Tuesday 24 March 2015

Food Review: Big Papa's at Sunflower Lounge Birmingham

The Sunflower Lounge is a popular spot for live music and drinks in Birmingham City Centre, but did you know it is also serving up Southern American food too?

Perfecting their recipes and honing their skills on the street food scene, the boys have now taken over the kitchen at The Sunflower Lounge and are serving up Big Papa's soul food seven days a week.

Along with a host of beautiful Birmingham bloggers, I was lucky enough to try out the food first hand at the press dinner.

The menu is small but perfectly formed and features many of your favourite Low and Slow dishes including Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Mac and Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries and Pork Chops.

The best way to enjoy the menu is probably to go for the £10 deal, where for this very reasonable price you'll receive a main and two sides, beautifully presented on a wooden crate! There are also starters including Hot Wings, Fried Okra and Blackened Shrimp available for £5 and sides for £3 each including Onion Rings, Salad and Sweet Potato Fries.

I love the fact that the menu is so simple, as it means that ordering is quick and easy (in theory).

I also loved the presentation and the fact that the food is served in a crate. It's a really unusual style of presentation that I don't think I've seen elsewhere in Birmingham, so it's unique! 

The attention to detail and thoughtfulness behind the food is evident from the carefully selected menu to the presentation and finishing touches on every dish. From the paprika on top of the mac and cheese to the twist of lime on the fried chicken, there is real passion behind the food. 

I took pictures of a few dishes to give you an idea of what's on offer.

I had the Pulled Cola Brisket Bun, minus the bun to accomodate my Gluten Free diet served with Blackened Shrimp (usually a starter) and Greens. The Cola Brisket was unlike anything I've had before. Cola gives a sweet, rich flavour to the meat whilst the hours of slow cooking meant the meat was tender and soft.

The blackened shrimp was a good portion of small shrimp that was simply cooked in butter and seasoned with lemon juice and herbs, and the Greens were tasty and very soft.

Here is an example of the Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Mac and Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries and two sauces, one spicy and one BBQ. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken was super crispy and not greasy; the same could be said of the fries which were very crispy indeed and yet soft and sweet inside.

We were able to have a chat with chef Anthony at the end of the night and found out more about the food, such as the fact that the Mango and Chilli sauce is homemade and that the food is all bought in fresh from the nearby Bullring Markets.

It also gave us an opportunity to see how passionate Anthony and Craig are about the food, the business and the city. Food always tastes better when there is real passipn behind it and these guys have it in spades.

Thank you to Anthony for inviting us down to try Big Papa's!

Thursday 19 March 2015

Food review: Gourmet Burger Kitchen - GBK Mailbox Grill Warming


Birmingham is an exciting place to be in 2015. There is a host of new places to eat, drink and shop opening up later on this year, with The Mailbox being one of them. Expected to open in Spring, the destination for food, drink, shopping and staying is now home to the recently opened Everyman Cinema and Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), which opened its doors last week.


I was super lucky and received an invite to the grill warming on Thursday 12th March, the day before the official opening. The grill warming is an opportunity for the staff to try out the new systems, tills and grills before the official opening, but the evening ran smoothly and the atmosphere was electric!

Following a four-week closure, the Mailbox restaurant has had a £350,000 makeover both inside and out, and now boasts design features such as dark oak panelling and industrial elements.


Chocolate Milkshake

Between myself and my two companions we ordered Elderflower Fizz (£2.35), Chocolate Milkshake and a Diet Coke (£2.40). My friend was incredibly happy with her Chocolate Milkshake (£4.10) and enjoyed every mouthful of the cold, thick shake with big chocolate pieces. There is also a good selection of beer and wine on the menu but we were good :)


Camembert and Cranberry The Bunless Burger

The three burgers we ordered were: Avocado Bacon (£9.15), The Don (£9.75) and Camembert and Cranberry Chicken (£9.55). We tried nearly every variation of fries available and ordered the Skinny Fries (£1.65/£2.95), Chunky Skin On Fries (£3.25) and Sweet Potato Fries with Baconnaise(£3.95). Next time we will be sure to try the Rosemary fries too!

