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Laura

    Musings

    The evolution of McDonald’s #AD

    On the very few occasions I’m allowed out of Birmingham and to another country, I have this thing about visiting McDonald’s. It has been going on for years, ever since as a teenager, we were stuck driving through France for what felt like forever and the only place we could find food was McDonald’s.  This was back when salads here weren’t a thing, but they were in McDonald’s in France. Earlier this year, in Singapore I went to McDonald’s to escape the heat at the Gardens by the Bay and discovered McDonald’s there did curly fries.  When flying to see my sister in Australia, my stepdad told me he didn’t see any McDonald’s when he visited, so we counted them all reached over 30…and then took a selfie in one to prove it.

    Told you it was a thing.

    So when McDonald’s were like, hey wanna come hear about the new stuff we’re doing you can bet I was there.  It might not be popular to admit amongst “foodies” but I respect McDonald’s; If you’ve ever been in one of their kitchens between the switch between breakfast and the main menu, you’ll know it’s a feat of choreographed engineering genius.  And I have, multiple times because I worked in one for a couple of breaks at uni.

    Things have changed quite a bit since then and I headed over to the Wigston branch to hear more.  The first thing of note is that the interiors are continuing the theme of looking a lot less 80s plastic fantastic; there’s a choice of interiors these days, so it’s out with the identikit look and in with a more modern restaurant feel.  There’s also recycling, which made me unreasonably happy – recycle kids, the planet is ace!

    My favourite of the newer additions is the self-service machines, which means if you’re having one of those days when you just want the world to leave you alone and let you wallow in your chicken nuggets, you really don’t have to talk to anyone. I know, because I’ve totally done this in the McDonald’s on the ramp in town and it works.  There’s also going to be table service, which personally feels a bit too much for me, but if you’re a parent trying to rein in a bunch of kids then this is going to make things a lot smoother. And if you’re lucky, some of them, like the Wigston branch, has a play area for kids – I’m not jealous at all.

    We also got to have a look backstage at the kitchen process, which has also changed quite a bit.  It used to be that burgers were made up in batches (and disposed of if they didn’t sell in a certain timeframe) but these days they’re made up as people order them, which makes customising your meal so much easier.  The kitchens are laid out in such a way that it reduces the time required to make up a burger, and whilst we weren’t nearly as speedy as the staff, we all had a go – and ate the results.

    As we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour, we got to quiz the staff about anything McDonald’s related that we liked.  Of course, I asked a whole bunch of questions, thus proving myself to be a giant nerd, but it was great to hear about the extent that McDonald’s go to develop their staff (I finally got a badge with stars), their work with Ronald McDonald House Charities offering accommodation for families with children in hospital, and also get some sneak peaks at some of the new burgers coming out soon.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the new-look McDonald’s roll out across Birmingham (Cherry St was closed up for refurb last time I looked, so fingers crossed), and I’m unreasonably excited about the prospect of home-delivery nuggets…

    For more information on the evolution of McDonald’s and what’s coming to local branches near you, check out: http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/ukhome/whatmakesmcdonalds.html

    Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with McDonald’s, but all rambling thoughts remain my own, as ever. By the way, the only country I’ve visited and not been to a McDonald’s in is Qatar, so if anyone fancies flying me back over…

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    First bite of Can Eat in Stirchley

    For anyone that follows me on social media, they’ll know that my Saturdays start with a trip to the bakery in Stirchley, so the conundrum of Can Eat opening posed some problems.  Well, I say that, really what I mean is that I try and fit in two breakfasts these days.

    For those who think the name sounds familiar, CANeat was previously a pop-up restaurant run by Dom, Vic and Lap in association with Loaf community bakery and cookery school back in 2013…which is my justification for the whole two breakfasts thing.  Dom has now revived the name to open a lovely little cafe in Stirchley that is so dangerously close to Bournville train station that I worry people might genuinely start getting the train to it and I’ll never get a seat in there again.

    Anyway, this isn’t a full review, just a ‘first bite’ to say how much I’ve enjoyed the few times I’ve been in there.  A preliminary visit for coffee left me pleasantly surprised to find out their non-dairy milk is oat milk (praise the gods, soya is not my favourite) and that they’re cashless, as in you pay by card…although cash tips, totally still welcome.  On second visit I had the eggs with gochujang mayo on toast…and then I had it a second time on my third visit, because it’s that good. Honestly, I’m planning on going back again soon and I’m telling myself I need to order something else, but the gochujang mayo makes me really happy…I want it on everything, even ice cream.

