Friday 27 March 2015

Outfit: Festival Bunting

Top: C/O Sugarhill Boutique* (buy) | Skirt: C/O Poppy Lux * (buy) | Shoes: Matalan (old) | Hair pins: Miss Selfridge (old)
It has been a little while since I had my last Sugarhill Boutique fix and I'll admit that I had almost forgotten how much I love the brand until their SS15 lookbook found it's way in to my inbox. In less than five clicks they had won me over yet again- I mean, it's hard to pass up a dress covered in Dalmatians and Corgis, isn't it? Feeling inspired by a couple of the looks that their gorgeous model was sporting in their lookbook, I opted for a midi skirt and t-shirt combo, and please, can we just take a minute to appreciate this elephant print that was hand-drawn by a complete design genius in the Sugarhill Boutique studio? I predict a new best seller coming on- I have my eye on the dreamy smock dress version, too.
Teamed with this classic PU panel midi skirt by Sugarhill's sister brand, Poppy Lux, which they now aptly describe as "a complimentary brand of wearable basics with trend-led shapes and finishes", I think I have found one of my favourite pairings for the Spring. And just when I thought I couldn't be more smitten, I tried it on to find that it has pockets. The little things, guys...

Have you taken a look at Sugarhill/Poppy Lux's Spring/Summer range?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Starred items are PR samples.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Food: Jamie's Italian, Liverpool.

A couple of weeks ago, Simon and I were invited down for dinner at Jamie's Italian in Liverpool*. We arrived at the dimly lit, rustically decorated restaurant and were greeted by our waiter, James, who was great and a huge help throughout the entire evening- after he had sat us down at our candlelit table, he handed us our menus and talked us through the specials that were written on the chalkboards on the wall beside us. When ordering, we also asked him about portion sizes and whether it was worth ordering side dishes with our main meals and he was totally honest and never pushed us in to ordering unnecessary extras.
We decided to start the evening with a cocktail each whilst we perused the menu- I tend to try new things whenever I eat out for the sake of my blog posts, so I went for the Grey Goose Le Fizz whilst Simon played it safe with Jamie's Mojito, which I think was the better choice in the end (can never go wrong with a good mojito, although the Grey Goose was still nice and refreshing).

To start, Simon and I opted to mix and match few items from the Antipasti menu; Pork Scratchings, Crispy Squid (the winner of this round) and the Music Bread, which partially won us over with its cool name even though we had no idea what it was. It turned out to be a thin and crispy flatbread (similar to Indian poppadoms) topped with generous slices of pecorino Sardo cheese and a dot of chilli jam. As expected along with Jamie's infamous rustic style, our food was served to us on wooden boards, copper chalices and terracotta tapas dishes.

We both ordered pasta dishes for our mains, Simon choosing Jamie's Famous Prawn Linguine and myself the rather scary-looking Squid & Mussel Spaghetti Nero, which featured black squid ink pasta with whole, flash-fried squid, mussels and slices of tender octopus. Both were delicious, although I am partial to dishes containing large amounts of seafood. However, staying true to tradition on our food-related escapades, we carried out a smooth and swift swapping of plates half way through the meal to avoid any food envy (I don't think anyone saw).

Of course, there's always room for desserts and we both decided to satisfy our sweet tooth with chocolate in the form of a warm and rich "Epic" Brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramelised popcorn for Simon, and a Chocolate & Hazelnut Arctic Roll for me, which featured an espresso semifreddo amongst the mound of chocolate sponge, chocolate ice cream and chocolate shavings (is the word chocolate starting to look weird to you...?), which took the edge off its richness.

Overall, we had a very pleasant experience at Jamie's Italian Liverpool; each course was brought to us promptly and the staff were friendly and accommodating. Thank you to the team for inviting us along! :)

Have you ever eaten at Jamie's Italian?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Jamie's Italian kindly provided partial payment for our meal in return for an honest review.
Sunday 15 March 2015

Luxury Gift Guide for Her.

