crowne plaza leeds 4
This year, The Times voted Leeds the number one cultural place to live in Britain above London, Manchester, Brighton, et-personal-al.

Though I hadn’t been back for almost two years, the year I spent living in the city centre left a lasting impression on me. The food, drink, and people are – in my opinion – second to almost none.

When asked to return to the city for work, I couldn’t help but turn business into pleasure and book myself in for a little staycation.

The second I booked in at the Crowne Plaza Leeds, I felt I was home.

Though the 135-room hotel is far from small, the high (and noticeably Northern) level or service made the stay feel rather intimate.

Arriving before our room was ready, we were welcomed into their beautiful club lounge (part of their recent £4.5 million refurbishment and a special hideaway for those in executive suites) for refreshments before being taken to our insanely affordable little suite.

After a few hours in bed (the novelty will never wear off), we headed out to luxuriate in Leeds’ electric landscape. The hotel is within walking distance of the First Direct Leeds Arena, Headingley Cricket Ground, Kirkstall Abbey, and my forever-beloved street food kitchen at Trinity Leeds – to name but a few.

We were out too long to get acquainted with the hotel’s Spirit Health and Leisure Club but I have already earmarked a full morning to enjoy the large indoor heated swimming pool, gym, and spa during our inevitable follow-up visit.

From king-sized bed to rainfall shower, I developed a hell of an appetite for breakfast so booked it for the hotel’s Bar & Kitchen @ LS1 for a locally-sourced Full English.

Or, as the bridal party across from us kept cooing, a “bloody grand Full Yorkshire”.

Not an attribution too different from the Crowne Plaza itself.

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crowne plaza leeds 9
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santi london e20
Authenticity has been bastardised by the food industry for far too long. Any old restaurant with a creme brulee on their menu seems comfortable calling themselves an ‘authentic French restaurant’ and great menus of undisputed origin have been lost somewhere in the culinary hullabaloo.

Bizarrely, East Village (London’s former Olympic Athlete’s Village) now has one of the most authentic Italian restaurants I’ve been to in years.

Though it is only one year old, Santi has built a reputation on the handiwork of their Napolitan pizza chef and his specially-imported Italian flour.

Well aware that real Italian food is much more than pizza, I ignored all dough-swooning inclinations and decided the rest of the menu had to be put to the test.

As my dinner date clinked her well-deserved Aperol Spritz with mine, every Italian in East London seemed to decamp across the tables around us in colossal groups. For a relatively frill-free atmosphere and unconditionally Italian restaurant team, this only assured its apititude in the quest for authenticity.

At prices more competitive than any restaurant in the vicinity of Westfield Stratford, we went on to have a deliciously bona fide Italian feast; fresh calamari fritti, involtini di melazane parmigiance (translation: decadently baked mozarella-loaded aubergine), a wildly generous guazzetto (mussell, clam, prawn & sea bass casserole) served with toasted bread, and perfectly cooked sea bass with fries and vegetables.

The addition of a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc del Veneto (a dry and elegant Italian pairing for gluttonous flavour chaos) tricked us into believing we had room for dessert. We quite obviously didn’t when a handmade tiramisu larger than my head arrived next to the richest tortino al cioccolato (think chocolate lava cake with a little less lava) in existence.

I only managed a few bites but their mascarpone and espresso-heavy tiramisu was worth a return trip alone.

Santi get my authentic seal of approval and then some.

santi london e20
santi london e20
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cbd
When I overheard a woman praising “legal weed” for curing chronic pain on the Underground, I was more than a little confused.

Though many progressive US states have decriminalized or fully legalized cannabis, it is still illegal in the UK.

Like any good millennial, I started Googling for answers and entered the wide world of CBD a fraction of a second thereafter.

CBD – or Cannabidiol – is one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis and accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract. Yet, unlike its psychoactive and THC-toting parent, it’s legal.

When the oil is extracted from hemp plant there is a minimal amount of THC left over (read: there is no high), yet the neuroprotective, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties remain.

Long story short: if there were ever to be a quintessential “medical marijuana”, CBD would be it.

After reading countless rave reviews and discovering CBD oil had the potential to stabilize blood sugar (go, Team Diabetes!), I hopped on to CBDSense and half-nervously ordered the Medihemp 5% oil and Hemptouch CBD-ointment for problem skin.

(The expectant gaggle of policemen – I can confirm – never showed up at my front door.)

After a few weeks with the products hidden behind my ‘normal’ beauty products, I have to give CBD two very contented thumbs up. The oil can only be described as Chill In A Bottle and I genuinely believe a daily drop under the tongue did wonders for my immune system while everyone around me seemed to get knocked down my tonsilitis, man flu, et al.

