Brunch Review At The Pen And Pencil, Northern Quarter

I am incredibly lucky that I get invited to some of the most exciting places to launch in Manchester. You would think, when I go with friends or family, I’d go to lots of different places on a regular basis. The truth is I tend to end up in the same places. I’m not really sure why and I’m not really sure what it is that draws me to these places over anywhere else. Perhaps it is habit? Or that I know exactly what to expect for the type of day/night I want to have. I’m going to do a post about these little gems but wanted to share a new place that has cemented a place in this list. Welcome to The Pen And Pencil 

pen and pencil 5

Inspired by the steakhouse of the same name from the series Mad Men you will find 1950’s New York style in abundance with the most impressive collage of magazine print in the toilets, yes I mentioned the toilets. They are too good not to, oh and ladies? You may just spot Tom Hardy in the first cubicle. I foresee a queue forming.

pen and pencil 6

There are two seating areas with the main bar area as you enter the venue and then a smaller area at the back which is perfect for freelancers who want a quiet spot to work during the day with a decent cup of coffee. You can also look at this incredible piece of artwork by Akse and, whilst I’m talking about him, you should also check out this amazing film my cousin Charlie did which is a glimpse into his private life and why he does what he does. It’s amazing and I’m not just bias.


I popped in for an early brunch which started with cappuccino and smoothies.

pen and pencil 7 pen and pencil 3

The cappuccino was fantastic with a strong coffee kick that so many are missing at the moment, I want more than frothed milk! They use a blend of Brazilian, Indian and Central American beans to get the aromatic flavour just right and boy does it work. The smoothies are full on health in a glass. The Watermelon and Pear (left hand side) was fresh and fruity whilst the Kale, Mint and Apple (right hand side) was refreshing, slightly tart and more earthy. Both were delicious and made me feel positively virtuous. That was until the Bloody Marys…

pen and pencil 4

Isn’t that a thing of beauty? This one was made with gin instead of vodka and topped with a dash of Merlot for a slightly different flavour. This is helped by the house gin being Portobello Road, a particular favourite of mine.

pen and pencil 1 pen and pencil 2

Onto the food and I chose Steak and Eggs with my friend opting for the BLT.

The 4oz rump steak is grilled either mediium or well done and served under two runny fried eggs, hollandaise and a hash brown. Opting for the medium steak it was beautifully soft and the hollandaise lightly tart, as it should be. The hash brown had a good crunchy coating which made it ideal for dipping into the runny yolk of the eggs. A lovely mid morning meal that saw me right through to tea time.

The BLT, which replaces the lettuce with lobster, is served on bloomer bread with generous helpings of baconnaise to keep the whole thing together. It would have benefited from slightly more filling or a thinner slice of bread but the lobster was a lovely touch and the fries nicely seasoned.

There’s some other classics on the menu that I will be back to try in the very near future, the corned beef hash looked amazing as did the huevos rancheros with crispy bacon on the side.

So why has The Pen and Pencil been added to me ‘frequent visit’ list? For a daytime meeting venue it is light, bright and airy with a good cocktail menu that also caters for those not drinking with smoothies, tea and coffee. The brunch menu is good with food served from 10am every day and it is a stone’s throw from Piccadilly making it ideal for jumping back on the train home. What more could you need?

I was invited to dine as a guest and wasn’t asked to pay for my food or drink. 

New Selectors At Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat are constantly mixing it up and there are some new flavours in town. I love the Selectors range – small mini packs of chocolates mean you can try something new without wasting a fortune if you don’t like the flavours. The packaging is minimal too with a simple plastic tray and description on the front. They cost £3.75 each and there’s a seriously impressive range to choose from. Here are some of the new ones that are currently available.

IMG_6094 IMG_6096

First up is the Carrot Cake which is made with real carrots and walnuts. It always makes me laugh when brands refer to ‘real’ or ‘homemade’… what else would they be made with? Anyway, these have a real ‘carroty’ flavour which I think it difficult to master in a chocolate. The walnut gives it that bit of earthiness and there’s a real kick of cinnamon for a bit of warmth.

IMG_6099 IMG_6100

Then we have these mini Blackcurrant beauties. The blackcurrant in the centre is sharp, fruity and tart with the 70% dark chocolate shell adding that bit of depth and sweetness to balance it out. The only problem is I keep popping these into my mouth and one is definitely not enough.

IMG_6097 IMG_6098

Finally we have my favourite from the three, the Blondie. A crunchy pecan praline base topped with a creamy caramel custard covered in white chocolate. Praline is one my favourite things ever and this is crunchy with wafer as well as pecan for a crispy bite.

Have you tried any new Selectors recently? What’s your favourite?

Products provided for review purposes.


New Menu At The Abel Heywood, Northern Quarter – Reviewed

After first visiting The Abel Heywood back in June for the STM Photography event I remember being amazed that I didn’t know of its existence beforehand. I’ve been desperate to try their food ever since but life being life, things got in the way and I never made it. I’ve had a fair few drinks in there mind and it has quickly become a place to meet friends. Then the lovely people at The Abel Heywood invited me down with some of their local friends to try the new menu and give some feedback. So what you see below may change but I thought I’d share what we thought.


The jerusalem artichoke soup with rocket pesto crostini was the starter I was least looking forward to. I’m not an artichoke fan at all but this was beautiful. The soup was creamy with a light earthiness you’d expect whilst the crostini was a nice alternative to a chunk of bread. The whole table loved this including my friend who is the pickiest eater I have ever met.


The chard chicory, beetroot, Garstang blue, leaves and shoots should have been incredibly dull but the pretty colours of the beetroot with the always incredible Garstang blue made this the perfect light winter salad starter.


The dish I was most disappointed about was the scallops and cauliflower cheese homemade frazzles. The scallops were cold although beautifully cooked and I loved the cauliflower albeit the sauce needed to have a cheesier kick for me. The homemade frazzles were just crispy bacon strips and they weren’t that crispy really. Slightly thinner bacon and smaller pieces would fit the name better.


The favourite amongst most of us on the table was the pigs cheeks, hazelnut and goats cheese crumb. The pigs cheeks were soft and full of flavour whilst the hazelnut and goats cheese added a bit of earth and crunch. Apart from the vegetarian on the table, we all fought over the last bit.


Onto the mains and one thing we all said was how pretty they all looked. The confit salmon with braised leeks and potatoes with hot tartare sauce didn’t wow the table although I quite liked it especially the tartare sauce which was served warm rather than hot. Others felt it was a bit boring and ‘just salmon’ but the healthier side of me thought this was a lovely dish.


The fussily named braised short-rib of beef, mushroom ketchup, confit tomato, brown onion puree, matchstick chips and beef liquor was my favourite. The description is far too much, what’s mushroom ketchup when it’s at home and why you would call thinly cut chips ‘matchsticks’ when they’re a little curly is beyond me but, flavour wise, this ticked all the boxes. Soft and melting meat in a rich stock with lightly seasoned chips. Apart from the addition of mushroom, come on you know me by now, this worked.


A dish that didn’t work so well was the pork loin, apple brandy puree and baby toffee apple with garlic parmentier potatoes. I would like to say the latter were incredible and one of our table declared these the best potato he had eaten in a long time. I loved the little toffee apple and the flavour worked well with the pork. Unfortunately the pork was very dry and overdone, so much so it was difficult to cut into. The flavours though, were there.


Another hit was the roasted chicken with smoked bacon and shallots, thyme and red wine, baby carrots and potato & onion pressing. Like a Sunday lunch this had all the right elements with soft chicken, carrots still with bite and a bit of fat from the bacon.


Never to be defeated we hit the desserts head on. The cheese board is rather small but perfectly formed with local cheeses and a lovely jellied quince which the Spanish gent on our table was chuffed to see. The French gent at the table declared the local cheese a hit and was most disgusted when the waitress tried to remove the plate before he had finished.


The least favourite dessert was the spiced apple crumble with custard. There was far too much cinnamon and the oaty topping, tart apple and very light custard just didn’t seem to work together. Less cinnamon, creamier custard and a lighter crumble may help this one to blend better.


We were torn over the Manchester plate which included a vimto pavlova, Manchester tart and an Eccles cake. They were all a bit too small for my liking and the Eccles cake a little dry. The pavlova was my favourite and you could really taste the vimto flavours which was a pleasant surprise as with these type of desserts, it usually gets lost. The Manchester tart was a little dry too and needed a bit more filling but it was pleasant enough.


The favourite was the iced peanut butter parfait, nut brittle and raspberry gel. This was like peanut butter and jam on a plate with the parfait having a lovely mousse like texture. This is one I’ll definitely be back for.

This was a lovely way to get involved with a local business wanting to provide the best for its customers and it was lovely to meet some of those customers too. The menu is available now with mains priced at £14.95, 2 courses for £18.95 or 3 courses for £22.95.

I was invited to dine as a guest of The Abel Heywood and not asked to pay for my food.




Solita Prestwich – First Impressions

Being a huge fan of Solita (I wrote about the opening of the Didsbury restaurant here and you can also read some stuff about the owners/concept over there) you won’t be surprised to hear that I was desperate to get through the doors of the new Prestwich site. I’ve closely followed the developments on Twitter where the old Aumbry and Bombay sites were merged into one, it sounds like it was a nightmare and the whole renovation took a lot longer than planned. That said Solita owner Franco is not one to give up or to open when things aren’t perfect, so along to the soft launch I went with Charlie.

I wasn’t going to write anything about it, I tweeted all night about how amazing the venue is, how great the food is, etc. Then I decided I wanted to when I had very few photographs to show for it, so I’m sorry for that. The good news is it means you need to go if only to see the amazing Marvel comic book ceiling designed by Bolton company Neon Creations and Manchester graffiti artist Russel Mehan. There is the familiar sight of Stan Chow’s illustrations dotted around the walls as well as historic images of Prestwich to keep things local.


The inka grill installed means your meat is cooked to absolute perfection (as you can see above) and, if you live this side of the City, you don’t need to navigate your way into Town for a cracking steak.

20150906_203057_resized 20150906_200504_resized_1

The chefs at Solita like to wrap stuff in bacon and I, for one, am not complaining. The bacon wrapped onion rings are a side dish but no matter how big a main course you order, I’d suggest you try them. Crispy salty bacon around sweet onion rings, I’m halfway to my car to go and get some just thinking about it. The bacon wrapped cheesy dough balls starter was my favourite and has overtaken their deep fried mac and cheese balls to this crown. I don’t know what it is but bacon just makes everything better.


For dessert I had rum baba. Well you know I love rum so this was an absolute no brainer. Franco tells me the chefs are not a fan of these as they need soaking in rum for hours but it is well worth it if you ask me. Mine was a little dry in the centre, more rum needed, but the flavour was incredible and no matter how full I was, I was finishing this before I left. Rum i n cake, what’s not to love?

The new Prestwich site is light, bright and airy with a real ‘village’ feel you won’t really get at the Manchester or Didsbury site. There is a downstairs waiting area that you can hit for a quick drink whilst you wait and the rear of the restaurant has the best view of the kitchen where you can watch the magic happen.

Considering we visited during the soft launch period I was impressed with how polished everything was already. Just a few weeks in the staff were efficient and friendly, the food cooked beautifully, everything working like clockwork. Well done team and I can’t wait to see what the next site in Barton Arcade brings.

Manchester is Charming With Lily Charmed

When it comes to fads I have to say I have fallen for most of them, especially when it comes to jewellery. I’ve got a full and a half full Pandora bracelet, I also have a Love Links one. I love them all, not because they were ‘all the rage’ but because I’ve never bought a single charm for myself. When people struggle to find a gift to buy me for a special occasion, I love that they can pick me something that then has a special meaning for me about them. When Lily Charmed asked if they could send me a piece to review on my blog I had a quick look on their website and found they do a similar gift choosing type process, amongst other pretty items. Pick a necklace, pick your charms, add a message.

lily 1

I asked Lily Charmed to send me something they thought would fit me and my blog, I love surprises and this pretty white box wrapped in ribbon did not disappoint.

lily 2

The necklace inside was laced through a piece of card to hold it in place with the very apt message ‘bee happy’. The bee has many meanings for my personally and when I finally get over the fear I’m totally having it tattooed on me somewhere! It is the symbol of Manchester – the city I have lived in all my life and the amazing place that has welcomed me with open arms on many occasion. It is also the symbol of hard work and determination yet with a sweet side. I’ve tried my hardest most of my life to get where I am today both in my private and professional life. And I always try to do it in a caring and thoughtful way. I am also ALWAYS busy… a busy bee. Obviously the ‘K’ is my initial which makes this personal to me.

You can customise your necklace even further choosing the length of chain that suits you and even the finish of your charm. Mine is polished but you can also choose matte satin. Silver and white gold are my choice of metal for all jewellery but this necklace is also available in gold.

Whilst this necklace is perfect for all the Mancunian ladies out there you will also find some new pieces that are starting to arrive for the Christmas period including a gorgeous new range of birthstones and larger jewellery which can be engraved for that perfect intimate message.

For me? Well I adore my little bee and I may need to put this little cupcake bracelet on my Christmas list this year, it’s too close to my blog name not to!

The bee necklace costs £32 with an extra £10 per letter charm and can be ordered through the Lily Charmed website. Why not treat the Manc lady in your life?

Item sent for review purposes.

The Perfect Pamper With La Belle Beauty, Cheadle

I don’t know about you but I don’t deal with stress very well. I often find I can deal with things pretty well until I find myself in a pool of tears and can’t work out what exactly made me get there at that time. I try and find little ways to treat myself and take time out every so often to prevent me getting to that stage and a good facial or manicure is always the first thing I try and do. I love that it is for no one else, it is pure relaxing ‘me’ time and I always walk away feeling like a new woman. With this in mind and some pretty stressful stuff going on at the moment I headed into La Belle Beauty in my home village of Cheadle for some much needed R&R.


La Belle is located on Wilmslow Road so just down from the main High Street in Cheadle village. They can take care of all your beauty needs from hair and make up to facials and manicures. You can also get the latest facial technique which uses Argan Oil Liquid Gold – the highest quality Moroccan Argan Oil infused with 24 carat gold. May truly works wonders and gave me some fantastic advice on how to look after my skin better following my treatment. I loved the feel of the oil and the way she used steam to help the ingredients work into the skin more quickly. There are some amazing products you can buy which contain this wonder oil. They’re at the luxury end of my price range though so they’ll be going on my Christmas wish list that’s for sure.


After my facial I was offered a freshly brewed herbal tea and taken back downstairs to get my nails done. Having recently moved house I am ashamed to say they were an absolute mess. All different lengths with bits of polish here and there, absolutely awful and not me in the slightest.

I’ve had countless manicures in my time. Some good, some ok, some pretty poor. This one, I’m not going to lie, was the best I’ve had in a long time. My nails were filed and shaped to the perfect ‘natural square’ in minutes before being polished so evenly they looked like acrylics.


Please ignore my nibbled cuticles, bad habit of mine, but see? They’re perfect and I love Barbie pink colour. I’m holding onto summer, or what we had of one, for as long as I can.

My visit to La Belle was perfect and seamless from start to finish. I was shown around, pampered and had to think about nothing but myself and my thoughts, just what I needed.

I visited the salon as a guest and wasn’t asked to pay for my treatments although I will be going back as a paying customer next month for my regular visit.


Replace All Food With A Powdered Meal Replacement? Huel Reviewed

There are times when my life is so hectic, eating properly just goes out of the window. A combination of work, hospital visiting, gym sessions and blog events really can take its toll and there are times when the last thing I want to do is cook a decent meal. I’ve gotten into some dreadful habits of late which have consisted of ready meals, takeaways or just not eating altogether. I’ve talked about being an emotional eater before and I don’t think this helps, I get stuck in the biggest rut and struggle to get out. When I was asked to review Huel, a complete food replacement, I was fully ready to criticise it heavily. If you have ever read my blog before you will see how much I love food, I love the texture, taste, smell of a great meal and the idea of replacing that with a ‘drink’ just horrified me. Then I thought about my dreadful habits when under a little stress and decided to give it a go.


As I’ve said Huel is marketed as a nutritionally complete powdered food promising to give you the perfect balance of carbs, fat, protein and all the vitamins your body needs.  It contains a blend of pea protein, rice protein, flaxseed, oats, sunflower lecithin, MCTs from coconut and a vitamin/mineral blend which is free from added sugar, trans fats, preservatives and other nasties that our processed food currently contains.

