Reviews, Take away

    Yo! Sushi’s ‘Tokyo to Go’ range


    “Wake me up Tokyo to Go-Go, don’t leave me hanging on like a yo-yo…”

    Every time I think about Yo! Sushi’s new Tokyo to Go range I end up with a reworked version of Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go in my head.  I think this is a very good thing indeed, and so I feel the need to share this with you, because Wham are great.

    Anyway, enough about my love of 80s classics.  I’m guessing most people already know about Yo! Sushi, but if not they’re most famous for being a brightly coloured restaurant where Japanese dishes are taken by diners direct from the belt – and the coloured plates relate to the cost of the dishes, or ordered from the open kitchen.  They opened their first branch in London in 1997 with their first branch outside London opening in Birmingham Selfridges in 2003.


    Their new Tokyo to Go range has a scarily impressive 70 dishes on the menu, which might not be all that, I’ve just never counted how many different dishes I see on the conveyer belt because I’m usually too busy eating, or watching hawk-eye style for a certain dish.  Of the new options, there is a series of chirashi pots, which translate as scattered rice, apparently.  These take-away pots include either sesame soy marinated fresh salmon, ponzu marinated tuna, sesame marinated tofu or soy and shichimi marinated grilled chicken with kaiso seaweed, Japanese pickles and yuzu furikake on a bed of rice.  I went for the sesame soy marinated fresh salmon which was nice and fresh.  From the looks of the pot I thought there would be too much rice, but there’s a nice balance of flavours and the Japanese pickles are incredibly moreish, but maybe because I think pickles are great.

    Frankly I should’ve stopped at the chirashi pot, but I also ordered a Kaiso Salad, another new dish, which is marinated mixed seaweed, edamame and carrots in a su-miso sauce – in a contained with a ‘fresh today for today’ label.  Honestly I thought this is a salad, it’s mostly green, and because I didn’t read the description properly I thought it was going to be really dull.  But there was a nice sweet with a touch of saltiness to it.  And just because I apparently was trying to eat myself into a food coma, I also had some traditional miso soup – soya bean broth with wakame, spring onion and tofu.  I was expecting a small little coffee cup style portion but this was much bigger, though the wooden spoon I was given to eat it with was a bit naff – thankfully I have cutlery at work.  I’ve had some miso soups before which have been too salty but this was nice and comforting, which on a fairly miserably day, weather wise, was welcomed.

    kaiso_seaweed_yo_sushiFood is available at the original first-outta-London Yo! Sushi in Birmingham Selfridges, which is a good excuse to go for a lunchtime shopping spree and treat yourself for lunch.  Or if you’re feeling super lazy, you have have it delivered too.  Check the website for details;

    Disclosure: I was given some complimentary dishes to try, all opinions remain my own. Except the one about Wham being great, that’s just a fact people.

    Masterclasses, Reviews

    Revolution Birmingham’s cocktail masterclass


    I was talking to someone the other day about looking back on old blog posts; one of my earliest posts was on the cocktail masterclass at Revolution Bar on Broad St, so when they mentioned that they’d revamped their and asked me to come along, I thought it would be a great chance to compare and contrast.

    To start off the class we had a Bubblegum Daiquiri which was singularly the most disco cocktail I’ve seen in a while, what with it being bright blue and in a frappe style plastic glass and garnished with flying saucers.  It was pretty sweet, as a lot of flavoured daiquiris tend to be, and whilst not something I’ve overly keen on, the sweet-toothed will no doubt adore.


    Cocktail masterclasses are those things which really work well if you’re in a group of friends, celebrating someone’s birthday or as a hen/stag do.  As a blogger you tend to get thrown together with a group of people you might or might not know, but thankfully it was a great group of girls and Paul the bartender hosting the masterclass made everyone feel relaxed and made sure we all had fun.

    Now, I used to book in cocktail masterclasses in a previous job and the question I got asked the most was “How much alcohol will we get” which always used to annoy me, because if it’s volumes of alcohol you’re after then go drink cheap spirits in a park.  If you want to get merry whilst having fun and doing an activity, then masterclasses are a great way to go.  But even if you’re not drinking they can still be a lot of fun, and during our masterclass one of the group was a little wary how much alcohol would be flowing so started off with non-alcoholic cocktails, which Revs were pretty chilled about.


    Each of us got to have a got at making a cocktail, from the well known Cosmopolitan and Mojito (or super-fruit mojito for a non-alcoholic version), through to a Guava Colada.  One of the drinks, the Blank Canvas, seems to take inspiration from the molecular mixology craze that went round a few years back; it’s essentially a Vodka Collins infused with a concoction decided on by the drinker via a pipette into the drink.


    To keep everyone engaged throughout the class there are mini challenges and after everyone has made a drink it’s time to split into teams.  The party games were similar to the last class I did, in that they were joint efforts to make cocktails, but they’d switched them up a bit and added a new one which involved a group effort, balloons and a lot of fun chaos.  They’re all a sort of good natured competition, which has a great atmosphere.

    And then to end it’s the Revolution classic; a vodka line, where shots of flavoured vodka, made from triple-distilled vodka handcrafted in Rev’s own vodka factory, are lined up and tipped, domino style, into lemonade.  It’s one of those spectacles that looks visually brilliant and is a fun way to end.


    We finished up with something to soak up the alcohol.  It’s been a while since I last ate at Revs, mainly because it’s a menu of burgers, pizza and sandwiches which is decent enough, but not really enough to make me want to wander out to the end of Broad St for it.  That said, they do a 50% off deal on Mondays which is something to remember next time I go for an impromptu Monday night cinema trip.


    Disclosure: I was invited to the masterclass free complimentary, but given it was a masterclass I think we mainly did all the hard work anyway right?

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Foodies Festival Birmingham 2016


    Planning an outdoor festival in Birmingham is pretty brave these days, particularly given the almost biblical floods we’ve been having.  But whoever organises the Foodies Festival managed to pick what might be the only sunny weekend we get this year to hold their second event in Cannon Hill Park, earlier in the month.

    This time round there felt like there were a lot more stalls, or maybe that’s just because I spent more time at them trying to hide from the sunshine like a vampire.  Like the previous festival, there were some local stalls dotted amongst the national offerings, plus a raft of Birmingham-based chefs doing demos at various stages dotted about.  I’d like to tell you I went to see some of them but they were pretty busy, although I did stop my the Appleton rum tasting, which was giving people the opportunity to try their signature blend as well as the 12 and 21 year old rums.


    Having drunk quite a lot of rum, and Appleton at that, it was nice to be reminded of the story of this Jamaican rum.  Appleton had a change up of their naming structure of their rums last year, which was a pretty sensible move as trying to explain Appleton Estate VX to people can’t have been fun; it’s now been more logically been renamed as Appleton Estate Signature Blend.  Me personally, I really like Appleton rum and in particular the Appleton 12 year old as it’s got a deeper flavour and I pick up notes of vanilla with a sort of oaky finish, which makes for a cracking rum Old Fashioned.


    I always like to see a local flavour at food festivals and there were some scattered throughout the Foodies Festival.  I stopped by Chaophraya, who have a restaurant in the Bullring, and tried some of their panang beef curry which really hit the spot in the summer sunshine.  I’ve been to a cooking class at Chaophraya and at some point I really do need to go back and check the place out properly.


    I know it’s really cliched but I had a total soft spot for macarons, and when I spotted Mademoiselle Macaron from Edinburgh I went over to check out the delicate little beauties.  They had a whole raft of flavours and I love a bit of a gimmick, so when I spotted several alcoholic macarons using drinks synonymous with Scotland I knew I had to pick up a few for later, namely Hendricks gin, Innis & Gun and Irn Bru flavours, along with a lavender one.  These were delightful, the flavour was delicate, something that’d ordinarily disappoint me, but with something like macarons they sort of have to.  I only wish they were a bit closed to Brum so I could go back for more!


    No idea what stall I spotted the above photo from, but it had a long queue, so clearly everyone was much more forgiving of their geographical illiteracy that I am.

    And to round off the day I headed over to the Appleton rum bus for a cocktail in the sunshine – or you know, desperately clinging to the shade which was more realistic in my case.  I went for the Tiki classic Mai Tai because it’s a tiki classic and the original creation was said to be developed by Trader Vic using Jamaican rum, so it would be rude not to.

    appleton_rum_bus Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary ticket to the Foodies Festival and some complimentary samples by some of the stalls, but some I bought my own. Also, was that weekend our only sun for the season, or should I buy some sunscreen?

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    Lunch at Black Lab, Kings Heath


    Usually I wait till I get home until I write up a review, think about the experience overall and uh, digest stuff. But I’m sat in the window of Black Lab, a coffee bar and lounge in Kings Heath, where I’ve been waiting for half an hour for a sandwich and if I don’t focus on something then I’m going to start eating the potted plant I’m sat next to.

    Frankly I probably should’ve expected this when I tried to go earlier and it was inexplicably closed. And then I went to do some errands and walked past and it was open.  So I went in.  It’s has this nice shabby chic look to it, a bit grungy and mismatched furniture, exposed brickwork…you know, very Kings Heath.

    The drinks menu has some nice inclusions on there, particularly the spirits menu which has about four bottles per category and not just the same old typical ones. Compared to its sister suburb Moseley and a few notable venues aside, Kings Heath feels like more of a daytime place so it seems promising to have somewhere else nice and interesting to go in the evening.

    And the coffee menu is fairly to the point, which is what I’d expect from a coffee bar and lounge. But it seems to do it a disservice because whatever they’re doing the coffee is good. I went for a soya latte and it was deliciously sweet and creamy, with a nice head of foam. In hindsight it didn’t need the sugar, but the cube I dropped in suspended nicely.  Frankly if I wasn’t so annoyed at having to wait over half an hour for a toastie I’d have ordered another.  But I’ll be dammed if I’m going to buy a second drink because it takes so long for my food to arrive.chorizo_sandwich_black_lab_kings_heath

    Initially I’d tried to order the Serrano, mozzarella and spinach toastie, only to be told it wasn’t on the menu…despite being in the actually menu I ordered from. Something about causing too many accidents, so I went for its sister version with chorizo. After an age it finally arrived and whilst it wasn’t worth the half hour wait, it was delicious. The bread had been well toasted but still retained a buoyancy that meant you didn’t fear any accidents biting into it and the ratios of  Serrano, mozzarella and spinach were spot on.

    Black Lab looks like a great little space and certainly feels a lot more Kings Heath than the odd little cafe there before. What they’re serving is very good, and diversifying a bar/lounge to be useful during the day is a sound idea, but if they’re going to do this they maybe need to rethink their approach.  Kings Heath isn’t exactly known for good places for coffee and Black Lab should probably make more of a song and dance about theirs. But they should probably buy another sandwich press too.

    Black Lab, 100 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ

    Disclosure: the sandwich, the coffee, me paying for it and the epically long wait were all real. Pretty sure they didn’t know I was writing this up.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    An afternoon at The Stable, Birmingham city centre


    It’s not often I find myself on a sunny Sunday afternoon drinking cider and making my own pizza, but that’s something I did recently after The Stable on John Bright St opened its doors for a bloggers afternoon.

    Allen Hogan from Hogan’s cider, based up the road in Alcester (at least if the 50 bus is to be believed) started the afternoon with a session talking about his company’s cider brand; he has been making cider for 30 odd years, but it has only been within the last ten that they’ve been selling to the public.  Hogan’s make what they call “authentic, fresh pressed ciders” and we started the tasting with more traditional style ciders, those slightly cloud,y still ciders which pack a bit of a punch.  I think was a bit of a shock to some of the other bloggers who were more used to the sparkling, fruity-flavoured stuff.

    After all the cider it was time to have a go at making our own pizza.  Now if I’m feeling particularly enthusiastic I’ll make my own pizza from scratch with a pretty basic dough, but at The Stable they use sourdough bases to give extra flavour.  We were given the option of adding our own toppings and I was very pleased to hear they had vegan cheese and although I didn’t go for it, others did and professed it some of the best cheese-alternative they’ve tried.


    True to form I failed to stick to any of the topping suggestions offered by their menu and freestyled it.  Which mainly means I can’t tell you what I added but it was a mix of black olives, ham, peppers and the like.  Once we’d loaded our pizzas we got to use one of the oven peels  (those things that look a bit like giant spatulas on sticks) to pick up the pizzas and transfer them to the oven.  If this had been a competition the group I was with would totally have floored everyone else with our oven peel using skills, which I’m weirdly quite proud of.


    And then it was a case of waiting for the pizzas to cook; usually the doors are closed and as we asked them to open then I began to understand why – they pack out quite a heat!  Thankfully the pizzas don’t take too long, which means that The Stable is a pretty good place to go for a quick bite and a pint – echoed by the informal banquet seating.

    Disclosure: It was a bloggers event, which should tell you that the cider and pizzas were complimentary. And we weren’t obliged to a) writer anything or b) be nice about them.


    Pig butchery and charcuterie at Loaf

    steve_rossiters_pig_butcher_cuttingOne of my most vivid memories of growing up is being about seven and sitting on the counter supervising my dad as he skinned a rabbit.  Weird right?  Now that I’m old (but certainly not grown up) I totally get that most people’s exposure to raw meat is whatever the butcher or supermarket has to offer, but my dad grew up on a farm in Ireland and had a typical no-nonsense attitude, even when they let us name the animals.

    So when I barrelled up to the fine Stirchley establishment of Loaf to check out their pork butchery and charcuterie course, I was eager to get stuck in, or, you know, supervise.  The course is run in the cookery school (next door to the shop) by charcuterie enthusiast Lap-fai Lee and starts with a butchery demonstration from Steve Rossiter, of the award-winning Rossiter’s organic butchers, which is just up the road from Loaf.


    Now I totally get that butchery makes some people squeamish, which is what took me so long to write about this.  But watching and listening to Steve explain how the half a pig is broken down is like listening to someone describe art; he talked about the animal having lines to follow about where to cut, and it’s so clear how much he respects his job and the animal he’s butchering.  It’s the sort of thing that you could totally see being a Netflix mini-series.

    And once the pig was broken down, Steve and Lap teamed up to show us how to make sausages.  After threading on the casing, it was a matter of applying the right amount of pressure and feeding through the meat, and then linking them up.  Sounds easy right?  It’s like that patting your head and rubbing your tummy only holding a slippery eel in one hand and trying to crack a safe with the other.  I think we all got there in the end, and linking sausages was definitely a bit of a group effort as it took most of us a bit of time to get the hang of it.  But if anything, it meant that a group of strangers quickly became pretty friendly…because you try talking about sausages and no one cracking a smutty joke.

    lap_cuttingAfter the sausages were made and linked, it was time to break down the meat further into usable cuts that you’d find in the supermarket.  This began with Lap showing us how to cut down some of the larger sections and then let us have a go…which meant hammering cleavers to get through bones, and slicing into a pig’s head.  I like to hope my enthusiasm for this is more TV hospital drama fan and less psychopath, but…*shrugs*.  Probably not a good time to mention we also learn some rope tying methods either, right?

    Lunch is provided and is, of course, suitably pig related.  A spaghetti carbonara cooked in front of us by Lap, with cured meats from previous courses, and of course bread from Loaf.  It’s a great chance to sit down, pick Lap’s brain about his extensive knowledge of food, curing meats, food photography and the rest (which feels a bit like talking to someone about their Mastermind specialist subject).  By this point the group has spent the morning working together to make sausages, butcher pig’s heads and it’s clear we’re all a bit keen on food, so it’s nice to just sit around and chat.


    The afternoon session of charcuterie was all about learning to cure, which is one of those things I know of but never really thought about.  And turns out it’s actually pretty simple, but also quite technical in so far as making sure you have the right type of chemicals.  And once you’ve measured the chemicals, mixed and made the sausages you have to prick them to let the air in…and queue more smutty comments.

    And with the chorizo and salami put out to dry, it was time to divvy up all the pork products produced from the day.  We were told to bring some plastic tubs with us, and I know I should’ve realised that half a pig would produce quite a lot of meat, but I wasn’t expecting to go home with quite so much.  I have a tiny freezer and by the time I took my loot home it was pretty much full of pork, except because I bagged the pork cheeks they went into a stew pretty sharpish and were amazing.

    making_sausages_groupThis is the second course I’ve done at Loaf and each time I go away inspired; they have this great way of instilling confidence and sending you off with a sack full of food, and a brain full of ideas.  Watching Steve cut down the pig was compelling, Lap is like an encyclopedia of knowledge and the course gives you to give things a go.  Realistically, given that I live in a small flat, curing my own meat might not be something I do very often, but it didn’t feel entirely beyond me.  And what it did do was inspire me to think more extensively about pork and not just buying the same things, but trying things a bit different – and not just when ordering at a restaurant.

    On the surface the courses at Loaf seem a bit pricy, but given the level of expertise of the teachers and the sheer volume of food you go home with, along with the food on the day and the arms full of knowledge, it’s well worth it.

    Disclosure: I was invited to the class, but I suspect that given I’m there so regularly they just assume I’ve moved in.

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    So you want to be a beer blogger? With Matthew Curtis


    At the risk of becoming one of those bloggers that blog about blogging (which I avoid, at least on here anyway), I’ve been mulling over this event for something stupid like six months.  Which I realise, even for me, is a ridiculously long time to leave to finish a blog post, but I’m still thinking over some of the things that were said – and more interestingly, seeing some of the cool stuff that has come from it.  But basically last year Matthew Curtis from Total Ales came to Brewdog in Birmingham to talk beer blogging, in a sort of talking about beer, and blogging, and blogging about beer.

    Neil, previously of Brewdog and now at the excellent Tilt in City Arcade, introduced the talk and what the afternoon was about – mainly about getting enthusiastic people to hear about and hopefully talk/write more about beer, and hopefully about beer in Birmingham.  And it’s totally worked – more on that later.

    Talking about blogging to non-bloggers can be really dull, I am well aware, but Matthew managed a talk which appealed to bloggers, non-bloggers and wannabe bloggers alike, which is much harder to do than you’d think.  In as much as you’re allowed to have a life-long interest in beer, he talked about where his enthusiasm for beer was really sparked, and where that journey has taken him since.  And if that sounds pretentious then it’s not meant to, but there’s so much beer stuff happening that it’s hard to see it as anything other than a journey.


    He also talked about the start of his blog, how it began as a space for his own beer musings but also how it has become part of the wider beer community, and how it led him to co-authoring beer books, writing for beer magazines, hosting beer tastings, photographing beery things and speaking and consulting.And more importantly, talked about everything it had led him to, whilst still retaining a passion for what he started doing.  And being sat in a room full of beer geeks the talk fell into a discussion about lots of exciting beers being brewed, breweries and the emerging beer scene in Birmingham.
    So why has it taken me six months to write this up?  Well there were lots of blogging related ideas that I kept coming back to, but I want to keep this blog about food and drink and Birmingham or a mix of the three and not blogging about blogging.  But if you’re a beer fan, a blogger about anything but in particular beer blogging, then I’d really recommend going to listen to Matthew speak.

    matthew_curtis_beer_writerOne of the things it did make me do was start paying more attention the beer scene in Birmingham.  I’ll readily admit that I’m more of a spirits drinker, cocktails preferably, and whilst I’ve tasted and written about beer before it was something that I knew I needed to look more at more.  Since, I have written about a beer tasting, I’ve not done much else other than pay more attention to what’s going on, but one of the things Matthew’s talk did do, was introduce me to the team behind Midlands Beer Blog, who, quite frankly, are doing a stellar job talking about the beer scene in the city – and beyond.  And sure, like a lot of things food and drink wise, Birmingham is pretty far behind other cities when it comes to beer, but things really seem to be ramping up; the aforementioned Tilt in City Arcade is awesome, the Craven Arms is also great (and not just for the name), the Birmingham Beer Bash is beer heaven, and Wildcat Tap has just opened in Stirchley.  And that’s not mentioning some of the beer stalwarts like Cotteridge Wines (brilliant, and award-winning), the Wellington, Post Office Vaults etc etc…  I’m always banging on about evolving and exciting Birmingham’s food and drinks scene is, the Birmingham beer scene feels like a massive part of that, and something well worth raising a glass to.

    Disclosure; bought my own ticket. And even if they knew I was blogging about it, they probably didn’t expect it would take this long.