Thursday, 5 March 2015

Travel: Ibis Styles Liverpool Dale Street (part one) #CaptureIbisStyles.

Last week I was invited along to stay a night at Liverpool's Ibis Styles hotel with six other bloggers and the lovely Ibis Styles/ Gray Matter team to take part in their #CaptureIbisStyles blogger campaign. Upon arrival it was immediately evident that the Ibis Styles hotels are design-centred and I was met by an eye-catching but tasteful yellow, purple and blue colour scheme and geometric shapes, plus a huge wall mural containing Blackbird lyrics, a walrus and four famous scousers which gave away the overall theme of the whole hotel. After checking in, the lovely lady at the desk showed me to the interactive social wall in the lobby, where guests can share and view useful tourist information about the city as well as check out pictures of the different themed rooms throughout the hotel. Each of the seven floors of Ibis Styles Liverpool has been appointed a different Beatles-related theme, including 'Strawberry Fields' which sees every guestroom on the third floor covered in a red, strawberry print wallpaper that I now want in my own bedroom. Other themes include 'Iconic Style', 'Yesterday' and 'Lucy', which features a diamond-themed wall mural and sparkly accents.
I stayed in a room on the sixth floor of the hotel dedicated to 'Abbey Road', which is fittingly decorated with a road sign, a black and white-striped ceiling and yellow glowing lights which pay a subtle homage to the famous London-based zebra crossing. The room was quite small as is expected of a budget hotel, but I was impressed with the sleek and modern design, the cleanliness of the place, plus the little added extras (bottled water, hospitality tray, a safe, a 32" TV with freeview and a fluffy robe & slippers) which, to me, screamed at least £90 a night. Room prices vary depending on when you stay and how far in advance you book, but at around £54 for a midweek stay in a double room with breakfast and WIFI included, I think this is one of the best city centre hotels to choose for a good night's sleep on a budget.
As mentioned in my previous hotel review, breakfast can be the dealbreaker, however given that Ibis Styles is a budget hotel with a continental offering, I left my expectations and my camera behind. I really wish I had swallowed my pride as I was very impressed with the selection for a three-star hotel, which included yogurts and cereals with various toppings, fresh fruit, breads & pastries, cheeses & cold cuts, plus a few hot options- hash browns, sausage rolls and bacon & cheese turnovers (winner).
The #CaptureIbisStyles campaign
 Gray Matter like to think outside the box for their campaigns, and if you follow me on Instagram (@FrancesCassandra) you will have seen that during our time at the hotel, we were let loose to cause havoc sensibly snap photos of some of the quirky features and spam each post with cringe-inducing hashtags (#like4like on my #picoftheday, anyone?) in order to rack up the 'likes' and prove our social media skills for a chance to win a two-nights stay in one of the UK's Ibis Hotels, plus the adorable Waaf dog lamp pictured above. We were also taken on a rather chilly open-top bus tour of Liverpool where we learned lots about the history of the city as well as having our imagination and creativity put to the test with a series of tasks which we were to complete via Instagram, including taking a selfie with one of Liverpool's iconic Superlambananas and hunting down a Beatles look-a-like. Unfortunately, I wrote myself out of the games pretty quickly, mainly due to the poor battery life on my retro iPhone 4S (note to self: find your  power bank, that was the best purchase you ever made).
Now, all of this fun and games wasn't because bloggers get all the cool stuff or because of our tendency to Instagram everything from our morning coffee to our lunch, to the cute cat we made friends with on our way home from work. Not completely, anyway. We were the guinea pigs for a worldwide campaign which is due to launch on March 13, 2015. The campaign is offering the public local to any of the fifteen participating Ibis Styles hotels across the world a chance to win some of their quirky designer furniture, which means that if you live close to Liverpool, you could enter to win the dog lamp or the awesome cassette tape coffee table, plus two other pieces of cool home decor. More details on the campaign will be given in another blog post a little closer to the opening date, but you can take a sneak peek at what's to offer on the designated #CaptureIbisStyles webpage.
Have you stayed in an Ibis Styles hotel?
Frances x
*DISCLOSURE: I was kindly invited to stay at Ibis Styles Liverpool free of charge to take part in their #CaptureIbisStyles campaign. All opinions stated are 100% honest and my own.
Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Food/ Travel: Courtyard Restaurant, Ox Pasture Hall, Scarborough (part two).


