I was invited to a complimentary three-course meal on Saturday at eXchange Food & Drink Lounge, which is located in Novotel on Dickinson St. I took along my housemate Deborah as my +1 😉 she loves food just as much as I do!

We caught an Uber to the restaurant because it was raining, but you can easily get the bus or Metro into town and it’s only a short walk. It’s just off Portland Street, which has a lot of lovely bars and restaurants- a great selection of food and drink options if you are in town.

I didn’t get the name of the member of staff who initially served us, but he was really friendly and accommodating- showed us to our table and gave us excellent food and drink recommendations. Most of the people about were watching the Man U match that day and the bar was pretty busy, but it wasn’t a terribly long wait for food.

critiquesofacritic exchange food & drink lounge

We ordered three cocktails in total: a tequila-based cocktail for Deb and two gin ones for me that I really enjoyed. Ask for the Pink Lady! It’s delicious 🙂

I feel like the food portion will dominate most of the review so I must stress that the pictures honestly do not do them justice! I personally was very impressed by the drinks- they’ve got the balance of flavours right and I’ve not had nicer ones elsewhere!

The prices are pretty reasonable (around £7-8 for most cocktails) and I’ll definitely be back for more 😉 not sure if they do a happy hour promotion but that would be perfect.

critiquesofacritic exchange food & drink lounge, selfies

Exhibit A of why I am not a fashion blogger- I can’t pose to save my life. Deb was coaching me through poses and I couldn’t do any. Ah well.

critiquesofacritic exchange food & drink lounge

Food-wise, we picked out a few small plates, which are £5 individually and £12 for three.

Our choices: Salt & Pepper Calamari, Garlic Mushrooms with Parmesan Crust, Batter Halloumi Fingers, and the Superfood Salad. The staff member recommended the Chorizo and Potato and the Korean BBQ Wings, which we did order but never arrived.

We left it since we had enough food, but I do want to come back to try them next time!

The superfood salad was pretty different from generic salads- avocado, baby gem lettuce, beets, blueberries, seeds, sugar snap peas, quinoa- lives up to its name indeed! I didn’t expect to like it when it was recommended to us, but I really did.

I would suggest upsizing the salad if you are sharing it- it wasn’t quite enough for the both of us. Having it upsized to a main will be £10, which I’m not quite sure I’d get if I were eating out- but for the quality of ingredients in it I think it’s worth paying £5/10 for. I wouldn’t get the other salads here individually.

I really liked the calamari and the garlic mushrooms. The halloumi is nice but the batter was quite salty on top of the cheese and after it went cold it wasn’t very nice to eat. Get in there while it’s still hot, folks.

critiquesofacritic exchange food & drink lounge

We had a Florentine pizza as our main (£12). All the pizzas are 12-inch. It was a great pizza and I liked the egg in the centre (huge weakness for eggs here). It came hot and crispy and really filled us up! I think getting three small plates and a main will be a perfect amount of food for two people with large appetites, or you could get some add-on sides like chips or other finger food with a main.

I think we ate a lot 😳 there was a lady at the table behind us rolling her eyes and giving us very judgemental stares. Sorry lady, you must be jealous 😉

We had a really nice chat with Rich, the other staff member that served us- Deb picked up on his accent and asked if he was from the Philippines! I’m from Singapore, as you guys know, and Deb is from Malaysia. We’re all neighbours!

We talked about some of the hidden bars in Manchester and other potential haunts as well, and he told us a bit about his family and his time in the UK (over ten years!). I don’t really want to go into detail for his privacy but it was nice hearing him speak so fondly of his country and his experiences living here.

He tried to offer us more drinks and dessert but we felt like we had our fill and didn’t want to impose (ah, Asian mentality back again), so we hung about for a bit, chatting and taking a couple of pictures before leaving.

All in all, I think it was a really wonderful experience and if you’re lost with the amount of options available, just ask a member of staff for help. I think some dishes may be a bit pricier if you don’t purchase them in a set but I think you have to consider the location and convenience- the drink prices are reasonable and I’ll definitely be back for those.

Make a stop during your bar crawls- it’s a little off the long stretch on Portland Street, but well worth going! It’s open 24 hours which is a plus. Drop by anytime or ring them on 0161 235 2200 to book.

