Sunday, 8 January 2017

Restaurant Review: Autumn/Winter Menu at Jamie's Italian, Manchester


I was recently invited down to the Jamie's Italian, Manchester branch to try out their latest Autumn/Winter menu*. As a huge fan of Italian food and having yet to try out one of the Jamie Oliver franchises - I jumped at the chance.

The Jamie's Italian in Manchester is located on upmarket King Street in a huge listed building and former old bank. The chain was founded by Oliver in 2008 - which took me aback a little as I still consider it quite a new line of restaurants! All the more reason that I finally tried it...

Ideally located, we popped into nearby All Bar One for a quick glass of wine before our booking; it was the perfect crisp and freezing cold winter evening and I was more than ready for a warm, comforting pasta dish.

Despite Jamie's Italian having proudly sat here apparently for several years it was incredibly busy, even for a pre-Christmas Saturday. We weren't able to sit down right away (despite being on time for our booking) though we enjoyed the atmospheric bar area with its grand high ceilings and rustic charm.

We were soon taken from our bar table to the dining area and were given a decadent velvet upholstered half booth area near the kitchen. With low level lighting, the dining area has a real cosy yet grandiose feel.

No sooner had we been given our menus, I accidentally flung my glass of wine all over Chris and the poor chap who was half of the couple next to us (who were lovely - he took it really well!). The waiter insisted that I told him what I was drinking, despite me insisting that it was completely my fault, and promptly brought both of us a top up free of charge which was a really nice gesture.


We love traditional antipasti so opted for one of the 'famous planks' of the meat variety; a generous board made up of cured Italian meats, buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, olives and more.

Shortly before this arrived, we were presented with two cans of tinned tomoatoes. These appeared while I was away from the table and apparently came without explanation. Ourselves and our now acquainted table neighbours mused over what an earth these could be for some time before all became clear and the starter arrived!

The plank was certainly plentiful and appetising enough to make pausing for photos before digging in quite the task!

The meats in particular were of really good quality and very enjoyable, especially the fennel salami and schiacciata piccante. The chilli jam with thinly sliced wedges of pecorina was really tasty too!

Main Course

I struggled to choose a main as there were loads of dishes I could happily have picked; closest contender being a squid ink pasta which was one of the specials of the day.

Having read that all the pasta was made freshly on site, we both chose from that section of the menu - even though the grill and pizza menus sounded equally as tempting!

I chose the humbly titled Spicy Sausage Penne, a pasta dish in a pork and fennel ragu with ‘nduja sausage, breadcrumbs and parmesan.

I was left a little underwhelmed by this one. I was hoping that the pasta would be drenched in a rich ragu sauce but it was much lighter than I expected. I was also hoping for a bit more spice given the dish's name but though favoursome, I didn't really get any heat at all. It was a big portion though and certainly filled me up!

Chris played it safe with the Lasagne but oh my god, this was incredible - serious food envy was experienced! The ragu in this dish was really really rich and tasty, made with 12 hour slow-cooked Oxtail and Chianti. It was heavenly and one of the best lasagnes I've tried - I need to go back for the whole portion!


Already very full but unable to resist a glance at the dessert menu, we decided we couldn't pass one up.

I had to to go for the completely indulgent Molten Chocolate Praline pudding - a melt in the middle warm chocolate sponge, served with ice cream and praline pieces.

There's little that could turn me off a dessert like this and while it wasn't the best molten chocolate pudding I've had, it was beautifully rich and chocolately and the praline flavour of the sauce made this a little bit more interesting.

Chris chose the Tiramisu Pavlova, an Italian twist on a British classic which probably best sums up the concept of the resataurant. The spot on meringue was rippled with a subtle coffee favour and topped with chocolate ice cream, hazelnuts and chocolate sauce. Delicious!

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Jamie's. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into the look and feel of the restaurant, as well as the dishes - which I would describe as rustic, fresh, flavoursome contemporary Italian comfort food.

The best part? The service. Despite how busy the restaurant was, our waiter was so attentive and friendly and couldn't do enough for us (he didn't know I was reviewing the meal either!).

I would definitely recommend Jamie's Italian for dependable, hearty Italian fare served in a beautiful classic yet contemporary setting.

Have you visited a Jamie's brand before?


