Vodka isn’t a spirit I know much about. Oh I’ve drank enough of it in my time, believe me, but it’s usually reserved for a nondescript vodka & cranberry while I dance the night away, too dizzy to think of anything else. Or with Coke in plastic cups, in suspect bars where my only other options are Tropical VKs or pints of Fosters. While we’ve been building up our home bar (something I’d like to write a post about very soon, but here’s a good one while you wait), vodka has pretty much sat there without much attention: a simple bottle of Green Mark collecting dust on our faux-marble trolley top. So when I got sent a little sample bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, I used it as a much needed chance to give something I’d fallen out of love with a new lease of life.
Cocktails with a herby element are often my favourites, and while I’m not trained in the art of mixology, I think adding some botanicals is a great way to balance the sweetness of what usually starts with a spirit and a fruit juice. I’m partial to a Basil Grandé, so I know basil with berries works well, but for the vodka I had a hankering for citrus. Knowing how well a Screwdriver seems to go down (especially on board short-haul easyJet flights to southern Spain), I figured an acidic, fruity match would be a reliable place to start. A flavoured sugar syrup is an easy extra that seems pretty impressive, so I decided a quick infusion would be a good way to deliver a robust rosemary flavour and add something creative to my recipe.
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I’ve never made a syrup before, at least not one I can remember, but I’m in awe of those people who have these sort of concoctions on their fridge shelves, ready to roll out just in case they fancy something special come 5pm. It was simple enough, just sugar, herbs, water and a bit of time made for a gorgeous, aromatic element to an otherwise pretty formulaic cocktail. As well as adding rosemary flavour, the sweetness of the syrup also serves to mellow the tartness of the grapefruit – a fruit I generally associate with old, wiry women with pinched faces and teaspoons. A health food in the extreme *shudder*.
Shake the vodka, syrup, grapefruit juice and a squeeze of lime with ice, and top up with tonic water. Served from a pitcher with plenty of ice, it’s a cliché but this feels a little like summer in a glass. If you can, drink it outside in bright sunlight, with some king prawns on the barbie.
Grapefruit & Rosemary Fizz (makes a pitcher: 6-8 glasses)
10 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Water
8 Shots of Vodka
1 litre Pink Grapefruit Juice
1 Bottle of Tonic Water
1. Place a small pan over a medium heat. Pour in one cup of tap water and add one cup of sugar. Whisk to distribute the sugar and add 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary.
2. Bring to the mix to the boil and allow to bubble for one minute. Remove from heat and leave to steep for 30 minutes before draining into a sterilised container and placing in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours. If you’re in a rush, put it in the freezer, but don’t forget about it!
3. Fill a pitcher half way up with ice. Add the vodka, syrup and squeeze in the juice of both limes.
4. Pour in the grapefruit juice and muddle until well mixed. Top with tonic water and garnish with slices of fresh grapefruit and sprigs of rosemary.
Subscription services are pretty commonplace these days. There’s Birchbox, The Foodie’s Larder, hell, there’s even a box for your cat. Personally, I like it. I like that you don’t even have to go out to try new things. Stuff comes right to you, and it’s good stuff too, usually curated by someone in the know. The idea of trying different products at a much lower cost than if I were to buy them separately really appeals to me, especially when it comes to food and drink. So when I was offered the chance to try Little Tipples, miniature measures to taste & savour, I got excited. Rum through my letter box? Don’t mind if I do.
Little Tipples, as I understand it, runs on two aims. The first is to provide you with quality, varied spirits to drink at home at your pleasure. The second is to develop your palate and teach you a bit about what you’re drinking. Each month you’ll receive two 50ml bottles. Once you unpack them, the idea is that you log on, enter the codes marked on the front and read the tasting notes while you try them. After you’ve tasted them, both neat and with your favourite mixer, you click the reveal button to see which rums you’ve been supping on. You record your prefences, type up your comments and save them to your profile. That way you can revisit your thoughts whenever you like. If you wish, you can go ahead and purchase a full size bottle of any of the rums you’ve tried directly from the website.
The website itself provides a number of good resources to help you on your rum tasting journey. Not only is there a dummy-proof tasting method to walk you through your experience, but there are cocktail recipes to help you make the most of your minis. A leaderboard keeps you abreast of which rum other users rate, so you can anticipate next month’s delivery.
Subscriptions from Little Tipples come in at £10 a month including delivery straight to your door. The boxes are small enough to slip right through your letter box so no need to worry about those pesky “Sorry we missed you” slips. There are no long term commitments and your subscription is available to cancel at any time. You can also earn referral points if someone signs up because you sent them. You can put your points towards a full sized bottle from the leaderboard.
