Leeds may not be the most obvious choice when it comes to a weekend getaway from London but as I happen to have a rather brilliant friend and her fantastic family live near there I have grown a real soft spot for the place over a few visits. Leeds indeed has a lot more to offer when it comes to eating, drinking and shopping than one might think.
In fact in the 9 months or so since my last visit the city has really transformed with several new and super stylish shopping arcades popping up, housing the likes of & other Stories as well some swanky rooftop bars not to dissimilar to once we queue for ours for in London (minus the crowds and also cheaper). I of course was lucky enough to have a fantastic guide in the shape of my friend Maddie who made sure we only hit the best and newest spots. These turned out to be fantastic across the board and more than met my very high London standards which is why I can't wait to share them with you. I for one can only wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Leeds and the surrounding Yorkshire area, you may just be surprise by how varied and fun it is ( plus the people up there are pretty decent too ;) )
I am a true connoisseur, or just very picky depending on how you see it, when it comes to coffee and Layne's Espresso, a great cafe in the centre of Leeds, definitely is up to scratch, able to produce a flawlessly creamy cappuccino of the kind you never want to see the end of. It also has a pleasing and antipodean inspired menu with the likes of corn fritters with halloumi and shakshuka making an appearance.
Feeling slightly worse for wear from the night before we went for simple and comforting with a generous portion of creamy scrambled eggs served on sourdough and side of fragrant grilled tomatoes. Though not the most ground breaking of dishes, the eggs were cooked to perfection and presentation was totally on point, the cooks after all with little space to hide in their prep, with an open kitchen being the centre point of the upstairs dining room. Portions are super generous and I for sure will be back to try their more complex dishes next time in town and in need of a good brunch
I am a sucker for good tapas, in my eyes food can't get much better than when it's served as an array of flavourful small dishes best enjoyed shared, but have sadly so far struggled to find decently priced Spanish dining options in London.
Ambiente, a cosy little spot by the canal and a few minutes walk away from Leeds city centre, came highly recommended by Maddie, who I trust blindly when it comes to all things food related, so after a short deliberation whilst sipping on some delicious Aldi Champagne (why oh why is there no Aldi near me in London), we booked a table here to start our Friday night in style. Ordering drinks proved easy with Aperol Spritz's only a fiver and a glass of refreshing Cava coming in at the four pound mark. The menu was equally appealing with a great selection of none meat options and we had seriously restrain ourselves from ordering too much, enticed by the sound of so many of the dishes.
Stand out dishes included the patatas bravas- a Spanish classic that is very hard to get right, too often drowned in clangy aioli or lacking oomph in the tomato sauce, but was cooked to utter perfection here, the roast cauliflower and their outstanding deep fried calamari with aioli. I usually hate squid but here the texture lacked the usual rubber like consistency, making it a delight to eat. With service as good as the food and prices more than decent I can only sing Ambiente's praises and if a good dinner is what you are after in Leeds, I'd highly recommend you snag a table there and enjoy some first class tapas!
Another one of Maddie's favourite, this cosy little bar with a laid back and slightly older vibe, knows how to mix up a damn good cocktail. On this occasion we only stayed for one drink on our bar tour, sampling their outstanding espresso martini made with Mr Black cold press coffee liquor (the proper good stuff) but I could have easily stayed for one (or five) more expertly mixed drinks. The place in Leeds for cocktails that won't break the bank. My tip- make an espresso martini the first thing you order for that alcoholic caffeine rush, you won't regret it.
I was a little perplexed by The Domino Club. Why you may ask? Well firstly you get ID'd outside a shut but by the looks of things fully functioning barber shop through which you then walk to find a secret door that leads you down some stairs to the Domino club. This is of course not the first "hidden" bar I've come across but in my Londoner ignorance I just didn't really expect to find such a cool concept to outside New York or London.
