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September 2015

Summer Dine @Bullring | Birmingham Life

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A few weeks ago I was treated to an evening of summer dining at Bullring! I'm going to start a series of Birmingham-specific posts as there are so many amazing things going on in the city that I want to share. As a few of my friends and I have chosen to live at home (though I don't actually live with the 'rents), we have vowed to make the most of the city and have made a huge bucket list of places we have never tried before. There are so many new restaurants and bars popping up but I was intrigued as to what was already on my doorstep at Bullring; basically my second home. I'm always surprised at any visitors' reactions to the place as I am so used to having amazing flagship stores down the road from me, whereas my visiting friends are in awe of the Selfridges, new River Island store and beyond!
 
I was invited to a special evening of food and drink to launch Summer Dine events, where the restaurants are open until at least 9pm, and the brand new Birmingham PLUS app - a must-have for savvy shoppers, featuring a range of exclusive discounts across food and clothing stores that ping to your phone when you enter the shopping centre and browse around. I'm ALL about the fashion offers but also I meet with friends for dinner at least once a week to discuss the current gossip and then we continue on for drinks and dancing. We found that if we met up for a night out, we would spend most of it chatting away rather than on the dance floor, so now it's imperative we meet beforehand to hash out our 20-something advice and debates, before heading off into the night.
 
 
The evening consisted of a three course meal across different restaurants throughout Bullring shopping centre with fellow blogger Full To The Brum. The meeting point was Jamie's Italian, where I've been before and likened it to a chain Italian. My thoughts were totally transformed though as it's so much more than a set menu. We were served a range of beautiful antipasti and fresh specials, with the mozzarella flown in straight from Italy only days before. Where every bite delivers a host of flavours, we sampled olives on ice, seasonal bruschetta, baked king scallops, and one of the famous planks (I chose the vegetarian options, of course!). This was complimented by a divine limoncello and pomegranate cocktail from the extensive specials menu.  The space is huge and interesting, and I know if I visited with the girls it would be a decadent meal at a great price, with major taste rewards. This sealed the deal for me on visiting Bullring in the evenings, but soon we packed up and even more flavoursome fun was on the cards!
 
 
We stepped across to Chaophraya on Spiceal Street - a spectacular Thai restaurant filled with water features, artefacts and tranquil lighting. You can see the authentic dishes being prepared by the chefs in the open kitchen as you dine, but we headed upstairs for a master-class in Thai red curry.
 
 
Hat and apron at the ready, we met the charming head chef and set to work on matching cooking stations. I was delighted to try my hand at making my own curry as I've always ate meals made from scratch but have no knowledge of delicate spices or seasoning. I don't have my 'signature' dish for when I ever host a dinner party (alas, maybe one day!) and it was so fun to be hands-on. You can book a master-class for parties, corporate functions, or if you just fancy learning some new skills. They say learning something new is such a mood booster and it really is. I felt so energised after creating my own dish and taking home some top tips.
 
 
We began by adding spring onion, red onion, lemon grass, lime leaves, chilli and more to our giant pestle and mortars, pummelling them to pulp and release all of those flavours. The fragrances were amazing and soon our home-made curry paste was cooking away in a scorching pan. The class was very descriptive and well paced so I knew exactly what I was doing and could imagine trying it out successfully at home.
 
 
After adding fish sauce, coconut milk and aubergine, the glossy sauce was ready to cover some seabass for myself. What a triumph! We got to take home our extra curry paste and I cooked it up again during the week. Fragrant and tangy, with that creamy coconut texture, a Thai curry has all of the delicacy of not roasting your taste buds but instead offering a light spice that's more flavour than fire. Delicious!
 
 
We tucked into our creations and could not have been more content! Every drop of the curry was divine. However we had our final dessert on the cards at Joe Delucci's Gelato, a counter of creamy gelato made in Turin, Italy, packed with fresh fruit and free from any artificial preservatives, colourings or genetically modified ingredients - so it's practically saintly! We had a few scoops of those that caught our eye and I can say the Fruits of the Forest and Honeycomb were sublime. It's so tempting to stop by for a beautifully blended fruit refresher while hitting the shops. Heavenly!
 
 
I also vlogged the evening here so do take a look for a how-to on the Thai curry recipe above! Thank you to Bullring for a truly delicious evening.


