Well hello, new kitchen

When we moved into the house almost three years ago, the kitchen was always “the big project”. It was the one we’d think about once we’d tidied everything else up and paid for practical but annoyingly less exciting things like composite doors…

I wrote about it just after the foundation work had started – here – and now, endless dust and clock watching later, we are officially finished. Oh, and we got married somewhere in between, too! It’s taken four months and around ¬£30k, but we now have a much bigger, more open space that gives us an extra living area and will hugely improve our lifestyle.

The builders started on the foundations in late December, and the shell was airtight by mid-March. We were SO excited when we arrived home to see that the bi-folding doors had been fitted. And again when, three days before the wedding, we came home to working taps and dishwasher. It was almost the best thing in the world when you’ve been washing up in the bath for several weeks. After that, it was a bit of a waiting game, as various workmen came along to fit the flooring, then the skirting boards, and then to fix the final snags.

Here’s a reminder of where we were and where we are so happy to be now:

When we moved in…

kitchen diner

When work started…

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The worst bit… (see that plank of wood behind the insulation? That’s what separated us from the Beast from the East)

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Now…

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So we’re now pretty much back to normal – PHEW – having painted everything white (for now), hoovered up the dust and somehow kept the cat sane.

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We’ve moved an armchair into the corner, for post-work chill time, and our mackerel and mussel paintings have joined it to create the start of a washed out blue theme which so far gets the thumbs up:

There’s still plenty more to do, but it’s cosmetic and can be done with a little less urgency and a little more time for saving. On our list:
– Wall tiles – most likely white metro or hexagonal tiles with dark grey grout;
– A feature wall. Controversial, this one. We don’t often go for wallpaper (AKA HASSLE), but with plain white units and white walls, we need a subtle point of interest. The AMAZING pineapple wallpapers I fell madly in love with don’t really fit the subtle brief, sadly, and they will most likely look dated by next year. There’s still the option of papering, but it will be something far more simple that can fade effortlessly into the background;
– A new table. I love ours, but with the wood effect flooring and cement worktops, it feels like a clash of textures. It will also be a chance to go slightly larger or extendable, so we can have more guests round. Or just serve ourselves more food ūüôā
– Statement side plates. As a certified dessert girl, the idea of whipping out some extravagant plates to serve up a big fat cake just feels right. The animal plates below are top of my list, and would team up perfectly with the gorgeous elephant teapot that is already waiting for them by the kettle!

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Lovely items from: Luna table, animal side plates (set of four) and elephant teapot, all from John Lewis; Dom plant from Ikea; Wallpaper from wallpaperdirect.com.

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Big project alert: The extension

Here’s a clever thing to do…

Start a house extension that’s due to complete the second before you walk down the aisle ūüėČ

A mere seven weeks before getting married, we are bang in the middle of an extension. From the front of the house, everything looks normal. From the back, we have full-on scaffolding, torrents of mud, breeze blocks, and half a new kitchen diner.

The timing isn’t amazing, but it’s taken months to get drawings completed, planning approved and builder time allocated, so here we are. It’s something¬†we’ve needed to do since we moved in, and it’s really exciting to finally see the bricks going up and to be able to visualise the end result. It will mean that we can replace the perfectly functional but very ’90s kitchen, and wave goodbye to having narrow rooms – a kitchen and a dining room – that make entertaining more than two house guests a game of musical chairs.

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Here’s the current state of play, in its full unfiltered glory….

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Isn’t it stunning?

Over the next few weeks, the builders will pop on a roof with roof lights, knock the existing external and dividing walls down, rip the kitchen out and create a lovely open plan kitchen diner. There will also be a couple of days when we won’t have any kitchen, so HELLO TAKEAWAYS.

Kitchen-wise, we’ve gone for very simple white gloss units¬†by Wren. We’ve heard good and bad things about them, but heard the same about Howdens. And B&Q came out much more expensive for what is a kitchen and house that we will probably move from within five years. Wren gave a great side-by-side demonstration of their unit build and quality next to brands like Howdens and John Lewis, and the service so far has been great.

