Wednesday 25 February 2015

Event: The Balcony First Birthday - Selfridges Birmingham

The Balcony in Selfridges Birmingham is a favourite spot for food and drink for many in the city. Serving stylish cocktails and sophisticated meals, it's a great place to meet after work or for a sneaky lunchtime treat.

Rachel Nicole, Hayley from Strangeness and Charm and Sophie from Sophie Etc

I was invited to celebrate The Balcony's first birthday and met up with a few blogging gals along the way.

We were greeted at the entrance with champagne and cocktails, and serenaded by a string quartet before the food arrived. Miniature versions of some fantastic dishes, we tried out Thai Fish Cakes with a Sweet Chilli Dip, Mini Beef Burgers, Crispy Pork Belly in Cherry Hoi Sin Dip and Mushroom Arancini with Parmesan Mayo Dip. 

Some of the cold canapes we were able to try includes Ham Hock Terrine with Piccalili and Soda Bread, Masala Spiced Mackeral in a Coconut Crumb, Beetroot and Goats Cheese Mousse and a deconstructed Club Sandwich. 

As well as the champagne, I also tried out a fantastic vodka and sugar syrup cocktail infused with rosemary that I may have to ask for the next time I go in.

Although it was just a sample of the dishes available, I was very impressed with the canapes and cocktails and will definitely be back to this Searcy's celebrity haunt soon.

We had such a fun night, The Balcony has such a lively atmosphere and the music really added to it. Happy Birthday to the Balcony, here's to many more!

Big thank you to Alex for inviting me :)

Tuesday 17 February 2015

NOTD: Ciate Paint Pot in Snatch

It's been so long since I did one of these but here goes!

Ciate Paint Pots Long Lasting Full Coverage Nail Enamel - Two coats - Ciate available here

Ciate is such a great little brand and perhaps best know for their amazing Advent Calendars.

I picked up this colour, Snatch 038 a little while ago and love the colour. A real bright postbox red, it's such a showstopping colour that gets noticed every time.

Ciate Paint Pots Long Lasting Full Coverage Nail Enamel - One coat - Ciate available here

The formula is smooth and not too thick or thin, with a slim brush that can get into edges easily. I personally like the shape of the bottle and find it easy to hold. This only needs one coat but I've shown pictures of both one and two coats just to show you how opaque it is with one coat. It is advertised as a full coverage nail enamel and there is no denying that this is true!

Durability wise, it could do with being topped up with a clear topcoat to prevent chipping as it does tend to come off around the base and tip, but I love the colour so much I can get over it.

Friday 13 February 2015

Event: Instameet Birmingham

On Saturday 24th January, a bunch of Instagram and photography enthusiasts descended upon Birmingham to capture images of the area around Paradise Circus.

Organised by Visit Birmingham and led by photographer Tim Cornbill, the Instameet was the first to be held in Birmingham. What is it, you may ask? Well, it was really an opportunity to walk the city, discover hidden places, meet new people with a shared passion for photography and document the environment around us.

Meeting at the Library of Birmingham, I finally had a chance to step inside the library. Meeting in an upstairs room, I took my favourite picture of the day inside a sun dappled room.

Emma Gray from Visit Birmingham gave the introductory talk and introduced us to Tim Cornbill from Associated Architects and to the theme, Reflections. There was also a competition to see your pictures exhibited at the IKON Gallery, More Birmingham Instagram Showcase and prizes for the top three pictures taken during the Instameet.

Having had our introductory talk, it was time to brave the cold and get exploring! We headed outside en masse and searched high and low for reflections in buildings, mirrors and puddles.

I have to admit, armed with my little Canon Ixus I didn't feel too confident surrounded by photographers who are much more experienced that I am, but I did take a few pictures nonetheless.

As we were so immersed in our work, we did manage to overrun on the allocated timeslot and by the end I was quite chilly. However, after heading back up to the Library for a group shot we were invited to Coast to Coast for a drink and nibbles.

In an effort to warm up before I braved the journey home I accepted the invite and joined the group at the Broad Street venue for some very pretty Pink Lemonades and got to meet the lovely Rabia from Marketing Birmingham and sit down for a chat with Glamour in the County.

