Thursday, March 30

My tips for buying into Trends


Shopping has and always will be one of my favourite hobbies. But since moving into my flat with Gavin I have had to really streamline what I buy as storage is very limited in our humble little abode. I am forever on the ASOS new in page trawling through and admiring all the new styles but when it comes to actually buying into a new trend I am a lot more cautious. Sometimes the entire blogging world will go into meltdown over a Topshop blouse or Zara bag, only for it to be long forgotten before the week is up. On the flip-side of that it can be months before a trend fades and and I end up kicking myself for not picking up that bargain piece when I first saw it. 

As I am still very experimental with my style, I tend to only invest in basic essentials or classic, timeless pieces. My budget simply doesn’t extend to extravagant designer purchases every month so I am always on the lookout for the next best dupe. If you’re like me and you love styling different pieces but your bank balance does not then follow my four tips for keeping up with the latest trends. 




Shop Smarter
Shopping has and always will be my favourite hobby much to my bank balance’s dismay. Over the years I’ve adapted a couple of rules which help me to keep my spending under control. I have completely banned myself from impulse purchases and instead follow the 5 day rule. I will either screenshot or save the item in a wish list and if I am still thinking about it 5 days later then I will usually purchase. This gives me time to see if there are any cheaper alternatives around and to brainstorm styling ideas and see how this would fit into my current wardrobe. If after two weeks I still haven’t worn the item then I will always return as clearly I didn’t like the item as much as I thought. I would say I end up returning more than I end up keeping but this just goes to show how your style can be different from one week to the next.

Stay up to date
Fashion trends can swap and change more often than Rihanna changes her hair so it can become quite expensive to invest in every single one. There are thousands of ways to stay up to date with recent trends but I would say the best ones for me are Instagram and following fashion bloggers. I was signed up to weekly newsletters but I found these encouraged me to spend more so I usually just browse the new in section regularly to see what’s hot and what’s not. It always helps to see how other people are styling the current trends as often I will find I have something in my own wardrobe which can be styled in a completely new way to give it a new lease of life.  

Affordable
When I was younger I had store cards coming out my ears but now that I am older and live on my own I have had to reign in my spending. I now limit my spending to ensure I stay on budget each month so you’ll find I tend to do most of my shopping the week before payday when I know exactly how much I have left for luxury splurges.  At the beginning of each season I have a massive clear-out to help me see what I already have and if there are any hidden gems hiding at the back of my wardrobe. I also keep my eye out for discount codes and sales now that my student discount life has come to an end *sobs*.

Confidence
Confidence is vital when it comes to personal style as it is always very clear when someone feels uncomfortable in what they are wearing. I always make sure to buy the correct size even if this means sizing up from my normal size and I always try things on to make sure I like how they sit. Whether you want to follow the trends or not, as long as you're confident in what you wear you can pull off anything.

 

Embroidery is absolutely everywhere at the moment and it doesn't look like its going anywhere, anytime soon. I love how Primark have incorporated gingham and fluted sleeves into this style, making it fit with three trends at once. The current collection for Spring/ Summer 2017 is absolutely beautiful and I keep finding pieces that I am falling head over heels for. As there was so much going on with the top, I wanted to keep accessories to a minimum. I opted for a simple pair of pearl ear-rings, my trusty Thomas Sabo watch and this gorgeous handmade leather rope bracelet which is a lovely mauve colour and is so easy to style. 

Top & Espadrilles - Primark / Bag - H&M / Jeans - New Look / Bracelet - Ropelet
* PR Sample
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Friday, March 24

Spend a Night Behind Bars at the Malmaison Oxford


When it comes to boutique hotels Malmaison kill it every single time. Consisting of 15 unique, upscale, boutique hotels in the UK, Malmaison is a member of the Frasers Hospitality Group that dares to be different. They focus on converting historical buildings into boutique hotels including a church, an old postal sorting office and even a brothel. The Malmaison in Oxford is no different from this. Located in a converted prison in a medieval castle in Oxford’s castle quarter. In 1996 HM Prison Oxford was closed down and sold after being deemed to expensive to modernise and bring up to current prison standards.




The hotel is situated about 15 minute walk from the train station and five minutes from the city centre. Located in the Castle Quarter, the hotel is surrounded by several bars and restaurants, and Oxford Castle Unlocked providing a detailed history on the ancient castle and prison. The hotel boasts 95 rooms and suites divided between the adjoining new building and converted old A-block. We opted to pay a little extra to stay in one of the converted cells and were given a free upgrade to a Cell Superior Double Room. The room was a spacious double room with en-suite bathroom featuring a walk-in shower and roll-top bath. The rooms are a combination of three cells with one for the bathroom and two knocked through to create the bedroom. The iron doors, vaulted ceilings and thick walls help the rooms keep their character and remind you of its eerie past. 