The Don with Extra Bacon - Gluten Free Bun

Myself and another friend are both gluten free and this is where I was super-impressed. GBK actually gives gluten-free diners a choice of either going for "The Bunless Burger"for an extra 50p and having the homeslaw and either salad or chargrilled corn on the side, or going for a gluten free bun!

Avocado Bacon

I had the Camembert and Cranberry burger and asked for grilled rather than breaded chicken and went bunless to make it gluten free. The chicken was really soft topped off with a generous portion of melting gooey camembert cheese and cranberry sauce. I opted for the Skinny Fries which were super thin but incredibly moreish. The homeslaw is also a winner for me, made with lots of veg such as cabbage, carrot and celeriac and vinaigrette instead of mayo. This makes for much lighter slaw with a tang rather than a creamy taste, but I love how fresh it tastes against the burgers.

Gluten Free Menu

My other gluten free friend went for The Don in the Gluten Free Brioche Bun with extra bacon. This was again, a very tasty burger with plenty of cheese, onion and sauces including baconnaise and onion jam, making it bursting with flavour. The brioche bun was an absolute winner too. This was not a soggy ode to gluten free bread, but an actual, fresh, bouncy brioche bun! The sweet potato fries were exactly that, sweet and crunchy.

Ice Cream

Finally, the Avacado Bacon burger was quite simple in comparison, offering a juicy patty, topped with plenty of creamy avocado and a crispy piece of bacon. The Chunky Skin On Fries were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.


To follow, I ordered an Espresso (£1.95) and Greek Yoghurt and Honey Ice Cream (£2.50). The espresso came in a very stylish glass cup and the ice cream was tasty, but came out in a carton so could have been better presented.


The staff here are so friendly and we made sure to enter our feedback on the night as no request was too big. Extra bacon? You've got it! Take out the onion in your burger? That's ok too!

The restaurant was full to the brim and yet all the staff remained calm, friendly and efficient, getting everyone's orders out as quickly as possible.


The restaurant was packed and very lively and this is a great venue for dinner with friends.


Burger, fries and a soft drink comes in at around £15 which includes all the monkey nuts you can eat and lots of water at the table. Fantastic.

Thank you to GBK for inviting me!

Saturday 14 March 2015

April 2015 UK Magazine Freebies ft Marie Claire, Glamour, Balance Me and Nails Inc

If you're out shopping this weekend then I have to tell you about these fantastic magazine freebies I picked up this week.

Firstly, UK Marie Claire is giving away a Nails Inc Nail Polish with the April issue which costs £3.99. It comes in a choice of 4 shades, Fiesta (red/pink) , Fashion, Fizz (pastel brown) and Festival (pastel pink with a grey undertone) and I picked up Fashion, a gorgeous pastel dove grey colour. 

In the bottle it looks like it has a purple undertone but when on it looks more blue or lavender. I even did a NOTD for you!

I love this colour and was so impressed with the formula. It went on smoothly, was fully opaque at one coat and even better, no need for a top coat as it didn't chip in 4 days.

Shall I go back for the other 3 colours?!

Next up is Glamour magazine. This month they are giving away products from Balance Me, one of my favourite brands as it is 100% natural. I actually bought 2 copies as Glamour is just £2 so I picked up the Balance Me Shine On Tinted Lip Salve in Sheer Red and Balance Me Super Moisturising Body Wash. There is also a Pure Skin Face Wash and Radiance Face Mask available. 

So what are you waiting for? Head to your newsagents ASAP! 

Monday 9 March 2015

Event: Air Optix Colors - Coloured Contact Lenses

I was recently invited along to the Bullring by Air Optix Colors to try out their new range of coloured contact lenses.

Held just outside Debenhams, the Air Optix stand was buzzing with people all intrigued to see what coloured contacts can do.

I have to admit, I'd never considered changing my eye colour as it's something that I consider to be non-changeable. However, coloured contacts make changing your eye colour as easy as changing your lipstick!

