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Nov 27, 2011

Review: Malmaison Manchester hotel, Smoak bar & grill, and Ember Lounge

Manchester Malmaison

Manchester Christmas Markets were on my mind from mid-September and I’m a big fan of staycations, so after a delightful night at the Malmaison hotel in London we decided to stay at the Manchester Malmaison and made the short train journey up north last Thursday.

(N.B. If you don’t fancy doing much reading this lazy Sunday evening there is a video at the end of this post covering most of the same aspects.  It’s my first attempt at vlogging so please be kind!)

The location

The nearest train stations is Piccadilly, the city’s main transport hub with rail links to major towns and cities all over the UK, as well as to Manchester Airport.  The Metrolink (‘Met’, tram system) and free shuttle buses also stop here so even if you arrive at one of the alternative train stations it’s easy to find or if you’d prefer to jump in a cab it shouldn’t cost much as the city centre is relatively small.  If you haven’t much luggage you could even walk to get your bearings (weather permitting!).


On my frequent trips to and from Piccadilly the Malmaison is a building I’ve passed many times but never actually been into.  My impressions of the hotel have always been favourable; with simple white fairy lights at the entrance year-round the hotel looks both welcoming and fun.  The interior is very different, though no less inviting.

As with the London hotel, the lighting in the reception area is subdued with plenty of plush chairs dotted around.  Whilst the area is, of course, busy with a steady stream of visitors and day-guests (to the spa, bar or restaurant) it feels relaxing and cosy.  Our check-in was smooth with the offer of a map and some info about Manchester (which, as a native, I politely declined).  We were then greeted by a friendly duty manager who efficiently whisked us up to our suite, ‘The Best’, before leaving us to explore.


Manchester Malmaison bedroom

Manchester Malmaison - view from the bedroom

The morning after our stay I tweeted that the bed was so comfortable it was “like sleeping inside a giant marshmallow”.  Not only that but we didn’t hear one single peep of noise all night.  Both of things resulted in probably the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had in a hotel.  I thought the velvet-tasselled headboard was a little bit OTT but whilst it’s not to my taste it’s just a bit of fun.

The bedroom (and lounge) was equipped with a decent-sized flatscreen TV and a DVD player.  Free wifi also runs throughout the hotel, which in my opinion is as necessary as running water nowadays.  High-speed internet is available at an extra charge.

In this shot taken out of the bedroom window you can see just how close Piccadilly is – literally a 2-minute walk, even lugging a case.


Manchester Malmaison Lounge

Manchester Malmaison Lounge

Manchester Malmaison Lounge - desk

Manchester Malmaison Lounge - mini bar

Manchester Malmaison Lounge - magazines

The lounge area was super-spacious and had a theme that, at first, surprised us and then delighted Chris.  We’d presumed that the suite’s name of “The Best” literally meant the best room however it’s actually after footballer George Best (the football-shaped iPod/iPhone dock seen above should make sense now).  The red, black, and white colour-scheme is inspired by Manchester United, the club where George experienced the most success, and there were a couple of pop art-style canvases depicting George on one wall.

I really liked the feel of the lounge, immediately plonking myself on the sofa for a 2-minute recharge before we headed out into the city.

Along with the usual mini bar refreshments the room is also stocked with beauty products such as an eye mask and hand cream, all priced very reasonably at £1.75 or less.  There were also 4 women’s magazines to flick through, as well as Condé Nast Traveller in the bedroom and a complimentary copy of The Independent delivered in the morning.


Manchester Malmaison bathroom

Manchester Malmaison - bathroom products

The bathroom was sleek and stylish with a monochrome colour scheme finished with shiny silvery hardware.  There was both a bath and a walk-in shower (drench!).  I can only wish that I had time for a bath but that luxury unfortunately escaped me.

Malmaison’s like their products, which range from the basics to the more unexpected – massage oil anyone?  No shampoo, which is surprising, but I used the body wash as I find in hotels they’re often labelled as a 2-in-1 product and it did the trick.

For me the major negative point of this bathroom was the layout.  The mirror is directly above the sink and toilet so it’s hard to use without having to lean right over either, which isn’t comfortable and nearly ended in tears after I knocked my cosmetic case down the loo (luckily it wedged itself halfway without falling into the water).  Whilst not a small room I can’t see how this could have been set out any better, however, without sacrificing the separate shower or bath.

