Sunday, 31 July 2016

Review: The Victoria, Birmingham - relaunch


The Victoria in Birmingham is not your average pub. Found just across the road from Birmingham New Street this venue is a theatre pub dating back to the 19th century. True to it's heritage The Victoria still provides entertainment including a music and film pub quiz on Tuesdays.

We were invited along to check out the spruced up venue and taste everything the menu has to offer and it was quite the experience.

While centrally located The Victoria is down a less than attractive road, if you can ignore the graffiti and trash and focus on getting inside you won't be disappointed. The walls in one room are covered in sailor style tattoos while another features cartoons and i'm pretty sure I spotted the stay puff man covering one wall. The artwork does a great job creating an alternative type of vibe that is way less pretentious than the high street chain bars. This pub is somewhere to hang out if you want to avoid the high pitched squeals of Broad Street and enjoy a more chilled evening.


In fact if you want a guided tour check out this link!

We were greeted by cocktails from the Victoria Cocktail Menu, our first indulgence being a Negroni but by the end of the night we had sampled a fair few cocktails from the list.
Photo from The Victoria website
After the drinks were consumed it was on to the food. While we were expecting a standard bar menu what was delivered was far from that. For appetisers we had two types of mac and cheese - and we LOVE mac and cheese. I preferred the creamer crayfish mac and cheese while Laura enjoyed the chorizo as it had a 'good kick'.

We would have quite happily scoffed the mac and cheese and been happy but the arrival of the Korean chicken wings distracted us - they smelt SO good. Not only that they tasted SO good. I'm not normally a wings fan but the flavour of these would have me ordering them again.

Photo from The Victoria website
After the sides / starters it was on to pizza's. The stand out pizza for me was the Los Pollos Hermanos, covered in chicken and ranch dressing it was bursting with flavours. The base wasn't too thick so I managed a couple of slices. Laura preferred the Bunga Bunga with pepperoni and chillies - you may have spotted a theme here - Laura likes her food with a  kick :) The nice thing with the pizza offering was that they took standard pizza flavours and added their own take on it and their was plenty of choice.

The same flare was applied to the burgers - I went straight for the Fiesta Fiasco, any burger that has guacamole gets my vote. I was slightly disappointed that the nacho was soggy by the time I got to it but lesson learnt next time i'll take it out BEFORE the photo's. The burger buns weren't our favourite either, it's minor but I love a soft white bun and these buns fell apart as we ate leading to super messy hands and faces.

The hot dogs put us back on track though, I like the trend of hot dogs. I find the price a little steep everywhere and at £8/ £9 a time The Victoria dogs are no exception. That said they were delicious and the flavour of the rare breed beef really came through.

Our pics were a little dark as the room was dimly lit :)

We were STUFFED by the end of our visit, good food and good cocktails created a great evening and with the attention to detail in the decor Laura had plenty of photo opportunities to keep her entertained.

Unintentionally we also got to burn off a few of the calories we had consumed as we realised we over stayed our parking - I arrived just as the parking attendant was writing us a ticket. I'm not sure if it was the desperation or great tasting burp I accidentally let out as I sprinted over but thankfully he screwed up the ticket and we got in the car with a sigh of relief and food coma that would last all night.





Monday, 25 July 2016

The Smith Catch Up!

So we realised the other day that we rarely get around to updating the blog with much about us unless we are out enjoying restaurants or discovering Birmingham. However, life is racing by and so we wanted to make sure that every so often we'd take a moment to record the little things that we get up to during the week as there are so many small, yet amazing things that are happening.


If you have followed us for a while you will know that we celebrated our second wedding anniversary almost a month a go while enjoying a trip of a life time to Santorini. I have no idea where 2 years has gone but since that time our wedding video has amassed over 73,000 views and we have had so many comments from couples who can't wait to say 'I do'. It makes us want to do it all over again :)


The other happy outcome is that clips of our wedding get featured in videos that others put together - the most recent being a video @girlskissgirls put together as a tribute to the Orlando victims (check out our pinned tweet to see the video).

We are always proud to see our faces used to support a cause so close to our hearts. While it seems marriage equality has been around for some time now, it is clear that the battle to win over hearts and minds is still ongoing. With the political uncertainty in the UK and US right now, LGBTQ rights are still on the agenda and still being challenged. It is both sad and frustrating to read comments and quotes from leading politicians questioning the validity of our love, so any and all publicity normalising our relationship is something we will support.


