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?


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Autumn = Knitwear


So this time of year is my absolute favourite. The mornings are cooler, the leaves fall, the sun shines brightly but there's a nip in the air - oh, and it's also my birthday!

I've just had the most wonderful birthday weekend; basically just eating and drinking a lot with excellent people.

I've generally felt super happy these past couple of weeks, everything is going fantastically (work, wedding planning), I've had a brilliant birthday and the change in seasons has really perked me up (I was so done with 'summer').

We've been so lucky with the weather here. It's been blissful, perfect and definitively autumnal. I felt like as soon as the 1st of October hit, the temperature significantly dropped too - which has got me all excited for adding to my autumn wardrobe.

The first piece of knitwear I acquired this season is this Stripe Colour Block Jumper from Matalan* - who have a great range of classic styles at the moment and have even put together a handy Knitwear Guide on their site.

Jumper - Matalan*
Choker - ASOS
Jeans - ASOS
Boots - Kat Maconie

It has a real 90s feel to it. I think it's the tonal grey and black in the wide block stripes. It actually reminds me a lot of a jumper my mum used to wear a lot when I was younger!

I live in chunky knit jumpers at this time of year so I'm sure I'll get lots of wear out of this piece.

I decided to dress up the jumper and new slim 'mom' jeans (ASOS' 'Farleigh' fit) with some red lippy and spangly red shoe boots from Kat Maconie. KM is brand I've only recently come across but when I happened upon her site I was in LOVE!

I'd say KM's prices are a stop gap between high street and designer - the new collections are more than I'd probably pay for shoes but there are some amazing bargains to be had in the Sale and Outlet sections (like these boots!).

I was so excited to find the brand, I thought twice about sharing it! JK. In all seriousness, KM's shoes are totally my bag - quirky, edgy and affordable. I can't wait to add more to my collection.

What are you wearing this Autumn?


Monday, 19 September 2016

Treasured By Seema: Forever Unique's New Collection Launch at Menagerie Manchester


A few weeks ago I got to experience Manchester's new Mengerie Bar & Restaurant on New Bailey Street on the outskirts of the city centre.

Officially launching the following day, we got a sneak peek of the new venue, getting to experience it first - all the name of fashion!

The brand new venue played host to Manchester-based global brand, Forever Unique and the unveiling of the SS17 collection; Treasured By Seema Malhotra.

Seema Malhotra is Forever Unique's Design Director and also a star of  ITV's Real Housewives of Cheshire.

The event was filmed for the programme (which, even though I don't watch it, I can't wait to see!) so the lure of the TV cameras, stars of the show present and the new opulent setting meant there was a massive amount of buzz around this launch.

There's been a lot of hype around the the opening of Menagerie. With the promise of an 'immersive' dining experience or 'culinary theatre' as they put it, presumably achieved by attractions such as women dangling from chandeliers to pour your champagne and cocktails garnished with a burning £20 note...

It all sounded a bit ostentatious to me. I'm all for glamorous, slick bars if they have substance behind them but this one was beginning to seem a little gimmicky.

Fortunately, my premonition was wrong. Even though the place is undeniably decadent - step up to the main bar, covered in gold leaf and towered over by a gold statue of Greek God Hermes and tell me otherwise - it's not as intimidating as it sounds.

Every corner of the venue has surprising and interesting little touches; it's incredibly Instagrammable - and I mean that in the best way!

As stylish as the Menagerie is, it's surprisingly not without that substance I was talking about. Throught the event, we were able to sample some of the drinks and food, in the form of canapes, on offer. The modern American-inspired dishes at Menagerie are incredibly flavoursome and well-presented if what we were served is anything to go by. Having seen the full menu, it's also pretty reasonable price-wise too.

After getting suitably sparkled by the amazing girls at We Are Beautiq, we took to our seats for the SS17 catwalk show - didn't I mention that the bar has a built-in retractable catwalk?

