Thursday, 21 June 2018

Review: Head of Steam Birmingham

Have you heard of Head of Steam? It is Birmingham's latest pub/restaurant now open in the city centre.

With a wide array of craft beer from the UK and beyond, a great menu and a dogs welcome policy this place has to be on your 'to-do' list this summer.

Located a short walk from Birmingham New Street station, the main shopping area and the cathedral it is in a prime location for a lunch drop in or evening meal. Or if you really like beer it's a great place to get your beer tasting on. In fact June see them offering exclusive European beers as part of the brands Euro Beer Week.

Birmingham is the latest location for the company who have established themselves in locations from Newcastle and Huddersfield to Leicester and Nottingham. You can find all locations here.

You can see why they have successfully expanded, while the concept isn't new, Birmingham has a large offering of craft beer pubs - it does provide something different. With live music and the location split into a restaurant area, a 'traditional pub' area and a front area that make it appear as if you are sat in a beer patio it has something to offer however you enjoy your drinks.

With Bisbee in tow we visited the Birmingham location on opening night and from the moment we walked in we were impressed. Bisbee welcomed the attention and we liked the decor - an industrial style with a clear railway focus that meant there were plenty of things to discover during our visit.

Due to pregnancy we skipped the beer menu but did peruse the vast cocktail menu, Head of Steam REALLY know their drinks! We were kindly offered a virgin version of a number cocktails and enjoyed the strawberry daiquiris so much we ordered 3!

The food decisions were the hardest part of the night. We did plenty of eyeing up other peoples orders before settling on a chicken and ham pie, with mash and musheys and then a halloumi burger with chips. We also added a side of mac and cheese sticks - and so should you. They were so so good!

The full menu can be found here.

The portion sizes were reasonable and the food tasty - I would definitely recommend the pie, super flavourful and jam-packed with filling. Oh and it's a proper pie, not a pastry lid on a bowl!

Next time we will head back for brunch as the menu looked delicious!

After finishing our main course we got a low down on the up and coming events and what's involved in the beer tasting.

We also got to find out that Head of Steam have trained beer sommeliers on hand to offer advice on food and beer pairings as well as what craft beers and cask ales are available.

The fact finding mission gave us a chance to work up an appetite for our dessert, I ordered the strawberry and rhubarb cheesecake and I can honestly say it was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. It was light, sweet, flavourful and every bite was so good. It was so good that I would be tempted to head in just for that dessert if I needed a reboot while shopping.

One of the highlights of the evening was the service. Everyone we spoke to was lovely, super helpful and knowledgeable.

The only challenge we have found is that as far as we can tell there is no way of booking online and when we did try and walk up it was way too busy to go in with Bisbee. Plus the city centre location means you have to pay to park so it's best to know you have a table guaranteed before you park.

Overall though if you like beer or good food or a pub with a lot going on or all these then Head of Steam is well worth checking out!

Monday, 18 June 2018

Baby Blogging - The Baby Shower!

Technically I should call this post the 'Baby Showers' because last week included two. Both were full of surprises but one was a little more planned.

Our wonderful friends Sam and Sara had kindly offered to host our Baby Shower and Sunday the 10th had been the date we picked way back at the start of the year. Laura had been nervous that it was so close to the end of the 9 months, I was always confident that baby girl would still be quite at home. 

In the months leading up to the Baby Shower the girls had collated names and contact details for all our guests, inviting them with stunning paper invites detailing the plans for the day. We had wanted to invite family from across the globe although we fully appreciated they wouldn't be able to make it. What we hadn't fully appreciated was that so many of our UK family and friends would make it.

As the replies came back Sam and Sara kept us in the loop and the final count was 38. We were blown away. Not only had our Nan's managed to make it - Laura's from Windsor and mine from Tunbridge Wells - but we also had a mixture of work colleagues, people from our 'social activities' and, in my case, my closest family, and in Laura's case her brother. It was amazing.

Thankfully my parents were happy to host the shower at their house and their large garden was perfect, especially as the sun decided to shine. Since the start of the year my Mum had been hard at work prepping her garden, flowers beds had been put in, new turf laid, new decorations added and it paid off. The garden looked show home worthy.

Sara and Sam had headed to my parents house early on Sunday to set up and we had no idea what to expect, by the time we arrived almost 2 hours later the garden was transformed into a beautiful setting. My Mum and Aunt had added bunting and the girls had added balloons and decorations. The kitchen smelt delicious with all kinds of party food being prepared and in my parents dining room there was now a dessert table. It looked incredible!

Our guests started arriving at 2pm and we were able to welcome everyone as they came into the garden. It felt almost wedding-like as we very much felt like special guests. We had been provided with 'Mama-to-be and Mummy-to-be' sashes and our only job was to mingle and catch up with our guests.

