We’ve finally plunged into the depths of winter, and alongside pumpkin spice lattes, tartan scarves and other such autumnal cliches, I think we should remember that this means we can have roast dinners again! Is there anything more fabulous? I think not.
Roast dinners are synonymous with family. With big bowls of steaming vegetables and succulent meats being passed around the table. Squabbling over the last bit of gravy. Roast dinners must be eaten when it’s dark outside, and they must be eaten with people you love. They certainly can’t be eaten alone – can you even roast a one person portion?
Some of my fondest memories revolve around roast dinners; it was sitting around the table for a weekly roast dinner with my housemates that I finally felt at home in Leeds. It was serving up a big roast dinner at Uni, which we had to eat in the hall because there was no other room long enough, which gave me one of my favourite nights there.
Roast dinners, however, require a lot of component parts to work. A roast dinner is greater than the sum of its parts, but each of its parts need to be delicious. Which is exactly where this creamy leeks recipe comes in. I can’t take credit for it – it’s a recipe I learnt from Stu (he of the Bread and Butter Pudding victory) but it has become an essential side dish for my roast dinners. The paprika is a surprising addition, but somehow it just works. And has anything ever tasted worse when it’s covered in melted cheese and breadcrumbs?
You’ll need (Serves 4):
- 2 large leeks, chopped
- A big knob (teehee) of butter
- 300ml chicken stock
- 150ml cream
- 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
- 1 tsp. paprika
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- A sprinkling of Panko breadcrumbs
- A liberal helping of grated Parmesan
1. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Separate the leeks and add to the pan.
2. Sweat for five minutes over a low-medium heat.
3. Add the chicken stock and turn up the heat. Bubble until the chicken stock is mostly evaporated.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream, black pepper, paprika and garlic salt.
5. Pour into a oven-safe dish, cover in breadcrumbs and parmesan.
6. Bake at 180°C (which should be what you’re cooking the rest of your roast at, all being well) for 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbling.
If it’s not quite browned off, finish off under the grill until the cheese is melted and delicious.
Serve on the side of your roast dinner, and reap the praises.
There’s something about doing an English degree that really makes you lose your love of books. Having to speed read a few novels a week for three years means that after it’s over, you don’t want to see another book again. I think I might finally be over that feeling; in Iceland I read two books and I’ve consumed two more in quick succession since. I still need to be better at finding time to read, rather than just staring mindlessly at the TV every evening, but it would seem my love of books is right back on track.
Starter for Ten, David Nicholls
This is one of the rare occasions where I have seen the film before I read the book, although it was years ago. In my mind, this book would have something of ‘The History Boys’ about it – cute boys swanning around quoting poetry. How wrong I was. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it all the same but it was certainly was a surprise when I started reading! Instead, it tells the story of a boy who is somewhat of a loser, bumbling along making bad decisions and pining after an impossibly beautiful but impossibly arrogant girl, alongside the backdrop of the University Challenge – a staple British institution.
This book rather reminds me of Adrian Mole; or rather, the amount of cringing that I did whilst I read it reminded me very much of when I read Adrian Mole. That slow, tense cringing that makes you want to shake the main character and scream at them to stop what they are doing, immediately, and see the truth. It’s a skill to make you feel that stomach knot of embarrassment, and David Nicholls has it down.
The ending is particularly cringe-worthy and it makes you want to cry. Or rather, the part before the ending. The ending itself is lovely, with the hero (if you can call him that) having a happy ending. I can’t help but feel it was somewhat orchestrated, as the girl he ends up with feels too good for him, in my mind at least, but it’s a satisfying read all the same.
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding
I feel like I have so much to say about Bridget Jones, I could write a whole post about it. The whole Bridget Jones phenomenon, and its relationship with feminism, is fascinating. Whilst there’s a lot that I would say that would make me sound cynical about this book – and the accompanying film – there is another side of the story. That I love Bridget with all my heart. She is frustrating but she is very real, and you can’t help but be carried along with her.
