Wednesday, 16 June 2021

& Company, Liverpool | review

It's been a long time since I went to a press meal, thanks to Covid, so when I was invited to visit the new &Company on Mann Island in Liverpool I couldn't wait to get down there. I took my sister-in-law with me, and after a bit of a parking debacle, we made it to the restaurant.

&Company, Mann Island

&Company is located on Mann Island behind Avenue HQ, and next door to Brascoe Lounge. It has outdoor and indoor seating, an industrial vibe in terms of the decor, and plugs by some of the tables in case you want to sit and work in there. That's definitely on the cards for me in the near future! It's so well located for exploring the city, or if you work in one of the many offices nearby. The Museum of Liverpool is next door, and you're right on the docks too. Overall, it's a lovely setting for some food or even just a few drinks.

The Drinks at &Company, Mann Island

The menu has cocktails, mocktails, soft drinks, beers, wine, fizz, and hot drinks. I went for a pornstar martini, and my sister-in-law opted for a Pineapple and Sage Swizzle. Both were lovely, and reasonably priced for what they were and the location. We also got a coke each - glass bottle coke is so superior, am I right?!

The drinks menu is varied and you could easily come here just for a tipple or two if that's the sort of mood you're in.

The Food at &Company, Mann Island

But of course, we were dying to try the food on offer here. I ordered the garlic bread with mozzarella to start with, which was one of the best cheesy garlic breads I've ever tasted. Soft, not too much garlic, plenty of cheese. Delicious! We then ordered a sandwich each: I got the halloumi and charred red pepper, and Alice went for the chicken parm. These were both really nice too. We also ordered some sides - the much-raved-about arancini balls and the incredible rosemary and parmesan fries. These were both amazing. Worth going here just for both of these, I think!

I don't think the food is the cheapest, but it's definitely worth it for a nice treat or a working lunch...

We had a fab time at &Company, Mann Island. The food and drinks are delicious, and the staff are an absolute dream. I can't wait to go back again!

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The Albufeira Adventure | travelling to a green list country in 2021

Today's blog post comes to you courtesy of my dad, who wrote this upon returning from Portugal. When they travelled out and when they returned, this was on the green list. It now isn't, so this experience and advice is somewhat obsolete - but there will come a time when green list travel is a-go again, so I thought I would post it anyway! Here is my dad's experience travelling to a green list country...

So, every year, 6 of us (3 couples) head off to a part of Greece during Whit Holidays. I have to say that it is one of the highlights of the year for all of us. Great food, a pint or 2 of Mythos and a cheeky ouzo or 3. But most of all, great times with great friends.

Of course we missed out last year because of some health scare or other so we were determined to get away this year. Unfortunately not to Greece though as it was a funny colour or something. So, Portugal was tipped to be green (must have been a lot of rain) so we took a chance and booked for Albufeira. We purposely opted for an Easyjet package as it came in at under £600pp (before the traffic lights changed colour) and we knew we had to factor in the cost of tests. The price shot up to £960pp the next day – greedy!

Our experience travelling to a green list country was great

We booked pre-departure and 2-day return PCR tests with Randox, Easyjet’s test partner, at a cost of £60 per test per person. We had been reliably informed that the required LFT ones required for the return flight would cost about £30 in Portugal. So, in total, £750pp, slightly more than we paid for the previous year’s abandoned trip to Parga (Greek mainland).

The PCR tests arrived in good time and we duly registered them, swabbed throat and nostrils and arranged for them to be dropped off in Liverpool the next day. They were then apparently flown to Ireland that evening and we were all emailed to advise they had arrived safely the next morning. At about 3pm on the day before we were due to fly, 5 of us received our negative result email. We had been promised that all would be sent by midnight but they cut it quite fine – the final test result came in at 11.57pm! At least it was negative, although that didn’t calm the anxiety!

We also completed Portuguese Passenger Locator Forms and armed with print out of everything (can’t be too careful with technology) headed for the airport in a chauffeured minibus (get us!). We were ready to see what it would be like, travelling to a green list country...

Flying out to Portugal

Manchester airport was quiet with plenty of room in the few bars/restaurants open in Terminal 1. It seems we had just missed the football fans heading out for some cup final or other so check in and security were very quick also.

