Category Archives: bar

Chaophraya Graduation Menu, by guest blogger Lucy Reynolds 

With all the new pop-ups and high profile restaurants opening in Leeds, it is easy to often forget the old faithfuls that have served the city amazing food well before the culinary revolution of the last few years had taken hold. Chaophraya is one of those places – a steadfast beacon of high quality, traditional Thai cuisine in beautiful surroundings which seems to have always been in Leeds, and well respected as a place for fine dining. Due to the saturation of new places opening in Leeds, offering competitively high quality fare, it does make you wonder how older establishments compete with the new influx of trendy eating spots, including award winning Zaap, which boasts Thai street food. I think the answer has to be quality – or to put it more bluntly (yet grammatically incorrect) : if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  
I had been to Chaophraya years ago and was very impressed with the exotic interiors of the restaurant and the sumptuousness of the food (not to mention the traditional procession with drum beating which seemed to happen comically every time my friend and I were having an in-depth conversation). This time round, nearly 6 years later, nothing had changed. It looked exactly the same and had the same sense of class and glamour that I had remembered from my first visit. Even my friend, who works as a chef and who had accompanied me as my plus one, commented on how fancy it was – and that was just the bar area. 

The event we had been invited to was the launch of their new Graduation menu, tied in with a few of the other experience packages they offer, like the cooking school and cocktail making masterclasses. We felt really lucky to be taking part in this as there were only two other bloggers there, which gave us a glimpse of what a private cooking class might feel like. After a complimentary glass of bubbly, we were whisked upstairs to the demonstration area, where Fon, our lovely hostess, showed us how to make our first delicacy, sweet corn cakes. We all donned a surgical rubber glove (and avoided the inappropriate gags running round our brains) and got stuck in, mixing sweet corn, red Thai curry paste, flour and eggs and making small patties to be fried. It was easy, fun and lovely to see them all fluffed up after being cooked. We also tried our hand at making vegetarian Thai spring rolls, with the help of the amazing Lady Noi, a senior chef from the restaurant who could chop vegetables up at lightning speed and work a wok like a true culinary artist. After she had cooked our fillings for the rolls, it was now our chance at donning an apron, a tall paper chef’s hat and mimicking Lady Noi’s effortless spring roll preparation. Whereas hers took seconds, mine took minutes and whilst my first effort looked like a flabby Swiss roll, after a bit of practice, I had actually learnt how to roll a spring roll. Chiyo! as they’d say in Thailand.(Yes, I googled that). Fon also taught us how to make golden baskets too, with a skilful twist on the tying of the same wrap used for spring rolls

After cleaning up, we sat down to our beautiful set table and were promptly served with our homemade sweetcorn cakes and spring rolls with lashings of sweet chilli sauce. Alongside these we also received two more of the Graduation menu appetisers, with scallops and black pudding and Mahoh (finely diced pork, with palm sugar, sweet turnips and peanuts, served on pineapple) being served up with a real eye for artistry.

Our Sweetcorn cakes were absolutely delicious (definitely something I’m going to try to cook at home) and the Spring rolls were crispy, light and delicious when dipped in the addictive chilli sauce. The Mahoh, whilst looking like little peanut butter balls resting on the back of a pineapple swan, were less appetising, being far too sweet for my palate. I couldn’t taste the pork at all and it didn’t appeal to me or my diners, but I’m sure the sweet toothed may enjoy it. The real star of the appetiser line up though was the scallops and black pudding which, Fon told us to our horror, was being taken off the menu due to not being as popular as the other dishes. This would be a gastronomic tragedy! The scallop was perfectly cooked, with juicy slices of mango and spicy chilli, which were perched on what has to be the best slice of black pudding I have ever tasted. Everyone sat at our table agreed how wonderful this dish was, so I hope this heartfelt plea stops the powers that be at Chaophraya from removing this from the menu. Save our scallops!

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The portion sizes for the appetisers were incredibly generous,so much so that we had to take some home with us (my colleagues at work were jealous the next day – spring rolls beat sandwiches any day). Our main meals were then presented, again with hugely generous portion sizes, offering up roasted duck in red curry, steamed sea bass with ginger and soy sauce and wok chicken noodle with sriracha sauce and a mountain of steaming egg fried rice.

