Monday 23 May 2016

Food Review: Friday Evening's at Opus

Opus is considered to be one of Birmingham's premier restaurants. With a focus on fresh, sustainable produce, direct from the producer since opening in 2009, these guys were way ahead of the sustainability game.

The original restaurant on Cornwall Street is well known for hosting the Dinner Series, where diners can meet the supplier and talk produce over dinner.

What's new, however, is Friday Evening's at Opus. A more relaxed affair than the Dinner Series or of course the Kitchen Table, Friday Evening's at Opus is a new concept menu that celebrates local and sustainable produce. Serving two courses, half a bottle of wine and homemade bread for £25, it's a great way for guests to get to know Opus.

Before we sat down, we were treated to some canapes; Bhajis and Chorizo. We played a fun game where each canape contained a cocktail stick and a question, which is a great idea for a dinner party.

We also took a tour of the kitchen, including the famed Kitchen Table, and had a chat with head chef Ben Ternent. Ben walked us through the kitchen, explaining how there are six sections to progress through, from vegetable prep to sauce and finally meat and fish.

Following our tour, it was time to take our seats at the table. Fresh bread baskets made an appearance and the wine glasses were filled with either house red or white. I was also served my very own piece of warm gluten free bread.

From a choice of slow roasted tomato soup, smoked buttermilk or whipped Rosary goat's cheese, heritage tomato and English radish salad, baby watercress, grape dressing, I chose the salad.

The most noticeable thing about this dish was how incredibly fresh everything on the plate was. The radish, as well as being a) huge and b) whole, was crisp and crunchy, which worked well with the creamy goats cheese. Everything on my plate was fresh, clean, and crisp and a testament to the quality of the sourcing. The colours danced on the plate and the flavours danced on my palette. Can you spot the flower in my dish?

Pork Fillet

Beetroot Risotto

Next, from the main course options of Free range Suffolk pork cutlet, wholegrain mustard mash, caramelised apples, fillet of day boat market fish, fricasse of asparagus, potatoes and wild garlic, and lastly, Evesham beetroot risotto, crispy Ragstone ash goat's cheese, I chose the fish. This happened to be cod on the day, but can of course change.

The fish was so perfectly cooked, with a crisp skin and flaky inside, that I had to stop myself from devouring this too quickly. The vegetables were simple but delicious, but we could have done with an extra side portion of vegetables and potatoes.

There were also vegetarian and vegan options available on the vegetarian menu on the reverse. Here's a picture of Natasha from Nutella Tasha's main. 

Alas, this was the end of the meal, but I did take a picture of dessert. From the options of peanut and caramel delice and ice cream and sorbet, my sweet toothed companions all opted for the peanut delice.

Service throughout the meal was attentive, with regular top ups of wine and water. It was also extremely swift, making it a great option for Friday night diners who are looking for a meal in the city before heading home to the 'burbs.

The quality of the food we ate was fantastic, and the dishes were as fresh as if they'd just been picked on the farm. This standout quality of the food, alongside the service and beautiful modern, calm interior are all points in favour of the restaurant. My only recommendation? It would be good to see a three course meal option on the menu to satisfy the appetites of even the hungriest of diners.

With thanks to the team at Opus for taking such good care of us.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Event: Interview with Amy Childs at eBay Shop Live, Bullring Birmingham

Rather than popping into the Bullring for a new outfit, last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited down to interview none other than Amy Childs at Shop Live! with eBay.

The former TOWIE star and entrepreneur was there to promote eBay's Shop Live. A tongue-in-cheek homage to home shopping television programmes, there were two shows, "Ace Your Reality TV Audition" featuring Amy Childs and Harry Derbridge and how to "Survive the Zombie Apocalypse."

Each performance showcased what you'd need in each situation, from hair tools to bluetooth speakers. The audience could then take advantage of deals straight from their mobiles and pick up items immediately from the nearby Argos using Click and Collect.

Hosted by the comedian Shappi Khorsandi and Ting from The Ting Thing, I went down to watch the stars in action.

Amy made her cameo on stage with Ting and Shaapi and gave out some advice on how to ace your reality TV audition.

Ting was a fantastic presenter, she's such a professional!

The Zombie Apocalypse show was hilarious, with Shaapi finding herself with a zombie admirer.

I managed to get up close and personal with this zombie:

I even got the zombies to stay still and pose for a photo!

After the show, I sat down with Amy Childs to talk fashion and style.

You're incredibly busy with your clothing line, sunglasses range and numerous endorsements. What does a typical week look like for you?
I'm in the salon three days a week and in the shop a lot too. I hate to be bored and I love staying busy so I'll often be sending emails at 10.30pm. As well as that, I'm often travelling and meeting people which is what I love to do. I'm also really involved in the Amy Childs collection in designing the clothes and picking the fabrics and colours. When I'm in the boutique, I ask my customers what they're looking for and so often it's a sleeve as people don't want to show their arms. My customers also like a knee length on a skirt or a dress, so I'm always designing with their feedback in mind.

What do you have lined up in the next few months?
I'll be back on TV screens on Celebrity Masterchef where I'll be putting my cooking skills to the test. 

What are you're top 5 style essentials?
For me, it's all about nice jewellery and accessories. Of course, I'd say an Amy Childs dress is an essential, a pair of Louboutin's, a silver hoop earring, my Forever On Trend sunglasses and some classic jewellery. 

What trends have you seen coming through for SS16 and AW16?
There's definitely a lot of lace in Spring Summer 16 carrying right through to Autumn Winter 16 too.

If you had to give just one piece of life advice, what would it be?
I've always lived by the rule, treat other people the way you'd want to be treated.

And if you had to give one piece of style advice what would it be?
Never show your legs and boobs!

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Stila at Selfridges with Sascha Jackson

Can you remember your first Stila product? Yours, like mine, may well have been a twist and click lip glaze purchased from Sephora.

Stila has come a long way since then, and I was able to speak to the brand's UK lead pro artist and find out more about the reinvention when they launched a pop up at Selfridges Birmingham.

I met Sascha in the Selfridges Beauty Hall and was invited to sit and learn more about the brand, the products and get a sneak peek of what's happening in make up for SS16.

Founded in 1994 by celebrity MUA Jeanine Lobell, Jeanine wanted to create products that were different to what was already on the market. That lip glaze? It turns out that was actually one of the first products she created. 

The brand ethos is all about enhancing your natural beauty, making the best of your features and making sure you look still look like you. That means a focus on glowing skin, a great complexion and great ingredients is all on the agenda.

After the history lesson, it was time to get right in and explore the products. Sascha gave me a full makeover in a record breaking 30 minutes, and I actually couldn't believe how quickly and professionally she worked. Something tells me thats one of the reasons why she was chosen to be UK lead and it must seriously come in handy at fashion week.

Stay All Day Foundation

Starting off with the cult One Step Correct, Sascha then built up coverage using Stay All Day Foundation in no 5. To do this, she brushed on the product first and then stippled on top using a beauty blender. Sascha swears that she never has to touch up her foundation and these two products are all you need for a face that doesn't budge. I loved the slightly dewy finish but you could always use a sheer pressed powder over the top, dusted on with a big fluffy brush.

Next, Sascha used Stay All Day Bronzer in light shade 3 in the shape of a number 3, on the temples, cheeks and underneath the jaw a little.

Now, she introduced me to the Perfectly Poreless Putty Perfector. What's this, you may ask? Well, it's actually something of a genius product that is bouncy to the touch, but on the skin creates a natural, matte, flawless finish. The final results were something like an airbrush effect, finishing off the face to hide imperfections. Even better, it's great for leaving in your handbag and using for touch ups throughout the day. This was dusted all over.

Onto the eyes, I was impressed by the Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner. A longer than average tip somehow makes this eyeliner so much easier to use. Unlike so many eyeliners, the colour doesn't fade and stays true all day. Sascha also used the Eyes are the Window Shadow Palette in Soul, a collection of earthy neutrals in a variety of finishes that are heavenly for everyday and to build up in the evening.

To finish, we used Stay All Day Liquid Lip Colour in Patina, and the colour was a revelation. Something that I would never normally pick out, it was just divine and works so well with my dark hair.

Here's my final look! Do you like it? I wish I could book Sascha in to do my make up everyday!

As for the spring trends, it's all about glossy skin, a perfect complexion, contrasting textures and a matt lip this season. Sascha was even at New York fashion week working behind the scenes on Alice and Olivia recently, working her magic so she really is the expert.

I've had a chance to try out these products at home too and I am thoroughly impressed. Firstly, the Liquid Lip Colour in Patina. Although this is a colour I would never normally try, Sascha did an amazing job of picking out a colour that suits me so well. I use this product so much and I'm always being asked what I'm wearing when I have this on. Not only that, but this genuinely does stay on all day, even after eating.

The foundation again, is a stay all day wonder, especially when used with the One Step Correct. The lid even comes with a concealer and I use this regularly to touch up on the go.

Finally, the eyeliner. Whether it's the shape of the tip or the formulation, I can actually just about manage a decent eyeliner flick with this.

Those are my favourites, what are yours?

*With thanks to Stila for the makeover

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Food Review: Five Rivers A La Carte

How far will you go to get to a restaurant? Is yours around the corner? Maybe you have to travel to the nearest city to get to it?

Either way, you probably wouldn't expect to travel just under 15 miles to get to dinner. However, there are some restaurants that are worth travelling to.

Five Rivers A La Carte has an excellent reputation in Birmingham and beyond, forged mainly on the wedding scene as caterers extraordinaire. As well as providing catering for parties, corporates and events, guests can also dine at the restaurant in Walsall.

Taking a cab to the restaurant from Birmingham city centre took not long at all, and before we knew it we were at the door of one if the most hallowed Indian restaurants in the area.

Spread out over two floors, we gathered by the bar downstairs before being taken up the spiral staircase to the room above. A cavernous, wooden beamed space, the table dominated the room, set out for our large party complete with fresh flowers, champagne flutes, and a separate table overflowing with bottles of champagne.

Mingling with the assembled guests, sipping on Laurent Perrier and tasting a few bites (Manchurian, sheekh kebab) before dinner, we settled into the evening before taking our seats.

Following a welcome from our hosts, Fiver Rivers, and our Laurent Perrier guide, we were soon served by a team of smartly dressed, professional waiters and waitresses. 

Onto the menu, there was an astonishing eight-courses to get through, all accompanied by either Laurent Perrier champagne or a matched wine.

Mitha Aloo Tikki, Lobster Broth, Tandoori Monkfish, Tandoori Duck, Lemon and Lime Sorbet, Chicken Saag Wala, Mango Finni and Spiced Ginger Creme Glace were presented to us within a three hour window. My dinner was slightly different as it was tailored to be gluten free, so I had alternative dishes in place of the Aloo Tikki, Mango Finni and Iced Ginger Creme Glace. Pleasingly, the menu was already helpfully marked to indicate which dishes contained Dairy, Gluten or were suitable for Vegetarians.

In the place of Aloo Tikki, I was served Chilli Paneer with pineapple and raita. A healthy portion, others were jealous of my dish, which was generous indeed. The addition of pineapple was unexpected, but welcome as an alternative method of livening up paneer. The Laurent Perrier Vintage 2006 that was served alongside this was incredible, and turned out to be my favourite. Smooth and subtle, this glided down like liquid gold.

Next came the Lobster Broth. Served on dry ice, our waiters poured not just the broth over the solid elements, but also liquid onto the dry ice, creating clouds of smoke at the table. A delightful touch, this has to be the first time I've ever seen such theatre at an Indian restaurant. The broth itself was spicy, and served with a beautiful Cuvee Rose.

Onto the monkfish, this was charred at the edges and came with mango chutney. Although lovely and chargrilled at the edges, this was a touch dry to my taste and could have used a little more sauce.

Have no fear, my favourite meal came next; the Tandoori Duck. Never have I tried duck in this way, but it's a shame that more restaurants don't serve such a dish. Incredibly soft with a melt in the mouth texture, it's difficult to believe that the chefs managed to create something so smooth from a meat that can often be tough to digest. The flavours too were warm and spicy.

A little palate cleanser of Lemon and Lime sorbet was just what was needed and I could have eaten a huge portion of this for dessert. This paved the way for what was essentially our main meal, Chicken Saag Wala. Those of you who frequent many Indian restaurants will know that we were in for chicken and spinach, stuffed into the breast Western style. Although I'm not sure where the goats cheese was, this was again, a tasty East meets West dish, with plenty of sauce to accompany the breast. This was served with a spicy Pouilly-fume 2014, Foucher-Lebrun from the Loire.

Gluten Free

Not gluten free

By now, we were all stuffed to the rafters, but it was time to deploy the second, dessert stomach. I had the Mango Finni, minus the sauce shot glass beside it. Fruity, light and exactly what we needed by this point, this was a pre dessert before the heavier dessert arrived. The other diners were treated to Spiced Ginger Creme Glace, but I had something even better. Something akin to a beetroot version of the carrot based Gajar Halwa, my purple beetroot cake (Chukandar Ka Halwa) was moist, sweet and kind of healthy (haha!). Pleasingly, this is available on the menu.

So what did I think of the experience? What stood out for my first and foremost was actually the service and setting. The venue, the table setting and even the way that the champagne glasses were laid out on a separate table all contributed to a feeling that the utmost care had been taken to create a perfect setting for dinner.  Dining is about so much more than just food; it's about the environment in which it's eaten and the people who serve it for you. At Five Rivers, it was clear from the minute we walked into the restaurant and made crystal clear from the moment we entered the room upstairs that everything had been taken care of. From simultaneously serving each course to quietly topping up our drinks, the service was absolutely faultless throughout the evening.

As for the food, it was inventive, flavoursome and delicate as opposed to heavy handed. Award-winning chef Rashpal Sunner deserves every accolade for creating a menu that retains the flavours of India yet presents them in an unexpected way.

Sadly, many of the dishes we tried are not available on the menu, but it was interesting to see the chefs push the boundaries.

Most surprising of all? Did you notice that there wasn't a plate of pilau or piece of naan in sight?