The units will be topped with an Italian concrete laminate worktop (we LOVED the granite tops but they added about ¬£1.5k onto the kitchen cost) and a black range cooker. With the units staying to the left hand side of the room, we’re hoping the rest of the space can be dedicated to dining, with a long dining table, and chilling out. Here’s what we’re thinking:

Kitchen diner

Quick-Step vinyl flooring, Carpetright; J-Pull kitchen units, Wren; Geo cream and gold wallpaper, Graham & Brown; Pineapple cushion, Dunelm; Blue and white print cushion cover, Maisons du monde; Rug, Next; Two-seater fabric sofa in denim blue, and fabric sofa in romario denim, Made.com; Mini potted plants, Dunelm;

An extension and serious building work is completely new to us, so if you have any tips or helpful stories to share, let me know!

New job bingo

If you’re a believer in the ‘New Year, New You’ way of life, then you may be thinking about a career change in January.

Having just finished a five year stint with an agency, and moved in-house to a pensions firm, here’s a friendly taster of the hilarious* scenarios that could face you in your first few weeks:

You’ll have a fashion calamity
For me, the change from agency wardrobe (skinny jeans, tattoos, ‘about to do some decorating’ up do) to business wear was always going to be a shock. Not that I was the snappiest agency dresser, by any means. But my fear of the corporate fashion police inspired at least three slightly jittery trips to the shops during my notice period. Included in these lunchtime shopping hauls were fine knit cardys, classic shirts and (hold on to your hats) bootcut tailored trousers. BOOTCUT. Remarkably, this purchase isn’t the fashion calamity.

The calamity (and take this as a finger-wagging warning, dear reader) was underestimating the importance of the little button at the top of the trouser side zip. Apparently it does actually serve a purpose, but you don’t always realise it until you’re halfway down Leeds Canal, just breezing past all the windows of Asda House. It stops your trousers falling down as you saunter into work on day three of your new job.

Luckily, it didn’t actually get this far…

But there was a sudden, urgent realisation that things had become VERY LOOSE FITTING. And then a need to do a sort of wide legged swagger, to hold them up with the top of your thighs, while trying to solve the zip situation without catching the attention of the taxi boat crew. I’d say we were five seconds from an awkward pants down situation. True story. Always check the safety button.

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You’ll watch your mouth
It’s funny how much your workplace changes the way you talk. And how much it stands out when you move into a new office. On day one of corporate life, I became acutely aware that I kept saying ‘sesh’ and was sailing close to ‘smashing it’. I think I even did a wholly unecessary ‘woop’. There’s really nothing you can do to prevent this, other than being aware of what you’re saying and looking for slightly raised eyebrows when you say it… Also, don’t drop your habits too quickly – maybe they hired you because you are a bit different.

You’ll feel like going back to school
Who doesn’t have their bag packed and ready by 9pm the night before D-day? And who hasn’t set off from home a mere three hours before work starts, just in case there’s a minor prang, the car’s iced up and ooh, the road caves in? I took pens, notepad, porridge oats, and lunch. Y’know, just in case this thriving business has done so well by not having any pens, and in case this office is the¬†actual paperless office of the future… It’s stupid really, because most of us are back to pressing the snooze button and pulling questionable morning outfits together again within two weeks.

You’ll say ‘nice to meet you’ to everyone.. twice
If you never forget a face, lucky you. I’m better at remembering names and what someone posted on Twitter three weeks last Tuesday. So, naturally, I’m no stranger to double introductions and mistaken identities. All you can do here is laugh and cringe inwardly – it happens – but I tend to hold off on enthusiastic introductions once I’ve been there for a week, now, and hope my work does the talking instead.

