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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Birmingham Cocktail Weekend 2016 (sort of)

    BCW16_lostandfound_bartender_pouringYou know what’s worse than being poorly-sick?  Being poorly-sick, but well enough to leave your sofa/sick bed, but not well enough to eat or drink anything interesting…AND the city simultaneously hosting a vegan beer festival AND the second Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

    However, I did manage to get to some of the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend before I was back to not being able to consume anything more exciting than flat cola, soya lattes and beige foods.  I started by picking up my wrist band at the Jim Beam hub hosted by Island Bar and said a quick hello to Joe and Luke who were there from Jim Beam.  Sadly I had to decline trying the Jim Beam Apple because I definitely wasn’t up for neat spirits.  Someone tell me what it’s like, because apple isn’t something I’d immediately think of with whisky and so I’m really curious.

    jim_beam_range

    My first stop as a Birmingham Cocktail Weekender was actually to something that I’m not convinced was officially part of BCW as it wasn’t taking part in the £4 cocktails, but was no doubt popping up for the occasion.  The yet-to-be-named Langley’s Gin bar which is coming to the Great Western Arcade sometime soon held a pop up bar outside the build works for their new venue – something we’ve all been looking forward to for some time (hence why the boards read “Birmingham’s worst kept secret”).  I had some gin, naturally, because it’s medicinal right?  My friends and I then headed to Bistro 1847 and had their signature serve for the BCW, but I figured better pace myself.

    Next up a bunch of us headed to Lost & Found to the not-so-secret bar behind the bookcase.  Gin is ridiculously popular at the moment, there’s no doubting that, and Lost & Found seemed to be doing something with Sipsmith, although for me (and checked with others in case my tastebuds were still home poorly) this just tasted of sweet lemon to me.  Which for a lot of people would probably have be fine, I just like a bit more nuance to my cocktails.ed_langleys_pour

    Our plan was to head to Bureau next to try out their Birmingham Cocktail Weekend signature drink, but apparently their doorman is still living in the 90s and refused us entry because several of the group were wearing trainers – kinda ridiculous considering how many offices in the Colmore area now operate a dress-down Friday policy.  And in case you think it’s just that I hang around with a bunch of deviants (I do), we bumped into a group of 12 who were also denied entry for the same reason.  Oh well, Bureau’s loss was Chung Ying Central’s gain.

    Our final stop of the night then was at Chung Ying Central, who’s cocktail was another gin one; Flamingo Island, again sweet but with enough watermelon kick that it contrasted well with the salt and chilli chicken wings that I had there for dinner.  Sadly, after a few drinks on Friday, whatever had struck me down for the rest of the week returned and I decided to call it a night on the rest of the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

    chung-ying-central_chicken-wings

    With somewhere in the region of 3000 wristbands sold and thirty venues taking part, Birmingham Cocktail Weekend is an impressive undertaking and the organisers should be proud; organising a multi-site event with lots of potential logistical nightmares is not easy, I know, and I’m really pleased to see the continuation of the festival for a second year – and hopefully a third, fourth etc.  There are some problems which do need ironing out, like the lack of mention of dress codes for certain establishments and some notable names missing from the list, but overall BCW seems to achieve what it sets out to do – showcase cocktails to the Birmingham masses.

    If there is to be another Birmingham Cocktail Weekend, I hope there will be a continued, if not heavier, focus on the things that make up a great cocktail – the ingredients, the brands, the expertise, the bartenders, the stories and mythologies.  Some bars seemed to revel in the challenge of a signature £4 cocktail, whilst others played it safe – and by safe I mean overly sweet.  £4 cocktails tend to be the low cost, knock them out quickly sort of drink and with a heightened exposure like BCW then it’s easy to see why some bars go for this option, but next year can we have less sugar syrup and a bit more imagination please?  It would also be nice to see some events for bars and venues who don’t generally serve high-volumes of drinks, perhaps in the form of some fringe events.

    Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing Birmingham Cocktail Weekend 2017!

    Disclosure: I was given a complimentary wristband but paid for all food and drink myself…as ever all views remain my own. Not the germs though, they’re free to whoever wants them.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Colmore Food Festival 2016

    seekasaurus_brownies_dinosaur

    Food, drink, adventures and dinosaurs…these are a few of my favourite things.  Or, you know, would be if I were in the Sound of Music.  But as if I needed any more excuse to go to this year’s Colmore Food Festival, this year there were dinosaurs! Or the superb Seekasaurus had hidden some mini dinos as some of the stalls.  Which is an excellent excuse to visit more stalls that I’d initially intended.  Good work Seekasaurus, good work.

    beer_pie_wellington

    After having been to the Colmore Food Festival in 2015 (and judged an award) and 2014, I have now developed an excellent plan to get the best out of it – minimal dinner the night before, light breakfast and no elevenses so by lunchtime I’m ready to eat.  Seriously, there’s always so many good things on offer at the Colmore Food Festival that a proper meal plan is in order – where else are you going to be able to pay £4 for a dish prepared by a Michelin-starred restaurant?!  That’s the beauty of the Festival, it seems like nearly all the food and drink establishments in the Colmore Business District get involved, everyone from independent and chain coffee shops to real ale pubs, Michelin-starred and fine dining restaurants, bakeries, cocktail bars and so much more.  And because it’s all organised by the Colmore Business District BID people it runs over a Friday, meaning those of us who work in the area can pop out for an tasty lunch and after-work treat, through to Saturday for families – and it’s free entry, and conveniently located slap bang in the middle of Victoria Square, outside the Council House.

    opus_cbdfoodfest16First up I visited Nosh & Quaff for some of their chicken wings in a smoked butter and habanero sauce.  I remain a bit mixed on my feelings towards these because the wings themselves were great; the batter remained crispy whilst slathered in a sauce which, frankly, got to be too much for me.  I get it wings are messy and they sure were, but it would’ve been better if the sauce was on the side more so for flavour than anything.  Then it was off to Opus on Cornwall St for fishcake and poached egg which was deliciously light and flavoursome, with a positively oozy egg yolk, definitely a winner.  For lunch-pudding, I picked up some salted caramel macarons from Miss Macaron which were supposed to wait until late afternoon, but realistically lasted until I got back to the office…which is about five minutes after leaving the festival.

    miss_macaroon_macarons copy

    This time round I split my time and headed back to the Festival for a spot of post-work, start-of-the-weekend dinner.  I headed straight to the Jekyll & Hyde stall for a spot of their punch and some lamb biryani from Ashas, which was also delicious – and worth all the good comments on social media. I’d heard a few people mention how good the scotch eggs from Jake’s Coffee Box were – and I’d heard they had a Seekasaurus, so I went off to try one of these.  I wasn’t quite expecting the scotch egg to be quite so big (seriously, it was a meal in itself) but it was delicious.  I may also have yelped in delight at the sight of the little mini dinosaur…hence the first photo.

    jakes_coffee_shop_scotch_egg

    After some serious Seekaraurus searching with Viv and Ryan (aka Brummie Gourmand), it was time for a final cocktail (or maybe it was really pudding, I’m not sure how you’d describe this); a frozen strawberry daiquiri from Ginger’s Bar, but it was deliciously boozy and a great way to end the festival.

    strawberry_daiquiri_gingers

    Disclosure: I paid for everything myself, apart from the daiquiri which was a treat from Ryan and Viv. I also left all the dinosaurs behind for others to find, because I’m charitable like that.

    As seen in, Musings

    Flavours of summer in Birmingham

    Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 21.48.40

    Quick one from me, as I’m a bit poorly at the moment, but I wrote something for the nice folks at OpenTable on a few places to find the flavours of summer in Birmingham…given the weather has been a bit rubbish recently (although I hear it’s getting sunnier next week) it felt like an apt thing to write about!

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: El Borracho de Oro

    el_borracho_de_oro_sangria

    One of the rubbish things about growing up is the absolute bloody nightmare that is present shopping.  I mean this of course for other people, because I am a simple soul and the only thing I ever want more of, other than food, is books and my mother has put her foot down.  In fact that whole simple soul thing is hereditary and present shopping for my mum is so problematic that I’ve taken to buying her tickets as gifts but there’s only so many times luck will be on my side, theatre wise.

    Going for nice meals, though, that’s something my mum and I both agree on – I get tasty food, mum gets to people watch.  So when the nice folks at OpenTable asked me to check out their gift card option, I thought it would be a great dry run for present season later in the year.  Of course my mum would’ve been the obvious dining companion, but she was on holiday, so I took my friend Andrew.

    Naturally we booked through OpenTable, which is both handy and stops me worrying that even though I’ve called the restaurant and they’ve repeated my booking back to me somehow one of us will get the wrong date.  OpenTable send you an email, and then a reminder, which makes anxious types like me a lot happier.  If you’re buying someone the gift card (which you can buy here) then you have the option to send them the voucher direct – with a nice message from yourself, and they can then go to OpenTable and book a time/date that suits them.

    el_borracho_selection

    We arrived around 7pm which is probably a touch early for most people to eat dinner on a Friday night, but meant we got our pick of tables and naturally I went for one with the best view of the restaurant – I am my mother’s daughter after all.  Even at this time it had a nice relaxed atmosphere, and by 8pm the place was full and buzzing, yet the excellent service remained constant.

    El Borracho de Oro has a lovely, relaxed Spanish vibe to the place; terracotta, tiles and lots of yellow and orange hues, without feeling gimmicky…a themed restaurant, without feeling themed, if that makes any sense.

    To start Andrew had a pint of Estrella Damm, a lager brewed in Spain, and I went for red wine Sangria, mainly because I’ve had it at El Borracho de Oro before and it’s delightful.  Forget the cheap crap you get on holiday which needs diluting, El Borracho’s sangria has a lovely honey-like sweetness with a cheerful red wine flavour and none of the alcoholic burn you get with bad wine.  I like it so much had had two…or three.

    beef_cheeks_el_borracho

    We ordered a raft of tapas to share, because that’s the fun of tapas, although I remain terrible at photographing it.  Some dishes we ordered are, in my mind, tapas staples including jamón croquetas (ham croquettes), albondigas (pork & beef meatballs) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes) with spicy tomato sauce and alioli.  The meatballs were a good balance of pork and beef, being meaty without being too dense or tough, and the ham croquettes were crunchy on the outside and melt in the mouth smooth on the inside.  I was a little disappointed by the patatas bravas which arrived in a gimmicky frying baskets; I would’ve liked them to be chunkier but they tasted fine.  The spicy tomato sauce they arrived with was a bit too much for both me and Andrew, definitely higher on the hot-spicy scale than I’d have expected.

    The other dishes we ordered included beef cheek with shallots and mushroom sauce, fried fresh whole whitebait and roasted piquillo pepper stuffed with mushroom, wild spinach and manchego cheese.  The beef cheek was an absolute delight, it cut like butter and paired superbly with the mushroom sauce.  Equally good were the fried whitebait; El Borracho de Oro had sourced good sized fish which retained a delicate flavour and a light, yet right, amount of batter – I could happily eat a bowlful as a snack.

    churros_el_borracho

    Pudding was a tricky decision, in the end we went for churros and almond cake.  The churros were great, light and somehow simultaneously crispy and chewy without being stodgy – I didn’t try the chocolate sauce that went with it, but I hear it was pretty good.  The almond cake was also spot on, full of flavour, moist without being soggy, and worked well with the coulis and ice cream.

    And then it was time to try out the OpenTable gift card.  I always hate this bit because I’m worried the restaurant will have no idea what you’re on about, but after clicking the link in the email to the card it was a case of showing it to the member of staff and things were done and dusted, and I was free to enjoy my (third) glass of sangria and head off home, happy and full of food.

    www.opentable.co.uk

    Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with OpenTable, El Borracho de Oro didn’t know I was there to blog about it and as ever views remain my own. Ps don’t tell my mum otherwise she’ll know what she’s getting for her birthday.

    Reviews, Take away

    Yo! Sushi’s ‘Tokyo to Go’ range

    yo_sushi_salmon_chirashi

    “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.

    Yo_sushi_tokyo_to_go

    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; http://yosushi.com/yo-to-go

    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

    enjoy_frappe_blue_cocktail

    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.

    mixing_mojitos

    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.

    pipette_cocktails

    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.

    proud_cocktail

    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.

    vodka_bombs

    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.

    revolutions_food

    http://www.revolution-bars.co.uk/cocktail-masterclass/

    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

    Foodies_festival_vans

    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.

    appleton_tasting

    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.

    chaophraya

    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.

    macaron_madamemoiselle

    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!

    oops_birmingham

    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?