the provenance of their ingredients, making the most of the fantastic produce the local area has to offer. 

After being lucky enough to try their food a couple of times, once at a taster event and at the Leeds Indie Food festival last year, for some reason my attempts to get back there never materialised and then being based in the South, I could only get there on trips back up which are never as often as I’d like!

A few weeks ago, we had a few days back in Leeds and took the opportunity to go for the other half’s birthday. Now even though he’d loved their food at Leeds Indie Food festival, he couldn’t remember it! So when we walked passed he said ‘so where’ve you brought me this time?’, like it was some sort of random place I’d conjured up. I was more than confident that he’d love it and couldn’t wait to get stuck in! The staff are very knowledgable and happily offered advice and explained ingredients and other questions. All done without being stuffy, just dead relaxed and informal. We picked four dishes, all clearly marked as gluten free so we could share freely, without any worries of later discomfort etc! Their drinks menu is also well worth a look, all carefully sourced, lots of care and attention is taken into partnering drinks with food.  

Here are photos of our experience, I won’t go into stupid detail about each dish and why I loved all the intricacies etc, but I will say that the food is such high quality, the ingredients work so well together that any curiosities there may have been all paled into significance on eating. The place deserves all the praise it gets and I hope to get back a lot sooner next time. Oh yeah, even my husband really enjoyed it too! 

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Bread and grains, pea and mint, and beetroot and ginger schnapps

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Top: slow cooked pheasant egg w/ broad beans, pickled eryngi mushrooms and sprouting rye. Bottom: cured mackerel tartare w/ beetroot, fermented red currants , ransom skyr and squid ink crisp.

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Top: Cornish turbot w/ roasted salsify, hay-baked mussel sauce and pickled clams. Bottom: Loin and BBQ lamb shoulder w/ Yorkshire peas, garlic, celeriac and lamb sauce.

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Norse

22 Oxford St

Harrogate

HG1 1PU

http://www.norserestaurant.co.uk

 

Dubrovnik

Recently my Instagram page has been filled with photos of Dubrovnik, the place had been on my list for ages, so after plenty of to-ing and fro-ing about the idea, we finally visited during the school hols. We’d arrived with high hopes after positive reports from mates who’d fallen in love with the place, and for us the place didn’t disappoint – it was beautiful and relaxing, easy to get around, with lots of cultural sights, decent local wine and tasty Mediterranean food. Our apartment was literally a few metres away from the Stradun which was perfect for us, we could explore to our hearts content and pop back for a bit of a siesta if we needed to.

Here’s a run down of a few must do’s I’d recommend in anyone’s itinerary:

Stroll down the Stradun

The old town’s famous street stretching between the city’s two main gates is probably one of the world’s most photographed. Luckily it wasn’t as crowded as it can be in the most popular months of peak season, being common place for waves of coach parties bringing tourists from the multiple boats that visit the city. It’ll probably be the first thing that catches your eye as you walk through the Pile gate, believe me!

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Walk the city walls

The most touristy thing to do here, with fantastic ever-changing views, at a steady pace with time to take in your surroundings and the odd photo or two, it’ll take 2.5 hours or so. There’s lots of opportunity along the way to break the journey up, either have a cold refreshment and a sit down or come down and fit in other sights en route. Safe in the knowledge your ticket allows you to hop on and off the wall, (not literally, but you know what I mean!).

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Explore the Old Town’s nooks and crannies

Meandering in and around the narrow streets and alley ways let us gauge a sense of the areas character; where locals go about their daily business, be it hanging out their washing (often in-between houses), chatting in the streets or selling handmade souvenirs. Easy to navigate around, one way or another they seemed to work their way back to Stradun every time.

Visit some churches and monasteries 

Some of the highlights include the 14th Century Franciscan Monastery, with a beautiful and tranquil cloister and it’s pharmacy still in use today. 

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Cloisters of the Franciscan Monastery

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Another monastery of note is the Dominican Monastery, built at a similar time to the city walls. A dominant structure, it’s exterior seen to the fullest when walking the city walls, it’s cloisters are peaceful and the church possesses some artistic gems. 

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Dominican Monastery 

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In close proximity to each other on the Stradun are the Church of St. Blaise, the Sponza Palace and the Rector’s Palace. 

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Church of St. Blaise
Sponza Palace
Rector’s Palace 

Explore Dubrovnik at night 

With many of the highlights lit up and on show, a stroll through the old town is worth while a portion of your time with many restaurants, wine bars and musicians to entertain. Our apartment was just off the Stradun, so a few times I tried to capture a shot of a empty street, and was finally successful at 4am.

Treat yourself to ice-cream, sorbet or both!

Before we’d even arrived in Dubrovnik, I’d been given the heads up of how yummy the ice-cream was and it didn’t fail, completely living up to expectations!! With plenty of ice-cream parlours lining the Stradun, we found ourselves spoilt for choice, do the right thing and get a couple of scoops for yourself!

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Take the cable car up Mount Srd

In a matter of minutes, four to be exact we had panoramic views of the Old Town, it’s neighbouring islands and the Adriatic.

Watch the sunset at Buza Bar

Stepping through a hole in the city wall, some steps lead to a bar that seemed to hang off the side of the cliff. Timing it so we could get a table (it can get busy), the bar has an inviting atmosphere to enjoy the view of the Adriatic sea, Lokrum island and the glow from the sunset.

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Visit an island or two

A great way to avoid the crowds on really busy days was a boat trip to one of the neighbouring islands. With only a 10 minute boat ride from the Old Port our jaunt to Lokrum gave us a botanical garden full of cacti, succulents and lots of other species of plants, lush forests, a secluded salt water lake (The Dead Sea) perfect for a cooling swim and local inhabitants peacocks and rabbits.

Lokrum Island

Dinner at Taj Mahal

Yeah, the name may not sound very Croatian and when I first read it I stupidly had second thoughts about going there. However, after looking at the menu of traditional Bosnian food I was won over and my meat loving husband needed no convincing after that!! The service from the get go was spot on and the food awesome – I can highly recommend the Genghis Khan platter!!!

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Have you been to Dubrovnik, what did you make of it?

Was there anything we should’ve done that we didn’t?