Reading a story in the news today (link) about a white woman feeling fearful of sitting next to a Muslim lady on a plane today really brought home how divided our world currently is and how sad that is. The story brought a tear to my eye as it was a simple situation where the white woman saw the Muslim lady text 'Allahu Akbar' and presumed it was a final text. The article goes into how the white woman had 'perceived the Muslim lady as a threat'. Rather than escalating the situation, the Muslim lady took time to explain exactly what was in the text to the white woman and over the course of a plane journey they discussed their differences and life experiences, ultimately leading to them finding that they had more in common that they had different. How amazing is that. It touched me as this situation occurs on the daily without anyone taking the time to understand differences. We judge. We perceive and we let the media control our views. Be it about a race, a religion, someones sexual orientation or where someone lives, if the media had it's way all we would ever focus on was our differences - it makes for a great story - but I took a moment after that article and decided that in my world at least that I would make a concerted effort to acknowledge my negative bias and readdress the balance.

So what else is news in our world......
Well Laura's parents are currently with us on a quick pit stop before heading over to Europe to tour with their motor-home. The plans all sound very exciting but it is amazing how much planning it requires. Turns out putting your life in order involves A LOT of paperwork so at anyone time there are three of us working from home. It's been so nice getting to spend time with them in between the tasks though.

We are off to Euro Disney in Paris in November. We found out one of good friends had never been before and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to add a 3rd Disney to Laura's list. The best bit of all is that the Christmas decorations will be up so it will be a Disney Christmas experience - EXCITING!!!!

Before then we have to figure out logistics for a hen party in Barcelona in September. One of our bridesmaids is getting married in Idaho in October and like us she has friends around the world so this will be the European celebration. With only 6 weeks to go we have no flights or accommodation #panic!!!!

We will be following the Bride and Groom from London to the US in late September with a quick stopover in Toronto to meet some lovely ladies we know through social media, oh and visit Niagara Falls - CAN'T WAIT!
Rumour has it there is a zip wire there....think we might get on that :)
My birthday is officially over.....sadly....the love and generosity were incredible and I can't believe still owe people thank you calls. I have no idea how life got so busy but part of me wishes I could have a life admin assistant to help me get through everything I want to achieve. With the delicious ice cream cake Laura made sadly finished I am now focusing on getting through a picnic basket I received that was full of America candy! I was indeed a lucky lady this year. I am just hoping the netball & netball hoop and badminton kit I received help me stay in shape :)

You may have also noticed an increase in Birmingham reviews - Laura has signed us up to Birmingham bloggers a local network connecting bloggers with businesses and it is fair to say that the number of opportunities are greater that we ever thought. As with most things in life we have thrown ourselves in and it has already given us some amazing opportunities to discover new places, eat a ridiculous amount of amazing food and meet some great people. It won't mean that we will turn this blog into a purely review place but it does mean if you ever come and visit our wonderful home city that you'll know the best places to check out :)

Laura has also discovered Pokemon Go so we have regular walks and trips to Pokestops and in search of the mystical creatures so we're discovering all types of places. Are you playing? Or avoiding it and all the people playing it?!

This week has also been busy as Laura had a choir concert at the weekend so there were two practise sessions added into our hectic schedule. The practise paid off and the concert was brilliant. The highlight being Rainbow Voices version of Pink's 'Just give me a reason' - it was goose-bump inducing!

And so I shall leave it there for this post......we are loving our happily ever after and we can't wait to get back to put more of our memories up here. On that note I spotted this passage on Instagram and wanted to share as the list makes my heart happy and is an exact description of what Laura and I do when we have time together......

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Bistrot Pierre Review - Birmingham


Have you seen a Bistrot Pierre near you? I ask as they have locations all around the UK. In fact, here is the current list:

Bistrot Pierre does delicious French food for a reasonable price at stunning locations. Our recent visit was to the Birmingham location in Gas Street. The restaurant itself is in a Grade II listed building next to the canal not far from the Mail Box and walking distance to Broad Street.


One of the owners John shared We believe very strongly in maintaining an individual and unique feel across our bistro's and the interior in each restaurant strongly reflects its location; no two bistro's are the same. Our passion for French food and high levels of service are features which we believe are paramount across the brand. We’re also very pleased to have created almost 50 new jobs in Birmingham.'

photo courtesy of http://bistrotpierre.co.uk/
The restaurant chain was started back in 1994 by two friends with the first locations in Nottingham and Derby. The menus on offer range from a la carte to set menus and special occasion menus. Check them out here: http://bistrotpierre.co.uk/menus. With Bastille Day on the 14th of July (today!) they are hosting a special French celebration with set menus - we are sad to be missing it.