This review has a slight spoiler alert so if you don’t know anything about the book, look away now. I sobbed like a baby at this book. Deep, wracking sobs. Every time she reflected on the death of Mark Darcy and having to carry on without him, I couldn’t stop myself. I’m actually tearing up as I write those words. The story was implausible at points but it was still perfect. Although I thought that I could never recover from the death of Mark Darcy, what Fielding did was a bold move and it definitely paid off. If you enjoyed the original books and films, then I’m sure you’ll love this, too.
Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
A classic, but one I’m ashamed that I’ve not picked up before now. I found it lurking on the shelf and questioned Paul about it. His two sentence review was dismissive, but since we have rather different taste in books (he’s a philistine) I figured that I would still give it a go. I’m glad I did, because it’s exactly the kind of book that I love – a beautifully written piece which captures a moment and a character with perfection. Where nothing much seems to happen, but by the end of the book everything has changed; you’ve changed as a result of reading it. It’s brilliant – just read it, okay?
I know I say it every week, but this week has been particularly manic! Lovely, but manic. On Monday, I went to Bettakultcha to see Martin perform an outstanding drag act which words just cannot describe – a definite highlight of the night, I’m sure all would agree! Tuesday saw me standing in the cold at the Roundhay bonfire, watching the fireworks and warming up afterwards with a delicious stew which my friend Helena had cooked up for us. Wednesday was dinner at the Wardrobe with the wonderful Eloise, with a burger so large I could barely pick it up! Delicious, though. Thursday provided a little bit of respite, as I caught up on the final episode of 90210 (and sobbed my eyes out) whilst on Friday, Paul and I headed to The Grand to watch Alan Bennett’s latest offering, People. It was glorious, in that way that only Alan Bennett can be – I was so glad that we managed to catch it before it leaves Leeds.
Understandably, I hope, this weekend has involved some much needed down time! I’ve been blogging my socks off ready for a few busy weekends which are coming up in the near future, catching up on TV shows not watched (loving the new Big Bang Theory, however cheesy it is) and prepping everything ready to do it all again next week! I do feel very lucky when I think about how full my life is at the moment, but that’s the subject for another post. You came here for links, and here they are!
- Absolutely love this concept – Real Life Instagram
- Sometimes when you make big life changes, the first few months will suck.
- We’re all hoping for the answer to happiness, but there are certain things that won’t complete you, however much you want them to. They might be fun though!
- Copenhagen is really high on my list for next year and these pictures might just push it up into first place!
- Lucy’s photos of Oxford are equally beautiful – I would love to go back to Oxford for a weekend. Once just isn’t enough!
- Buffalo Chicken Chilli. Yum!
- I’m obsessed with Rosie’s red velvet cupcake video – so perfect! My favourite food and one of my favourite bloggers Also, I’m so jealous of that KitchenAid!
- Talking of baking, for all you Great British Bake Off fans, Olivia has a little interview with controversial contestant (but my personal favourite) Ruby!
- Gillian’s Insider Guide to Edinburgh is going to come in handy when I’m there in January!
- Want to know what it’s like to be a charity intern?
- Perhaps the best ever interview with a style icon ever – Bodhi the Menswear Dog.
- Everything about this is delicious – butterscotch pot de creme.
- How much money does Twitter owe you? I won’t tell you my embarassingly low number…
A few weeks back my friend Gemma came to stay. We perused the shops in the Corn Exchange, cooed over a baby Labrador we saw and generally had a good old natter. I don’t get to see my friends from University very much, so when we get together, I like to do something a little bit special. Dinner and cocktails at Angelicas was the order of the day, so we put on our gladrags and headed into the skies of Leeds for a fancy night out.
Whilst the surroundings were Gossip Girl-esque, the cocktails divine and the service as pleasant as always, it was the starter which stood out in my mind as a true triumph. On a whim, we ordered a pot of chilli caramel popcorn to nibble whilst we decided on main courses, and it was a revelation in flavour. Salted caramel has long been the fashionable foodie choice, but this was on a whole other level. Combining the sweetness and the saltiness of your standard salted caramel offering with a kick of chilli – I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.