Going from being a full-time student to having a close-to-minimum-wage paid job means that luxury items and high-end brands rarely appear in my wardrobe or on my dressing table, except around birthdays and Christmas time when one or two extravagancies sneak their way on to my wishlist, or on the odd occasion that I receive especially good payslip. I believe that everybody deserves a little bit of luxury in their lives, whether it be emptying the penny jar to buy that Michael Kors purse you've had your eye on or treating someone special to a bottle of their favourite eau de parfum, so I decided to put together a little gift guide including some of the luxury items that I have been lucky enough to add to my collection.
My favourite thing to accessorize an outfit with is a statement watch, and the first designer piece I ever received was my beloved tortoiseshell Michael Kors watch (£185) from my dad one Christmas around the time when MK was all the rage. Both my Michael Kors watch and my rose gold Tommy Hilfiger* (£140) number have gotten so much wear over the past couple of years, a special wrist piece is definitely the perfect gift for any punctual fashionista.
I'm not a huge beauty fanatic so drugstore brands usually see fit for my daily winged eyeliner needs and the occasional red lip, however I do have a couple of high-end palettes tucked away in my makeup drawer for special occasions. The NARS Virtual Domination Cheek palette (£45.00) and the infamous Naked 3 palette by Urban Decay (£38.00) have been two very welcome pieces in my collection recently as they allow me to experiment with different looks without splashing too much cash, plus they last for ages. My two Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipsticks were extremely generous gifts from my grandparents last Christmas, and at £23 a pop they only get used on very special occasions as I'm terrified of ruining the bullet (this is exactly why I don't buy high-end makeup...)! They do look beautiful sat on my dresser in all their rose-gold glory though, right? (Shades Glastonberry and Bond Girl respectively, incase you wondered).
Buying luxury gifts doesn't necessarily mean forking out hundreds of pounds. This Ted Baker brogue notebook* (£11.04) and outdoors wood pen* (£16.99) set looks high-end with its intricate detailing and gold hardwear (the notebook features gold-edged pages and beautiful parrot-print endpapers also) but doesn't boast the designer price tag, and Flamingo Gifts stock them in plenty of colours and styles suitable for both men and women (plus lots of other fun, nice and quirky gifts- their website has fast become one of my favourite online stores for scoping out unique and affordable presents).

Perfumes have always been one of my favourites to give and receive as they are so personal to the recipient. I fell in love with my all-time favourite Freak by Illamasqua eau de parfum when I received the smaller 30ml bottle (£34.00) for Christmas two years ago. After using it sparingly over the next year, I finally bit the bullet and snapped up the 75ml bottle (£59.00) in Illamasqua's crazy end-of-season sale last month for an amazing 60% off, so it's worth keeping an eye out for super deals before you splurge.

One thing you can't go wrong with when buying for even the fussiest lady is jewellery. I recently discovered JewelStreet, a huge online marketplace stocking men and women's jewellery from over 250 designers, including Sari Jules, from whom I picked up these gorgeous 14 carat gold-filled statement earrings* (£59). They also stock designs by a few award winning online boutiques, including Sara Gunn and one of my most favourite jewellery designers, Jana Reindhart, who makes luxury gold and silver pieces in cute designs inspired by wildlife and her childhood, like this Hummingbird ring (£89) which I also have in my collection.

I think it's every girl's dream to one day have the likes of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo sitting in her shoe closet, and I was lucky enough to receive my very first pair of designer footwear from Harvey Nichols in the form of these butterfly print espadrilles by Valentino* (£285) last week. Just look at that packaging! Valentino also have a whole collection of pieces in the same butterfly print, including this clutch bag which I have somewhat fallen for, and you can find all of them plus lots of studded designer goodness by searching for Valentino over at Harvey Nichols.
What is your favourite luxury purchase/ what's on your wishlist?
Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Starred items are PR samples.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Food: Homemade Japanese/ Sushi Night.