Boarding was smooth (especially as Easyjet staff seemed to think we had Speedy Boarding – we didn’t!) and the flight itself pretty non-eventful. Unfortunately, that changed when we arrived at Faro Airport. It was bedlam! OK, a lot of people have been through that day with the football but even so 2 hours was excessive to get everyone through passport control! It meant that we got to our hotel at about 9.30pm and, although the staff said that restaurants were open an hour later until 11pm because of the football, we ended up with take away pizza sitting in the middle of a large crowd of football fans – not quite a quiet Greek Island!

Landing at Faro Airport

So we got back to the hotel without incident (apart from a near heart attack for one of us due to the 96 steps from the square!) and enjoyed a fairly quiet night’s sleep.

The next day we found a lovely hotel round the corner and had a fantastic breakfast – our routine then for the week. We headed down the 96 steps to the square and found our way to the Tunnel Beach, one of the nicest beaches we had ever seen. 2 very nice bar/restaurants were on hand for mid-morning drinks and lunch and a good day was had by all!

Our 'lock in' bar

Back up the 96 steps (harder each time) to get showered and changed to head back down them for evening meal and drinks. At the bottom of the steps in the main square we were greeted by a wall of sound as 3 or 4 bars tried to drown each other out. Luckily we had found some quieter spots on the cliffs above the beach so we headed off there. We even found a nice little bar that had a lock-in each night to enable us to carry on drinking until the grand hour of 11.30! And that was generally the routine for the week, except for having to organise and have the Lateral Flow Tests for the return trip!

Organising lateral flow tests to return to the UK

So Monday morning we spoke to the hotel manager and he made contact with a local clinic who could do the tests for £70 each. We thought that was expensive and he told us the Town Hall were doing them for £20. So, after breakfast, we trudged across town to find the tents where these tests were taking place, to try to book them. There was a massive queue when we got there and we were told that there was no availability until a week after we were due to fly home! However, we were pointed in the direction of a different clinic who were doing the tests for £30. After another walk through Town we joined a queue outside Aqualab (not a Marvel thing, apparently) to book and pay for appointments. Despite not having our passports (Duh!) we managed to convince them of our identities and booked for the Friday morning, a day before we were due to fly home.

Off then to the beach and to continue the sunbathing, eating and drinking that we had flown out for.

All continued well (apart from a night when a group of girls thought that our pool area would make a great party place at 2am) and on the Friday morning we headed back to Aqualab to have our tests. We arrived at 9.30am for an 11am appointment, thinking we would be seen fairly quickly as the queues for the tests on Monday had been small. If only! When we got there, there were police outside stopping the staff going in and yellow tape around the entrance. Apparently, they had been burgled overnight and the police needed to finish off their work before opening.

Queueing for a return test

So we all queued up the hill with the hundred or so other people and waited. And waited.

Eventually a clinician came out and said that they would be calling names out in time order. Unfortunately, she had a quiet voice and an accent that had difficulty with British surnames so chaos ensued as people crowded round her trying to hear their names. After an hour of her repeating a dozen names over and over we realised that she didn’t actually have ours, despite having booked them on the Monday. We eventually found another clinician who was able to print our appointment and relevant barcodes for the test tubes for us. Back to the back of the queue which seemed to move at a snail’s pace! Eventually, after 3 hours in the hot sun, we had our tests and headed back to the beach for lunch.

Flying back to the UK

The results all came through (negative) fairly quickly and we enjoyed our last night without needing to worry, at least not about that. However, Portugal was suddenly on the Naughty List so we thought the airport may be a nightmare once again as people tried to get home before needing to quarantine!

However, back at the airport the next day and what a difference it was. Very smooth and efficient, although it helped that we had asked the hotel to print our test results and the UK passenger Locator Forms that we also needed to do 2 days before flying. Obviously we just missed the chaos that followed the next day!

The flight home and the airport were all non-eventful and the minibus was waiting outside as we arrived in the lovely Manchester sun.

We had a great time!

The next day we all completed our Day 2 tests and sent them off. A slight delay on one of them again but all were negative so everyone could go back to work relaxed and refreshed. Time to start worrying about next year now though! Parga is booked and in the calendar already so fingers crossed the Greeks behave themselves and are allowed off the naughty step before next Whit!

And that's that - my parents' trip to Portugal and their experience travelling to a green list country. If you are planning to travel abroad this summer, then hopefully this post has given you an insight into what that might be like. Thanks to my dad for sharing!

