Friday, 19 April 2013

Handmade Burger Co proves that burgers don't have to be boring

On Sunday night we arrived back in Leeds after a whirlwind of a holiday with a new relationship status, sunburned skin and a massive rucksack full of washing. To be frank, food shopping was the last thing on my mind, so you can probably imagine my relief when I checked my emails and was reminded that Handmade Burger Co had invited us to review their Leeds Trinity restaurant. We needed little encouragement to avoid Morrison's and our bulging washing basket, so off we popped on Tuesday night to sample some of the Leeds' newest foodie fayre and combat our post-holiday blues.

Handmade Burger Co are one of a number of chain restaurants that have sprung up in Leeds' brand spanking new shopping centre - they're joined by the likes of Carluccio's, Cafe Rouge, Giraffe, Nando's, Wagamamas and TGI Friday's.  Founded in Birmingham in 2007 by a trio of brothers, there are now sixteen Handmade Burger Co restaurants scattered around the country. They make and hand press their burgers on-site in their restaurants daily. Unlike some of their neighbours in the Trinity Centre, Handmade Burger Co really seem to value extremely fresh food, variety and service - not just in their mission statement but in practice too (and I'm really not just saying that).

The Leeds Trinity restaurant is fresh and modern, with a large open kitchen running against one of the back walls. With an ordering system not dissimilar to Nando's (you're shown to a table, choose what you want and then order at the counter), it could be easy to feel like you're just a number and service levels could reflect that. However, the service that Ash and I received was exemplary - beating the "service" we've been subjected to by their competitors hands down (not that you go to Gourmet Burger Kitchen expecting Michellin starred service, of course!).

With over forty different burgers on offer - ranging from a classic cheese and bacon burger right through to Moroccan lamb, brie and cranberry chicken, and stuffed cheddar and chilli - making a decision as to what to break my post-holiday diet with was more than just a little bit difficult. After a bit of hmming and haaing, we decided that as Homemade Burger Co first got in contact when I was battling with meat-free March it was only right that we check out their vegetarian options. And my goodness - if you're a veggie you could do far worse than choosing to eat here. With a plethora of options to choose from, it really is a breath of vegetarian fresh air. Our lovely waitress explained that all the vegetarian options are cooked separately (in vegetable oil) from the hundreds of meat-based food on offer, so no worries there either!

After some debate we settled for a Sweet Potato and Bean Burger (£7.25) and an Onion Bhaji Burger (£6.85), along with a portion of cajun seasoned fresh cut chips (£3.25) and a house salad (£4.95) to share. Both of the burgers arrived in a sourdough sesame seed bun, and were fit to burst with the most delicious garnish. The mango and ginger salsa that came with the sweet potato and bean offering was delectable, and the mint and red onion garnish with the bhaji burger was pretty darn tasty too. In fact - the burgers were so big and so tasty that they warranted knife and fork action! The Sweet Potato and Bean burger was sweet, but not overly so and the bhaji burger would make the best sort of hangover fodder. The portion of chips easily fed two and were perfectly fluffy and well-seasoned. All in all, top notch grub that beats rival Gourmet Burger Kitchen hands-down.

Although the Trinity Centre has been unbelievably busy and the queues for some of the restaurants have been quite literally out of the door, I think that a meal at the Handmade Burger Co is more than worth waiting for.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A very Croatian engagement

Last time I blogged (which seems like many moons ago), I mentioned that I was off to Croatia to eat my weight in meat and seafood.

Well, eat my weight in meat and seafood I most definitely did. And pizza. And pasta. And risotto. All washed down with the biggest glasses of red wine you ever did see. We had the most lovely holiday.

We flew to Split, where we climbed the tower of Diocletian's Palace. I ate the most gorgeous seafood risotto, and we saw the sunrise from our apartment window, which was in the attic of a little house that was up a narrow, winding street.

Then we took the ferry to Korcula. We went on long walks, got lost a lot, explored the deserted Old Town, drank glasses of wine that cost 85p by the seafront and ate pizza that was bigger than our head.