Each meal was as delicious as the next, with the sea bass fillets beautifully dripping in sticky soy emulsion and the tender duck being strangely yet deliciously complimented by a mixed berry sauce which worked well with the spice of the red curry. The sriracha dish was probably my favourite, as I am a huge hot sauce fan, with the soft noodle and tender chicken melting in the mouth and the spice being well balanced so as not to overpower the tastebuds. From looking at the menu, vegetarians also have a great choice for the mains, with a veggie green curry, sweet and sour crispy tofu and stir fried aubergine and basil being offered. 

After filling up another take away box with the delicious remnants of our mains, we were faced with the task of making our own fruity cocktail. Headed by a friendly barman from the restaurant, we all learnt how to properly mix our cocktail, blending mixed berry purées with a shot of vanilla vodka and Chambord and shaking it like a Polaroid picture. It was wonderful fun and the cocktail tasted brilliant – so fruity that you hardly noticed there was any booze in it – dangerous and moreish, like a good cocktail should be. This was then followed up by our dessert, a bubbling chocolate fondue with exotic fruits served in a pineapple. A lovely fresh way to end the meal, although none of us were sure about the combination of pineapple and chocolate, so stuck with the old favourite of strawberries instead. 

In my opinion, if you had just graduated, Chaophraya would be a great place to celebrate, with the opulence of the surroundings and the high quality of food adding to your special day. The set menu is innovative and delicious and would satisfy anyone’s taste buds, especially if the black pudding dish remains. The cooking demos and cocktail classes are great fun (Lady Noi is a legend!) and would be suitable for hen parties, birthdays or any get together with like-minded friends who love good food and getting their hands dirty. Chaophraya may not be one of the newest restaurants in Leeds, but it is one of the best, showing that quality always keeps people coming back for more. 

Chaophraya

20A Blayds Court

Swinegate

Leeds

LS1 4AG

http://chaophraya.co.uk/venues/chaophraya-leeds/

Photos by Lucy Reynolds

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Ricci’s Tapas & Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North launch, by Lucy Reynolds 

My oh my, am I excited about this launch! On the 7th July (press launch) and the 11th July (public launch), Leeds will get to experience the already well established and acclaimed 53 Degrees North, which had risen to attention in the grounds of the Dean Clough building in Halifax, along with the experimental tastes and textures of Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti, courtesy of restauranteur Michael Ricci. With the offer of soft shell crab, goats cheese churros and a DJ set from Tom Findlay of Groove Armada, it looks like Leeds will experience what Halifax has held so dear for all this time.

Whilst Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti will offer the diner a gourmet range of tasty delights, it sounds like 53 Degrees North will offer the same quality in beverages, with eclectic cocktails, sophisticated mixology and the only place in the UK to offer Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial on draught. My tastebuds and alcoholic tendencies are tingling at the thought. Blog to come soon…after I’ve slept off the effects of the amazing cocktails.

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?! 

A couple of pop-ups

What’s happened to the weather? All of a sudden it’s turned a bit miserable again, from what seemed like a glorious summer with lots of sunshine and warmth it’s now turned into showers and a down turn in temperatures. Well anyway, even though the weather may not be up to much, there are a couple of pop-ups on at the moment which Leeds folk may be interested in.

Here are a couple of spots I was asked to have a nosey at and try out for free:

Rum Shack’s a pop-up run by three Leeds bartenders with a wealth of experience, with a beach bar feel selling rum based cocktails. If you went to Leeds Feast, you may’ve noticed them and enjoyed a thirst quenching reggae rum punch off them. If that’s your kind of thing then it’s easily found in the Northern Quarter, as it’s in-between the Belgrave Music Hall, Blind Tyger and Sandinista so you can’t miss it! Every few weeks they’ll be changing their cocktail menu, it’s a bit of fun and great way of using the space. I can imagine it could be a good way to start off the night -enjoy some rum punch, a piña colada or whatever they’ve got on their menu that sounds appealing, then nip into the Belgrave for a slice of Dough Boys pizza or Patty Smith’s for one of their legendary burgers and then wherever the evening takes you.