My Dad had kindly driven to Windsor to pick up Laura's Nan - a 3 hour round trip - and we were so relieved they had made it in time to enjoy most of the shower. If anything this baby has really had people going to extreme lengths for her so far. We also really wanted to make sure Laura had her Nan there on the day. (She was kindly dropped home later that day by my sister).

My God Parents / Aunt and Uncle and cousin and his wife had made the journey up with my Nan from Tunbridge Wells and had stayed with my parents the night before, along with my sister and her boyfriend so my family were all on site and ready to help if needed.

Laura had colleagues old and new and people from choir and almost my entire netball team had made the effort to attend. We had Charlotte and Hannah up from Norfolk, Laura and Allana over from the Malverns and Lisa, my old boss, all there and we couldn't have felt more loved.

The Netchix team and their furry mascot!  Baby girl even got her own Netchix babygro :)

The garden was packed and buzzing and the food provided was the perfect amount. Once most of it had been eaten the girls started with the fun activities. Firstly they had asked people to bring baby photos and they had been placed on a line with numbers, the game involved matching the baby with the guest. Not an easy task when you have people meeting for the first time. (Thankfully the girls had provided name tags for everyone).

The slightly simpler task was then filling in a postcard with predictions for the baby - arrival date, weight, length, name and a wish for her. We almost cried reading them after. And someone guessed the name (we think we are going for) correctly!

The third task was to guess the number of sweets in a jar, this was won by my sister and her boyfriend who were only 4 sweets out! Not bad as the jar contained 163!

With all the fun going on we almost ran out of time to open the wonderful gifts that our guests had bought. Laura had asked that everyone bring a book they loved as a child so our little lady will have quite the library. What we hadn't expected was that we get anything else. It turns out that cute baby clothes are irresistible though and baby girls wardrobe is certainly well stocked now.

Baby girl also has a baby sling, play mat, baby monitor (I guess that's for us), sunshade for her buggy, some cloth nappies, teething toys and some cute Peter Rabbit cuddly toys. Not only that but one of Laura's friends gave us a hand knitted blanket, headband and shoes in our nursery colours and another friend had stitched an Alice in Wonderland picture - both gifts were so thoughtful.

Before everyone left they also got given a slice of the amazing red velvet cake the girls had got and decorated with beautiful real flowers, as well as a bag of popcorn to pop at home.

We sadly didn't get to thank everyone in person for their gifts so the next job we want to get done are thank you cards.

Not only was the girls organisation outstanding, to the point that my usual control freak wife even took a step back, but everything was so personal. The food was all our favs, the dessert table was my heaven, the decorations were gorgeous and everything had been thought of. It truly was a day to remember.

As I mentioned at the start of this post as if one baby shower wasn't enough, just as I had recovered from Sundays shower I walked into my team meeting on Tuesday to be greeted by my team throwing me a baby shower. The look on my face was indeed a picture.

This shower was short and sweet. I was greeted with an incredibly generous voucher and adorable Unicorn themed baby grow (my company is Unicorn Training). There was only a few seconds to compose myself before the games. We started easy with a guess the baby - this time I got almost everyone right but there were only 7 people to pick from. From there they upped the anti and we were split into teams to dress the 'baby' in a nappy. Sadly my team lost.....not the best start to motherhood!

We finished with a team selfie and tucking into the pile of goodies that had appeared. It was a complete shock and I genuinely had no idea my team had been planning it.

A trip to Head Office in Bournemouth later in the week also proved beneficial as baby girl was gifted her own Unicorn and I got a lovely card signed by the teams and a voucher to spend at Amazon. I am certainly very lucky when it comes to where I work.

In fact Laura and I are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such love. My work team had included a picture of Laura in the baby guessing game and my head office made sure the card was addressed to Laura and I. I know they are small things but they are things that mean the world.

The baby shower(s) was the last event we had planned so we are now on baby girl countdown!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Baby Blogging - Maternity Photo Shoot!

The end of May saw us reach 34 weeks pregnant and to celebrate we had organised a maternity photo shoot while staying with our friends Charlotte and Hannah in Norfolk.

It was our first trip to Norfolk and with weather on our side and great tour guides we were able to enjoy what the area had to offer. From stunning miles of beaches to fields of rape seed to the broads there was no shortage of areas to pick for the pictures.

With Charlotte as our photo assistant she was ready with hair brush, make up top ups and most importantly dog treats when we needed Bisbee to pay attention. Hannah was a our professional photographer and we can't thank the pair of them enough for how these pics turned out.

So without further ado here are our favourite pictures from the day from the 100's Hannah took.

