Category Archives: Fusion

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?! 

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Pachamama, London

Peruvian food has definitely become ‘a thing’ in recent years, especially in London. Establishments such as Ceviche, Lima and Andina opening their doors to the public and  winning the hearts of many with their fusion food and Pisco sours. Some of which have garnered high praise and acclaim, in particular Lima being awarded a Michelin star. 

A table booked at Pachamama for 6pm sounded reasonable, right? In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have booked a table for 6pm, but had completely misjudged ourselves with how much we’d eat beforehand! You’ll see from my two posts on Opera Tavern and On the Bab! 

Off the main drag, you’ll see a big ‘A’ in neon, I was a little confused at first, perhaps it relates to Andean cuisine? The front door immediately leads to a staircase taking customers below street level, resulting in a dark atmosphere to the room lit up with neon and the odd lamp/candle. The menu’s broken down into snack, sea, land, soil and desserts and lend themselves to sharing, you guessed it – small plates! We obliged by ordering something from each, apart from desserts – not wanting to risk bursting as we’d probably be full to the brim after all the eating we’d already done.

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El Capitan
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Mama’s Pisco
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Pisco Sour

The dishes were beautifully executed, amalgamating good presentation with interesting ingredients and tastes. There wasn’t much to fault, apart from ourselves for possibly spooling our appetites before we’d even got to the restaurant, but that’s completely our (ahem my) greedy mistake. Highlights were many – the lamb belly, Iberico pork, fried chicken and chicharonnes! All on the money, some of the best fried chicken I’ve eaten and kicks the one from On The Bab into submission (hey, I know it’s not the same but whatever!). The lamb, you may know I’m not the greatest lover of lamb, but I could’ve been converted after that dish – well cooked, so tender and moist, with flavours which just sung. If I enjoyed the lamb, I loved the Iberico pork which was super succulent, the maize puffs reminded me of corn maize puff snacks which I love, and a huacatay sauce that provided its own unique herbiness to the plate.

Pork belly chicharonnes
Sea bream ceviche w/ kumquat, grape ponzu
Smoked cheddar tequenos
Peruvian fried chicken
Iberico pork ‘Pluma’ w/maiz and huacatay
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Crispy lamb belly
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Charred broccoli, mustard seeds, cancha

Both food and cocktails being equally awesome, the staff are welcoming and its popularity didn’t seem to affect the speed of service. This aside, it’s certainly not cheap and despite how much we enjoyed it, Pachamama is definitely a place for a special treat, rather than somewhere you fancy going just because you can’t be bothered to cook tea!

Pachamama 

18 Thayer St

London

W1U 3JY

http://pachamamalondon.com

White Hart, Witley

The White Hart is a 16th century pub found in Witley, a small village in Surrey for those of you, who like me, hadn’t heard of the place before and had no idea of where it was. Despite its age this pub’s definitely pushing the boat out and made the bold choice of veering off the tried and tested route of typical pub fare. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m always up for a decent fish and chips or Sunday roast, but if you’re expecting classic pub grub you’ll be disappointed.

We were pointed in the direction of the White Hart by my brother in-law and I can see why, a few years ago the menu became focused around burgers, barbecue, whisky and beer – enlisting BBQ Whisky Beer, winners of Ribstock in 2013 to devise a menu. A number of cultural influences including North American, North African and Korean to name a few have been taken on board, making the menu and interesting read and it doesn’t disappoint. So much so we revisited a few weeks after our first! Not only have they revamped the food menu, the drinks menu causes a bit of a stir too – expect craft beers, flights of whisky and unusually named cocktails, such as Hard Knocks & Slut Drops and Yuzu Nikka. Miso Horny?!

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Our two visits came at different times of the day – our first was a Saturday evening and the second a late Sunday lunch, so I think it gave me a good overview of what goes on at the White Hart. Now in a culinary age where burgers and barbecue have virtually been done to death, the menu pushes the boundaries making what could be a standard burger and barbecue menu into something a bit different from the norm. Diners will find a selection of starters, burgers, barbecue including their award winning Jacobs Ladder beef rib, sides including slaw, salads, mac and cheese. There’s always smoked ribs, 3 ways a B.O.T.M (burger of the month) and a special on offer too.
Here’s a summary of some of the dishes we had from both visits:

Scallops with crispy pork – a popular combination done well. The surf and turf elements were spot on – it’s hard to fault plump, soft scallops, cooked till barely translucent paired with salty, crispy bacon.

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Scallops, crisp pork, Thai garnish

Stunning Iberico pork ribs, juicy and tender with enough charring to add a smokiness to meat that fell off the bone. The pickle on the side working well bringing a little acidity to the plate. They were so tasty, in hindsight I wish I’d ordered the bigger portion!