Something that Simon and I found we share is a mutual love for cooking and trying new foods (and just eating food in general- I'm pretty sure most of our early dates involved dinner), so with this discovery we thought it would be fun to set ourselves a little challenge and embark on a hypothetical trip around the world, having themed cooking nights at home and turning them in to a blog series.
Both lovers of sushi, we agreed that Japanese cuisine would be a good place to start, and after a week of intensive research Simon had dubbed himself a theoretical sushi master. He also discovered Kazari, a fantastic website which sells the sushi-grade fish (super-frozen throughout at -65 degrees to make it suitable for raw consumption) needed to make safe, legit sushi (none of that smoked stuff from Tesco, although we used that too...). As it can get quite expensive to buy specialty fish (Kazari also charge £5.99 for 24 hour delivery within the UK to ensure that it gets to you as fast as possible), we decided to start off small and cheap for our first attempt at sushi making and opted for a piece of Sake (Atlantic salmon top loin, £8.99) and four steamed and prepared shrimp (£3.29). We also picked up the essentials needed to make sushi, including sushi rice, yakinori seaweed sheets and a bamboo rolling mat, plus a few extras such as wasabi paste, pickled ginger and sushi vinegar, which brought our whole order to around £40.
Following his new-found expertise, I let Simon be in charge of making the norimaki- cylindrical rolls of rice with fillings inside, wrapped in a sheet of nori- plus the "inside out" version with rice on the outside- uramaki. I have attempted to make these types of sushi in the past and mine didn't come out looking so photogenic (probably due to my lack of rolling mat and an extra sharp knife- you need these to make pretty-looking sushi!), so I assigned myself the slightly easier temaki hand rolls and nigiri- a thin sliver of salmon, crabstick or a shrimp placed on top of a mound of hand-pressed rice (I make it sound impressive though, huh?). The ingredients that we bought made enough sushi to feed around four people, and since it didn't  not every piece fell apart upon contact with chopsticks and nobody fell ill afterwards, I'd vouch to say that our first sushi night was a success!
Setting ourselves a three-course challenge, we also decided to try our hand at making our own version of the popular Wagamama classic, Chicken Katsu Curry. Mainly containing ingredients that could be found in the kitchen cupboard we followed this recipe and I don't think we did a bad job, although the sauce could have been a little thicker.
I hate to be the one to judge a book by its cover, but when the Japanese-style cheesecake we made for dessert came out of the oven, photographs of its convex shape and sunken edges were the last thing I wanted to take for this blog post. With beaten egg whites serving as a key ingredient in Japanese cheesecake, it is a very light and delicate cake that is difficult to perfect without getting a cracked top at the very least. Simon was proud of our attempt, however, and I wish I had had a little more faith in our sad-looking little cake, as served with cream and a spoonful of apricot jam as recommended, it actually tasted really good.
So, now that we are practically professional Japanese sushi chefs, we are already planning the theme for our next night in- Anyone for Spanish tapas?
Are you a fan of sushi? Ever tried making your own?
Frances x

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Travel/Food: Ibis Styles Liverpool Dale Street (part two) #CaptureIbisStyles.

Before we released our competitive streaks at Ibis Styles Liverpool Dale Street last week, the Ibis and Gray Matter team thought it would be a good idea for us to get to know each other over dinner before the long day of games. With drinks on tap all evening it was certainly an ice breaker, and it wasn't long before the eleven of us were sat down at a long table in the centre of the hotel's open-plan dining area, taking photos and chatting away.

We were lucky enough to be trying the taster menu that evening, which meant sampling pretty much every dish that they had to offer, which looked like more of a challenge than it originally sounded when six different starters were brought out and placed on boards in front of us. Even though the menu is simple and quite basic, the quality and presentation of the food for a budget hotel was quite impressive. The Prawn Twisters and the Posh Squid (Ibis Styles' genius name for calamari) were to die for, as was the Hearty Leek & Potato Soup with a toasted Croque Salmon on the side. Along with Rustic Charcuterie Boar (AKA, cured meats with ciabatta) and Falafel-stuffed Pittas, there was so much food on offer that we could have called it quits after starters, but we resisted finishing off the battered prawns to save a little room for the mains.

