Love Leeds…

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to return to one of my favourite cities in the UK; Leeds. I adore Leeds, I spent three years there as a student before I moved to the smoke for work but deep down, I know if I was going to live anywhere else in the U.K., I would love it to be Leeds. Some of it, I’m sure, it nostalgia- student life in Leeds is simply incredible, it’s a city built around students and it looked after me well. But I still love going to Leeds now and sadly, I’m now a long way off from being a student.

While it’s definitely true that most of the people you’ll meet in Leeds are friendly and more likely to say hello than us grumpy Londoners, that’s not the main reason. For me, I think it’s because it’s a really accessible city- nearly everywhere you’ll want to go is within walking distance and nothing ever seems too far away. There’s a huge selection of places to go and you’ll never be short of choice- add to that cheap prices and it definitely makes for one of my favourite places to visit, so I thought I’d pass on  a few of my top tips if you ever get the opportunity to visit.

1. Art’s Cafe, Call Lane

Art’s Cafe is genuinely one of my favourite places to eat, not just in Leeds but anywhere. Don’t go expecting pretentious ‘fine-dining’ or fuss but if you’re looking for a great meal with well thought-out and adventurous flavour combinations, served at a really affordably price, in the buzzy setting of a cafe/bistro, then this is the place to go. I genuinely believe you wouldn’t get food this good anywhere in London for the price you will in Art’s Cafe.  When I went this time round, I enjoyed a delicious pork belly, fennel and seafood stew- not flavours I’d usually put together but it was fantastic. Art’s Cafe was also the first place I ever drank a glass of my favourite red wine, Argentinian Malbec, so it seems simply wrong for me to go now without getting a bottle for the table.

2. Smokestack, Lower Briggate

Smokestack is a prohibition style cocktail bar that’s been around since long before they were ‘in.’  They specialise in delicious cocktails made by the expert bar staff and funk and soul music- on a Friday or Saturday night, they tend to stick to the classic hits that we all know, which means there’s usually lots of silly dancing and singing along.  The atmosphere is fun and lively but chilled at the same time, I’ve never been there when the atmosphere hasn’t been brilliant…and trust me, I’ve been there once or twice!

3. Selabar, New Briggate

Sela Bar is, as the name suggests, in the basement and it’s a cosy hideaway. They have a great selection of beers, including lots of flavoured Belgian beers if that’s your thing. They’ll often have acoustic or jazz sessions on the go in the evenings, some livelier than others and you’ll find it’s the kind of place to while away an evening with friends- once the night is underway, don’t expect to grab a table easily as it’s a really popular and cosy spot, so get there relatively early and grab one of their delicious pizzas while you’re at it!

4. The Reliance, North Street

The Reliance is the most tucked away of my choices, it seems like you’re about to end up on the ring road when you’re walking to it but don’t be disheartened, it’s worth going slightly out of the way for. (And, by out of the way, I still mean a 5/10 minute walk from Briggate.)  The Reliance is a great pub which also serves good food- I tend to enjoy going there for Sunday brunch with a big cup of coffee and the papers but it’s just as much fun in the evening, with a really well stocked bar and a comfy mix of tables to eat at and big sofas to sink down into.   Sometimes you can’t really describe why a pub is good, it just is. And The Reliance just is.

There are so many more I could have mentioned but these four are my must-do’s every time I make it into West Yorkshire. That said, there’s always time to try some more and I’m sure lots has changed since I moved away in 2009…have I missed any of your favourite Leeds spots off?

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Seen and Heard…



1. Last Saturday, I saw the brilliant Duke Special live. There’s nobody quite like him; he combines pop, folk, cabaret, theatre and storytelling along with fantastic musicianship and a beautiful voice to make a great performance every time I see him play. And he has the best Belfast accent I’ve ever heard…swoon. (

2. The week before last, I saw My Vitriol play their first gig in five years at Koko, London. While I was admittedly skeptical about the fact they are still touring an album 13 years old, they still sounded great and this week I can’t get enough of Finelines. It’s a true classic album that isn’t showing it’s age at all.

3. My band of the week this week, MS MR.

4. This week, I went to see the ridiculous Spanish comedy, I’m So Excited. It made me laugh out loud, a lot and I reviewed it here.

5. On Monday night, I went along to Longitude, a monthly night showcasing some of the acts that will be performing at this year’s Latitude festival. This month’s featured Luke Wright, an Essex lad turned poet with poetry covering subjects such as broad as the Essex Lion to Nigel Farage, Lucy Beaumont, a breaking female comedian with a host of witty one-liners, Pappy’s, one of the best sketch groups out there who had the whole audience in fits of laughter and Nick Mulvey, whose dreamy acoustic sounds provided a perfect close for the evening and made me dream of lying in a field. Hurry up festival season!
A busy week for me, what have you been watching and listening to this week?

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Band of the Week #4: MS MR

It’s been a hectic week and I don’t know about you but once I get busy, I find myself getting lazier with my listening habits and sticking my iPod on Shuffle most days, which means I spend a lot of time listening to bands whose albums I know inside out.

