Aluna

Date Night Dining at Aluna, Birmingham

We were recently invited by Aluna, Birmingham to review their new menu. With baby number 2 due in 6 weeks time, we jumped at the chance. We normally try to have a date night once a month and take it in turns to organise. Although, this may have to take a back seat for a while after baby’s arrival.

Aluna is situated within the Mailbox in Birmingham, a hot spot for trendy restaurants and bars. I’d heard of Aluna previously, mostly for their reputation of magical cocktail concoctions, but hadn’t got round to visiting.  Upon arrival we were shown to our table and talked through the menu options. The new menu focuses on Pan Asian flavours, as a lover of Thai food there was lots I wanted to try. The menu was divided into smaller dishes, which were similar to a traditional starter size portion. There were then plates to share; the waitress explained these were designed to share a few between the table. If you didn’t fancy sharing there were also bigger plates options.

There was also a rather extensive cocktail menu on our table. It was hard to focus on picking food or drinks first, particularly when we kept spotting the amazing cocktails being served at tables around us. I’d known that Aluna was famous for adding a spark of theatrical magic to the cocktails and they certainly didn’t disappoint. We saw drinks served in skull tankards that were lit on fire at the table, and an impressive cocktail tree boasting 9 cocktails.

Aluna

After we had finally concentrated on the menu long enough, we ordered our selection and waited excitedly for the order to arrive.

Cocktails

To start off the evening Mr Mack chose a Banoffeerama. It came with a slice of caramelised banana and was deliciously sweet. He is a huge fan of banoffee pie and was impressed how similar it tasted to the classic dessert. Having to stick to the Antidotes (Mocktails) section of the menu, I’d chosen to start with a Thai Smoothie. It came served in a tall glass and was a thick, oozy offering of Mango, Banana and Coconut, some of my favourite flavours. It was delicious and very filling, I could easily have had this instead of a dessert.

For our next round of cocktails, Mr Mack wanted to experience a drink made with the famous Aluna magic, and settled on a Lavalamp. When it arrived, the drink was bubbling and fizzing away and had hidden pomegranate gel balls inside. The flavours were based around orange with a gin base. Mr Mack enjoyed this one too, although found it a bit sour after his first drink was so sweet. I went for a Raspberry Sling, which also came in a tall, elegant drink and was a lot lighter and tangier than my earlier choice.Aluna

Our cocktails were all wonderfully presented and I would love to come back after I’ve had baby to enjoy more of the alcoholic selection and get to work my way through more of the menu.

Starters (Small Dishes)

We opted to go for the Tiger Prawn Cookies and Black Pepper Beef San Choy Bau to share between us. The cookies were served piping hot, a great start, and came with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. They had a wonderful crunch to them and the flavour of prawn, lime and garlic came through together beautifully. I could have definitely kept on eating more of these.

The Beef dish came served in lettuce leaves, similar to a Yuk Sung Dish. The filling was a rich, mix of minced Beef flavoured with Lemongrass and topped with crispy noodles. Not a dish for cutlery, definitely needed to get stuck in with fingers with this one. Again, I could have happily eaten more of these, they were delicious yet fresh too, due to the lettuce casing.

I think the small dishes were my favourite course and there were lots more on the menu I’d happily have tried. For our next visit to Aluna, I’d definitely take more of a relaxed approach to dining and have more of these smaller plates to share rather then stick to a traditional 3 courses option.

Mains (Plates To Share)

For our next course we had chosen to share a Red Scallop Curry and Beef Bulgogi Sirloin. Additionally, we’d opted for sides of Jasmine Rice, Skinny Fries and Steamed Seasonal Vegetables.

The curry was beautifully presented, as was all of our food and drink throughout the evening. It was a wonderfully aromatic Red Thai curry, with just the right kick of heat at the back of the throat. The scallops were soft, well cooked and had soaked up the flavour of the curry really well. The dish went great with the sticky Jasmine Rice to mop up the flavoursome sauce. I also enjoyed dipping the steamed vegetables into the sauce too.

The Steak, was cooked well, medium, as we had asked it. The flavour of the seasoning was great too, with a lovely lime kick. Unfortunately the Steak was served cold, it had been left to rest for far too long before serving.

The Fries were well cooked and deliciously hot and crispy, our vegetables were also cooked well, and came served still with a slight crunch which we both really enjoyed.