Thursday, 29 December 2016

Review: Hair Makeover at RCNQ Manchester


Today I'm reviewing* a new salon - not new to Manchester, as this creative space has been occupying the Northern Quarter for three years BUT even though I'm a bit of a hairdresser-hopper, I was yet to try RCNQ.

RCNQ is a small, friendly and innovative salon on Hilton Street in the heart of Manchester's Northern Quarter.

I booked in for a cut and colour and it couldn't come soon enough. I haven't had my hair professionally coloured for well over a year; in which time I've DIY'ed green dip dye, box dye brown, box dye purple, home bleach lightening and box dye red! The result? A patchy, brassy, faded mess! See below...

I discussed my options with the lovely, Helena - RCNQ's resident Colour Director, so I felt in safe hands!

After all the experimentation, I decided that I should go back to basics. I knew that by July next year (when I get married!), I just want to have a natural shade so I decided to opt for a nice all-over brown base colour. With Helena's help, I chose a gorgeous cool dark chocolate shade.

The lovely staff at RCNQ kept me refreshed with endless cups of tea whilst my dye developed.

Another thing I loved about the salon was the products used (which is really important to me). RCNQ use Bumble and Bumble hair products which I was really pleased about. I'm already a fan of the Thickening Spray so I was excited to try some of their other products.

Cut-wise, I decided to go a little shorter. I went for a bob with my usual side parting, sloping into a slightly longer shape at the front.

Are you ready for the before and after?

I'm so pleased with it! I can't believe how even the colour is, considering the mess that exists underneath. It came out very dark initially, but after a couple of washes, it's mellowed out to the perfect dark ashy brown above.

Rob (owner) and his team should be very proud of this salon, it's actually unlike any I've visited in Manchester. It's not a faceless chain, everything feels carefully curated - right down to all the people who work there, who all have individual style and seem to get on more than just coincidental colleagues. There's no boring small talk about the weather and holidays here either, just genuine and interesting conversation from people who care.

If you're looking for a new salon in Manchester, I'd highly recommend RCNQ and better still, they run a 25% off discount for all first visits!

Have you been to RCNQ before?


Sunday, 18 December 2016

Cryolipolysis (Fat-Freezing) in Manchester at Skinhealth Spa


So, Cryolipolyis - what is that? I didn't know either but when Skinhealth Spa (i.e. my most trusted skincare/cosmetics salon in Manchester!) asked if I'd like to try it out* I thought, why not!

What is Cryolipolysis, Anyway?

Cryolipolysis is a 'fat freezing' treatment which promises to rid you of pesky fat cells in the treated area; permanently. The idea is that your chosen area is frozen, which kills said cells - never to return. It all sounds fairly drastic however the treatment, which is a relatively new technology, is dubbed the 'safe and pain-free alternative to lipo' - you know, that invasive treatment that celebs seem to get as a 'last resort' or ticket to a 'new body' if the Daily Mail is your info text du jour.

So why did I want to try it I hear you cry? 

You may be aware that I'm getting married next year and I admit, the pressure to get in shape is pretty high. I thought I'd lose a few pounds on my own accord and that would be that but I never anticipated the kind of comments you get from those around you - some even strangers! - giving their advice and expectation that you need to lose half your body weight and do everything humanly possible to 'look your best'.

I'm as sensitive as the next person and comments like that do get to you, though I'm determined to do what's right for me and in my own time too.

That said, my arms have always bothered me. I've never been happy with the tops of my arms, even when I've been much slimmer, they'd always stood out as being 'big' to me, so the thought of being able to get them looking a bit leaner for my wedding was appealing - so in I booked!

The Process

The lovely, Dominique was performing the treatment for me and told me that she was something of an expert 'fat freezer'. She totally put me at ease prior to and during the procedure.

Firstly we discussed the area I wanted to freeze and she measured the most 'flabby' parts of each arm to make sure the optimum area would be captured. I found it interesting that one arm had half an inch more fat! Though I suppose that the arm you use most is likely to be more toned.

After defining the area, she explained how the machine worked. We decided it would be best for me to lie on my front, with my arms propped up on my elbows. It's important to get as comfy as possible as the machine stays on for a whole hour for the treatment.

Once comfortable, Dominique proceeded to apply the machine to my left arm first. A gel is applied, along with a thin layer of material which prevents the cold temperature from damaging your skin tissue.