We were excited as soon as we saw the menu. It was a throwback to our Paris trip in April, and the drinks menu included our Paris trip favourite - Kir. An aperitif with a blackcurrant flavour mixed with white wine. Best way to start any date night!

From the end of the first course we were planning our next trip. The entrance walk way had transported us from our local Birmingham canal to a beautiful corner of France and as we shared a combination of mini chorizo roasted in honey (I audibly yummed with each bite) and calamari (so soft and fresh and not at all chewey) we were eyeing up the baked Camembert being shared on the table next to us. It took us over 20 minutes just to narrow down the starters!
photo courtesy of http://bistrotpierre.co.uk/
The nice thing with the a la carte menu was the choice, while the menu wasn't pages long, it offered enough choice to cover almost all palettes. Even better was the fact that they stayed clear of just having standard run of the mill dishes, the meats all came with delicious sauces that really enhanced the flavour of the meat and the burgers all seemed to have that little something extra. It was food created with thought.

Our choices for the mains were the medallions de porc and bouef bourguignon (one of Laura's favourite dishes). Both meals were so flavourful and melted in our mouth. I honestly can't remember the last time I ate food that was so well cooked. Not over done, not under done just perfect.

To accompany our meal we had French bread - usually bread is not worth mentioning at restaurants as it's more of an afterthought but this was such fresh bread that I couldn't ignore it. You know when the bread is good that you are in for a great meal!

photo courtesy of http://bistrotpierre.co.uk/
And so as our mains sadly ended, we agreed we were not ready to leave. Looking around at the French posters and admiring the classy decor we decided that the place itself reminded us of our favourite London restaurant Kettners (if you have never been, check that out too!) and right there and then we decided that Bistro Pierre would be our new celebration restaurant.

We couldn't resist checking out the dessert menu and went for 'the best creme brulee Laura has ever eaten' and I went for a meli melo de fraises et meringue (similar to an eton mess). It was light and refreshing and was probably the only thing I could fit in my full stomach at that point. The waiter enjoyed my attempted pronunciation and we enjoyed getting him to pronounce things correctly - oh yeah, we had a French waiter!

All in all it was a wonderful experience, the service was exemplary, the location allowed you to be transported to a different place, and the food was delicious. If you are near to a Bistrot Pierre or visiting a place that is lucky enough to have one, add it to your dinner options list! The prices are all around £3 for appetisers, £6 for starters, £14 for mains and £5 for desserts so you won't need to break the bank to get an amazing meal.

If you do check one out, let us know what you think and what we need to add the dish to the tasting list for our next trip!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Where to Stay in Santorini

Santorini is beautiful, so if you are lucky enough to be heading there on holiday, you won't be disappointed. Our week on the island was more than enough time to get around to all the main towns and fit in a few days of sunbathing and soaking in the relaxing atmosphere.

It doesn't matter where you stay or what time of year you explore Santorini, it is jam packed with things to do and places to see. This is a short guide to the key towns / villages we came across to help make you mind up on where to stay....or help plan your up and coming trip.

Santorini is an island of two halves, you have the beaches on the east side of the island and the caldera (cliff) on the west that runs southwards. It's the caldera that gives the famous steeped views with the white houses and blue topped churches.

From North to South:

Oia (pronounced EEE-Ya)


Probably the best known Santorini town. It is most likely to be the one you see in pictures and has the gorgeous windmills over looking the sea. It is also the place to see the infamous sunsets as the sun disappears into the sea here. The main town centre is a series of streets packed full of shops and restaurants, but without a doubt this is the most expensive part of the island. The average meal and drink is a few Euro's higher than anywhere else on the island and if you are booking a restaurant, to see the sunset do so in advance. We booked our almost 2 weeks in advance and at least two restaurants were fully booked. Also be prepared to spend on dinner, with most restaurants suggesting an arrival time of 7 if you want a table with a view there will be over an hour to sunset (depending on what time of year you go) and in our experience they did not appreciate people just buying drinks. Worth it though!!


When checking Oia out, make the effort to head to the Castelle that is situated at the end of the town, the views back over the island are worth the crowds and steps. The 39 Steps Cafe is also a great place to grab some shade and watch the donkeys rush by after you survive the walk out. Oh yeah - Santorini has donkey as their second most popular mode of transport after busses!


This is the place you will be most likely to find girls laid out against buildings, their boyfriends acting as personal photographers, or taking a TON of selfies. As our Airbnb host said, Oia is full of 'Kardashian wannabes' but we can't blame them - it's just so damn pretty there and there really is a need to photograph everything!

Kardashian-wannabe photo example 1
Rumour also has it that there are a few swimming pools that are open to the 'public' if you are buying food and drink, we didn't find them but if you are in the area and in need of a dip it might be worth Googling.


