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Laura

    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.

    Drinks, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Beer and burgers with Byron

    Recently I went cycling for the first time since I were a kid and I’m pretty sure the only reason I made it home was because we stopped for burgers before heading back.  Thus reinforcing my idea that burgers are life.  And if burgers are life, then beer is burger’s natural life partner.

    So when Byron were like, come check out our new craft beer menu and tell us how you’d pair the burgers, I was all over this.  Anyone that followed my Melbourne food adventures will know that I have a soft spot for bacon cheeseburgers, and BBQ sauce is my favourite of the sauces (although garlic mayo comes a close second).  So naturally I was going to go for their Smoky burger: mature cheddar, streaky bacon, crispy onions, lettuce, pickles and smoked chilli BBQ sauce.  Now, that’s a lot going on in that burger, so I wanted a beer that wasn’t going to weigh me down, partly because I was going to the cinema after, but also because the rain outside was biblical and if Birmingham was going to end up undersea I wanted to stand a fighting chance of floating.

    I’ve been in to Byron before and even then it was pretty obvious then that they understood the bond of beer and burgers, as they’ve been collaborating with Camden Town Brewery since 2010 to produce their Byron Lager and Byron Pale Ale.  But Byron’s craft beer menu surprised me; the new craft beer menu is, in my mind, unashamedly pitched at beers that will compliment burgers, rather than being an extensive beer menu covering all styles.  And that’s a wise move; I got surprised with a super sour beer and burger accidental pairing in Oz and it just made me sad because it didn’t work at all.

    The beers are typically lagers, pale ales and IPAs and aiming for something middling will keep most people happy, particularly given the range of brewers.  I was pleased to see a couple of Beavertown’s beers on the list, as well as the, now fairly standard, Brewdog offerings and the Bristolian Moor Revival.  Whilst most of these are fairly commonplace names amongst the craft beer lot, there is also Peroni for people who want a name they know.  Birmingham’s branch has five taps, two are reserved for Camden Hells and Byron Pale, and the others are given over to guest beers – Magic Rock’s Hire Wire, which I have a total soft spot for, was on when I was there.  They’re all good burger beers, which is essentially what I want from a burger joint.

    So, to go with the Smoky burger, I went for Beaverton’s Neck Oil.  I really like Neck Oil, it’s a beer I’ll often pick if I see it on the menu because it’s juicy, crisp and not too heavy.  The guys at Beaverton call it a Session IPA, meaning that if you’re ‘On it’ this is a good one to go for because it’s not heavy and filling, and has a relatively low ABV…so you know, you can drink responsibly folks.  I like it for all those reasons, but because it’s light and not too heavy or gassy, it works really well with something filling like a burger, and the juiciness of it makes it really refreshing against the Smoky’s smoked chilli BBQ sauce, which has a really nice kick to it.  The flavours of the beer and burger don’t wrestle, but compliment each other. Individually the Smoky burger and Neck Oil beer are good, together they’re a great pair.  And in the interests of science, my friend Rob (who writes wonderfully, but mainly about SCFC) had the Smoky with the Byron Lager and this worked well too.  That’s the benefit to Byron’s new craft beer menu, it’s a sort of mix and match approach with their burgers which means you shouldn’t get a bad result.

    https://www.byronhamburgers.com/drinks/
    Disclaimer: This post was in collaboration with Byron, but seriously how difficult do you think it was for me to write about beer and burgers? And we all know how serious I am about burgers, all my own overthought views, as per.

    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.