The rooms feature 24 hour room service, free wifi, flat screen plasma tv and hairdryer and ironing facilities. There is also a kettle with complimentary hot drinks and a modest minibar. All the furniture has been carefully chosen and tastefully themed to compliment the buildings history. The cell rooms are situated around the three-storey atrium which has kept all its original wrought-iron stairs and walkways. Although it now homes thick red carpets and chic furniture it is still the centre piece of the building. 

In the basement of the hotel is its famous brasserie and bar offering up a selection of culinary delights miles from your average prison food. There are tables available inside or outside in the old exercise yard and even a private dining area where you can enjoy an intimate meal with friends and family or colleagues. The only reminder of its previous life is the stunning architectural features which have been kept and incorporated into the new design. 

There is one place left in the hotel that remains original in the form of an unconverted cell in the basement. The cell showcases the less than luxurious conditions that previous residents would have suffered through during their time at HM Prison Oxford. It was narrow, bleak and claustrophobic but also very interesting to see how the rooms would have looked before being converted. 



Overall, it was an incredible experience to spend the night in a former prison which I would highly recommend if you`re looking for something out of the ordinary or to mark a special occasion in unusual yet beautiful surroundings. Be sure to check out their website here as they are always running some fab offers.
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Saturday, March 18

Loréal Beauty and the Beast Collection


Inspired by the recently released Disney remake of Beauty and the Beast, Loréal Paris have released a range of lipsticks and nail polishes in limited edition packaging. There are seven lipsticks in the collection with contrasting polishes which each match up to seven of the most popular characters from the film. The collection includes:

- Belle: a sweet and feminine red
- Beast: a rich brown lipstick and royal blue polish
- Enchanted Rose: a blood red lipstick with crystal clear polish 
- Mrs Potts: a chic shade of pink
- Lumier: a dusty rose/ baby pink 
- Cogsworth: a coral red
- Plumette (feather duster): a super sexy dark plummy red





As with most movie collaborations, the entire beauty world went into meltdown trying to find out when and where this collection would be available. Once it was finally confirmed it would only be available online via Amazon Italy, most of us gave up on the dream of owning any of these gorgeous products. It wasn't until I was trawling through twitter one day I came across a couple of girls who had managed to order some stuff here to the UK so I decided to investigate for myself. 

The lipsticks come in at €12.99 each and the nail polishes came in at €6.99 each, or you could grab the whole collection in a beautifully designed display box for €109. By the time I ordered, the set was completely sold out but I managed to get my hands on four lipsticks and four polishes at just under £70, including shipping. In hindsight I wish I had attempted to translate more of the website than I did because this meant I probably wouldn't have had to make two separate orders. However, because I placed both orders within the same day, they all arrived together about a week later. 

The shades I picked up were Belle [377 - Perfect Red], Beast [703 - Oud Obsession], Lumiere [231 - Sepia Silk] and Plumette [374 - Intense Plum]. Based on the L'Oréal Paris Colour Riche line, the formula is bold, creamy and lightweight. The lipsticks have a glossy finish with buildable pigmentation which don't dry the lips out at all but instead leave them feeling moisturised. I have worn these all day and although they are quite transferable, because of the amazing colour payout, I barely had to reapply. Having never tried any of the colour riche range I was not disappointed and I'm keeping a close eye on the website to add Cogsworth and the Enchanted Rose to my collection as soon as they come back in stock. 

Out of the four shades I picked up I am most obsessed with Beast which is perfect for wearing right through the day and into the night. I also love the packaging which features blue velvet with gold and brown slashes. I think Belle's packaging is my least favourite with red velvet and gold silhouttes printed all over, compared to the others I just feel this one is a bit dull. Plumette is a white velvet with purple feather detailing and lips - very sumptuous and sexy just like the character, and lumiere is an elegant gold and pink baroque style bullet which match the ornate character perfectly. 

Although I was slightly disappointed when I realised the shades themselves weren't limited edition, I am a complete sucker for limited edition collections and this time was no different. Did you manage to get your hands on anything? Keep checking back to the Amazon website here and here as you may just able to get your hands on one before they`re gone!
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Sunday, March 12

Gourmet Break with Jupiter Hotels


Nestled away in 16 acres of landscaped gardens sits the most gorgeous Georgian Manor House - Newbury Elcot Park Hotel*. Situated just outside of Newbury town centre this stunning country retreat boasts 73 bedrooms, a conference centre, a wedding and banqueting suite as well as the Orangery bar and restaurant. The brasserie restaurant prides itself on fresh ingredients and locally sourced produce, served beside a vast selection of fine wines. They focus on Great British favourites and have been awarded their first AA rosette for culinary excellence. 