But, a pleasant surprise popped up in the form of a single by ‘MS MR’ and when I looked them up, I found out they have released their debut album, Secondhand Rapture this week and it has been on heavy rotation ever since.  MS MR are an electropop due from New York but unlike many of the electropop acts around today, their songs have are fantastically atmospheric with an urgency and sense of building up to something  that reminds me of Florence and the Machine (without the warbles.) It’s probably something to do with the thumping floor tom scattered throughout- let’s face it, everyone loves a good floor tom (Ask Yannis from Foals or Ellie Goulding…)

Lizzy Plapinger’s vocals are husky and soulful, the melodies are catchy, the textures are rich and although we’re drowned in electro pop bands fronted by super cool women at the moment, I think MS MR have something extra to offer that means they’re going to be a real hit.

Although I thoroughly endorse buying the record to support a young band (see here:  you can give it a road test now on Spotify here:

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Film Review: I’m So Excited

It’s difficult to sum up I’m So Excited neatly. On the one hand, I found it to be a ridiculous and  highly entertaining, laugh out loud farce that could easily be described as nothing short of a camp as you like Carry-On film in Spanish. It really is as silly as the trailer looks. And yet, at the same time the film works because there’s more to it- in amongst the jokes and the camp, not only is there some pretty genuine social commentary about the ongoing financial problems in Spain, there’s also a storyline that I cared about. By the end of the film, I really cared about the characters and had become invested in their goings-on (as ridiculous as they were.) For me, that was what raised this film from ‘Carry-On Flying’ to the level of a laugh-out loud comedy that still manages to pack a punch of social commentary, not dissimilar in tone or style to the revered scripts written by playwrights such as Wilde or Sheridan in their time.

The whole film is based in the business class cabin of a flight on a fictional Spanish airline and focuses on the seven characters seated within. It soon materialises that due to a problem with the landing gear, there’s a good chance the flight may never make it to the ground safely however, before an emergency landing can be attempted, the plane needs to circle and wait for clearance to land at an airport safely, which takes several hours. During this time, the cabin crew decide to sedate the cattle class passengers and stewardesses and get themselves and the passengers in first class (and the pilots) blind on a cocktail of drink, drugs and promiscuity. Ridiculous, yes, but it goes without saying that this cocktail is a recipe for a highly amusing watch.

Nothing about this film really claims to be too serious, from the cartoon coloured opening credits, the token and almost entirely random appearance of Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz down to the vats of tequila making their way into the flight deck. But, there’s a fine line when dealing with such a camp, colourful extravaganza- it could easily become tiresome and empty. I like silly, sometimes but I can find it doesn’t take long for silly without substance to grate on my nerves. Somehow, for me, Pedro Almodóvar managed to completely escape this. Personally, I think there were two reasons; the carefully constructed story arc which meant the film didn’t linger on any of it’s fripperies for too long (although there was plenty of farce, it wasn’t long before something happened to keep the film moving forward) and the film’s warmth. Social commentary was ever present but mild, the stewards were camp and sexually promiscuous but kind and despite their many differences, the characters had a tendency towards open-mindedness and an attempt to understand each other and the people they get in contact with on the ground.

Ultimately, this is a 21st century farcical comedy and this means that Almodóvar can get away with more outrageousness and more scenes designed to make the audience laugh through the shock factor than many writers before have been able to be but his intentions seem to remain the same as the classics; to make the audience laugh big belly laughs and to think about the people and world they’re living in  a little bit while they’re at it. And for me, quite simply, it worked.

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Love Music?

Today’s post is a bit of a thoughtful one but it’s something that’s important to me and I think it’s important that the conversations on it don’t stop.

I’ve always considered myself a true music lover- whether I’m on the tube, sat at work or cooking dinner, there is nearly always a soundtrack to what I’m doing and my favourite past time is going to gigs and festivals and hearing new bands. Of course, I spend a large amount on gig tickets as live music is a passion for me but I’ve also been a Spotify advocate since it launched in the U.K. as I really do believe the opportunity to hear new music legally is so valuable- I consume so much music that it would simply be impossible for me to buy all the albums I want to hear, unless I win the lottery.  It’s a great way for bands to get exposure as you can stumble across things you would never have listened to otherwise and we have never had more freedom of choice or independence to discover new music for ourselves than we do with services like Spotify. But as a result, it became so easy for me to consume all the music I wanted at the push of a button that I stopped purchasing physical CD’s or even digital downloads.

However, recently a debut album I was excited about was released but, on the day before the release it materialised that the band were making  the brave decision not to put it on any streaming services for a little while, to encourage people to buy it.  At first, I was a little bit indignant; why should they be any different? There are so many bands fighting for us to hear their music, why should they expect that we would make the effort for them over all the others?  But I very quickly realised that it wasn’t them at fault- it’s me.  The particular band in question a band who are doing reasonably well for themselves and getting a good name amongst music fans and critics but  they have recently left their jobs in an attempt to make music full-time so they need the support of album sales and ticket sales to make that possible.  I happen to know that about them but  they almost certainly aren’t alone, I’m sure this is a common situation for a young band or musician to find themselves in. And, as a result, I wandered over to my local record store (the wonderful Rough Trade West, for anyone in need of a recommendation) and picked up their album. Not only did I feel good in the knowledge I was supporting them and hopefully enabling them to continue making and releasing music but I enjoyed the experience- there’s something to be savoured in flicking through the CD’s or vinyls and making your choice, listening to what’s playing in the shop and maybe coming across something you didn’t expect to find, then coming home with your new purchase and putting it on for the first time, while leafing through the sleeve notes- it is way more of an experience than pressing play on Spotify will ever be.