You’ll lose weight…
…for a week. Do you lose your appetite when you’re stressed, or a little on edge? Me too. For my first week, I thought my metabolism had undergone a miraculous change, and that I’d finally become one of those legendary people just “not that fussed about chocolate”. But by week two, once I’d had some inductions and found my feet, the normal eating had kicked back in.

*Also possibly cringeworthy, soul destroying or sackable

Have you had a new job calamity? Share the shame below!

Five ways with a photo frame

GOSH I’m really pushing the creativity boat out today. Photo frames.

This post is about dressing your home up without having to spend a fortune. We’re all on that slippery slope into spending lots over Christmas, and we’re being extra cautious at the moment with the wedding and house extension looming.

ribbaBut there are cheap and simple ways to show your home some love Рespecially as long lost relatives start popping round for mulled wine Рand one of them is a black or white photo frame. Who needs a £50 high street canvas when you can make your own and refresh it with every season, or mood? With A4 Ribba frames starting from £6 at Ikea, there are loads of ways to lift your interior:

Wallpaper
If you fall in love with a wallpaper pattern but it’s way too out there for the living room, why not stick it in a frame? It provides the pattern or background you want without you needing seven tubes of paint and a fine art degree to create it yourself. Why not:

  • Cut a slogan, word or shape out of it, and stick it in the middle of your white background?¬† You’d be surprised how arty and cultured some words can look when typed in Cooper Black and flowered up.
  • Fill your frame with it and draw over it, to liven up a simple pen sketch. The artwork below was¬†inspired by a graffiti drawing of a girl on The Calls in Leeds. I did the black and white version first, on the basis that she was an arty city girl, and reworked her a few months later for a friend who wanted a retro look. You don’t have to do a canvas – just use a thick marker on your wallpaper and pop it into your frame.

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Glitter

Glitter – as much as I would like to shower in the stuff – doesn’t always scream class. But take it easy, and¬†match it with enough crisp white, and you’re practically designing for The White Company. Gold or silver will make the most timeless design, as will going for a simple shape over anything too complex. Try a glitter heart in the middle of the page, a great pout, or a word. Not great at drawing cool letters? Write the word you want on a desktop/laptop, turn the screen brightness up, and pop your paper over the screen. The outline will show through most paper thicknesses, so that you can trace it.

Create your own quote

You don’t have to live life according to someone else’s inspirational quotes. If you have your own, you can easily make something of it using (LOW tech) Microsoft Powerpoint or (lovely tech) Canva.

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It’s a free tool that allows you to¬†create an image of any size to suit your frame, and add in a huge range of fonts, symbols, lines and images. Find a design you like and download a high quality version, then print it off on a decent printer. Hey presto. And it’s a simple enough process to create a new piece whenever your mood changes.

Words

Do you have a favourite poem, or song verse? Use it to create a shape on your page. As beautifully demonstrated by the lyrics to Baby Got Back below, (what can I say – it’s been a busy Saturday) you can pull your words into a long strip down the page, or group a verse into the centre of your frame. Sometimes words are enough.

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Greenery

fernWho needs a needy plant when you can pop some faux (or dried) greenery into a frame? I love the idea of layering strands of fern, or even cuttings from your Christmas tree, into a frame. Without any fuss, words, contrast, or glitter, you’re creating a frame full of lovely green texture that doesn’t just have to sit on a windowsill or table. Arrange your cuttings over green paper, or so that none of the white behind shows though, for a lush frame that takes the lovely feeling of having house plants up onto your walls, too.

Have you lifted your look with a quick and easy interiors trick? I’d love to hear about it and see the results – feel free to share below or on Twitter @a1ex_b.

 

 

 

The greatest love story of all time, maybe

Tea is surely the down and dirty proof that you are British. Give us a cuppa and we’ll keep calm and carry on, or don’t and we’ll struggle to function first thing in the morning.

I am one of a strange group of people who, despite coming from a pro-tea and coffee family, and an annual tasting session to check for any signs of becoming a tea drinker, have never fallen in love with it. 

