Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch

From the moment it arrived on Leeds’ streets, Hotel Chocolat’s Roast + Conch restaurant and bar always held intrigue for me.

Through the window, you can see its deep brown banquette seating and a warm orange glow of light and you know that inside they are cooking up food and drink in honour of the beloved cocoa bean. My first visit and taste – a nightcap of salted caramel hot chocolate – gave me goosebumps and lived up to all expectations.

So imagine how quickly I said ‘yes’ when invited to a blogger evening to try out the new menu.

Roast + Conch serves up Anglo-West Indian food, inspired by the 1745 ‘Rabot’ cacao estate in the Caribbean, which Hotel Chocolat bought 10 years ago. Their menu, first seen in the open-air cocoa estate kitchen of Hotel Chocolat’s Boucan restaurant in St Lucia, brings back the cocoa bean as a subtle savoury spice and garnish.

Not only that, cacao enhances their cocktails, and if you just want a bar of the good stuff you can see chocolate being freshly made from beans roasted and conched by chocolatiers right in the restaurant, and buy it at the Hotel Chocolat shop at the front of the house.

Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds

I got there late (thanks, Leeds post-work traffic) so some of the best-looking food had been swept up – their mac ‘n’ cheese with leek and mushroom encased in a cacao-nib infused pastry, a case in point – but I still had chance to taste a couple of dishes while I caught up with some of the other bloggers over a glass of cool, fresh prosecco.

We all know how chocolate tastes, but how would it be in its raw form – cacao – and how would this add to the mix of flavours in savoury food? Is the menu just a gimmick for chocolate lovers, or does the cacao really add something to the food?

I had ‘fish run down’ – cod in a light spice sauce – and rare tuna with lime juice, guacamole and cacao-nib flatbread. They were both pretty divine. The cacao gave neither a sweet taste, just adding to the complement of herbs, spices and garnish to give a deep, satisfying flavour.

Dessert was an incredible cube of chocolate, made with 78% cocoa from St Lucia, dense yet light and and filled with a macaron which oozed sweet sauce as you reached the centre.

Apart from the cacao, Roast + Conch uses locally-sourced ingredients and has an open kitchen so you can talk to the chefs. If you get chance, do. They’re really knowledgeable and passionate about what they’re cooking – with good reason!

Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds

Next, it was downstairs to the bar where we could watch chocolate being made, although I missed it – too busy yakking (I know) – and sample their specialist cocktails. I tasted the Hotel Chocolat gin and tonic – cacao gin, tonic and orange twist – and Rabot rum sour – golden rum, lime, nutmeg and cacao bitters. As with the food, there was a special kick, something more to their drinks than you’d find in your typical cocktail bar. It makes the flavours more interesting, without knocking them out of balance.

Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds Hotel Chocolat Roast + Conch Leeds

It was such a pleasant evening. I left with a happy palette, bag full of Hotel Chocolat treats and a promise to myself to be back soon.

Need to know: Roast + Conch is at 55 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5EL. Their ‘school of chocolate‘ opened on 1 October, experiences from £50.

Blogger walk around Bingley

I’ll be honest, I have a tendency to regard Bradford and its surrounds as a rather inconvenient obstacle to my getting from my side of West Yorkshire to the Yorkshire Dales.

So Bingley is not the first location that springs to mind when I think of going walking. But this town just outside Bradford, famous for its five locks, was the meeting place for a really enjoyable early autumn day spent walking through woods and parkland with a gang of fellow bloggers.

Not your usual blog event, I grant you – although it did end with a delicious and photogenic lunch – but who wants to do the same thing all of the time?

The walk took us around the St Ives estate, taking in Myrtle Park, the old pack horse bridge, Coppice Pond and Lady Blantyre’s rock. We went on a short detour to feel on top of the world (or at least the valley) at Druid’s Altar before descending for a delicious lunch at the Brown Cow pub. For the route in more detail take a look at Walk In Yorkshire, a blog written by Cedric, our ‘guide’ for the day.

Walk around Bingley West Yorkshire Read More →

When life gets stressful

My life’s suddenly got quite stressful and I’m not sure I like it.

I remember feeling distinctly carefree, blessed and happy pretty much all the time only a few years ago. In fact, I defined myself as laid back – frankly, horizontal at times – and not one for feeling any pressure unnecessarily.

I maintained this through getting a degree, doing a Masters while working full-time, past house renovations, a big relationship breakdown and planning a wedding.