    I like the menu, it’s small and relatively uncomplicated with porridge, bircher and granola as well as a few toast options for breakfast and some lunch items, as well as a very well stocked cake cabinet.  Keeping it local, they serve Quarter Horse Coffee and there’s also something called a Turmeric Arnold Palmer which I totally had to look up and turns out it’s probably an iced tea and lemonade thing with turmeric…I think they’ve out-Moseleyed Moseley on that one.

    Can Eat is open Tuesday – Saturday from 7:30am – 4pm, which means I’m a little disappointed that there’s no after-work trips, but it does mean that if I speed up on my bike I could theoretically do breakfast before work.  Also, they do lunch but I haven’t gotten over the gochujang mayo to try that yet…one day.

    Can Eat, 1397 Pershore road, Stirchley High Street, Birmingham B30 2JR
    http://www.caneat.co.uk/

    Disclaimer: paid for all my visits myself. Or rather I used my magic contactless card to pay but probably should just set up a direct debit.

    Bar reviews, Reviews

    Haig Club whisky with a view at The Cube

    On the few brief glimpses of summer we get in Birmingham it’s worth either being outside in the sunshine, or my preferred option somewhere with air conditioning and a good view.  And way up high on level 25 of The Cube to check out the new Haig Club Bar isn’t too shabby a way to spend an evening.

    Haig Club, for those not in the know, is a light grain whisky launched by footballer David Beckham and produced by the titan spirits company Diageo.  It comes in a distinctive blue bottle that looks more like an oversized aftershave than whisky, but certainly makes for pretty pictures.  I once heard someone describe a dram as a ‘Breakfast Whisky’ and if I were looking for a way to describe Haig Club, this may well be it.  It’s incredibly light, easy-drinking but lacks the oomph associated with whisky, which will either disappoint drinkers or have the potential to turn them on to a spirit they thought they didn’t like.  Then again, sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit more temperate in the sunshine.

    The bar itself is nestled away in one of the corners of the top floor of the Cube.  It’s away from the bustle of main bar up there, but still has the wow-factor with the impressive views of the city whilst maintaining a sense of exclusivity.  If everyone who goes doesn’t take a photo like the one above of the cityscape in the background I’d be highly suspicious.  The shelves of Haig Club whisky lined up behind the bar also makes an impressive feature wall.


    Head barman Jack Spencer, previously of Bourne & Co and Bank, has taken helm of the bar itself and created a series of cocktails, several of which are based on fairly classic drinks, including the Ginger Julep and Clubman Apple Mule, as well as a few of his own including Berry Beauty and Pears in Paradise – and maybe a few other sneaky specials.  With such a soft spirit it going to be hard not to overpower it or create something sickly sweet and Jack manages to do a fine job of creating something that works.

    There’s also a food menu, which has been designed to highlight the flavours of the Haig Club whisky, apparently.  I’m not overly convinced by this, but it’s a decent array of tapas-style bar menu and there’s a good selection, although it seems to be fairly meat heavy, though there were some veggie options.  Highlights for me included the prawns and the chorizo and I really wanted to like the black pudding bon-bons, because hello black pudding, but I think they needed to be smaller.  I’m not overly sold on the food, it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s the main draw of the place; I think they’re more about having some snacks whilst checking out the view and having a cocktail or two.

    I don’t doubt that Birmingham is ready for a whisky bar, and I think it’s a brave move to focus one around a product which is incredibly smooth but lacks the depth that most people might associate with the spirit.  Then again with the bright lights, city lights twinkling below, perhaps it is more about starting the night than ending it, and if so a lighter-tasting whisky might be the way to go.

    Haig Club Bar, Level 25, The Cube, 196 Wharfside St, Birmingham B1 1RN

    Disclaimer: I was invited to check out the bar at a preview night where food and drinks were provided complimentary, but as ever my opinions remain my own. Also, totally stuck a reference to 50 Cent in there because I’m watching Power.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Searcy’s Balcony at Selfridges

    Cities are great, they’re great because there is always something happening, a sort of slow hum, the soundtrack of living.  And I like nothing more than to find somewhere to sit and appreciate this; I’d call it an abstract people watching if it didn’t sound so bloody pretentious.  It is, for me, one of the many reasons I like going out for dinner, because you can watch the action of the staff moving like they’re in a choreographed dance between tables, the clinking of cutlery and glasses, and the people watching, oh that’s always the best bit.  Everyone plays the guessing who’s on a first date game, right?

    And way up high in the skies of Selfridges in the Bullring is The Balcony, not an inventive name, I’ll give you that, but it does give you an indication of where it is.  I love that floor, because as my mum puts it I “have a thing for bags” and I like to covet them and daydream over a time I can justify buying a Mulberry Bayswater.  It is, at times, a floor that feels a bit like a museum but the restaurant itself is neatly tucked away in a corner and stretches out into the belly of the Bullring – but the view is not intrusive, it just adds a bit more life whilst giving a relaxed vibe.

    We start with a cocktail, because we’re on a floor of shoes and handbags and it’s probably the done thing here.  The cocktail menu is compact, nine alcoholic and two without, and the theme seems to be British summer time – lots of berries, fruits alongside gin and fizz.  The Goji Blush is made with organic goji berry liqueur, organic Virtuous vodka, lemon juice, honey, raspberries and Selfridges Prosecco; it’s a light, delicate drink, made well by the bartender and simple enough that most people should enjoy it.

    I honestly worried that the menu at The Balcony would be miniature bites aimed at ‘ladies what lunch’ but don’t actually seem to be interested in eating.  But thankfully they’re well thought out dishes that allow you to be as gluttonous or restrictive as you like.  Mains are classic dishes: braised shoulder of lamb, fish and chips, salmon fish cakes and the like.  There’s also a burger – we’ll get to that later though.  For starters my friend Jo-ann had the pea and ham terrine, which she enjoyed but said would’ve preferred less pea and more ham, though not ungenerous with the meat.  I had pesto gnocchi mainly because it has been a very long time since I’ve had it and I was surprised to see it on the menu, but it was a nice light version.

    For mains, Jo-ann had the braised shoulder of lamb, fondant potato and butternut squash purée and unsurprisingly I went for the Lake District beef and Applewood cheese burger with fries. Jo’s lamb was a good-sized portion and she said the lamb had been cooked well, the butternut squash puree added a nice summery look to what could’ve been a more wintery dish. My burger was delicious, the smokey applewood cheese gave it a lovely flavour and the bun was toasted but still pliable…all in all a very decent burger and one I’d be happy to go back for. The miniature mayo and ketchup pots were a nice touch and the fries were of a good standard.

    The Oreo cheesecake that Jo-ann had looked lovely, but also seemingly a little tough to crack through the base – I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I went for the stick toffee pudding, another classic dish on the menu, which had a lovely caramel flavour and the toffee sauce had a perfect touch of saltiness to cut through the sugar. Delightful.

    For a menu that I expected to be all a bit ‘ladies what lunch’ this was a surprise. Sure, you’re paying more because of the location and associated exclusivity, but the portions are a reasonable size and the menu is largely fairly classic, well-known dishes done well using nice ingredients. For those people who want to eat well but dislike the hectic crowds that can sometimes descend on the Bullring, the Balcony is a good place to seek refuge, if you don’t mind paying a little for it.

    The Balcony at Selfridges, Bullring, Moor Street Queensway, Birmingham B5 4BU

    Disclaimer: I was invited down, or should that be up, to the Balcony for a complimentary meal. As ever views remain my own, because lying is too much effort to remember.

    As featured in, Musings

    I was on the telly!

    Hey look, I was on the news! And no, it wasn’t because I was being arrested for something.

    I’ll admit, being in front of a camera and public speaking are two things I’m really not keen on, so I can only blame the amount of caffeine I’d had that morning for saying yes.  Because it was totally one of those days I decided not to wash my hair or put make up on, so queue me running around at lunchtime to look half-way human – and yet still I managed to pull a series of funny faces. Standard.