Paul doesn’t drink it, either, which I thought was a cute ‘meant to be’ coincidence when we first met, but soon realised it just makes us difficult house guests. We will always opt for water (read: boring), hot chocolate (read: early onset diabetes) or squash (read: are you seven?). We will always seem slightly awkward in work meetings when tea doesn’t cut the mustard, and can never quite deliver on the work tea round.

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I know we’re not alone – several people lately have revealed that they too aren’t fussed about tea, and there are hundreds of alternative options for a comforting brew out there. There’s only so much joy you can get from green tea (read: basically pond water).

So, here are five alternative tea options – with a little tea education on the side – that may be worth a try when you need a cup of something hot:

The one that’s nothing like tea
Who knew that you could flavour tea with chocolate, and chocolate flakes? Ooh la la. When you don’t drink ‘normal’ tea, hot chocolate becomes one of the easiest alternatives, and just about stops you seeming like a fusspot. But given the recent war on sugar, and the fact that I’d quite like to have my teeth in ten years’ time, a healthier halfway point would be great.

This tea, by Teapigs, is made by combining black (read: normal) tea with cocoa beans and chocolate flakes, and happy customers recommend drinking it with milk or cream, and a biscuit. Minus the milk and biscuit, you’re looking at one calorie and the merest hint of sugar and carbs, so you can indulge in this one without having to worry about the consequences.

Other indulgent teas out there include cherry bakewell, fudge, salted caramel and chocolate and coconut.

Chocolate flake tea, ¬£3.99 for 15 teabags, from teapigs.co.uk

The one that will score you wellbeing points 
Wandering the streets with a cup full of something that looks like it’s been scooped from the bottom of a pond seems to score highly with the wellness crowd these days. A cup of matcha tea will definitely score you some points.

Pic: well-beingsecrets.com

Matcha is green tea on steroids. It’s made by grinding green tea leaves down into a powder, which you then mix with hot water. Unlike green tea which you’d usually infuse in hot water, you drink the whole of the tea leaf, and so get a much higher dose of its nutrients and natural caffeine. Typically, you can expect twice the caffeine of coffee, and ten times the antioxidants of green tea. Antioxidants, in case (like me) you need a re-cap, protect the body from damage by harmful free radicals, which are believed to play a part in the development of conditions including blood vessel disease and cancer.

Rebecca Straus, a writer for Women’s Health, spent a week drinking matcha tea instead of coffee and felt the benefits: “Caffeine makes my thoughts race and my stomach queasy if I have too much. With matcha, I felt alert, but less jittery than I do with coffee.” This all fits together perfectly, as a phytonutrient called l-theanine, which is found in matcha, is known to lift mood and improve concentration.

The one that will rival the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pic: hebdentea.com

There’s got to be something in this pumpkin and spice combo, if it gets Starbucks customers foaming at the mouth in the run up to launch every September.

This tea version, which jumbles up pumpkin pieces, apple, rose hip peel, beetroot, cloves and other wintery allies, delivers the same nutritional benefits as black tea, but with a fruitier taste.

Winter warmer pumpkin tea mix, ¬£5.40 for 100g, from hebdentea.com.

The one that eases you into tea life
White tea uses young buds and leaves, and is the least processed of all teas. If you’re a trainee tea drinker, this is a good place to start. Like green tea, white tea doesn’t go through any sort of oxidation process, so it keeps hold of its antioxidant polyphenols. According to Twinings, “white tea is seen by many cultures as the cr√®me de la cr√®me of the teas and they only serve it at special occasions”.

As you might expect, then, white tea has a subtle but fragrant taste. The experts advise that you skip the milk, but do try brewing for different periods of time, and adding sugar, honey, or a slice of lemon, to work out which you like best.

Clipper’s range includes a plain, organic white tea, along with versions flavoured with lemon, orange and vanilla.