Iberico pork baby back ribs w/ house pickles 
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Chicken wings, hot sauce, blue cheese and celery
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Crab cocktail, charred gem, fried avocado and nduja aioli

Spot on beef royale burger; perfectly pink, juicy patty cooked as stated by the waitress on ordering, topped with beef short rib slices which brought incredible smoky flavour and meatiness, a neutral cheese and a pickle to help cut through the richness. For me, burgers need to juggle a balancing act of flavours, juiciness and enough hold so it doesn’t fall apart and make a big mess. There was just the right amount of mess and give in the burger, where you could hold it intact to the last bite.

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Beef Royale burger – classic burger, short rib and portobello mushroom

B.O.T.M – Chinese burns on the beach; a fusion of asian and scottish by all accounts. May sound odd and even read odd on paper, but by all accounts made for a great burger – a classic burger topped with a haggis and black pudding fritter, hoi sin shredded duck, and bunny and fosters cheese. Unlike mine, the burger was a really messy one and definitely needed a knife and fork to tackle the beast.

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B.O.T.M – Chinese burns on the beach

Chicken shawarma – so much meat, seemed like half a chicken was on my plate, sat on top of a cucumber salsa, smear of hummus and a flatbread. The meat itself was juicy and delicately spiced, my favourite pieces are always the wings, thighs and legs rather than the breast and this was reinforced here. It was a large plate and I couldn’t eat it all, it didn’t go to waste though as the other half was happy to finish it off for me. If I was to fault it, it would be the flatbread, I found it a bit thick and would’ve preferred it on the side with the accompaniments, rather than on the plate where it became soggy from the hummus. 

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Chicken Shawarma

As much as the burgers and shawarma had gone down a treat, I reckon the stars of the show were the beef short ribs, which happen to be winners of Ribstock in 2013. The ribs cooked in a wood smoker were sublime, producing beautifully flavoursome meat where a subtle smokiness allowed the beef’s innate meatiness to come through. All that remained on the plate were two clean bones!

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Coal roasted sweet potato w/  dill aioli, black garlic 

The White Hart’s a great pub and definitely worth travelling to, with its relaxed coach house feel, friendly service and stand out food! I’ll be looking in the diary for our 3rd visit! 

The White Hart

Petworth Road

Witley

Godalming

GU8 5PH

http://whitehartwitley.co.uk

Leeds Indie Food Festival

You may have heard of a ‘little’ festival that’s celebrating everything food and drink related and coming to our city? Something called Leeds Indie Food Festival that’s coming thick and fast in May?!?! If you’ve been anywhere remotely near the city the last few months, surely you’re aware of this event for all food and drink lovers.

It starts on the 7th May, yes that’s just over four weeks away!! During the two and half week festival a staggering number of events have been crammed in, so much so it’s hard to filter them down to a manageable amount!! I’m gutted because there are so many that I’m not in Leeds for that would be straight on my list.

Don’t get me wrong I’d love to go to every single event, but however much I wish it just simply isn’t possible! However, if money and time were no object these would be on my must go to list:

&Totally Tutti Frutti (7-24th May), FREE

The Noonshine Cafe (7-24th May)

Gorse: A Dinner for Curious Gastronomes (7-9th & 21st – 23rd May)

Think About Food: British Seasonal Eating (9th May)

Meat School North with Cannon & Cannon: the other bits (11th May)

An Evening with the House of Fu-Schnikens (13th May)

Five Course food and wine pairing dinner at The Reliance (14th May), SOLD OUT!

Boozing and Bar Snacks, Thai style at Bang Wok (14th May)

The Wild Eat Pop-up with Olia Hercules (14-16th May)

Mama Girls Polish Milk Bar (16th May)

The Man Behind The Curtain x Laynes Espresso  (17th May)

Northern Coffee Guide Book Launch at Leeds Feast (23rd May), FREE

Leeds Feast (22nd/23rd May)

Bundobust presents: the Last Supper at Leeds Feast (23rd May), SOLD OUT!

All the information on events and tickets can be found on the Leeds Indie Food Festival website!!

That’s enough of what’s on my ultimate list, what about yours?

British Street Food Awards 2014

The British Street Food Awards were held in Leeds (26-28th Sept) after months of heats finding regional street food winners. Amongst the list of regional finalists, including Leeds’ Fu-Schnikens were a number of local wildcard entrants too, with Manjit’s Kitchen, Fish& all in the shout for awards.

