Restaurant review number 1 of a packed August schedule comes from…. Issho | Kori Bar | Japanese Restaurant. Set alongside its sibling restaurant East 59th on the upper floor of Victoria Gate in the centre of Leeds, ISSHO is one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the city… but is it worth the hype?
Money, Money, Money
If you are looking for affordable luxury, ISSHO probably isn’t the best choice for you. The below lunchtime meal for two with 1 mocktail and 2 diet cokes cost approximately £90. That does include a service charge, but more on that later…
It is recommended by the wait staff to select 3 to 5 dishes each, ‘tapas’ style. We opted for 6 dishes and a dessert between the two of us and that was more than enough.
Tempura Is King
Are you really testing a Japanese restaurant if you don’t order tempura?! Well to make sure I gave it a proper test, we got double… tempura vegetables and the soft shell crab.
The tempura batter was light and crisp, the vegetables incredibly fresh. This was quite possibly the best tempura veg I have ever had – £8 felt a little on the expensive side, but for the quality of this dish it was a fair price on balance.
The soft shell crab was one of the dishes I had been most looking forward to – one of my favourite ingredients! Unfortunately this one didn’t live up to expectations. The tempura batter was again light and crisp, the crab was fresh I am sure, but it just lacked in flavour. The spicy dashi sauce that accompanied the crab was good, however when used it took over the dish. I suspect it was an issue with seasoning, however at £10 for a relatively small portion, a lack of flavour was disappointing.
Everyone will have their go to, either nigiri or sashimi. I would normally get a mix, however in the end we opted for tuna and salmon nigiri. As you would expect, the tuna was slightly more expensive at £10 for 3 pieces, with the salmon costing £8 for 3 pieces.
Both the tuna and the salmon nigiri were beautifully fresh and prepared in our eyeline at the counter in the restaurant. The wasabi provided the perfect level of heat, and the pickled ginger perfect to cut through the flavour and cleanse before diving in for the next bite! For those who maybe haven’t had sushi at a restaurant before I appreciate this will seem expensive for a relatively small amount of food, however for fresh sushi grade fish of this quality, I would say this is a decent price.
As can be seen in the photos, the fish was generally cut well, but by no means perfect. Both the salmon and tuna were neither even in size, smoothly sliced, or neat on the edges. When paying this price, I would expect to see a higher quality finish.
From the ‘Robatayaki’ section of the menu we opted for the tiger prawns with chilli, and whilst not on the menu, chives. Lots and lots of chives!
The prawns were cooked well, although a little well done. They were a very generous size, and the flavour was in general good! It is hard to go wrong with a combination of tiger prawns, chilli and lime!
However the addition of chives was a little strange, I must admit! Coriander would have been a more obvious, and definitely a better choice in terms of flavour. It would seem the chives were selected for aesthetic purposes, however we ended up removing the vast majority to eat the prawns. If an ingredient has a neutral or negative impact on the overall flavour of a dish, it doesn’t have a place!
Four large tiger prawns for £9 feels just about right. Although without the chives, please!
I Like Big (bao) Buns & I Cannot Lie.
I am a huge fan of bao buns – one of the best trends to hit the UK food scene in years… when done right. When done wrong, they can be pretty awful! As you can probably tell from the photos below, these bao buns are certainly done right!
The Spicy Pork Bao Buns. If you visit ISSHO, you have to get these fluffy clouds filled with perfectly crispy and yet incredibly juicy and tender pork belly. The kimchi, crispy onions and cucumber, together with the sesame sauce combine to create a mouthful of pure unadulterated joy.
They come deconstructed, so you can choose how much sauce and sides you add to your bao – but if you’re anything like me that means exactly half of all of them on each one! I was surprised to see kimchi on the plate, but I am not sure why! It worked perfectly. Everything worked perfectly. They are perfect.
I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to eat them in one, but its almost impossible to resist the urge to smash your face straight in to these. If you find some self restraint, then savour every bite. Otherwise order 2 portions!
The cost? £12. The best £12 you will spend all day.
After quite a heavy meal in terms of flavours, we were both in need of something fresh and tart for dessert. We opted to share the Yuzu Tart – a Japanese citrus fruit, often likened to a lemon due to its colour but flavour wise is closer to a grapefruit / orange combination.
The raspberry gel provides a gentle contrast to the yuzu tart. Overall this was a nice way to end the meal. The sesame tuile was however rather non-descript. If you squint, you can just about see it perched on the raspberry gel – it sadly offered about as much in taste as it did visually. I would normally expect a tuile to be dark caramelised sugar, so maybe this one was just undercooked.
At £8 I would suggest this is not great value for money. It was a good solid dessert, but it wasn’t perfect. For a lunch time, I would expect a dessert to be executed to a high standard for £8 – whereas this was just, well, ok I guess.
Now for the all important scoring. I will score each restaurant I visit on 3 different elements; the food quality, the setting, and the price.
Food quality – overall the food was a really good standard. There were some dishes that weren’t quite as good as promised, but there were some that were near perfect. I must admit, the tempura veg and bao buns are significantly boosting this score!
The nigiri and tiger prawns pulled their weight, and were solid additions to the meal, however the soft shell crab and yuzu tart were below expectation. Without these two dishes, the score would have been up in the bao clouds, however with them it ends a little nearer the ground.
All in all it’s a strong performance. 8/10
Setting – the setting is in general of a very high quality. Occupying the top floor of the relatively new and high end Victoria Gate shopping & casino complex, ISSHO has been designed to ooze quality and luxury. On the whole it does its job well especially in the bar area, however some of the attention to detail was lacking in the restaurant. The decoration in this area is trying to be luxurious, but it has a feeling of the emperor’s new clothes.
The restaurant in general felt a little thrown together, with themes that weren’t quite seen through. The metal counter set along the wall running the length of the main seating area is open, which gives it the feel of a buffet bar in a hotel. Maybe this changes at night time, however for lunch the counter is only being used by one person at the far end slicing tuna and salmon. The windows directly behind us were generally quite dirty and absolutely covered in bird poo. The service was largely good, however felt rather standard which did not meet expectations in a place aiming at the upper end of the market.