The website will provide you with the perfect serving size for your needs although it needs to be mentioned that this is formulated purely on calorie consumption. More about that later.


So what does it taste like? I’m never really sure how much I should have when it comes to these sort of things. I appreciate ‘experts’ say how many calories our bodies need based on height, weight, activity levels, etc. Unfortunately eating out as much as I do, I try and compensate for this on a weekly rather than daily basis and this takes a little planning. With this in mind I’ve tried Huel for a few days now. I’ve replaced my breakfast and lunch, the two meals where I am the most disorganised, with two scoops of the Huel powder which I mixed with 10 parts water. It doesn’t mix great in that when shaken in a bottle, it is still a bit lumpy and fritty – blending in the Nutri Ninja makes it much smoother and more palatable. You can hopefully see from the picture above that the texture is coarser than that of a protein powder, for example. Taste wise it is fairly neutral. There is a little sweetness and a hint of vanilla, the oats make it slightly gritty in texture, other than that it is fairly none descript making it easy to add other things to change the taste. I’ve added raspberries and blitzed with ice cubes and also some cacao nibs for an added chocolate kick. If you are considering taking this instead of food it certainly helps to mix things up and attempt to keep it interesting.

And the verdict? I don’t really know where to start. The food lover in me is screaming how bad an idea this is. I’ve never been one to replace meals, even when following the strictest of diets. You would never find me supping a Slim Fast or Juice Plus despite their promises to make me lose hundreds of lbs quickly. I think the difference is, Huel isn’t advertised as a weight loss supplement. It isn’t promising to melt away the fat and lbs in a short period of time and then expect you to maintain your new weight with no support.

I personally think it is irresponsible to suggest taking a meal replacement for every meal unless there are health risks involved in consuming food. There are many health benefits to eating a varied diet and chewing food has been shown to have a positive effect on the health of our teeth. All that taken into consideration there is something to be said for a product that is balanced, quick and easy, especially if it is the difference between daily takeaways or not eating at all. For convenience, occasionally, I think it is fine. For people who aren’t going to eat ‘properly’ anyway, I think it is a good option. For me? I’ll definitely keep a pack in my cupboard for those days when prepping and cooking a meal is just too much. It takes away the guilt, binge eating and upset that brings me. It won’t, however, be replacing the colourful and tasty plates I know I can produce when on track. And Huel, thanks to the convenience, has really helped to get me back on track.

You can buy Huel online for £45 per 1 week supply. In your first order you will also receive a shaker bottle and a t shirt.

Product provided for review purposes.

Shake, Battle, Soul With Kosmonaut

I’ve been to a fair few cocktail competitions in my time. They usually consist of a brand, a group of incredibly talented bartenders and some pretty impressive drinks. Those clever peeps at Kosmonaut in the Northern Quarter have taken the idea and turned it on it’s head with Shake, Battle, Soul.

shake battle 3

Two local businesses ‘face off’ with a ‘shake off’! Supported by two of Kosmonaut’s finest – Kay and Nate, the winning business on the night get a free round of cocktails every Thursday until their crown is toppled by the next winning business. If that isn’t enough there is nibbles and drink samples for the screaming crowds and a soundtrack supplied by Will Tramp.

shake battle 2

I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the first showdown between Carhartt and Maclure Barbers a few weeks ago. Three contestants made three cocktails – Make Love Not War, Watermelon Margaritas and Camping In Collyhurst. Let me tell you, Kosmonaut did not go easy on these guys, these are pretty tricky drinks to make and on the last, they were also against the clock! Armed with Strictly-style score cards we rated the taste of the drinks, having already sampled one made by the professionals, out of 10 before an overall winner was announced.

It was a tough battle and, going into the last drink, the scores were tied. Some call is sabotage, some call it Nate’s incredible ways with a stirred drink, whatever you call it Maclure Barbers were hailed as the champions and will enjoy a round of cocktails every week until someone else steals their crown.

shake battle 1

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to shake up a mean cocktail in front of hundreds (well ok not that many but it is still pretty daunting behind that bar I promise you) of adoring fans? You can enter a team or just keep your eyes peeled for the next event. Pick a side, support their competitors and, most importantly, have fun at the new regular social in the city. I’ll see you at the bar.

