Category Archives: World

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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Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana, Leeds

Social media is still my first port of call when it comes to finding out what’s new and worth trying out, so a quick twitter request threw up a couple of suggestions prior to my Leeds visit. There’s so many new places opening up it can be tricky filtering out the good from the bad. One that instantly appealed was Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana on Cardigan Road, thanks to blogger bigspoonlittlespoon.com for the recommendation! The place doesn’t have a website, but it’s Facebook page had lots of glowing reports and so my decision was made pretty swiftly.

Located on the lower part of Cardigan Road, for those in the know it’s just passed the Spar petrol station on the left, opposite the Harold’s (as I call them) and from the street looks like a roadside cafe that’s been pimped up with vivid yellow walls and Mexican skull wall art – I loved it straight away!


The place was definitely deceptive in terms of size, from the street it looked small, but its open kitchen and bar sat nicely alongside the dining space leaving enough room for plenty of tables. A comprehensive menu, very clearly laid out was on show with guacamole, salads, ceviche, street food, seafood sides, meat dishes, tacos and enchiladas – lots being gluten free, great for when the other half comes back for a visit too; if it was any good that is! Drinks-wise they offer beer, cocktails and soft drinks, including some traditional Mexican offerings, we went for the Agua de Jamaica; intrigued by a concoction of hibiscus flower, sugar and water. Sweet without being sickly, it was perfectly refreshing.

The place itself had only opened a few weeks earlier, after lots of eager diners kept asking when it was opening. A relaxed, warm welcome made us feel at home quickly and our food came out at a steady pace, we were in no rush and were happy to graze. From the four items we picked, there was lots to enjoy and commend – homemade thin, crisp tortilla chips served with salsas that tasted homemade too – the tomato one didn’t resemble a standard chunky salsa I’m more accustomed too, was full of freshness and heat where required. From the street food section the flautas was a highlight – a crispy rolled tortilla filled with mildly spiced chicken and topped with earthy black beans, a tomato salsa, sour cream and mild queso fresco which all worked so well together. The sopes rancheros was another tasty mouthful – the shredded beef in an adobe sauce had a delicate piquancy, more hearty black beans, all balanced out with avocado and queso fresco.

Agua de Jamaica
Tortillas w/ salsa
Flautas
Sopes rancheros
Queso Fundido

It’s probably obvious I really liked Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana, it’s open for lunch and dinner so get yourself down there!!! It’s an informal and relaxed affair, the food is so so good, there’s plenty for meat lovers, veggies, also lots of gluten free dishes and it’s all kind on the pocket!!

Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana 

204 Cardigan Road

Leeds

https://www.facebook.com/lupescantinamexicana/?rf=203829306636135

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

Dumpling Making Workshop!

Dumplings!!! Dumplings feature in so many different cuisines around the world and certainly take up a prominent place in Chinese food. Made in virtually every household, as a child I was taught by my mother to make them and it’s something I still do as it’s pretty straight forward and within a short space of time a tasty snack (or meal if you’re hungry) can be prepared, cooked and eaten!     

So when my friend mentioned a dumpling making workshop to coincide with Chinese New Year at Leeds University, I booked my place and turned up on Wednesday evening with lots of other dumpling fans. Organised by The Business Confucius Institute a non-profit public institution, the event was fully booked and a fun way of meeting new people with a common interest. 

We were there to make Jiaozi, the classic dumpling, which common dim sum staple and definitely eaten during Chinese New Year. 2015 is the Year of the Sheep, beginning on the 19th February, the first day of the Lunar calendar and ending with the Lantern festival on the 15th day.

I’d never made my own wrappers using flour and water for Jiaozi before, the dumplings we made at home were more like ha gau, the steamed translucent dumplings using wheat starch. After a quick tutorial and a few tips and hints we were given the task of making our dumplings by either rolling out fresh wrappers or using pre-made gyoza wrappers.

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I thought I’d have a go at rolling some fresh ones, out, my mother would probably have chuckled watching me have a go at it. The rolling and folding was so skilful, but they made it look so easy. I was definitely out of practise and my first few attempts looked shocking! 

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I kept at it, and slowly improved with help from the assistants, and with the whole class getting to work we quickly made enough for the first few batches to be cooked up, and then came the best bit; we could try out the fruits of our labour. Cooked two ways; steamed fried (pot sticker style) or boiled. My favourite were probably the fried ones, but they were both pretty tasty.

