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    Cafe News, News

    Cherry Reds Kings Heath is closing…

    Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is closing.  It hasn’t closed yet, but it is closing.  That’s the essence of this blog post and I want you to remember that it’s as simple as that.  A whole pile of things have closed or are threatened with closure and there are rumours swirling about, much like the current weather. But with Kings Heath’s Cherry Reds, it’s a lot simpler.

    Jen, the owner of Cherry Reds, asked to have a chat with me about this and honestly I thought it was going to be a therapy session because I bloody love Cherry Reds.  I love the Kings Heath Cherry Reds even though it took over the greasy spoon cafe I had an affinity towards because it served me sausage and bacon sandwiches when I first moved to Kings Heath.

    “People asked how I got started, and the simple answer is with experience and savings from running pubs for M&B, as well as help from friends and family” says Jen. And this comes through, Cherry Reds is the sort of low-key place that caters for a multitude of dietary requirements without having fifty-thousand menus to certify this; vegan cake sits alongside cake with lashings of buttercream and you can order a vegan full English just as easily as you can a meaty one. No one judges you for ordering tea and cake on a Friday night, and there’s a great selection of beers without being all holier-than-thou about its craft beer credentials. The staff are consistently lovely, from letting your pregnant friend queue-jump a sudden influx of people because you were saving the table, through to explaining the ins and outs of Pokemon Go.

    It might well be their Twitter handle, but it’s true. I do love Cherry Reds. But more importantly, so does Jen; “A few years back I was having a mini-meltdown, probably about some unconstructive negative review online, and one of the team tried to comfort me by saying that I take these things too personally. It occurred to me that she was right, I do take it personally.”

    So why is Cherry Reds in Kings Heath closing? Rumours have been going around for a while that it was going to turn into this, that and the other. Or with seemingly a new coffee shop opening in Kings Heath daily, has Jen had enough? Nope, it’s a lot simpler than that…it’s about putting down roots and making the painful decision to let something you love go, so it can become better. “Last year while still trying to find the money for a deposit on a house, I asked myself whether I had the energy and funds to invest in Kings Heath too, which seven years on needs a new lease of life. I feel a new owner could do it better and allow me to move on to other projects.”

    “I never really intended to do Cherrys on a bigger scale, but the momentum kicked in and when thing started clicking into place and I thought I’d see how much I could borrow. John Bright St opened in September 2014, again things were tight, a few months in a row I was late paying people which was definitely the lowest point, but they stuck by me, which I’ll never forget” admits Jen. “I may have done it the hard way, but the whole point was to be my own boss, make my own mistakes and trust my own long game, so an investor was out of the question for me.”

    “Growth for the sake of growth, take more money, spend less every year. Kudos to those people who have built big businesses from nothing, but it’s not a road I think ends well for staff or customer experience.” And whilst so many other places might bang on about customer experience, people are at the heart of Cherry Reds – both the customers and the staff. Jen is thankful for both; “I have been fortunate enough to work with and serve some awesome humans over the last seven years, as well as working alongside great businesses made up of more great humans. I thank them all for truly caring, helping me build my little business and making the tough times worth getting through.”

    Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is closing because Jen wants it to become more, to flourish. And we’re not losing Cherry Reds entirely; “John Bright St Cherrys will continue to bring a little bit of the Kings Heath spirit into the city centre.” Jen tells me. And for that I’m thankful, because in a sea of chain coffee shops, pre-ripped wallpaper and overly complicated menus, there still sits a corner of the city where Cherry Reds stands out as the kind of place which welcomes everyone, without any fuss. And there’s nothing more Brummie than that.

    Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is currently up for sale and will close when a new buyer is found – which means you still have time to go. I’ll keep you updated.

    Musings

    Coming out of hibernation

    Crikey, it’s been a bit quiet on here recently hasn’t it?  On the off chance there’s anyone still looking here, then let me explain.

    There’s a line in a Piebald song that has stayed with me for years: “If you’re bored, then you must be boring too.” And dear lord, I’ve been bored.  This is partly my own fault because I’d stopped exploring, weighed down by a pressure about all these new places.  But how excited can you get over yet another Indian street food venue opening, when you’ve been eating thali and dosa for years?  And if I wasn’t feeling much love for what it is I’m supposed to be writing here, then I didn’t want to go around boring anyone left who might be reading the blog.

    So I just kinda stopped.

    And the break has done me the world of good.  It gave me the opportunity to do other stuff, like cycling and reading and less procrastinating because I was avoiding writing the blog when it felt like a chore.  I still did a lot of the types of things you do when you’re procrastinating, but it wasn’t layered with guilt.

    So where does that leave Full to the Brum?

    Honestly, I was playing around with shutting the whole thing down.  But I still took photos of food, I still enjoyed hearing about people’s dinners, and I still liked the surprise of finding somewhere new to me.  But the food scene felt pretty unwelcoming and the more I felt like this, the more I just thought maybe it’s time to call it a day. I did what I set out to do, I got people sitting up and taking notice of the Birmingham food scene on a national stage.

    But then a few seemingly unconnected things happened: I started reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, I read this tweet by Ruby Tandoh about needing different voices in food writing, and I had a few conversations about straight white men cliques in the Birmingham food scene.  And my delightfully screwy brain clicked in all together, my stubbornness kicked in and I realised I’m not quite done, but it’s time for a change.

    Full to the Brum has allowed me to do some pretty cool things, from being on telly to writing for national magazines.  But being female, fat and not earning enough to be able to afford big fancy meals are an excuse some people use to try to discredit what I do.  But that piece I did for International Women’s Day was far more popular than I expected; I want to do more of it.  And whilst Full to the Brum isn’t going to become some overly political blog, I am going to actively start encouraging and lending my platform to other people whose voices are traditionally ignored – if this is you and you fancy writing something, let me know.

    I’m also tentatively playing around with the idea of starting a podcast, which is something I’ve been thinking about for months.  I love that people give me recommendations, tell me stories about food…if you forgive the cliche, I hunger for it.  And I figure that it might be kinda cool to try and do something with this.  I have no idea where I’m going to start or from a technical point of view how I’m going to do it, but it’s an idea I’m playing around with and if you’d be willing to let me interview you, let me know.

    So, Full to the Brum is coming out of hibernation.  For the meantime it might look like it always did, but I’ll be trying to make a change.  It’ll still be about food and drink in and around Birmingham. It’ll just be better.

    Breakfast and brunch, Reviews

    Quick brunch at Coffee Residence, Cotteridge

    I nearly entitled this ‘blown away by beans’ but then I realised that I would spent the entire post trying to slip in as many fart jokes as possible, and if you had any illusions of me being a serious food blogger then they would be shattered.  But seriously, who knew proper beans could elevate a full English breakfast?  Coffee Residence in Cotteridge, that’s who.

    In a haze of having booked a day off work to go cycling, only to be overcome with the lurgy and thusly subjecting myself to a day of errands, I wandered up to Cotteridge to go visit the charity shops.  Now whilst its neighbour Stirchley might be getting all the kudos for being the ‘Shorditch of Birmingham’ (seriously, whoever invented that, you need to stop), Cotteridge is a lot less cool, but it is functional – its got a sorting office, and a butchers, and a green grocers, and a bunch of fast food places, and a strange looking Italian that keeps threatening to close but never does. There is a cake decorating materials shop with some fantastic cakes in the window, but it’s hardly worth the trip for.

    In fact, before today my only experience of Coffee Residence was that it was the only place nearby that will do a big disco coffee for me to take out if I’ve visited the sorting office before work. But today a combination of the lurgy, a rather overambitious plan to take something back to the shop and lunchtime meant I needed a large coffee and some food, and there seemed the best option.

    The place is fairly functional, but cosy, although if anything it was a bit too warm for my liking, but that could well have been the lurgy talking.  There’s lots of seating, and I was pleased to find that it was nicely busy, which is pretty unusual for a Monday lunchtime in an area which doesn’t attract yummy mummy types.

    I ordered the Residence Breakfast and a large vanilla soya latte.  We’ll get to the breakfast in a minute, but let me tell you about the coffee.  It was an excellent disco coffee, and reasonable priced considering their idea of a large is actually more of a bucket.  It was disco-sweet without being sickly and frankly a lot better than a lot of the chain places I usually go if I want a warm caffeinated hug of a drink. It also survived because drunk lukewarm (I was distracted by the breakfast).

    The Residence Breakfast consists of a butchers sausage, streaky bacon, scrambled egg, homemade rosti and beans, grilled tomato and sourdough toast, except I swapped out the grilled tomato for a mushroom which they were totally fine with.  For seven pounds it was a pretty good deal, although there’s a bigger breakfast if you fancy it.  And a bunch of other stuff – including hot dogs, which I saw a small girl trying to navigate trying to eat and she looked like she was having fun.

    Breakfast wise I was impressed.  Although the sausage was a little on the small side, but tasty nevertheless, the bacon was delicious – superbly salty and just what I wanted.  The mushroom was cooked well and I was pleased they let me substitute it, and the scrambled eggs were delightfully creamy and fluffy and utterly wonderful. The single slice of sourdough was sufficient and nicely toasted which gave it a crunch without making it too crusty.  But the absolute star of the show was the beans.  It was clear they were homemade and under normal circumstances I always want to see beans with my breakfast, but they’re there to make me feel a bit better about all the red meat, rather than any particular actual enjoyment.  Yet as I was munching away on the bacon I realised a plant-based lifestyle was never going to be something I’d achieve, I would honestly I’d come back here for beans on toast… they were that good.

    So there we have it, whilst Stirchley might have my favourite bakery, a vegan pie shop and a cracking couple of cafes…it turns out, up the hill isn’t so bad after all.

    Coffee Residence, 23 Watford Road, Cotteridge, Birmingham B30 1JB
    https://www.coffeeresidence.co.uk/

    Disclaimer: Paid for it all by myself, and though I didn’t tell them I was a food blogger, I don’t imagine they get many people who take out a camera to photograph their lunch. Then again this is Cotteridge, where stranger things have happened.

    Round ups

    Creating a cycle/cyclist-friendly venue page

    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…

    Cycle-friendly in Birmingham and beyond

    As seen in

    Chatting with Gizzi Erskine

    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.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Miss Saigon Summer Menu at Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome

    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
    https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/plan-your-visit/food-drink/circle-restaurant/

    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.

    Musings, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Akrams, Stirchley

    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.