So I set to and made my own version, scouring the Internet to check chilli levels before I embarked upon this experiment and turning to the ever-wonderful Joy the Baker and her new cookbook for a caramel popcorn recipe that I could adapt without disappointment. The result? Sickly sweet and perfectly crunchy popcorn with a kick that you don’t notice until a few seconds after you swallow. It was everything I dreamed of, and more. It was quickly gobbled up at Emma’s birthday party (mostly by me!) and so I deemed it a culinary success.
There’s a bit of time investment involved, but think nothing of it. Serve this up to your friends and they’ll be singing your praises for months and begging you to bring another tray around. Making the popcorn itself is surprisingly easy, and satisfying. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of that popping sound. The caramel sauce is a bit more involved but still something that beginner cooks could get their heads around with ease – just be careful of the melted sugar as it burns like hell if you get it on your skin.
For the popcorn, you’ll need:
- 2 tbsps oil (I used vegetable but any low-flavoured oil will do)
- 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels (you’ll be surprised how much this makes!)
- Your biggest saucepan, just to be on the safe side
- A sprinkling of salt
For the chilli caramel sauce you’ll need:
- 400g brown sugar (I used demerara because I like the crunch that the granules give, but try golden caster if you’d prefer a smoother sauce)
- 225g unsalted butter
- 200g golden syrup
- 1 big pinch of good quality salt
- 1 tsp. bicarb of soda
- 1/2 tbsp. cayenne chilli pepper
1. First things first, warm some oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Pour in your popcorn kernels and cover with a lid (leave it very slightly ajar). Turn the heat down a smidge and wait for it to pop!
2. Once all – or most – of your popcorn has popped, pour out into a big roasting tray and sprinkle over some salt. Pour slowly so you can avoid any unpopped kernels right at the bottom of the saucepan.
3. Pop the sugar, butter (cut into chunks), golden syrup and salt into a saucepan over a low-to-medium heat. As the sugar starts to melt and the mixture starts to come together, whisk to keep it smooth.
4. Once everything has melted and you have a nice smooth sauce, take off the heat and add the bicarb of soda and the cayenne chilli. Whisk until everything is combined.
5. Pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and gently stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce is evenly distributed and most of the kernels are covered.
6. Heat the oven to 90°C and pop the tray into the oven for 45 minutes. Take out every 15 minutes and give a quick toss/stir to make sure everything is cooked evenly.
7. Leave to cool for half an hour or so and then transfer into a big bowl, ready for munching! Be warned, it doesn’t keep well (it’ll go soft after a couple of hours) so eat quickly!
Hotels are funny places, aren’t they? It’s the lack of permanence, I think. I’ve stayed in a fair few, from luxury to budget, but rarely have I dined in one. On previous occasions, my visits to hotels were to enjoy the surrounding area rather than the hotel itself, with the hotel just providing a convenient base for my travels. However, it seems that I have been missing out on a vital part of the hotel experience.
I was invited to dine at the Marriott’s Hollins Hall to try out their new menu, born of a partnership with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage and designed to celebrate and support local and sustainable food. It’s not often that I would drive a half hour out of our way to try a restaurant, but the promise of something unique – and sustainable – was enough to tempt me.
As you drive up to the main entrance, you get some stunning views of the building – a truly stunning place, which no doubt has seen a few picturesque weddings in its time. It was pitch black by the time we arrived, but a sneaky peek out of the window allowed a glimpse of a pretty garden with plenty of chairs and tables for outside dining. Once inside, it was decorated much like any other luxury hotel – there are just some fabrics which bely your surroundings. It was all very sumptuous, as I’m sure you can imagine.
As lovely as the hotel itself is, the purpose of my visit was in fact the menu. Seasonal, sustainable, local – it was everything it promised and more. Not perhaps one for the fussier eaters, there were some wonderful dishes on offer that foodies are likely to go wild for. Given the feel of the hotel, I was expecting the prices to be similarly lavish – but a main course was just £16.00, not too pricey for the quality on offer. My favourite part, but one which it was difficult to take a picture of, was the chalkboard above the fireplace detailing the local suppliers used to create these dishes.