+ Bonus videos of us messing about with the Snow app, because there’s no such thing as too many pics. #awww

Hi guys! It’s been awhile since my last review- I’ve been busy with my move back to Manchester and sorting a couple of muck-ups with housing. It’s a long story, but basically I wasn’t sure for a week or two how the place I planned to move into was actually legal or allowed. Why do irresponsible people exist.

So… yeah. Big mess.

It’s all sorted now and by December renewing the housing agreement should be a lot smoother. Fingers crossed! Life update over, let’s head right into this review.

dr botanicals, japanese orange, facial serum, skincare

I signed up for the Dr Botanicals review program and received an invitation to review the Japanese Orange Revive & Firm Facial Serum. I just had to pay delivery, which you can redeem the value of in a voucher for your next order.

To be honest- I was a little skeptical of its claims. A lot of companies are promoting vegan/ cruelty-free skincare ranges now because consumers are now more conscious of the products they buy.

Don’t get me wrong- I think it’s a great example of consumers actively influencing company decisions for the better and i think it’s an excellent step forward for the beauty industry.

However, in many brands it’s simply used as a sort of marketing tactic given not all of their products adhere to this. But rest assured- all of Dr Botanicals’ products are strictly vegan.

And you know how people talk about their “holy grail product”?

This is it for me.

I’m not sure if this was the main purpose of the serum, but it cleared my skin up almost overnight. I was amazed. I’ve never had anything clear my skin up so quickly.

dr botanicals, japanese orange, facial serum, skincare

I was already really impressed with the Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin cream, which saved my skin from drying out on TWO long-ass flights (total travel time over 24 hours, you heard me- this is the long-distance life).

My skin was clearing up with the cream after a really bad case of hormonal acne, but with this serum, it worked beautifully underneath the cream and I actually had glowy skin.

The serum smells lovely and citrusy and is a tad bit sticky, which I don’t really notice since I go to bed immediately after that. I drip a few drops on my face directly (handy dropper tool keeps it hygienic!) and gently pat it in with my fingers.

dr botanicals, japanese orange, facial serum, skincare

You may not like it if you dislike strong scents. It seems a little strong for me upon first application, but fades after awhile. I have sensitive skin which flares up with some strong scented products but this doesn’t affect it at all which is great 🙂

I don’t even know how to describe how happy I am with this- I just paid for delivery on this one, but definitely going to repurchase when it runs out. Not sure if I’ll get the whole line, but I’ll look into it and possibly indulge myself for Christmas.

I’ve already caved and got myself the Ultra-Repair Overnight Regenerating Treatment (a night cream) during their sale, after reading lots of rave reviews about it. I’ve been conscious about my eye bags recently and I’m worried I’ll develop fine lines early, so I’ll see if this works for me like the serum did! I’ll probably review it another time.

You can try signing up for the review program too- I got my friend to try it out, but I’m not sure how they do selections- she never got an invite, but you can try your luck! I don’t think you need a good social media following or a blog 🙂

Here’s the link to the review program.

Here is my post about graduation…. two months late! (typical me!)

It’s been a long journey, but I’ve finally done it! I hate to be cliché, but let me just say life’s full of ups and downs- and if you get discouraged, there’ll always be another opportunity around the corner!

I didn’t do great for my A levels, and going into a course I liked locally was near impossible due to how competitive the arts and humanities were at NUS/NTU. Psychology is pretty much an AAA/A requirement and Journalism an AAA/B or AAB/B.

I was convinced I was good at science and math then and was too stubborn and prideful to switch when my grades started slipping early on. Everything was easy until junior college, since I never felt the need to study for anything except the bare minimum at exams.

I actually did well enough to feel like this state of things was sufficient and got really complacent ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ so obviously I did badly for A levels because there are so many subjects, you shouldn’t be messing around with that.

Back then I was too lazy and too proud to admit I was struggling.

Now, if you tell me I’m shit at maths, I will happily agree and go along with it as if it is something worth being proud about lol!

I think I’m becoming self-aware wow wow 😂 I shouldn’t feel proud of it like I do with all my other bad habits- messiness, laziness, chronic procrastination- and it will come back to bite me in the butt again like it did at A levels, but I don’t bother with all the what-ifs.

