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  • Laughing at tea pouring during afternoon tea

    Afternoon Tea at Laura Ashley The Tea Room, Solihull

    This is a review of Laura Ashley The Tea Room, organised through Coventry Bloggers.

    This month, Jim and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. Although I try not to buy into the hype about celebrations like this (I’ve learned from the past… if I get my hopes up for grand romantic gestures, I usually end up disappointed – Jim is amazing at a lot of things, but being romantic isn’t generally one of them!), I do think it’s good for us to have a reason to prioritse spending quality time together. It’s a guilt-free excuse (I know, we shouldn’t need an excuse but the pschology and reasoning behind that is a blog post for another day!), and this year, we thought what better way to toast to another year of wedded life than a good old afternoon tea in the town where we legally became man and wife. read more

    Dining Out, Lifestyle, Reviews
    / April 25, 2019
  • Our Date in Birmingham

    This is a collaborative post with Hotels.Com

    High on my priority list for this year are date nights. Or date days. Since becoming parents, the quality time I’ve spent with Little Pickle’s Dad has sadly dropped, and now that leaving Pickle with a babysitter is a lot easier, it’s something we want to really dedicate more time to. With that in mind, when Hotels.Com challenged us to spending the best day in Birmingham we could think of, we jumped at the opportunity. It was the perfect excuse to spend our January date in the city we love – I just wish we’d have had even longer. Next time, we need to look up some hotels in Birmingham to really make the most of it, especially as I spotted some amazing looking places for breakfast or brunch. read more

    Days Out, Dining Out, Lifestyle, Marriage
    / January 24, 2019
  • Portobello mushrooms with gorgeous bread

    The Victoria Inn, Barnt Green

    You can always tell if I like somewhere, as I’ll be planning my return visit before I’ve even gotten home. I must get that trait off my parents, who were sat during dinner last Wednesday, making plans to bring back their friends to The Victoria Inn in Barnt Green (and I’m tempted to come back to celebrate my birthday next month!). It’s recently undergone a beautiful refurbishment, and it was an absolute treat to spend the evening there earlier this week with LPD (Little Pickle’s Dad), my Mum and my Dad to preview the new look and sample the Autumn/Winter menu.

    Having worked at a pub before, during and after a refurbishment, I know what the excitement is like. To see your place of work undergo a transformation is weirdly thrilling and the sense of new beginnings and a fresh start means everyone ups their game. As soon as we walked in, to the smell of freshly painted walls, and were greeted by the Victoria Inn staff, I got the feeling that they were willing us to like it as much as they did – and guess what? We did.

    I hadn’t visited The Victoria Inn before, so I didn’t really know what to compare it to – but my parents had. I think they’d had a meet up there with their Guide Dog pals (my Mum and Dad look after Guide Dog puppies and take them all sorts of places as part of their training, including trips on the train to nice local pubs… it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!).

    We each grabbed a drink at the bar (gin and tonics for three of us, it would have been rude not to with the gorgeous gin station at the end of the bar to pimp up our Tanquerays) and took a seat in the bar to familiarise ourselves with the new decor. My Dad was very happy to see that the fire place was still there, and I think he’s quite looking forward to returning for a cosy drink on a wintry afternoon.

     

    Whilst we sipped our gins and chatted about our respective days, the Victoria Inn team brought us over a couple of sample plates of different starters (sharing plates of food are always my favourite!). We tried duck parfait, salt and szechuan pepper squid (SO GOOD!), deep fried brie, a lobster and prawn creme fraiche delight and some gorgeous beef.

    They definitely whetted our appetite for the meal to come, and as we took our seats at our table, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the menu. Usually, I look up menus online before we visit anywhere but I refrained this time which meant it took me longer than usual to peruse the options and decide what to go for. Thankfully, our waitress was able to help me choose (I always trust staff recommendations!).

    Although I think all four of us chose quite meaty dishes, it was impressive to see a whole vegan menu (I was quite tempted by the Spiced Coconut Curry, but I’ve been choosing a lot of rice dishes when eating out recently so wanted to try something a bit different this time).