I am of course very happy to be proven wrong and it wasn't just the unusual way of entering the place that surprised me at the Domino club. No, downstairs what we were met with was an utterly fantastic speakeasy style club and bar, made even more brilliant by a live jazz band performing - I may as well have been at the hippest spot on the upper east side not in the city centre of Leeds. This place that sort of infectious atmosphere I hadn't experience in a long time, London's clubs slowly but surely blending into one generic clubbing experience, and am so glad that I didn't let my silly preconceptions stop me from going to this truly great spot. Leeds locals I suggest you go and see it for yourself asap. There is no place I'd rather spent the late hours of a Friday night in Leeds.
House of Koko may be in a slightly odd location, in the midst of a Leeds suburb, but that doesn't stop this super cute cafe from serving great coffee and quirky brunch options. My order of pancakes with creme fraiche and plums didn't only look good but tasted proper homemade while I couldn't help but feel serious food envy looking at the figs with goats cheese and honey on sourdough that Maddie and her mum ordered. Worth seeking out if you want a chilled and super cheap brunch or breakfast in Leeds.
And last but not least... nothing beats a bit of home cooking with two fellow amazingly talented foodies in the shape of Maddie and her mum Sara! We cooked up quite the feast, with way too much (good) and enjoyed in their incredible outdoor space! If this was mine I'd basically live in that area for the entirety of summer!
I have to be honest Amsterdam has never been on top of the list of places I wanted to visit in Europe. In my eyes the city's main pull was easily reduced down to two things - the legalised weed and cafes it is smoked in and the prostitutes standing in their windows for the world to lurk at in the red light district, a perception only further reinforced by the hordes of British stag and hen do groups regularly invading Amsterdam for the weekend to get pissed and high, making the most of precisely those two things.
I am very happy to report however that I got to discover a VERY different Amsterdam to the one I had anticipated and had thus far avoided when I spent a long weekend there, in fact pretty much instantly falling in love with not only Amsterdam as a city but also it's inhabitants. First things first you may wonder why I ended up going at all considering how precious my holiday time is as well as my very limited funds.. Well as it turned out I actually had a long lost uncle living there who I was fortunate enough to reconnect with and who invited me and one of my dearest and nearest friends, Sean, to get to know him and his city a little better. Fortunately for us he ended up living in a pretty kick ass apartment in a super nice albeit canal free neighbourhood about 20 minutes from the centre, right by the Olympic stadium, which meant we already had a pretty sweet start to the trip (plus I also reconnected with one of the only family members I have left which was an added bonus).
I had of course also done my usual research before embarking on any trip to an unknown city in order to avoid bad food and drinks, using my much beloved googledocs to make sure we weren't going to end up in some awful tourist trap and had also been given some awesome tips by friends who had lived in the city and who sang Amsterdam's highest praises. Indeed as we stepped out of my uncle's apartment, slightly bleary-eyed after a 7am flight from Stansted, I couldn't help but very quickly start to agree with them.
In fact with its beautiful array of old brown brick buildings, maintained impeccably over the centuries, and tree lined streets it instantly reminded me of my favourite West and East village neighbourhoods in New York with added picturesque canals (which makes sense seeing as the Dutch were the first to colonise what was to become New York and of course wanted to keep a piece of their old home alive in the new metropolis they were creating). We ended up wandering around those streets for hours soaking up the stunning surroundings. It all felt a lot more calm and spacious than London and every Dutch person who we crossed paths with proved incredibly friendly and forthcoming.
Yes, there are the nightmarish tourist spots akin to Leicester square with added pungent and to me unpleasant smell of weed but they can easily be avoided, especially with my little guide to hand of where to enjoy the best food, drinks and going out Amsterdam has to offer. I for one will definitely be back even if it may not be for the Amsterdam most will anticipate. Amsterdam you beauty, I am so happy I got to discover you for myself!
THE AREA TO EXPLORE @ DE PIJP
All our favourite foodie discoveries on this trip were in De Pijp or 'the Latin quarter' which used to be a very working class residential area but is now full of a cool cafes, restaurants and bars and instantly reminded me of London's Broadway Market or New York's Bedford Avenue. It's where twenty-something locals hang out and start their weekend with good food, wine and company and I could very easily see myself living here. A little tip - check out the daily Albert Cuyp market which forms the centre of the neighbourhood and is a proper market, not some super fancy all organic affair but full of stalls selling some seriously tasty Dutch treats. We found a little bakery stand there by chance that honest to god sold one of the best white chocolate cookies I have ever had in my whole life! Skip Amsterdam's version of Oxford Street, or as Sean called it "Globalisation Street" with it's monotone branches of Zara, Starbucks and the like and head straight to De Pijp. You won't regret it.
