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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Chick-fil-A pops up in Birmingham

    It is oh so very typically British of me, but I have a soft spot for a queue; it’s the anticipation, the idea that this must be good because that many people have decided to give up their time to hang around instead of going elsewhere.  I bloody loved midnight releases for Harry Potter, not just because I needed to know what happened next, but that shared excitement is dizzyingly moreish.

    So, as I stood inside The Cube, where American premium fast food group Chick-fil-A had organised a while-stop pop-up, listening to the excitement of everyone around me was addictive.  What’s more, it had a distinctly American accent.  Word had gotten out to the American ex-pat community and several groups of people had traveled the length of our fair country just to get a taste of home.  One American boy, who was probably about eight, could specifically recount the last time he’d had a Chick-fil-A sandwich, which is dedication you can’t buy.  And apparently journeying to get a Chick-fil-A meal isn’t all that uncommon; I was recounting my visit to my American friend Erica who told me she often travels and hour and a half when she’s back in the states just to visit one of their branches.

    And it turns out that it isn’t just the food that inspires loyalty amongst the Chick-fil-A fanatics.  The food and drinks industry is pretty transient by nature, people pick up part-time jobs tending bar or waitress throughout school and college.  But, as Vice President – International, Rich Matherne, told me, Chick-fil-A’s retention rate for staff who want to stay with the family is impressively high.  Their venues lead in the US average sales per restaurant, beating the likes of McDonald’s, and with a relatively small amount of money needed to become a Chick-fil-A operator, they often see staff who have come up through the ranks secure a position.  This is even more impressive because they’re quite particular with who they’ll partner with and have a high number of franchisee applicants every year.

    At the pop-up in Birmingham, the whole atmosphere has a real wholesome family feel about it, not just because they’re family-owned, but because the staff are so polite (they respond to thanks with “My pleasure”, something which Erica confirmed is a consistent thing) and they close on Sundays.  Closing on a Sunday sounds like a mad idea but in an industry where you’re at the mercy of a rota, knowing you’re guaranteed the same day off every week must be a godsend.  I know it would make it easier for me to make plans with friends and family.

    We tried their famous chicken sandwich and waffle fries.  I’ll admit, I was a bit sceptical about the waffle fries, they looked a bit light and like they may have been cooked in a rush.  Turns out, I need not have worried, they were delicious – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside but not oozing in fat.  I dipped them in the Chick-fil-A sauce that is available to dress the sandwiches, should you wish.

    Ah, the sandwich.  Ordinarily I roll my eyes at the idea that a burger is called a sandwich, but I’ll accept if from Chick-fil-A.  Their chicken sandwich doesn’t feel as heavy as a burger, and whilst it’s a chicken breast lightly spiced and fried, and encased in a bread bun with two (or three) pickles, that’s it.  There’s none of the extra faff that usually comes with a burger and it’s up to the diner to decide if they want to add sauce or not.  I’m what Rich called a ‘purist’, because although I did try the sauce and ended up using it for my fries, the sandwich was good enough that I didn’t need to add the sauce to it.  The food really doesn’t have the same run-of-the-mill fast food feel; the chicken breast is actually chicken, the fries aren’t overly greasy. As Rich puts it, it’s the kind of food mum’s don’t mind buying for their kids and I can totally see that, I’m pretty sure it would be the kind of place I could convince my mum to eat at.

    In the interests of science, I had a second chicken sandwich that had remained wrapped in the insulated bag and it did indeed remain fresh.  Rich mentioned that they’re often told stories about how some people who drive a distance to get their burgers actually like them at a cooler temperature and I could understand that – the flavours subtly changed when it was slightly cooler but worked just as well.  Had they been two burgers, I’d probably have needed to crash out on the floor, but the lightness of the sandwiches meant that I was definitely full but it didn’t feel like weighed down by it.