The starter was really the standout piece for me – a light, fresh parsley salad with crab and a soft boiled egg (cooked to perfection). I’m not usually one for starters; if there’s a choice I’d usually rather have a dessert than a starter. However, this was truly beautiful and I would make the trip just for this dish.
The other two dishes paled in comparison, although that may be because I was suffering from severe menu envy. True to form, I ordered the fish dish – steamed whiting with mussels and thyme in a delicate chowder. Whilst it was certainly delicious, the soup in particular was beautiful although the fish itself could have used more flavour, I couldn’t get over the fact that it wasn’t the Swillington Farm slow-cooked beef brisket in red wine jus which was sitting opposite me on Paul’s plate. He gave me a piece to try and I practically went green with envy; at the end of the meal, he proclaimed that he could eat that meal every day and never be bored, so tender was the meat and rich the flavours.
Whilst side dishes don’t often get a look in, the ones on offer at Hollins Hall deserve a quick mention; it’s not often that Paul proclaims vegetables to be tasty, but the roasted carrots were dripping with flavour and went down a treat. The chips were boiling hot – so be careful if you order them, I almost burnt the top of my mouth! – and although crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, were a little bit chunky for my liking. Personal preference, I hope you understand.
At dessert, I suffered similarly menu envy; when we’re trying somewhere for the first time, I like to order something different to Paul so that we can get a taste of a couple of different dishes. Whilst he opted for the rich chocolate cake with cider brandy cream and ginger snap, I went for the vanilla panna cotta with spiced apricots and biscotti. Again, mine was delicious, the panna cotta particularly, but the chocolate cake was a standout dish.
The River Cottage collaboration has only just been launched, and Hollins Hall is the test restaurant, with plans to roll out the concept across Marriott’s other top hotels in the coming months. This is just but a taste of what’s on offer, as the menu is subject to frequent change in order to maintain the seasonal feel to the menu.
Chris Griffin, Head of Education at River Cottage, says: “This is an exciting project for River Cottage because of the substantial changes we can help Marriott make in procuring and cooking food. The new menus embrace our SLOW philosophy – Seasonal, Local, Organic and Wild – and we are delighted that local food heritage is being celebrated at each hotel. This is the first phase of a project that we hope will grab the attention of the hospitality industry.”
I hope so, too!
There aren’t a lot of foodie traditions in my family; we are not a family filled with gourmands and gastro-chefs. There aren’t recipes passed down from generation to generation, hours spent teaching each other culinary skills or the sharing of cookbooks. For the most part, the rest of my family are utilitarian cooks, making meals to feed the stomach rather than the soul. As a result, I’m not sure where my foodie tendencies come from – my love of cooking, baking and sharing of food. But, when I think about apple crumble, there’s a little glimpse of family history that perhaps proves that I’m not adopted after all.
There is one old, yellow cookbook that contains most of my foodie memories; a sad, spineless book now, but once turned to for all eventualities. It’s not like the cookbooks of nowadays, full of flashy photography, fantastic food styling and whimsical writings by celebrity chefs. This is a functional cookbook, with as many recipes as possible crammed onto a page, barely any photographs and no theme at all – there are not many things that you can’t find within its pages. The fruit crumble page is the one most turned to, such was the popularity of apple and blackberry crumbles during my youth. It was a Sunday night treat, and one much loved by a younger me.
So, when I got it into my head that I wanted to make a toffee apple crumble, there was no other place I could look for a recipe. I called both my parents to find out who had ended up with this hallowed book – one which only needs the term ‘that cookbook’ to be identified – and to get my hands on this crumble recipe. Some tweaks here and there to fit the ingredients I had in the cupboard and the idea I had in my head, and it came out better than expected.