    As we waited for our starters to arrive, we tried a bit of this really unique chili mango and pineapple. I made sure to try a mango piece as I’m not a huge pineapple fan, and it had quite a kick to it! Something a little bit different. I’d love to try and recreate that at home.

    I think I’m just going to let these photos do the talking because… well, they tasted as gorgeous as they all looked. There were a couple of choices on the menu that were flagged as being calorie-friendly, so seeing as I was having an indulgent evening, I thought I’d try and least do some damage control with my starter and so went for the Sweet Chilli King Prawn Roll: king prawns with julienne vegetables wrapped in rice paper. LPD went for the Scallops of the Day, served with bacon and black pudding, my Mum went for Portobello Mushrooms and my Dad went for the Carrot and Coriander Soup.

    We’d asked for some wine recommendations to go with our food, going for a bottle of red and a bottle of white and the waitress didn’t even need to hesitate before offering some suggestions. My Mum and Dad can be a bit fussy with their red wine (they’ve got expensive tastes!) but I’m generally quite happy with any white wine as long as it’s not Chardonnay. We were all pleased with the choices though, and my white wine in particular went so well with my Pork dish main.

    As the Victoria Inn wasn’t open to the public during our preview meal on Wednesday, it meant I didn’t feel like a complete idiot for getting my big camera out. Usually, when we’re out for a restaurant review, I feel really silly using my camera and just try to quickly take a few sneaky shots before anyone really notices and other customers question what on earth I’m doing. Thank goodness that I had a bit more freedom this week as when our main courses arrived, the dishes all looked so beautiful.

    First up: LPD went for the Chicken and Leek pie, topped with a ham hock crumb, mash and greens…

    My Dad opted for pan-fried Sea Bass fillets with parmentier potatoes, pancetta, olives (which he didn’t eat!), spinach and a white wine voloute:

    I went for the Pork Belly, served with Seared Scallops, dauphinoise potatoes, butternut squash puree, green beans, crackling and a red wine jus. I’m a sucker for pork so had high hopes – it did not disappoint! Next time, I’d probably order it without the Scallops just for portion size reasons, but it all came together beautifully and was absolutely divine:

    And the award for the most drool inducing plate of food goes to my Mum’s choice – the Roasted Rack of Lamb, with aubergine, roasted sweet peppers, dauphinoise potatoes and a red wine jus:

    Looking back, I’m a bit gutted I didn’t think to ask my fellow diners for a taste of their dishes (for research purposes, obviously) – I was just so enjoying my own that the thought didn’t cross my mind. The Victoria Inn also has pizzas, burgers and steaks on the menu – and if the little taster we had was anything to go by, the Stir Fried Beef Fillet Salad would be a delicious choice too.

    I think my eyes might’ve been bigger than my belly as even though I felt so full, I couldn’t resist ordering pudding too. Although I’m usually a sucker for a crumble (and the menu boasts a lovely sounding Apple & Blackberry one), I trusted another recommendation from our waitress and went for the Chocolate Bomb. I mean, it’s not every day you get to try a rich chocolate shell filled with sticky toffee pudding, peanut cream and served with a hot salted caramel sauce.

    It was ABSOLUTELY delicious, and I love a pudding with a bit of drama (the waitress poured the hot sauce over the chocolate bomb to reveal it’s sticky toffee contents). Chocolate bombs are always a dessert menu highlight, aren’t they? But for those wanting a bit more of a home comfort, my Dad went for a mini version of the Apple & Blackberry Crumble with a hot drink.

    It’s only been recently that I’ve really appreciated hot drinks at the end of a meal when dining out. I used to think it was a bit of a waste of money when you could just go home for a cuppa instead, but actually, there’s something really luxurious about taking the time to let your meal go down and just bask in that lovely post-food glow and enjoy the atmosphere. It helps when the decor surrounding you is gorgeous!

    All in all, it was such a delightful evening. One I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. It was an extra little treat to bump into Jen from Rice Cakes and Raisins who was enjoying a meal with her Mum – I can’t wait to read what she thought of the new look too.

    If you’re looking for a local restaurant that offers stunning decor, a friendly atmosphere and guarantees gastronomical satisfaction – you’re onto a winner with The Victoria Inn. Hop onto the train if you want to enjoy a cocktail or two (it’s two for £10 from 12pm – 7pm Monday to Friday) or do what we did, and drive there, leave the car overnight and grab a taxi home.

    From the four of us, we wish the team at The Victoria Inn all the very best in the coming weeks as they show off the new refurbishment, and we’ll be back soon to devour your gorgeous food again. Thank you for having us, and a big cheers to new beginnings and gorgeous interiors.

    If you’d like to see a bit more from our meal at the Victoria Inn, I’ve added my Instastories from the evening to a new Dining Out highlight. It’s worth a watch as it includes a slightly inebriated Grandpark Pickle (my Dad) sharing some very enthusiastic feedback on the toilet hand-dryers.

    Disclaimer: we were invited guests of the Victoria Inn, Barnt Green on 10 October to preview their new refurbishment. Our meal and drinks were offered to us in exchange for an honestly written review. All content, views and opinions remain my own.

    Dining Out, Lifestyle
    / October 14, 2018
  • Tingaling gin and prosecco cocktail at Turtle Bay in Leamington

    A Girls Night at Turtle Bay

    Just as certain songs can transport you back to a special time, meaning every time you hear it you are overcome with memories and emotion, so can venues. When Turtle Bay got in touch last month to see if I was interested in reviewing their Leamington restaurant, I instantly knew this wouldn’t be a visit I’d share with Little Pickle’s Dad (LPD). Turtle Bay is where I’ve celebrated some major milestones with my girls. It’s where I’ve marveled at my best friend as she recanted the labour that made her a mother. It’s where rum-based cocktails have induced giggles, feminist sass and post-midnight takeaway orders. It’s where I tried to make up for missing a hen party, partaking in a round of tequila shots at the bride-to-be’s insistence.

    Dining Out, Lifestyle, Reviews
    / September 30, 2018
  • LPD having fun looking at the menu and trying to decide what to eat at Bar + Block Birmingham

    Date Night at Bar+Block, Birmingham

    You may have noticed LPD (Little Pickle’s Dad) and I have been making more time recently for ourselves. We had a fantastic first weekend away together since being parents at Cornbury Festival earlier this month, and this week we treated ourselves further to a date night in the city: a three course meal at Birmingham’s Bar+Block Steakhouse.

    It’s privilege to live close enough to the city that it’s an option for an evening’s date night. A quick hop on the train from Redditch, and we can be there within about forty minutes. Arriving at New Street feels like we could be a million miles away, and there’s something about walking the streets of the city centre that makes me feel younger, cooler and more free-spirited. There’s so much choice for places to eat and drink, but it’s going to take a lot to find anywhere that offers steaks like those we had at Bar+Block.

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    Bar+Block is part of the Beefeater family, taking the best of the Beefeater values but appealing to a younger, edgier crowd, with a more upmarket vibe. Upon arrival, I liked the feel of the place: it was vibrant, colourful and with a variety of seating options it seemed like a place that would welcome you whether you wanted a quick bite to eat, a full blown dining experience or just a drink. In fact, whilst we were there a noticed an express menu option for those wanting a quick meal (served within ten minutes) for under £10 – making it a great option for your lunch break.

    In no time at all, we were sat in our own booth at the front of the restaurant, with a lovely view of the open plan kitchen at the back and a pot of beef-dripping popcorn to try. I always trust a restaurant with an open plan kitchen – I don’t know why. There’s no where to hide is there? And I think it’s important for customers to see the chefs at work. You can hardly complain about how long it takes for your meal to properly cook when you can see exactly how hard-working they are.

    Beef-dripped popcorn is something I would never have ordered on a menu, but as a little pre-dinner taster, I was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious! I’m a bit of a sucker when restaurants give you little extras: like popcorn, bread rolls, or handmade lemonade, but I was also pleased that the waiter brought us over a bottle of chilled water for the table too without us asking. We ordered a beverage each (glass of wine for me, cider for LPD) and perused the menu.

    Starters

    I knew I was having a bit of a blow-out tonight, so in order to at least get some vegetables on my plate, I went for the chargrilled vegetable topped houmous whilst LPD chose salt and pepper squid. Bar + Block usually recommend three of the grazing plates but knowing we were going all out with mains and pudding to follow, we played it safe and just ordered the two. In hindsight, I’d have loved to try the Asian Crispy Beef as recommended by Lucy at Real Mum Reviews – but maybe that just gives us a reason to go back in the future?

    The starters were brought out and put in the middle of the table, and we were both given side plates to use. I don’t know if this shows how uncouth and common we are, but we just ate off the central plates anyway! The houmous was gloriously fresh, and the flatbread must have been good as I almost had to physically fight LPD for the last piece of it. The Salt & Pepper squid was a real hit too – with a hint of heat with a cooling mayo dip to round the taste off.

    Mains

    Although I did strongly consider some of the other options on the menu, LPD and I both couldn’t resist trying a steak each for our mains. After all, it is a Steakhouse. I wouldn’t call myself much of a meat connoisseur, so I asked our waiter for his recommendation. If I was left up to my own devices, I’d have probably just gone for a plain rump steak and not been very adventurous at all so I was really happy to go along with his suggestion of the Churrasco de Chorizo, a 10oz sirloin spiral cut steak marinated in garlic and parsley. LPD didn’t need long to decide on his pick: Deconstructed Beef Wellington, which sounded like some kind of epic Masterchef creation.

    Both of our steaks were melt-in-the-mouth beautiful. In hindsight, I wish I’d have ordered a bit of side salad to just add a few extra vitamins to the plate, but the meal itself was quite filling, and I was saving myself for a spot of pudding! Our mains were really full of flavour and rich tastes, and I am so glad I asked our waiter for his recommendation. Delicious!

    Desserts

    Does anyone else check out the menu about a thousand times online in the week preceding a restaurant visit? Although I couldn’t choose between a lot of the dishes in advance, as soon as I saw the Mixed Berry Pavlova on the dessert menu, I knew I’d have to have it. I love pavlova. And my Grandma makes the most amazing raspberry pavlova (she made one for our wedding as I knew our dessert table wouldn’t be complete without it – and it was the only cake I ate that day!).

    This mixed berry version at Bar+Block didn’t disappoint, although I would have preferred it if the fruit hadn’t been swimming in syrup but that’s just a personal preference. We rounded our dinner off with a coffee for LPD and a cup of tea for me and we left three hours after we arrived with lovely full tummies and a lot more relaxed.

    Was it worth it?

    We were very lucky to have been invited to try out Bar+Block, and so our meal was complimentary in exchange for this review, and whilst I didn’t add up what we would have spent exactly, I’d estimate that the bill would have come to over £100. For us, that’s a lot of money to be spending on one meal out, and we’d be more likely to only go for a one course meal to better suit our budget had we paid for it ourselves.

    Dining Out, Lifestyle, Parenting
    / August 7, 2018
  • Checking the time outdoors

    Finding Time for a Date Night at Chiquito

    ‘Finding time’. It’s a strange concept. And it’s a phrase I’m using a lot lately. I never seen to ‘find the time’ to do some of things that should be most important to me. It’s easy to rush around doing the things that feel most urgent, but the days and weeks quickly slip by and I look back with a tinge of sadness that I’ve been focusing on all the wrong things.

    I remember having to do a time management exercise one day in a department meeting at work (in my job before pregnancy). We had to split a piece of paper into four quadrants labelled:

    • Not important, not urgent
    • Important, not urgent
    • Urgent, not important
    • Urgent, important

    We had to plot where each of our usual jobs would sit within the quadrants. It was a pretty interesting exercise, and I often think about it now to help me prioritise my workload. The thing is, if I did this with my personal life – I think I’d be surprised by the results. I think I spend far too much time on the things that feel urgent, but ultimately are unimportant. And I want to change that.

    At the very top of the list of things I need to dedicate more time to: date nights. It sounds so silly and frivolous to talk about the need for us to spend time together – but it’s more than just an excuse to eat good food and enjoy a movie. It’s for us to reconnect. To enjoy each other’s company without the stresses of parenthood and the ever-looming threat of whenever the next tantrum will be. To remember why we decided to embark on this crazy journey together in the first place.

    Just before the end of March, we asked my Mother in Law to babysit and went to enjoy a meal at Mexican restaurant Chiquito. We hadn’t been there for years, and we really made a night of it. Pre-children, a meal out was a fairly frequent event. It was something we did when we couldn’t be bothered to cook ourselves or to face a kitchen of washing up. We went wherever was convenient, and rarely spent more than an hour dining. This Saturday? We spent three hours at Chiquito, chatting, laughing and soaking in the things we love most about each other. It was glorious.

    From enjoying a cocktail to start with (well, it would have been rude to pass up the 2 for 1 Happy Hour offer!), right through to our sharing street food starters, mains and even a cheeky pudding, we took the time to just enjoy each other. So often throughout the evening, I sat dancing in my chair, jigging my shoulders to the music and feeling like we were ten years younger again. If only I looked ten years younger, too!

    It was a particularly good idea to opt for a selection of Street Food starters – I’ve always thought literally sharing food is a good way to bring people together, which is why we did picnic type food for our wedding. Just as we wanted our wedding guests to chat and interact, it was fun to try the different starters together, comparing which was our favourites (mine was the halloumi served with a lovely jalapeño jelly) and offering each other the last chorizo (that’s even better than sharing your last Rolo, surely?).

    I’ve mentioned on here a million times before that I’m a real creature of habit, and I always end up ordering the same things off the menu. In fact, I’m sure LPD and I know each other’s habits so well by now that we could happily order for each other. To buck the trend, I went for something that although I’ve eaten lots of times at home, I’ve never ordered out at a restaurant before: chicken fajitas. It was absolutely delicious, and I love the drama of the hot sizzling chicken as it’s brought to the table! LPD kept with tradition and predictably ordered the brownie off the dessert menu. Although, I’m pretty sure he hadn’t ever had a popcorn brownie before, and the addition of salted caramel ice cream made it a real treat.

    It’s a good metaphor for marriage really. It’s nice to fall into familiar patterns of behaviour. There’s comfort in the safety of it, and the reliability of knowing what lies ahead is reassuring. But if you’re not careful, you can just as easily slip into a bit of a rut. The comfort gets replaced with boredom and it becomes difficult to find that same spark of enjoyment in the mundane. Throwing in a curve ball surprise now and then can only be a good thing! It keeps us on our toes. It throws us off guard and makes us try new things, develop new tastes (both figuratively and literally!), and it enriches the tapestry of our lives together.

    I have to give a special thank you to Olivia and Kenny, who looked after us so well during our meal. LPD and I have both previously worked in hospitality (in fact, it’s how we met) and so we know there’s no excuse for poor service. It was clear to see that Kenny and his team love what they do, and they should all be really proud of the friendly, welcoming and uplifting environment they’ve created at the Chiquito in Rubery. I think LPD and I could have chatted to Kenny all night about tequila! He gave us quite the lesson in the different varieties they stock behind the bar – giving LPD a couple of different ones to try. He was really impressed with the Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia, an aged tequila with flavours of butterscotch, caramel and cinnamon which should be savoured more like a whisky than slammed down as a shot with salt and lime (which, by the way, isn’t the thing to do with proper tequila!). LPD looks a bit miserable in this photo, but trust me – this is his ‘musing’ face when he’s carefully considering something – and he was giving the tequila his full attention.

    We’ve already got out next date night planned as our third wedding anniversary is just next week (those three years have flown by!), and I’m already looking forward to another evening spent together. We’re opting for a steak restaurant to tie in with the ‘leather’ traditional anniversary gift, but I know it won’t be long until we’re back at Chiquito, and we’ll be sure to download their new app so we can get £10 off our next bill. Bonus.

    Disclaimer: we were invited to Chiquito to try out their new menu and in order to share our experience. All opinion and views remain my own, and as always, are 100% honest.

    Dining Out, Lifestyle, Marriage, Reviews
    / April 6, 2018