    Chick-fil-A haven’t decided where they’re opening outside the US, but they’re doing their research thoroughly, and they’re being supported by their friends who dropped in for food and to pose with the ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ mascot.  And if I needed any more convincing of the affection customers have for Chick-fil-A then the amount of adults who wanted their photo taken with the cow would’ve swung it – I think they might’ve been in equal measure with the children.

    I’m just hoping I’m not going to be like that little boy and have to wait two more years for another Chick-fil-A sandwich – fingers crossed they make it across the pond soon.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Jiyaan, Solihull

    My mum has a favourite curry house, I know this and if you’ve been reading the blog for a while you’ll know too, because she once told me how poor she found the curry houses in some bit of Wales I’ve never been to but seems to have some significance.  But, turns out my mum doesn’t like to go to the same curry house too often, so she’s been looking for an alternate place to go.  This exploration has had varying levels of success, and she’s probably overdoing it by going to India on holiday, but when I got an email asking me to check out a curry house in Solihull, I knew I had to go and take my mum with me.

    Jiyaan is an upmarket curry house at the end of the of the High St in Solihull, overlooking St Alphege Church.  Despite many trips to Solihull shopping, I’ve never noticed it because there’s not a lot to take me down that way, but when you do it feels like much more of a charming town centre than a place to go shopping when I can’t face Birmingham city centre.  With it’s own entrance and modern but comfortable surroundings, it’s easy to forget that Jiyaan is part of the Ramada Solihull, something you only really notice if you need to go to the toilet.  The short section of the hotel I saw walking to and from the toilet made it feel a little dated, but Jiyaan has a lovely freshness to it with proper table clothes and napkins and bottles of water already on the tables.

    Typically mum and I go for a sharing platter when we go out for dinner, so we ordered the Jiyaan sharing platter made up of chicken tikka, lamb & mint seekh kebab, aloo tikka and paneer tikka.  The chicken tikka was delightfully spiced and the seekh kebab light, yet still moist, and certainly one of the better ones I’ve had.  It was, if I’m honest, probably a bit much for two people with the generous slice of paneer and the potato.  We ended up leaving a large amount of both of these, not because it was bad, it was really very lovely, but the paneer did seem a bit lost and we’d never had had room for mains if we kept going.

    And scoff all you like but I went for Chicken Tikka Masala for main, because I fancied it and also because I think it can be a dish that can often be mishandled if the chef isn’t good.  Thankfully this was not the case and the rich tomato sauce wasn’t too exorbitant but felt well balanced but still very much a chicken tikka masala.  Mum had the King Prawn Gassi, something she’s not tried before; a Mangalorean style dish of king prawns cooked with coconut milk and spices.  I worried it would be too rich but my mum was incredibly impressed, and the king prawns were certainly big and juicy.  It’s something she commented she wants to go back for again.

    Frankly by this point we were both a bit stuffed but I thought it would be rude not to try dessert.  Given how well Jiyaan had done with the previous dishes, I wanted to see what their take on a traditional Indian dessert would be like.  Ordinarily I struggle a bit with Gulab Jamun; I know it’s a dumpling and supposed to be heavy but the denseness of them and the sugary rose syrup is often too sickly for me.  But Jiyaan continued the theme of fresh and light dishes with Gulab Jamun that was light and springy and a scoop of ice cream which cut through, calming any of the sweetness that threatened to overpower.

    I was incredibly impressed with Jiyaan.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from there, given its location on the outskirts of Solihull town centre, a place awash with chain restaurants, and itself being part of a hotel, but it felt like the kind of place I would happily go back to.  The waiting staff were incredibly attentive to all of the guests in the dining room and happy to make some excellent suggestions.  We’re certainly not suffering for lack of curry houses in Birmingham and Solihull, that’s for sure, but Jiyaan’s well executed food, friendly staff and convenient location makes it somewhere I will be back to.