The sharpness of the apples compliments the sickly sweetness of the toffee sauce, whilst the crumble is crunchy and goes so perfectly on top. I was concerned for the fruit:topping ratio when I put it into the oven, but once it appeared on my plate I knew that all was well. This is a great dish for this time of year, particularly given the abundance of Toffee Apples so usually found at Bonfire Nights across the country, but I think I can be persuaded to have apple crumble at any time of year. The nostalgia just gets to me – although in the summer I do substitute the custard for cream.
- 4 large cooking apples (Bramley is best)
- 50g demerara sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 8 oz plain flour
- 4 oz oats
- 6 oz unsalted butter
- 3 oz golden caster sugar
- Toffee sauce (I cheated and used a pre-made sauce but you are welcome to make your own if you are so inclined – it needs to be thick to form a layer over the apples but otherwise the rest is up to you!)
- Sprinkling of demerara for the topping
1. Peel and chop the apples into bite-size chunks (about 1/2 inch in length) and cover in sugar and cinnamon. Set aside and leave to go juicy and delicious.
2. Pop the flour, oats and caster sugar into a large bowl. Add a few chunks of the butter and rub between your fingertips until you have the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Continue to add the butter until everything is combined. Add a spoonful more flour if there are too many lumps of butter.
There’s a great video which shows the technique over on the BBC Food page.
3. Cover the bottom of a large baking dish with the apples. Pour over the toffee sauce and use a knife to spread across and make an even layer.
4. Top with the crumble mixture and press down until even and flat. Sprinkle the sugar over the top.
5. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is brown and a little crisp.
6. Serve with cream or custard, depending on how you feel!
This will easily serve 8 people, if not more, depending on portion size. It’s easily kept for a couple of days – just pop it in the fridge with some clingfilm and reheat in the microwave.
Phew! Well, as usual, this week has been a whirlwind. A rather wonderful whirlwind, but a whirlwind all the same. I started my new job and whilst there are so many new things to learn, I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to getting properly stuck in once I’ve worked my way around all the processes and the like. Other than that, I’ve been wining and dining at two fancy three course meals (can’t complain), desperately trying to catch up on housework and enjoying the Harrogate bonfire for Emma‘s birthday. There’s already plenty lined up next week, so I’m battening down the hatches today and feasting on toffee apple crumble to prepare myself!
- I could spend forever looking at this house porn - that Lafayette townhouse is too die for.
- 31 things that women do when they’re alone – truth! I’m all about chain-watching Jersey Shore and eating pasta when I’m home alone.
- Joss Whedon is a star – his response to why he always gets asked about strong female characters is perfect.
- Jen has been sharing her wedding this week, and it is truly beautiful.
- I love this article about creative couples.
- Rebecca’s lemon and raspberry loaf looks divine – a quick and easy bake that will wow your guests.
- Sarah’s list of things that your real friends do for you is super accurate, although I’d add ‘help you move house’ to that one!
- The 14 types of Facebook Likes.
- 14 former and current interns explain how they support themselves whilst working for free.
- How to style a corner gallery wall – I’m bookmarking this for when I’ve accummulated enough prints for our mini gallery wall. It’s all in my head, I just need to start buying some art now!
- From sadass to badass - an article on fitness and health that doesn’t just focus on looks and actually provides some really great tips on getting healthier and feeling better in your body. Winner.
What have you been reading this week?
I am an enthusiastic person, as you may or may not have noticed. It takes quite a lot to annoy me and I will happily declare that I absolutely love something with very little provocation. But don’t think that I don’t know quality when I see it; I may be easily pleased but I know the difference between something that is pretty good and something that is perfection. And Blackhouse? Is perfection.
It’s my go to restaurant for special occasions and one of the best in Leeds. It’s rather pricey, but it’s a small price to pay for one of the best meals around. Which is just what we had when we were invited by the lovely Emma to the Michael Buble night at Blackhouse last Tuesday. Little did she know when she dropped the invitation into my inbox, that I am actually a Michael Buble fan – and Paul has a bit of a man crush himself. Despite not being much of a music fan, swing is the one that gets my foot tapping and puts a big smile on my face. It’s just happy, celebration music.
