Follow:
    Food and Restaurant News, News

    Stuff is happening in Solihull

    For anyone that regularly visits Solihull town centre, you’ll know that it’s pretty heavy on the chain restaurants, especially if you’re in Touchwood to go to the cinema.  Since Giraffe moved out a while back, I’ve been wondering what would take its place and it seems that instead of just getting one new restaurant, two eateries are opening up.  Although one is in the Mexican or burger place, I can’t remember which because I usually just go to Wagamama’s. But maybe that will change…

    Asha’s Solihull

    You might be familiar with Asha’s from its Birmingham location on Newhall St in the city centre.  Named after the driving force behind the restaurant group, the world-renowned Indian singer and actor Asha Bhosle, they boast 17 restaurants in Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain and Manchester, to name a few.

    Fusing together traditional Indian cooking with contemporary innovation, Asha’s have won a raft of awards from being listed in the Michelin Guide, winning English Curry Awards Best Midlands Restaurant and awarded several Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award.  The dishes at Asha’s pay homage to India’s North-West culinary heritage, with regional specialities on the menu as well as more contemporary dishes.

    And so now they’re expanding to Solihull, which is good news because there’s not a whole lot of places to get curry in Solihull town centre (although Jiyaan is nice) and frankly the town centre could do with some more spice.

    Which brings me on to the other new opening in Touchwood…

    Jamaya

    The other restaurant coming to Touchwood’s dining area is a portmanteau of two of owner Byron’s great loves – Jamaica and his daughter Maya.

    Taking over the old Giraffe location, Jamaya is a homage to Jamaica, the colours, music and carnival culture. Which might seem at odds in sedate Solihull, but they’ve got an Afro-Caribbean garden centre in Shirley, so why not a Jamaican restaurant?

    Jamaya will be serving up proper jerk chicken (they’ve got a sign and everything) and Jamaican fried chicken, as well as burgers, jackfruit roti, cassava chips, and of course rice and peas.  They’ve also got a vegan menu, which makes sense given the Rastafari movement’s ital food.  And they serve a decent selection of drinks, including some local beers, but I was mainly excited to see Ting on the menu because it is joy in a can.

    If all has gone to plan, Jamaya open today, Monday 18th March 2019.

    http://www.jamaya.co.uk

    Disclaimers: All photos either press photos or the top one is by Elliott Brown via Flickr.

    Sustainability

    Free tap water via Refill Birmingham

    So, I was sat listening to the council’s Sustainability and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee – stay with me.  They were talking about plastic-free solutions and one thing mentioned was Refill Birmingham. I’ve been meaning to mention for a while, because I enjoy sustainability, not having to empty my bin/recycling, and saving money. So here I am, finally getting round to it.

    Refill Birmingham is part of the overall Refill initiative, a grassroots movement to reduce plastic waste by telling you where you can refill your water bottle, free of charge.  They pretty much want you to stop buying bottled – and I want you to stop buying bottled water because its stupidly expensive and tap water is FINE.

    Currently, less than 30% of people drink tap water from a reusable water bottle.  I’d like to believe that’s because Brummies are sensible and just grab a glass and down a pint of water, but that might just be wishful thinking.  Apparently, the average person uses 150 plastic bottles a year, which is nuts because I’d be surprised if I use more than 3; I will literally try and buy anything other than bottled water because what is the bloody point?!  Refill estimate that if just one in ten of us in this country refilled a reusable bottle once a week, we’d have 340 million less plastic water bottles in circulation. Oh and it’s supported by local water companies (Severn Trent in these parts, if you were wondering).

    To aid in this there’s an app that tells you which venues have signed up to be a refill station – or ‘hydration station’ that the announcement at New St Station liked to call them.  For example, I’m currently loitering in Stirchley, and the app tells me that should I need to refill my water bottle I can go to CanEat, Loaf and Stirchley Library.  Should I be somewhere that chains have discovered, most Wetherspoons, Starbucks, John Lewis, Morrisons and Costa Coffee are also signed up.  The app tells me there are about 73 places in Birmingham city centre, and plenty more places dotted around the suburbs. Most of the places have a sticker in the window somewhere and there will either be a tap you can use, or the nice staff will fill up your bottle for you.