    The Jiyaan Restaurant, The Square, Solihull B91 3RF. http://jiyaanrestaurant.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited for a complimentary meal in exchange for my opinion, but as ever it didn’t alter my opinion. If you don’t believe me, ask my mum, she takes her curry very seriously.

    Musings, Round ups

    International Women’s Day 2017

    FAIRY

    I know, on the face of it, International Women’s Day might not have a lot to do with the food and drink scene in a city in England.  However, for anyone who has been paying attention you will have noticed that it’s a bit of a sausage fest, and most of the well known names are distinctly male.  So I figured today was a good day to celebrate some badass women doing cool stuff in Birmingham – apologies to all those who I missed off the list, I ran out of time!

    Amy Seton and Victoria Osgood, Whisky Birmingham festival and Birmingham Whisky Club

    Whisky has this reputation for being a bit of an old man’s drink so if you’re young and female then you expect a bit of confusion when you turn up to whisky events.  But imagine being a woman and the organisers of the best whisky festival in the city and a whole raft of great whisky events too?  Yeah, that is not going to be the easiest thing ever, but Amy and Vicky know their stuff and put on some great events highlighting some great whiskies from around the world with some top-notch speakers. http://thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/

     Holly Jackson, Carters of Moseley

    I’ve been lucky enough to visit Carter’s a few times over the years and whilst there is no doubt about how fantastic the food is, that Michelin star was well deserved; but it was the relaxed, friendly but entirely on point service that drew me back in.  And for that, Maitre d’ and proprietor Holly must be congratulated.  Thank you for creating a place that feels like a real treat, but somewhere you can relax and not feel like you’re being observed like a specimen in a lab. http://cartersofmoseley.co.uk/

    Imogen Hudson, Jen Smith, Holly Smith and Jen Nadin (Cherry Reds). Picture, used with permission, by Jas Sansi

    Jen Nadin, Cherry Reds

    I bloody love Cherry Reds. This will come as no surprise to anyone who interacts with me on social media; it’s often my most recommended place because it covers nearly all dietary requirements without making a song and dance about it, has a great beer selection and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.  And no one minds when you order tea and cake on a Friday night.  Jen is the brains behind Cherry Reds and for that I salute her. http://www.cherryreds.com/

    Marverine Cole aka Beer Beauty

    Marverine is Birmingham’s first Beer Sommelier, as accredited by the UK Beer Academy, in another industry typically associated with men.  As well as winning award for her beer videos, she has appeared on a bunch of TV shows promoting Britain’s national drink. http://www.marverinecole.co.uk/beer-expert.html

    Martha and Molly, Loaf

    I think all the staff at Loaf are great but special mention to Martha and Molly who put up with me every Saturday morning after I’ve rolled out of bed and headed to Loaf, pre-coffee and still half asleep.  As well as starting my day with one of their delicious croissants, a quick chat with them is a great start to the day. http://loafonline.co.uk/

    Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaroon, promotional photo

    Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaron

    Rosie trained as a high-end pastry chef at University College Birmingham and worked at the Michelin-starred Purnell’s restaurant before founding Miss Macaroon.  As well as making these sweet treats, they provide employment and training programmes aimed at young people who have left care, slipped through the education system or find themselves homeless. https://missmacaroon.co.uk/

    Kaye Winwood

    If you’ve been to any slightly out there events in Birmingham that fuse food and art together, chances are that Kaye has been behind them.  From her work with Companis through to last year’s Diabolical Roses and the upcoming Expanded Intimacy, Kaye has been producing immersive dining experiences, which are a highlight in Birmingham’s calendar. http://kayewinwood.com/

    Opus Restaurant Irene Allen, photo used with permission

    Irene Allen, Opus

    Director of Opus on Cornwall St and Bar Opus in Two Snowhill, Irene and her team have been doing some stellar work supporting young people in the hospitality trade with their links with University College Birmingham and their commitment to sustainability.  And their prix fixe menu is a really good deal. http://www.opusrestaurant.co.uk/