Even though the waitress had advised us that we may need a few portions to share between us, there was plenty of food, and we weren’t able to finish everything. Perhaps if we hadn’t have had the starters we would have had more room to share more portions.

Desserts

Having checked out the dessert offering, I had to admit I was a little disappointed. It was clear that Aluna had a great offering of pan Asian cuisine on the menu. However, it felt that the theme hadn’t carried through to the desserts and personally I found the selection a bit boring.

I did choose a Mint Chocolate Pudding and Mr Mack went for a Salted Caramel option. Both desserts were quite similar in style, a thin sponge base with a creamy filling. My dessert had a good mint flavour and I liked the crunchy topping. Mr Mack said his dessert had a good flavour too. There wasn’t anything bad at all about either of our desserts, but there wasn’t anything particularly exciting either.

Aluna

Our Experience Aluna

The décor at Aluna was well themed, with nods to both the scientific and elements of magic and mystical sorcery throughout. Every wall had something different to look at. Aluna has a modern yet also cosy feel to it, with feature lighting throughout.

Our visit to Aluna was on a Saturday night on a payday weekend, so we knew it was going to be busy. That said our service was good and food came within good times. Our waitress was happy to answer any questions about the menu and was really attentive at checking we were ok throughout the evening.

Given how busy it was, it was also very noisy. Aluna is separated into two areas, the bar and the restaurant with a low level separation in between. Whilst this created a good open plan feel, it did mean the noise carried over into the eating area. Aluna would be perfect for having great food and carrying on the evening in the bar area with more drinks. The environment wasn’t the best for a quiet, romantic meal out, but if you were looking for somewhere more lively then Aluna would be perfect.

Both Mr Mack and I enjoyed our evening out, the food choices and offerings were good and the cocktails were definitely impressive. We both agreed that we’d like to return to Aluna. Further, it would be good to bring friends to enjoy the sharing plates and one of those amazing cocktail trees.

For an up to date menu and booking visit the Aluna website here.

Disclaimer: We were invited as guests to Aluna to review their new menu. We were not required to leave a positive review and all opinions and views are entirely our own.

Higgidy

Our Higgidy Picnic at Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire

Last week we decided to head outdoors to make the most of the last weekend of the Summer Holidays. We thought we’d head to Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire to do their fairy trail. Higgidy had kindly sent us some of their tasty treats to test out so thought this would be a great opportunity for a picnic on our day out.

I’ve heard of Higgidy before, but to be honest I just thought they made pies. I was pleasantly surprised to discover their range was quite a lot more expansive than that with quiches, frittatas and even lots of vegan and vegetarian treats. We were sent the following to put to the taste test:

  • Barbeque Pork Sausage Rolls
  • Chorizo, Feta and Pepper Frittata
  • CherryBell Pepper, Feta and Spinach Frittata

All of the items are ready cooked and found in the fridge aisle at the supermarket. Whilst they all can be heated, they are also ready to eat which made them perfect for our picnic. Picnic prepared we headed out for the day.

Trentham Gardens is part of the wider Trentham Estate, which also includes Trentham Monkey Forest, a large garden centre and a shopping village. We had visited before as a family however it was a few years ago. We used our Tesco Clubcard vouchers as part payment towards the entrance fee which made the day much better value. Whilst I think Trentham is a lovely day out, I do find that the prices are on the more expensive side.

We started our visit with the Fairy Trail, which is included in the entrance fee. Mini had a map and was tasked with finding the 15 fairy sculptures around the gardens. I really enjoyed looking at the fairies, which are made from stainless steel by local artist Robin Wright. The majority of the fairies are located around the lake. We took the 3.5km walk at a leisurely to ensure that I could keep up, being 28 weeks pregnant.

Trentham Gardens

Half way around the lake we found a beautiful picnic area. That, coupled with our rumbling bellies confirmed that it was time to enjoy our picnic. Having set up our feast including our Higgidy treats, Mini decided that she wanted to start with one of the sausage rolls. As a normal sausage roll fiend, she took a few bites to get used to the Higgidy variety, as they have a lot more flavour than standard ones. Mr Mack and I both really liked the sausage rolls and thought they had a lovely rich, sweet flavour.

Higgidy

We also tried the Fritattas, which are pasty free and both coming in under 250 calories for half of the frittata. I’m not a huge fan of sandwiches so am always on the look out for alternatives for picnics and things to take to work for lunch. My favourite was the Chorizo, Feta and Pepper Fritatta; it had a lovely smoky flavour and I felt that it was substantial enough for a lunch. Mr Mack enjoyed them too however, he commented that he would also like to try them out warm too.

Higgidy

Team Mack were impressed with the tasty treats from Higgidy and I’d definitely consider them for our future picnics and as part of our family meals. I also look forward to exploring more of the Higgidy range.

Higgidy

Fuelled by our Higgidy picnic, we felt ready to tackle the rest of the fairy trail. Once we had completed the trail, we had plenty of energy left to explore the other attractions at Trentham Gardens.

There is a huge children’s play area that has an assault course, a sand play area and a track for little ones to drive tractors around. I’m pretty sure that Mini would have happily spent the whole day exploring the playground.

However, she was lured away by the chance to get muddy doing the barefoot walk. The idea of this is that you get to explore different textures underfoot, and of course have fun getting a bit muddy along the way too. Mini enjoyed the walk so much she asked to do it all over again. Luckily there are showers and foot dryers provided to clean up at the end.

Trentham Gardens

We also enjoyed exploring the maze at Trentham and looking at some of the other sculptures around the gardens. I loved looking at the giant dandelion sculptures, made by Amy Wright, Robin’s daughter.

Trentham Gardens

We had a great family day out at Trentham and I particularly felt good for topping up on some fresh air and gentle exercise. I’d definitely recommend Trentham as a day out suitable for all ages. However, try to get hold of some Tesco Clubcard vouchers if you can.

For up to date ticket prices and visitor information visit the Trentham Gardens website here.

For more information about Higgidy and their full range of products visit their website here.

Disclaimer: We were sent the food products from Higgidy in order to review. All views and opinions are entirely our own.

Jamie's Italian

Jamie’s Italian Birmingham Review, Kids Eat Free for the Summer

Jamie’s Italian Birmingham

We recently spent the afternoon at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery hunting for Dippy the Dinosaur. Dinosaur hunting is hungry work so we decided to head to Jamie’s Italian in the Birmingham Bull Ring for a family dinner. We have eaten at Jamie’s Italian a few years ago and were impressed so were looking forward to going back again.

Jamie's Italian

Hungry afternoon an afternoon of dinosaur hunting

Jamie’s Italian is a chained owned by chef Jamie Oliver, check out the website for a restaurant near you. The concept behind Jamie’s Italian is to offer fresh and delicious dishes using the best quality seasonal ingredients.

Another reason for us choosing Jamie’s Italian was their “Kids Eat Free” offer. For every paying adult you can claim a free child meal, drink and dessert. The offer is currently on at participating restaurants from 20th July until 19th August 2018.

When we  arrived we were seated quickly and given the menus to browse. There was plenty to chose from including a separate vegan and vegetarian menu, as well as daily special offers. Mini was given a kids pack, which I think is one of the best we have seen at a restaurant. Inside there was a pack of crayons, stickers to colour in and an activity booklet with lots of things to do inside. Mini certainly enjoyed using the pack and kept her entertained until her food arrived.

Jamie's Italian

The atmosphere at Jamie’s Italian in Birmingham is quite relaxed and informal. You can dress up if you’d like however you wouldn’t feel out of place dressed more casually. The staff are also happy to help explain the menu or talk through the dishes if you require.

Jamie’s Italian Gold Club

We are also members of Jamie’s Italian Gold Club. This is free to join and gives you access to great offers and extras when you dine. We were given a free mini starter of Jamie’s Nachos, which were tasty but not what we were expecting from the title as they were small Ravioli parcels. When you dine you hand your gold card to your waiter who scans it and tells you what special offers are available to you. The offer for July was £10 off your total bill, but we were told this couldn’t be used in addition to the kids eat free offer. However, as it was my birthday recently there was a birthday treat for me, which could be used with the kids offer. I was kindly given a free chocolate brownie for my pudding and a bottle of Prosecco. As I’m pregnant, they offered to wrapp the Prosecco for us to take home to enjoy later.

Our Food

Most of the items on the children’s menu come as either a little kids or big kids portion, and they all display the nutritional information. Mini chose the “Five a Day Picnic Box” which included a grilled chicken breast roll, sweet potato fries, a salad shaker and an apple. It was refreshing to see some healthy and interesting items on a children’s menu as an alternative to the usual nuggets and chips. The meal was bright and colourful and Mini couldn’t wait to get stuck in, choosing a bite of her apple first.

Jamie's Italian

Jamie's Italian

Children’s Five a Day Picnic Box

I chose the Lamb Pappardelle and a Refresher non-alcoholic cocktail to drink. The pasta was delicious, lots of flavour and the sauce was beautifully rich. I would have liked slightly more lamb pieces in the sauce though to make it even better. I also shared a portion of Polenta Chips with Team Mack, which were great to mop up the extra sauce from my pasta.

Mr Mack had the Genovese Pesto Gnocchi and a Blood Orange Blast to drink. This isn’t something he has had before, but he likes trying out new things. He said it was quite a simple dish but it had really fresh flavours and he enjoyed the texture of the gnocchi.

Jamie's Italian

Genovese Pesto Gnocchi and Polenta Chips

Mr Mack was too full for dessert however I couldn’t turn down my free birthday brownie. As soon as Mini heard the word brownie she asked if she could have one too and the waitress kindly agreed to do her a small portion as part of her meal deal. The brownie was so good, it was warm and extremely gooey, just how a brownie should be, served with vanilla ice cream and topped with crunchy popcorn.

Jamie's Italian

Popcorn Topped Chocolate Brownie

Team Mack all enjoyed their food and all agreed there were plenty of other things that we would like to try on the menu. One negative is that we did find that the service was a bit slow during our visit. However, we would be happy to return for a future visit. I think that the food is good value for money for a family treat, and even more so with the kids eat free offer. I would also definitely recommend signing up to the gold club for additional freebies and money off vouchers.

Miss Macaroon, Birmingham

Road Testing Delicious New Flavours at Miss Macaroon, Birmingham

When I was recently invited to attend a tasting evening at Miss Macaroon, Birmingham, I did a little excited kitchen dance. I discovered Miss Macaroon only a few months ago and fell instantly in love, so was very much looking forward to the opportunity to try some brand new flavours for the Spring range.

Miss Macaroon is located in the Great Western Arcade, directly opposite Birmingham Snow Hill Station, which also happens to be the way Mr Mack goes home from work every day, hint hint! As you approach the shop you can’t help but smile and be drawn in by the beautiful displays of bright colours in the window. I know that Mini would love a trip here to see the colours and to sample a tasty treat too.

Miss Macaroon, Birmingham

We were greeted by Rosie Ginday, founder of Miss Macaroon by a delightful glass of Prosecco or Elderflower fizz, which she also described how to make yourself from scratch. Rosie was genuinely lovely and her passion for her product and her work shone through as she proudly talked to us about the company and the fantastic work it does for the local community. Miss Macaroon is set up as a social enterprise and aims to provide young people with opportunities to build careers and self confidence throughout her programmes and collaborations with other local businesses, such as John Lewis and Hotel du Vin to name just a few.

Miss Macaroon, Birmingham

The purpose of the evening was to help Rosie choose and refine the new flavour range for the macaroons. The theme was focusing on superfood ingredients so that you not only get an indulgent treat but also some hidden health benefits too.

The macaroons were presented in pairs and we were asked to vote for our favourite each round. First up was Yuzu and Elderflower and Yuzu and Black Sesame, which was also dairy free. I’d not tasted Yuzu before however Rosie described it as a Japanese fruit with a slightly creamy citrus flavour, which was spot on. They were both delicious, I slightly preferred the Elderflower macaroon as Elderflower is a top flavour favourite for me. The Black Sesame macaroon was also delicious and wasn’t quite as sweet so would be good for those that don’t like overpoweringly sweet flavours.

Miss Macaroon, Birmingham

Yuzu and Elderflower, Yuzu and Black Sesame

The second pairing of macaroons was Super Cacao and Passionfruit (dairy free) and then Mango and Cinnamon, also in a chocolate shell. I enjoyed the flavour of the Mango and the warmth that came from the Cinnamon but agreed with the group that there could have been more to add a more powerful punch. My favourite of this pairing was definitely the Super Cacao which had a rich, creamy and indulgent chocolate flavour but with a slight bitterness to it, I could imagine eating a few of these.