Dinner at Smoak Bar & Grill

Smoak dinner

Malmaison peach melba

Smoak Bar & Grill is reminiscent of an upmarket American diner, with meat taking up most of the focus on the menu.  After a delicious starter of a three sausage sampler and goats cheese and apple hush puppies (something I’d never heard of before but absolutely loved), we both opted for steaks, myself onglet steak frite with garlic butter.  I really enjoyed mine but Chris had asked for his medium to well-done and parts of it were quite burnt.

We had to leave just before 9pm to be at an event at Emporio Armani (more on that later) so we asked if it’d be possible to order dessert and have it delivered up to our room later; a very odd request but one the staff were more than happy to oblige.  So I enjoyed my first ever peach melba in bed and it was superb, by far my favourite of the 3 courses.

Cocktails at Ember Lounge

Ember Lounge cocktails

It was immediately obvious that our bartender, Nathan, knew exactly what he was doing (although he did mention that he’s only been at the hotel for a week).  After asking us what we liked to drink he rustled up a ‘BBC’ for me, which contained, amongst other things bramley apple sauce (really) and basil – super-refreshing.  Chris had a delicious berry and whiskey combination.


Malmaison breakfast

After begrudgingly dragging ourselves out of bed Chris and I sampled the Big Mal Breakfast, essentially a fry-up.  I have to say considering the name and the price (£14.50) we were expecting more food.  However the continental breakfast is free with lots of choice (pastries, fruit, cereal, bagels, etc.) so we also helped ourselves to some of that too.

We’d organised a late check-out so we headed back to the room to relax for a while, and I also made this video showing you round our suite.  It’s my first foray into vlogging  (sorry for all the ‘ers’ and the fact it’s in portrait rather than landscape!), I hope it’s ok …


Thanks so much to the staff at Malmaison Manchester for a wonderful staycation!  I’ll post a photo diary featuring the aforementioned Christmas Markets soon, in the meantime (in case you missed it) I also did a little post documenting my day

Malmaison Manchester

Gore St, Manchester, M1 3AQ

+44(0)161 278 1000

Disclaimer: Chris and I were very happy guests of the Malmaison Manchester.


Nov 26, 2011

1 photo, 1 hour, 1 day

Since I am now completely addicted to Instagram and came across this lovely post on busy bee lauren a few weeks ago I thought it might be fun to do my own ‘photo an hour’-type post.  Obviously I chose to do it on one of my more interesting days (my average day would consist mainly of shots of me watching Grey’s Anatomy repeats in my PJs …).


Starting the day with a mug of tea whilst doing the last bits of packing for a trip home to Manchester, including narrowing down my beautifying bits and bobs to the bare essentials.


No time to take a photo at 11.30am as Chris and I were rushing to Euston!  Lunch and some reading material on the train (presume the 1.30pm photo is the same).  We pulled into Manchester Piccadilly just before 2.30pm following an easy and flawless journey.


After checking into our hotel, the Malmaison (I’ll be posting my review soon!), we headed to the Manchester Arndale for some serious retail therapy.  It was so refreshing to be able to shop semi-peacefully – it’s never quiet in central London.  I also found I particularly enjoyed revisiting Manchester after a short break.  It had started to feel a bit stale as it’s not a huge city and I felt I’d seen it all but this weekend has opened my eyes to it again and I’ll be going away with nothing but happy thoughts.


We briefly escaped the growing Christmas Market crowds in the stunning Victorian gothic Town Hall, which has recently started operating clock tower tours.  After a quick spruce-up back at the suite we moved on to the hotel restaurant, Smoak Bar & Grill.


As the restaurant is a grill we of course ordered meat (I’ll post all about the meal in my review of the hotel)!  At 9pm we headed to the last hour of Emporio Armani Live, which took place at the striking new(ish) store in Spinningfields; it looks even more uber-modern when compared to next door neighbour the John Rylands Library, which dates from 1900.  It was a pretty amazing event which, again, I’ll post about soon!


After the event we visited the hotel’s lounge, Ember, for cocktails.  We hadn’t had time for dessert following our dinner so the hotel were kind enough to fulfil our weird request of sending it up to our room.  Peach melba in bed is something I can highly recommend.

If you’ve done one of these ‘photo an hour’ posts (or decide to do one after reading this) please leave a link below, I’d love to see it!

Happy weekend kittens! :)


Oct 31, 2011

Fancy dress

Joe Browns dress

Wearing: ‘Luscious Lace’ dress c/o Joe Browns, striped tights from Primark, leather stilettos from Faith (old), Vintage Bijoux locket c/o Gogo Philip, Kate Moss for Rimmel lipstick in shade 1

This black lace dress (which I received last week from Joe Browns) is decidedly witchy enough to pass for Halloween attire, I think, and I love that it feels ladylike yet the sheer sleeves give it a sexy edge. I think it’s gorgeous, I’m sure I’ll get a lot of wear out of it over the party season! I’ll also be dressing it down with brogues and a pea coat for daytime wear.

Although it’s predominantly a lacy dress the fabric contains elastane so it’s nice and stretchy, ideal for the eating I’ll be doing as always over the festive season – what, we’re supposed to bulk up over winter!

The only thing I don’t like about this dress is that the buttons on the sleeves and at the nape of the neck are really tight and fiddly. I can imagine it’ll be a bit of an impossible task if I’ve had a couple of drinks … I haven’t washed it yet (having only worn it the once) so I’ll let you know if it shrinks or bobbles, as this kind of material often does.

As you may have noticed I’ve had my hair cut! What do you think? Chris is not a fan and keeps insisting on calling me Garth :(

While I’m on the subject of hair here’s my promised follow-up to my review of Charles Worthington’s home straightening kit: I was initially impressed but that’s now turned into disappointment. The main thing I dislike about it though is that the horrible smell lasted for over a week, despite the fact that I wash my hair daily and was only supposed to linger for a couple of washes, plus my hair isn’t really much straighter or smoother anymore and it’s only been 2 weeks. Sorry CW but I wouldn’t recommend it! (I did get my new haircut at CW’s Percy Street salon though and my stylist Chloe was wonderful!)

I’ve also treated myself to some new make up including a Kate Moss for Rimmel lipstick. I’d been looking for the purple shade for days but when I found it I didn’t like the way it looked on me so I went for a blue-red (another classic never hurts), which I’m also wearing in this photo. It lasts for an impressive amount of time and isn’t drying like a lot of lipsticks. I’ll definitely be trying a couple of other shades – it’s a bargain at £5.49 and cosmetics are on 3 for 2 at Superdrug at the moment!

Chris and I are attempting to make a pumpkin pie at the moment and it isn’t going well. After chopping the pumpkin we realised we’re sans blender and weighing scales and haven’t de-chilled the ready-roll pastry. After a giggle about the whole mess we’ve decided we might as well make a stab at it so it’s in the oven now and we’re about to watch “Home Alone” with our first mulled wine of the season.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Oct 30, 2011

DIY: How to carve a Halloween pumpkin

Pumpkin carving

Halloween isn’t Halloween without a pumpkin! Even if I’m not doing anything else to mark October 31st I have to make a little Jack-o’-lantern. I’ve been carving them for a few years now so thought I’d put together a step-by-step guide in case you fancy having one but don’t know how to make it!

Choose your pumpkin

Ideally you need a medium-large sized pumpkin with at least one flat-ish surface area – this makes the whole process much easier!

Draw your design

Pumpkin design

Once you’ve chosen your design sketch it onto your pumpkin. You can use a marker or felt tip if you like, I usually do but this year I couldn’t find one and gently used a biro – I actually preferred it as the waxy surface of the pumpkin means you can just rub off any mistakes!

Cut off the lid

Pumpkin lid

This importance of this part is so easily underestimated but be sure to angle the knife inwards towards the centre of the pumpkin to create a slanted edge – this gives the lid something to rest on later and stops it falling into your pumpkin later!

Pumpkin lid

Your lid should then easily pop out giving you access to the juicy insides! Now the boring part begins!

Scoop out the insides

Pumpkin scooping

Using a spoon you need to scrape out the seeds from the inside of the pumpkin. Get out as much as you can, which can be tricky as it’s quite stringy. I also use scissors to chop off any stubborn bits!

Carve your design

Pumpkin carving

Once it’s all hollowed-out you can start cutting your design into the pumpkin using a sharp, thin knife. You may find it helps to lightly trace over your sketched design then peel off the skin.

Pumpkin carving

I think the texture is most similarly compared to that of an apple so it’s quite easy to cut through. Just take your time! Once you’re done tidy up any jagged edges.

Light your pumpkin!


Pop a tealight into the middle of your pumpkin then light it, being careful not to burn yourself :) DONE!




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