The day was wonderful, the experience amazing and the results were better than we could have hoped for. The photos truly capture us, the excitement of this time and the fact that we are enjoying every last moment together before we become parents.

It's so strange to think just how soon our little lady will be and we couldn't be more excited. The countdown is well and truly on.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Review: Bicester Village, UK

Have you heard of Bicester Village? If you live somewhere north of London or South of Birmingham the likelihood is you probably have. Put simply Bicester Village is a collection of around 150 stores offering designer fashion brands open 7 days a week and till 8pm most weekday evenings.

To check out the full list of stores here.

The village is accessible by train from London in 46 minutes, Birmingham or Oxford. Or you can take a coach from London. There is also a bus service from Oxford or if you drive it is just off the M40 and there is a fair amount of parking.

Our visit to Bicester Village was not because we fancied a new shopping location, in fact if we did 'designer village' would not be top of our list, it was because I had a Virgin voucher to spend. On Virgin Experience days you can exchange you voucher for varying amounts of gift cards and lunch vouchers at Bicester Village so that's what we did.

On arrival we collected our gift card and lunch voucher from guest services and agreed a strategy. Start at the furthermost end and work back. The only challenge would be committing to buy items when in a store to save walking back and forth. At almost 8 months pregnant tons of walking is out of the question right now.

It's been a while since we shopped for ourselves, recent budget has all gone on baby related items, but we started strong with a trip to Calvin Klein for some underwear. It seemed unnecessary as only Laura ever sees my undies but I have always wanted a matching pair and now seemed like an appropriate time to get them. I got sizes I can wear post-baby so I have a reason to get back in shape.

From there we headed to Ralph Lauren and within 5 minutes realised how much we really didn't belong in these types of stores. While there were pretty clothes the amount of shoppers already modelling the clothing made it feel weirdly cult-ish and when I picked up a dress for £225 I almost dropped it in shock. Who has that kind of money?! Gift voucher or not I can't imagine any dress being worth that amount. It would have to be self-washing and self-ironing and be able to re-hang itself.

We promptly left and after a confusing pop in to Ted Baker - confusing because we couldn't really figure out what they were selling except obnoxiously loud and colourful things. After the colour overload we decided lunch was the best plan. The noodles we opted for were delicious and filling but at £8 something we'd take sandwiches if we came back! Or visit, what used to be, Europe's largest Pret.

Fueled by lunch the next stop was Hunters, Laura had always wanted a pair and as the store was fairly quiet it was a great opportunity to try on the selection. As this was an outlet store we struggled to find a variety of sizes in each colour but as they say it only takes one and our one was a classic black, calf boot in the right size. Laura almost cried with happiness. We also managed to get boot socks to complete the look.

White Company came next but we were disappointed by the selection, I don't often wander into the store and based on this I wouldn't hurry back. The main things there seemed like overpriced bedding and towels and the children range, where we thought we might be tempted, ended up as nothing special. Laura opted for the large candle as it was reduced from £50 something to £33 and I was told that was a good deal.

We stopped by Pandora and were pleasantly surprised at how reasonably priced the jewellery was but not tempted into buying anything. We walked past the queues for Gucci, Mulberry and a few other designer brands and briefly looked into Havaianias, sadly my fav design didn't have my size so we moved on.

My personal success of the day was in Cath Kidston. The store was packed to the rafters with great deals and we had to do a count-up of the items to ensure we didn't go over our gift card amount. I ended up with 2 dresses, a jumper and a bag that I plan to take to the hospital when baby makes her arrival.

By the time we had finished we had spent 3 hours and we were both ready to head home. The experience was an interesting one. The way Bicester Village is designed makes it a great shopping destination - beautiful flowers fill the pedestrian areas and it's like a shopping Disneyland. There are plenty of employees walking the area ready to help, the toilets are maintained and there are plenty of them, the station looks like you arriving at a destination and the guest services is like a hotel.

There are plenty of seats for weary shoppers to rest on and enough food options to offer a choice so if you want a day or afternoon of shopping in a pleasant environment you can't go wrong.

With all that said you really have to love a brand, we struggled as it's hard to justify the 'value' in some of the stores. We aren't into designer anything though so we appreciate that is our challenge. There are plenty of 'deals' on the designer brands if that is your thing. Time it right (like we did) and they also do 20% off weekends so it's extra discount.

The highlight of the day wasn't the village for me, though I am glad to say we've done it, it was having the opportunity to spend time with Laura. We haven't spent a day with the sole focus being one another for a while and I really enjoyed it.

I'm not sure if we will be back, unless we have a specific request from a family or friend for a designer item and we are feeling generous :) We definitely belong on the high-street when it comes to shopping!

Have you been? What are your thoughts?