Steak and swing music, it’s a winning combination – especially when you’re surrounded by the twinkly lights that decorate the front window of the restaurant. It’s pretty magical.
I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of what we ate; hopefully the photos speak for themselves. All you need to know is that everything is delicious. More than delicious. Perfection, as I said.
We’ve racked up quite a few visits to Blackhouse over the years, and have found a few favourites which I can’t bring myself to deviate from. Do you have that same thing at your favourite restaurants? Those dishes that are just so good, that you dare not order something else for fear of disappointment, or the feeling that you’re missing out on your opportunity to have your favourite meal? Over time, however, before we finessed our order, we’ve tried quite a few dishes and have had no disappointments. In fact, my only disappointment was that Paul didn’t order the duck spring rolls, as I rather fancied having those again alongside my bowl of mussels.
Of course, the piece de resistance is, as always, the steak. It is one of my ‘24 before 24‘ tasks to be able to cook steak properly and this is the gold standard that I aspire to. I can’t even describe it – my vocabulary is not up to scratch to do it justice. Just look at it:
This was no ordinary night at Blackhouse, however; whilst we were supping on chilled white wine and succulent steak, we were being regaled by a Michael Buble tribute act singing some of my favourite tunes. I realise that expressing my love for swing music in such a way makes me seem older than my years, but there really is no better accompaniment to good food and wine than swing music.
A few teething issues with the microphone soon transitioned into the smooth sound of swing, and whilst there’s no substitute for the man himself, this may have been the next best thing. It may be a while before we can entice the real Mr Buble to perform at the First Direct Arena (I’ve seen him live before, if this ever happens I’ll be first on the line for tickets) but until then, this was enough to keep my smiling for the whole next day, the vague chorus lines of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ still spinning in my head.
I know that it’s a cliche that bloggers rave about the things they have been gifted and, believe me, I know that this looks just like that. But please trust me when I say that I hand-on-my-heart promise that Blackhouse is one of my real life favourite restaurants in Leeds, whether I’m picking up the bill or not. I come here every year for my birthday, for romantic dates, and sometimes just because they have an offer on lobster (because that’s the kind of girl I am). This is a place for special occasions, and I have never left without being 100% happy with my meal.
During our meal on Tuesday, Paul and I actually discussed this at length. Blackhouse is not cheap; I know that it is not the kind of restaurant that you go to once a week, or even once a month. You can easily drop over £100 for two of you and that is a lot of money to spend. It’s not something you do carelessly, it’s something you think about and hopefully, that is why you are reading this review.
There are plenty of other city centre restaurants which will cost you the same amount. I’ve been lucky enough to try a few, and unlucky enough to have been disappointed by them, too. I won’t name names because that’s not nice, and because you don’t need to know them. All you need to know is that you should go to Blackhouse. The service is wonderful, the food is perfection and you’ll have one of the best evenings of your life. I certainly did, and I’m sure you will, too.
I don’t know if everyone is over pop ups yet. I’m certainly not – although I am certainly no barometer for what is cool or not. In fact, when the email from James at Red’s True BBQ dropped into my inbox inviting me to come down and try out the Brooklyn Brewery Pop-Up Dive Bar, I spent the next half hour thinking about how cool my life is, and how my 16 year old self would have been shocked and amazed at the kinds of things I get up to nowadays. Which probably just proves how uncool I really am.
The Brooklyn Brewery x Red’s True BBQ pop-up dive bar though? Possibly the coolest thing that’s happening in Leeds right now. Moving to Leeds has opened up a whole world to me – the world of real ale drinkers. Whilst I was fully aware of wine connoisseurs, but I have discovered that as much love and care is displayed by the fans of real ale and beer. Sadly, it’s not the drink for me; however much I try, I can’t get past the bitter flavour. So I enlisted the help of Paul and Joe to help me test out the dive bar and all its wares.