The new collection matched the tone of the evening perfectly, exuding glamour and exclusivity. With Forever Unique's trademark high level of detail and embellishment in a fresh spring colour palette, Seema says;

"I wanted to create a collection that would create memories, that’s why I called it ‘Treasured’. Each piece screams luxury - they have been hand-crafted with a lot of attention to detail, so it’s something a woman would invest in and treasure for life."

Unfortunately, we weren't able to take any photos during the show but we were able to get up-close-and-personal with the fabulous AW16 range.

Have you visited the Menagerie yet? I don't know about you but all this sparkle has got me in the mood for party season!


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Review: Bodylab Total Protein Powder For Women


A little health and fitness review today! I recently got the opportunity to try BodyLab's Total Protein Vanilla Shake*.

I was excited to try BodyLab's products as they are created especially for women. Their range of protein-packed formulas don't contain any added creatine - which means they don't promote the building of bulky mass, or play havoc with your hormones.

I'm currently on a bit of a pre-wedding health kick so adding in an extra protein source to my daily routine amongst my increased level of exercise gives a great boost to my efforts.

Heralded as "simply a unique blend created with plant-based compounds to help you burn through excess body fat, get lean, and feel amazing" and endorsed by none other than abs-of-steel goddess, Jennifer Lopez, I was ready to begin!

To fully disclaim, I've been mostly using these shakes as meal replacements for a quick breakfast or lunch. To make them more filling, I've typically been blending the protein powder with a milk substitute like almond milk, hazelnut milk or coconut-based milk. My go-to brands for these are the Alpro and Almond Breeze varieties which are typically available in most big supermarkets.

I found this protein powder fairly sweet (as opposed to some others I've used previously like Juice Plus and Purition) so I found that I only needed to use the unsweetened versions of the milks. At only 80 calories a shake (if made simply with water), it's great that sweetened additions aren't needed.

I like to mix up my shakes so I often like to blend them up with fruits too. Bananas are always great and I've recently liked picking up frozen berries too. The frozen raspberries I've used below are from Aldi - they are a great alternative to fresh ones and it means you can use them whenever you like with no wastage!  

I find it best to put the raspberries in first and leave them in a little of the almond milk (or water if used) to defrost slightly; it just makes them a little softer for blending. I use the Magic Bullet for my shakes - it's made by the same people as the better-known NutriBullet. It was much cheaper and though it's not quite as powerful, it does come with lots more useful attachments. I have no complaints whatsoever about it and would definitely recommend it to a shake or smoothie newbie!

Something else I like to add to my shakes (though it didn't go into the one above) is an almond butter for a slightly nutty taste (and peanut butter isn't my thing). My favourite has to be Pip & Nut's Almond and Coconut Butter. You can definitely taste the coconut which also adds a nice sweetness - I got mine from a health food website but I'm sure I've since noticed it in some supermarkets and high street chains so I'd definitely recommend looking out for it.

Overall, I really liked Body Lab's shake! The vanilla flavour is subtle and sweet - though not too sweet; nor does it have that really fake chemically sweetness that some powders have.

Even though at 80 calories (without the calories in the milk), I found these shakes surprising filling! A shake like this one for breakfast easily kept me going until lunchtime - even after a workout!

I often make a big shake and might drink half for breakfast and put it the fridge and have the rest for lunch. I did find that these didn't keep so well and sometimes 'split' after being in the fridge. Though I'd say most protein shakes are best made fresh each time and this isn't the ideal thing to do anyway.

Overall, I really enjoyed trying these shakes and think that packing 15 grams of protein into an 80 cal, great tasting shake is pretty impressive work. I was worried that the product would taste a bit 'fake' as it's not marketed as a 'natural' product - however after looking at the ingredients, they are surprisingly free from nasties.

I'd definitely recommend BodyLab products to any women looking to introduce a little protein boost into their health and fitness routine!

Do you use protein shakes alongside your workouts? What's your favourite brand?

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