I don’t think I would have done it differently given my indifferent attitude towards studying for subjects that didn’t come to me easily.

I made my bed and I must lie in it, and I honestly applaud anyone who works hard enough to pull themselves out of a rut and go against all the people who doubt them.

But anyhow- I got onto the University of Salford through my aunt’s recommendation, my extra-curricular activities, and writing portfolio.

It wasn’t a highly-ranked university by any means, but the teaching was excellent. The lecturers were passionate about the subjects they taught, seminars were never just about them talking to a silent room. I enjoyed myself greatly and for the first time in years, genuinely enjoyed learning/ acquiring more knowledge in the subject.

My future ambitions have also shifted a little during the course of my university degree- I no longer wish to pursue journalism, but I am nevertheless glad I had the opportunity to learn about the processes involved.

Some of my coursemates and the other pure Journalism students got the chance to experience what a newsroom situation was like, which I’m slightly envious about. Ah well. I guess it’s not meant to be.

I start my MA in English Literature and American Studies at the University of Manchester this September, an opportunity I never thought I would have; and I am immensely grateful for everyone who has encouraged me to broaden my horizons and make that leap to an overseas university.

I’ve never been an independent person at all, but this made me grow up very quickly in some ways: I had to learn to cook, clean (arguably a feat that yet escapes me), navigate unfamiliar territories and get out of my cushy comfort zone.

housemates

I’ve met some amazing people along the way- my housemates, coursemates, and random friends I’ve picked up through the university/ my travels- something I would never have got with a local education, not to the same degree of immersion.

I was never the most confident person and hated inane small talk but now I could probably talk about anything under the sun and conjure up enthusiasm about a subject I know nothing about.
I think of it as a necessary part of Adulting™.

I thought of it as being “fake” but as my friend pointed out: by taking interest in things that people you care about, care about- it makes it a sweet gesture *mindblown*

There are other ways in which my worldview has changed while at university, and others reinforced, but we shall not go into detail about that at this point.

This has been an embarrassingly retrospective post, but it feels nice to get all my thoughts out there.

Until next time xx

I was craving Vietnamese food and Pho was brought up after my housemate mistakenly assumed I was heading there (instead of I am Pho in Chinatown, on George St).

I looked at the menu online and saw they do a lunch deal from 12-5pm on weekdays, so I thought it was worth a try.

Unfortunately, I faffed about getting ready and made it to Pho just five minutes late 🙁

Missed the lunch deal (£9.95 for a main and starter- menu here) but oh well, I’m sure I’ll be back for food next time.

I decided to get the Phở chín– tender beef brisket slow cooked in broth (£8.75). According to the description on the site: Phở, (pronounced fuh) is the Vietnamese national dish; an aromatic & delicious rice noodle soup served with a side plate of fresh herbs to add as you please.

Phở chín- tender beef brisket slow cooked in broth, vietnam food, food, vietnamese, soup
Phở chín- tender beef brisket slow cooked in broth (£8.75)

Extra toppings like tofu, brisket, mushrooms etc. can be added on for £1/1.75.

I was quite glad to see that the beansprouts were served raw, as is traditional- too many places boil them before and it loses the taste and crunch.

It came with the usual other herbs: mint, coriander(?), chilli- I would have loved to have more coriander and mint, personally, but I think that’s an issue that you could settle by asking the servers for more.

The broth was quite flavourful but just a tad saltier than I would have preferred- still excellent and nearly just like the phở I had in Vietnam years ago!

I think when a dish is taken out of its country of origin, it can be replicated well, but somehow there is a little essence of something that is lost.

There are so many factors: water, ingredients, etc., but I think Pho Manchester does a pretty good job replicating this Vietnamese dish.

Pho’s website says: our broths are made in each restaurant by slowly simmering bones for a good 12 hours & it’s this authentic preparation that is key to phở retaining all its goodness & developing its own distinctive tastes & aromas.

Is there any wonder that this dish is Gordon Ramsay’s choice of a last meal? It is warm, savoury, intense, and filling (I could gush adjectives all day)- one of my favourite comfort foods.

I got Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee, £2.80) to accompany my main, and when it first came, the coffee was really watery, weak, and barely had any condensed milk in.

Cà phê sữa đá, Vietnamese iced coffee, manchester, vietnamese food
Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee, £2.80)

I didn’t want to seem like I was being fussy but I didn’t want to waste it- I spoke to the server about it and she sorted it out for me right away without any fuss.

The second try was perfect, good strong brew and sweet without being too cloying. Kudos for the fast and excellent service!

I will probably update this review when I come back for a second visit with thoughts about starters and desserts (eyeing the Gỏi cuốn [spring rolls] and Chuối chiên [banana fritters])

Granted, I’m a bit disappointed there isn’t much variety in desserts aside from ice cream, since a lot of their sweet desserts e.g. Chè Bà Ba, Chè Chuối, are flavourful and easy to replicate: sweet potato, banana, coconut milk make up the base for many of these and would really allow patrons to experience some local desserts that are popular at night markets and street stalls.

I was initially quite wary about visiting this restaurant since many restaurant chains claiming to do “authentic” food end up doing lots of ~fusion~ dishes catered to local tastes (not that there’s anything wrong with that, since that is the majority of their customer base, but it’s sometimes a little disappointing).

Pho has lots of good veggie or vegan options too (e.g. Phở chay: tofu & button mushrooms in a veggie broth), which is quite good for the diet-conscious who struggle to find variety while eating out.

Try great food that’s delicious & isn’t packed with calories at this popular @cornexchangeMAN eatery @ManchesterPho https://t.co/6skOw4rQ4k

— I Love Manchester (@ILoveMCR) January 24, 2017

They gave me a cute postcard with the bill and now I feel like I need to visit Pho in every city just to collect them LOL. Sneaky marketing hahaha

pho, manchester, uk, postcard, cute, journal

Pho Manchester postcard

***
Food: Very Good.
There is a lot of variety but would love to see more dessert options. Food is pretty authentic.
Service: Very Good. The staff were very friendly and helpful when I requested a replacement. Sometimes it can be difficult to get their attention even though there are a lot of staff standing around just chatting to each other.
Wait time: Around 5-15 minutes. Food was served very quickly and drinks immediately, so I did not feel like I was waiting around with nothing to eat. When I went the restaurant was nearly empty so no waiting around.
Affordability: Very Good. The prices are reasonable but if you are on a student budget i.e. in debt and scrimping to make ends meet, go for their lunch deal (£9.95, 12-5pm on weekdays).

Full menu hereLunch menu here.

Opening hours:

Monday to Friday: 12pm – 11pm

Saturday: 11:30am – 11pm

Sunday: 11:30am – 10pm

Tel: +44 0161 464 9779

Directions:

Edit:

I went back for a second visit for the lunch deal and was not disappointed by the spring rolls- I highly recommend getting the peanut sauce with it- it reminds me a lot of peanut satay sauce I usually get in Singapore hawker centres (oh, how I miss cheap hawker fare) and it was sweet and salty- very flavourful and was a perfect addition to the herby, tangy flavours in the spring roll.

My taste buds were in overdrive and I kept making all these ridiculous sounds, it tasted that good. There were so many flavours going on and I love how there was a perfect balance of greens, noodles, and they didn’t scrimp on the prawns like most places usually do.

I would probably go in for the spring rolls alone since it costs £4.95 and for 4 servings, I wouldn’t mind paying that. The size may be a tad smaller compared to I am Pho (in Chinatown) but given the proximity to the Arndale/Market Street it’s quite easy to pop in for a quick pick-me-up after shopping.

The Pho broth was not as good this time around and I was mildly disappointed given how much I sang its praises on my first visit. Also, real talk- why do they use ramen spoons for Pho?? The spoon was absurdly big, awkward to use, and entirely from the wrong cuisine. 

You use one of these:

 

 
Not this???
 
 
Hoping they change it soon because I couldn’t properly drink the soup off the latter (since you don’t actually drink the ramen broth, that makes sense) and the noodles were too slippery and went everywhere.
 
Pho- sort something out please. Replacing the spoons will only cost you a couple hundred quid, please get rid of the ramen spoons and donate them to Shoryu or Wagamamas or something.
 
#rantover

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Everyone loves candles- scented ones freshen up a room immediately and make for great decorations as well. But why fork out £20+ for a Yankee Candle when you can easily make one at home yourself for so much less? You can customise the scent to your own preference and these are beautiful, affordable gifts to make- and oh-so-useful! Your friends and family will thank you (;

Supplies needed

  • Soy wax (you can get this off eBay)
  • Mason jar, glass jar, or any container of your choice
  • Pre-waxed wicks (must be slightly taller than the container)
  • Glue dots or double-sided tape
  • Disposable chopsticks or kebab sticks
  • Measuring jug
  • Saucepan (must be deep enough to sit your measuring jug)
  • Spoon

Optional:

  • Fragrance oil or essential oil
  • Crayons
  • Glitter
  • Ribbons, markers, washi tape, striping tape, chalkboard labels and other decorative items

(*none of these links are affiliate links. I’ve purchased them with my own money).

DIY candle, UK, critiquesofacritic, manchester, crafts, crafty, home, candles, scented candles, coffee

Essential supplies

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Pots and containers

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Decorative materials

 

Make sure your container is clean and oil-free. You can rinse your containers with a bit of dishwashing liquid and leave to dry before starting. Adhere your wicks to the base of the container you have chosen using the glue dots or double-sided tape, making sure to place the wick firmly in the centre.

Make sure the wicks are slightly taller than the container you have chosen, any excess length can be trimmed off afterwards.

If you are struggling to get the wick to stick, or if the container is too tall, you can use chopsticks to carefully position the wick and hold it in place. Certain containers have rounded bases, which makes positioning the wicks harder.

Pour the soy wax flakes into the measuring jug and measure out the amount you want depending on the volume of the container.

Fill the saucepan with water- about two-fifths- and place the whole jug into the saucepan to create a water bath.

Avoid filling the saucepan up with too much water, as it may run the risk of boiling over into your measuring jug.

The water bath ensures the soy wax is heated up slowly- heating the wax up too quickly will cause the finished candle to sag only in the centre, instead of burning evenly. And no one wants a saggy candle! Make sure to stir regularly during heating, and the stove should be placed on the lowest setting possible.

Alternatively, you can heat the wax flakes in a pan directly over low heat, lifting off the stove occasionally; or heat the flakes in a bowl in the microwave.

If using a microwave, first heat for 30 seconds, then in 10-second intervals, stirring regularly, until the wax flakes are fully melted.

Here, we are using a 500ml container, and although the measuring jug is filled to about 500ml with the flakes initially, as it melts, add more flakes in order to adequately fill the container. The final volume should be made up to roughly 400ml in height of liquid wax.

After the wax has been entirely melted, you can choose add fragrance oil or essential oil to the warm mixture. If you are using essential oils, you may need to add more for a stronger scent. I usually find adding 2-4ml of fragrance oil is sufficient for a very strong smelling candle. If you are sensitive to scent, you can skip this step entirely.

Optional:

If you want to add colour to your candle, cut a thin section of a crayon (roughly the thickness of your finger if you want a subtle, pastel colour, or you can vary according to your preference) and stir into the wax mixture.

Worried that it might add harmful chemicals? Don’t worry- most crayons are formulated to be non-toxic as they will be handled by kids.

Add the crayon before the scent if you want a coloured candle- the oils may interfere with the mixing of the colours and create an uneven colouring.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly (but not set) and pour into the container of your choice. Ensure the wick is held firmly in the centre by clamping it between two sticks and leave to set for a few hours.

Jazz up your container with a ribbon or a handy chalkboard label with your recipients’ names on, if you are making a few as gifts! Washi tape and striping tape also make for easy but beautiful additions to a plain glass jar. The pretty glass jar is from PoundWorld and only cost £1 for two containers! Bargain!

DIY candle, UK, critiquesofacritic, manchester, crafts, crafty, home, candles, scented candles, coffee

There are so many ways and alternatives you can experiment with. Now that you have mastered the basics, why not try out these ideas?

glitter candles

Jen from SomethingTurquoise has a lovely tutorial for glitter candles here!

teacup candles

Make your candles extra quirky by using vintage teacups (complete with saucers!) for the perfect tea party. Why buy boring tealights from IKEA when you can make your own?

3-colorblockcandle

These colourblock candles are so easy to make, and look so good in little glass cups!

 

Happy crafting!

Eve