Situated on The Calls, in an old abandoned building, the Brooklyn Brewery dive bar has all the trappings of a hipster pop-up that people like me can’t get enough of. Bare, industrial walls, strings of bulbs casting a soft glow on the surroundings, piles of kegs providing the only decoration and a view across the Aire that you’d usually pay a few bob for. On one wall stands the bar, with a variety of beers to try; the bar operates on a token system with each token (£4.50) paying for a drink. Depending on the strength of your beverage of choice, you receive a half pint, 2/3rds or pint. On the other side is Red’s True BBQ with an ever-changing menu of slow cooked meats. A match made in heaven? I should say so.
Between us we sampled all of the beers – although I struggled through mine due to my aforementioned lack of affinity for ale. Don’t get me wrong though – I could tell that it was high quality and was sweet enough to keep me happy. I opted for the Cuvée La Boîte whilst the boys worked through the rest of the menu between them. Paul’s favourite was the Pennant, whilst Joe preferred the Blast!. They gave me some notes, but I’ve managed to lose the envelope that they wrote them on. Suffice to say, there were manly nods and murmurs of approval all round.
For me though, the highlight was the food. We opted for the pulled pork burger, served with a tangy coleslaw and a creamy apple sauce. Pulled pork, like pop-ups, is having a bit of a ‘moment’ in the foodie world and it seems you can’t move for restaurants offering their own version of this fashionable food stuff. Red’s True BBQ, though, serves up a triumph of a pulled pork burger – they’re not just playing at this because it’s trendy. Meat so soft you could sleep on a bed of it, smothered in just enough sauce to add flavour but not so much that the pork was over-powered. It was truly a thing of wonder. You may have read my thoughts on Red’s True BBQ before; whilst I was impressed with the fare, I was sceptical that it was worth the ridiculous waiting times that have become par for the course at this popular restaurant. This, however, was the perfect way to sample their wares and comes highly recommended from me.
On a Wednesday it was lively enough, and we actually bumped into a group of friends who are well-known as real ale lovers – not ones to sup on inferior brews. They know their stuff, so I’m pretty sure that if you’re also in it for the beer, you won’t be disappointed. The dive bar is actually only open for another couple of weeks, so if you fancy it yourself, it’s time to get down there now!
Oh Iceland, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. I have been rabbiting on about Iceland to anyone who will listen for this whole week, and my Icelandic word vomit shows no sign of abating soon. I want everyone to go to Iceland and experience an amazing holiday, just like I did, so I thought I would address one of they key concerns when it comes to this beautiful country: cost.
Iceland is renowned as an expensive country; since it has to import pretty much everything, things can get a little pricey. But, whilst the average price of a pint in a Reykjavik bar will rival those fancy London prices, it doesn’t have to be extortionate to go on holiday there. For the sake of an example, this is what I spent on my four-night trip to Iceland:
- Return Flight (Manchester – Keflavik) = £93.32
- Accommodation = £95.50
- Bag = £14.00
- Airport Parking = £8.12
- Car Hire = £41.05
- Walkie Talkies (essential) = £4.54
- Petrol = £16.76
- Alcohol at Duty-Free = £18.00
- Groceries = £30.00
- Meal Out in Vegamot = £35.00
- Coffee in Cafe Stofan = £4.00
- Drink & Sushi in Koffin = £8.00
- Drink and Mozzarella Sticks in Lebowski Bar = £8.00
- Hot Dog at Bajaerinns = £2.50
- Blue Lagoon = £50.18
Some of those are kind of guestimates based on the exchange rate, but overall I spent around the £400 mark for four nights, which is about what I’d expect to spend anywhere. And don’t get me wrong, this was no back-packing, hostelling trip. Our accommodation was pure luxury (just take a look), we spend most nights drinking wine in the hot tub and at no point did I feel like I was missing out due to money concerns. So, how can you do the same?
1. Go in a Group
I love group holidays. I know they’re not for everyone, but I can honestly say that if it had just been Paul and I on this trip, it wouldn’t have been half as good. It would have also been twice (or thrice) as expensive.