The whole experience really opened my eyes to the idea of going to places just to take pictures. Like most people, I'm happy to capture a few snaps whilst I'm out, but this was the first time I had gone out for the purposes of capturing the world around me. I really enjoyed it though an would definitely be up for another Instameet!

Thank you to Visit Birmingham for organising the event. Keep your eyes peeled for the More Birmingham Instagram Showcase which will take place at the IKON Gallery from 27-29 November 2015.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Food Review: Marco's New York Italian - Stratford Upon Avon

Aren't I good to you ladies and gentlemen? With Valentine's Day just around the corner it seems only fitting that food takes centre stage. Hopefully, my posts will give you a few ideas for where to go in the run up to the big day.

When I received the invitation to dine at Marco's New York Italian, I literally scrapped my plans and made sure I could make it to the picturesque town of Stratford Upon Avon.

Stratford is of course, Shakespeare's birthplace, but today it is a beautiful destination for tourists from abroad and the UK. With plenty of theatres, restaurants, shops and bars to choose from, I love heading over for a little break from the city and taking a walk by the river.

Stratford is also home to Marco's New York Italian. Inspired by Marco's Italian heritage and love of American food, the restaurant serves up everything from steak and shrimp to pizza and hotdogs.

Housed in a Tudor building, the restaurant interior is simply stunning. Complete with wood floors, wood panelling, leather padded bars and quirky touches such as Marco's chefs whites and signature black and white armchair, the restaurant is full of suprises.

Onto the food. The menu is varied and split into antipasti (appetizers), primi (starters), insalate (salds that can ordered as both starters and mains), pasta, risotto, pizza, carne (meat) and pesce (fish) as well as contorni (sides) and desserts, with a good selection of wines too.

A rare treat for a Tuesday night, we started off with the mixed olives and a glass of prosecco (a reasonable £5.25) to set the tone. After what felt like hours deliberating over the menu, I eventually settled on the Garlic and Lemon Prawns on Toasted Rustic Bread and 10oz Rib Eye Steak with Rocket, Parmesan Cheese and Vintage Balsamic. Just because I couldn't decide, myself and the beautiful Georgie from Cotswold Create shared the Steak and Sea Bass, Simply Grilled with Lemon and New Potatoes.

The olives were incredibly moreish, and some of the best I've ever eaten in a restaurant. By the time the prawns arrived on gluten free bread (bonus points) I was very ready to eat as I'd managed to get soaked on the way to the restaurant.

Good sized and plentiful, the prawns were simply delicious; simply cooked but flavourful and finished off with the lemon, these were tasty and filling. The gluten free white bread was also fantastic, lovely thick slices with a good glutinous texture, and again, one of the best I've ever tried.

Next up was our sharing course of steak and sea bass. I started off with the steak and this was juicy and soft, and again, simply flavoured but good. The chef had very artfully managed to cater to our (joking) request and cooked half medium rare and half rare! The chips were beautiful and the tomato brilliantly flavoured with garlic. I also tried the sea bass and again, this was simply cooked but lovely and definitely a great healthy option.

Naughtily, I said yes to dessert and chose the usually gluten free friendly option of Panna Cotta. This came out in a huge whisky glass and was full of creamy white panna cotta, topped off with a delicious berry compote. Full of real vanilla, this was a very naughty treat!

During the evening we were able to chat to James Curran, the general manager and had a few insights into the food and venue. When asked about the ethos of Marco's New York Italian, he said: "Affordable luxury and good food cooked well". This was certainly clear to see from the food on offer. Much of the food is locally sourced with the meat coming from Barry the Butcher across the road. The style of food was simple but in order to allow the quality of the food to shine through.

The restaurant is a great place to come and eat or drink for any occasion. Whether it's a quick pre-theatre menu or lavish ladies lunch, there is plenty of choice and they were fantastic at catering to my gluten free diet.

This would be a lovely cosy restaurant for a Valentine's Day meal too, and any lady would be glad to be taken here for an evening meal after a walk around Stratford, if they're not fully booked already!

Overall, Marco's does offer affordable luxury and a good choice of food and drink in a beautiful, atmospheric Tudor building. Thank you to the team at Marco's for having me!

For bookings and more information on Marco's New York Italian Stratford, click here. To see the food menu click here the dessert menu click here and the drink and snack menu (including cocktails!) click here.