The only main dish I was disappointed with was the Mini Chicken Caesar, which I found to be all lettuce and not much of anything else. But who is going to go for a salad when there is Spanish-style Surf and Turf on the menu? This Valencian paella dish containing mixed seafood, chicken and chorizo was so moreish it was at danger being placed next to me on the table. I did force myself away from it to sample the other dishes, however, and the Salmon Supreme (salmon with a white wine sauce and roasted vegetables) and the fancy fish finger sarnies Mini Cod Goujon Sandwiches both got points from me (can you tell I like seafood?). For people who aren't big on fish, they also had some restaurant classics including Aberdeen Angus Mini Beef Burgers plus Steaks Frites, which were cooked perfectly.
As intimidating as dessert sounded after the abundant amount of food we had just consumed, there were only two to face and the mini portions were perfect to take the edge off my sweet tooth. In fact, after I had tried one of the Mini Chocolate Puddings I'm sure I could have had another couple. The Apple Crumble was lovely too, and was finished off nicely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The #CaptureIbisStyles Campaign
Full, and with a cup of green tea in hand (because we all know the green tea cancels out at least 75% of calories consumed, right?), we were briefed on our tasks for the following day plus the worldwide campaign, which- as promised in my last post (read here)- I am going to tell you more about today. As previously mentioned, Ibis Styles are launching a campaign on Friday, March 13, 2015, offering Instagram users residing in six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil and the UK) the chance to win from a possibility of fifty-seven pieces of designer furniture that are showcased throughout the fifteen participating Ibis Styles hotels.
If you are local to one of the hotels (Liverpool and Edinburgh if you are in the UK), all you have to do is pop in with your smart phone and take a photograph of whichever of the four pieces of designer furniture on offer take your fancy (they will be in the lobby area with an Ibis Styles label attached to make them easy to spot) and then upload it to Instagram with the designated hashtags. It is then up to you to use the power of social media to collect as many 'likes' as you can on your Instagram post. The amount of 'likes' required to be in with a chance of winning your chosen item will be stated on the attached Ibis Styles label, and once you reach this target you will be entered into a draw to pick the lucky winner of the piece of furniture. Exciting, no? If you don't live close to one of the participating hotels, don't worry- there will be a digital version too, so head over to the #CaptureIbisStyles webpage for more information on the competition and to see the pieces of furniture that are up for grabs (very jealous of the folks over at the Lille Centre Grande Place hotel in France who can win this adorable elephant stool!). The competition will run for two months from March 13 to May 13, so there's plenty of time to gather up those likes!
Will you be entering the #CaptureIbisStyle competition?
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.
Monday 9 March 2015

Competition: Win 12 Pairs of Adidas Originals Trainers With Mainline Menswear.

Hello ladies (and gents- tonight's blog post is especially for you)!

Just a quick post this evening to let you know about a really cool competition that Mainline Menswear are currently hosting.

 Mainline Menswear are a UK-based online retailer of lots of popular men's brands including Fred Perry, Vans and G Star Raw, plus some high end designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Versace and Armani. They are giving one lucky person the chance to win twelve pairs of Adidas Originals trainers, and all you have to do to be in with a chance of claiming the prize is click here and fill in your details - the winner will be selected at random once the competition closes and will be able to pick a new pair of Adidas Original trainers to be delivered to their doorstep every month for a whole year- Not bad for thirty seconds of your time, eh?
There is a great selection in the Adidas Originals line to choose from, including classic styles such as their Stan Smith and Gazelles. Simon is modelling the super sleek Adidas Originals ZX Flux NPS mid trainers* above.

Hurry though, there are only six days left to enter - the competition will end at midnight on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Good luck! :)

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Contains PR samples.
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.