The cup is then placed onto the arm which has a strong suction, which pulls your flesh into the machine, where it's cooled to -8°C. The process is repeated on the other side, then you just need to sit tight for the hour!

Dominique left me to relax but periodically came to check on me and even brought me some magazines and some water - to be honest, it was nice just to lie down and relax for an hour, I wasn't bored at all!

Once the hour was up and the cups taken off, the frozen cells needed to be broken up. For the final stage, the Aesthetician massages the frozen area.


On initial impressions, the whole procedure felt very easy. It's obvious that Skinhealth Spa are total pros at this! I felt at ease the whole time and Dominique was able to tell me a great deal about the treatment, process and results I could expect.

The salon itself has a real boutique feel. It's small but perfectly formed; not clinical, just calming, clean, professional and friendly - which is why I love to go there for treatments. The expertise at Skinhealth, I feel, is unrivalled and it's all done with a smile and a friendly, chatty person at the helm.

The guys at Skinhealth explained that it takes 8 weeks to see the optimum results for the treatment, plus I've booked in for an extra treatment in January to boost my results. I'm therefore going to come back here and post before and after photos and extra updates. Look out for my progress updates which I'll put on Twitter!


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Definitely Maybe (Baby): Supersonic & Oasis Exhbition, Manchester


Being an enthusiastically adopted Mancunion, I was excited to get the chance to go to the Oasis: Chasing the Sun exhibition at Old Granada Studios where not only were rare and iconic photos and memorabilia from the early Oasis years (1993-1997) on display, but a full screening of the feature length documentary, Supersonic was held courtesy of Scotts Menswear.

Fedora Hat: Primark
'Maybe Baby' Jumper: Joanie
 Coat: vintage via charity shop
Jeans: New Look
Boots: Topshop

I'm wearing my new slogan jumper from Joanie Clothing which I'm loving for adding a pop of colour to my usually all-black outfits - it's so soft too!

The coat pictured above has had me pretty excited too. I found this in a charity shop for £14.99 and couldn't walk away. It's a beautiful bottle green with a black faux fur collar and is 100% wool (90% of which is lambswool). I'm so glad I didn't leave it on the rail.

I've been a fan of Oasis since I was young; they were, and still are, one of my mum's favourite bands. I have some great memories of uni, belting out entire Oasis albums with my northern housemates, drunk in the kitchen of our halls. I remember someone at the time saying that they thought Oasis lyrics must be innately embedded in the minds of northerners from birth - there's probably some truth to that!

The exhibition wasn't huge but there were some really cool pieces there. Tons of rare and unseen photographs mixed with other artifacts like various guitars that Noel played and the infamous white parka that Liam wore at Glastonbury in 1995. I was actually really taken aback to see Noel's hand-scrawled lyrics to iconic hits like Champagne Supernova and Wonderwall which were on display.

There was also a life-size replica set of Bonehead's West Didsbury living room with many of the original props so visitors could recreate the iconic cover of the album, Definitely Maybe. As you can imagine, that was a lot of fun...

Of course then there was the film. I'd wanted to see Supersonic but hadn't actually heard a great deal about it - other than that it was a documentary charting the band's success.

I didn't expect it to be SO good. With gig footage, unseen backstage antics and interviews and an obviously cracking soundtrack, it somehow managed to be authentic, heartwarming, extremely funny and sad in places all at once. 

For any fans who missed the exhibition at Old Granada Studios (which is now closed), I've heard that there's an Oasis photography exhibition from one of the band's longest-serving photographers being held at Manchester Central Library, which is also free and is running until January.

Did you visit the Chasing the Sun exhibition or have seen the documentary film? What did you think?


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Restaurant Review: Chaophraya, Manchester


A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of trying a new restaurant - new to me, but something of an established hidden gem in Manchester I've since realised: Thai restaurant, Chaophraya*.

We found Chaophraya (on Chapel Walks) a little tricky to locate and even from the outside, the restaurant looks fairly unassuming and easy to bypass. On the inside however, things get interesting. The place is huge, tastefully yet grandly decorated and feels unmistakably Thai, with staff traditionally dressed and all manner of authentic adornments lining the walls.

Once inside and greeted by the friendly hostesses, we were quickly shown to our seats and within a blink of an eye, were brought a welcomed basket full of spicy Thai crackers and had our drinks orders taken. Chris opted for a tried-and-tested Chang (Thai) beer while I decided to try one of the restaurant's signature cocktails.