Medihemp is also the only biologically certified CBD manufacturer on the market, making its products among the most reliable available.

The Hemptouch CBD-ointment for problem skin has also helped heal a few kitchen burns and my forever-accident prone (therefore constantly cut-inflamed) legs. I imagine it would work wonders for anyone struggling with eczema or psoriasis.

Beyond my minor concerns, CBD oil has been acknowledged as a saviour for treatment-resistant forms of childhood epilepsy (something I actually heard rumours about way back at Cannabis College in Amsterdam) as well as a treatment for motivational disorders like depression, anxiety, and addiction.

I can’t imagine there would be many a human in this crazy city who couldn’t use a little CBD.

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stk london glitter flip
Worldwide, STK offers an ambience not entirely dissimilar to that of a first-class airport lounge filled with party-going unicorns.

Or so I’d imagine.

The purple LED walls, the rambunctious international clientele, the nightclub-worthy booths…it is just all so undeniably extra.

It was an organic choice for one of our city’s most celebrated beauty brands to collaborate with STK’s London outpost to launch their latest product.

The long-awaited arrival of Ciaté’s Glitter Flip – an immovable and sparkle-packed matte lipstick – encouraged a partnership of glitter-topped cocktails and desserts with the modern steakhouse.

After being greeted by the manager (not a food writer privilege but a valued facet of the brand’s flawless service), I read through the menu at the speed of a paradoxical turtle. Though a rare fillet was the inevitable choice for an evening of carnivorous fork-waggling, STK’s smaller seafood options were too enticing to go unordered.

To soak up some of the Ciaté Glittertini (a grapefruit, orange sanguine and passionfruit bitter concoction housed in a glitter-rimmed martini glass – conceivably created for Instagram alone), we started with wasabi remoulade-filled soft shell crab sliders (heightened to genuine perfection with pickled ginger) and sesame-seeded tuna tataki plated with wasabi and an avocado & dashi salad.

Decidedly focused on rare fillets from then on, my date opted for his steak pepper-crusted in a peppercorn sauce while my smaller version came beneath an indulgent duck egg and light flashes of Béarnaise. Both were, requisite of eponynimity, high quality but a tad too expensive to give the likes of Goodman any sleepless nights.

The best of the mains, surprisingly, took the form of a shared citrus marinated Burratina salad with smoked aubergine puree, heirloom tomatoes, and olives.

But you guys know how I feel about ye olde mozzarella pouches.

Full beyond any dessert requirement, we couldn’t leave without sampling the trio of Ciaté Glitter Cones (glamorously designed homemade rhubarb ice cream cones) and gargantuan crème brulee.

As the old adage goes; when in first class unicorn lounges

(Until September 29th, guests who order the specially created Ciaté Glitter Cones or a Ciaté Glittertini cocktail at STK London – from Monday to Friday – will be treated to a complimentary full size sample of the Glitter Flip liquid lipstick in Fortune, a £10 Ciaté voucher, a 20% STK London voucher, and a mini bottle of Belvedere vodka.)

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lucky voice london karaoke
I doubt a crystal ball could have predicted the tumultuity I witnessed in the corner booth of Lucky Voice Islington.

For a fraction of a moment (maybe even A Moment Like This by Kelly Clarkson…), I genuinely believed I had left a private karaoke room and entered a parallel universe.

At the start of a uncharacteristically large ‘night out’, I was befuddled to witness 10 out of my 11 companions inoculate the evening with more liquid courage than an impending 2-hour sing-song deemed sensibly necessary.

With a number of less-than-impressive musical theatre years under my belt, I found it hard to believe there was only one other – obviously wonderful – human in our hesitant tribe who liked the idea of singing/shouting all their favourite songs with friends as much as I did.

Alas, the onset of bottomless Prosecco emboldened a change in tune. Or a tune whatsoever.

Once we passed the inevitably awkward hump of initial song selections (8,000+ spanning current hits and oldies mean you’re spoilt for choice), the X Factor versions of every single one of my formerly tentative podmates erupted across the microphones.

What was lost in Instagram Stories’ 24 hour cycle is forever imprinted in cerebral pools of 90s DIY megamixes, surprisingly perfect Tinie Tempah renditions, and countless espresso martinis (thanks, in large part, to the booth’s ‘Thirsty’ call button).

Next time you’re finding it difficult to convince your friends to a little private karaoke merriment, steer them towards Lucky Voice and let the rest take care of itself.

karaoke
lucky voice london karaoke
lucky voice london karaoke