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    Events, News

    Kings Heath Action For Refugees present Eat & Greet

    I’ve sort of stopped doing events notifications on here because there’s just so frigging many going on in Birmingham that I can’t keep up, but my friend is helping out with this one and it is for a really good cause.

    Eat & Greet is taking place on Saturday 20th August from midday to 5pm at the New Life Baptist Church on Kings Heath High Street (it’s pretty much opposite Asda, you can’t miss it).  It promises to be an exciting foodie experience, with contributions from some cracking local restaurants and eateries including Peel & Stone, Damascena, The Real Junk Food Project and more.  And if you fancy it, feel free to bring a dish of something delightful to share too.

    As well as some great food, there’s live music from the likes of Anna Palmer of local band Dorcha, Balsall Heath’s David Benjamin Blower and Amit Dattani.  And if you’re feeling a bit creative, there’s a craft corner – with activities for both children and adults; Paperdoll Handmade Market will be delivering a lovely crafty activity for children and for adults, the Birmingham Craftivists will be there with their subversive bunting…which is the best kind of bunting in my eyes.

    They’ve also got some great raffle prizes donated from the likes of PlayStation, Cosy Club,The Electric Cinema, Connolly’s Wines, 40 St Pauls, The Vegan Grindhouse, The Botanist, CircusMash and more.

    The whole shindig is in aid of raising money for Leros Solidarity Network, who support refugees fleeing conflict.  Leros is a small Greek island which has seen huge numbers of refugees from fleeing the brutal war in Syria.  LSN is funded purely through donations and provides critical initiatives to help provide a humanitarian response to the crisis.  There will be people from LSN, as well as volunteers who have spent time volunteering in refugee camps in Calais at Eat & Greet, but for more info on LSN head to; http://www.lsn-uk.com/

    Tickets are £5 for adults and £2 for children over five, plus you can also buy a ticket for refugee and Asylum Seekers living in the city.  To purchase tickets, head to http://www.wegottickets.com/event/363530

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Cotteridge Wines 21st Birthday

    beer_burgerOkay, so this actually happened last month, but I popped into Cotteridge Wines at the weekend and ended up joining in with a conversation about their twenty-first birthday, and made me realise I hadn’t posted this yet.  I know, I know.

    Now for some reason Cotteridge Wines does not get the recognition it deserves in Birmingham.  I mean on one hand I think this is a good thing because it means I can pop in and wander round and pick up some excellent beer, but on the other hand every time I hear about how their biggest fanbase is mainly London-located it makes me sad for Brum.  Beer people of Birmingham, you are sorely missing out; Rate Beer have awarded them the UK’s Best Bottle Shop for three consecutive years running.  My journey to get into beer has been massively improved by them; I am always impressed by how well they remember what I’ve bought before, how they’ll save you beers if you tweet them nicely and the recommendations they make when you pop in are fab.  I mean really, they’re great.

    And if that’s not enough to convince you, then the beers on tap for their 21st Birthday should.  You see it’s not just their customers that think they’re awesome, some well respected breweries in the country do too, a testament to the relationship Jaz and Kal have built up with them.  So to celebrate their 21st Birthday, a bunch of breweries offered to make some special beers to mark the occasion and Cotteridge Wines threw open the doors to their tasting room to let their customers in on the fun – and Original Patty Men were around to make sure there was something to eat.

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    I was lucky enough to bagsy a space on the Saturday evening session and above is a quick photo of the tap list for the night.  I’m still relatively new to this whole drinking beer thing but even I knew that was an impressive array.  Sadly I didn’t get to try all of them, but I started the night with Tropical Cannonball, a passionfruit IPA, by Magic Rock Brewing.  A personal favourite of the evening for me was Figgy Bastard by Mad Hatter Brewing Company, as even though this was the middle of summer the almond and fig flavours created the taste of Christmas – all I needed was a mince pie to go with it.  The Mango Lassi by Northern Alchemy was, to me, deceptively non-beery and thusly dangerously drinkable with sweet mango and cardamom flavours coming through.  I also tried Deep Breath by Cloudwater Brew Co, 21st Breakfast by Steel City Brewing and Yam Yam by Beavertown, all of which I enjoyed too.

    As well as some excellent beers, Original Patty Men were there to make sure we could get something to mop up the alcohol.  I bought a bacon cheese burger and it was glorious, as always.  Beers and burgers, what a great pairing right?

    That evening, I managed to bump into Bob (and Sarah) and Dave from the Midlands Beer Blog Collective who have written a really lovely write up of the Cotteridge Wines story to mark their 21st Birthday, so I shan’t regurgitate it here, but it’s worth a read.

    Happy (belated) 21st Birthday Cotteridge Wines, here’s to many more birthdays!

    Disclosure: I managed to bag an invite to the birthday celebrations but bought all my own beers (and burger). Any wildly improper comments about how the beers tasted are all my own, sorry.

    Breakfast and brunch, Reviews

    Review: Brunch at Giraffe, Birmingham Grand Central

    Surf's Up Sarnie Giraffe

    There are plenty of reasons why I hold brunch to high ideals: mainly because it usually befits a lie-in, but still means you get to eat all the delectable options that a proper breakfasts provides.  Frankly if I can avoid it, I don’t want to get up early on a Saturday and I still have nightmares from when a café-that-shall-remain-nameless cruelly robbed me of a sausage sandwich because it designated them breakfast foods and stopped serving after 11am.  Brunch, brunch lets you have a lie in and a fry-up and that, my friends, is a pretty good start to the day in my books.

    Recently, I met my friend Erica in Birmingham Grand Central to check out Giraffe’s brunch offerings.  I’ve eaten lunch at the one in Solihull a few times and wondered why they’d never made it to Birmingham before now, but looks like Birmingham Grand Central is a pretty good spot.  There are a bunch of Giraffe restaurants around the country and they’re a sort of light, casual dining which is family-friendly but without feeling like a crèche.

    The menu has always interested me, because I can never quite work out what they’re going for.  The dishes span a range of cuisines from Turkish bread to Tuscan meatballs, Japanese gyoza to TexMex burritos but without getting too experimental.  It’s a sort of introduction to world food without the more ‘out there’ stuff, but all from sunny climates meaning the plate usually looks fairly colourful.

    english_breakfast_giraffe

    For brunch I figured it only right and proper to try the Full Brunch, which comes with smoky bacon, herbed pork sausage, baked beans, eggs (fried or scrambled), potato wedges and sourdough toast.  As far as Full Brunches go it’s a good one, the bacon and sausage were both tasted like they were good quality and the sausage was suitably dense and meaty.  I was also pleased to see that the baked beans arrived in a separate dish, so as not to make everything else soggy.  The scrambled egg was delicious, but the presentation of them sat on top of the sourdough toast meant it was a little soft by the time I’d excavated it and this was a shame as the flavour was delicious.  The potato wedges were nice, but a little unnecessary; there was plenty of food that didn’t need bulking out by them, although mushrooms or more space for the toast would’ve been preferable.  But all in all, a good brunch.

    Erica went for the Surf’s Up Sarnie, which I half expected to be something with smoke salmon or fish fingers, but turned out to be smoky bacon, avocado, fried egg, baby gem, tomato and mustard mayo, nestled between sourdough toast.  It looked messy but Erica enjoyed it and that’s the main thing really.

    Shakshouka_giraffe_brunch

    And because one brunch dish each isn’t enough, and they’d added a few new dishes onto the menu we also tried the Shakshouka, a classic Middle Eastern breakfast dish of spicy egg and tomato which is ideal for brunch.  It’s a relatively simple one pot dish, and Giraffe’s arrives in that said one-pot, which means it is made up fresh.  And it’s delicious; sweet tomatoes, slightly spicy with baked eggs whose yolks beg to be popped by the Turkish bread its served with.  It feels like a healthier brunch option, if that’s your thing – or you can add chorizo to it, which I think would be an entirely great idea.

    By this point Erica and I had sat nattering and eating too much food, so we thought we’d try out some of the cocktails Giraffe offers.  As someone that’s drunk too many cocktails to keep count of I’m always a bit wary of places that serve cocktails as an add on, as I tend to find the technical ability isn’t always there.  We had a couple of issues with the Mango Colada that Erica ordered, but I was impressed by how the staff handled it, replacing it with no fuss.  Actually, I’d been people watching whilst we were there and the staff seemed on point the entire time, which is refreshing to see as they were very busy.

    giraffe_cocktails_tin

    Overall it was a pleasant experience, one I’d be fine to return to.  I always think the food court at Birmingham Grand Central was an odd choice, design-wise, but sat in the booth at Giraffe it feels less like a canteen and the buzz of the shoppers gives a night background hum.  Sure I’m not sure it’s somewhere you’d want to go on a date, but for a brunch with friends, food with the family or a quick bite before your train home it works and it’s handy.

    Giraffe Restaurant, Dining Terrace, Birmingham Grand Central, Birmingham, B2 4XJ.

    Disclosure: I was invited down to check out the brunch offerings and the food was complimentary but this doesn’t affect my opinion.  Previous visits to Giraffe in Solihull were paid for by my mum, as compensation for dragging me round clothes shops.

    As featured in

    Guest post for Virgin Trains

    virigntrains_fttb

    I’m a bit please about this; recently Virgin Trains got in contact and asked me if I fancied writing something to lure people to the fine city of Birmingham, and of course I was more than happy to do so.  After much debate (and excuses to go and make absolute sure how much I liked some of the places), I wrote a bit of an opus about some of the places I’d check out, food and drinks wise, if I were travelling to Birmingham.  Of course there are loads more places I missed off the list, but I’m really pleased with how this turned out.  If you want to have a read of it, here’s the link to it;

    Virgin Trains: An insider’s foodie guide to Birmingham

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Meet the brewer with Magic Rock Brewery at Tilt

    tilt_beer_birmingham

    Back in a past life, when I controlled a pub’s social media accounts, we announced that we were going to get some Magic Rock Brewery beers in as guest ales and the online enthusiasm was palpable.  I remember harassing the poor bar staff on site to tell me, and photograph, when the beer was in, racked, tapped etc.  Back then beer wasn’t something I had any interest in, but I am a sucker for nerdy enthusiasm and this was like Christmas.

    It’s largely the reason I have a bit of a soft spot for Magic Rock, and when Tilt mentioned they were doing a tap take over and meet the brewer session, I figured that my newly acquired desire to get into beer should probably go along and find out what the fuss was about.  Turns out that nerdy enthusiasm I witnessed online years ago, yeah I got to see that in real life and it was great.

    magic-rock-brew_rich_talk_tiltRichard from Magic Rock spoke about the brewery, the beers and Birmingham, but mainly answered a lot of questions.  They might be based in Huddersfield, but it was clear there was a lot of love for Magic Rock in Birmingham; people asked a lot of questions about the beers, Magic Rock’s history (they started back in 2011) and what to expect in the future.  To be honest I should probably be able to recall more of the talk, but I was mainly interested in how what had previously felt a bit like a noisy common room had gone deadly silent to listen to Richard talk.  I guess that shows how much respect people have for the brewery – and why RateBeer named they second best new brewery in the world 2012, after only being open a year.

    magic_rock_beers_tilt

    This is a terrible write up of the night because I failed to pay attention to how many beers were available, mainly because I was still a bit cautious about the whole ‘getting into beer’, but I think there were about seven.  Given my propensity to forget names, the fact that I’d remember two of the beers that everyone raved about years ago was pretty impressive and so I mainly stuck to the core range, namely the Cannonball IPA and High Wire – Magic Rock’s tribute to the pale ales of the West Coast of America.  Both a bit fruity, but fresh and delicious.  I also tried the Bearded Lady, Magic Rock’s Imperial Stout which was rich and heavy; I tasted notes of chocolate and coffee, maybe some darker fruits too, which made it feel like if you were looking for a two-in-one dessert and after-dinner drink, this would hit the spot.

    magic-rock-brew_bearded_lady_tilt Disclosure: All beer paid for either by myself or a friend (and by this I don’t mean the venue or brewery)

    Reviews, Take away

    Shawarma City, Martineau Place, Birmingham

    shawrma_wrap_fries

    Ever since I went to Qatar last year (yeah I know, how awesome was that) I’ve been on a mission to find some of the delicious foods I got to eat whilst I was out there in Birmingham.  I found Za’atar on sale at Loaf, and I’m still sad I’ve not been able to find um ali, but shawarma is pretty easy to find in Birmingham, and there’s been a couple of places I’ve stumbled across in the last few months.

    Shawarma is a style of meat preparation which is sort of rotisserie-style, think Turkish döner kebabs and Greek gyros.  You can eat the meat as is, usually with salad (my mum will be happy), or have it all neatly wrapped up in a flatbread, which is always going to be my preferred option.  Whilst in Qatar I pretty much ate what I was given and there were some delicious spreads, most likely things similar to tahini and hummus, sometimes with additional salad bits.shawarma_meal_deal

    A few months back I discovered that nestled in Martineau Place was Shawarma City, which doesn’t look like anything special from the outside – in fact it looks like the sort of lurid, neon-signed homing beacon where you’d head after a few too many drinks to soak up the alcohol.  But don’t let that put you off, there’s a reason it can get pretty packed at lunchtime.  First time round I ordered a meal deal of mixed meat shawarma, fries and a drink which is way too much food for a workday lunchtime but the shawarma was delicious.  The meat was tender and tasted fresh, probably because it doesn’t have time to hang around too long as there was a bit of a queue – I take that to be a good thing.  There are plenty of options to include salad items and spreads and I can’t remember what I went for, so I’ve not been able to recreate the first wrap, but subsequent visits have proven to be just as good.

    shawarma_fries

    Shawarma City, 15A Martineau Place, Corporation St, Birmingham B2 4UW.
    Disclosure: Paid for my own Shawarma; ate the whole thing and fries the first time round, so was also responsible for the almost-food-coma that came with it.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    A World of Gin

    bartender_lucy_pouring_martini

    So summer has finally arrived.  Sure we’re now all whinging about it, because this is Britain and we love nothing more than talking about the weather, but remember last month when there was one solitary sunny weekend which we all thought might be our only glimpse of the sun?  Well of course that would be the weekend I chose to go and find somewhere nice and cool to hide…and where better than a bank vault with gin? I mean, really, it’s perfect.

    The excellently titled A World of Gin, which described itself as “Think village fete, indoors…with gin” which feels like a fair way to describe it.  The ground floor foyer had a range of stalls with a bunch of gin stands, plus gin-cured salmon created by Andy Low’n’Slow, which sadly I did not get to try because I went rushing over from brunch and sadly there was not enough space to eat salmon and drink gin.  First world woes right?

    masons_gin

    Now as a seasoned gin drinker I’m always a bit wary of things like gin festivals because there’s always the worry that you’ll end up being surrounded by the usual suspects, and thankfully this wasn’t the case.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some gins I’m always pleased to see on a back bar, but if it’s a gin festival I want to try something new and there were plenty of options.  The Masons Yorkshire gin was a good find; it’s a pretty punchy gin which certainly lives up to not being “run of the mill” and it might divide people, but I like my gin to have flavour and this certainly does.  Masons do three versions: the original; lavender, which will be good in more floral gin drinks, which are usually a winner in my books; and Yorkshire tea edition, which is a nice nod to where this gin originates from.  According to their website you can buy Masons from Cellar Door in Sutton Coldfield, I think someone mentioned Harvey Nicholls too, but hopefully it’ll make its way into some bars in Birmingham.

    edinburgh_gin

    Another new to me gin was the range from The Edinburgh Gin, with their lovely art deco labeling.  With a nod to their homeland, this gin uses locally sourced and grown Scottish botanicals, which includes milk thistle and heather, the latter of which comes through in the taste.  Considering normal people don’t usually drink gin neat, this is surprisingly smooth and doesn’t need a lot of messing around with.  The seaside gin is pretty cool, a is a limited edition which uses ingredients found around the Scottish coast – it’s novel, but more importantly it evokes memories of the seaside, which isn’t easy to do stood in a disused bank in landlocked Birmingham.

    And it wasn’t just gin on offer either.  I stopped by 40 St Paul’s stand to check out some of their Hockley Tonic.  Now I’m convinced that most people that tell me they hate gin actually hate tonic and I don’t blame them because some of it really isn’t the way to get people to like gin.  But the Hockley Tonic stuff is superb.  It’s small batch, made by the guys from 40 St Pauls who plan to do seasonal variants and care about this stuff on a level that is impressively geeky.  In fact, it’s so nice that you could lengthen this with some sparkling water and drink it as a soft drink if you’d finished all your gin.

    gin_top_trumps_gintleman

    Another gin-related-but-not-gin find was at The Gintleman’s stall, a sort of Top Trumps for gin brands.  Just Gin, as it’s actually called, features international and award winning gins and can be played as top trumps with six categories or something called Quartet, which I am not cultured enough to know how to play; frankly I’d just buy two decks and play Snap if it were up to me.  As well as being useful for Top Trumps, the categories also give you useful information about the gins, like the botanicals used, the alcohol by volume and when it was established, as well as the perfect serve.  Come Christmas these are going to make a great stocking filler. 

    And to finish off, I headed down into the bank vault to hunt for gin.  The tricksy organisers had hidden miniatures in some of the safety deposit boxes and for any of you that have ever made your way down to the vault in the Birmingham Municipal Bank, you’ll know there’s bloody hundreds of them.  In fact, whilst several of us tried to find gin, we were luckier finding things left behind from other exhibitions, including someone’s glasses and some random postcard things…and a rather indecent cartoon, which was the best find of the session.  But there was gin, in fact I’d half expect that whoever uses the vault for the next exhibition might end up finding some lost ones.

    gin_in_the_vaultsA World of Gin is having another outing, sadly this time the London folks get all the fun, but the website suggests that there might be more in the way of fun gin-related things, so it might be worth keeping an eye out http://www.aworldofgin.com/