Monday, 7 June 2021

My 2021 reads | part 2

I've finally read another 5 books in 2021 - I am definitely on track to have my worst reading year, I think! But everything is so busy currently, so getting time to settle down with a book is proving difficult. My freelance work has really hit the ground running, I have a part-time job at a lovely restaurant and I'm trying to see my friends/family/boyfriend too. So, understandably, it's hard to fit a book in but here's what I've managed recently...

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

I absolutely adore Catherine Isaac's books - having already read her first two, I ordered this on Amazon as soon as it came out. It follows gardener Ellie, who hasn't set foot past the garden gate in years - and the story is interspersed with that of Harriet, an international journalist. This is a story about post-revolution Romania and the children who were part of it, and how that relates to the here and now. It is a story about family, love, friendship, anxiety and overcoming obstacles. I absolutely LOVED this book and highly, highly recommend it. Buy it here.

The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall

I got a proof copy of this as I was on the blog tour for it, and as I was actually a bridesmaid for the first time this year I was really excited to read it. And honestly, it didn't disappoint! This is a hilarious story about a young woman who has a 'secret bridesmaid' businesses (like a wedding planner but part of the actual wedding too). She gets a high-profile client who turns out to be a complete nightmare - and there is just so much fun within the pages of this book. Love, laughter, friendship: The Secret Bridesmaid as it all. Buy it here.

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis 

I recently did a The Works haul where I ordered 9 books without reading the blurb for any of them - judging books by their covers and all that. Extraordinary Birds was one of them, and as such I didn't know it was a very-young YA book. Middle grade, I think they call it. Regardless I read and enjoyed it. The story follows December, a young girl in foster care who desperately wants to be a bird. This is a tale about fitting in and learning to fly, and finding out that home has more than one meaning. A gorgeous story and an easy read! Buy it here.

The Baby Group by Caroline Corcoran

This was another of my unknown books from The Works, but from the cover I knew it would turn out to be a thriller of some sort. I enjoyed this - it's about Scarlett, a new mum navigating life with a baby and the help of her NCT friends. Then, someone leaks a video of her that will change her life in the space of a few minutes. The story follows Scarlett as she tries to figure out who did, and why, and what they stand to gain from this. It's pacy and interesting and a really great read! Buy it here.

The Book Club by C J Cooper

The third of my blind haul from The Works, this had the word murder on the cover so obviously I knew it would be a thriller. The concept was great - someone turns up at a sleepy village and disrupts everything, starting a book club where the book each week is something that relates to a secret someone in the group is keeping. There's a bit of everything: stalking, adultery, scandalous sex, books, cake, dogs, cute cottages... but ultimately, I felt like this fell a bit flat. The timing seems to jump around a bit, and the ending was a bit disappointing. It was *okay* but nothing special. Buy it here.

Have you read any great books recently? Let me know!

Friday, 14 May 2021

AD | Online clothes shopping on a budget

It's been a while since I properly went clothes shopping, especially with everything that's happened in the past year - plus I'm saving for a house, so keeping my spends down is important at the moment. That being said, we all deserve to treat ourselves and you can definitely shop for clothes on a budget these days. Here are some of my favourite ways to bag a bargain when it comes to updating your wardrobe...

Buy secondhand

The charity shops are open again - hallelujah! But there are online options for secondhand clothing, too. I've spent many a lockdown-night perusing eBay to try and find a funky vintage sweatshirt or even just something from Zara or Topshop two years ago that I've spotted on somebody's Instagram. Clothes that are out of season are always cheaper, and as long as you run your secondhand goodies through the washing machine after they've arrived then you'll be good to go. As well as eBay, there are apps and sites like Vinted, Depop and even ASOS Marketplace.

This skirt is a New Look sale purchase!

Check the sale section

Honestly, I always head straight to the sale section on any online clothes site. That's how you *know* you're getting a bargain. Sometimes it does mean sifting through page after page of cropped hoodies and twee dresses and neon bralettes (no offence if you wear anything like this, obviously, it's just not me) BUT you can often find really cute pieces for a fraction of their original price. Again they are sometimes out of season, but with the British weather the way it is it looks like we all might be wearing coats and jumpers n July anyway... New Look always have a banging sale section, as do Next and Boohoo!