I was greeted at the stand by Olivia and the team from Air Optix and met their lovely stylist who talked me through the Colour Studio. The Colour Studio was an interactive TV where you could try out different coloured lenses and make up looks on screen after taking a picture of yourself and loading it up. You can also use the handy colour chart to find your perfect shade by looking at your existing eye and hair colour. There are lots of options and I played around with them until finding my favourite, Gemstone Green.

You can go for either a subtle or striking eye colour. The Subtle Colour choices were Pure Hazel, Blue, Green, Gray and Brown and the Vibrant Colour choices were Honey, Brilliant Blue, Gemstone Green and Sterling Gray.

Ting getting an eye check

Next, we got to try on the contact lenses. Jonathan gave my eyes a quick check and once he was happy that everything was looking healthy we went ahead with the trial. Even though I am a contact lens wearer I let Jonathan put the contacts in as I didn't want to risk dropping them!

The Opticians Chair

They took no time at all to put in and they felt just like normal contact lenses. After everyone had a chance to see the lenses, I went over to the mirror to see for myself. I was surprised to see how natural the Gemstone Green looked with my colouring, as with my dark hair I didn't think they'd blend in so well!

I was then treated to a little eye makeover which was such a treat. I loved the colours the MUA artist used and took a few pictures of the beautiful MAC palettes. 

Eye Makeover

MAC Palette

One of the great things about trying out coloured contacts is that it lets you try out new eye colours to complement your new eye colour.  As I had green contacts in, we used some lovely mauve tones as green eyes work really well with both plum, violet and pink colours and warm earthy colours like brown and beige. Had I gone for brown, soft muted colours such as gold and bronze would have looked lovely, whilst blue looks great with terracotta brown and apricot colours or even lilac for a striking look. 

Gemstone Green

Adding colour to your eyes is just one way to look stylish, and stylist Beth Goodrham has also compiled a trend report for Air Optix to help work in your eye colour with the rest of your outfit. Some of her tips for AW15 were to use bright shoes and bags to introduce colour into your wardrobe and lift your outfit and to use a bright colour on your top or bottom half to draw emphasis to your best bits. Good life advice guys!

I was then offered a trial with a different colour so I went for one that looked really subtle. Honey is a gorgeous amber colour and I thought these looked really natural with my hair and skintone.

Gemstone Green and Honey

It was really interesting trying out new eye colours and it really "opened my eyes' (sorry I had to!) to the way that contact lenses can be used as part of your beauty routine. I would never have thought to try out coloured contacts before but they are so affordable.  Why not try out a new eye colour for a night out when it costs no more than a blow dry for a pair of monthly's? It's a lot less permanent than changing your hair colour and means you can experiment with different make up colours too!

Gemstone Green and Honey

Air Optix coloured contact lenses are available at Specsavers and good news for any prescription wearing ladies and gents, they come in both prescription and non prescription lenses! You can even drop in for a free trial at your local branch.

Thank you so much to the Air Optix team for the trial and for the treats including this beatiful MAC lipstick in Diva Glam 1! 

*I was invited to the Air Optix stand as a guest of Air Optix, although the experience and stand was also open to the public.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Mother's Day Mum in a Million Competition with Parkdean

With Mother's Day fast approaching, it's time we take a minute to think about mum and how much they do for us.

When we're younger, our mums are there to help us get ready for school, feed us, pack our sports kit and pick us up at the end of the day.

As we get older, we might become more independent and learn to look after ourselves, but mum is always there in the background checking up on us, making sure we've eaten right and gone to our appointments on time.

That's one of the things that makes my mum a mum in a million. Whenever I call I know she'll be on the other end of the phone ready to listen and offer advice. She works tirelessly to keep an eye on the family, look after us and make sure we're fed, all without asking for anything in return. If I'm busy she's always helping out, whether it's running to the post office or picking up a magazine for me. I know my mum is a superstar and I'm sure your mum is too!

To show your mum just how much you care, what could be better than treating her to a a weekend of rest and relaxation?