I still have some (blissful) moments of feeling like that, but more and more I’ve got this constant, nagging, tingling tension at the top of my head. As much as I try to relax in the hope the feeling will evaporate – not least because I swear I can physically detect the grey hairs pushing through my scalp – it’s hard to make it let go.

What’s causing this? Well, work has suddenly become a worry (not a welcome development, thank you very much, life Gods), I’m still dealing with a big personal thing, the house renovation has left us without a kitchen – let alone a living room – for the last five months and keeping this blog brings its own additional pressures – the constant need to keep on top of emails and social media, not to mention making time to create and write posts.

So it’s not a surprise, really, that I’m finding life a little tougher and I’m not giving myself a hard time about it. I just want to make sure I know where the stress is coming from, that I’m not making more than there is and that I’m dealing with it as best I can. Read More →

Double Merrick giveaway

It’s no secret that I dream of living in France one day. Today’s post is not helping my impatience to be living that phase of my life now, rather than in a couple of decades.

This is the home and work of Merrick Angle, a designer originally from East Yorkshire but now living in Limousin, France who runs the online shop Double Merrick. They specialise in prints and homewares and supply the likes of Liberty, Selfridges, Pedlars and Culturelabel.

Merrick has kindly offered my readers the chance to win a screenprint of your choice – worth €60 – inspired by the ephemera he sees in his remote corner of France.

I’ll pick out some of my favourite prints later but first, let’s take a tour of their 215-year-old home.

Featured on Design*Sponge a couple of years ago, it was built in 1799 and when Merrick and Alice bought it was covered in vines and hadn’t been lived in for 40 years. They took on the challenge and worked through the project slowly, Merrick doing most of the work himself and Alice sourcing a lot of the furniture at France’s famous brocantes.

Merrick says: “Our tastes in interiors can be different, but our home is a collaboration, and I am always amazed by the ideas she comes up with and the things she finds.”

Merrick Angle of Double Merrick's 215-year-old home in Limousin, France Read More →

Handmade Huddersfield home

How many of us have been in this situation: you’re home from travelling, you’re working low paid jobs, you’re back living with mum and dad and you can’t afford to rent your own place let alone buy.

Well I’m about to tell you about one Yorkshire woman’s ingenious solution.

Stephanie Bertenshaw took three garages next to her parents’ house and with £12,000, help from family and friends and a whole lot of imagination and creativity, transformed them into a villa-style home now valued at £150,000.

Felt Mountain Studios handmade home in Marsden Huddersfield Yorkshire Read More →

Top 10 DIYs and a blog award

You might have noticed a little addition to my sidebar recently.

That’s right, a couple of weeks ago I was hit with the brilliant news that I’ve been nominated for the Amara Interior Blog Awards.

Nominee Badge

I’m in the ‘best DIY blog‘ category and you will notice that I have some mega competition, so I only have an outside chance of walking away with the title, but nonetheless it feels brilliant to be a nominee along with some of my favourite and most inspiring bloggers.

The good news is that you can help me get onto the shortlist by voting for me here. All you have to do is put in your name and email address and I’m assured you won’t get spammed. Thanks so much! Voting closes on October 3.

In honour of my nomination and to prove my credentials for you clicking through and voting I thought I’d take a look back at some of the best home DIY projects I’ve shared on the blog so far. Read More →

Virtual Bathrooms competition

It may be only a few months since we completely renovated our bathroom, but that doesn’t mean I never think about things we might have done, or what we might do in a bathroom of the future.

Bathroom supplier Virtual Bathrooms are currently running a competition for people to use their bathroom designer tool to create their perfect washing and bathing space.

Our current bathroom is small – not ideal, especially as my husband and I often find ourselves in there at the same time, which leads to much dancing round each other. So the starting point when I began thinking about my dream bathroom was that it would have be bigger, but I’m a realist so I resisted making it palace-sized.

I then chose a large walk-in shower, curved bath and double basins (no more elbowing each other out of the way) and a neat wall-hung toilet. Décor-wise I added a feature sunburst mirror and bold patterned floor tiles but went for pure white walls and – a little like we’ve done in our own bathroom – some classic wood and leafy plants to warm up the space.

I found the bathroom designer tool really easy and quite fun to use and was impressed by how realistic the 3D pictures were. If you were planning a real space, you can adjust the room to make it actual size and add doors and windows where they really are. If you’re just starting out with some ideas it really helps bring them to life so you can see if they work then add things or take them away.