Imerovigli


The highest and most central part of the caldera and our base for the week. We fell in love with the steep cliff views of the caldera and view out over the volcano. We also found the walk to Skaros Rock rewarding and the views spectacular. From this point you can see the entire west side of the island and the beautiful ocean stretching out for miles. The winding paths that mean you never quite take the same path twice also mean there are plenty of photo opportunities and different places to discover. While the town isn't packed with shops (or tourists, bonus!) it covers all the basics and has a number of excellent restaurants at reasonable prices.

Skaros Rock
The side of the caldera is covered in the cave houses that Santorini is famous for and are now available as hotels or Airbnb's. Our apartment was an Airbnb with spectacular views and having the kitchen saved us money as we had all of our breakfasts and some lunches in the flat while enjoying our amazing view.

If you're interested in the Airbnb we stayed in, drop us an email, we will give you the link!
Side note, if you do decide to stay in Imerovigli, make sure to do your shopping at the Nissi mini-market, which is owned by a Texan woman and her Greek husband. She moved to Greece to be with him 23 years ago, they have the cutest love story and are so friendly. Tell her we sent you! We literally went there daily to stock up on water and speak to her. Anyway!

Two minutes walk from our apartment in Imerovigli
Imervogli's central position was also great to explore the island. It was a 20 minute bus ride to Oia so it was easy to make the trip and breathe a sigh of relief when we left the crowds and got back to our quiet village. It is only 20 minutes to walk to Fira too, so you get your own space, wonderful view and no need to spend the the time getting out of others' photos.

Fira / Thera
Imerovigli to Fira at night
The capital of Santorini and a bustling place to spend a day. More spread out than Oia, the crowds here seem less crazy as there is more space. The streets are packed with shops, restaurants and bars and depending on what route through the town you take you either get a view of the volcano or get to immerse yourself in the holiday atmosphere. Either way a trip to Santorini should include a visit here.


Fira also hosts the 'main' bus station so you can get to anywhere on the island from here. In fact, all the busses on the island go to/from Fira. So if you wanted to go from Oia (North) to Kamari (East), you'd need to get one bus South to Fira, then another East to Kamari.

Beautiful churches
We also checked out the tourist booking office on the main square and got a great deal for our volcano / Thirassis / hot springs boat trip!

Volcano hot springs - read more in a future post
Fira old port is located at the base of Fira, some 600 steps below the town, the steps are easy enough to go down but it does take almost half an hour. Our route down was slow as we had to pull over to let donkeys past - super intense when you have donkeys trying to pass both ways! Oh and the steps are also covered in donkey poo so you have to watch your step. If you don't fancy the exercise or the donkey ride there is a cable car. For €5 you get a 3 minute ride (up or down) the cliff and get to admire the view slightly more than you would if you did it on foot. Whatever you do, we recommend taking it at least one way.

We walked down that.
 Oooh also, they had a fish foot spa place, which we treated ourselves to after a week of walking pretty much everywhere. We'd done it once before in Thailand, and it was totally rejuvenating!


We'd recommend staying here if you want to be close to nightlife or have early commitments (like a boat or cruise), so you can get there quickly. Otherwise, we'd recommend staying elsewhere and exploring for the day.

Pyrgos

We loved Pyrgos. The village is the highest part of the island and less focused on tourism so feels far more 'local'. There is a cafe area as you drive through but the main gems are found on foot. Pyrgos is built on a hill so at times the footpath becomes steep but on arrival at the top the view helps you forget the workout as the monastery is so pretty. Also lookout for the ruins of the Kasteli castle that have been turned into outdoor restaurants and some of them provide stunning views over the island.


Before arriving in the village we spotted a restaurant that looked so pretty, set on the hillside by a church we could see the views it had were spectacular. We decided to have lunch there and spent almost equal time looking out over the fields and vineyards as we did raving about the food. The amazing thing about Santorini is that the built up areas are restricted to the towns and villages so when you get out of the residential areas you can really appreciate the rest of the scenery and Prygos was the perfect place to do that.



Kamari

Located on the east side of the island, Kamari is the place for beach lovers. Not quite the smooth sand you'd expect, but rocky black sand that requires footwear to save your feet from scorching or cuts. The great thing is the beach is what the Santorinians call 'organised', which basically means that it has sunbeds. As long as you are buying something from one of the bars or restaurants, you get to use their sunbeds for free. Most of the bars had waiter / waitress service so you could find a bed, lay back and enjoy the delivery of food and drink for as long as you wanted.