Online catalogues 

There are sites that allow you to spread the cost of your purchase, too, which can be helpful if you want to buy a few things for an upcoming trip (fingers crossed in terms of some leisure travel re-opening in the next few weeks) or a special occasion. There are various options for catalogues with credit. You can choose from Very, Lookagain, Simply Be and more - just be sure to keep an eye on your credit and be sensible with your spending. Sites like Very and Simply Be offer clothing from other brands like Glamorous, Adidas and hundreds more, and you'll definitely be able to find yourself a bargain.

I bought this dress from Simply Be!

Use cashback sites

Another way to save money when it comes to online clothes shopping is to ensure you go through cashback sites when making a purchase. While it doesn't alter the price of the purchase itself, you get a small percentage of the money back for absolutely nothing. It is literally FREE MONEY. Anyone not using a cashback site in 2021 is a fool - it has to be said. Consider this your reminder to sign up for one if you're not already! I use Quidco and Top Cashback, and have earned around £120 cashback in just over a year. 

What are YOUR budget shopping tips?

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

My recent beauty empties: May 2021

I can't believe I'm writing another empties post so soon, but I've got through a bunch more beauty products so I thought I'd hit you with some more quickfire reviews - did I like them, were they worth the money, would I repurchase them and so on! Read the last one HERE.

Products with a * denotes a PR sample.

Lee Stafford Keep It Clean Dry Shampoo*

This is hands down the *best* dry shampoo I've ever tried. It soaks up any oils/grease, doesn't turn your hair white AND smells amazing. I've spoken about it before and still love it. This retails for £5.49 which personally I think is pretty pricey for dry shampoo, but I recently saw it in Home Bargains for £1.99 (!!!!) so I bought three. I always share "bargain hauls" on my IG stories and I've made a highlight as they are most popular content - check it out here!

Lee Stafford Poker Straight Shine Serum*

Another Lee Stafford product - I was on their PR list at some point, so I have a bit of a stash! This is a genuinely brilliant serum, doesn't leave your hair sticky or greasy but really does smooth down any fly-aways. Plus it smells nice! It's £7.99 which I think is fair as a little goes a long way, and I'd definitely buy it again. PURCHASE HERE

Garnier Mineral InvisiCalm Deodorant 

It's just a deodorant, it's fine for the most part but after a while I noticed that every time I opened it, dried up white bits would fall off the rim. That's annoying, but other than that it's okay - cheap, cheerful and smells good.

Sanex Dermo Sensitive Deodorant 

If you need something entirely unscented then this is for you - it works well, is great for sensitive skin and only costs around £1. What a winner.

Gerard Cosmetics Slay All Day Cucumber Setting Spray

Any long-time blog readers will know this is my favourite setting spray - it's expensive but it really works, and it smells so nice. They do loads of scents but I've decided the cucumber one is my favourite. It does make your face last all day which, frankly, is all I ever want! I already have a new one... PURCHASE HERE

Colourpop Cream Bronzer

I don't think they make this any more but regardless, mine has now entirely dried up. I think I've owned it for about 4 years so this is entirely to be expected, but a shame because I really liked this even if it was a bit dark for me. Not much else to say seeing as you can't get it these days!

iT Cosmetics CC+ Cream*

I just love this stuff - this was a travel sized one they sent me ages ago, back when we could travel *sob*. You can read more about what I think here but rest assured it is one of my favourite go-to make up products and I recommend it regularly. PURCHASE HERE

iT Cosmetics Secret Sauce*

A very expensive moisturiser, yes, but one that I loved using. It leaves your skin feeling so plump; make up applies well on top of it, it feels SO luxurious to use and it has a lovely scent to it. Plus the packaging is glass and just feels very fancy. Big yes to this one - would easily repurchase if I had £58 (!) to spend on skincare right now... PURCHASE HERE

Clarins Hydra-Essentiel Moisturiser*

Another pricey moisturiser, but it *is* a product category I believe in splashing out on. This is just amazing, so thick but sinks in super quick, smells nice but not too strong, soothes redness and battles dry patches. Another one on my saving-for list! PURCHASE HERE

Revolution 10% Niacinamide + 1% Zinc

In my last empties post, I mentioned I'd used up The Ordinary's version of this (more on that here) and wanted to repurchase - but it was out of stock, so I thought I'd go for the Revolution dupe. It's £1 more expensive but I think I actually prefer this one. They do a supersize version which I've just added to my BeautyBay basket; it just cleared up blemishes, brought any redness down and overall made my face look a bit nicer. Love it! PURCHASE HERE

What beauty bits have you used up lately? Have you tried any of these products?