Splitting the cost is a big factor when it comes to a group holiday. Having an eight-way split made the accommodation, car hire, petrol, groceries and airport parking all seem like a steal. Collectively, we spent a lot but when it was broken down into such small parts, it made the whole thing incredibly affordable.
We hired our cars from Greenmotion, and I’d definitely recommend using them if you’re looking to do the same. They were cheap, but there was no scrimping on holiday. The lovely man who greeted us at the airport was actually a Leeds United fan, which is a bit of a strange coincidence, especially since none of us Leeds residents are! But other than that fun fact, the cars were affordable, sturdy and low carbon. Absolute winner. We travelled over 1000km in the four days that we were there, so having a good car is a definite must.
2. Cook for Yourself
We hired our house from airbnb, and not only was it the most beautiful home I have ever stayed in, as well as having an open fire and a hot-tub on site, it also meant that we could cook for ourselves and cut down on the costs of eating out. We did go for one lovely meal on our last night, as well as for a few snacks out and about, but really I didn’t spend much more on food than I would when I’m home here in Leeds.
If you do take this option, especially if you’re staying somewhere more rural, make sure you pay attention to supermarket opening times because you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food! Bonus is the main supermarket, as far as I can tell, with a few branches in Reykjavik as well as some scattered around in the sticks. They also have a website where you can check locations and opening times.
3. Buy Alcohol at Duty-Free
Keflavik airport is one of the only ones in the world which has duty-free on your way in to the country, as well as on the way out. And actually, the one on the way in is much bigger and fancier. This is because alcohol is so expensive in the country, and can only be purchased at special government-controlled shops (and bars and restaurants, obvs) rather than in supermarkets. What?!
So stock up in duty-free and save yourself the expense and the hassle. We actually ended up buying way too much and had to leave a bunch of lager at the house for the next people to enjoy. So even if you buy your full allowance, you’ll probably be fine! I just popped my half-finished bottle of gin in my suitcase – there’s no situation where gin doesn’t win.
4. Go Off-Season
Iceland doesn’t really have an off-season but there’s no denying that it’s a bit more appealing in summer – the weather is better and you’re less likely to be trapped in a snow drift. We went at the end of September/early October, which made the flights cheaper. It was pretty nippy, and the week after we went the country was covered in snow, but you don’t exactly go to Iceland to sunbathe, do you? Plus, you’re more likely to see the Northern Lights between September and January. Do a bit of research on when flights are cheapest and you could end up bagging yourself a bargain.
5. Do Your Research
Buy yourself a guidebook and be savvy about where you eat out and what attractions you go to. If you’re on a budget, doing you research on whether particular attractions are value for money or not can help you decide your itinerary in advance and mean you’re not disappointed.
We used our guidebook and a book of restaurants picked up from the tourist shop in Reykjavik to decide where to eat on our last night. A little bit of Googling for menus and some cross-referencing later, we’d picked a restaurant which was delicious but didn’t break the bank. Well worth the little bit of extra effort.
6. Take Advantage of the Free Attractions
Everything in Iceland feels like a tourist attraction. It’s so different from anywhere I’ve ever been or seen, so just driving along the road has you cooing and stopping to take pictures. However, many of the ‘real’ tourist attractions are free to visit so you can have your fill without spending a penny (so to speak). We didn’t pay a thing to visit The Golden Circle attractions (Thingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir), all of which were amazing and which took up a full day of sight-seeing. Wandering the streets of Reykjavik is also free, and the best bargain of the holiday was the hot dog at Baejerinns – it was cheap as chips and you’ll be craving it for weeks afterwards.
6. Splurge Where It Counts
You might only go to Iceland once in your life, so don’t forget to have a little fun! The Blue Lagoon is pricey and is a known tourist-trap but it is so worth the money. A little tip though – you probably don’t need to pay the extra for the dressing gown! If I was to go back, I’d also love to splash out and have a meal at Fish Market. The menu looked dreamy and when we walked past the restaurant it was super stylish; sadly, the group’s budget concerns came first!