    BUT there should be more in Birmingham (and Solihull and anywhere else with a B post code).  There’s going to be a Refill Birmingham Action Day on Tuesday 19 March to encourage venues to sign up.  But if you want to get ahead of the curve, and you work for a business that has easy access to a tap and deals with the public, badger your boss to sign up to the Refill campaign – tell them I sent you.  No seriously, if you let me know I’ll do a shoutout on twitter, come visit or something.

    Unfortunately schools, nightclubs and places of residence can’t be included, put pubs seem to be fine.  It is also super simple to add venues to the app; decide you’re going to do it and add your venue via the website or app – just make sure you get permission from the owner.  Don’t forget to put one of the stickers in the window so people know you’re happy to refill bottles, particularly helpful for slightly nervous people.  Then bask in the knowledge that you’re helping the planet and probably encouraging some new customers finding out about you. Win, win.

    In short; remember your water bottle when you’re out, download the Refill app, sign up if you’re a venue and generally feel smug about your planet saving ways.

    Follow the local goings on at the Refill Birmingham twitter, which is part of an ecobirmingham initiative.

    Musings

    Here we go again

    Bureau’s gone
    Fressh has gone
    SmokeHaus and Rub have both gone
    So has Jailbird / Nosh & Quaff, despite the name change

    January is always a hard month for bars and restaurants. The overindulgence of December means some places cling on, buoyed up by the extra footfall, only to realise the game is over come the new calendar year. I’m not going to repeat the blog post I wrote calling on people to use their favourite places, because I think that should be abundantly clear now – if you like it, support it. Nor am I going to write a rant about why things like Dry January and “detoxes” are a bloody stupid idea.

    But it has left me thinking back on 2018, a year I despised for a great many reasons, none of which had much to do with the blog, but everything to do with why it has been pretty quiet around here.

    But 2018 wasn’t all bad. Sure, places trading off the street food craze, like Rub and Smokehaus, might’ve had a bad year, but street food royalty Digbeth Dining Club extended its opening, going to four days; alongside Baked in Brick finding their own permanent home; and of course the Andy Low ’n’ Slow’s kickstarter. Though we might’ve seen repetition of more of the same, the likes of home-grown talent have thrived, with Aktar Islam’s Opheem and Legna, and the provocateurs of the Birmingham hospitality scene opening Nocturnal Animals.

    Maybe more than most cities, Birmingham is changing – you only need to look at the sheer number of cranes in the sky, and building works in the city centre to figure that one out. Whilst it might see some places come and some places go, it’ll always be home. And there will always be new places to find.

    Round ups

    Festive Food (I forgot to tell you about)

    So yeah, sorry this is late and you won’t actually get to try and of these dishes because it’s January and everyone is regrowing their livers with a green juice “detox” or whatever BS people do in the New Year New Me cause.  But the point was really an aide memoire that there are places in Birmingham doing interesting things, and we should remember to check them out – because restaurants are for all months of the year, not just for December.

    Pigs in Blankets Eggy Crumpets from Wayland’s Yard

    Isn’t Wayland’s Yard great?  The first time we went in to this little cafe hiding on Bull St I thought it looked a bit like a Melbourne coffee shop, which is a compliment because Australians really know how to treat their coffee well and Melbourne has the best cafes in the world. So yes, the coffee in Wayland’s is good, but thankfully so is the food.  I say food, I always have the eggy crumpets, but if they’ half as good as that, you’ll be fine.  For Christmas this year, they had the above version, pigs in blankets eggy crumpets and It Was Good.  To be fair, you can order your eggy crumpets with chorizo and bacon all year round, so you can sort of get the same hit. And I highly recommend it.

    Wayland’s Yard, 42 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF

    The Meat Shack’s Santa Shack

    Usually I’m a classicist when it comes to burgers and I think it’s hard to beat a bacon cheeseburger, but there are a few places I’m willing to deviate from my normal and The Meat Shack on Thorpe St is one of those.  And over December, they were selling the Santa Shack, a burger which tasted liked Christmas between a bun.  I know because I had it more than once.  A beef patty, braised red cabbage, camembert, candy bacon crumb, chipotle – cranberry, ketchup, deep fried greens and mustard mayo with parsnip crisps on the side, it was filling and hearty without putting you into a Christmas-style food coma, and that was just spot on.  Sadly it was only a December delicacy, but I’m hoping if we campaign enough, they might bring it back again for a special.  Christmas in July anyone?