Late last year I was lucky enough to visit and try out their one night gourmet experience*. This included a stay in one of their gorgeous country houses, a five course tasting menu with matching wine flight, a welcome glass of fizz and breakfast in the morning. The eighteenth century Manor House features sweeping staircases and grand fireplaces with an equine flavour to the decor. The staff were knowledgable and friendly and really helped to make our experience memorable. Plus the picturesque countryside views surrounding the brasserie truly are a wonder to behold. 

Our fine dining tasting menu consisted of:

Amuse Pumpkin & celeriac soup with rosemary and black truffle oil. 
Starter Earl Grey cured salmon served with charred pickled cucumber and watercress.
Intermediate - Gorgonzola & walnut tortellini with nut crispy sage and chestnuts.
Main - Roasted lamb rump served with bubble & squeak, buttered kale, carrot ribbons and a red wine jus.
Dessert - Tarte tatin - caramelised apple served with vanilla ice cream. 

I have never tried pumpkin before but I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet and flavoursome soup. The roasted lamb was cooked to perfection and the accompaniments complimented the meat beautifully. While the red wine jus finished the dish with rich and robust notes. The tarte tatin was a well balanced and sweet ending to the meal. The individual tarts were just the right size and the crisp bite of the apples aided in cleansing the palette. Alongside the meal we tried a selection of white and red wines which were well thought out and complimentary to each course.  

If you`re looking for the perfect romantic retreat or lively mini city break - Mercure have got you covered! For a modest £75 a head you can bag yourself a stay and dining experience at one of their incredible properties and the eighteenth century Manor House is no exception. Elcot Park is a beautiful building full of character and charm.

* I was kindly gifted this experience at Newbury Elcot Park with Jupiter Hotels. All views/ opinions are my own as always. 
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Monday, March 6

Franco Manca Westquay Watermark



Franco Manca* has a bit of a reputation for making the best pizza this side of the Atlantic and after visiting the newly opened Southampton branch I have to agree. Compared to all the other pizzerias on the market there really is no comparison. With a selection of authentic slow-risen sourdough pizzas and delicious organic wines, an evening at Franco Manca is like an evening spent on the South Coast of Italy.






Upon arrival we were greeted with open arms, beaming smiles and a Aperol Spritz to start the evening. We were seated and introduced to the owner Giuseppe Mascoli who wanted to bring authentic neapolitan pizzas to his customers. Originally from Positano, Giuseppe wanted to bring perfect, simple food at affordable prices. After only a few minutes of talking it is clear to see how passionate Giuseppe and all the staff are about the brand and the experience they are offering. 

After opening in London in 2008, Franco Manca has seen huge success and if you ask most Londoners they will agree this is hands down the best pizza on the market. Although the menu is very streamlined, with only 6 pizzas on the menu as well as two daily specials (one meat and one veggie) the focus is on providing fresh and flavoursome products to a high quality. All the ingredients are sourced as authentically as possible with a lot of care and attention going into each and every ingredient chosen. The olives and olive oil used are from Spain, with the tomatoes used procured from a cannery situated in the mountains next to Naples. Franco Manca also produce their own Mozzarella in an organic farm in Somerset and most of their cured meats are sourced from an organic estate. 

Once everyone had arrived we were served a selection of antipasto which included cured meats, chilli garlic bread made with scotch bonnets, buffalo mozzarella and a buffalo cheese ball filled with double cream and even more cheese. I am not the biggest lover of mozzarella but I found theirs to be so buttery and rich, everything we tried was simply divine. Next up was a pizza masterclass from Giuseppe himself about how to create the perfect pizza. Although I didn’t participate it was so fascinating to find out the process in which the pizzas were made. The sourdough is left to ferment for at least 20 hours before being crafted into pizzas. They are then placed in an authentic wood pizza oven which reaches temperatures of 500 degrees centigrade. Each pizza takes 55 seconds to cook to perfection creating just the right balance of a light, crisp crust and soft, chewy inside. They are placed in and out of the oven using a wooden paddle which is a vital step in creating the perfect pizza. 

We tried a selection of pizzas from the menu which were all equally as delicious before being introduced to Franco Manca’s very own wine connoisseur Francesco. On their menu they offer a range of authentic, organic Italian wines. They have even fermented their own range of natural wines which are unfiltered with very low sulphates. Personally I am more of a white wine drinker but the whole experience was so educational and I even tried a couple of red wines that I really enjoyed. We tried a range from light to medium-full, as well as a sparkling labrusca which was absolutely delicious.  


Overall the evening was one of the best I’ve had in a very long time. This authentic neapolitan pizza house delivers on service and taste with the clear care and attention into every single item on the menu. With prices from as low as £4.95 and bottles of wine coming in at less than £20, a night at Franco Manca definitely will not break the bank. We each received a goodie bag and signed recipe book at the end of the evening and I can’t wait to recreate some of Giuseppe’s recipes at home for me and Gavin to enjoy. A big thank you to the whole team for organising such a perfect evening. I am already counting down until my next visit. 
*Complimentary meal for the purpose of this review. 
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