In honour of Velo Birmingham and my new-found enthusiasm for cycling, I’ve put together a page of some cycle/cyclist friendly cafes that I’ve found in Birmingham, Solihull and a bit beyond. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m totally happy to take suggestions (especially if it means I get an excuse to get on my bike and go and eat cake somewhere new). You’ll find it at the top of the page, if you hover over ‘Birmingham UK reviews’. But also, because I like to make things easy, you can just see it here…
I am way more the girl in the back of the room making sure things run to time and tweeting about them than sitting up front where people can see me. Effectively that’s part of the reason this blog exists, it was never about me it was because I want people to know about the cool stuff and talented people mixing drinks and cooking up fantastic food in Birmingham. But ever one to laugh in the face of her own comfort zone, when Square (more about them later) asked me if I fancied being in conversation with chef and TV personality Gizzi Erskine, I waved goodbye to my comfort zone and started thinking up some questions.
Gizzi was in Birmingham as part of a series of events being held at a pop-up shop in the Great Western Arcade. Square is the brainchild of Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter, and is a payment service which aims to make it easier for independent traders to accept card payments by using a reader that connects to smartphones or tablets. As something which is designed to appeal to independent traders, Square invited Gizzi Erskine, creator of wildly popular pop-ups, to come and have a chat with us Brummies.
Talking to Gizzi is a wonderful whirlwind of conversation, which gave me some insight into what it must be like for my friends when I’m all excited about something and trying to get my words out at the same speed my brain goes. Honestly, I could’ve happily sat up there and prompted her to tell us more stories about her life and fantastic food career, ranging from a bohemian childhood full of exotic food to being at the forefront of the pop-up scene, her time at Leith’s Cookery school, and being on TV. I really enjoyed her candor, particularly around the topic of authenticity and believing in your passions. And all the talk of Korean fried chicken. My friend Amy summed up Gizzi well; “We could all imagine getting s***-faced with her on a Friday night down the Hare & Hounds.” – and turns out she’d lived in Moseley for a few years, so that’s not entirely impossible.
Gizzi warned me she has a tendency to go off on tangents, but they’re so utterly fascinating that it was worth letting her to hear more about her career – in fact I think we went well over the time allocation, but still managed a few questions from the audience, as well as a few I’d picked up from friends earlier.
Being up front meant I was mainly trying to practice some active listening, which makes it pretty tricky to commit to memory much of what we chatted about. And because I was busy being the ‘hostess with the mostess’, you might find these write ups by the lovely Brummie Gourmand and Gastronomic Gorman contain a bit more information. Ryan from Brummie Gourmand was an absolutely star and audio recorded the whole thing, so once I’ve worked out how to do sound editing, I’ll put the conversation up here.
Gizzi appeared at the Square pop-up shop in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade. Square enables millions of small and medium sized businesses around the world to take credit and debit card payments without monthly fees or long term commitments. There are only a few days left to visit Square’s first UK pop up in Great Western Arcade (between Colmore Row and Temple Row). Running until the 16th September, local business owners can get a free Square Reader worth £39 if they visit the pop up shop and sign up for Square in September.
Given where the Hippodrome is located, in the heart of Birmingham’s Chinatown, it would be easy for the Circle Restaurant to skip over the Vietnamese inspiration of its latest big blockbuster musical. Sure, Birmingham is not particularly well served for Vietnamese food, but there are enough East Asian eateries within skipping distance of the restaurant that many theatre goers could be forgiven for being sidetracked. However the Birmingham Hippodrome’s own AA Rosette Circle Restaurant has created a menu which combines a modern British menu with some surprising Vietnamese and East Asian inspired elements, in ode to Miss Saigon which is currently enjoying a run at the Hippodrome.
Opening two hours before the show, with the option to reserve a table and enjoy dessert during the interval, the Circle Restaurant overlooks the main entrance of the Birmingham Hippodrome, absorbing just enough of the pre-show excitement to add a little buzz to the dining experience, but not so overpowering that it detracts from the meal. But it has got an elegant, refined feel about it, the sort of thing you’d expect if you’re indulging in dinner and a show (as opposed to pick n mix and the latest blockbuster).
We sat down to tasters of all all four of the Act I dishes, also known as starters. A highlight for me was the white bean soup with basil pesto which was well seasoned and just the right density without being to heavy or creamy. The Vietnamese prawn summer rolls with sweet chilli sauce worked well as both a dish inspired by the musical and the season (that is, if we’d had much sun this summer); light, fresh and crunchy with a nice kick from the sweet chilli sauce, it was a pleasantly different type of starter.