The purpose of the evening was to try out Chaophraya's relaunched menu. The menu itself helpfully explains how the restaurant name is pronounced; not so surprisingly, we got it wrong. Thankfully our uneducated selves were schooled by an extremely knowledgeable fellow (whose name I can't quite remember. I think he was the group's Marketing Director!) who walked us through the menu.

He explained that in relaunching Chaophraya's menu with new and refined dishes, some of the top chefs from Manchester had been taken on a trip to Thailand to research the cuisine (which in itself is a really lovely opportunity as many were reunited with family still living there) and that the development of the new menu had been carefully thought out and taken many months to create.

Armed with our new-found information, we perused the menu. We found that we were spoilt for choice with the Starters listed, though finally settled on the Steamed Dumplings and Thai Chicken Tacos with a view to share.

The starters were truly nothing short of excellent. The prawn and pork steamed dumplings were light and fragrant, while packing authentic favour in abundance.

The modestly named Chicken Tacos were equally great. They were so delicate (we loved the extra touch of the edible flowers) but had a beautiful and complex flavour. They were amazing!

We ordered some more drinks between courses. Our waiter explained that the 'Theatre' cocktails were the most impressive and a 'must-try'. On his recommendation, I went for the Mockingbird; a creation made with gin, Maraschino liquor, pink grapefruit juice, cherry and soda - oh, and served in a massive botanical birdcage!

Having found my first cocktail okay, I did worry that this would just be a more dressed up version of mediocre but I was pleasantly surprised to find this one to be genuinely pretty good, even if the cage was a little OTT!

We were waiting rather a long time for our mains and having seen the restaurant filled up considerably, it was easy to see why the service was slowing. We were kindly offered a tour including a behind the scenes look at the kitchen while we waited which we jumped at the chance at!

I was actually pleased about the long wait and resulting opportunity to go up to the kitchen, as we got to see much more of the restaurant and its interesting decor. Getting to see the food being prepared and cooked first-hand was also a great experience. It was easy to see that the chefs were highly skilled and passionate about creating authentic Thai cuisine.

No sooner had we sat back in our seats, our main courses arrived. We both had wanted the Massaman Lamb Curry, which I surrendered to Chris and he accompanied with Sticky Rice. I chose the Palm Sugar and Chilli Glazed Chicken which was teamed with Coconut Rice.

The mains were authentic and tasty but it has to said, not quite as spectacular as the starters. In all fairness to Chaophraya, the things that let them down here are easily attributed to having a much busier than usual restaurant, so I'll let them off the hook.

Chris' Massaman Curry was flavourful but it was clear it had been cooking too long as the lamb was a little tough, which is a real shame as the sauce was really tasty. His rice was actually very poor and stuck together in a big lump! Had we been here under usual circumstances, we would have sent the rice back.

Having read back over the menu, I'm not actually sure I received the correct main course. The chicken should have been spatchcock style so I think I may have got the Chicken with Plum Sauce. Nonetheless, it was delicious and really tender - which is no mean feat for a crumbed, fried chicken. In contrast to Chris' rice, mine was beautiful and I loved that it came wrapped in banana leaf.

Full to the brim but still unable to pass up the offer of dessert, we chose the Chocolate Bombe and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Chaophraya certainly pulled things back with the puddings. It's not often that Asian restaurants put a great deal of emphasis on desserts but these were genuinely fantastic. Chris' 'Bombe' was quite the spectre; the waiter poured molten caramel sauce over it at the table, melting it's chocolate shell and revealing its centre of Thai whiskey ice cream, honey and toasted sesame popcorn. Though I'm not so keen on whiskey (Irish, as presumably this was, or otherwise!), I tried it and agreed it was brilliant!

My Thai take on a sticky toffee pudding was also pretty bloody good too. The pudding had a wicked dose of ginger which gave it a little heat - a fabulous twist on a British classic.

All in all, we had a wonderful evening in beautiful surroundings with absolutely fantastic staff. This busier than usual menu launch evening saw things go a bit south with the mains which unfortunately hit at quite obviously their busiest point in the evening. I would love to go back wholeheartedly another time on a typical day of service.

The dedication and creatively put into all aspects of the new menu is evident - well done, Chaophraya!

Have you visited Chaophraya before?

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