It could be brilliant, but on this showing it is well wide of the mark at the moment. 5/10
Price – I am going to split this in to two sections – the food first. In general I think the prices are on the limit of acceptability for what you get. I would say 4 dishes were good value, 3 were poor value. To charge top prices, the quality has to be spot on, and it just felt a little clinical. The food lacked some care and attention at times. Even the dishes that I would consider good value were generally quite poorly presented. The nigiri had not been sliced evenly and wasn’t smooth as you would expect. The only dish I would say was presented to a high standard was the dessert, however the execution let this one down a little.
The second element that needs discussion is the service charge. In very small print at the bottom of the menu (and barely visible when using the QR code to view on your mobile, as instructed) it states “12.5% discretionary service charge will be added to your bill”. I must admit to not seeing this at the time, and as I wasn’t made aware of this by the wait staff it came as a surprise when we reviewed the itemised receipt one we got home. I personally think adding a service charge for a table of 2 on a lunch time to be very cheeky, especially when the service on offer was relatively standard. For clarity, in the UK a service charge is not added or expected as standard as it is in the USA. The wait staff are paid significantly higher hourly rates and do not rely on tips as is standard in the States.
When it came to requesting the bill, the receipt was brought to us with the card machine in hand, at which point the waiter proceeded to take my card and type in the amount prior to us having chance to review. Almost as if it is a deliberate tactic to rush the sale to limit the chance of the service charge being queried.
Unfortunately this tainted the experience quite significantly. 4/10
On this showing, I am not sure if I will be back. I just don’t think it offers good value for money, and I am left feeling like I have been ripped off a little with the sneaky service charge. The hype and the prices suggest an experience of the highest quality, however the reality is far more ordinary than that.
It’s time for the first tier list! I will be ranking up to 30 locations across 7 different tiers, from my ultimate travel destinations down to those not currently in my future plans. So sit back & buckle up, I suspect some of my decisions may cause some turbulence…
Back in early 2020 the guys at Big 7 Travel compiled a list of the “The 50 Most Instagrammable Places In The World”. In normal circumstances that would mean that the list would be severely out of date by now, however given the last 18 months has been a write off for adventurers, it is still as relevant now as it was then!
So, how did they score their list? I hear you ask. Well, in their own words;
…a comprehensive scoring system that analysed the amount of hashtags per destination, survey results from our audience, and votes cast by our global editorial team.
To make this tier list a little more challenging I will be ranking just the top 30 destinations as they appear in the Big 7 Travel list – minus those in the UK, namely London & Edinburgh. There are a maximum of 5 and minimum of 3 locations per tier meaning some difficult decisions will be required…
In total there are 7 tiers. They are;
Life? Completed it mate – The best in class, the crème de la crème. There is nothing higher than this. These are the locations that once visited, will be remembered until your final days. Truly life enhancing experiences. A very high bar to meet… Gold medallists. (League winners).
Worldie – or World Class – A hairs breadth away from the top. These locations are in the top league, and in some categories on a par with the destinations in the category above, but as a whole they just fall short. Silver medallists. (League runners up).
Elite – These locations are undoubtedly top tier. World renowned for a reason. They are destinations that will 100% be visited in my lifetime, but not quite dream level. Perform very well across all categories, but not best in the world in any of them. Bronze medallists. (League challengers, falling just short).
Must See – Locations that if possible must be seen in my lifetime. Great locations with a worthy place on the travel bucket list. No medal for these guys. (Always finish in the top half of the league).
Should See – Locations that if possible should be seen in my lifetime. Great locations that occupy the reserve spots on the travel bucket list. If at all possible, these are locations that should be explored, but may be sacrificed for those above. (Mid table specialists in the league).
Mayhap – May happen / may travel to if the opportunity arises. These locations aren’t write offs, but neither do they provide much excitement. If the opportunity arises to visit they will be considered, however they struggle to compete with the guys in the tiers above. (Top league, but bottom half of the table).
Relegated – Considered by some to be in the top league, but struggle to live up to the hype for one reason or another. No immediate plans to travel here, although these locations should not be written off for a return to greatness in the future. (Relegated to the second league).
So without further ado, lets get tiering;
30. Cartagena, Colombia
We are starting off with a strong contender! Cartagena sits inside over 13km of colonial stone walls. The cobbled streets home to an array of beautifully preserved & colourful buildings. This city has real historical significance alongside its striking beauty.
Founded in 1533 by the Spanish colonial forces, Cartagena was the port from which the fleets took produce and gold back to Spain. Pirate attacks were commonplace due to the presence of gold and silver. The walled city and fortress ensured the Spanish colonial forces could defend their riches from attack.
In the modern day, the colonial walled city and fortress are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and here you will find the majority of the key sights along with the vast majority of the bars and restaurants.
It will be impossible to visit all of the sights in Cartagena, so a more relaxed approach is advised. Cartagena is well set up for the tourist industry, boasting plenty of brilliant restaurants and bars. If your Spanish isn’t up to scratch, then fear not as unlike other areas of Colombia, the restaurants and bars of Cartagena are used to conversing in English for the tourist industry.
It is more than a strong contender. The jewel in Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, there is only one tier for Cartagena…
Tier:Life? Completed it mate
29. Boston, Massachusetts, USA
I am unsure whether my desire to visit Boston, Massachusetts is purely down to TV series, The Dropkick Murphys or the lobster rolls and Boston Beans. Whatever it is, Boston has been on my travel list for a number of years… however it has slowly dropped down the pecking order as time goes on.
Known as one of the most forward thinking cities in the United States of America, the official website of Boston states;
…whether it’s for a weekend getaway or for the foreseeable future, we love you like our own. We see you. We celebrate you. And we want to show you everything. We are all inclusive.
Another city of historical significance, the cobbled streets of Boston are jam packed with lively bars and fantastic restaurants.
I can’t talk about Boston without giving a quick mention to the sports franchises – whilst none of them are my team, you have to appreciate their prowess. From the New England Patriots in the NFL to the Boston Bruins in the NHL, the Celtics in the NBA and the Boston Red Sox in the MLB, Boston know how to play sport… and win!
It may not be up at the top of my list anymore, but Boston is certainly a city I will visit if I get the opportunity!
28. Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I must admit I am surprised that Edinburgh scored lower than London. Given the choice, I would dodge London and head north to the capital of Scotland! Another city of historical significance, Edinburgh has something for everyone… if you are prepared to pay for it!
Based on a quick search, the cost of a short trip to Edinburgh is approximately £600 for 2 nights, based on return train travel to Edinburgh from Leeds, a 2 night stay in a hotel, and £150 for food and other spending money.
For the exact same dates and the same price I can book return flights and 4* hotel for 3 nights in Lisbon, Portugal with £250 spending money.
I know where my vote goes…
As a resident of the UK I am not tiering Edinburgh.
27. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
From the world famous Copacabana beach, to Christ the Redeemer, sugarloaf mountain to the Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro is one of the worlds ultimate travel destinations. Translating in to English as “The River of January”, the only thing missing in Rio is somewhat ironically, a river.
Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro occurs every year before lent and is a must if you are able to travel here whilst the carnival is in full flow!
This tiering is quite straightforward;
26. Ibiza, Spain
Here comes the controversy…
When I think of Ibiza I think of hard dance music, 18 year olds taking pills & drinking far too much, Wayne Lineker, and that song by Mike Posner about… taking pills in Ibiza. As first impressions go, it’s a stinker.
I can hear you shouting at your screen – BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ISLAND? I am just not sure I would want to be on the same island as that car crash of a combination.
Ibiza is undoubtedly beautiful, with golden beaches and clear waters, it’s place on this list of most Instagrammable locations is justified. But for me, as a travel destination, it has finished second bottom of the table with single figures.
Look on the bright side – that would be a bloody good result for the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest.
25. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
I must admit to not having heard of Lake Tekapo before conducting my research for this piece. Being honest some of the photos have been a little underwhelming on first viewing, but when you dig a little deeper… wow!
This beautiful lake has a backdrop of snow capped mountains and is completely unspoilt. Approximately 3 hours drive from Christchurch, the lake gets its famous “milky-turquoise” colour from the rock sediment, ground down by glaciers, suspended in the water. Lake Tekapo is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing after a day of exploring!
Would I add Lake Tekapo to my travel list as a stand alone location? No. Would I make sure to visit this location as part of a wider trip to New Zealand? Absolutely. It’s more than a must see, this location is on the cusp of Worldie…
24. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Sin City? The City of Lights? Whatever you choose to call it, Las Vegas is known worldwide for casinos, stage shows and shopping. What’s not to love, right?
I understand why people love Vegas. I understand why some people go year after year, and why some go once and go wild. I just don’t want to do either! Built in the desert, Las Vegas is purpose built for entertainment. There is no real history to speak of, just some tacky replicas of tourist landmarks from around the world.
The shows sound great if you are in to the kind of acts that play in Las Vegas, there are restaurants from a number of world famous chefs if you like your food, there are world class cars on every street if you are in to motors. It just doesn’t tick enough boxes for me.
Should the opportunity arise in the future to travel to Las Vegas, would I consider it? Possibly. Would I go under my own steam? No.
Whilst controversial, given the strength of competition on this list there is only one option;
23. Istanbul, Turkey
The city where East meets West. The Western end of the Silk Road, Istanbul (or Constantinople as it was then) was once the capital of the Roman Empire. Today there are still signs of East meeting West – none clearer than at the Hagia Sophia, opposite the beautiful Sultan Ahmed Mosque (commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque). The building still bears the emblems and depictions of both its Christian and Islamic faiths side by side.
The Grand Bazaar in the heart of Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. It is unsurprising to discover that it is one of the most visited tourist attraction in the world with some estimates of over 100m visitors per year!
I must admit my tiering and ranking here is influenced by the fact I have already been to Istanbul. Therefore naturally other locations will be more attractive and exciting to me in this moment. Istanbul is a location everyone should experience, but once is probably enough.
22. Petra, Jordan
Petra is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, dating back to 300BC. I have dreamt of visiting Petra for years. Whilst my dream travel list has changed a lot in and around it, Petra has stood proud at the very top.
Carved in to the pink sandstone cliffs are temples and tombs, still preserved to this day. Petra is quite rightly one of the 7 modern wonders of the world. The last 18 months have been a catastrophic for Jordan’s economy, of which tourism is a key pillar (around 15% GDP), as it suffered its worst contraction in decades. The return of tourists to Petra can’t come soon enough for the local businesses.
The Jordanian government have authorised excavations at the site during the pandemic, taking advantage of the quiet period – only 15% of the city has so far been excavated, so further discoveries are highly likely…
This tiering will come as no surprise;
Tier:Life? Completed it mate
21. The Ring Road, Iceland
A ring road seems a strange destination for a list like this, doesn’t it? Especially if you are, like me, picturing a ring road around the likes of Coventry. Well let me explain briefly… Iceland has one main ring road, Route 1, alongside which fall most of the popular tourist attractions that any adventurer would want to see – attractions such as Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
I am yet to find an area of Iceland that isn’t beautiful! I would most likely use Reykjavik as a base for much of my time here, from which you can visit volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields and massive glaciers. What more could you want?
I managed to get this far without mentioning the world famous Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights!
Another absolute world class destination;
20. Los Angeles, California, USA
The home of the Film & TV industry, LA is known as both a celebrity city, and a city for hopeful creatives trying desperately to get their big break. The top things to do in LA are;
Visit the Santa Monica Beach, visit Venice Beach, go to Malibu, head to the Griffith Observatory, or the standard trips to various film / TV studios and the famous Hollywood sign.
None of the above has ever been high on my list of things to do. I am not a huge film & TV buff, and so the experience here would be somewhat lost on me. Rather like Vegas, the feeling I get about LA is materialistic and somewhat vapid. I am sure there is more to LA than that – and hopefully one day someone can show me the error in my ways! Until then, its a low maybe…
19. Paris, France
Ok so this one is going to anger a few… but Paris. Where do I start?
When you close your eyes and picture Paris do you think of the Eiffel Tower, the Champes-Élysées leading to the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, freshly baked goods & Fine dining?
Unfortunately I don’t. Well, I do, but before I picture all that good stuff, I get an overpriced and over saturated city packed with tourist traps. The Arc de Triomphe is the sole attraction that tempts me in, maybe the Palace of Versailles, but it all just feels a little overhyped and underwhelming.
I am sure for many, Paris offers everything they want. I can imagine it is a dream destination for many – however for me and my tastes, it isn’t. There are other areas of France I would love to visit, just not Paris.
Will I ever travel here? Yes, of course I will. It will make sense to stop over there as part of other travel – especially with the volume of flights out of Charles de Gaulle airport and its relative proximity to the UK. Maybe I will change my mind once I have been, who knows!
18. Moscow, Russia
Along with St Petersburg, Moscow has long held a spot high on my travel list. The Kremlin and Red Square are at the centre of Moscow both geographically and historically. Lenin’s Tomb serves a reminder of the recent history of Russia and the former USSR. St Basil’s Cathedral looms high over Red Square with its fantastic colourful domes.
If you are interested in the history of Russia, then Moscow is a perfect city to visit. Reminders can be found all over the city with monuments and museums. Moscow’s underground train network is home to opulent stations decorated beautifully, and are a must see!
There are around 600 churches in Moscow, from the small to the grand cathedrals. The Russian Orthodox Church is incredibly important to the Russian identity – and the churches in Moscow are a gateway in to life in Russia.
A nation shrouded in mystery and intrigue, Russia has always been high on my list of travel destinations – the tiering for Moscow is a reflection of that;
17. Amsterdam, Netherlands
I can’t believe I am writing this; I have never been to Amsterdam. I have travelled to 23 countries in Europe, and the Netherlands isn’t one.
Amsterdam is almost seen as a rite of passage by many – the liberal nature to both drugs and sex is attractive to youngsters venturing abroad for the first time. The stereotypes of smoking a spliff with a coffee at a cafe, or walking down a street lined with naked women dancing in windows are actually the very thing that has put me off.
I travel to experience culture and history – and I feel like Amsterdam has been hijacked by tourists wanting a very different kind of experience to me!
The city does look beautiful in parts, and I hope that in the future I have the opportunity to visit and prove my preconceptions wrong. For now, it remains a maybe…
16. Toronto, Canada
I’m a believer that the term cosmopolitan is often overused for the presence of many nationalities in one city, rather than when there is clear influence of said nationalities. Well, Toronto passes my definition with flying colours. Famed for its amazing array of restaurants spanning every continent, this city embodies multi-culturalism. Much like myself, their passion for food runs deep – Toronto is starting to carve itself a special place in my heart!
Toronto is itself a cultural phenomenon, with residents from around the world and scores of languages, foods, customs and celebrations – they’re what make the city great.
Whether you want world class restaurants, museums, art galleries, theatre shows, night life or green spaces – Toronto has it all in spades. It has the big city buzz, whilst maintaining a strong sense of culture and identity – and its luring me in!
Bonus: it is only 2 hours from Niagra falls, and it is often said that the Canadian side of the falls is the best one…
Tier: Must See
15. Cape Town, South Africa
Another cosmopolitan city, although not quite to the same degree as Toronto, Cape Town is a blend of nationalities and cultures, with Table Mountain looming in the background, and the beaches in the foreground, Cape Town has the best of both worlds.
South Africa has suffered over the years from colonial rule at the hands of multiple European nations, and Apartheid from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. The political landscape remains complex to say the least – however the cultural identity emerging in Cape Town in recent years is exciting and makes it all the more attractive as a destination to explore!
The city is undergoing exciting changes, turning old abandoned buildings in to cool destinations for locals and tourists alike – such as The Silo Hotel, built in the grain elevator portion of the historic grain silo complex. The Silo is the ultimate luxury comprising of a restaurant, bar & spa alongside a hotel – focussing on the art and culture of this amazing city.
14. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is famed for its historic monuments, large skyscrapers, street markets & nightlife. The Malay, Chinese and Indian communities all combine in Kuala Lumpur with mosques and temples across the city.
Key sights include the Petronas towers, Jalan Alor market, the Putra Mosque & the Batu Caves. Some of the cities best food is from the street food stalls, so be sure to explore on foot and try them out! Traffic is common, so it is advised to explore on foot – however at certain times of year the heat is rather oppressive, so make sure to stop regularly at bars and restaurants.
Other cities in the region have become more expensive as their popularity has risen (e.g. Singapore), however Kuala Lumpur is still amazing value for money, and offers history, culture and world class food all in one brilliant package. What more could you ask for?
13. Dubrovnik, Croatia
The home of Game Of Thrones… although after the last series I guess that is no longer a badge of honour.
Dubrovnik is a magnificent pedestrianised (one for the Partridge fans) walled city on the Adriatic coast. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite the shelling in 1991, Dubrovnik still entices visitors from all over the world. Explore the complex history of the former capital of the Republic of Ragusa in the museums, take the cable car to the top of mount Srđ, order a feast of fresh seafood, and enjoy the luxurious 5* surroundings.
Dubrovnik is not cheap, but it is worthy of its spot as an elite destination!
12. Rome, Italy
Rome is another city with many tourist attractions. In general, the more “touristy” spots a city has, the less it appeals to me. However Rome is a destination that should be seen if at all possible. The historical significance is undeniable and the food and drink on offer is sublime.
However points are lost and tiers dropped for the amount of mediocrity now present. That sounds a harsh statement, however Rome is very hit and miss. In the more “touristy” locations, food and drink is extortionate and the quality is at times questionable. There are genuine gems to be discovered in Rome, but you have to keep your wits about you.
Whether its the ruins, the art, the food or the romance, Rome has it all… you just have to squint a little sometimes.
Tier: Should See
There isn’t much to say about the Maldives. Home to some of the best beaches in the world across the 1000+ islands. Whichever island you find yourself on, a world class beach is guaranteed. Each resort has its own private island, offering varying degrees of luxury – up to a ridiculous 6* level.
There are cheaper resorts, however don’t expect a cheap trip… this is a bucket list, once in a lifetime kind of destination. Unless you are a millionaire, in which case I hope you are reading this from your resort in the Maldives. Cheers to you, I am not jealous at all… promise.
The clear waters are home to magnificent coral, tropical fish and underwater caves. For those who like diving and snorkelling, the warm waters of the Maldives are perfect!
10. Jaipur, India
Before reviewing the list from Big 7 Travel, Jaipur was not even on my radar. Nicknamed the Pink City thanks to its coral pink stucco buildings, Jaipur boasts many attractions from its colonial past, including the City Palace, the Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, and the Jaigarh fort.
Jaipur’s star attraction however is the Amer Fort in the hills just outside the city – be sure to set some time aside to visit this red sandstone and marble palace!
The streets of the city are busy with a mix of rickshaws, motorbikes and camels – take a detour through the bazaars to experience real Jaipur and collect your eclectic souvenir and some golgappa and kachoris.
9. London, England, UK
As per Edinburgh above, I wont be formally reviewing London.
I would chose the Scottish capital over a trip to London, and given my comments about the cost of Edinburgh, that says a lot about London.
I have spent a lot of time in London, both work and leisure, and I will continue to do so over the years ahead I have no doubt. So believe me when I say, unless it’s your first time and you have a dying urge to see Buckingham Palace, or the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben etc, I wouldn’t bother! If it wasn’t for work and family, I would seldom visit.
Full of tourist attractions? Yes.
Is it extortionately expensive? Yes.
Are the attractions worth the expense? No.
8. Bali, Indonesia
Does every successful travel content creator live in Bali these days? Or at least spend a lot of time there?
Bali is an Instagram haven – describing it as picturesque doesn’t do it justice! White beaches, waterfalls in the jungle, infinity pools with every villa, fantastic fresh fruit and veg with every meal. If you haven’t seen photos from Bali in recent times, I presume you are not on social media anymore.
Spirituality dominates this island paradise, and temples adorn the volcanic hills, such as Pura Luhur Batukau. Tourists should be incredibly respectful of the spirituality of the local population – if you are unsure, ask. Don’t just presume you can enter temples and take photographs.
I feel like I have already visited with the amount of videos and photographs plastered on social media, which has kind of ruined the surprise and dampened the intrigue…
Bali has to be in the top half of the tiers, but only just;
7. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon claims the sun shines 290 days a year and the temperature rarely drops below 15 celcius! Which is quite some claim, however one I can back up having managed to get sunburn in October!
The food in Lisbon is fantastic – the bacalhau, or salted cod, is the most popular base ingredient and will be cooked in a different way in each different restaurant you visit! Whether you want all out luxury, or affordable quality, Lisbon has you covered. Weekend breaks are incredibly good value at around £250 for 2 people, return flights and hotel for the weekend.
I would recommend adding a day to your travel plans & hiring a car to visit Sintra – approximately 30 mins away. Sintra is a treasure trove, including the Castle of the Moors, the Palace of Monserrate, rounded off with an evening meal watching the sunset across the Sintra valley. You can take the regular direct train to Sintra if you prefer – however you are more limited as to where you can stop along the way.
Whilst Porto didn’t make the Big 7 Travel list, Lisbon is flying the flag for Portugal – and what a flag bearer it is! There is only one adjective needed, elite.
6. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is a huge metropolis, stretching far and wide. A combination of different neighbourhoods with different identities makes Tokyo a brilliant melting pot of experiences for travellers exploring. Some areas are futuristic, with skyscrapers covered in neon lights and big screens, whilst next door you will find traditional wooden temples. Each time you turn a corner in Tokyo, a new surprise awaits – from restaurants to cocktail bars and the famous karaoke bars, to markets and museums such as the Samurai Museum.
Tokyo has a feel of Narnia about it – once you step through the wardrobe you don’t want to go back to the dull world on the other side. Whilst known for embracing the future, Tokyo and Japan as a whole has a fascinating history, making this an incredibly unique and exciting destination!
The unique offer from Tokyo sky rockets it towards the top of my tier list;
Tier:Life? Completed it mate
Singapore is a small independent island state off the coast of Malaysia. Incredibly efficient, immaculately clean and fast becoming a key hub to other destinations in Asia, Singapore may soon be a necessity in your travel plans.
The state of the art Jewel Changi Airport includes a 6 acre indoor forest complete with waterfall. Yes, you did just read that. An airport with a 6 acre indoor forest. Fancy a dip? It has a swimming pool and jacuzzi with poolside bar. Got a few hours to kill? Head to the cinema. All freely accessible (except the swimming pool & jacuzzi which costs around £10 unless you are staying at the onsite hotel) these features are somewhat mindboggling, but certainly guarantees an entertaining stop over!
Outside of the airport, a beautiful if not hectic city awaits. For those who watched series 1 of Race Across The World on BBC, the final destination point was the Marina Bay Sands observation deck – a skypark atop huge skyscrapers. Just around the corner, the Gardens By The Bay are also worth a visit.
If like me you love food – Singapore has you covered, from cheap street food to Michelin star level fine dining, the choice is yours!
This island nation is a must visit for anyone who has interests in exploring Asia. It is not a cheap destination, but you certainly get what you pay for!
4. New York City, New York, USA
New York, New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps.
Well, I am sleeping on New York. I get the hype, I understand the attraction. But for me to travel from the UK to the US specifically for New York? Pretty unlikely. It is a shoppers heaven, and home to classic tourist attractions like central park, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
I would like to see all of the above, minus the shopping, but I just don’t have a burning desire to visit. It is an iconic location, incredibly busy with locals and tourists alike. The name New York carries a lot of status. I just don’t feel like it will deliver that much fulfilment for me personally.
I feel to really enjoy New York as a city, I would need a local guide to show me the real culture and steer me clear of the tourist traps. It is a long way to go for a few tall buildings and a large statue (yes, I am being facetious). So without the insider to guide me, New York remains in the may happen pile for now…
3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is the playground of the rich. Home to some of the worlds tallest buildings and some of the most luxurious hotels, Dubai has been growing in popularity over the last few years.
This is another destination that is likely struggling for ranking as I have been here previously. More than most places, unless money is no object, Dubai is the kind of place you visit once in your life. I had a great few days here, visiting the Burj Al Arab, having drinks at the top of the Burj Khalifa, brunch at Atlantis The Palm and a trip to Meydan Racecourse.
The choice of restaurants bearing the name of famous chefs is endless – and are largely high quality (and high price). However after a few days with the price racking up, unless you are in all inclusive accommodation, Dubai could become a bit of a burden.
Will I go back to Dubai? Maybe. But unless something changes, it isn’t high on my list of priorities.
2. Hong Kong
Given the current political situation in Hong Kong I do not advise that anyone travels there for the moment. The situation is unstable and volatile, with regular clashes between police and protestors.
Politics aside, Hong Kong is not of huge appeal to me. The concrete jungle is one of the most densely populated countries on earth. Travelling here for business makes sense, however leisure holidays are incredibly unlikely.
I am very surprised that Hong Kong appears on the Big 7 Travel list. If I am missing something, let me know in the comments below!
Due to the political situation and tensions with the UK, it is bottom of my list for the time being. This is not based on the place itself and I mean no offence to any residents.
And the number one is… Sydney?! Has someone handed Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope again?
There are glorious beaches nearby, and it is home to the famous Opera House, Darling Harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge. But number 1 most Instagrammable place in the world is somewhat of a surprise.
I have been to Sydney previously, and it is a lovely city with incredibly hospitable people (just as they were across Australia). However given the distance and cost from the UK to Australia, a return trip is somewhat unlikely.
If anyone knows why Sydney is considered the most Instagrammable location, please enlighten me. I don’t recall seeing any photos of the city on Instagram in the last couple of years!
I am afraid for me, the most Instagrammable city is destined for relegation.
Completed Tier List:
Ranking the 30 Most Instagrammable Places In The World in to tiers is a difficult task. There had to be winners and losers, and from an esteemed list like this one, coming bottom of the pile is no real insult.
Let me know what changes you would make to this list in the comments below!
As a lover of cheese and chocolate, the initial symptoms of lactose intolerance were swiftly ignored and passed off as coincidence, but as time went on the symptoms became more frequent and the consequences more uncomfortable; my lactose intolerance was undeniable.
The Moment The Toffee Penny Dropped.
As a teenager I had started to notice a few stomach cramps after eating certain foods. It wasn’t constant, with months in between instances at times, but as time went by they became a little more frequent and so I decided to bite the bullet and eliminate different ingredients to work out what it was that was causing the discomfort. I tried everything else I could think of – chilli, garlic, red meat, chicken and wheat to name a few – and had no success in identifying the problem.
I begrudgingly decided that the only thing left to try was eliminating dairy products from my diet for a couple of weeks. Almost instantly on day 1 the discomfort stopped and didn’t return once over the 2 weeks. To test my theory, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Never had I been so unhappy to prove a theory correct, and locate the cause of a problem!
Now at this point in life my symptoms of lactose intolerance were mild in comparison to where they are now;
Tiredness – feeling more tired than usual after eating high lactose foods
Mild stomach ache – I wouldn’t describe them as cramps at this point, but definitely discomfort.
Bloating – visible bloating of my stomach after eating high lactose foods
Excess Gas – linked to the bloating… that gas builds up and then needs to be released!
Due to them being relatively mild, I came to accept these symptoms of lactose intolerance and proceeded to eat cheese and chocolate and everything in between!
Until the curious incident of the mini egg in the night time…
Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made Of Cheese.
Well, not for me anyway!
I had to have surgery on my spine in late summer 2019, and as part of my post op care I was prescribed some super strength antibiotics. The kind that make you feel poorly every time you take them and completely ruin your appetite!
Having not considered lactose intolerance for a few years, I planned to return to eating as usual after my course of antibiotics. I went to the cinema one Thursday evening in early September, and as is my ritual I decided to buy a large pot of overpriced pick n mix sweets – mixed penny candy for those Stateside! I chose all my favourites, including copious amounts of mini eggs.
Now for those who don’t know what mini eggs are – they are a hard candy shell encasing a milk chocolate egg. Yes, milk chocolate. For those struggling to picture them, here they are in all their glory…
So in to the movie theatre we go, and as soon as I hit the seat I am throwing sweets in to my mouth and drinking my extortionately priced Pepsi Max without a care in the world. This is my first time in the cinema in over a year so I am excited and making the most of it.
Am I feeling a little sick from the sugar? Sure.
Am I going to slow down? Hell no!
For anyone wondering the film was Good Boys. From what I remember of it, funny in parts and a little slow in others – however I must admit my concentration wasn’t at it’s best. About 10 minutes in I started to feel my stomach cramping. Insisting to myself that it wasn’t the sweets, I carried on eating them until mid crunch it dawned on me… mini eggs. Chocolate. Lactose.
As a young and normally well mannered Englishman, I feel uncomfortable getting up in the middle of a film to use the toilet and disturbing other people on my way past – they have paid good money to see the movie. However more importantly I think I should add at this point that I have a fear of using public toilets for anything other than a wee.
This fear is partly on hygienic grounds, but it is more the uncomfortability of other people being near by and having use of the same toilet. When I say public toilets, I mean pretty much any toilet except my own and a very small group of privileged toilets. Needless to say of which, the local cinema is not one.
Back to the action… there I am, sat in the cinema, stomach cramps getting progressively worse, the gargling noises becoming ever louder. I am starting to sweat at this point with fear of the impending situation. The official run time of the movie is 90 minutes, however I strongly dispute the time keeper on this one.
After what felt like an eternity, the credits finally started rolling. It was go time – although not too quickly for fear of slippage – I slalomed through the exiting crowds. Squat jogging to keep my glutes tight together, I jumped in the car and proceeded to drive back like my life, or at least the upholstery of my car, depended on it. I got to my driveway and had to exit the car, throw the keys to my partner to park up, whilst I headed straight for the toilet, hurdling obstacles like a prime Kriss Akabusi. I made it to the toilet with milliseconds to spare. As I lowered myself to the seat, the flood gates opened.
It was at this point I could no longer deny my truth – it wasn’t just symptoms of lactose intolerance, I am lactose intolerant. Full stop.
All joking aside, accepting that I could no longer eat food containing lactose was a pretty tough thing to come to terms with. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it really is hard! Especially when your favourite foods are now super strength laxatives (although much cheaper, I must admit).
The hardest part is the painstaking task of checking the ingredients list on everything you buy. There are so many products that contain lactose that you would think would be fine. Some of the sneakier diarrhoea inducing consumables are;
Salt & Vinegar Pringles – some flavours are lactose free… but not salt and vinegar. Why? Who knows. It is listed as a ‘flavouring’ and appeared when MSG was removed. Whether it is to help the flavour bind to the crisp, or to enhance the flavour, I have no idea. There are lactose free flavours, but check the label carefully!
White Bread – not all white bread contains milk – but when they do, it hits… hard. In my experience it is normally the cheaper white bread that contains milk.
Processed Meat – so the explanation on this one is that lactose and casein is often added to processed meat as an emulsifier to enhance the flavour. Again, it’s not all processed meat, but its a good excuse to avoid the cancerous sodium filled aisle at the supermarket.
Quorn – when you think of vegan food, especially if you are in the UK, you probably think of Quorn right? Well, wrong. Almost none of the Quorn brand is vegan, either due to the presence of eggs or milk. So not only does it taste vile, it makes me shit myself too. Its a lose / lose situation.
Other vegetarian or meat free brands / products – Quorn aren’t the only ones. There are a number of great tasting meat free products! However a number of them also contain lactose. Unfortunately I found out through trial and error… Get checking those labels!
So these are the ones to avoid, but what about the ones to gravitate towards?
In Queso Emergencies:
Sometimes all you want is that lactose riddled product, be it a cup of tea, a chocolate bar, a cheese board or a free choice of crisp flavours, you just want that milky hit without the guaranteed symptoms of lactose intolerance. Well I have you covered!
Here are my top lactose-free products to replace your favourites;
It took me a while to find milk that was anywhere near good enough as an alternative to the real thing for coffee. But fear not, I martyred myself so you don’t have to. Make sure you buy the Oatly Barista for coffee and cereal – it is creamy and is genuinely better than the real stuff. Make sure you give it a shake to get the barista style froth on top of your coffee. Give it a go – you won’t go back to cows milk afterwards!
For any chocolate milk lovers – Oatly Oat Drink Chocolate. Again, make sure you shake it well before use. Fancy a hot chocolate? Stick it in the microwave for 45 seconds. You are welcome!
Word of warning – do not use Oatly Barista in your cup of tea, it is not good at all! I am reliably informed cashew milk is the way to go for any tea lovers.
Butter – Flora ProActiv Buttery
I have always loved copious amounts of butter spread on to my toast for breakfast. I have also always hated margarine (does anyone like it?).
I have had a few false starts with butter alternatives. Flora buttery was my first go to, until they changed the recipe and added buttermilk! But I have found one even better than that – even closer to the real thing. Flora ProActiv Buttery is a brilliant alternative and helps to lower cholesterol too… healthy and lactose free? WINNER!
Biscuits – Bourbon Creams
A lot of biscuits are milk free, however some of the classics are off limits if you are needing to avoid lactose. However there are a few surprises in there. The new Chocolate Chip Hobnobs are lactose free, as are the regular Hobnobs.
My number 1 winner in this category has to be the Bourbon Cream. A staple of the biscuit barrel in any UK household – the chocolate sandwich biscuit is lactose free!! Don’t ask too many questions about the cream filling, just be happy that it doesn’t contain lactose and move on…
This is a controversial one, and I am sure people will disagree… but I find most lactose free “milk” chocolate to taste really bad. It is Hershey style sweet with very little flavour, and often doesnt melt in the mouth like proper milk chocolate does.
Nomo as an entire brand is an exception to this. I am yet to have a flavour I don’t love. My favourite flavour? Caramel Chocolate. This caramel filled bar is a dream! Notable mention to their Caramel & Sea Salt bar (this one is solid rather than caramel filled).
Takeaway Pizza – Papa John’s
Even in my lactose consuming days, I came to be a strong believer that big Papa J’s was the ultimate of the chain pizza joints. Well when it comes to lactose free options, they are in a league of their own! They have a range of vegan pizzas, or you can make your own meat topped pizza with vegan cheese so you aren’t forced to eat vegan just because you can’t have lactose.
Lactose free cheese in general is relatively crap. I have tried a number of options and I have not been very impressed at all. There are some brilliant vegan mozzarella options for pizza toppings, but other than that I would be cautious.
I asked at the top of this post which you would miss most, the pizza or the chocolate cakes? The answer is neither. They are both lactose free alternatives!
If you have any suggestions of lactose free alternatives, particularly cheeses, let me know in the comments below!
It’s the final Sunday of July, so its seems a pretty good time to look ahead to plans for August and what you can expect from Pursuit Of Purpose in the next month. It is quite a jam packed schedule already, but as always there will be additional posts and content along the way!
To make sure you catch all of my content, follow me on Instagram, Youtube & Twitter;
The footage has been captured, the recordings have been reviewed, and the editing is in full swing. It’s almost time to share my first video on the Pursuit of Purpose YouTube channel with you all!
I am teaching myself to use Premiere Pro as I go with this project, so it’s taking me far longer than it would for an experienced editor – but it’s coming along nicely! I’m aiming for a release date in the week of the 23rd of August.
Future videos will be reviewing trips & locations, documenting my journey and learnings as I go. But before we move forward, we need to head back to the beginning and where it all started.
So this video covers the start of Pursuit Of Purpose, why I am embarking on this journey & a trip back to a place very close to my heart, the Lake District.
I will share on here and my Instagram / Twitter when the video is uploaded – be sure to check it out!
Food, Food, Food
I have 3 restaurant trips booked in August already, so expect reviews and photos of delicious food!
I will be going on a culinary tour around the world with stops in Thailand, Italy and Japan confirmed, and potentially a couple of additional layovers on the way.
Zaap Thai, photograph above, is a fantastically decorated restaurant. Thai food is one of my favourites, and there is a lot of competition in Leeds, so I will be sharing comparisons between the restaurants over the coming weeks to let you know which one I think comes out on top!
It will be my first time at both Franco Manca & Issho – so I am really excited to try both and share my experience with you all!
If anyone has any other restaurant suggestions (ideally in Yorkshire for August) then comment below!
So as of last year, I am a homeowner for the first time! Wooooo! Although as anyone who has bought a new build house will know, every wall & ceiling is covered with a rather thin coat of bulk buy white emulsion. Now the house has dried, I can finally change that, so it’s time to get decorating…
First up is the living room / front room / sitting room / lounge, whatever you want to call it! To me, its the living room – and given its the room I spend most time in, its about time I decorate and furnish it properly! We have had the sofa & TV for a few months, however the rest of the decoration & furniture is yet to be decided.
Now, I wouldn’t describe myself as having the most experience with D.I.Y… so this could go one of two ways, either pretty well or disastorously wrong.
You will have front row seats to see the progress and the final outcome!
Mocktails and the Alcohol Free Life
Having decided to stop drinking alcohol, one of the questions often asked is, “do you drink alcohol free beer?” and the honest answer is no! I appreciate why it is so well liked by some, however from my perspective I don’t have an interest in drinking anymore, so I haven’t previously seen the attraction of trying the nolo (abbreviation for no or low alcohol) versions of classic alcoholic beverages.
The global alcohol free market is worth an estimated $1.4tn in 2021, an increase of 19% from 2020. So I think it’s about time I see what I am missing out on! I will be calling on my resident Alcohol Free specialist, The Sober Life Of Riley, to suggest & create a number of nolo alcohol options to test and review!
If you have any alcohol free alternative suggestions, comment below and let me know!
Time To Travel?
Due to the above activities and the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, I haven’t got much travel planned for August, but I have got a number of pre-pandemic trips abroad to review and share with you all, including a life changing stay in Beirut, Lebanon & an Interrailing adventure across Europe from Denmark to Croatia.
Other posts to expect in August include a ‘Tier List’ on European countries I am yet to visit and ‘Top 5’ tips for finding the perfect hotel for your holiday!
N.B. I am now double vaccinated (yay!), and my “covid passport” will soon be ready to let me travel abroad again. I have some trips already booked and confirmed, and some exciting plans in the piepline – I will provide a sneak peak of my travel plans in the next couple of months.
… And Breathe!
August is set to be a busy a month here at Pursuit Of Purpose, but certainly an exciting one! The content will be flowing here on the blog, on Instagram, Twitter & YouTube! Make sure you are following across the platforms so you don’t miss out. If you have any suggestions of content you would like to see, let me know in the comments below!
Quick reminder – the blog posting schedule is as follows;
Having just written a post about not over planning, I appreciate the irony in this post now setting out a schedule for my future blog posts… however I will be practicing what I preach. Whilst the below provides an indication of what you can expect, it is by no means exhaustive!
Exactly what it says on the tin… Travel Tuesdays will cover a range of travel topics, such as;
In Depth Reviews / Cultural Discussions
Hints and Tips on Travel
Top Travel Destinations
Bucket List Locations
Covering both UK destinations and those further afield, Travel Tuesdays has something for everyone. The reviews and discussion based posts at times focus on the importance of travel for mental health and me personally, whilst at others focus on important cultural topics of discussion with a positive lens wherever possible. Negative news stories surround us all on a daily basis – these posts add a dose of positivity to your daily reading!
Fridays are the best day of the week, right?! The weekend is here, and its time to kick back and enjoy some brilliant food! Foodie Fridays will cover a range of topics, such as;
Restaurant Reviews – UK and Abroad
Viral Trends from Insta / TikTok – Hit or Miss?
Home cooking, including recipes
Dietary Discussion (including common diets of countries / regions)
Drink (of the non-alcoholic variety)
Foodie Fridays are eclectic mix of amazing food & drink (with some minor disasters along the way), beautiful restaurants and locations, with a healthy discussion around diet exploring how we eat around the world and the impact that food & drink has on us both physically and mentally.
Sundays are the day of rest & reflection… and coffee. Sundays posts are on ever changing topics, depending on how I am feeling, what I have been doing and what is coming up! Topics include;
The Week That Was
Behind The Scenes
House Transformation / Progress
What’s Coming Up?
Sundays feature a mixture of written posts and vlogs of varying lengths – sometimes short and sweet, at others long and considered. Its the day of pot luck, to borrow an overused phrase from Forrest Gump,
…life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
Forrest Gump, 1994
The topics are ever changing, but there will always be coffee. Lots of coffee!
The last 18 months have been really difficult for millions of us all around the world. Life seemed good… until a global pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt. Life hasn’t been the same for anyone since February 2020.
Having fallen in to a dangerous cycle of working harder than ever, alongside consuming more of everything, I found myself in a downward spiral. I wasn’t sure where the spiral would end, but I seemed to be hurtling towards the final destination.
Whilst this spiral was exacerbated by the ongoing situation, it felt all too familiar. Somewhere I had been several times over recent years – a place always lurking in the shadows of my life. I had, like many others, avoided answering the difficult questions, content to drift through life, scared of what I would find if I strayed from the path well trodden.
It was time to shine a light on the shadows.
As the light crept in, the shadows melted away and left me with my greatest fear. My inability to answer one of life’s oldest questions. Instead of confronting it, I have continually pushed to the back of my mind. The catalyst for this had been the sudden passing of my Grandma in 2015. Intertwined with the deep sense of pain and loss was the reminder of my mortality. Despite working through my grief, there is one part I have been unable to reconcile. One itch I have failed to scratch. Answering one question…
What is my purpose?
Its so easy to ask, and yet so hard to answer. I have spent the last 5 years avoiding this question, for fear of not having an answer. Would that mean my life was pointless?
I threw myself in to my work, and reaped the benefits for my efforts. I spent the weekends with a packed social life, from meals out with friends to partying. But now I was forced to stop and spend time on my own with my own thoughts.
“Is this it? Is this my life?”
I have been incredibly successful in my career at a young age. It’s a line of work I have a talent for, but it certainly stops a long way short of being my purpose. My social life became non-existent, but even at its height – it was an enjoyable distraction. Was this combination my purpose in life; work long hours, and then party the weekends away, rinse and repeat?
With the answer resoundingly clear, it’s time to make some changes, and focus on my passions.
Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing written posts here, photos on my Instagram page and videos on my new YouTube channel later in the year. The focus will be on travel, food & nature. My content will focus on mental health, and the ups and downs throughout this journey of discovery.
We all believe on some level that our life need purpose. Whether that is following artistic talent, being a parent, playing your favourite sport, following your favourite team(s), or partying the long in to the night with your friends.
For it to be our purpose, it has to be our passion.