    Pip, Pip’s Hot Sauce

    I recently marinated some chicken in Pip’s BBQ sauce and it was bloody delicious, which is hardly surprising as Pip’s sauce has a cult following in the city.  Often found manning her own stall at various markets in the city, Pip’s Hot Sauce is made in small batches and can even be made up as wedding favours, which sounds like a superb idea. http://www.pipshotsauce.co.uk/

    Katie Rouse of Crushed & Cubed

    Katie has spent a good deal of time making sure that Birmingham’s independent scene has some decent drinks.  As a bartender she has been seen slinging cocktails behind bars at The Victoria, Jekyll & Hyde and The Botanist. But taking the step up, she’s currently managing director of Crushed & Cubed, making sure that there are some interesting bottles on the city’s independent back bars so we punters have something good to drink. https://twitter.com/CrushedandCubed

    Happy International Women’s Day ladies (and gents) – lets raise a glass to those women making Birmingham great!

    Bar reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, Jewellery Quarter

    indian_brewery_company

    I’ll accept a lot of things in the name of good food and drink, after all we’re only human we all have crap days, but it’s kind of hard to forgive a place built for beer that does it badly.  Anyone familiar with the Taj Mahal will be aware that an emperor built a palace in memory of his favourite wife he loved her that much.  In my head, this is the kind of thinking that goes into building a tap house; a brewery is so proud of their beers they build a living shrine to it.  You’ve lovingly crafted this liquid nectar, it’s going to be super fresh and if anyone is going to treat it right, baby it’s you.

    Sadly not.

    Recently, I went to the Indian Brewery Company’s tap house, newly housed in the old Brewsmith’s building.  It was a Thursday night, and understandably busy, but the place cramped and the music felt intrusively loud; there is very little space to stand if the lines of bench-style seating are taken, and the place full of men in suits.  I’m not complaining about the suits, having already attracted the locals is a good thing, but cramming up by the door because there’s nowhere to stand isn’t fun.

    Understandably, the bar takes up one side of the venue and Indian Brewery Snowhill’s beers make up the bulk of the offerings, with cans of Birmingham Lager used to decorate; a nice touch without looking too gimmicky.  There are several shelves of spirits and I saw a few people drinking wine; nice to see they’re catering for the non-beer drinkers too.  On my visit, there were lone cans of beer from Magic Rock and Evil Twin, on a shelf which would’ve been fine except they were served straight from that shelf, and unlikely to be at the correct temperature.  Call me dramatic, but that feels to me like a disrespectful way to treat other breweries beers, in somewhere that ought to know better.

    chicken_tikka_roti

    I’d like to be able to tell you that the can debacle was just a mistake, but when I was given a glass of Peacock, their take on an English style bitter, things just seem to get worse.  To me, and the two people with me, it did not smell right and it didn’t taste much better either.  The aroma was what caused me to google “why does my beer smell like pond water” because I could smell sulphur, and that’s not what I want to smell in my beer if it puts me off drinking. The reaction I got from the member of staff I complained to was a lesson in how not to do customer service and when he grudgingly replaced it, I realised the IPA he’d given me didn’t feel like it was being served at the right temperature either. My third drink there was a Diet Coke.

    And of the food. My chicken tikka roti was nice, the chicken tender and flavoursome but nothing particularly special, disappointing in a city like Birmingham where Indian food is ten-a-penny.  My masala fries arrived cold, and had to be sent back, replaced, this time, without much hassle.  As far as fries go they were alright, but I suspect others might find the heat of rather generous masala seasoning a bit overkill, as did one of my dining companions.  The fish and chips, and chicken wings enjoyed by my friends well received, the sauce on the chicken wings in particular, and something I’d be keen to try.

    fish_and_fries

    I really wanted to like the Indian Brewery Snowhill; a quirky little independent rising from the ashes of another fallen indie café, pushing forward the Birmingham beer scene and giving us somewhere exciting to go for food and drink.  This wasn’t my experience, but rather than leave me disappointed, I was angry.  I can forgive one mistake, but I had beer that didn’t taste right, poor customer service and cold fries.  I guess bad things do come in threes.