Marco's New York Italian - 17-19 Chapel Street, Stratford Upon Avon, CV37 6ER.

*I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant. All views are my own.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Food Review: Bun and Bowl Valentine's Day Tasting Menu

Bun and Bowl is known as a restaurant that serves burgers and prawns (aka shrimp). However, for Valentine's Day the chefs are pulling out all the stops and have created an imaginative menu that is far beyond what you might expect.

I was invited along to The Cube along with a group of brummie bloggers to try out this special menu ahead of the big day and share the experience with you.

Right next to Madelines, Bun and Bowl is a glass fronted brick backed restaurant on the roadside level of The Cube. We were greeted and seated on a romantic table for around a dozen ladies (and one gent) and were offered cocktails from the menu. Sadly I had to go for a non alcoholic option but my cranberry, raspberry and passionfruit mocktail was delish.

The Valentine's Day menu itself offers loved up diners a choice of entrees, two mains and two dessert. For the tasting menu we tried a selection of dishes that will be available on the day.

First up, a very Michelin-esque shotglass of mushroom capuccino with a soy foam served with a salmon and avocado crostini. The presentation of this dish was fantastic and showcased a light touch. The mushroom and soy foam shotglass was warm and the earthy mushroom was balanced by the plain soy topping, whilst the smoked salmon and avocado crostini or ballotine as it's called on the menu was finished off with dill and caviar. This also came on a gluten free piece of bread for me - winner!

Next up was the showstopper round. Red Champagne (champagne with a red fruit puree topped with a straberry) arrived next to a whole oyster in shell. As you can imagine, not everyone had eaten an oyster before and it is a decadent dish! Personally, I like them and the oyster tasted salty and of lemon and vinegar. This simple method of seasoning the oyster worked well and showed off the freshness.

Our main was the rib eye beef burger with a black truffle mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and fries. The burger had a few suprises in store, mainly that it is served with foie gras! This was a very luxurious and unexpected touch. The burger itself was served on a gluten free brioche bun which was the best I have ever tasted, alongside tomato, lettuce and an onion confit glazed with port wine. The truffle sauce tasted of mustard as the delicate flavour of truffle can easily be overpowered, but was delicious nonetheless.

Finally, it was time for our relatively healthy dessert of strawberries with a foam cacao and mint gratin. My favourite part of this dish was the marshmallow foam, yum!

All of this was accompanied by music from Rebecca, who serenaded us with specially selected pieces of music on her violin, chosen to accompany the meal.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the imagination demonstrated in creating and executing the menu. Although Bun and Bowl is a deluze Burger and Shrimp restaurant, the chefs are clearly capable of creating and cooking meals which have been influenced by some of the best in the world. The exotic touches of oyster and smoked salmon made this a very luxurious menu and a suitable romantic treat for Valentine's Day.

Happy Valentine's Day ladies and gents! How will you be celebrating V Day?

The Valentine's Menu costs £30 and includes a starter, main and dessert. The full menu is below:

A glass of red fruit champagne 
With a small cover charge on the table, you will receive 
an assortment of breads, accompanied by Noisette butter and olive tapenade.

A selection of hot and cold Amuse-Bouche  

Surprises of a passionate heart
A mushroom Cappuccino with hot soy milk and avocado ballotine, smoked salmon and clotted cream.  Birth of AphroditeOctopus tentacles confit with a sea vegetables on a citrus foam. 

A pearl for my love     

(An "Oyster wound and its edible pearl")Fresh Oysters on a ´bed of pearls´ with white bisque of lobster and champagne. 
Garden of Eden (V)
Mini aromatic vegetables served with leaf buds and herbs on a natural carrot and celery Jus foam.  
For a flavours diversion try our 

Granitte forest fruits(A red fruit Sorbet with a touch of champagne)  

Main courses 
Rack of lamb with the colour of love
Rack of Lamb, potato frites, carrot and orange puree and jus  

Bun & Burger Bowl A la Rossine
Our Classic Beef burger, recreated with truffle dressing and served with homemade fries. (Beef burger with onion confit glazed with a port wine and fois gras scallop, fresh potato fries and truffle dressing) 

Strawberry delights with crunchy chocolate
Lemon jus with thyme, strawberries with a touch of spice, foam cacao and mint gratin
Chocolate DE lice’ 
Cream chocolate praline served with a blackberry and caramel ice cream drizzled with a reduction of orange and honey sauce.