What do you think to my design?

Virtual Bathrooms bathroom design competition Read More →

Notting Hill Carnival

As I was in London on the August bank holiday weekend, I decided to go to Notting Hill Carnival.

My friend and I were going to a party out of town on the Monday, when heavy rain was forecast anyway, so we decided we’d go to carnival on the Sunday, billed as ‘family day’.

I’m glad I went, but it wasn’t quite the all-singing-all-dancing extravaganza I was expecting and although you could tell a lot of effort had gone into some costumes what I saw didn’t really match the images you see splashed across the media.

Sunday is the children’s parade and I hear the costumes are far grander and more extravagant on the Monday, which is the day of the main carnival parade and grand finale. But this is one student’s vivid depiction of the downsides, and based on the taster I had the day before I can imagine much of what she says is true.

First, let’s talk about the good.

Notting Hill Carnival family day August 2014

Read More →

South Bank, London

The older I get, the more I seem to tire of London.

My brother moved down pretty much straight after graduating and there have been times when I thought I’d follow suit. I never did, but the city is quite familiar to me because of the trips I’ve made for work and to see him and friends.

I always love seeing the people I know who live there, and there’s no doubt the capital offers some wonderful things to do, but more often than not these days I find the place quite exhausting.

I can enjoy the novelty, the hustle and bustle, for a day or two but then I find myself dying to get back up north. I think it’s just the sheer volume of people, the time it takes to get from place to place.

I was in London for the bank holiday weekend, to see my brother, his wife, my beautiful new niece and some friends. I arrived on Saturday with a couple of hours to kill and after a quick trip to West Elm made the mistake of going to Oxford Street. My mood slumped and stress levels soared. Maybe it was because I had to drag my suitcase along behind me, maybe it was because of the hordes of people, who always walk too slowly or stop suddenly in a bunch, blocking the whole pavement.

The thing is, I don’t want to lose my rag with this city: I think we have a wonderful capital. I’ve never felt prouder to be British than during the 2012 Olympics. I’ve had some of the most special days of my life here, like when I was a guest of the Queen.

So when I feel like I might be falling out of London I go to South Bank. I love the riverside setting, the colour, the anyone-is-welcome attitude. I feel like this place, unlike much of London, is about spending time, not money. It’s probably my favourite spot in the city, and here’s why.

South Bank London Read More →

Do you say ‘I love you’ enough?

When did you last tell someone who matters to you that you love them?

I’m pretty good at telling my husband I love him. As a couple we probably say it most days. (It’s funny, as I was writing this he phoned me from downstairs to pass on some practical info and we ended the 10 second conversation with an ‘I love you’ each).

I think I tell my closest friends how much they mean to me quite regularly too. There’ve been some difficult times and dark days for me recently and these people have stopped me from falling, lifted me up and showed me the way to keep going.

My mum and dad have too, and even at 35 I know they take every step with me and would give me all they could if I needed it. But I do find it more difficult to tell them I love them and I don’t really know why.

While I was never in any doubt how much I was loved by them as a kid, I guess as a family we weren’t particularly into PDAs or saying the words ‘I love you’. I don’t think that’s altogether a bad thing because I do think some people have a tendency to throw around those important three words far too easily.

I presented them with this poem at my wedding, because it summed up so many words I wanted to say. I went a bit to town celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary last summer because I felt so indebted and in awe of the role models they’d been. I made them this scrapbook as a present. But at the party, when my brother and I briefly took to the mic, I couldn’t actually say the words I wanted to. They just got stuck in my throat and I was practically in tears in front of all the people they knew. Slightly embarrassing. (I blame the gin).

I think the less we say ‘I love you’ the harder it becomes, so while I don’t think we should spoil the special feeling generated by hearing those words by saying them too often, I do think we should try to say it each time we feel it.

This is what French retailer La Redoute‘s current #LanguageofLove campaign is about. Their survey last month found just under a quarter of UK people haven’t said ‘I love you’ in over a year. Isn’t that sad?

If you’re wondering how nice it feels to give and receive some words of appreciation from a loved one – or you would simply like to see particularly good-looking Frenchman called Florent speaking his beautiful language – grab a tissue and watch La Redoute’s video.



Did it make you think about whether you tell someone enough that you love or appreciate them?

PS appropriately enough it’s my fourth wedding anniversary today! ♥ You can read about our wedding here, but please forgive the novice blogging style :)

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