Sunday, 10 September 2017

Restaurant Review: The Alchemist, New York Street, Manchester


Another restaurant review today - and not somewhere I'd expect to be visiting with food as the focus.

I've been to both of The Alchemist's Manchester city centre sites plenty of times for drinks but a meal has never been on the agenda.

After a £180,000 investment to rejuvenate the New York Street venue in line with The Alchemist's new openings, I was excited to be invited down to the bar/restaurant* to try the menu and take in the recently revamped surroundings.

Inside, things have gotten decidedly darker and more decadent; with moodier lighting, rich wood, gold accents and tattoo-inspired artwork adorning the walls and menus.

The two-week transformation has seriously succeeding in creating a more indulgent atmosphere.


If you know anything at all about The Alchemist, you'll probably be well-aware that the chain is renowned for its drinks - specifically, the innovative and well-executed cocktails.

I'm a self-confessed cocktail snob (through working in a cocktail bar myself during my bar-tending years) so I really do appreciate a good cocktail.

We tried a couple each from the extensive menu. I was a little too busy admiring the room and hurriedly chose a Peaches and Cream from the top left of the massive selection; a tasty concoction of peach liqueur, pink grapefruit and lemon with a side of prosecco. I don't usually like my cocktails too sweet but the lemon and pink grapefruit gave it just enough sharpness.

Chris went for a classic Smokey Old Fashioned - with Woodford Reserve bourbon, maple syrup, bitters and lots of real smoke contained in a conical flask.


We both ended up choosing fairly similar starters. I opted for the Crab Bon Bons served with Lobster Mayo, while Chris chose a Pulled Pork version with a Chipotle dip.

I had fewer bon bons but a much larger pot of dip with my dish which was a little baffling but both versions tasted amazing and good portion sizes nonetheless. 

It was difficult to choose from the long list of 'Tapatisers' and on my next visit, I'd definitely like to try ordering a number of these rather than a main instead.

Main Course

Even though much of the menu is of an Asian persuasion, I was tempted by a simple steak - a 9oz Rib Eye served with garlic butter and fries - I added peppercorn sauce too.

The steak was cooked beautifully and I felt that it was great value.

Chris went for the Special Fried Chicken in a Basket which was definitely eye-catching in its large chicken-shaped wire basket. Many of the cocktails are presented in theatrical vessels but Chris had to admit that his main was a little difficult to eat in its wire prison! Other than the interesting presentation method, the chicken was juicy and plentiful.


We couldn't resist sharing a dessert (being too full to manage one each) and settled on the Belgian Waffles - served with cinnamon sugar, syrup and ice cream. 

A perfect end to a delicious meal!

Have you eaten at The Alchemist before or visited since the refurb?


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

How To Stay Sane on Your Wedding Day : Tips for Brides


As many of you will know, I recently got married!!!

It feels so surreal that this huge deal that's been on the horizon for, what seems like forever, is over. Lots of people I know have quizzed 'do I feel empty? Like there's a gaping hole in my life where wedding planning once was?' - while others ask 'am I totally relieved, like a big weight has been lifted?' For me, the answer lies somewhere in between. Yes, I miss having this incredibly exciting project in my life but at the same time, I'm enjoying having my freedom back and being able to say 'yes' to impromptu plans again. That said, I certainly don't feel like the wedding was a horrible shackle; sure, it restricted many things for several months (spending money, indulgent food - and beer!) but it truly all felt worth it. It's a cliche but the near meltdown I had in the preceding weeks pales in comparison to the joy, pride and love I felt on the big day and a huge part of that was knowing that I'd put so much of myself into the day (blood, sweat and tears were all present throughout planning).

As a bride who's come out the other side, I feel like I've got some wisdom to impart on anyone invested in upcoming nuptials - whether that's a fellow bride or just a poor friend or relative being dragged along for the crazy ride!

I've put together a list of tips - some will seem obvious but it's easy to forget the logical, practical things when in the midst of a bridezilla breakdown!

Your Wedding Supplier A-Team

Sometimes, it might feel like your choices are limited when it comes to wedding suppliers but it's definitely worth exploring all of your options and making an informed decision before rushing into booking someone - these guys can make or break your wedding! Perhaps a tad dramatic but a bad egg among the bunch can leave a sour taste which is not how you want to remember parts of your wedding day.

So don't just book someone that you've seen on Instagram or picked up a leaflet from at a fair without first doing your research; check reviews and look for word of mouth recommendations - it can be tempting to book when you're at a wedding event and a supplier has a tempting 'show offer' for bookings taken then and there but it's not worth the regret. If you know an offer could sway you because the budget's tight, research the suppliers that are going to be present at any events you're going to in advance, that way you can take up that offer with confidence.

The most stressful supplier we dealt with over our wedding was a biggie - the reception venue. They were difficult, unreasonable at times and were lacking in giving us the communication and attention that a wedding deserves. I still stick by our decision to follow things through with them but even on the day, they irritated me - not ideal!

Thankfully our other suppliers were fantastic and more than made up for things. If you're looking for suppliers in the North West, I can highly recommend these guys;

Wedding Dress - Love Bridal, Altrincham | Flowers and Ceremony Venue - Taitlands, Settle | Vintage Bus Guest Transport - Red Bus Days | Photography - Ruth Atkinson | Make-up - Pretty Pinkies, Kirkby Lonsdale | Hair - Hair Design by Jess | Wedding Breakfast Catering - Party Animals, Settle | Evening Food Catering - All Fired Up Pizzas | Band - The Amy Wilson Band | Wedding Night Accomodation - Dugdales Barn, Settle

Yorkshire Vintage Bus Hire

Relax & Unwind

Obvious but the easiest thing in the world to forget to take out enough time for! I was guilty of not giving myself enough down time in the days leading up to the wedding and it put a lot of strain on me. If I had my time again, I'd heed my own advice, ask for more help from those around me and take some time to pamper myself.

Even though the day before the wedding was hard work, with myself and a few brilliant bridesmaids working non-stop all day to set up the reception venue, we did manage to get a bit of chill time in the evening before - the stress being firmly on 'a bit', since we stayed up drinking far too much until about 1am, even though we were to be up at 6:30am. I was also so excited/nervous that I didn't get any sleep. That's right; not one solitary wink! The adrenaline of the day carried me through but it definitely wasn't the ideal set-up for such an important day.

While our shenanigans were going on, I did manage to light my beautiful Jo Malone candle with the intention of it providing a bit of calm. My lovely work friends got this for me along with the Dry Oil as wedding presents.

Wedding Velvet Rose & Oud Candle
Wedding Fragrance Velvet Rose & Oud

These matched my Jo Malone wedding day fragrance - Velvet Rose & Oud which I chose at my wedding consultation. I'd not had any Jo Malone products before and now I'm hooked! I'd recommend the wedding fragrance consultation to any bride, even if you aren't sure about purchasing; it's such a nice treat for you and a bridesmaid or your mum. I took one of my bridesmaids to the Trafford Centre counter where our lovely consultant, Kerry talked us through the different scents. She asked me about various things I liked along with my favourite styles and smells - I couldn't believe it when she hit the nail on the head the first time with Velvet Rose & Oud, I loved it!

I decided to buy a complementary fragrance for Chris too and chose Oud & Bergamot which has similar notes but is much more masculine, it's amazing!

The (Beauty) Regime

Fragrance brings us nicely on to beauty. A few months before the wedding I decided to try out a couple of (expensive) new beauty products and then ended up reverting back to old favourites. I realised that it wasn't the time for experimentation and that I should stick with what I knew worked for my skin.

