A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

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
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