I am pretty hard to please when it comes to brunch and in London have felt very uninspired by the available options available, too manic basic avocado toasts being praised as the best thing since sliced bread and sold at ridiculous prices, lacking any imagination or flair when it comes to creating dishes for my favourite mealtime of the day.
That is definitely not the case at this Australian owned spot. Bang in the middle of De Pijp, Little Collins does not only have a cool vibe, whether you manage to get a coveted seat outside or perch on a stool like we did on their bar inside, but also serves some truly outstanding and creative food, prepared with a real passion for ingredients and knack for unusual flavour combinations that will leave you in awe. I went for the halloumi plum toast- a medley of brioche French toast, topped with fresh plums, creme fraiche, summer fruit jam, basil, mint, hazelnut and yes halloumi. And not any halloumi but probably the best halloumi I have ever had, fried to absolute gooey perfection on the inside yet crispy on the outside. I admit the combo may sound weird but once all the flavours hit my tastebuds it was truly one of the best things I have ever eaten. Full stop.
I had to seriously stop myself from returning the next day to sample one of their other equally fantastic sounding brunch options (kimchi waffle with avocado mayo and fried egg or hot smoked salmon with wasabi cream cheese anyone?!) and that is not to say they only do brunch well here, no they have an equally enticing sounding small plates dinner menu which I am equally as keen to try with dishes like tuna tartar with grapefruit and jalapeno salsa already getting my foodie heart racing. Yes, getting your food may take a while here but with service so charming and a menu so bloody brilliant who minds a little wait?! Now I only need Little Collins to open a London branch..
I am always on the look out for a good cup of coffee and being severely sleep deprived due to our very early flight me and Sean instantly went on a hunt for quality caffeine in Amsterdam Friday morning. Located once again in De Pijp, this place instantly won us over with it's minimal Scandi design, from the wood heavy interior to the modern geometric inspired cups. My cappuccino scored top marks with perfectly roasted beans and a frothy finish. The Scandinavian Embassy is the ideal place for a pitstop to plan your itinerary for a day of exploring Amsterdam. I surely will be back to try one of their in-house baked cinnamon buns which was sadly sold out on this occasion.
PROPER DUTCH FRIES (WITH EVEN BETTER DIPS) @ PAR HASARD
Holland is of course famous for their deep fried foods and in particular their fries served with an array of amazing sauces. Being brought up in Germany I am massive fan of condiments, mayo in particular which English people to my dismay don’t seem to appreciate, so I wanted to find the best fries and dips Amsterdam had to offer, ideally also with a proper place to sit down and enjoy them and not just some dodgy junk food stall.
After a bit of research I stumbled across Par Hasard, you may have guessed it once again located in the heart of De Pijp, which seemed to be consistently ranked as the best place to get your deep fried potato fix. And I am happy to report it didn’t fail to deliver! Starting off with some expertly mixed Aperol Spritz’s we got stuck in to the star of the show here, the fries! We shared a medium portion as an afternoon snack but could have easily demolished a large portion between two. Sauces served on the side were outstanding with our favourite being the Satay peanut sauce and mayo combo (sounds weird but is AMAZING) and the tangy tartar sauce but make sure to order a selection of different dips to make the most of the experience. Obviously it’s not the healthiest food but here it is done well so when in Amsterdam you may as well do fries properly!
Sometimes only some proper comfort food will do to cure a hangover and the pizza that De Pizzabakkers served us up after a rather heavy Friday night did a pretty good job of making us feel semi human again. Another De Pijp dining establishment, this branch of a mini chain similar to Pizza Pilgrims in London, serves some seriously authentic, good value pizza and drinks (the spritz's are only a fiver and a glass of prosecco will cost you under 4 euros), accompanied by friendly and above average service. I am not easy to please when it comes to pizza but this ranks in my top 5 eaten outside Italy. My tip: order one topped with their burrata which is added after the baking process, making the topping extra oozy and fresh!
I didn't really expect to go to Amsterdam and have one of the best plates of pasta in my life and I definitely did not expect to find it at a rather unassuming (though cosy looking) restaurant quite a walk away from the city centre in a more residential and less photogenic area of Amsterdam. I mean it came highly recommended by a friend and Yelp reviews seemed to reaffirm this excellence but I was left feeling rather unsure about how exactly our Sunday dinner here was going to pan out as we sat down at one of their outside tables.
One look at the menu however already revealed that this was not your run of the mill Italian restaurant, serving predictable and boring pasta dishes heavy on the meat and cream, but instead offered exciting twists on classics as well as lots of veggie and pescetarian friendly options that got me super excited (and all pasta can also be ordered gluten free HOORAH!). In the end their take on a Carbonara was too tempting for me to not order, in its original form with bacon a dish that I of course usually have to avoid. What made this one different and none-meat eater friendly? Well Eddy Spaghetti uses mackerel instead of bacon to make a damn delicious Carbonara and finishes it all off with a raw egg yolk, courgette and cooked to perfection parpadelle.
This was on par with the type of pasta I had in Italy and proved to be as close as you can get to happiness in a bowl of pasta for me, a feeling shared by Sean towards his plate of linguine in a prawn bisque with fresh mussels. Eddy Spaghetti is an utter hidden gem that local Amsterdammers (if you call them that?) should be very proud to call their own. Worth escaping the centre for.
I love a good cookie and with one of my friends telling me this had been the best cookie of her life on a previous holiday to Amsterdam I obviously made a trip to Van Stapele Koekmakerjj a top priority upon our arrival. Plus you kind of know a place does a thing very well if they only sell that one thing and indeed here all that is baked and sold all day in their tiny shop, bang in the centre of town, are these little doughy pieces of pure joy. Yes, you may have to queue behind some Japanese tourists as this place is no longer under the radar, but the cookie you'll eventually get your hands on for just under 2 euros is SO worth it. Dark chocolate dough that isn't too sweet with a gooey white chocolate centre, served straight out of the oven and still a little warm as you savour each delicious sweet bite by a canal of your choice. I would probably endure the 35 minute Easyjet flight again for that cookie alone so make it a must-try on your trip, just make sure you escape the tourist trap area once you have secured your cookie.
THE PERFECT SPOT FOR DRINKS IN THE SUN @ WATERKANT
As anyone that knows me will tell you I bloody love a rooftop bar especially when considering the lack of outside space in London, offering one of the only ways to really have a drink outdoors without the pollution and crowds. In Amsterdam it's a bit of a different story. With wide streets and lots of green and open spaces there is much more of an opportunity for al fresco drinking and eating, with most cafes and bars offering it. Case in point is Waterkant, a super hip bar that uses the space at the bottom of a disused carpark right by a canal to serve up cheap and delicious cocktails, best enjoyed on one of the benches just by the water ( similar but different to Frank's in London which has it's bar set at the top of an old carpark to leave the not-so-picturesque Peckham surroundings on the ground level behind).
Waterkant doesn't only look damn cool from the outside but is also a hub for young and fun people to start their night out. If you fancy a drink in Amsterdam and the sun is out make this your watering hole of choice, it embodies to me the effortlessly cool and modern vibe of the city and will see you linger there for a good few hours, sipping on one of their excellent Moscow mules.
THE BEST HIP HOP CLUB VIBES IN A COOL SETTING @ PARADISO
It’s not easy to find a good night out in a foreign place especially if you want to avoid anything too trashy. I am massive fan of a good hip hop night and was thus delighted when one of my Dutch DJ friends recommended local clubbing institution Paradiso to me. Housed in a former church Paradiso doesn't only score with it's unique and atmospheric location but also happens to host some pretty amazing gigs and hip hop nights attended by an easy going and cool crowd. Entry may not have been cheap at 15 Euros but I had one of the best nights out in terms of music and vibe in a long, long time. Highly recommended if you want to party in Amsterdam.