Of the Act II mains, the modern British with Vietnamese/East Asian inspiration theme continues. The congenial pairing of the herbal and sweet from the honey-brushed confit of duck leg with celeriac purée, bok choi and star anise jus worked perfectly to create a delicious summer dish.Most surprising was the vegetarian yellow curry lentil scotch egg with asparagus & new potato salad, of which the lentils made up the traditional minced meat element, but worked surprisingly well. Honestly, it’s hard to pick a favourite of the taster mains because each of them had a lovely finesse to them without being overly gimmicky. But if I had to it would probably be the pan-seared fillet of coley with rice noodle, samphire, ginger and spring onion broth, because samphire is one of those things that ought to be on more menus, and as a sucker for sustainability seeing coley in place of cod makes me unreasonably happy. The pan-searing was executed beautifully, crisp skin coating flakes of white fish, sprinkled with samphire, lazing on the ginger and spring onion broth. It was simultaneously comforting and nourishing, whilst light and fresh.
With starters and mains done, it was off to see the first half of the show that had inspired the menu. Set in Vietnam, Miss Saigon tells the story of a doomed romance between a Vietnamese women and an American male soldier during the Vietnamese war in the 1970s, based on the opera Madame Butterfly. I knew little about the plot of the musical going in, but the production is a blistering and absorbing portrayal, heavy and intense with emotion and utterly captivating.
During the interval, instead of queuing up for the customary ice cream, we moved round to experience some of the meeting rooms attached to the Birmingham Hippodrome. Now I’ve used some of their rooms during my day job and I know they’re great spaces, but it was fantastic to see that they worked well for an evening meal – perfect if you’re looking for a spot of corporate hospitality. Or if you’re dining at the Circle Restaurant, you can reserve your table and enjoy refreshments there.
We tried tasters of the three dessert options on the Miss Saigon summer menu: matcha green tea panna cotta with kalamansi and sesame tuille; bitter chocolate tart with lychee, strawberry & mint compote; and poached peach & pistachio cake with raspberries and vanilla set custard. Ordinarily I’m not one to favour chocolate-based desserts but the bitterness of the chocolate tart really worked well to counterbalance the creaminess. The pistachio cake had a lovely bright green hue to it, with a nice nutty flavour but still pleasantly airy.
I’d never have thought to eat at the Circle Restaurant before seeing a show, usually I’m more a grab a plate of something of char siu from one of the local Cantonese places nearby. But with such an impressive show, like Miss Saigon, it’s worth the indulgence of making a night of it and treating yourself to dinner at the Circle Restaurant too. I’m looking forward to seeing what menu head chef Melissa Menns comes up with for the next show.
Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, Southside
, Birmingham, B5 4TB
Disclaimer: The Hippodrome invited a bunch of Brum Bloggers to check out the Miss Saigon menu and show, in exchange for our thoughts on the menu. As ever all thoughts remain my own, including some pretty strong ones about sustainability…don’t ask me about transport.
I kinda think the whole Balti Triangle thing in Birmingham is a bit of a marketing gimmick. It’s one I’m totally fine with, because Birmingham on the whole never seems to do very well at claiming its rich heritage, but we totally claim the balti, check wikipedia. Because if there’s one thing Brummie love, it’s a good curry. And the reason i think the Balti Triangle is a gimmick is because whilst there might be a whole pile a cracking curry houses around the Ladypool Rd, Sparkhill, Balsall Heath area, I kinda think it’s pretty hard to find bad curry in Birmingham.
You see, Travelodge wanted me to talk about the Birmingham Balti and whilst it would’ve been easy to bang on about the Balti Triangle, I’m gonna be lazy and tell you about a balti house down the road from me. To me, this is one of the great things about Birmingham…you never have to go far for a good curry. And, my friends, the balti at Akram’s in Stirchley is properly good.
Akram’s pride itself on Kashmiri cuisine, which means lots of meat and rice and I can tell you they do both well. Rogan Josh is probably the most well known of the Kashmiri curries, especially round these parts, and the traditional lamb version at Akram’s is delightful – and if you ask nicely they’ll add a whole pile of vegetables to it, because a girl’s gotta get her greens. I’ve been to Akram’s few times now, owing to it being one of my nearest curry houses, but on my last but one visit I discovered their spinach and chicken balti. And whilst my food photography skills are passable at best, I cannot get a good photo of this, but trust me it’s good. Popeye would be happy with it because there’s a load of spinach, rightly so, and lovely tender chicken. In fact, there’s so much spinach that it’s not so much a wet sauce as wilted spinach carrying some extra liquids. It also means you rarely leave any behind, which is totally worth it.