To be quite honest, I have very little to be critical about here. I think the price is good, the rums are varied enough that you wouldn’t get bored, and I think the fact you can log in and see what you liked from the start of your subscription is very useful (like those little tasting notebooks big fat men on real ale trails carry in their pockets, but digital). My only criticism would be that it’s limited to rum, but the word on the street is that whisky and gin are on their way. In conclusion, I wholeheartedly love this. Sure, it’s a bit of an indulgence, hardly a monthly necessity when you’re working out your budget, but it’s fun, informative and a nice thing. And we all like nice things, right?
After I tasted what was in my bottles, I preferred the white rum (Banks 5 Island) neat and the dark rum (Pussers Blue Label) mixed, I thought it was only right to make a cocktail to celebrate. Rum is my favourite spirit and a Dark n Stormy probably my favourite cocktail, so I rustled one up. Little Tipples have their recipe listed on their blog, and it’s pretty darn perfect. Though a Dark n Stormy should be a long drink, I was taking it steady so I kept the measures small this time. I didn’t want to drown out the rum with too much ginger. For a traditional drink use a double shot. I also had no lime so used a lemon instead, but this is by no means a substitution I’d endorse. Sure, it’s better than nowt, but lime is the ideal complement to the spice of the ginger. The deep caramel flavour of Pussers Blue Label matched perfectly in this but if you’re making it at home with what you have, a spiced rum like Morgans or Sailor Jerry would work well too. This is how I made mine.
Dark n Stormy makes one cocktail
25ml Dark Rum
250ml Ginger Beer (I used Old Jamaica)
Wedge of Lime
3 Ice Cubes
Pour the ginger beer into a tumbler over your ice. Top up with rum. Take your wedge of lime and squeeze it lightly into your drink, then drop it in. Mix and enjoy.
Disclaimer: I was sent my first box for free to try. My thoughts on this product are unbiased and honest. I only endorse products I feel strongly about and this is one of them! I will be paying full price for an ongoing subscription.;
I eat out a lot. To the point where I’m almost ashamed. The other day I was outed on Instagram, tagged to do the #widn tag with the comment “@whipuntilfluffy who is prob out having an awesome looking lunch again” … What can I say? Guilty.
So with this (excessive, if anything) experience, I thought I’d put together a little guide to eating in this city. Whether it’s a 3 course meal or a quick snack, here are what I consider to be the best bites in town at the moment.
Shears Yard A firm dinner favourite since its opening in August last year, Shears Yard is my go-to for a special occasion. Brought to us by the team behind the Arts Cafe on Call Lane, Shears Yard serve seasonal, British cuisine with a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. Each plate throbs with tastes and textures, every element seems painstakingly created so that it all sings together on the plate. Not even the bread is boring (whipped truffle butter, anyone?). The dishes are complex, elegant, but they’re not pretentious. You might struggle to choose just one dish, so coordinate with a partner and go halvsies. Visit on a Thursday night, it can get noisy on the weekends. Dishes pictured include Duck liver parfait & homemade duck “ham”, black pudding brioche, white onion chutney & blackberry gel and Local corn fed chicken breast & leg, crab & lobster fritter, sweetcorn & chorizo salsa & lobster mayonnaise. Starters from £4.50, mains from £10.95.
Zucco This is the neighbourhood restaurant that dreams are made of. Draped in a candlelight blanket, Zucco serves Italian small plates, classic cocktails and really good house wine. It’s dark, atmospheric and there’s a clatter from the open kitchen just loud enough to feel exciting. The menu changes every day depending on the produce available but some favourites are there day in, day out. I’m talking fritto misto, served simply with the lightest, crispest of batters. There’s aubergine parmigiana, deep fried zucchini and mint and, what I believe to be the best plate of pasta this side of Rome, braised beef pappardelle. Zucco has become a regular in my friday night routine, the perfect place to rock up to after a couple of post-work pints, feeling a little tipsy and positively buzzing at the thought of the weekend. Treat yourself to a Negroni (it comes with a stripy paper straw!), order enough food to cover the table top and return the next day to nurse your hangover, sitting at the bar with a pizzette and a carafe of wine, ready to flick through the newspaper. Plates from £2.50 to £8.50. Book early in the week to secure a table on Friday or Saturday nights, but don’t panic if you didn’t plan ahead, time it right and there’ll be room at the bar.
Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen While it may not be the obvious choice for dinner in the city centre, this music venue and bar holds some serious culinary gems. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you might not get past the door without a lumberjack beard and full sleeve of tattoos, but never mind that, just bust on in there and get yourself some pizza. Belgrave currently offers three food options: Dough Boys Pizza, Patty Smiths & Fu Schnickens. Each offering is outstanding in its field, but the Guo Bao by Fu Schnickens are really something to behold. Little steamed buns made on site and filled with pork belly, hoisin, cashew nuts, sesame, palm sugar, pickled carrot & mooli, they originate all the way from Taiwan and I would go so far as to say they are the best single bite available in Leeds right now. The crispy panko chicken version is pretty tasty too. Here’s my advice: arrive at Belgrave, buy a pint of Symonds cider from the bar or a flat white from the Laynes pop-up, get yourself a guo bao, wait a bit (optional), get yourself some pizza, wait a bit (optional), get yourself a Patty Smith’s Dirty Burger, repeat. Grab a half price slice (£1-£1.40) everyday until 7pm, get two Guo Bao for £6.
The Reliance What I consider to be one of Leeds’ unsung heroes, The Reliance is that perfect, solid option to keep in your back pocket and play as your trump card. Sure, it’s pub grub, but it’s more refined than rustic. The dishes are seasonal, they’re simple but in the most glorious sense of the word. No foam, no espuma, no soil, but flavours that bowl you over. It’s good, honest food and I never leave one morsel on my plate. Not one. Whether you’re soaking up last night’s gin with a fish finger sandwich, or getting rosy cheeked over candlelight and featherblade, The Reliance is that old friend who’s just easy to be around. With good beer and relaxed, friendly service, you’ll leave with a smile on your face. I wish I lived next door. Oh, and they cure their own charcuterie too. Starters from £4.25, mains from £9.95.
Trinity Kitchen I thought and rethought Trinity Kitchen’s inclusion in my top five, and while it feels wrong to tarnish the indie attitude of this list so far, it is true that some of the best things I’ve eaten over the past six months have been part of the shopping centre’s street food line-up. Trinity plays an important role in bringing exciting and diverse street food to the people of Leeds, and without the capitalist big-guns I wouldn’t have discovered this month’s favourite, Dorshi, or even (heavens, just imagine!) my beloved OFM. I can’t endorse any of the main-stays in the Trinity Kitchen set up, I’ve tried all of them and been thoroughly unimpressed, but the street food rotation is always interesting and provides somewhere different to go on an otherwise monotonous lunch break. I look forward to seeing what’s new every month and I like that it brings London traders up here to Yorkshire, somewhere they probably didn’t give two hoots about before. Highlights have been the Bacon Blue Burger (@OFMLondon), crispy chicken with fried “rice” (@eatDorshi) and just about everything from Cafe Moor (@CafeMoorLeeds). Street food meals starting from around £4.50.
I can’t lie, health conscious food is not something I usually look for when I’m dining out. Meals out are generally a treat, something I don’t eat at home and, let’s face it, preferably something fried. I know I know, that’s not the right attitude. But sadly, a carb lover never changes her spots. However, being a diabetic, my choices are often limited, so I appreciate that something of a food haven exists for those with dietary requirements, and that a diet-savvy alternative is there for those who want to dine out without fearing the calorie intake.
About two weeks ago I had lunch at Filmore & Union in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds City Centre. It’s kind of an odd spot. A cluster of tables sectioned off in the middle of a shopping centre, albeit a beautiful and upmarket one, the design of the place is modern and rustic. It’s gorgeous but it’s not an obvious lunch choice, especially on such a cold and blustery day in January. Arriving with hands bundled in pockets, I was pleased to see patio heaters belting out waves of warmth, with an army of fluffy throws on the backs of chairs, perfect for covering chilly knees. Obviously this kind of venue will flourish in the summer, but I snuggled up and within 5 minutes I’d already forgotten the draft. The environment was relaxed, some customers sipping on tea, others tucking in for 2 courses. The restaurant manages to be airy, open and light but without being loud. Holding a conversation across a table was easy, unlike a lot of shopping centre eateries, and the presence of other diners and wait staff was unobtrusive.
We started with juices. Just the menu itself is a pretty good read, packed full of seasonal information and health tips plus information on the brand’s philosophy. Eat Clean, Eat Pure is the idea. To your smoothie or juice, you can add loads of healthy boosters including chia seeds, echinacea and vanilla whey protein powder, depending on what you’re in the market for. I opted for the Joluxe Immune Booster (£3.75) juice. It’s made up of blended yellow pepper, carrot, ginger and orange. I topped it off with an Aloe Vera shot (£2) for an added kick up the immune system’s backside. Aloe Vera is a super healer, they say, great for digestion.
Now I’m not big on fruit, I’m a naturally savoury person, so I was interested in trying something vegetable heavy. The juice was zingy, tangy, it seriously sang inside my mouth. I genuinely felt shaken up after I drank it, more alert and productive for the few hours that followed. Plus it left none of the sticky aftertaste I dislike from packaged juices. The best thing about it was purely how orange it was, a great change from the dull greens and browns I usually associate with juices and smoothies. Lauren’s smoothie, Super Antioxidant (£4.95) was packed with strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, apple, mint leaves and coconut water. Jen went for the Raw Choco Fix (also £4.95), made from almond milk, raw cacao, raw cashews, banana and agave syrup. It was weirdly chocolate bar like, but with none of the sickly, cloying characteristics. Healthy and indulgent at the same time! None of the three drinks we tried were overly sweet or filling, which contrasts with the juice bar experiences I’ve had before. They felt clean, simple and fresh.
For my main I went for an Open Steak Bagel with Sweet Onions, Tomato Salsa and Tzatziki (£12.95). The steak was cooked perfectly, pink in the middle and with a charred crust. There was barely a chew to it and loads of fresh, juicy crunch from the salsa. I was pleased with the generous portions, wrongly thinking eating healthy meant eating small, the bagel came piled high. On the whole, I enjoyed it, my only criticism is that the dish was a little sweet. The sweet potato and caraway chips promised a bit of spice but I couldn’t taste the caraway and I didn’t really think they were necessary, they left a sweet aftertaste I could’ve done without, with no crunch or heat to balance them. The salsa, onions and tzatziki were all very good, but without something spicy or sharp to cut through it the bagel fell just short of full marks. I’d have preferred it with a small side salad or slaw, and maybe a slick of wholegrain mustard on its lid. My second choice would’ve been what Lauren ate, the Asian Smoked Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes (£10.95). Again a generous portion, two round fishcakes sat atop curly kale and orange segments, with pomegranates and almonds dotted in. The dish was an absolute beauty.
The ingredients in all our mains were clearly so fresh, their colours jumped off the white background. Obviously nothing had been sitting around, there wasn’t a wilted leaf or past-best vegetable in sight. They looked, shock horror, like they’d been pulled right from the ground. Imagine that! The 100% Fresh, 100% Natural produce is a huge part of what Filmore & Union are offering and for me that’s a massive plus. They make a point to source their ingredients from the local area, so there’s every chance your lunch has come from ground to plate within hours.
We finished off with dessert, of course. I have never seen so many beautiful but virtuous looking cakes in one place at one time. The counter was overflowing with platters and cake stands offering everything from a gluten free lemon & polenta cake to a vegan chocolate and blackberry cake. It looked good. Like, the kind of good where there’s absolutely no guilt to come from ordering a pudding. It feels like it’s actually the right thing to do. The whole menu obviously caters fantastically for those with dietary requirements and the cakes really don’t disappoint, with more range than I’ve ever seen before. I opted for a Banana, Oat and Flaxseed Muffin (£3.75). There are a lot of oats in my diet for their low GI credentials (again, the diabetic thing), keeping blood sugars level without the peaks and troughs that simple carbs can bring, something that the whole F&U menu boasts. The muffin was a good way to round off the meal, it was fluffy, and came with a deep, nutty texture you don’t find in mass-products desserts in chain coffee shops and cafes. I loved it and I will go back for it again, maybe to take out for breakfast on my way to work. The other desserts our table ordered looked scrumptious, without fail. Even the giant Granola Bar (£3.95) got me salivating. It was so interesting to see a sweet menu really come alive with unusual ingredients, not a nasty in sight. Plus, every dessert comes with a little pot of natural yoghurt and a few berries. A lovely little touch, as if your halo could shine any brighter.
It was lovely to go back to work without the hangover from a too-large lunch. So many times I’ve come a cropper to grabbing something too heavy in my lunch hour, giving me a headache and having me snoozing at my desk all afternoon long, to-do list forgotten. It’s good to know that you can eat a great meal and leave with a spring in your step, without the threat of the inevitable sugar come down. I’d really recommend Filmore & Union to those looking for not just low cal or carb, but a nourishing, nutritious option for lunchtimes, breakfasts or early evenings. For me, it’s probably best as a brunch spot. They have a great bagel menu, plus muesli, porridge, granola and more. They have a good range of teas and organic coffees, and I’ve already waxed lyrical about the healing power of the juices. It’s also an ideal fit for its environment. The Victoria Quarter is beautiful, with a huge sky light, amazing architecture and luxury stores. F&U is a great pitstop to rest your aching feet, or a great place to drop off anyone who’s holding you back. Got a husband dragging his feet? A nagging teenager? Leave them here, there’s free wifi. The prices are, I think, slightly high. So just bear that in mind when you’re adding extra shots to your smoothie.
I think it’s also important to add that the staff were incredibly knowledgeable about the menu. They answered all our questions, made some great recommendations and really had me feeling like I was in safe hands. If you’re gluten free or vegan, lactose intolerant or allergic to anything, you can really put your confidence in this lot and you won’t leave unhappy.
If you eat clean or you’re trying to be good, you’re going to love this place. If you’re partial to a chicken nugget… maybe not, but give it a go, it might change your life! I haven’t been converted, I’m afraid I’m too devoted to burgers, but I am interested in trying more. Open to eat in and take out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 8am-7pm, Thursday 8am – 8pm, Sunday 9am-6pm.
Despite not being big drinkers, every year on Christmas Morning my family crack open the champers. Usually it’s straight up for the hardcore and Bucks Fizz for those attempting to keep a hold of their enunciation skills before lunchtime, but 2013 was the year that my mum handed over some holiday responsibility to me, so when I prepared breakfast on Christmas day I rustled up some cocktails with a subtle change.
The thing with this cocktail is that it doesn’t have to be much work. I squeezed the oranges so we had fresh juice, but you could go the way of the carton if you fancied, you could Shake The Pulp out of an Orangina juice. A bit of vermouth, a splash of lemon juice and one lone pomegranate later, and you’re well on your way to a fruity but sharp festive alternative.
The thing with jars right, they’re pretty. I’m not ashamed to say I love drinking out of them, even if they are made for jam and grannies and non-Pinteresters alike think I’m a dickhead. Call me a hipster if you like but I’m into it. Jars are also good if you don’t have a cocktail shaker to hand. I poured orange juice and Martini (that’s vermouth, but you could use a vodka or gin if you liked) into my Kilner with a bit of lemon juice. I dropped some ice in to make it good and cold, and then I whacked on the lid and shook it up good and proper. One minor note, though. As much as I love how they look, there is one caveat to using a jar as your glass. Unlike a traditional shaker and glass option, your drink isn’t poured over fresh ice when you serve it, instead it’s served with the ice you shake it up with. The movement means you get the ice going and warm it up, making it melt quicker. So as you get to the bottom of your jarred cocktail it can turn a bit watery. My solution is to drink up faster.
Ingredients (Makes 6-8 Cocktails)
5 Large Oranges
150ml Dry Vermouth (that’s about 25ml, 1 shot, per person)
1 Cup of Ice
1 Bottle of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava (in fact, any sparkling wine will do)
1. Juice the oranges into a measuring jug. I used a wooden reamer from Lakeland, but you could use a fancy machine or just squeeze them by hand, it won’t take you long. Strain the juice through a sieve if you want it smooth, otherwise leave it as it is!
2. Pour the juice a third of the way up your jar or glass. Next, add a shot of vermouth to each jar.
3. Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice to each cocktail. I did this by sight, it doesn’t have to be exact. Drop a couple of ice cubes into each jar and screw the lid on tight. Shake away for 10-15 seconds, until all the ingredients are well mixed and the liquid’s temperature has come down.
4. Top each jar to the brim with bubbles. Drop in 2 tbsp of pomegranate seeds. Squeeze a little juice in while you’re at it. Voila!
I find that the fruit and vermouth counteract the dryness of the champagne quite nicely, but the tanginess the drink leaves behind means you can’t help but take this cocktail seriously. Fizzy pop, this ain’t. Leave your Sex On the Beach at home, I might just drink it all year long.
Lil | Leeds | Big Eater
Hey, I'm Lil. I'm a freelance food and drink consultant living in Leeds, West Yorkshire. My life revolves around my next meal, and this is where I come to talk about it.
Whip Until Fluffy is also where I share my recipes and practice my styling & photography skills. I'm a new mum to twin girls Nina and Ada, so there'll be a bit of parenting chat, plus a good ol' ramble about things I like and places I visit.
For now, take a look around, but if you fancy a chat you can find more of me via the channels below.