One good new habit I did pick up was drinking more water. We all know we should do it but pushing myself to drink more of the clear stuff in the weeks leading up to the wedding meant I was much more confident about my skin. Even though I'm 27, I'm still quite blemish prone so I definitely had nightmares about waking up with a huge breakout on my chin!

Bridal Makeup Prep

One perk of being a bride (for most) is putting your makeup in the hands of a professional. This was both reassuring and a bit scary for me. I'm not great at makeup so wouldn't have felt confident if tasked with it myself but at the same time, I was afraid of too much makeup and not looking like myself. Luckily, I needn't have worried because my makeup artist worked with bareMinerals products which kept my look really natural.

One thing you may not think about is a lip colour. Your makeup artist can get you ceremony-ready, but once you start eating, drinking, talking and kissing (!) you're going to want a top-up of your lip product so it's useful to buy something you love yourself to keep with you on the day.

I considered a few different 'long stay' lip colours but decided a high quality lipstick was a better option than something that might get dry and flaky after a few hours. A few people recommended the Tom Ford matte lipsticks to me and at what I thought were £30, they were pricey. Imagine my surprise when I stuck my card in and it said £40, I nearly fell off the chair!

I guess you get what you pay for, it really is a fantastic lipstick! I wanted a nude with a slight purple tone and went with shade 04, 'Pussycat'. With ingredients like soja seed extract, Brazilian murumuru butter and chamomilla flower oil, it's a super luxurious formula which glides on, stays put, wears evenly and has amazing pigment. 

It's really nice to be able to wear it out for special occasions to remind me of the day too.

Wedding Lipstick Tom Ford 04
Tom Ford Bridal Lipstick

Keep Luck on Your Side

I'm not superstitious, though I do like to indulge in tradition. I've always known that I'd want to honour the 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue' custom on my wedding day.

My 'something old' was a wedding present from Chris - a gold vintage heart-shaped locket. I absolutely love it and have worn it a lot since. It even has 'Xmas 1949' engraved on the back so it's lovely to think that this was once special to someone else all those years ago and now it has important meaning to me too.

I had a few qualifiers as 'something new', like my dress or shoes but the item I like to count this as was a pair of gold ball studs that my mum gave me on the morning of the wedding. She has some very similar earrings which I was going to borrow but she bought me some of my own instead. My 'something borrowed' then became a ring from my mum instead which belonged to my Great Nanna, who is still alive but at 97, wasn't able to make the ceremony so it meant the world to have a little piece of her with me.

Finally my 'something blue' was a lace garter with blue ribbon that I picked up in the Agent Provocateur sale.

Wedding Bride Vintage Locket
Bridal Wedding Garter Something Blue

Create a Safe Haven

It's important to feel comfortable and at ease on your wedding morning - this is prime time for those nerves kicking in!

As I got married in my hometown, I was able to stay at and get ready at my parents house. Being in familiar surroundings was really nice and even though it was a little strange having my best girls there with me (when 4/6 had never been up to the area I'm from), it was just perfect spending the morning with them.

I'd say that if you aren't getting ready somewhere familiar (like a hotel for example), it's a good idea to make things as homely as possible; light a candle, make cups of tea, lounge around in robes and slippers and do as you generally would at home. Getting married can feel alien enough without your surroundings throwing you off too.

Also make sure you plan in extra time to get ready - this is not the time to feel rushed, especially if you usually run late for everything like me!

The Shoes!

Ah the shoes! Happy feet mean a happy you so wear whatever you're comfortable in and don't worry about what you think's expected of you as a bride.

I stupidly bought my wedding shoes before I got my dress... don't do that! I thought that they'd go with anything. Guess what? They didn't! I did a complete 360 and decided to get new ones after my dress was chosen. Thankfully my original shoes were pretty cheap and I can now wear them for nights out so not all is lost.

I bought my dream shoes in the Vivienne Westwood sale on Christmas day. Any VW fans partial to a sale probably know how much of a fail their website is when it goes into the big Christmas sale and might understand what I went through to check out with them. FYI, it took over an hour. Worth it.