Ahead of Mother's Day on Sunday 15th March, Parkdean Holidays is helping us to say thank you to mums across the country by running a competition to win a weekend break with mum. The prize is for a three or four day break worth up to £499 at any one of their 24 award-winning UK holiday parks

All you have to do to enter is say why your mum is one in a million in 500 words or less! You have until Sunday 15th March to enter and the entry form can be found here

Check the terms and conditions but you do have to be 18 or over to enter.

Time to get your thinking caps on ladies and gents - good luck!

*Post in collaboration with Parkdean Holidays

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Food Review: Chung Ying Central Birmingham

If you're familiar with the Birmingham food scene you may have heard of Chung Ying, one of the biggest and best known Chinese restaurants in the city. Chung Ying Central is the newest Chung Ying in the heart of the City's business and finance district.

Beef Brisket Pho

Contemporary in decor, Chung Ying Central is right on Colmore Row near to Snow Hill train station. I mention this because they have a full bar as well as some very good bartenders who make fabulous alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, so you may find it handy to have a train station nearby!

Back to the food, I decided to try out the Express Menu as it's not often that I venture out for a meal at lunchtime. With plenty of menu options, the Express Menu lets you choose between soup, dim sim and traditional Chinese and Oriental dishes such as Yaki Soba and Chicken Katsu starting at a very reasonable £5.95 for soup and dim sum.  There is also a full a la carte menu available.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls and King Prawn Dumpling

As there were two of us dining, we wear able to try out a whole host of dishes and started off with Vietnamese Spring Rolls, King Prawn Dumpling and Chicken Yuk Sung. The Spring Rolls can be made vegetarian, with chicken or with pork, and were served with a clear dipping sauce of rice wine vinegar. Densely filled and crispy, these were the amouse bouche of the meal along with the satisfyingly crispy fried King Prawn Dumpling, which was golden without being greasy and served, unconventionally, with a mustard mayo. The Yuk Sung is a dish that again, can be made with a choice of meat and was particularly fresh.

Chicken Yuk Sung

Onto the mains, we sampled Beef Brisket Pho, Chicken Katsu and Pad Thai Noodles. The Beef Pho is a classic Vietnamese Soup, a cusine that is under-represented in Birmingham and good to see on the menu. A light stock based soup, this was a simple, clean dish with rice noodles, spring onion and beef topped off with crispy onions and fresh mint. Chicken Katsu is a favourite amongst many thanks to Wagamama and this was very similar in presentation. A good portion of rice and crispy breaded strips of chicken breast topped off with a spicy curry sauce was very well done and a good value dish. My Prawn Pad Thai was again, a generous portion that included plenty of large, juicy prawns and tasted light and simple.

This could be said of a lot of what we tried on the menu and the food overall tasted simple and fresh. This is owing to the fact that the kitchen staff are encouraged to cook as they would at home using fresh ingredients that are cooked in an uncomplicated way. Far from tasting stodgy, this meant that much of our food was a healthy alternative to traditional Chinese restaurant cuisine which can only be a good thing if you're watching your waistline.

Chicken Katsu Curry

Prawn Pad Thai

Service was exceptionally friendly at Chung Ying Central and the staff are well able to cater to dietary requirements and tweak dishes as everything is cooked fresh. Although it was a Monday lunchtime, the restaurant still felt inviting and had ambiance, with diners arriving to try out the menu as we ate. It's great to see such a wide-reaching menu too. With dishes from a variety of regions including China, Japan and Vietnam on offer, diners can try out more unusual dishes.

Also worth mentioning is the two-for-one offer that is available from 4pm-7pm Monday- Saturday. This includes not just cocktails and beers, but also 'bar snacks' which are much more substantial than typical bar fare. At £4 per portion, Dim Sum such as Spring Rolls and Won Ton would make a tasty drinks companion and is great to share.

Overall, Chung Ying Central offers great value in the city centre and something different to the sandwiches and soups readily available in the area. Perfect for after-work drinks or a relaxed break away from the office at lunch, there's no excuse not to try out this Oriental delight.

For more information check out the Chung Ying Central website.

Thank you to Mimi and the Chung Ying Central team!

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