Next it was off to Hvar, the most beautiful of islands. On the first day, we paddled in the sea, watched the yachts come in and out of the harbour and spent the afternoon in the town's little cafes, drinking cold beer.

On the second day, we walked up to the castle, hired bikes, cycled to a beach and walked along a rocky coastal footpath to a deserted cove. While we were sitting on the rocks, watching the clear blue sea sparkle in the sunshine, Ash asked me to marry him. 

I said a big fat yes.

Unbeknownst to me, he'd been carrying around a bag of Haribo rings all holiday, waiting for the right moment.

We celebrated by drinking Slovenian sparkling wine, getting very giddy, going to a beautiful restaurant in the harbour, eating delicious calamari, mussels and a seafood platter that was the most divine thing ever.

The next day we decided to leave our little (very budget) apartment behind and check into a hotel for our last night in honour of our newly engaged status. By some fluke of luck, the mid-range hotel we'd booked had closed - and instead we were told that there was a room for us for the same price in the most expensive, luxurious Spa hotel on the island that overlooked the harbour.

We spent the afternoon swimming in their salt water swimming pool, drinking appletinis in their roof-top bar until the sun went down, and generally grinning from ear to ear.

Words can't paint a picture of how happy I am, so maybe this photo will do the talking for me. x

Friday, 5 April 2013

Meat Free March Recipe Swap : The results are in!

I've celebrated the start of British Summer Time by eating a hell of a lot of meat. From pork and black pudding sausages to bacon, ham and tuna steak, I've enjoyed every mouthful after a month of beans and lentils. Ham hock, chorizo, sea bass, mussels, pork belly and lardons have had a look in too. My body has become a living, breathing temple to meat and fish. So much so, the chances of fitting into any of my summer clothes in time for my holiday to Croatia are now slim to none. Especially as I go on holiday tomorrow. Whoops.
However, when I return, there'll be plenty of deliciously healthy veggie and vegan recipes to tuck in to and help me on my way to losing the holiday bulge. These come courtesy of the lovely folk who participated in our Meat Free March recipe swap. 

So, who cooked what?
As I'm sure you'll agree, all of these blog posts make their swapees recipes look and sound tastier than an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet at Hansa's. Trying to pick a blog to win our wonderful prizes was harder than finding a grain of couscous in a haystack. That's why, when Fay and I held our X Factor style judging panel  over Google chat last night, we decided to give not one, but two brilliant bloggers a prize (controversial - I expect there'll be Daily Mail headlines about this tomorrow!).

First up, Susie from Susie's Tummy Tales will be receiving a month's supply of fresh veg boxes from the brilliant Abel and Cole. Fay and I loved the humour in Susie's post and the fact that she was the only participant to give a vegan dessert a stab (thanks to Sharon's recipe). Top marks go to her especially because she served them in homous pots (we encourage recycling). Fay and I also decided that Susie is a worthy winner because she linked to Gregg Wallace's buttery biscuit base. I am a not-so-secret fan girl of Greg Wallace (it's something about the glasses, the love of desserts, and the way he whacks a spoon in his gob). As a greengrocer, I feel Gregg would approve of Susie winning a month's supply of vegetable goodies. 

Secondly, Sharon at Virtually Vegan wins a (veggie friendly) meal at Handmade Burger Co in honour of her effort. The Meat Free March recipe post marked Sharon's first ever foray into vegan blogging, and we think she's off to a pretty bloomin' great start. We hope the winning meal will encourage her to keep at it - maybe a restaurant review could be next? 

So, there we have it, meat-free Marchers. Susie and Sharon - please drop me a line with your address to and your prizes will be winging their way over to you sooner than you can shout "lots of lovely lentils please". To the rest of you - a big, big thank you for participating, for keeping Fay and I sane in our quest for the perfect veggie recipe and for giving me the opportunity to spend hours reading and looking at lots of lovely sausage-free food porn.