The final macaroons featured Baobab, the first being Wild Blueberry and Baobab and the second Fresh Raspberry and Baobab. The colour of both of these were so bright and deep, particularly the Blueberry one with the contrasting colour of the filling, which looked so inviting. The Wild Blueberry and Baobab macaroon won this round for all of us, it had such a lovely fresh tasting filling that was so moreish. The Fresh Raspberry was enjoyable however, for me I didn’t get the specific Raspberry flavour, instead it was more of a general vanilla type sweetness.

Miss Macaroon, Birmingham

Wild Blueberry and Baobab, Fresh Raspberry and Baobab

The textures of all of the macaroons I tasted were just incredible and the best I’ve ever tried, with a gorgeous thin crispy shell before you sink into the creamy centre that has just the right balance of chew and softness.

All of the macaroons are gluten free, and some of the range are dairy free too. They are also all between 53 -68 calories each which really surprised me as they feel so indulgent and I would’ve thought they would have been a much naughtier treat than that. There is a great range of flavours at the shop which changes seasonally with new and exciting flavours appearing regularly.

I really enjoyed my evening, thank you Miss Macaroon, and can’t wait to see the final verdict on the new flavours.

Moroccan Lamb and Prune Tagine

As Summer is coming to an end and the dark evenings are starting to creep in, I thought it would be a good idea to try out some new healthy, hearty recipes. As a busy mom I like to cook dishes that are easy to prepare but are delicious and full of goodness for my family. Keep reading for my recipe of Moroccan Lamb and Prune Tagine.

Lamb is a favourite of mine but a meat that doesn’t get cooked often in our house. Therefore I decided to try out a new lamb recipe that would hopefully turn into a family favourite. Mini, who is 4, nearly 5, can be picky at times with her food. Whilst she has no problem eating a plate of plain carbohydrates, at times she can struggle with rich flavours and foods in sauces. I was determined to come up with a recipe that she would love, and hoped that the sweetness of the honey and prunes in the recipe would win her over.

Cooking food that is nutritious, wholesome and good for all the family is important to me as a Mum. There has been some negative media recently about red meat. To set the record straight, the Meat Advisory Panel, an independent group of health and nutrition experts, is working in partnership with BritMums to promote red meat in the diets of children.

Useful facts & stats: Lean red meat plays an important part in a balanced diet and can help supply vital nutrients. However, some of these nutrients are consumed in lower than recommended amounts across the age spectrum as summarised below: • Infants and pre-school children – Studies show that diets in this age group can be low in vitamin A, vitamin D, iron and zinc. (Source: Meat Advisory Panel)

Mini has recently started to take an interest in cooking and asked if she could help prepare dinner, she was an expert stirrer. As we added in each new ingredient we talked about what it was and where it comes from. Cooking together is a great way to teach children how food is meal and discuss where ingredients are grown or come from.

4 year old girl standing on a chair stirring dinner on the hob

The recipe was a great success with all the family and there were empty plates all round. Even better there was enough left for leftovers for lunch the next day.

I made the recipe in the oven using a casserole dish. We went for a walk around the park near our house together, whilst it was cooking. It was lovely to come home to the smell of the meal cooking. However, the recipe could also be adapted for use in a slow cooker to be ready for when you get home from school/work.

The Recipe – Moroccan Lamb and Prune Tagine

Prep time – 10 minutes

Cooking time – 2 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients – Serves 4

  • 600g lean lamb diced
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 12 prunes chopped in half
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 0.5tsp cumin
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 8 small vine tomatoes chopped in half
  • 2 celery sticks sliced
  • 150ml lamb stock

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees
  2. Using a little oil (I used fry light, but olive oil can also be used) fry the lamb until browned in an ovenproof pan or casserole dish.
  3. Add in the onions and celery and cook for a few minutes until they softenmoroccan lamb and prune tagine
  4. Add in all of the other ingredients and stir until all mixed in.
  5. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes until simmering.

6.  Cover the pan with a lid and place in the oven for 2 hours. You will need to stir occasionally and check that it isn’t drying up, if it does look a little dry add some water whilst cooking. The end result should be a rich dish with plenty of think sauce.

7. Serve with your chosen accompaniment, we served with boiled rice but cous cous or potatoes would work well too.

4 year old girl eating lamb tagine

This post is an entry for the BritMums #HealthyRedMeat, sponsored by the Meat Advisory Panel.