Bethan In Brum

A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The ultimate way to experience the best of Birmingham; Buckt!

As a Birmingham blogger, I am always on the look out for new and exciting things to do across the city. I am very guilty of spending my evenings in restaurants and bars across the city, but rarely experiencing anything different. If you're keen to spend you 2019 taking part in new and exciting activities, it's time you found out about Buckt. 

I first met the founder of Buckt, the UK's only tickets and activities subscription box, almost three years ago. I interviewed him when I was Journalist, and he told me about his idea for the box, and it's incredible to see that it is now a real, working business which offers people of the West Midlands a whole host of opportunities to get off the sofa, and discover more interesting things going on in the area. 

Buckt is a subscription box which contains five mystery activities in the region to enjoy every single month. It is just £12.50 a month, which is such a bargain considering the price of the activities individually. There's no extra costs either, as your monthly fee covers everything for each activity. The company also offers duo boxes, so you and your partner, friend or family member can take part in the activities together.
Monthly boxes contain a wide range of activities to suit a variety of interests, including traditional activities like cinema and restaurant visits, high end treatments such as beauty treatments and unusual activities like rage rooms and alpaca walking. The box simply comes through your letter box every month, and its always a great surprise looking at what you'll be getting up to that month. 

I was gifted with a Buckt box in 2018 and was fortunate to experience a whole host of activities throughout the year. Just some of my favourites included a rage room, a cinema trip and a Treasure Trail. The Birmingham Rage Room experience was total genius, and such a laugh. Me and my friend headed along and just about managed to smash up everything in the room during what was a particularly stressful time! I couldn't recommend the Rage Room enough, it is so unusual and unlike anything else in the city. 

Another experience I loved was tickets to The Mockingbird Cinema, which is based at the Custard Factory in Digbeth. The Mockingbird is one of my favourite cinemas. It is independent, and such a relaxed atmosphere. As the venue also has a bar and restaurant, you can take in anything you have ordered in that part of the venue into the cinema. Which means when I headed along to enjoy a film with my Buckt tickets, I also enjoyed some chicken and waffles alongside a cider, which of course, made the cinema trip much more fun!

My favourite experience that I have enjoyed with Buckt was the Treasure Trail. Funnily enough, it's not something that I thought I would enjoy at all, but I loved it. There are so many trails to choose from across the West Midlands, so you can either explore your local area or head along to an area you've never been to before. We chose the Trysull, Wombourne and Bratch Locks trail, which isn't too far away from me, but far enough for me to not know the area well.

It was a lovely warm morning when we headed along with our leaflets, which detailed everything we needed to know about the Treasure Trail. Our trail was a 'Murder Mystery' theme, and we set upon the area following all the clues. This meant that not only did we have the suspense of finding out who the murderer was, but also explored the area, and with lovely walks down the canal in the blazing sun, what isn't to love!
I can't recommend Buckt enough. It has been amazing to see how the business has grown from an idea into a subscription box full of experiences that so many people can enjoy. But really, it is a great way to explore and experience activities in the West Midlands, discover new places and spend more time with your loved ones doing fun things. And who knows, you may discover a new hobby! Find out more about Buckt here

*I was gifted with a Buckt subscription box in 2018. I used the experiences throughout the year. 

Saturday, 5 January 2019

REVIEW: Farmer & Friends, Wombourne

Stylish decor, huge milkshakes, hearty and traditional meals; it's safe to say that Farmer & Friends tick the boxes of what I love most in a super cosy cafe and restaurant. Based in the heart of the idyllic village Wombourne, just a stones throw away from Wolverhampton and Dudley, the cafe looks tiny from outside but it's actually quite a large venue and is always busy with locals catching up. It has a wonderful family friendly atmosphere, and should definitely be on your list to check out. 

This isn't the first time I have had the pleasure to head along to Farmer & Friends. However, last time I enjoyed a wonderful meal at their other venue, which is based right out in the countryside on the Bridgenorth Road. Last time, me and Dan enjoyed dishes off their Brunch menu, which was amazing. This time however, considering we had just come from an incredibly stressful IKEA trip (you know the type), we were in need of something a bit more substantial and filling. Before we even got round to looking at the lunch menu though, our eyes headed straight to the milkshakes section. I am a total fool for milkshakes, especially when they are fun and different flavours from just a bottle of Yazoo.