Such a poser with a mango margarita
As the sun moves across the sky it is quite the sight to see the sun-worshippers (Sarah included) moving the sun beds around the canopies to get maximum exposure.

In the shade :)
From the beach you can take the short walk into the sea, the beautiful transparent sea that is just cool enough to be refreshing without being cold. The only advice is watch your feet though as you get in it's pretty rocky under foot, once you passed that though the sea suddenly deepens and you are free to swim freely.
Black sand!
When you are on the beach make sure and look right towards the big mountain and see if you see the ridiculously steep and windy road you take to the Ancient town of Thera - it's like a slalom! There is also a walk you can do but in the heat we passed on it.

Perissa



Voted the best beach on the island, Perissa is certainly the longest. It allows the visitors to spread out along the coast line and pick their perfect tanning spot. Slightly less resort-like than Kamari, its bars and restaurants are less focused on getting you on sunbeds and more interested in getting you to sit and eat.

There are plenty of beach-based activities on offer here including water sports, so depending on what you like to do on holiday it could be worth hanging out here if you love the beach / sea.

There are plenty of other villages to check out too and if you want the official tour guide rundown check out: https://www.santorini.com/santorini/


We personally were really happy we stayed in Imerovigli, as we felt it was perfect for what we wanted - quiet and picturesque, but close to hustle and bustle - we ventured over to the beach side twice which was lovely, but because it wasn't sand, and because when we think of Santorini we think cliffs and churches, not beaches, we were pleased we stayed on the volcano/sunset side.

Hopefully this mini-rundown will help you decide where you'd like to stay on the island!


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Coach and Horses - New Brewery and Tasting Menu

Before we headed off on our holidays we were invited to the relaunch of a pub we have driven past a dozen or so times but never had the opportunity to visit. When the invite mentioned that we would be given a tour of their on site brewery and a taster of their new menu we were sold.

Set in the gorgeous countryside just outside of Birmingham the Coach and Horses Weatheroak Hill pub and restaurant captures that countryside feeling while offering delicious food and a great variety of beers. It's also been in the same family for nearly 50 years so they obviously knows what works well.

As you know, Laura and I are not big drinkers, so we were checking out the pub more for the food than the drink and we were not disappointed. Seriously - the food is amazing!

If you do like a beer, the micro brewery they have on site makes sure there is plenty on offer, in fact some of their ale is award winning, so if you are looking to impress a beer drinker, this is the perfect place. To go a step further than that they also have monthly tours of the brewery should you want to check it out.

But back to the food! There are two menus available (check them out here)- a Sunday one that has the good olde roast and the rest of the week menu that was jam-packed with deliciousness, whatever your tastes. Thankfully the tasting session we had allowed us to try so much of the menu we didn't have to choose. 

For starter, we got to taste the chicken, bacon and brandy pate - it's as good as it sounds - and the beef, horseradish, garlic and parsley hash browns - I could have eaten the whole tray's worth.

For mains we started with traditional fish and chips and I am pleased to report the chips are chunky and fluffy and, lets just say, I will have more! The crispy pork belly was so tender and flavorful and the lamb shank tagine was cooked perfectly. For us though, it was the crispy duck salad that won us over. Never ones to pick salad over a cooked meal, I don't think we would have ever chosen it on the menu but we would have missed out. I have never eaten duck that tasted SO good. 

We will have go back and try the roasted butternut squash and melted goats cheese pie next time - how good does it look!


By the time the sides arrived we were....almost.... too full to try them but thankfully we made room for the yummy sweet potato fries as they were a great addition. 

As dessert was delivered we were so stuffed we could only manage a few spoonfuls of the chocolate and caramel tart, although the Devon toffee ice-cream seemed to disappear without me trying. And we couldn't leave without trying the extensive cheese board - always a great way to end a meal.

The Head Brewer made sure we were well informed about beer!
The best thing about the tasting menu is that it is actually available if you book on to the Tour, Talk and Tasting session they run on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. As well as the delicious food, you also get advice on what beer goes best with what food and get samples to enjoy as you eat. The tour part of the evening is hosted by the Head Brewer who not only knows everything about the beer he brews, he also knows everything about beer in general! He even has a slideshow to help those of us not paying full attention keep up. I think we may have been distracted by the food :)

 
 Things we thought it was good to know:
1) It has gluten free and vegetarian options
2) The Coach & Horses is dog friendly
3) It has a pretty big car park, so if you do drive you won't be left parking in the road

So if you are heading to South Birmingham or fancy a detour on the way to the Cotswolds we recommend checking out http://www.coachandhorsesinn.co.uk/ and if you love it as much as we did, let us know!