The shoes of dreams were actually pretty comfy, more so than the original ones I'd planned to wear (see, worth every penny). I survived well in them through my wedding and I don't think I changed them until around 10pm - good going! I am genuinely in love with them though and perhaps didn't want to take them off... I did attempt to break them in around the house a bit too which is always a good idea.

Vivienne Westwood Wedding Shoes Gold

Flat shoes for the evening - so important! Who wants to risk having to sit the dancing out at their own wedding? I definitely did not.

I struggled for a while to find a suitable pair of flat shoes but just in the nick of time, multi-brand designer site, Tessuti came to the rescue and asked if I'd like to try out a pair of Melissa shoes*. I am a huge fan of Melissa, especially the Vivienne Westwood collab shoes (of which I have a pair already) so when I spotted that they had some flat orb sandals in Ivory, I knew it was meant to be! These wear perfect to take away on my honeymoon too.

Vivienne Westwood Flat Wedding Evening Shoes
Vivienne Westwood Sandals Gold Orb

Spend Time with the Ones you Love

Probably the most important tip on this list. So many people will tell you this prior to your wedding - how they barely saw their partner and that the day passed them by. I can safely say that we ensured this didn't happen!

One key point to make on this, was our choice of photographer. Chris and I aren't ones for posey or staged photos (yes, this coming from a blogger - I hate it!) so it was important that we didn't feel hindered constantly all day and forced to lean against lamp posts, fake laugh at non-existent things in the distance and snog in the rain in front of our guests - just, no. We chose a documentary-style photographer because we didn't want to feel exposed all day and it was brilliant! Aside from the necessary close family shots and a few of us on our own away from the crowd, our photos were truly natural and reflected the day (tears, laughs, drunk dancing - the lot!).

Though this may mean you miss some opportunities for group photos, it was more important for us to enjoy the day without feeling like we were being constantly watched and needed for endless combinations of photos with every guest at the wedding. We were so pleased with our photographs; the one below is one of my favourites and I had no idea that it was being taken!

The Aftermath

This one is just as important as your set-up team. Hopefully you've had lots of help so far from your wonderful bridal party, friends and other loved ones but one thing you can't forget about is the clean-up job! Even if you don't have to clean or tidy the venue you've chosen, it's likely that you will need to carefully scour it the day after to ensure you've collected any decorations, DIYs that you've slaved over and want to keep and any wedding cards and gifts that might have been left dotted around.

Truth be told, you are not going to want to do this. You've just had the most hectic day of your life and are probably loved up, having a deserved lie in with your partner. There's no way you will want to get up and sort out the aftermath. I also believe that you shouldn't! Allow yourself to preserve the memory of the night before as it was - full of joy and laughter - not empty with a sticky floor, dirty glasses and in broad daylight.

Make sure you organise a handful of people that you love and trust to collect everything from the venue and square things with the venue and any suppliers that need to come and collect things or settle bills.

You're newly married and are hopefully soon to journey off on your honeymoon - stay on that high as long as possible!

There you have it, my top tips and pieces of advice for brides to be! Did you find these helpful? Anything you'd add? I'd love to know!


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Restaurant Review: Bottomless Pizza & Prosecco at Buca Di Pizza, Manchester


Today brings a new Manchester restaurant opening that I was really excited about - Buca Di Pizza*.

This independently run pizzeria has already made a name for itself in Leeds for its  'Tutto' deal - unlimited pizza orders with bottomless refills of prosecco or house lager for an hour and a half.

Sounds like a dream to me!

I went down to the new cellar-style restaurant on Lloyd Street (close to Red's True BBQ) shortly after the opening to see if it lived up to expectation.

The restaurant is really nicely decorated inside. Walking down the steps from street level, you feel like you've stumbled across a real hidden gem. Buca Di Pizza, Manchester feels like an unassuming, Italian cafe, classically designed but with quirky relics lining the walls.