The one for the weekend

If you’re a natural born dinner party host, but spill the beans (in more ways than one) a little too often, there’s a tea alternative to serve alongside your meal. Sonoma’s ice tea flavours include cabernet, chardonnay and rose.

The chardonnay uses grapes from California’s Sonoma County, along with pineapples and peaches to create a calorie and sugar free drink. As you would expect from any white wine, it’s recommended with cheese, salads, white meat and fish.

Sonoma Chardonnay Iced Tea, $7.99 for six large pouches, from The Republic of Tea

Based on this, and some initial panic over the state of my waistline after an indulgent holiday, I’m going to try out some matcha. How about you?

Holiday expectations vs. reality

This post goes out my lovely friend Beth (@livingcolourful), whose recent holiday photo spurred me on to write about holiday expectations vs. reality…

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We fly to Croatia in *squeal* two days, and have been looking forward to a sunny break for months. Naturally, with this level of anticipation, a humble week away has slowly morphed into the holiday of all holidays. It has become the M&S ‘this is not just a…’ equivalent of holidays. If Carlsberg did holidays then this one, my friends, is it.

But, as with anything that gets wildly built up in anticipation, there is (of course), a serious case of expectations vs. reality waiting for us in the arrivals lounge. Cloudy skies, stomach upsets, the works.

So here they are. Classic holiday expectations vs. reality – which ones are you familiar with?

Dream: A whole new, European you – yoghurt for breakfast, fruit snacks and, who even needs dessert?
Reality: Gelato. All day, every day.

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Dream:¬†Going travelling to who knows where with little more than a backpack and a book, because you’re going to meet new people and find yourself.
Reality: Waking to find a stranger’s feet in your face on the sleeper train.

Dream: Trying all sorts of fresh, local foods and discovering a new-found (and slightly smug) love for lobster.
Reality: Trying all sorts of fresh, local foods, and discovering a new-found love of heaving the night away in the hotel bathroom. Especially horrific if you’re away with a new partner.

Dream: Going on a lads’ holiday and expecting the bars to be filled with undiscovered Victoria’s Secret models.
Reality: Going on a lads holiday and meeting the same girls you know (and love), just in fewer clothes and clutching fish bowls.

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Dream: Night after night of romantic, carefree sex.
Reality:
Night after night of sex which becomes progressively more sweaty and awkward as you work around the sunburnt patches.

Dream: Glamourous evenings out drinking cocktails.
Reality: A drink in the bar next to the hotel, before you stagger to bed having walked the length of the city in a day.

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Dream: Seven days of immaculately planned holiday outfits, complete with shoes and accessories. Instagram filters, you are not required.
Reality: The playsuit is too hot. The shoes? Woah. That’ll be seven days of wearing the same two vests, shorts and sandals on rotation, then.

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Dream: Discovering your inner Martin Lewis and haggling up a storm in local shops and markets.
Reality: Feeling pretty pleased at yourself for saving the equivalent of 20p on a donkey-shaped rattan bag, then stuffing your ‘steal’ at the back of the wardrobe for a couple of years until it’s acceptable to throw it away.

Dream: Finally, a refreshed, sunkissed complexion that does not scream ‘air conditioned office’.
Reality: Three days of melted foundation, a make-up mirror meltdown on day four, followed by a begrudging barefaced and sunglasses approach for the rest of the holiday.

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Despite the negative (but totally true) vibe of this post, it’s not meant to be. Half the joy of holidays is the expectation – switching your out of office on,¬†buying indulgent snacks at the airport. You LOVE your meal on the third night because of the dodgy pasta dishes on nights one and two. We all need a comedy and/or shocking tale to tell when we get back. Don’t we all want a more spontaneous life? Well bring it on, frizzy hair, and unpredictable weather. Show me that tourist tat. And the food poisoning? Well I’d rather not, but any travel buddy worth their salt will never tell a soul.