V Festival Mood Board

Hey all! I've been gathering inspiration for my festival looks, even though it's not as cool nowadays to try too hard at a festival. I'm going V Festival again because it's so local to me and my friend was keen to go; plus I'm so the kind of person that never says no to an opportunity! Even if the music isn't your dream line-up, you're pretty much guaranteed to know most of the bands at a festival like V, and my highlights will be dressing like you're on holiday with a dash of hippie, hitting the headphone disco on the first night, and bopping around in a field releasing my inner flower child. I'm not so into the beers and the camp fires (are you even allowed to light fires?!), I literally just take my entire makeup bag and use the weekend as a mini holiday!

My mood board may differ from the common wellies-and-denim-shorts attire but at a festival, I wouldn't really say that is the optimum outfit. Girls arrive to V with a head full of hair curlers and an outfit only appropriate for a club anyway! I got to the proper backstage artist's area a few years ago as I knew an artist and ended up having dinner with Beyonce's dentist. I went back into the area the next day as I had the access pass and the artist had moved onto the other festival location, I helped myself to the free hair and massage stands, and then stocked up on drinks to take out to my friends! But alas, that is a story for another time. Here are the looks I'm feeling this year, featuring mostly chokers, plaits and lashes. The weather forecast says rain anyway so my co-ords will sadly be under a rain mac and umbrella! All pictures are from my Tumblr.

Festival mood board


The New York Diary - My week in NYC, The Final Day 8: SATC and The Standard

And here it is, the last serenade to New York! Can you believe it? I'm so chuffed to have received some lovely tweets and comments saying you have enjoyed reading these posts. It's possibly quite rare to read a blog post where nothing has been gifted, arranged or set up, rather than a true account of events that would have happened even if I wasn't a blogger! Maybe I wouldn't have taken this many photos though, but you may have noticed that I'm not actually in many photos apart from this post! We were more concerned about seeing and doing everything rather than stopping to pose and reflecting the camera back on our own faces, and every second was precious due to the amount of time it takes to get from A to B in New York. 

And so we begin the last day of Friday and it had really sunk in that this trip was coming to an end! The first few days with the Yankees game, Coney Island and the Pendulum gig in Brooklyn seemed so long ago and we had been all over Manhattan by now. We had managed to book onto the Sex and the City sights tour the day before as annoyingly you had to go to their invisible office in person, and also I arranged to meet up with a fabulous blogger (more on that later!). We had a few more things to tick off our list though before we began the SATC tour!

We awoke from an amazing night that ended up at The Jane and grabbed breakfast at a place that we had visited for food at about 4am the night before. How these guys were working all night and throughout the day I do not know, but we hoped they didn't quite recognise us behind our sunnies. You're invisible behind sunglasses, right? First mission of the day was to visit Grand Central Station!

XOXO! We didn't spot Serena Van De Woodsen but it is a breathtaking place. You can do full walking tours to uncover the secrets and history but we took a fleeting look before hot-footing it to the meeting point for the SATC tour, booked with our Explorer Pass. 

Bloomies! 

Now the SATC tour was possibly my favourite touristy thing we did. Is that bad? I've wrote before how visiting sights and attractions wasn't my main prerogative and it was my wish to just soak up the atmosphere and lifestyle, and watching Sex and the City as a teenager and beyond was so my inspiration to visit the Big Apple. I would advise you to do this tour and any other bus, boat or sight seeing tours at the beginning of a trip as it really helps you get your bearings, and we might have explored East Village more if we were familiar with it earlier in the week as it was achingly chic.

We located our tour guide with her giant blue umbrella and boarded the coach with around 60 other giggling ladies (and a few men), with every seat filled. An open top bus would have been better for the views but the New York traffic means you edge through the streets slowly anyway and so you don't miss any key points. Like the hanging screens on aeroplanes, there were TVs up and down the coach playing clips of the shows and movies as we passed each point, and our tour guide was the most fabulous, over-the-top host! A guidebook listed the tour guides as aspiring Broadway actors so that explained the super sunny, all-American welcome and quotes such as 'Ladies - cute guy to the left! I die!' *cue everyone peering onto the street to a supposed cute guy, 'Ladies - do we all remember Saggy Ass?' and various other hilarious, girly anecdotes from the show that got pretty X-rated as we continued on with our journey.