Photos supplied by Kosmonaut.

Launching National Calvados Week With Pere Magloire

From 18th to 24th October, Britain is going calvados crazy! Participating bars in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Liverpool will be celebrating all things calvados with tastings, promotional drinks and paired food to show you what this beautiful yet understated spirit has to offer.


The week is sponsored by Pere Magloire calvados and I was lucky enough to try three of their expressions with paired foods created by the head chef, Paul Coony, at The Blue Pig in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We started with the perfect serve for Pere Magloire VSOP, a measure with cloudy apple juice and an apple slice garnish.

Calvados, for those who don’t know, is an apple brandy produced in Normandy. The VSOP is blended from calvados that has been aged in oak barrels for at least four years which gives it a crisp apple flavour which complements the fresher taste of the cloudy apple juice.


We tried the VSOP with Pere Magloire marinated sticky pork ribs and, wow, they are a thing of beauty. Slow cooked for so long that the meat just falls off the bone the marinade is slightly sharp but works perfectly with the fatty meat.


The Pere Magloire Fine VS was up next served with brie tarts with an apple and Pere Magloire chutney. The Fine VS is lighter in colour and created using several vintages to give a more concentrated apple flavour and a delicate yet fresh flavour. The chutney on these brie tarts is absolutely incredible. Tart, fresh and lightly spicy it cut through the creaminess of the brie so well. I’m not going to divulge how many I ate, I’m still disgusted with myself.


Lastly the 12 Year Old was served with dark chocolate and hazelnut truffles. More whiskey like in flavour, the 12 Year Old has a wonderful darker brown colour with a slightly floral, woody taste on the palate. The truffles dusted with hazelnut worked well with this floral note and the bitter dark chocolate melted in the mouth to allow the flavours of the calvados to come through.

pere 2 pere 1

We finished our evening with a cocktail designed by General Manager of The Blue Pig, Sam Vickeridge. Pomme Par Jour combines the Pere Magloire VSOP with triple sec, lemon juice and muddled apple for a fresh and fruity drink that will turn even the biggest calvados skeptic.

Calvados is something that really isn’t promoted very much around bars especially not in Manchester. Try something new and give it a go. You can see a list of events that are happening for National Calvados Week on the website and keep an eye on their Facebook page for teasers leading up to the event. I guarantee you will be surprised at what this spirit can do.

I was invited to this event as a guest and wasn’t asked to pay for my food and drink. The last two images supplied by Pere Magloire.

Denim Shirt Customisation Carrie Bradshaw Style With Next

When Next approached me and asked if I would like to try customising one of their denim shirts I had already typed out my email politely declining. Having seen Kirsty‘s beautifully patched version I knew there was no way I’d be any good at putting needle and thread to an item of clothing. I then sat back and thought, I’ve loads of plain clothes that I’d love to jazz up and perhaps this was a perfect opportunity for a novice  like me to do something simple, in the hope that it may help you too. So I went with it.


My inspiration? One of my all time favourite characters Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. I merged two of her styles; the 80s look of early episodes and her tutu love from later episodes where she is with Alec in Paris. And chucked in some Louboutins too… well she is the queen of footwear.

To customise the shirt itself I hit the haberdashery at my local market and picked up a couple of metres of organza ribbon (22p a metre, what a bargain!) and a fabric flower (£2). The flower has a wire stem so I pushed it into the buttonhole of the shirt and twisted the wire to hold it in place. I tied the shirt at the waist for a bit more definition and tied the ribbon around my neck. Basic, simple and so effective. And guess what? Not a stitch in sight!


You can get your shirt on Next’s website for £22. It’s lovely and soft, I’m really impressed with it for the price. My tutu was custom made by Tutu’s By Nicola Marie and my shoes are Christian Louboutin from the 2008 collection.

If nothing else I hope this post has shown you that you don’t need to be crafty to customise your favourite clothes. All you need is a little inspiration, now I may need some sequins…

Shirt sent for review purposes. 


1 2 3 44

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookCheck Our Feed