Twitter had told me one thing – get to Fu-Schnikens ASAP, as they’d sold 800 Gua Bao over two days!! Within a minute of ordering it was in my hand…ahh the simple joys food can bring!  I love the damn things, if you’re unfamiliar with Gua Bao, they are Taiwanese steamed buns and should be light, even pillowy in texture. Often filled with slow cooked meats, pickled vegetables or variations on this theme. I admired it for a minute, the obligatory photo shoot ensued then sizeable mouthfuls later it was gone. UNCTUOUS – the meat literally disintegrated in my mouth, the ox cheek was gorgeous, lovely beetroot helped to cut through the richness in the meat, whilst the palm sugar worked well tempering just a touch!

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Sticky Ox Cheek Gua Bao, topped with pickled beetroot, palm sugar, chives and sesame
Sticky Ox Cheek Gua Bao, topped with pickled beetroot, palm sugar, chives and sesame 

Second on my hit list Dorshi – a Leeds favourite amongst the street food fraternity, serving dumplings to die for. Grabbing a combo to get a taste of everything was recommended, so who was I to go against their advice?! There’s no surprises when it comes to these dumplings, and trust me I mean this in a 100% positive way, as I’ve never been anything but wanting more of these. The fillings are bang on for flavour, their ingredient choices and flavour combinations are thoughtful. There are differences in textures from steamed and fried dumplings, pickled vegetables and lovely barley salad, delicate sweetness from the damson hoisin, saltiness from the fish, sourness from pickled vegetables.

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Dorshi - Gurt Meal box - selection of 4 dumplings with sides
Dorshi – Gurt Meal box – selection of 4 dumplings with sides
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The Real Junk Food Project – Pomegranate, plum and beetroot smoothie

I was so looking forward to trying something from The Crabbieshack, going for soft shell crab (without bread) and the pomegranate, Harissa, red onion, coriander and red cabbage. Advertised as being coated in ‘Old Bay’ Tempura batter, umm I wouldn’t have called it Tempura batter as it was thick and greasy. The salad, however tasty just wasn’t sharp enough to cut through the greasiness. Bread probably would’ve soaked up some of the oil, but the batter needed to be lighter! Hate to be negative, but I was disappointed and I’ve had much better!

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Crabbieshack - Soft Shell Crab with salad of pomegranate, Harissa, red onion, coriander and red cabbage
Crabbieshack – Soft Shell Crab with salad of pomegranate, Harissa, red onion, coriander and red cabbage

Fancying some liquid refreshment, I got a shot of HY Kitchen‘s homemade Schnapps…oooh it was warming, and would give anyone a bit fire in the belly. So good, that these guys from Austria won the Best Drink award! 

HY Kitchen - Schnapps!
HY Kitchen – Schnapps!
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Some of Leeds’ finest bringing their dishes to the judges – Richard Johnson, Lisa Markwell (Editor of The Independent on Sunday) chef Ed Baines, street food entrepreneur Yianni Papoutsis and actress Gaynor Faye.

Some of Leeds' finest waiting to bring their dishes to the judging panel

Manjit’s Kitchen was looking mighty fine in front of Leeds Civic Hall, often with a long queue of hungry people wanting their Chapasty or Flatbread. Late in the day I had one of their Beetroot and Paneer Chapasty’s – tasty, moreish, nice and small so great for sharing!

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Manjit's Kitchen - Beetroot and Paneer Chapasty with salad
Manjit’s Kitchen – Beetroot and Paneer Chapasty with salad
Buddha Belly The Moocher
Buddha Belly and The Moocher
Ahimsa
Ahimsa
Best Newcomers - Nusou and Best Dessert - Antto's Fish Bar
Best Newcomers – Nusou and Best Dessert – Antto’s Fish Bar
People's choice - The Little Blue Smokehouse
People’s choice – The Little Blue Smokehouse
Best Overseas Trader - Nordic Street food
Best Overseas Trader – Nordic Street Food
Best Snack  - Fresh Rootz
Best Snack – Fresh Rootz
Best Sandwich - The Cauldron
Best Sandwich – The Cauldron
Best Mobiler - The Hip Hop Chip Shop
Best Mobiler – The Hip Hop Chip Shop
Best Sandwich - Original Patty Men
Best Sandwich – Original Patty Men
Best Main - Fish&
Best Main – Fish&
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Best of the Best – Fu-Schnikens!!!

Congratulations to all the winners, great to see some of the traders who we’ve seen at Trinity Kitchen, such as Fresh Rootz and The Cauldron win, and also amazing overseas traders too!

I’m so happy Leeds was represented really well, and for two of the city’s traders winning awards (Best Main and Best of the Best), it’s just brilliant and reinforces the city’s stature in street food!!