So, from here on in I’m making a resolution and I’m quite ashamed I’m only making it now: I am going to make a real effort to buy more albums. (Better late than never!)  And not from Amazon, either but supporting independent record shops, the lovely hidey holes that they are.  Record Store Day gets a huge response, every year, but how many people then go on to use those record shops on the other 364 days of the year, when it’s not so hyped?  You can go through every  overdone argument in the book- you wouldn’t borrow all your clothes, why would you borrow your music etc etc, but the fact is simple- if we don’t start paying properly for our music, someone has to and there’s a genuine concern that the money will run out. Of course, I won’t be able to buy everything I listen to, so my Spotify subscription is going to continue, for making my playlists and going on listening binges but I love music and I think musicians need our support, now more than ever.

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Flavour of the Month, May: Asaparagus

In my pursuit to try and be more adventurous in the kitchen and to learn more about flavours, I have made a resolution that each month, I will try and focus on one ‘in-season’ ingredient and experiment with complimentary flavours and great dishes you can make with it (and obviously, blog about the results.)  I’m not quite certain  how many dishes I will manage to cook each month, particularly as there is the obvious risk of getting bored of eating the ingredient too often in a short space of time but I think at least one a week is feasible (I hope!)  A couple of Christmas’ ago, I received Niki Segnit’s book, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’  as a gift and although it’s a fascinating little book, I don’t think I’ve ever quite made the most of it, so this is a great opportunity to try some of the flavour combinations highlighted in there.

As the first month for this challenge is May, it seems only appropriate to start with one of the UK’s ingredients with the shortest season- asparagus.  Although you can get asparagus from the supermarkets all year round, which is usually shipped in from South America, asparagus is one of those ingredients that really suffers from the long journey and is best consumed as soon after harvest at possible, so it is best to make the most of it in the U.K. during May and June. Asparagus is quite a pricey vegetable (my fresh bunch from the greengrocers was £3.75) and is often considered to be a delicacy so most top chefs don’t recommend you mess around with it too much, it has enough flavour of it’s own to be enjoyed simply with some butter drizzled over it.  That said, Niki Segnit recommends some more vivid flavour combinations that I hope to try as the month goes on.

However, today I thought it was best start with a fairly simple serving; blanched asparagus spears served with butter, grated hard cheese and flaked almonds.  Dairy products are well known as a perfect match to asparagus- you can serve it just simply with the butter and cheese and it will still be a delicious treat but and the lemon and almonds were both recommended in the flavour thesaurus and I thought I would try this combination out.

It turned out to be a lovely, easy treat to make; simply boil the asparagus spears for 2-3 minutes then remove them from the heat and keep them warm.  Add a generous knob of butter and some almonds to a pan and heat them up. Once the butter starts to bubble, just before it starts to go brown, squeeze in a small amount of lemon juice and then pour the butter/almond/lemon mix over the asparagus spears. Finally, to serve, grate some hard cheese over the top and a sprinkle of black pepper.  While the recipe I initially used for reference recommended Spanish Manchego cheese for this, I found that to be a little on the mild side and decided to add some parmesan for a much stronger flavour- it goes deliciously with the  nutty flavour in the asparagus and the almonds.

I enjoyed the spears served simply, with some crushed new potatoes to bulk the dish up to a full meal, rather than a starter and it made a delicious vegetarian dinner. (Be wary with your cheese selection if you are serving the dish to veggies though, as a large number of hard cheese contain rennet!)

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Next week, I will hopefully try something a bit more substantial with the asparagus- any recommended dishes you think I should try?

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Band of the Week #3: Findlay

This weekend, I headed up to the North for Live At Leeds Festival 2013, which has given me plenty of inspiration for my band of the week. Although the main attraction for me was Everything Everything (by far my favourite band of the moment) it was a great opportunity to also check out some new artists in some of the city’s many great music venues. (More on them to come later…)

But for now, on to my band of the week. Findlay make classic sounding bluesy rock and roll, led by the husky, powerful vocals of Natalie Findlay. Her charm and charisma on stage was infectious and I soon found myself well and truly drawn in by their big riffs and punchy singalong melodies. I’m pretty sure the men in the audience were transfixed by her and most of us girls looked on in envy at her effortless style and great voice.

Admittedly, I don’t think there is anything particularly original about what Findlay do but not everyone can be an innovator and in my opinion, there’s always room for new, good quality rock and roll, particularly when it’s fronted by a girl with a big personality and even bigger vocal chords!

Have a listen, turn it up and enjoy, and have a great bank holiday!

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