I like to do the duo of rice and naan, because carbs give me life. They do those giant table naan at Akram’s and one day I will order it, but my love of bread is so strong that I will probably try and eat the whole thing myself. So for now I stick with the standard naan which is lovely and fresh, but still nicely doughy round the edges. They do all the fancy types of naan you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t, but the quality of the simplistic plain naan is so good I’m yet to move on.A special mention has to go to the music, which I’d totally not noticed on previous visit but I got to fully absorb the soundtrack this time round. And the cover version of such classics like Careless Whisper and I Believe I Can Fly were so notable that I Whatsapped my friend to arrange a visit next time she’s in town. If the good curry doesn’t convince you to make a trip, then the music choices should.
Birmingham is the best place for Balti and whilst I’d recommend any visitors to the city to visit the Balti Triangle, but south Birmingham locals or those sticking around a bit, Akram’s is totally worth a visit. And if you’re staying at the Maypole Travelodge, the food offerings for dinner nearby are fast food so come to Akram’s instead – it’s less than a 10 minutes taxi ride away.
Akram’s, 1526 Pershore Rd, Birmingham B30 2NW.
Disclaimer: Travelodge paid for my meal but all views remain my own, as ever. The restaurant didn’t know why I was taking photos of my dinner and giggling at the music, until they asked me if I used TripAdvisor and I thought I better own up.
On the very few occasions I’m allowed out of Birmingham and to another country, I have this thing about visiting McDonald’s. It has been going on for years, ever since as a teenager, we were stuck driving through France for what felt like forever and the only place we could find food was McDonald’s. This was back when salads here weren’t a thing, but they were in McDonald’s in France. Earlier this year, in Singapore I went to McDonald’s to escape the heat at the Gardens by the Bay and discovered McDonald’s there did curly fries. When flying to see my sister in Australia, my stepdad told me he didn’t see any McDonald’s when he visited, so we counted them all reached over 30…and then took a selfie in one to prove it.
Told you it was a thing.
So when McDonald’s were like, hey wanna come hear about the new stuff we’re doing you can bet I was there. It might not be popular to admit amongst “foodies” but I respect McDonald’s; If you’ve ever been in one of their kitchens between the switch between breakfast and the main menu, you’ll know it’s a feat of choreographed engineering genius. And I have, multiple times because I worked in one for a couple of breaks at uni.
Things have changed quite a bit since then and I headed over to the Wigston branch to hear more. The first thing of note is that the interiors are continuing the theme of looking a lot less 80s plastic fantastic; there’s a choice of interiors these days, so it’s out with the identikit look and in with a more modern restaurant feel. There’s also recycling, which made me unreasonably happy – recycle kids, the planet is ace!
My favourite of the newer additions is the self-service machines, which means if you’re having one of those days when you just want the world to leave you alone and let you wallow in your chicken nuggets, you really don’t have to talk to anyone. I know, because I’ve totally done this in the McDonald’s on the ramp in town and it works. There’s also going to be table service, which personally feels a bit too much for me, but if you’re a parent trying to rein in a bunch of kids then this is going to make things a lot smoother. And if you’re lucky, some of them, like the Wigston branch, has a play area for kids – I’m not jealous at all.
We also got to have a look backstage at the kitchen process, which has also changed quite a bit. It used to be that burgers were made up in batches (and disposed of if they didn’t sell in a certain timeframe) but these days they’re made up as people order them, which makes customising your meal so much easier. The kitchens are laid out in such a way that it reduces the time required to make up a burger, and whilst we weren’t nearly as speedy as the staff, we all had a go – and ate the results.
As we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour, we got to quiz the staff about anything McDonald’s related that we liked. Of course, I asked a whole bunch of questions, thus proving myself to be a giant nerd, but it was great to hear about the extent that McDonald’s go to develop their staff (I finally got a badge with stars), their work with Ronald McDonald House Charities offering accommodation for families with children in hospital, and also get some sneak peaks at some of the new burgers coming out soon.
I’m looking forward to seeing the new-look McDonald’s roll out across Birmingham (Cherry St was closed up for refurb last time I looked, so fingers crossed), and I’m unreasonably excited about the prospect of home-delivery nuggets…
For more information on the evolution of McDonald’s and what’s coming to local branches near you, check out: http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/ukhome/whatmakesmcdonalds.html
Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with McDonald’s, but all rambling thoughts remain my own, as ever. By the way, the only country I’ve visited and not been to a McDonald’s in is Qatar, so if anyone fancies flying me back over…
For anyone that follows me on social media, they’ll know that my Saturdays start with a trip to the bakery in Stirchley, so the conundrum of Can Eat opening posed some problems. Well, I say that, really what I mean is that I try and fit in two breakfasts these days.
For those who think the name sounds familiar, CANeat was previously a pop-up restaurant run by Dom, Vic and Lap in association with Loaf community bakery and cookery school back in 2013…which is my justification for the whole two breakfasts thing. Dom has now revived the name to open a lovely little cafe in Stirchley that is so dangerously close to Bournville train station that I worry people might genuinely start getting the train to it and I’ll never get a seat in there again.
Anyway, this isn’t a full review, just a ‘first bite’ to say how much I’ve enjoyed the few times I’ve been in there. A preliminary visit for coffee left me pleasantly surprised to find out their non-dairy milk is oat milk (praise the gods, soya is not my favourite) and that they’re cashless, as in you pay by card…although cash tips, totally still welcome. On second visit I had the eggs with gochujang mayo on toast…and then I had it a second time on my third visit, because it’s that good. Honestly, I’m planning on going back again soon and I’m telling myself I need to order something else, but the gochujang mayo makes me really happy…I want it on everything, even ice cream.
I like the menu, it’s small and relatively uncomplicated with porridge, bircher and granola as well as a few toast options for breakfast and some lunch items, as well as a very well stocked cake cabinet. Keeping it local, they serve Quarter Horse Coffee and there’s also something called a Turmeric Arnold Palmer which I totally had to look up and turns out it’s probably an iced tea and lemonade thing with turmeric…I think they’ve out-Moseleyed Moseley on that one.
Can Eat is open Tuesday – Saturday from 7:30am – 4pm, which means I’m a little disappointed that there’s no after-work trips, but it does mean that if I speed up on my bike I could theoretically do breakfast before work. Also, they do lunch but I haven’t gotten over the gochujang mayo to try that yet…one day.
Can Eat, 1397 Pershore road, Stirchley High Street, Birmingham B30 2JR
Disclaimer: paid for all my visits myself. Or rather I used my magic contactless card to pay but probably should just set up a direct debit.
On the few brief glimpses of summer we get in Birmingham it’s worth either being outside in the sunshine, or my preferred option somewhere with air conditioning and a good view. And way up high on level 25 of The Cube to check out the new Haig Club Bar isn’t too shabby a way to spend an evening.
Haig Club, for those not in the know, is a light grain whisky launched by footballer David Beckham and produced by the titan spirits company Diageo. It comes in a distinctive blue bottle that looks more like an oversized aftershave than whisky, but certainly makes for pretty pictures. I once heard someone describe a dram as a ‘Breakfast Whisky’ and if I were looking for a way to describe Haig Club, this may well be it. It’s incredibly light, easy-drinking but lacks the oomph associated with whisky, which will either disappoint drinkers or have the potential to turn them on to a spirit they thought they didn’t like. Then again, sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit more temperate in the sunshine.
The bar itself is nestled away in one of the corners of the top floor of the Cube. It’s away from the bustle of main bar up there, but still has the wow-factor with the impressive views of the city whilst maintaining a sense of exclusivity. If everyone who goes doesn’t take a photo like the one above of the cityscape in the background I’d be highly suspicious. The shelves of Haig Club whisky lined up behind the bar also makes an impressive feature wall.
Head barman Jack Spencer, previously of Bourne & Co and Bank, has taken helm of the bar itself and created a series of cocktails, several of which are based on fairly classic drinks, including the Ginger Julep and Clubman Apple Mule, as well as a few of his own including Berry Beauty and Pears in Paradise – and maybe a few other sneaky specials. With such a soft spirit it going to be hard not to overpower it or create something sickly sweet and Jack manages to do a fine job of creating something that works.
There’s also a food menu, which has been designed to highlight the flavours of the Haig Club whisky, apparently. I’m not overly convinced by this, but it’s a decent array of tapas-style bar menu and there’s a good selection, although it seems to be fairly meat heavy, though there were some veggie options. Highlights for me included the prawns and the chorizo and I really wanted to like the black pudding bon-bons, because hello black pudding, but I think they needed to be smaller. I’m not overly sold on the food, it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s the main draw of the place; I think they’re more about having some snacks whilst checking out the view and having a cocktail or two.
I don’t doubt that Birmingham is ready for a whisky bar, and I think it’s a brave move to focus one around a product which is incredibly smooth but lacks the depth that most people might associate with the spirit. Then again with the bright lights, city lights twinkling below, perhaps it is more about starting the night than ending it, and if so a lighter-tasting whisky might be the way to go.
Haig Club Bar, Level 25, The Cube, 196 Wharfside St, Birmingham B1 1RN
Disclaimer: I was invited to check out the bar at a preview night where food and drinks were provided complimentary, but as ever my opinions remain my own. Also, totally stuck a reference to 50 Cent in there because I’m watching Power.