    I might go back for food, those wings looked good, but I won’t be back for beer. I’d rather go down the road or visit some of the cities award winning bottle shops and head for the Balti Triangle.  I can only hope that I witnessed a blip, but frankly there’s enough places selling better beer that finding out is likely to be low on my list.

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, 214 Livery St, Birmingham B3 1EU. http://www.indianbrewery.com/snowhill

    Disclosure: I paid for this myself. Well except one beer, which a friend bought, and reminds me, I owe him a drink.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Butchers Social, Henley-in-Arden

    salted_caramel_chicken_wings_butchers_social

    I’m totally going to blame jet lag for not remembering Butchers Social when my mum suggested lunch in Henley-in-Arden recently. Not the sort of jet lag that makes you wake up at 4am; I mean the jet lag that affects those of us with a love of good food, whose circadian rhythm may be back on track but whose stomach still yearns for the food of their holiday destination. My head knew it was lunchtime, but my heart wanted the glorious burgers of Melbourne or £3.50 plates of Michelin-starred noodles from Singapore.  Failing that, Mum lured me to Henley with the promise of ice cream, but then we found Butchers Social.

    For those that missed the first iteration, Butchers Social began as a pop-up in an old butcher’s shop on Harborne High St, which stuck around longer than I think anyone expected but everyone was thankful that they did.  Whilst a fairly extensive refurb has happened and in its place, reopening as Harborne Kitchen, the dream of Butchers Social and those wings didn’t go away…it just moved to the town of Henley-in-Arden.  Which is technically a small town in Warwickshire, and on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon, but with its B95 postcode, it totally counts as one of ours still.

    Henley-in-Arden always seems like the kind of place that’s build for proper english summers, perhaps because the only time I seem to go is for ice cream and there is precious little on what I expect is the high street. There are, though, lots of places to eat; a collection of cafes, the well-respected though relatively new Cheal’s and a bunch of pubs I never remember then name of but are pleasant.  Having exhausted the charity shops, including one that seemed to be selling clothes at full retail value, Mum and I went in search of lunch.  For anyone that ever doubted the legitimacy of A-boards as advertising, let me tell you, it was the one outside Butchers Social that made me realise where we were.  Okay sure I was trying to take a photo of the funny sign about coffee, but it worked and we went in.

    lobster_salad

    I’d be lying if I told you I had any plans to order from the main menu because it was clearly always going to be about the chicken wings, after all it’s what Butchers Social is famous for, round these parts.  Because my tastebuds beat my sense of reasoning I ordered the soy, ginger and spring onion chicken wings, and of course had to have the salted caramel wings too.  Two portions of wings totalling 1kg is a bit extreme, this was clear madness on my part and why I ended up going home with a doggy bag.  I know everyone bangs on about the salted caramel wings and they were delicious, but I found them kinda sickly after a while – I would totally order them again but with someone who would help me out by sharing the dish, although having them cold the next day was a winner.  The soy, ginger and spring onion chicken wings are probably the best wings I think I’ve ever eaten and I really like fried chicken.  The salty yet slightly sour earthiness of the soy sauce and crispness of the skin was superb.  I am struggling to convey how much I enjoyed those wings, just know they were fantastic.