I went for the 'Holy Cow!' 'Mooshake' because A) I loved the name and B) It had a Forerro Roche on top, so SOLD! It was, of course, amazing and such a treat for a Saturday afternoon. Dan went for 'Reeces Pieces' which was a peanut butter shake with a Reeces buttercup. He went quiet for a few minutes whilst drinking it, and that usually means he is in his element.

For lunch, which is served until 4pm, I went for a classic but brilliant dish; a Jacket Potato. Now, I think Jacket's can have a terrible reputation for being a boring dish, but not in my eyes! There was a range of filling options, including chilli and chicken tikka, and I went for the Tuna Mayo. Seriously, stand up for your love of jacket potato. It is the ideal lunch dish; a step up from sandwiches but not quite a full blown meal. Mine at Farmer & Friends was super tasty, filled me right up and was lovely and warm which was hugely enjoyable on a cold day. My meal came with salad and homemade slaw, which was also delicious. Dan went for 'The F+F Club' sandwich, which is chicken, crispy streaky bacon, tomato, lettuce, melted cheese, mayo and barbeque saucce, which is one hell of a sandwich. He loved it, and it was packed full of flavours and was a generous portion. His also came with salad and slaw.

Other dishes on their lunch menu include traditional sandwiches, fish fingers, gourmet sandwiches, burgers, homemade soup, sausage rolls and egg and chips. So there really is something for everyone to enjoy, as well as a Kids menu and of course, the Brunch menu. The venue also offers a whole host of lovely cakes and pastries to enjoy.

It isn't just the food and great atmosphere which makes me love Farmer & Friends so much. I also just adore their decor, especially in their Wombourne cafe. It is super cosy, welcoming and comfy with exposed brick, industrial lighting, and a wide range of comfortable seating to choose from. It feels intimate and very homely, so it's no surprise that it is a very popular place to head to in the village.
I don't know about you, but one of my 2019 resolutions is to spend more time in independent chains across the West Midlands. Farmer & Friends is charming, and clearly a lot of hard work has gone into their venues. I know sometimes it's just too easy and convenient to head into a Costa, but when you can, I urge you to support your independent venues. 

Farmer & Friends: 10/10


Wednesday, 12 December 2018

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty, Wolverhampton Grand

With the future of the country totally unknown and in a year that has just been a little bit, well, grim, there's nothing like a glittering and magical panto to put a smile on your face in time for the festive season. With the ultimate panto dame, back up dancers dressed as Wolves players, a really rather wicked witch and the queen of the Black Country herself, this year's offering of Sleeping Beauty at Wolverhampton Grand is one that simply can't be missed. 

The story follows the classic Sleeping Beauty tale, where Princess Beauty pricks her finger on a spinning wheel cursed by Carabosse. The curse means that she will sleep for 100 years, unless her friends can save her, especially the Prince who can bring her back to life with a true loves kiss. But of course, there is a Panto twist to bring the story to life with much more laughs and silliness than the original story. However, it isn't quite set in a magical world, it's set in good old Wolverhampton, which can be magical in its own I way I guess...

The panto boasts some cracking showbiz extras, including Richard Cadell, who takes on the role of Muddles, alongside his glamorous assistant, Sooty, who ended up being the star of the show. And don't worry, Sweep is also there to join in the fun too. Ian Adams takes on the role of the fabulous Panto dame Queen Wilhelmina and is joined by Black Country icon herself Doreen Tipton, who the audience simply adored.
On the back of her Strictly success, Debbie McGee takes on the role of The Lovely Fairy Crystal, and even squeezes in a dance or two full of steps she picked up during her dancing days. Oliver Ormson, who recently played Lucas in The Addams Family, helps bring a West End touch to the show alongside Bethan-Wyn Davies, who plays Princess Beauty herself and Julie Paton takes on the role of the super evil Carabosse, who got totally booed every time she appeared on stage. 

There was of course plenty of 'he's behind you!' panto moments which of course, completely make the show. But for me, the show couldn't have been as fun and magical as it was without Muddles and Sooty, who performed several magic tricks on stage which had members of the audience in awe, and it was so heartwarming to see so many kids completely amazed. There's also plenty of local references to laugh along at, with the best part of the show for me being a young boy from the audience, who told everyone he was from the 'dodgy bit' of Wolverhampton. All I'm saying is, it's a good job we've got thick skins round our ends. 

There was also a huge range of super cool special effects which took place throughout the panto, which really helped to add that special sprinkle of magic to the evening. With a huge dragon flying out into the audience, as well as Debbie McGee floating above the stage, the production is so much more than just your standard panto and each set design has clearly taken a lot of hard work. There are a few musical numbers during the show, including a Kylie song, and a few Greatest Showman tracks. There isn't exactly a stand out song, but the panto fun more than makes up for that.

The panto is by far one of the best ones I've seen over the last few years. It is family fun at its best, and is packed full of jokes, innuendos and a few raunchy references which hopefully completely flew over the children's heads. It is exactly what a panto should be, with several added extras and plenty of magical moments. It is ultimately the best way to start your Christmas celebrations, and the perfect opportunity to spend time with loved ones during the most wonderful time of the year.
Sleeping Beauty is on stage at Wolverhampton Grand until January 13, 2019. Don't miss it! 

RATING: 9/10

Photo credit: Tim Thursfield from Express & Star

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

REVIEW: The Bulls Head, Meriden

I tend to spend a lot of time in Birmingham city centre, so I love when I have the opportunity to discover venues outside of the centre. The Bulls Head in Meriden is just a stones throw away from Solihull, and a short drive away from Birmingham Airport, a side to the city I very rarely have the chance to head over to. But for me, The Bulls Head was well worth the journey. Nestled in a beautiful village in the countryside, it is the ultimate retreat away from the busy city which offers both guaranteed country pub cosy vibes with opulence and class.

Upon arrival to The Bulls Head, I couldn't believe just how big the place is! It is a huge venue, with plenty of seating in both the bar and restaurant areas. I was also surprised to see that it is also a hotel with apartments, which immediately made me want to book the night! The outside is decked with stunning fairy lights and cool, instagrammable areas. Inside, the interior has gorgeous, traditional country colours and cosy patterns. The venue is a classic pub, with a modern and opulent touch, and to be honest, I couldn't get enough of the place from the moment I walked in. The Bulls Head is everything I like in a restaurant; quintessentially British, warm, welcoming and cosy.
The menu has a wide selection, which includes over 10 starters, a huge range of main courses, as well as steaks and burgers, and pizza and salad options. There was also several sides and an impressive dessert menu, meaning that choosing what to have was a mission itself! If you were to head along with family or friends, I can assure you, there will be something for absolutely everyone.

Before getting started on the main event, me and my guest enjoyed the Artisan Rustic Breads from the 'While you Wait' section of the menu. The breads were beautiful and soft, and came accompanied with olives and oil. For starters, I went for the Duck Liver and Port Parfait, which came with gooseberry and Prosecco flavour compote and toasted ciabatta bread. It was full of flavour and the pate was very smooth. However, there wasn't enough bread for the portion size. Really, it needed at least four slices instead of the two which came with it. My guest opted for the Lobster and King Prawn Pot, which came with Devon crab creme fraiche and toasted chibatta bread. It came beautifully presented and was totally delicious.

For mains, I went for the Roasted Pork Belly and Seared Scallops, which came with potato dauphinoise, butternut squash purée, green beans, toasted almonds, crackling and red wine jus. It was just incredible. It had so much flavour, and the potato dauphinoise was so soft, the scallops were cooked perfectly and the pork belly was absolutely glorious. My guest went for the Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken, which came with sweet potato fries, apple salad and lemon aioli, a classic pub dish with a classy touch.

Although we were both completely full, it would be rude to not have a dessert, right?! For dessert, I went for the Mini Desert and Hot Drink option. I chose the Belgian Chocolate Brownie alongside a gorgeous Hot Chocolate. My guest went for the Melting Chocolate and Peanut Bomb, which was served with vanilla ice cream, and of course, the hot salted caramel sauce which melted into the bomb.

Me and my guest headed along on a Tuesday evening, and couldn't believe how busy the restaurant was. In the few hours we were there, all the seats filled up, which is a great sign of how good a place is to be that level of busy on a weeknight. However, it did seem like the staff were struggling with just how many people there were. My experience was brilliant, although we did have to wait a while in between courses. I did overhear other customers complaining though about their wait. However, I do think that the staff probably only faced this issue because the amount of people in the restaurant was simply too much on what would normally be a quieter night. I would be surprised if that happened every single night.
I absolutely loved my time at The Bulls Head. I am already trying to find reasons to head back over to that side of the city and try more of their incredibly impressive menu. Thanks to its size, it is perfect for both small and large parties, and is also ideal for both occasions and a nice weeknight meal. I can't recommend The Bulls Head enough. You must go and see it for yourself! 

The Bulls Head: 9/10

*Please note: I was invited to review The Bulls Head for press purposes and therefore both mine and my guest's meals were paid for. However, I was under no obligation to write a positive review, I genuinely had an enjoyable meal at the restaurant. 

Monday, 3 December 2018

REVIEW: Aluna, Birmingham

Eye catching decor - check. A huge cocktail menu - check. Instagramable area - check. Aluna, nestled amongst the super classy and cool restaurants alongside the canal by the Mailbox, ticks so many Millennial boxes that it would be rude of me to not encourage those in 'my generation' to head along and check it out. 

Now, this is no normal restaurant. In fact, it feels a bit more like a night out than a Sunday afternoon in a cosy pub. So if you're desperate to wear your new heels and head for a cocktail, or five, with the girls, this is absolutely the place you should be going to. It is the perfect place to start a night out, with an electric atmosphere and cool music, but not so over the top that you can't have a conversation. 

The bar is stacked high with spirits, the lights are turned down low and the venue is scattered with seating for those simply in for a few drinks, and those in for the full Aluna experience. The restaurant feels quite intimate and very, very stylish. Many restaurants like Aluna have replaced huge main course dishes with sharing plates and small dishes, and it works, especially with enticing people to spend their nights out there - who wants to look bloated in a tight fitting dress anyway?! But Aluna's menu is packed full of flavour and options, and have a wide selection for everyone to enjoy. 

The Appetisers include Sriracha and Honey Popcorn, Sweet Potato Balls and Toasted Peanuts. However, it's the Plates to Share section of the menu that really makes the menu. The selection includes Red Aromatic Crispy Red Duck Curry, Chilli Crusted Tofu, Mitsuba Fillet Steak and Beef Bulgogi Sirloin. Me and my guest went back and forth for a while choosing, but eventually ended up going for the Chicken Katsu Sliders, which were delicious, and my guest went for the Wasabi Lamb Chops, which were also super tasty.
We also chose a small dish each. The Small Dishes menu includes Pan Roasted Scallops, Spicy Chicken Wings and Chilli Salt Squid. I went for the Tiger Prawn Cookies, which came with Coriander, Garlic, Lime and Sweet & Sour Plum Sauce, which were packed full of flavour, and my guest enjoyed the Spicy Chicken Wings, which came with Chilli, Garlic, Shallots and Sesame, which were just a little too spicy for me. In fact, a lot of the dishes looked and sounded very spicy, so if you're not keen on the spice like me, it's worth asking the staff what dishes are mild! We enjoyed both of the dishes alongside a side of Jasmine Rice, which was also delicious and a nice light side.

Personally, I don't think this place is going to break the bank, with the sharing dishes costing between £9 and just under £19, and the small dishes costing between £6.95 and just under £12. However, I do think the restaurant has more of a special occasion vibe to it. But in my eyes, that's great! I don't think there are enough places in the city to head to for a special occasion.

The decor is incredibly eye-catching at Aluna, and perfect for photographs. In fact, one section of the restaurant has angel wings attached to the wall, perfect for a night out full outfit shot. Another wall states 'Sinners Welcome', with another wall covered in equations. It is stylish though without being over the top and in your face. 

Unfortunately, I went along on a 'school night' so I didn't get to try out the cocktail menu which looked incredible. I'd be keen to head along again soon and try more of the sharing dishes, and absolutely a few off the cocktail menu too! 

If you're looking for a big hearty meal, then Aluna isn't the place for you. But if you're looking for light dishes, alongside a huge selection of drinks, then you are bound to fall in love with the venue. With it also being in a brilliant location, its easy to get to and try out for yourself. It is unique, fun and packed full of cool stuff to look at. 

Aluna is open from 12pm every day, and is open until 2am on Friday and Saturday. 

Aluna: 8/10

Friday, 30 November 2018

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz, The REP Birmingham

A Christmas production I look forward to each year is The REPs. Every year, it celebrates a Christmas classic - but with a twist, or two. This year is no different, with The Wizard of Oz on stage at the theatre until mid January, and believe me when I say it is an absolute must see. In fact, if you do anything in Birmingham this festive season, make sure this is top of your list...

Being one of my favourite stories of all time, I'm always optimistic about seeing The Wizard of Oz on stage, almost in fear that I won't love it as much as the original. However, Liam Steel's production is not simply the story that we all know on stage, it has been completely transformed with every aspect of the production completely re-imagined. 

The production still very much follows the same story line which follows Dorothy make her way to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz, whilst making friends along the way; the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. Of course, the gang is joined by the adorable Toto, played by both a wonderful real dog on stage as well as a puppet, which got the audience aww-ing and ooh-ing every time they arrived onto the stage. 

However, the play is brought to life by the new touches, which made the show one of the most creative productions I have seen in a long time. The creative touches include The Munchkins being brought to life in puppet form, neon door frames, yellow steps to represent the brick road and huge spooky figures which scared even the oldest audience members. The actual Wizard is a huge figure with big green eyes - but it turns out to be an hilarious woman behind the facade, which the audience immediately fell in love with. 
To say that the cast of this wonderful show are talented would be a total understatement. The role of Dorothy was played by Chisara Agor, who managed to get the adorable and naive nature of her character down to a T. The lovable Scarecrow was taken on by Ed Wade, the Tin Man was brought to life with cool dance moves by Dillon Scott-Lewis and the terrifying Wicked Witch of the West was played by the brilliant Jos Vantyler, who managed to combine a classic panto baddie with your worst nightmare. However, the stand out performer of the show for me was by far the Lion, played by Kelly Agbowu. Not only did she play the Lion scared of its own tail incredibly well, she also had an amazing voice which really helped bring some of the musical numbers to life.  

With all of its twists and turns, this production of the classic story still kept many of the original songs in the mix, meaning the audience could enjoy and sing along with the likes of Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead, We're Off to See the Wizard and of course, Over the Rainbow. The songs really helped bring the show to life and combine the old with the new brilliantly. 

The production's scenes changed smoothly and from one extreme to the next, the show really had a huge amount of creativity in it from start to finish, making it impossible to even take your eyes off the stage, with so much colour and fun taking place at all times. As well as the staging itself, the costumes were breathtaking, from simple fashion in Kansas to shock factor outfits in Oz. It was clear from the start of the show that this adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is for a new generation. 

However, although it is a much more imaginative take on the classic story, the meaning remains the same; there really is no place like home. At Christmas time especially, the message is timeless and that is why no matter how many adaptations of the Wizard of Oz there may be, it still remains one of the best stories of our time. 

The Wizard of Oz is on stage at The REP until January 13th, 2019. 

Rating: 10/10


Saturday, 24 November 2018

REVIEW: The Nutcracker, Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham is packed full of Christmas traditions, which we all love to get stuck in with. But nothing quite says Birmingham tradition like the return of Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker. Now in its 28th year, The Nutcracker simply gets bigger and better every single year. Each year more magical than the last, there's nothing like it to get you ready for the festive season.

Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker, which was created by Sir Peter Wright shortly after Birmingham Royal Ballet was founded in 1990, has seen huge success for many years, with sell-out runs and high praise for every single show.

Alongside Tchaikovsky's timeless score, the story begins on Christmas Eve at the home of the Stahlburn family, who are hosting a huge lavish party for all their family and friends. Their 15 year old daughter Clara is training to be a dancer and her friends from the ballet school are invited to perform for the guests.

A magician, Drosselmeyer, was also invited to perform fascinating tricks to the party attendees. Clara is gifted with a Nutcracker doll, and becomes fascinated with it. She truly believes that it has magical powers, and it is confirmed when the doll fixes itself after her brother breaks it.
After the party is over, the family retire to bed, but unable to sleep, Clara heads downstairs looking for her Nutcracker doll. But as the clock strikes midnight, strange things start to happen and the whole room grows around her, before a hoard of giant rats attack Clara. Thankfully, The Nutcracker springs to life and defends her.

Clara is then whisked away by Drosselmeyer to a magical world. In a grand hall, Clara is treated to several incredible performances, where she gets to join in with many of the dances, before being transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy. The dancing reaches its climax before the dream world completely vanishes and Clara wakes up on Christmas morning at the foot of her Christmas tree.

As well as the hugely talented dancing from the Ballet's ensemble, what really brings The Nutcracker to life is the pure magic in every single scene. From the Christmas tree and fireplace transformation, to the magical snow scene and Clara's sail across the night sky on a giant swan, the whole show is simply beautiful and a real festive feast for the senses, and completely opens up your imagination.

The dancers were simply wonderful. Each and everyone of them were fantastic. However, Karla Doorbar, who took on the role of the heroine Clara, was outstanding, as was the Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Momoko Hirata, and The Prince, played by Cesar Morales, who put on a truly breathtaking performance.
If you're not already in the festive spirit, you certainly will be after enjoying a night at The Nutcracker. It is beautifully charming, elegant and enchanting. Christmas is a wonderful time for all of us, but this show adds that extra sprinkle of magic to the festive season. 

The Nutcracker is on stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Thursday, December 13th. 

The Nutcracker: 10/10
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