Small dishes at Skosh, York

We’re on a serious spending ban at the moment, with our looming wedding, holiday and (casually thrown in for good measure) extension plans.

But we broke the rules on my birthday – thirty flippin’ one seeing as you ask – and went for a meal at the highly acclaimed Skosh in York.

The first question I asked – and so the first answer I’ll give – is what does Skosh stand for? Well, the word is an abbreviation of the Japanese word sukoshi (“skoh shee”) and means “a tiny bit” or “a small amount.”

As the name suggests, this place is all about small, shareable dishes, from beautiful sourdough bread and ‘puck’ nuggets, to chargrilled octopus, cured trout, and onion seed lavash.

I didn’t know where we were going to eat until we walked onto Micklegate, and had no idea what to expect in terms of atmosphere. You get all sorts in York – from the lah-de-dah to the casual and understated. Luckily, given the questionable state of my nail polish, it’s like a wholesome, relaxed, but ‘we do things well’-type cafe.

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The dishes¬†may sound quite fancy to some, but everything is done incredibly well, and you know that there’s no way anything is going out if it doesn’t taste amazing. We could tell this from the start, so ordered several things without really knowing what they were – like ‘Cauliflower manchurian’.

You can order six or eight dishes to share, initially, but if you are still hungry, you can just add extras as you go along. Here’s what we went for:

House sourdough, acorn dairy butter & ‘gunpowder’ spice
Quite simply, lovely squashy bread with a decent crust, lovely butter, and – if you want to take things up a notch – a light spice mix to sprinkle over before you nibble.

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Cauliflower manchurian
This was very much like a sweet and sour cauliflower. Although there aren’t many visible components on the plate, the sauce was beautiful and had a real depth to it, as well as a great kick.

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Skosh fried chicken with brown butter hollandaise
Fried chicken – what’s not to like? This is a serious case of KFC – AND THEN SOME.

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East coast crab and lobster with sweetcorn, tarragon and green papaya
The most delicious looking dish, with the freshness you expect from crab. The little crunchy bits on the top, which had a prawn cracker scent to them, added a nice extra texture.

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Chargrilled octopus with tandoor spices and pickled lime puree
I don’t eat a lot of octopus, or in fact seafood other than the standard white fish and prawns. This was lovely – great big meaty chunks with a charred coating and a punchy lime puree to make it pop.

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45 day aged beef fillet tataki with sour cherry, mustard and kohlrabi
I was just the slightest bit hesitant with this dish – is it steak tartare, isn’t it steak tartare? It’s not.¬†Tataki is a method of searing beef very quickly over a high heat, so that the outside is cooked but the inside remains rare. I knew it would taste great so dug in, and there were no issues!¬†¬†I’m not usually into cherries, but they worked perfectly, and the kohlrabi (part of the cabbage family) was DELICIOUS. These tiny little cubes were so fresh against the beef.

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Puck nuggets with plum ketchup
‘Puck’ is a combination of pork and duck, shredded and then shaped into little nuggets, and set off with a lovely sticky plum sauce.

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Mango lassi with saffron custard donut
Who can resist a little dessert? I wasn’t sure about the idea of saffron custard with this one, but it was great. As with every main dish, this dessert turned what could have been a big, stodgy, greasy donut situation into a refined bite. The saffron was there, but could be taken a bit further. I’m up for more!

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72% chocolate slice with fennel and black olive
This was complete deliciousness. The hero was the little chocolate tuile, which has that almost burnt flavour and sticky-but-crunchy texture. The fennel and black olive? Nowhere to be seen. I explained to the waiter that I didn’t really like either and this is what they rustled up with no fuss whatsoever. YES.

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All in all, for seven main plates, two desserts and a cider each, we spent ¬£75. Dishes vary from ¬£3 to ¬£15, or, for larger groups, there’s a set menu for ¬£35 a head. You will need to book in advance, though.

Find Skosh at 98 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX.