The classic comeback - a Barbour tale

For the last twenty years, I’ve gone back to my wardrobe’s pride of place to bring out a much loved old Durham jacket made by Barbour, a 4th generation family owned company from Galloway, West Scotland. Whilst there are plenty of serious collectors who have sported their Barbour jackets and coats for far longer, mine has always been one of those possessions that has never lost its appeal or majesty. During the last year or so it appears that Barbour has once again become the silent style sensation of the 21st century. Silent that is, that it neither needs to boast or over do its presence in the shop window, it simply is what it is, a breathtakingly classic and beautiful brand, built with traditional techniques which have evolved organically over the decades. So I realised, that whilst I had my own prized Barbour classic, it was high time that I began researching what was out there. From sporting quilt jackets in their rich greens and pale stones, to the hunters Keeperwear Gilet, the classic International Original or even the bold and brilliantly coloured range of Lightweight Liddesdales, the Barbour is now at the forefront of British design and the list of choices as to what to source is endless. The brilliant Barbour brand have recently opened their first pop-up store in Commercial Street, Spitalfields, East London. Set over a total selling area of 700 square feet the store showcases men’s and ladies clothing from Barbour’s unique Heritage collection inspired by designs and styles from the brand’s long history. This includes the iconic International jacket based on an authentic motorcycling pattern from the late 1930s. Broadening out from its countrywear roots, today the company produces clothing that is designed for a full country lifestyle. As well as jackets and coats, the Barbour wardrobe includes trousers, shirts, socks, midlayers and knitwear. I think it could be some time until I make up my mind which timeless piece will replace the Durham. For more information or to buy online click here

From bonsais to bandstands, Birmingham’s Botanical gardens is a must visit this summer

It has been an oasis in the heart of the city since 1832 when J C Loudin’s design welcomed its first visitors, 41 years before Louise Ryland gave Cannon Hill Park to the people of Birmingham.

Back in 1998, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin met at the Botanical Gardens illustrating their pride of place in the lives of brummies right across the city. There are six main gardens: The Loudon Terrace, Main Lawn & Bandstand, Historic Gardens, West Lawn and Herbaceous Border,
The Herb Garden and the National Bonsai Collection. Other features include a dog-free children’s adventure playground, art gallery, gift shop, and an extensive library of horticultural manuscripts and reference books.

Palm House was built in 1871 and boasts a wide range of brilliantly coloured fish swimming around with stone ledges which allow children to get a closer look as well as hundreds of jungle plantlife such as Aloe Vera and Banana to name two. The humidity is quite intense in the house so to avoid rushing through quickly make sure you’re wearing layers so that you can strip down to a t-shirt for half an hour while you walk around. The Bonsai collection is particularly special, as are the wide range of cacti, both stark reminders that the Earth looks very different depending on which continent you’re in.

Once you’re ready for a cup of tea and a piece of cake look no further than The Pavilion Tea Room and terrace. From here you can take in the magnificent views of the bandstand which was built for just £368 two years after Palm House in 1873.

You can visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses at 12A Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3TR. Tel: 0121 454 1860 or visit

The Soul of the Rocknrolla

Rocknrolla was originally launched back in June 2010 for 12 weeks of summer at the open aired Rainbow Garden & Terrace in Digbeth, Birmingham. The party became an instant hit, full to capacity every week. Dancing while the sun came up was an Ibiza experience which spread like wild fire in the 2nd City, leaving its creators Rue Jay, Micky Slim, Will Bailey & Alex Schmitz no other option but to continue the party on a permanent basis! ...and they did! When the temparatures dropped, the party moved to underneath one of the archways onto the fully heated terrace and the all new Boxx room inside the Warehouse.

In its first six months, Rocknrolla had broken the boundaries of Afterparty clubbing and had already seen some of the worlds biggest DJ's and Artists including Judge Jules, Chris Lake, Funkagenda, Audio Bullys, D Ramirez and Richard Dinsdale grace the controls, leaving the promoters with an even bigger head ache, as the venue simply wasnt big enough to fit everybody in that wanted a piece of the Rocknrolla pie. This is when the sub brand - Rocknrolla Superstars was born.

Rocknrolla superstars see's the party opened up on a much larger scale, using the full warehouse and garden, which exceeds the total capacity to 1200 people. Full producion is put into place for these night's including a Funktion 1 soundsystem, LED Back lit screens, C02 cannons, pyrotechnics, dancers and more. So far, this has seen 3 of the worlds biggest artists perform Live on stage including Example, Ms Dynamite and Howard Donald (Take That).

Word has travelled quickly throughout the industry and more and more artists are 'requesting' to come and play at Rocknrolla Afterparty, meaning that the brand has some amazing line ups coming up for 2011.

Rocknrolla hasn't even seen its first year out yet and has already gone international, pulling in brand tours at Space, Ibiza (August 2011) and also in South Korea for the Seoul DJ Music Festival (May 2011)! Other Birmingham clubs have also jumped on the band wagon including Gatecrasher, where Rocknrolla will be hosting alongside Calvin Harris and Armand Van Helden, and The HMV Institute have booked tours alongside Steve Angello (Swedish House Mafia) and Mark Ronson!

Head Promoter Rue Jay said, "Its astonishing! The brand is only 8 months old has already been recognised worldwide. To be offered the opportunity to play at one of the biggest club's in the world - Space, alongside Carl Cox and the Seoul, South Korean DJ Music Festival is nothing short of breathtaking! We all knew that the party would be successful but it has already exceeded our expectations, and its even more exciting to think where we could be in a years time from now! We are launching a Rocknrolla party in Leeds before the end of the year and also have our eye on Liverpool so watch this space, The Rocknrolla revolution is in full swing!!!"

FACE at Cellar Door

A little over a year ago, the Rainbow - one of the finest music venues in Birmingham - was facing closure, and had been rallying support from music loving friends across the city that eventually reached the echelons of Birmingham City Council and even Westminster. After extensive renovation, a roof was built and a new era of underground clubbing magic dawned with the launch of Cellar Door, its new venue.

Scott Bleepz (, promoter and DJ has over the last few years been at the forefront of underground music in Birmingham. Scott is a man constantly on the move, sorting out artists, booking venues, musicians, DJs and photographers but he still manages to carry an edge of calm in the frantic night to night operation of one of Europe's biggest music events.

Currently performing a progressive mix of Tech House, Scott has warmed up for many of the world’s biggest DJs including Erol Alkan, Switch, Ivan Smagghe, Tiga, Rob Da Bank and DJ Yoda.

Mustachio is a fun take on the usual FACE weekly Saturdays, where everyone is given a “mustachio” on arrival. “It’s just for a bit of fun” says Scott who’s always looking to get a crowd hyped up and given a memorable night.
"Besides the music, myself and fellow promoters Elliot and Lee feel that a friendly and happy crowd is the most vital ingredient to any Saturday night out. People really enjoy our events and we work hard to create that atmosphere". Scott's boundless energy illustrates his passion for putting on live events and the Cellar Door is the perfect home for it too.
It’s Birmingham’s take on the basement club scene which has lined the backstreets of Europe for decades. Scott knows only too well what this means for the city.

“Birmingham has always been known for great performers and venues, from the Academy to the NEC and the NIA, now it’s the smaller venues that are showcasing the most talented DJs in the world.”

Photographs by Tamsin Mae photography

From Birmingham to the Big Smoke

Like many people, a week abroad simply isn’t an option in the current climate but it’s still possible to have a magical weekend away on home soil.

Travelling from Birmingham’s Moor Street station, I manage to find outbound tickets to Marylebone and the return journey back to New Street two days later all for less than £16. This is an excellent and cost effective way to travel because you have nothing to arrange like parking or congestion charges, and the tube is the only way to travel if you’re an outsider looking to visit lots of places in a short amount of time. Rising fuel costs are another great reason to leave the car at home.

We arrive mid afternoon on Thursday and are booked into the Radisson Edwardian Grafton Hotel. Its location on Tottenham Court Road in the West End, puts Regent’s Park, the British Museum and Soho right on the doorstep. The hotel boasts a fascinating history housing the legendary 1930s Aston Martin club which was founded here. The level of service is clear from the moment you enter the hotel, nothing is too much trouble and the sense of luxury presented without pretence is impressive. The decor is furnished with designer pieces not to mention a real flare in their art collection including Qing dynasty temple bells and new contemporary paintings by Vietnamese painters An Quan and Bich Nguyet.

After a long day of sightseeing and a majestic visit to Vertigo 42, a champagne bar at the top of a sky scraper next to Liverpool Street we headed back for a late meal at the hotel.

Asuman, one of the waitresses in the restaurant was only too happy to welcome us at close to 10pm and was the perfect hostess. To start I had the Salt Cod and Haricot bean soup with truffle oil and a garlic crouton. The strength of the salt was enough to revitalise me after an epically long first day but was a delight to taste. For the main, the 28-day-aged ribeye steak from Dhillon’s farm in County Londonderry was a treat, served with grilled vine tomatoes, potatoes and a bĂ©arnaise sauce. This was all thanks to sous chef Rahul.

After dinner, I had more time to explore the room. No view to mention but this was slap bang in the middle of central London, so it was refreshing to have a room which felt more enclosed so you could hide away from the hustle and bustle for the evening. The room was immaculately furnished. Dark woods greeted both walls and floors matched with a contrasting marble tiled bathroom and sumptuous white bath robes.

In the morning breakfast was a typically continental coupled with mixed grill theme revealing many business men and women as the main residents of the hotel. Well worth a visit, booking in advance you can find double rooms at the Grafton from £70 per night.

If you want a truly memorable stay in London, nothing would make it more complete than a visit to a great restaurant. I have been recommended one of Gordon Ramsey’s eateries in Grosvenor Square – Maze.

If you have never been to a celebrity restaurant, or one which is famous for its fine dining menu then don’t let the cost put you off. For that little bit extra, perhaps £10 at the most, the end result, and that which Ramsey’s highly skilled team at Maze produce is quite simply out of this world. The first thing you notice is the service. From the moment you enter the restaurant your coat is hung up for you and you are immediately taken to your seat. Like a theatrical performance one waiter brings over a bottle of water and pours you a glass followed by another who brings a still warm basket of fresh bread to the table.
As soon as we are comfortable Nicholas Davies, Restaurant Manager greets us at our table and introduces the Wine Flights menu. New to Maze, each dish that you order is complemented by a different glass of wine, specially chosen by a master wine connoisseur. The wines are brought to the table once you have ordered, set in a trio of glasses on a sterling silver plate each glass listed by a separate roman numeral I, V, and X. The menu is a tapas-style tasting affair that gives the diner the opportunity to sample both excellent wines and fine dining.

To start I had the Loch Duart salmon, fondue of leek, vinaigrette of brown shrimps, horseradish. This was a light dish but incredibly satisfying - the shrimp vinaigrette being one of the sweetest and most moreish tastes I have ever enjoyed.

A chef’s table can be found at Maze, so sitting sat near the back, you can watch the chefs at work. What is apparent is how the restaurant runs like clockwork, the perfect amount of time was left between the first course until the second arrived, Lamb rump, fennel, samphire, lemon thyme jus. At this point, I have to say that although I tried desperately hard to write everything down, I couldn’t be sure exactly which wines were given with each dish. The connoisseur who chose each glass picked wines spanning the globe but what was quite simply breath-taking was how each wine went so well with each mouthful of food. The tastes were an extension of each other, a mixture of smoky woods, peppery tastes and beautifully honeyed sweet desert wines ensuring the flavours of the food were washed down perfectly.

Even the bathroom was stunning at Maze, each person having their own separate tiled wash room, complete with hand creams, flannels and other luxuries. You really felt spoilt eating at this masterpiece of a British restaurant and all for £45 per head.

Another little gem and perfect if you’re on a budget is The Hoxton Urban Lodge boasting 205 Bedrooms, a hearty Grill Restaurant, and 6 conference and event rooms ensuring you have everything you need for that luxury night in the Capital. The Hoxton has truly redefined the
no-nonsense urban concept hotel experience and comes up top trumps on many of its unique features.

The Hoxton’s contemporary interiors include roaring fires, exposed brick and a VIP lounge feel to the entrance area. A stone’s throw from Old Street tube station, the hotel provides easy access to many of the local delights of Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Whitechapel and the City. Their ethos is expertly thought out which is one of the best points when staying here.

The view from the 5th floor room was typical of an urban cityscape and down below, I even noticed a Banksy in the distance thrown in for good measure. The bedroom was uber chic with funky space awareness to it. A desk area complete with complementary teas, coffees, pens, papers and a fold out flat screen TV all come as standard. Even three “paper, scissors, stone” pillows on the bed show the level of detail the hotel has gone to when creating The Hoxton experience. Also, instead of finding minibars, the front desk sells must-haves like wine or chocolate at supermarket prices and all rooms are stocked with free bottled water and fresh milk. Even the television welcomes you by name!

Another winning feature about The Hoxton is its amazing value £1 special offer rooms which are sort of raffled off. All you have to do to be eligible and in with a chance of staying, is register at on their website. Rather than a bathtub, The Hoxton has cleverly thought of what the modern traveller looks for, style and choice. Both within the funky tilings of a large wet room, you can either enjoy a waterfall wide showerhead or a sleek more flexible head. Last but not least is the real jewel in the crown. Every room has a light breakfast included comprising a fresh orange juice, a cereal/yoghurt and a banana courtesy of Pret’s co-founder Sinclair Beecham who also owns the hotel.

Prince Naseem back in Brum for Hackett and James Priory Park Charity Boxing Night

The long established Priory Park Amateur Boxing Club in Dudley has had its tired and worn out training premises given an extraordinary new lease of life through the generosity and commitment of local businesses and celebrities at a recent charity evening organised by residential property specialist Hackett and James.

Among the star guests were legendary Prince Naseem Hamed and David Haye trainer Adam Booth who along with other VIPs and guests helped raise an inspiring £70,000 for the
club to enable new training premises to be built and for the gym to be able to accommodate hundreds of eager teenagers waiting to join.