    The Meat Shack, 17 Thorp St, Birmingham B5 4AT

    Deep & Crisp & Vegan pie from Pieminister

    When vegan-food explorer extraordinaire Tasha from NutellaTasha invites you to lunch, it would be rude to say no.  And it would be rude not to go native and order vegan too, so that’s what I did.  The Deep & Crisp & Vegan pie from Pieminister has one of the best pun-tastic names from the festive season, and it was delicious.  A creamy vegan turkey pie with celeriac, smoked garlic & sherry, on a bed of mashed potato and topped with stuffing balls and cranberry sauce. YUM.

    Pieminister, 16 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5UG

    Mama Creaven’s roast pheasant

    Christmas even dinner is when my mum gets to have some fun, and so this year because she wasn’t cooking Christmas dinner, we had roast pheasant with bacon, onions and a red wine jus.  There was also vegetables, and the biggest surprise of all, potatoes. Whilst my mum’s idea of carbs is usually stealing mine when we go out for dinner, this delicious sauce warranted leaving nothing behind and spuds were just the ticket.  Sorry, you can’t book into my mum’s house for dinner, it’s hard enough for me to get an invite, but this was one of my favourite festive meals, so it deserved a mention.  If you want to know the recipe let me know and I’ll ask my mum.

    Nice try, I’m not telling you where my mum lives.

    Disclaimer: I call my mum mum, or Bernie if she’s not replying. We’re from Birmingham, I’ve never called her mom and I’m not about to start now. Also, I didn’t pay for dinner at my mum’s because that would be weird. I did pay for the burger and the crumpets and I was Tasha’s guest for pie but I don’t really think they cared who I was.

    Round ups

    Christmas gift guide

    I know, this is way later than I intended but if you’re running low on Christmas cheer and need some inspiration for Christmas gifts for your foodie friends and loved ones, here are five to get you started…

    This Cookbook Belongs To Us

    Hear me out, recipe books might seem like a naff idea for the foodie in your life but this one is actually good. Not only is it packed with recipes which actual normal humans could feasibly make on a regular basis, it also has fancier ones too. Better yet, the recipes feature personal stories about what the recipes mean to people, and the money raised goes to support refugees in transit. So really you’re buying double the gift, a present for your lovely one and goodwill to men (women and non-binary folk).

    Costs £12.50 from Bearwood and Kings Heath Action for Refugees website https://actionforrefugees.org/product/this-cookbook-belongs-to-us/

    Independent Birmingham card

    Yeah, I know I recommend this every year, but every year it continues to add good value. I’m pretty sure I’ve recouped the cost of one on trips to The Electric alone, which I then spend on tea and cake to eat before the film. The IB card gets you some great deals at a number of independent venues in the city and you will easily make your money back within the year, even if your memory is as crap as mine. It’s also a handy little reminder about some of the more off the beaten track venues that exist around the city.

    Buy from the Independent Birmingham website

    Cheese and wine from Grace + James

    This is a great gift because the chances are they’ll invite you round to enjoy the cheese and wine you’ve just gifted them, and so it pays to get something good. Kings Heath’s Grace + James have pulled together a number of cheese and wine offerings from a top notch hamper through to an array of wines for the big day itself. Their Christmas Day wine case will see you through your Christmas Meal, with two bottles of red, two bottles of white, a bottle of fizz and a bottle of dessert wine for afters.

    Prices range depending on items ordered, which can be done in store or via email.

    Byng Inc’s Daily Special 2019 calendar gift set

    Local artist Louise Byng has created a calendar which takes views on a culinary voyage to discover the weird and wonderful experience of cuisine and culture. With everything from historic honey through to a special edition Burger King Whopper, this A4 calendar will not only provide you with some interesting fact, but 25% of all profits are donated to Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity.

    Order from Byng Inc: http://bynginc.bigcartel.com/product/daily-specials-2019-calendar

    Gift Cards

    What do you get the person who has everything? Easy, get them an experience they’ll enjoy and, even better, you won’t have to wrap anything – better yet, they might take you along to share the joy.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Nigel Slater and Ravinder Bhogel at the Birmingham Literature Festival

    I’m just back from one of those afternoons which are so simple and yet so sublime they’re the sort of thing you want to remember. My friend Beccy had snagged tickets for the Nigel Slater talk, a perk of volunteering at the Birmingham Literature Festival, and asked if I wanted to join her.  Of course I did, I adore Nigel Slater’s writing and tv shows.

    We met in Yorks at Ikon gallery for lunch, though I got there early because a coffee and time with whatever book I’m reading is an indulgence I never get bored of.  I wasn’t overly hungry but had some fries because the weather is miserable and fries are always a good idea.  Coffee and carbs consumed, we then trundled off to the Birmingham Rep to the talk.

    I haven’t read Nigel Slater’s memoir Toast, despite a friend buying a copy for me years ago, nor have I seen the televised version.  I’m sure they’re very good, but the way Nigel writes and talks about food feels positive, joyful and curious, not the sort of brutish pedantic judgement of some food writers, and I want it to remain a place of comfort. Knowing too much about how some of that is borne from a painful childhood might break the spell, and I don’t think my fragile heart is ready for that.

    Nigel Slater is as warm and charming on stage as he is in his weekly Observer column or on the television shows he presents.  Ravinder Bhogal, chef Patron of Jikoni, was an inspired choice of interviewer, who gave just enough of her own story and thoughts to make it feel like a natural conversation.  They talked about childhood food memories, lardy cake and Fray Bentos pies, foxes in the garden, filming in Iran, and the joy of being a cook.  Perhaps my favourite comment was when Nigel spoke how much he enjoyed cooking for other people, but also the enjoyment of cooking just for himself; of setting the table for one, and feeling a sense of self worth to believe you are worth a proper meal even if there aren’t others around.  It made me want to go home and pull out all my cookbooks and imagine all the possibilities.

    The Birmingham Literature Festival is an annual festival which ran from 4th – 14th October 2018, which means you probably missed it if this is the first you heard of it. But keep an eye on their website as there is usually a spring mini-festival which is worth checking out, as well as the full festival in the autumn.

    Disclaimer: My friend gifted me a ticket which she got in exchange for volunteering for the festival. She definitely doesn’t care if I blog or not.

    Drinks, Guest Posts, Pop-up and Event reviews

    The Midlands Whisky Festival 2018

    Greetings, it’s been a while hasn’t it? And it’s not even me responsible for 99% of this blog post, but I’ll save you the sob story of where I’ve been and why I’ve not been blogging.

    Anyway, I couldn’t make The Midlands Whisky Festival 2018, despite being in one of my favourite conference venues, The Studio. This saddens me because whisky, whiskey and bourbon are all great, and festivals are a great place to try lots of ones you’ll probably never get a chance to.  But far be it for me to deny my loyal readers (if there are any of you left), so I put an ask out to friends and unsurprisingly lots of people came forward, but one of the suggestions what the talented Joe Beardsmore.

    Joe is a bartender and photographer, so frankly more qualified to be doing this sort of thing than I am.  You should definitely check out his website, www.joebeardsmore.com – I’d highly recommend looking at his outdoor photography because it’s just beautiful.  Also his Instagram account is pun-tastic which instantly endears me to it @Joemans_Land.

    Over, to Joe…

    The Midlands Whisky Festival 2018 brought a collection of Scottish, Indian, Australian, American, Scandinavian, Japanese and many more whiskies into perfect harmony, providing an incredible tasting and learning experience, whether it was learning new world whisky with the likes of Starward, or cigars and malt with Dalmore.

    A few signature moments for me where trying the Glen Dronach 24 year old which was a rare surprise to find such a bold full bodied Scotch that imparted the flavours of the sherry casks that it had been aged in for all of its “life”. Furthermore the Cambus 31 Year Old 1964 exceeded expectations as a smooth, easy going dram considering the 31 year old age statement.

    But really, you’re here for the pictures and I don’t blame you because they’re great and this is just a selection of them. They all belong to Joe, he’s just kindly letting me put them on here so if you want to use them for something or hire Joe to take some photos then get in contact with him.

    The Midlands Whisky Festival has been running since 2010, and as well as a Birmingham event, there was a Stourbridge version back in March.  I’m not entirely sure when the next one is, but feel free to keep an eye on their website http://www.whiskyfest.co.uk/.