    But seriously, the BBC is a respected institution worldwide and I was honoured to be asked to be on the local news edition talking about The Wilderness’ new reservations policy – more interesting than it sounds, I promise! I was even more proud that my mum and her husband were impressed, and my mum spent the evening forwarding me congratulatory texts from her friends. Because being on the telly is kinda terrifying but ace, but knowing your mum is super proud is totally the best thing about it.

    Thankfully you can no longer watch me on the telly, so I will attempt to summarise some of what I said on the telly and add a bit more context.  The Wilderness has been very vocal about the amount of no-shows they’ve had at their restaurant and the impact it has on their business, so implementing a 30 – 40% deposit to secure a reservation seems entirely reasonable.  It’s an investment in a special night out and it’s not like somewhere like there can count of walk in, in the way mass mid-price chain restaurants might.  It’s not like deposits or paying up front is a new concept; Christmas parties and Valentine’s day are just two examples, not to mention that you generally pay for theatre, gig and cinema tickets up front.

    Personally, I would rather invest in a special night out and be guaranteed a table that faff about. Things like no reservations policies, paying up front and larger deposits are all a result of a small amount of people who aim to go out for dinner but have lost all sense of common courtesy and forget to cancel reservations they don’t need. Don’t be that person; cancel a booking you can’t make with as much notice as you can, restaurants are run by humans and the good ones will try and help you out if there’s a good reason you can’t make it. We all want the city’s dining experience to be a good one, so try and be one of the good ones.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Original Patty Men grilled cheese pop up

    For very little reason other than I wanted to remind myself about this filthy, gorgeous grilled cheese AND rumours have it Original Patty Men are doing another pop-up soon, I figured it might be time to blog about the OPM grilled cheese pop-up.

    Back at the beginning of March, one of the best places for burgers in the city announced that they were going to do a pop-up.  And grilled cheese pop-up, at Quarter Horse Coffee on Bristol St, at that.  I dashed out of work, power walked down and immediately ordered a braised ox cheek with pickled fennel and red Leicester cheese grilled sandwich.  I promise you, there is ox cheek in that grilled cheese, it was just oozing so much cheese you might not see it.  Lactose intolerance be damned, this was a thing of beauty and I’m glad I rushed down because the queue out the door when I left suggested there wasn’t going to be many hanging around – and indeed they sold out pretty quickly.  There was a vegetarian option, if memory serves, and whilst I have nothing against ordering the veggie option, there is no way in hell I’m ordering it if OPM are involved…that’s just madness.  The murmurs I heard from people around me who had ordered it suggested it was very good indeed.

    And because it was on sale, I had a bottle of Siren Craft’s siren Calypso, a dry hopped Berliner Weisse.  Given OPM have partnered up with Siren Craft for their Shaw’s Passage venue, it’s not surprising to see the two paired together. In my head, I’m a little wary of sour beers because I think I don’t like them, but turns out I’ve had a few now and this isn’t actually the case and I need to remember this – or check untapped before I order beer.  Anyway, Calypso and grilled cheese were a perfect match; the sourness from the beer cutting through all that oozy, melted cheese, complementing and contrasting each other superbly. Perfect.

    I totally know what the next OPM at Quarter Horse pop-up is and it’s a doozy, so you’re not going to want to miss this one (unless it means you get there before me and then there aren’t any left, then you should forget I said anything).  As ever, well worth keeping an eye on Original Patty Men’s twitter account to find out more https://twitter.com/OriginalPattyM

    Disclosure: Paid for it (and the subsequent pain from eating all that cheese whilst being lactose intolerant) all by best. So there.

    Musings, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio’s spring 17 menu tasting

    I’m not going to bore you with lots of words about how delicious the menu tastings are at The Studio, because if you’ve been reading the blog you’ll know how much I enjoy them – or you can read past menu tastings here.  But here are some pictures from the Spring 2017 menu tasting, because who doesn’t enjoy a nice excuse to look at pictures of food?!

    Also, that’s the apple and sultana strudel with custard in the first picture.

    Chicken and mushroom pie with flaky pastry and garden peas

    Chicken and Cajun sausage gumbo

    Hot smoked salmon salad with lime and chive dressing

    Salted caramel cheesecake

    Cajun belly pork with new potatoes, shallots and butterbeans

    The Studio, 7 Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP