Category Archives: Foodie Finds

Hot Chocolate at Home with The UK Food Blogger of the Year

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That’ll be at my house then, fwaaah fwaaah!

I was standing in the foyer of the Ibis Budget Whitechapel, reading the £6.95 24/7 pizza sign, when I discovered I’d been announced as a finalist in Blogging Edge’s UK Food Blogger of the Year Award. Shortlisted… in the top 5! Wow then.

In the end it came down to a public vote. I never thought I could win, and on the night the voting ended I stayed up until midnight, regularly refreshing the page like a weirdo whilst keeping my fingers crossed – which did hinder my refresh-ability somewhat, but I like a challenge.

I am absolutely, totally aware that I am not the best food blogger in the UK, but I do like dinners, so I am happy to take the accolade.

I really wanted to celebrate with a tea and biscuit party, but that hasn’t happened, I’ve been too busy (being a winner… ha!), but I have, rather miraculously, made time for hot chocolate. A timesaving creation, it’s a drink and a pudding all in one place, so marvellous.

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I’ve been hectically rushing around everywhere, so it was good to have a weekend at home for a change. With the wind howling outside, blustering and beating at the windows and blowing the chickens sideways across the garden, it was nice to be indoors with a fire for warmth, a fat cat for cuddling and a hot chocolate for multitasking (a drink and a pudding, I tell you!)

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I met Willie Harcourt-Cooze a while back, at lunch, in Islington. I was busy telling my companion how awesome the chocolate was, when a voice in my ear said ‘and it’s made by a very charming man!’ (For a teeny split second I thought I was thinking it, but then I realised I didn’t recognise the accent, it didn’t belong to my brain!) Willie really is rather charming, and just so because of his passion for his product. The beans are shipped from all over the world to Willie’s factory in Devon, ‘from bean to bar’, and the chocolate is all about the individual flavours, like fine wines, each single estate cacao has its flavour influenced by it’s place of production – the soil, the climate and so on. Also, all they add to these chunky little bars is a bit of raw cane sugar – no vanilla, no soya lecithin, no nasties. Brilliant.

If you try anything, I recommend giving these Apple Brandy Caramel Black Pearls a go. Made from ‘Rio Caribe 72’ dark chocolate and filled with delight, the best thing is to pop one in your mouth and allow it to melt – dont chomp it down, just let it melt so you get the full impact of the flavour. It’s like a grown up candy apple.

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Less than a week after being crowned King Food God Extraordinaire, or whatever it was, I trotted along to the Cambridgeshire Digital Awards with my chum Claire and ate a lot of potatoes. Food Godding it up, I was.

To warm us up, the ‘comedian’, Mark Dolan (he’s off the tele and everything) was on stage for 20 minutes – or ten years, I don’t know which, it seemed a very long and unfunny time, littered with the C word. I told Claire I was going to lay on the floor in protest, but I couldn’t be bothered, and I thought people might notice that I was actually wearing old lady slippers and not proper shoes.

When the award giving got underway it was a relief.

The third award to be given out was for the Best Website for Lifestyle and Culture, I cheered as the bronze and silver awards were awarded, and then when the gold was called, I actually shook. Shutter Hub! Oh my goodness! We work so, so hard, and to be recognised means a lot. I jigged onto the stage (apparently, that’s what it said on twitter!) and accepted our award from former BBC journalist Robin Bailey. He was really kind about Shutter Hub, and I was doing so well, so it was bound to happen – ‘What makes you different from everyone else?’ he asked, ‘I’m a weirdo!’ I announced gleefully to the large audience in front of me.

Claire said I got more laughs than the comedian. Someone tweeted ‘Best speech of the night!’ and I was oblivious because I was smiling so much that it was hard to see.

When it came to Best Blog for Entertainment, I had an idea that it would be between Jessica in Your Ear and Loved by Laura, they both put a lot of work into their blogs, so I wasn’t surprised when Laura got Bronze, and Jess got Silver, but I was totally gobsmacked when the winner was announced – I Don’t Like Peas!

I made my way back onto the stage, a familiar face (weirdo) to the audience. I told them that my blog came about because I really didn’t like peas and I needed a portal for sharing this information. Later a man came and shook my hand, all gangster stylee, he told me that he didn’t like sprouts, and I felt that we had a moment of honesty there, where he knew he was in a safe place and he could speak freely.

I can’t remember who won awards for what, but Claire got Silver in the Best Blog for Business and I was chuffed for her, because she works bloody hard, is super nice, and has a squishy faced cat called Tamarillo. Tick, tick, tick, in my book!

The grande finale of the night was two boys crashing their cars into each other right in front of me as I went to leave the car park. I think they were showing off, I was in my pimp mobile (hundred and fifty quid Golf) looking fly, obvs. It’s not The Fast and The Furious, you know! I’m not going to race your for your mum’s Kia Picanto.

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Any way, the chocolate! The chocolate, as eaten by multi-award winning High-Tech Princess Dinner Master of the Millenium, or something like that.

Even though they say the Venezuelan Gold ‘Rio Caribe 72’ has ‘complex notes of coffee and nuts’, I really like it, and I don’t like coffee, and nuts don’t like me!

For the hot chocolate I chose the Madagascan Gold ‘Sambirano 71’ for it’s tangy fruitiness, as I thought it would go perfectly with a pinch of cinnamon.

I took two 50g bars, broke them up and popped them into my magic pan, melting the chocolate with 100ml of semi-skimmed milk, to start with. (Use a bain-marie, or a microwave if you have one!)

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When the chocolate had melted into the milk I added the rest of the milk, double cream and stirred it up. I whisked it until it was lovely and hot, not boiling.  Then poured into cups, and glasses, sprinkled with cinnamon, and savoured.

My ingredients:

100g of Willie’s Cacao Madagascan Gold
400ml semi skimmed milk
200ml double cream

That makes enough to serve  3-4 people, in small cups, you really don’t need a lot!

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It’s an easy peasy thing to make, and so satisfying. You can use any chocolate you like, milk or cream, make it thick or thin, you can add a touch of chilli if you wish, it’s really up to you. Just make it!

So far this week I’ve not won any prizes, but there’s still time.

Cheers to the chocolate drinkers! How do you like yours?

Glorious Adventures & A Taste of Bombay at Dishoom, Shoreditch


It is absolutely, most definitely, soup season, and, (when I’ve not been eating biscuits or rice pudding) most days I’ve been enjoying a lunch of hot comforting soup – my recent favourite being Mumbai Lentil and Chickpea, discovered after that picnic where I unsuccessfully attempted to force people into photographing soup – every cloud has a silver lining hey? I’ve tried several of the Glorious! recipes, and this is the one for me – substantial enough, no need for bread and suitably flavourful. It’s amazing how thoughtfully-used flavours can take you on an exotic journey, even in your own home!

Living out in ‘the sticks’ I can’t easily access a great deal of outsourced deliciousness at a whim. Sometimes I wish I could hop on a plane, sleep, and wake up to a meal of real delight. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but of the many places I would love to be transported to, high on the list is The Garden Restaurant at Lodi in New Delhi, a little pocket of peace in the bustling city, a lovely place to be. (And Neemrana Fort Palace, so I could get some more of that amazing rice pudding. Yes, I am on about that rice pudding again!)

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It was some years ago when we went to visit my brother in India, but the other afternoon I pulled the photos from the drawer to be reminded of things that we didn’t even remember, and the details of everything else. There was a snap of the amazing monkey riding pillion on a motorcycle, tail tattered from dragging along the ground. There were photos of our visit to the Lotus Temple, the markets of Old Delhi, and Humayuns tomb – where we saw a cute little chipmunk get carried off by a buzzard. We remembered going to Rikhi Ram’s sitar shop on Connaught Square, and Cottage Emporium where Adam ate neon yellow chips to ‘settle’ his stomach.

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Some people say it’s wrong to return to the same place when you’ve already visited it, they say there are more places to explore and you should, and I understand that, and maybe we are just different, but I’d return to Delhi in a heartbeat, and I think I could visit exactly the same spots over and over, and still see something new every time, still find a new experience, or a new perspective and still absolutely love it.

I remember Delhi so clearly, sometimes through hints of flavour or wafts of spicy scents, but mostly through the memories of the feeling of the air.

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I’ve been working in and around London’s Brick Lane a lot recently, and, as I pass by quickly, I look in the windows of the restaurants, at the diners, the food, in the sweet shop windows and takeaways, and I wonder, if and where, if I wasn’t rushing from place to place in such a hurry, I could find the best little taste of India.

Then a window appeared, an afternoon-sized window in my diary, a gap between taking down our ‘Do You Like Love?’ exhibition and attending the Vuelio Awards, there was an opening and I knew it needed to be filled with spice, and joy, and good hours with my dear friend Bethe.

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So, we went to Dishoom in Shoreditch, and why not? Described as a ‘Bombay Cafe in London’, promising faded elegance, bentwood chairs and sepia toned family portraits, there was no reason not to.

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The menu was immense, there was so much to choose from and it all sounded amazing. We had to make a decision, and I could only do that by telling myself that I’ll be able to go back another time for everything else!

We drank delicious Virgin Chaijito’s  made with sweet-spice chai syrup, and muddled with fresh mint, coriander, ginger and lime. I asked for more mint, less coriander. I love a minty drink. I love a gingery drink. I don’t like coriander in anything, unless it’s for someone else.

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The Lamb Samosas were delicious, the best I’ve had.  Gujarati filo (not Punjabi shortcrust) stuffed with minced lamb, onions and spices, with a squeeze of lime they were perfect.

We followed them quickly with Pau Bhaji – A bowl of mashed vegetables with hot buttered pau buns. The menu said ‘No food is more Bombay’ – if this is true then get me to Mumbai right away, because this was a perfect dish, comforting and wholesome. The soft little bouncy buns are made fresh on site. (So soft – someone should start making beds out of them!)

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We ate smoky-grilled Gunpowder Potatoes tossed with butter, crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs, with Dishoom Slaw sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and the Dishoom signature dish of House Black Daal which is simmered over 24 hours making it very soft, and creamy. The Daal was flavoured almost like condensed milk, it’s apparently made with double cream and butter too.

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I would have happily had a pudding, but there was no rice pudding on the menu and there was no room in any part of my body or handbag for more food, so we finished with a glass of hot House Chai. Proper chai. Lovely.

We walked out into the bitter cold air and misty drizzle, out of India, back into London. I was surprised. I’d been lost in a delightful world of spice and laughter and forgotten where I was!

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Ideally I’d like to be jetting off to Mumbai, smelling the spiced air, trawling the markets, eating and drinking in the warm sun, but, whatever happens, at least when I get home, whatever the weather, I know I can be comforted by some Glorious hot soup!

You can find Dishoom at four locations across London, including the Shoreditch restaurant at 7 Boundary Street London E2 7JE.

This blog post is an entry into the Foodies100/GLORIOUS! soup #GloriousAdventures blogger challenge. You can join in too, here.

Tapas Lunch at El Borracho de Oro, Edgbaston

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I love lunch. I love dinner too. I’m not so bothered about breakfast. I always look forward to a hotel breakfast because I like to see what they serve, and how they display it. But mostly I don’t want it and I am disappointed, unless there’s some kind of fancy carved fruit or fresh pastry mountain, then I am appeased.

Any way, on to one of the most delicious and enjoyable lunches I’ve had in quite a while!

You might not even notice El Borracho if you weren’t going there with intention. An unassuming building with subtle signage, and a neat grass lawn in front. We were there with all the intention in the world and hungry tummies to boot, so there was no chance we’d pass it by!

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Inside I was momentarily distracted by the beautiful Spanish tiles on the bar, but we were quickly seated and attended to so I didn’t have a chance to pull out a small crowbar from my bag and start prising them off the wall for my own repurposing.

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We ordered Pan Gallego con Aceite Virgen Extra – Galician bread with best quality Extra Virgin Olive oil, and a bowl of Fried Broadbeans and then quickly moved on to choosing our Tapas.

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Watching the dishes come out of the kitchen and onto other people’s tables, we knew we were in for a treat! El Borracho do a lunchtime special where you can have two Tapas for £6.95, so we chose four and got ready to tuck in!

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Ensalada de Tomate – the most beautifully seasoned, salted, fresh, light, simple, tomato salad.

Patatas con Alioli – perfect little chipped cubes of potato with excellent alioli – really garlicy but sweet, and lovely.

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el b

Chorizo al Vino – wonderful spicy, salty sausage with the sweet tang and richness of red wine.

And, Croquetas del dia – crunchy bechamel filled croquettes with chorizo. My favourite thing! The croquette was softer than I thought it would be, and creamy, and crunchy and so delightful that I had to hold it up in honour so that the whole room could worship it. Nobody said anything, so I assume they were all with me. All hail the Croqueta!

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There were so many good things to choose from on the menu, all made with locally sourced British ingredients, but served with Spanish excellence, and as I type this, I wish I was there now… just one more Croqueta, please! 

Everything looked so appealing, too. The chorizo looked good against the teal coloured dish, the tomatoes bold and bright against the stark white. The Croquetas just looked funny, like little animals that might unfold their legs and run off giggling. (I have only just realised what an awesome googly eye opportunity I missed there, damn it.)

The food was tasty, authentic and amazingly good value, the atmosphere was comfortable and relaxed, and the staff were kind and helpful (Hola Alberto, Hola Eva Maria!) – I seriously couldn’t fault a thing!

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You can find El Borracho at Harborne Court, Edgbaston, Birmingham, and you can join their mailing list here for updates, offers and news. (There’s a nice picture of a donkey on that page!)

We were guests at El Borracho, very happy Croqueta wielding guests!  

Afternoon Tea at The Mount Hotel, Wolverhampton

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We sat by the big bright windows as the rain poured down outside. The pampas grasses in the garden lulled and nodded under the weight of the water. The Drawing Room was peaceful and calm, decorated in my favourite colours – greyish blue and blueish grey.

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On the table a selection of loose teas were displayed in small glass jars. We were invited to take a moment to choose from them, breathing in their scent and imagining their flavour. Darjeeling, Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Red Berries – ‘mmm, that’s nice!’ Red Berries was in fact so nice that it was sniffed and sniffed again, then slung, luscious and loose leafed into my handbag with accidental abandon.

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Adam chose a very light and delicate Darjeeling, while I opted for good ol’ English Breakfast tea. (I knew I could always have the Red Berries later, when I salvaged the remnants of over excited tea-sniffing from the bottom of my bag!)

We settled into our surroundings and gazed out of the windows as the tiered tea stand was set down in front of us. Behold one of the nicest afternoon teas I have ever seen.

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Substantially filled sandwiches of egg and mayonnaise, smoked salmon with cucumber, ham and tomato, and cucumber and cream cheese, sat neatly next to plump scones and bright red fruits.

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The sandwiches were pleasant, but the scones were something else. Just cooked fresh scones, soft and homely, with clotted cream and jam. I could have eaten scones all afternoon. I mean it. (You know I mean it).

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We took our time. I think that’s one of the best things about afternoon tea – that it is seen as such an occasion that you can take your time, enjoy and savour it. So often we rush our meals because there is something else to be done, or somewhere else to be, but afternoon tea makes the exception.

The top tier was brimming with sweet treats.

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Eton mess mousse – pretty and pink, fresh cream and strawberries whipped into a very light mousse.

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Chocolate mousse – to me it seemed to be a bit more of a very sweet fondant. Adam’s looked like a little brown bird with a raspberry backpack.

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Vanilla cheesecake – very light and enjoyable.

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Raspberry chocolate brownie cheesecake – thick and yoghurt-like raspberry cream, with a chocolate-chip-filled chocolate cake base.

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Banana loaf – very smooth and tasty.

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Coconut and pineapple loaf – squishy, chunks of pineapple in sponge with coconut on top.

There was far more food than we could manage, even though we took our hours over it and I really did try my best. I could have made room for another scone though! The fact that all the food was made in the hotel kitchen, and the scones had been made fresh, to order, left an impression on me. It’s those little touches that make things personal, genuine and worthwhile. Those are the things that make food worth savouring.

It was also nice to have teas available at the table so we could choose with our noses (and handbag) too.

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In our sugar induced stupor we left the table and wandered off to explore the hotel.

Afternoon tea at The Mount is £17.50 per person, or £19.50 with a glass of Prosecco, and I think, totally worth it.

We were guests at The Mount, and very happy ones too.

Dinner at Crafthouse, Leeds

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I’m not really very good at birthdays – a combination of being busy,  childhood memories of party guests sticking peanuts in my cake, and the fact that I will never be able to top the present my mum and brother gave me on my 11th birthday! (And why try? It was the most beautiful white mountain bike, and the gift had such a big impact on me that all these years later I am still incredibly grateful for their kindness.)

So anyway, it was my birthday and it seemed like a good opportunity to eat a dinner. I usually find a reason to eat a dinner everyday, which is handy.

I popped into Bradford to run a few errands as the rain poured down with grey gusto, so I took shelter from it in a time warp cafe, getting the evil eye from a characterful woman who raspily laughed on her mobile phone as she told the caller the details of a court case she was reading from her newspaper. I was intrigued.

Heavy rain dampened the day, but by the evening the sun was shining and bright. Once we’d found our way to Crafthouse (it’s not easy!) we entered through the heavy ribbed-glass doors and were greeted by cooled air and chilled tunes.

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Stepping into the airy sanctuary above the shops, with a bright and spacious style, I busily admired the space for its lovely marble counter and odd tables, the simple string screen, the bread baskets in copper, the cut crystal glasses… lovely, lovely.

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We sat by the window (it would have been hard not to!) and admired the view, eating fresh soft warm bread and enjoying it.

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My seat was so low that they bought me a cushion. A fur cushion, that looked like a cat. I reached for my stash of googly eyes and felt pleased with my efforts. 

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I started with Duck Liver Terrine – cherry texture, doughnut, Manuka honey. The strong, perfectly balanced flavours packed a pretty-as-a-picture punch. The peppery Nasturtium leaves, the creamy smooooth pate, that aromatic florid honey, the rich cherry and that tiny doughnut of great power – really good. I mean really. 

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Adam opted for the silky smooth East Coast Lobster Veloute – kummel, lobster, borage flower, poured from a small neat copper pan into a crisp white china dish. Creamy and delicate in texture, but rich in flavour.

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Straight from the Josper Grill I chose the 35 day dry aged Rib Eye with an Heirloom tomato salad and peppercorn sauce.

I was delighted with the bowl of the prettiest tomatoes, a mixture of colours, some rich orange and marbled like a bowling ball, others dark red and green, yellow, red and just beautifully enjoyable to the eyes and to the palette.

The steak was a perfectly cooked cut of excellent quality. Rich and flavourful, with that Josper touch, it was crisped on the edges, soft, and eaten with ease.

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Adam’s choice was the flavourful Duo of Lamb – roasted rack, crispy shoulder, stewed Basque style peppers, black olive, with a side of buttered potatoes. Another winner.

Of course, he had to follow this with one of his all-time favourite puddings, Creme Brûlée served with a lemon shortbread.

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They’ve been serving delicious creme brûlées since the beginning of Crafthouse. It’s a forever thing. A classic. The shortbread was exceptional. With crisp sugar on top it was very light, lemony, and buttery.

Where I have the rather unclassy ‘Harvinator Scale of Burger Appreciation’, Adam has his ‘Creme Brûlée-ometer’ which scored this creamy, creamy beauty a superb 9/10.

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I was pretty chuffed when my Whipped Valrhona Milk Chocolate – salted caramel, chocolate sable breton arrived. Will you look at that?!

My first thought was that I should wear it on my head like a magical party crown.

I had two choices and only one pudding, so I ate it.

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I chose wisely. Such creamy mousse, so cool and smooth, so chocolatey. I was chomping happily through the biscuity-cakey-base and then BOOM! I met with a centre of silky smooth salted caramel. Result!

I think I have said creamy and smooth too much today. I can’t help it. Crafthouse are texture experts!

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All of that lovely food was followed by the nicest cup of tea I have ever had in a restaurant. Perfect tea for me! Refreshing and clean tasting with good water, accompanied by the madeleine of your dreams.

Sticky and crispy on the outside, so soft in the middle. Lemony and delicious. ‘How is that possible?’ Adam asked with almost disbelief, ‘Butter!’ I said as I popped the rest of it in my mouth with a contented smile.

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The service was attentive, but not intrusive. We were looked after by Christophe, with the salmon tie. He was a total delight, a charming man.

The Crafthouse experience was an excellent one. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, from the ambience to the decor, the food to the service, I couldn’t fault a thing.

The lofty location and the non-obtrusive signposting to Crafthouse made it feel, to me, a bit like a private members club, like Kensington Roof Gardens perhaps, but without the flamingoes.

And, because of it’s secluded and tucked-away position, I feel it’s got to be a destination place. I can’t imagine anyone just pops by – it’s on the roof top!

A well kept secret? Spread the word!

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You can find Crafthouse at  Level 5 Trinity Leeds, 70 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 6HW, and if you get lost, you can call them on 0113 897 0444!

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Thank you so much team Crafthouse for inviting us to dine with you, for putting up with me adding googly-eyes to your cushion, and for making it a birthday to remember for many good reasons! I really hope to see you again soon!