We drove around the city and our guide picked out places featured in the show and played the matching clips, such as the park where Miranda met Steve's girlfriend Debbie, Aiden's furniture store where Carrie once visited with Stanford, and around 50 other scenes. The tour was over three hours long and our first stop was to browse the sex shop where Charlotte bought her Rabbit and grab a giant pizza slice where Miranda and Carrie once filled up after an unsatisfying raw dinner served by Smith Jared (a very random combination of scenes there!), and then onto Buddakan, where Carrie and Big hosted their pre-wedding dinner in the first movie and they emerged on these stairs to applause from all of the diners below. You got a good look round the place and a discount on drinks there for the future.

The climax of the tour was of course Carrie's apartment near Bleecker Street, which actually has a fictional address. I felt it was almost a pilgrimage for me to visit her stoop. We had 25 minutes to take a look at the building, as it does have real residents so you can't quite browse around, and visit the nearby  Magnolia Bakery, where Carrie told Miranda she had a new crush called Aiden who she believed to be very cute. As the tour group continued onto Carrie's place, we first grabbed a delicious cupcake and a slab of thickly iced cake, that was every bit as delicious on the spot as it was later that night at 4am!

Carrie's apartment! On TV the street looked huge and towering but in real life it was but a doorway and some steps that you can't climb, but can certainly take a snap or selfie in front of. We had mere moments to take one before running back to the coach as it was due to set off. This is my favourite picture of the whole holiday!!

Many people hadn't had chance to get a cupcake due to the huge queue so it was lucky we nabbed those first. East Village is very hip and laid back so would be a beautiful pit stop for a delicious lunch or some window shopping if you visit NYC. There are also very few tourists so you could strike up conversations with locals!

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Next up was to sample a Cosmopolitan at Aiden and Steve's bar Scout, but we departed the tour as this was the final destination and we had someone special to meet! I would say that it is so fun to relive each clip as you travel across New York and the tour guides are so fun, but you could save money and take a trip to the buildings yourself if you planned it well. Some of the clips we drove by were quite insignificant, though I know every scene to every episode so they all resonated with me! 

We soon hit the subway and headed even further East to met with the unbelievably sweet Erin of Spikes and Sequins and her equally gorgeous cousin! I worked with Erin when I worked with fashion bloggers at Motel and she always took such amazing photos in the garms' I sent that we became Instagram friends and I just knew we had to meet up! She is every bit as hot as her smokin' snaps reveal - you have to drop her a follow for ultimate inspiration on bodycon style with added sass. I don't think I said in person how cute she was but just look at that super high ponytail and fabulous outfit! These girls were such fun to hang out with and I hope they visit the UK soon!

We dined at the Frying Pan which is actually a boat on the water! The food was really fun, with mini burgers, watermelon salad and crab cakes, and we of course sampled a few cocktails too while subtly rocking back and forth on the waves. As it was Friday night it was brimming with hip New Yorkers and I bet is amazing at night.

There was then just one more stop to make. My dad is a fire fighter and he said we could take some shirts from the UK and swap them for FDNY shirts. This wasn't exactly a policy but you can knock on the fire station doors and purchase their shirts anyway, of course not if distracting them from work. We were like giggling school girls when we paid our local station a visit, but the guys welcomed us in and offered to take a photo - and gladly took the shirts! We giggled away with a free support bracelet and regaled that yes, these American guys are just so wholesome. Swoon! Just look how happy I look, haha!

And then it was onto the final night and the final farewell! Such mixed emotions and sadness as we realised we had literally ruined our own lives (not really) - how could we head back home after we had experienced such sights and such wild nights! We got ready one last time and FYI the 'songs of the holiday' ended up being Nick Jonas, Carly Ray Jepson and Miley Cyrus (of course!) - not sure why the first two became apparent but we just ended up singing them over and over!

We embarked on our final destination - The Standard Hotel. Hosting the absolute most exclusive set of rooftop clubs that light up lavishly in the sky each night, I was determined to have a go at getting in. We had already tried the previous night to go but were told it was a 'private party' by some people outside, but we soon realised that was tough bouncer code for 'You're not coming in'. We had more faith in ourselves and so we formed a plan, stood tall, threw our shoulders back, and strutted into the huge marbled reception area that was deathly silent and infinitely long.

We were informed by a person at the desk that the club entrance was actually around the corner so I casually asked him who the promote was that night before we turned away. He mused 'Um, Troy I believe'. We were in! Around the corner were streams of people lingering before giant bouncers, and we haughtily named dropped good old Troy and got right in! Whoever you are Troy, thanks a bunch!

As mentioned, it helps to be silent, aloof and not smile or voice your foreign accent. Soon we were whizzed up in the infamous lift with the Solange and Jay Z altercation, and were on the rooftop of this dazzling bar. Like clockwork, we grabbed our first drink a few mere moments before people began chatting to us, from Wall Street moguls to Google guys. It's casual, it's friendly and there are no strings attached to these chatty encounters. Le Bain was an amazing space, made even more outrageous by an actual swimming pool in the middle of the dance floor. A steamy concoction of bikini bodies in the dark club, a literal pool of debauchery! I was transfixed by an actual swimming pool in the middle of a club, 18th floors up!? Cray cray! It was like a warped dream! There were loads of people running around and to the toilets in swimwear and towels amongst those enjoying drinks and dancing in cocktail dresses. We didn't depart until the very end and left on an absolute high.

And then it was time to depart! I've called Day 8 the last day as we only had a few final hours on the Saturday morning to grab a last breakfast of French toast with eggs (sunny side up of course), chuck everything into our straining suitcases, and spend out last cents on American candy and I Heart NYC souvenirs. We booked a taxi with our hotel which turned out to be a mini bus that picked up various passengers from ALL over the city and was driven by a cursing, raving mad lady! We didn't think we'd make it in time or alive but we had plenty of time to chill at the airport, check out just how many dudes were on Happn in JFK, and set off back for the UK.

Wow - such a whirlwind! It was such a difficult trip to plan as we were all under the weather in the weeks leading up to it and my nature is to plan every aspect all the way down to my makeup look each day. I'm not a clean or control freak - I just love planning in order to make the absolute most out of things! Hopefully there are some tips throughout these posts that could help if you are considering visiting, my main advice being to list the attractions and sights you hope to see, arrange them into a rough itinerary for one in the morning and one or two in the afternoon, and pre-book as much as possible. Getting a multiple attraction pass saves so much money! I'd also go off the tourist track to a football, baseball or basketball game, Coney Island if time allows, and also going to music gigs is a great way to meet locals. Dining, as always can be quite difficult and I never see how people 'stumble' across places, especially in a city this big. Research the best places near your accommodation and bookmark a few fancy restaurants for evenings out.

Thank you for reading my posts and coming along for the ride! Here is my full vlog again in case you didn't catch it in my first post. Enjoy!


The Bodyguard @ Hippodrome Theatre | Birmingham Life

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Oh wow! I had the pleasure of attending the press event of The Bodyguard last week and it was just the most amazing evening. Accompanied by my nan of course, we were delighted to head to the Hippodrome and get one of the hottest tickets in town. I attend concerts, festival and shows all the time and try to go on as many holidays as I can because life is all about having something to look forward to and experience, and this West End show is the absolute shiny star of Birmingham right now. 

Romantic, thrilling and often startling, the love story of Rachel Marron and her secret agent-turned-bodyguard Frank Farmer is intertwined with the lurking stalker, lit in dark corners of the stage at the most unexpected moments. Rachel's sister peppers the show with Whitney Houston's most heartbreakingly beautiful songs, but Alexandra Burke absolutely brings the show to the highest standard with an incredible performance that manages to stand out above the drama of the storyline and breathes such passion into the show. I often find stage shows can be static in parts and once a scene is set, the parameters of the action is set, whereas the production of The Bodyguard is a fluid movement across different acts with intertwining sets, solos and montages that meant you never took your eyes off the stage and the interval ice cream time came in  flash! And that is without mentioning the amazing range of Whitney Houston's greatest hits and how incredible Alexandra Burke's voice and performances are. The audience went from transfixed to a standing (and then dancing) ovation of which I've never seen before,

It's also worth noting my nan has limited mobility and our aisle side seats were roomy and comfortable, and the Hippodrome has no issue with those pesky theatre drafts. My nan was a bit nervous about sitting for a long time but she had no issues and had an absolute blast - and has told all of her friends! Thank you to Hippodrome for a fabulous evening.

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Edit: New dates have been added for September!