Thank you to Bun and Bowl for having me, tt was lovely to meet so many great bloggers including Lenny from LennyLovesLife, Dr Roz from The Foodie Couple Blog, Emily from Good Girl Gone Brum, Sophie from Sophie Etc and Emma from EmmaVictoriaStokes; a big hello to you all!

Monday 2 February 2015

Food Review: Raja Monkey

Whilst the humble curry is one of the nation's favourite foods, Indian street food has managed to remain under the radar.

Raja Monkey is described as an Authentic Indian Street Cafe, serving roadside cafe style dishes.

Just off the Stratford Road in Hall Green, the colourful exterior of the dinery is welcoming and fun. Walking into the galley style restaurant, the kitchen is visible to see behind a wall of glass and the seating is mainly offered up in cosy booths.

Raja Monkey image c/o Raja Monkey 

Dining with two companions for the evening, we took a table and faced with such a varied menu, decided to try out as much as possible!

With light bites, starters, mains, sides and desserts on offer, we managed to try something from every section of the menu. A unanimous decision was made on the papadoms and the presentation of crispy, light rounds with four silver lidded-jars filled with pickled lime, raita, onion and tomato relish and mango chutney was well received. The relish jars really were gorgeous and tied in with the metal water jugs and cups, all of which added to the authenticity of the experience and street side feeling.

Light Bites: Papadoms, raita, relish, mango chutney and pickled lime

Next up, the starters, mains and sides all arrived at once to create an absolute feast. The Chicken Mixed Starter was a main in itself, consisting Chicken Banjara, Thangri Tikka and Pakora on a silver dish. Served with creamy raita and a sweet tamarind sauce, the dish contained an assortment of chicken on the bone, grilled and fried chicken.

This companion then moved onto a rather traditional choice of Chicken Biryani and Garlic and Coriander Naan. As the safest eater in the group, she was happy with the spiciness of the dishes (flavoursome but not too overpowering) and the portions, all of which were generous. The biryani was filled with large hunks of chicken breast and was accompanied by raita.

Starter: Nawabi Kebab Thali

My other companion opted for the Nawabi Kebab Thali, a more adventurous choice but one I influenced as the thali is such an underrated choice. Salmon Mahi, Bhoti Kebab, Chicken Banjara and Thangri Tikka (chicken in a barbecue style of sauce) all made in into the thali, alongside the aubergine vegetable of the day in a tomato sauce, a creamy and mild lentil dish and a raita which we ate alongside the rice. The salmon was the spiciest part of the dish but again, the rest of the meal was flavoursome with some heat. As a gluten free diner, my guest also had the plain dosa with her dish in place of the naan bread.

Mains: An Indian feast!

Finally, I went for the Chicken Curry (imaginative I know but I couldn't resist ordering this to see what arrived) with steamed rice. I also shared the sag aloo and paneer aur matter makhani with my thali eating friend. The chicken curry was relatively mild and very juicy, in a wet sauce. Sag aloo is one of my favourites and tasted very fresh and mild. The spinach retained its shape and mingled with chunks of parboiled potato, all of which made me think that this was a relatively healthy dish that had been spared from liberal amounts of ghee - great for the waist! Paneer can be a tricky ingredient but here it was done well and cooked to soft perfection, seasoned very well and to a medium spice with whole peas.

Dessert: Pistachio Kulfi and Gajar Halwa

Normally, we wouldn't go for dessert but we couldn't resist and my companions shared the Pistachio Kulfi whilst I didn't share my Gajar Halwa. This was washed down with tea and mago lassi. The Pistachio Kulfi was smooth and subtly flavoured whilst my carrot dessert was again, very light.

If this sounds like a lot of food, you'd be absolutely right and this was a real treat meal. With such great prices (the most expensive dish was the thali at under £15), we couldn't help but make a night of it and eat our way around the menu. We left feeling very, very, full but happy to have tried so many wonderful dishes.

Have you ever eaten at Raja Monkey?

*We were invited to dine at Raja Monkey in exchange for an honest review. We were part compensated for the meal and paid the additional amount ourselves.