Opting for the Tutto deal, of course, I started off with prosecco (which was perfect) before trying the 'house' birra - which I'm usually a bit dubious of but I was pleased to find that Buca Di Pizza's was great!

The Pizzas

I was amazed at the choice on the menu. BDP specialise in Neapolitan style pizzas with 'a modern twist', with the menu split between classic Italian toppings and their own creations - including notable pizzas like 'The Snake Charmer' (Goan coconut curry sauce, chilli glazed paneer, lamb koftas, onion bhajis, grated carrot & beetroot, mint yogurt) and 'Rome of the East' (sweet potato & chickpea sauce, crunchy fried falafel, herb marinated feta, red onion, rocket and chili & mango dressing).

Our first pizza choices were a 'Nduja Love Me?' for me (tomato & basil sauce, grated mozzarella, mascarpone, spicy nduja paste, pepperoni, roast chicken, sundried tomatoes) and a 'Hickory Pig' for Chris (hickory barbecue sauce, grated mozzarella, chantico spiced cheddar, smoked pancetta, hickory smoked pulled pork) - both from the 'Pizza Buca' creation menu.

Both were well made and piled high with good quality toppings - impressive! Mine was very tasty and even though I'm usually more of a classic girl, the multitude of toppings seemed to work really well together; the mascarpone especially was a delicious touch. Chris was happy as Larry with the Hickory Pig as he loves BBQ sauce base pizzas but they just aren't for me so he doesn't have them often!

We ate these a little too quickly, eager to try a couple more. Next up were two pizzas from the Classic menu - a simple Pepperoni and a Frestosa - tomato & basil sauce, stracchina cheese, rocket, prosciutto and balsamic glaze. I found the balsamic a little overbearing on the Frestosa but other than that, these were great too - though we definitely preferred our first choices from the Pizza Buca menu!

We didn't manage much from our second pizzas so the friendly staff kindly boxed them up for us to take away.

At £25.95 per person, the Tutto deal represents great value - and quality! Though if stuffing your face isn't necessarily your thing, the individual pizza prices are really reasonable and they also serve pasta dishes too.

Is bottomless pizza and prosecco something you'd like to try?


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Restaurant Review: Steak Out at El Capo, Manchester


Another food review today, and not somewhere that would immediately come to the fore of my mind when thinking of somewhere to eat - it's Mexican-themed Northern Quarter bar, El Capo*!

Steak Out Monday

Chris and I joined El Capo for their Monday 'Steak Out' - an appetising deal of steak for two, two sides and a bottle of house wine for just £25, impressive indeed!

We're both big fans of a steak and having never eaten at El Capo before, we were eager to find out if this deal was as tasty as it sounded.

Not wanted to miss out on cocktails, we ordered a couple of those while we waited for the food. I had the house margarita: tequila, sugar, lime and salt - it was strong!

Chris had the 'Cocktail With No Name' - a homage to Clint Eastwood's masculine 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' character, containing the not-so-masculine ingredients of mango vodka, creme de peche, lime, lychee and pink grapefruit. This one was really good! 

On to the main event! The steak looked and tasted soo good. Substantial, well-seasoned (with extra salt and pepper on the board to taste) and sliced up so we could see how perfectly cooked all the way through it was. It was executed beautifully, medium rare as ordered.

We felt like our two sides were well-chosen: a wonderfully gooey, cheesy and tasty mac and cheese, with triple cooked sweet potato wedges. Both sides were delicious and went well with the steak.

The house red wine, an easy-drinking Merlot was the perfect finishing accompaniment.

I was majorly blown away by the value and quality of El Capo's steak night. The colourful and casual surroundings (and the fact that Happy Hour lasts until 7pm!) make it the perfect impromptu evening out as an antidote to the Monday blues.

My next trip will definitely be for 'Wing it Wednesday' - 50p chicken wings all night!

Have you eaten at El Capo

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