During our stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel last month (you can read my full review of our suite and afternoon tea here), we were also offered a three-course meal* at their highly blogger renowned Courtyard restaurant. Being the only restaurant in Scarborough to have been awarded two rosettes for culinary excellence and feature in the Michelin guide, it was one of the things we were most looking forward to on the trip and we arrived with high expectations.

Greeted by a young waiter, we were shown to the bar and ordered a bottle of red wine to accompany our meal whilst we pondered over the choices on the simple but well-varied menu. It took a little while for us to be seated at our table despite there only being us and two other tables dining that evening, but once we had sat down and ordered, our food was brought out promptly, starting with an appetizer of rich, butternut squash soup and a selection of fresh, homemade breads, compliments of the chef. Simon opted for the duck starter (£7.50), which consisted of duck liver parfait with melba toast and a crisp pastry cup filled with shredded duck, accompanied by a tangy cherry sorbet and compote. I chose Ham, Egg & Peas (£8,75) - a mini ham hock terrine sat on a bed of piccalilli, with a crispy hen's egg which was cooked to runny perfection, complimented nicely with a drizzle of pea puree and honey mustard.

Before our main course, we were offered a shot glass containing a refreshing berry palate cleanser to prepare us for the showstopper. Simon and I had decided to choose different dishes for our mains so that we could sample as much of the menu as we could, but we agreed to share with each other to avoid any food envy that might jeopardise our relationship ;) I went for the straight-to-the-point main, The Lamb (£21.50), a pink-in-the-middle two bone rack of lamb and lamb & kidney faggot resting on dauphinoise potatoes, mingling together with courgettes and a sweet, butternut squash puree. As happy as I was with my main dish, I'm glad that Simon had agreed to go halves with his aptly named, The Pork (£18.95) because it looked amazing - a succulent piece of slow-cooked pork belly, surrounded by slices of pork tenderloin roulade, a tasty, homemade black pudding and finished off with sides of savoy cabbage, sauteed potatoes and red onions. A concern that I am often met by with fine dining is that the food is expensive but you don't get much of it, however the portions at the Courtyard were huge. After mixing and matching our main dishes we were left pretty full, but after a fifteen minute breather and another palette cleanser, we found a little room for dessert. 

Simon decided on the Yorkshire Cheese Board (£8.50) which included a trio of cheeses accompanied by a selection of homemade breads and crackers with grapes and a cranberry chutney. I, on the other hand, needed to satisfy my sweet tooth after our savoury courses, and opted for the ultimate decadent dessert, Chocolate Trio (£7.95) - a rich, chocolate tart and hot chocolate fondant balanced out with a sweet, melt-in-the-mouth white chocolate parfait. Admittedly, I didn't make it very far in to my dessert- it was lovely (especially that hot fondant) but I felt I was about to burst, so feeling beyond satisfied, Simon and I took our bottle of wine and headed to bed.



Breakfast is often the highlight of my hotel stays- I think it's because I don't often get to enjoy a full-English breakfast which is usually what I opt for, and there's just something about having someone else bring you a pot of coffee, a rack of toast and a glass of fresh orange juice first thing in the morning. This time was no different, and both Simon and I ordered ourselves the cooked breakfast (they also offer continental choices such as yogurts, porridge, fruit and cereals), which included a sausage, two rashers of bacon, a tomato, a generous slice of the delicious homemade black pudding that we had sampled during dinner, sauteed mushrooms and eggs, cooked just how we like them. Even though it was quite simple, we both agreed that it was one of the best hotel breakfasts we had had- the sausages and bacon were hearty without being too fatty and the eggs were cooked to perfection- mine were poached with a nice, runny centre whilst Simon's scrambled eggs were fluffy and light.

Overall, our stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel was a pleasant one- the rural surroundings were a nice change from the norm and the dining experience was a much-needed luxury treat. If you are looking for a relaxing, weekend getaway with your other half, perhaps to celebrate an anniversary, birthday or other special occasion (Ox Pasture Hall are also renowned for being a beautiful wedding location, and with the picturesque surroundings I'm not surprised!), I would recommend Ox Pasture Hall for its romantic setting and attention to detail. At around £300 a night for a luxury suite like ours including dinner and breakfast, it's definitely a treat, but they also offer gorgeous four poster deluxe, double deluxe and classic double rooms a little cheaper at £205, £190 and £160 respectively.

Are you planning a relaxing getaway? Ever stayed at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: I was kindly invited to stay at Ox Pasture Hall free of charge in return for a honest review. All opinions started are 100% honest and my own.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

He Wears, She Wears: Parka Coats.

Photo credit: Shane Murray
Him: Coat: C/O Jacamo (buy)* | Jeans: H&M (old) |  T-shirt: Burton (old) | Shoes: Nike via Office (old) |
Me: Dungarees: Topshop (old) | T-shirt: C/O Army of No Country (buy)* | Shoes: Nike C/O Get The Label* (old)* | Coat: H&M (old) | Beanie: Primark
I think there comes a time in any blogger's boyfriend's life where he is invited along for a taste of the blogger lifestyle only to be met by the dreaded words, "but you have to be on my blog". There's a small price to pay for the freebies, guys. That was the case for my beau, Simon, when I coaxed him in to joining me in front of the camera in return for a new jacket. He did an amazing job on the shoot though, right?
I guess this means that I have to get clued up on all the menswear retailers now; admittedly I had never heard of Jacamo before, although their stores and their TV advert seem to be popping up everywhere now. I have been informed that they were once a brand targeting larger men, however stocking from chest sizes S to 5XL on the website (Simon is sporting a size M) they now cater for men of all builds, and stocking a wide range of well-known brands including Adidas, French Connection and Timberland, there is sure to be something to suit everyone.
As for my own ensemble, yes I saw the opportunity to be all matchy-matchy and ran with it (solely for blog purposes, I promise). And yes, that's a skeletal Bambi wearing a flower crown printed on my t-shirt. Army of No Country are an independent brand that I recently discovered and fell in love with their quirky designs that give a edgy nod to some of my favourite Disney characters; I still have my eye on the Mickey Mouse and The Little Mermaid prints!
Have you checked out Jacamo?
Frances x
*DISCLOSURE: Starred items are PR samples.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Travel: Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough (part one).

I was recently invited to stay a night at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel* in Scarborough and although it is a rather hefty journey away from where I live in the Northwest, the endless amount of blogger reviews I had read and the opportunity to venture out of my incredibly unexciting hometown for a couple of days became too much of a temptation to resist, and so I grabbed my boyfriend (it didn't take much convincing really), booked our train tickets and soon we were on our way to the Northeast coast.
After a two hour and forty-five minute train journey we fell in to a taxi for a short, fifteen minute drive to the hotel, where the scenery seemed to transition from urban to calmingly rural rather quickly and seamlessly. Set in seventeen acres of countryside in the North York Moors National Park, it's needless to say that Ox Pasture Hall has found itself in a serene location, perfect for a relaxing weekend away and boasting beautiful backdrops for wedding photos or nature lovers. If you're looking for a place to stay during a business trip, however, I would steer clear- internet and mobile reception were hard to come by!
Upon arrival we were welcomed at the front desk by friendly staff, who offered us a pot of tea before showing us to our abode for the evening- one of their simple-but-tastefully decorated luxury suites which had a lounge area complete with a television, hospitality tray and a CD player (you might want to provide your own music unless you're particularly fond of Jackson 5's I'll Be There), a bedroom with a king size bed and hairdryer, and the pièce de résistance- the marbled bathroom- screaming luxury with its rainfall shower, waterfall taps and his-and-hers sinks. We didn't have much time to settle down and take advantage of the waffle robes that were hanging in the wardrobe right away though, as we were booked in for the hotel's signature afternoon tea (£15pp) soon after we arrived, so we dumped our bags and took a short stroll back through the courtyard and in to the lounge area, where we were able to sink in to the leather sofas, take in the relaxed atmosphere and thaw our fingers next to the burning log fire. Ox Pasture Hall doesn't have the hustle and bustle of the more populated inner city hotels and we were pretty much by ourselves for the duration of our stay, except for when a couple of dogs wandered over to say hello- did I mention that this is a pet-friendly hotel?
We were greeted in the lounge by a coffee table already laid out with teacups, napkins and cutlery, and we didn't have long to wait until a cake stand full of afternoon tea classics was brought out to us. The cream cheese & cucumber, beef and tuna finger sandwiches, warm scones and sweet treats including chocolate & praline cake, lemon cheesecake and profiteroles (extra points for those) went down a treat after our long train journey and we managed to wash the whole lot down with a couple of cups of tea. Satisfied and carrying afternoon tea food babies, we headed back to our suite to do a whole lot of relaxing before our meal that evening- Oh, but that's a whole nother blog post- watch this space!
Have you ever stayed at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel?
Frances x
*DISCLOSURE: I was kindly invited to stay at Ox Pasture Hall free of charge in return for a honest review. All opinions started are 100% honest and my own.
Sunday, 8 February 2015

Beauty: Poize Salon, Liverpool.

Working in a restaurant, neatly manicured and polished nails are a luxury that I don't get to enjoy very often, so during my month off in January, I decided it was time to treat my phalanges to a little TLC. I was invited along to Poize Salon, a fairly new hair and beauty salon on Liverpool's West Derby Road, a short taxi journey away from city centre.
Decorated with a black and hot pink colour scheme and plenty of baroque print, faux fur and sparkly ornaments, Poize Salon would give any scouse bird's parlour a run for it's money. In for a full pampering experience, customers are relieved of their coats and bags and offered a beverage upon arrival, and whilst I was feeling particularly sensible this day and settled for an Americano, you can  also opt for a cheeky glass of wine.
Steph looked after me and my nails for the duration of my appointment at Poize, and although she complimented me on my natural nails and advised me against cutting them down and covering them up with acrylics, she was more than happy to oblige. Steph is a super talented nail technician, and although I was rather taken by some of the designs on display plus the candy-themed talons she was modelling on her own fingers, I decided to go for a classic, natural-looking tip with a rhinestone accent nail*. The whole process took around an hour-and-a-half, with Steph chatting away to me throughout, except for a ten-minute period of silence when all her concentration was placed in to making sure the acrylic was painted perfectly on to my nails.

Poize Salon don't only offer a range of manicures including acrylics and gels, you can visit them for haircuts and beauty makeovers as well as spray tans and waxing. They also host pamper parties for all ages if you fancy treating yourself and a few friends. Although their website is currently under construction, you can find more information on their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

What do you think of the new Poize salon?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Poize kindly invited me to enjoy a treatment at their salon free of charge. All opinions are 100% honest and my own. 
Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Event: #DivasGlamVegas

For a while now, Vegas has easily been in the top ten list of places in the world that I would like to visit. However, being a graduate, my post-uni budget has prevented me from ticking America's city of sin off my bucket list, so when Thomas Cook Airlines popped an invitation in to my inbox, inviting me for a taste of Vegas right outside my doorstep, I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
So last Wednesday, I donned my glad rags and headed down to Manchester's swanky Milton Club, where I was instantly welcomed in to diva territory by Britney Spears herself (okay, maybe it was an incredibly uncanny look-a-like) with a Viva Las Vegas cocktail, and ushered over to the make-up artist station to receive my own celebrity makeover.
Looking more the part with an ombre lip and an added touch of sparkle to my regular winged liner, I was let loose with my blogging loves, Katie (The Quick Red Fox), Lola and Fikki (Pastime Bliss), to grab another vegas-themed cocktail, get papped, and of course, try our luck over at the roulette table. Thankfully we were provided with fake diva dollars to gamble with, as my confidence was high (I blame the cocktails) but my winning streak was short-lived.
Now, there was a reason for bringing all this glitz and glamour to Manchester (although true divas never need a reason to get glammed up). Thomas Cook Airlines have recently introduced flights to Las Vegas from Manchester Airport (as well as Glasgow and Belfast), and costing from £549 for a return journey (or as little as £247.99 for a one way ticket if you fancy staying a while), they are some of the cheapest around. And if that wasn't enough to get you booking your next holiday, Thomas Cook have clued me up with some of their A-list recommendations and hotspots to visit in the city. If you're looking to run in to a famous face or five, Las Vegas is home to a number of celebrities including Nicholas Cage and Celine Dion, and if they don't reside there then you can pretty much guarantee that Vegas is where they go to party, with Kim Kardashian, Leonardo DiCaprio and John Legend being regular visitors at the 1 OAK nightclub in the Mirage, and the likes of Prince Harry, David Guetta, George Clooney and Lady Gaga spotted hanging out at Vegas' luxury resort, Encore.
However, with stardom-status comes stardom-price tags, so with those pennies you saved booking cheap flights with Thomas Cook Airlines, perhaps you would fancy a trip to Sweet Surrender, the Palazzo's candy and cupcake shop, where you can purchase a $750 cupcake complete with a sparkly gold leaf. Or maybe you would like to head down to The Palms Hotel to try the most expensive burger in Vegas, costing $6,000? No? Don't worry- there are plenty of more affordable places to grab a bite to eat between all the dancing, shopping and gambling.
If you'd like more tips on how to embrace Las Vegas like a true celebrity, you can read more of Thomas Cook's guide to traveling a top diva  here.
Or, if you don't need any more convincing, you can go ahead and book your trip here.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Frances x