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We’d made so many we were able to leave with takeaway! It was such a great way of meeting new people, all with the same love of dumplings! With Chinese New Year starting on the 19th, I have no excuse not to make dumplings now!

My Thai, Leeds

Have you missed Thai Aroy Dee?? Since closing what seems like aeons ago, literally, I’ve received a number of emails asking if I might know when Thai Aroy Dee was re-opening and where. The last I heard, which was quite a while ago it may open in the Grand Arcade but who knows if this is really the case? I don’t, but I wish I did, because I think there are many of us who miss the place and it’s left a bit of a gap in the market.

A few weeks ago I was walking down to The Belgrave and as usual, looked left to see if Fuji (Fuji Hiro) was open, but what caught my eye more was what was next door – the signage My Thai

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For years this place has housed a number of different businesses, all have had short life-spans for one reason or another, but from my first visit to My Thai it seems like this place could be a keeper. This is their second venue, as they already have one in Bradford have have built a reputation and loyal following there already.

Wanting to find out for myself I popped in for a quick lunch yesterday. Just knowing that Fuji was next door, I did feel a bit guilty because I love Fuji, and it has a special place in my heart. But being a so-called food blogger, I couldn’t let that stop me trying this place out and giving it a fair chance. Stepping in from the street the place has been completely transformed into, well I’m not sure how to describe it, a Thai cafe/diner?

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For such a small space they’ve done well to fit in as many covers as possible, with lots of low level stools and more comfortable cushioned seating on the sides of the room. With the big window at the front and extra lighting they’ve managed to keep the space bright and gave it lots of character too.  Quirky, practical touches like easy access containers for cutlery and takeaways menus aid a no-fuss approach.

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I was their first customer that day, and I immediately found the people who run the place really friendly and bubbly. They seemed to have a great rapport and liked interacting with customers with their amusing banter.

Quickly being asked if I wanted a drink, I’d just come off the train from London so only really wanted a soft drink, but they also had Singha beer, wine and lots of herbal teas to choose from.

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The menu is very straight forward, you basically pick what you want on a sheet and say how many in the box, it reminded me a little of Chinese dim sum menu. Easy!

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Normally I’m a stickler for ordering exactly the same thing every time I go out for Thai, friends would testify to me always ordering prawn pad thai (no nuts), but I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone for a change and try something different. In hindsight, maybe this was a bad idea, because I could’ve compared it to others I’ve had before, but hey, it means I have another excuse to go!

A quick perusal showed me the menu is broken down into starters, such as chicken satay, spring rolls, ranging from just £1-2! All main courses have a take-away or eat in option, with prices varying for each and also depending on the main source of protein, e.g. tofu, duck, prawn etc. 

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You could choose between thai curries, noodle soups, fried rice, fried noodles in it’s different guises. I love rice noodles and liked the sound of the pattaya pad see ew with beef and the steamed pork dumplings.

Service was fairly brisk, as I was their only customer at the time, the pork dumplings were petite, lovely and moist, the light soy and spring onions gave it a little bit of saltiness and change in texture, They lasted just a couple of minutes if that! I wished they were bigger, but that would mean longer cooking time and for just £1.50, need I say more!!

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Steamed pork dumplings

A steaming bowl of freshly cooked noodles came my way, portion wise it was good and on first impressions there was plenty of everything that was supposed to be there – carrot, greens, egg, noodles and beef! I thought it was a tasty bowl and if i’m honest I would’ve liked the beef to be a little softer, but it was thinly sliced and doesn’t take much to cook it. Actually now thinking about it, I took that many bloody pictures of it, I probably didn’t start eating till a couple of minutes after receiving it!! Maybe it’s my own fault!! The veg had lovely crunch and the noodles were soft and it had enough seasoning to it. 

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During my short stop there, the place filled up with many eating in and a number of customers ordering take-aways too. I’d recommend My Thai, it’s a very welcome addition to the Leeds food scene!

My lunch came to £9 in total, without service, a bargain!!!

Food: Nice menu, food is cooked to order in the kitchen visible from the dining space.

Service: Friendly, out-going people, good banter, lovely service! Speed from the kitchen was good. 

Atmosphere: Even when quiet the place there was a good atmosphere due to the rapport from the staff and how they like to chat to customers. It’s a fairly small space so when it got busier there was a good sense of buzz of about the place. 

My Thai

43 Wade Lane

Leeds

LS2 8NJ

https://www.facebook.com/mythaileeds?ref=ts&fref=ts

My Thai on Urbanspoon