    My mum had the lobster salad which was on the specials too, and her exact words were “well, this is delightful” which I take to be a very good sign because, for as much as my mum likes salads, I’ve never heard her call one delightful before.  I tried a bit and I can see why.  Lobster rarely appeals to me because it always seems like an unnecessary faff and whilst playing with your food can be fun, if I wanted to work this hard for my dinner I’d bother to cook, but this was indeed delightful, light and not at all messy. Unlike my wings, though thankfully a bowl of wet wipes are provided so you can make a mess safe in the knowledge you’ll be able to clean up after.

    soya_ginger_chicken_wings_butchers_socialA final note about the service, which was attentive and friendly.  I’d totally missed the bit about chicken wings being half-price on Saturdays in January, but we were reminded and this was after I’d ordered myself two portions, so probably good they didn’t tell me before.  That said, they would’ve been a good deal at full price…and certainly enough to lure me back to Henley-in-Arden, which is turns out is only about a half hour train ride away from Birmingham city centre.  Which is nothing, not for wings like these. Go, go now, and take me with you.  Or bring me some wings back.

    And I still got my ice cream.

    Butchers Social, 97 High St, Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, B95 5AT

    Disclaimer: Food was provided by the venue which my mother paid, in full, for everything because she is awesome. I left a tip, because I try. Also, that lack of apostrophe, I’m just going with what they do.

    As seen in

    Featured in Sainsbury’s Magazine

    Guess who was asked to write something for Sainsbury’s Magazine?  Yep, little old me!  You know me, any excuse to talk about the food (and drink) scene in the city and especially when it’s in a national publication – and one I actually read, usually on the bus home when I’m trying to balance all my shopping.

    I could only pick four places, so I picked the ones that I think are pretty cool – and might appeal to fellow Sainsbury’s Magazine readers.  If you’d like to read the column, the nice people at Sainsbury’s Magazine have handily added it online.  If you’d like to read more about the places I mentioned, I’ve popped some links to my blog posts below;

    • Rofuto I haven’t written up my food experience, I think the photos got lost in the great tech fail of 2016, but I’m heading back soon so will link then – though here are my first look photos.
    • Gas Street Social I’ve been to a few times – here’s one on their brunch and some festive cocktails.
    • Original Patty Men, obviously they’re my favourite place in Birmingham for burgers.  But I also managed to get a mention of The Meat Shack who I also think are ace, I’m just sad they don’t have their own bricks and mortar place I can head to for burgers!
    • The Edgbaston’s afternoon tea, which is lush, whether it’s Christmas or the standard variety.

    Another fun surprise from the article was when my friend spotted a mention of it on TripAdvisor, as the reason someone went to Gas St Social.  Probably time to stop thinking the only person that reads the blog is my mum.

    sainsburys_rec

    Afternoon tea, Reviews

    A festive trip to The Edgbaston

    My friend’s birthday is two days before Christmas and we seem to have a traditional celebration of afternoon tea; last year we went to Leamington Spa, the year before Stratford-upon-Avon. But the end of this year has been a bit rubbish for both of us so we wanted to stay local, but still enjoy something fantastically indulgent.  I’ve already written about my experience of afternoon tea at The Edgbaston so when they could fit us in, I knew we’d be in for a great afternoon. And The Edgbaston didn’t disappoint!

    The above picture is of the amuse bouche is a suitably festive with Irish whisky and chocolate cream with shortbread and the table was dowsed with smoke that smelled like Christmas.  I’ve been to enough afternoon tea and a few festive ones to know that everyone tries to add an extra sparkle at Christmas but the Edgbaston’s afternoon tea nails it.  The afternoon tea itself had hints of festivity with turkey sandwiches and smoked salmon, snowflakes and mince pies.  It was even better than last time, the desserts are wonderfully delicate and the scones are a delight.

    Edgbaston_winter_afternoon_teaAnd then I may have convinced Beccy we should also enjoy some cocktails, tis the season and all.  These were two cocktails from their festive Christmas menu and I’m not sure if they’re on the menu anymore.  Mine was the short, whisky cocktail with mince pie flavours – and a mince pie garnish. Lovely stuff.  We also had a second cocktail each and I went for my favourite drink at The Edgbaston, the Clover Club 3000.
    Disclosure: We paid for our own afternoon teas and cocktails…I mean really, who needs birthday cake when you can have afternoon tea?!