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Ice Bar – found upstairs in Bierkeller off the Headrow, the whole Ice Bar experience is something I’ve had before, but on a far more impressive scale in LapLand’s Ice Hotel. This is quite a small affair and for a fiver you get 25 minutes in the bar and whilst your sipping on either wine, Coor’s Light (the sponsors) or a small selection of spirits and mixers, you may want to have a game on the mini curling or take some selfies next to the polar bear ice sculpture if that floats your boat. 

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Havana Club Mojito masterclass!! 

Love cocktails? I do, who doesn’t?! Recently an email popped into my inbox about a Havana Club Mojito masterclass, what a great idea and apart from the obvious wanting to drink Mojitos, the opportunity to learn more about the drink and it’s history. Cuba brings back a tonne of amazing memories from a holiday that the best mate and I had there four years ago, part of that was of course sampling lots of Mojitos! In fact it was the first drink we had when we arrived at our hotel.

Havana Club UK recently began a certification programme and have been on a quest to find the best, most authentic Cuban Mojitos in the UK, searching the length and breadth of the country. Leeds has some great independent cocktails bars and three have been singled out – The Maven, Viva Cuba and Call Lane Social, using the freshest of ingredients and Havana Club Añejo 3 Años rum and been awards with a certified badge, because they feel these bars stays true to the Havana Club tradition, work with same ethos as the brand and are passionate about what they do.

Having Havana Club UK’s global ambassador Meimi Sanchez there to explain more about the drinks origins was a treat, as from our trip there’d always been something I wanted to know – why mojitos in Cuba tasted slightly different to ones I’d drank here. They weren’t as sharp and zingy for some reason, Meimi explained that Cuban ‘limes’ are slightly different, it’s more of a fusion between lime and lemon, with sweetness and more of a softer citrus. In the UK, Brazilian limes are often used which are more tangy, and also Cuban mint is more aromatic, softer on the nose, whereas here the mint is much more course and more punchy. All makes more sense now!!

With a passion for her native Cuba and the drink it was fascinating chatting to Meimi and listening to her describe number of theories to how the Mojito was first created – 

Firstly, in the 15/16th century sailors were rationed on rum, maybe hard to believe but true, as water was unhygienic, so when Sir Francis Drake got to Havana his crew were suffering from scurvy and dysentery, knowing that the locals had some sort of medicinal drink that could get rid of this he got the ingredients for making it. This being aguardiente de caña made from the syrup which is extracted from sugar cane (guarapa) )which means fire water (76%), combining that with lime (stops scurvy), sugar and mint (improves taste). Who knew that Mojitos were good for you?!

Another possible theory comes from the idea that the slave trade was instrumental in the invention of the drink, as slaves worked in the sugar cane plantations, so had direct access to grape the syrup extracted from sugar cane.

Regardless of how the Mojito originated in Cuba, the drink is still made in the same way and classically uses five ingredients. La Bodeguita del Medio, a famous restaurant/bar in Old Havana, opened in1949, lays claim to having invented to Mojito and the place is well known for being a regular haunt of many creatives, including writer Ernest Hemingway. The same recipe has been used since then, with speedy bartenders make them in seconds.

I’ve never made a Mojito at home, probably because I thought I’d need to use fancy equipment so just gave up, but with a little thought, basics that you’d have in any kitchen would be more than adequate. Meimi quickly demonstrated the steps to make one, also explaining the reasons for doing specific things with ingredients. Then I had a little go myself – it was so simple and of course with a little bit of tweaking made to my own taste too!!

Thanks Havana Club UK, I had a great time, not just for the obvious, but because I learned a lot about Cuba and can relate to it only adds to the fantastic experience I had over there.

With Leeds Loves Cocktails week starting on the 1st June, I thought this ties in beautifully in with the Havana Club masterclass. Many of Leeds’ best bars involved, holding events, demonstrations, talks on cocktails and their history. If you’re a lover of cocktails, I may see you there.