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Laura

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Nigel Slater and Ravinder Bhogel at the Birmingham Literature Festival

    I’m just back from one of those afternoons which are so simple and yet so sublime they’re the sort of thing you want to remember. My friend Beccy had snagged tickets for the Nigel Slater talk, a perk of volunteering at the Birmingham Literature Festival, and asked if I wanted to join her.  Of course I did, I adore Nigel Slater’s writing and tv shows.

    We met in Yorks at Ikon gallery for lunch, though I got there early because a coffee and time with whatever book I’m reading is an indulgence I never get bored of.  I wasn’t overly hungry but had some fries because the weather is miserable and fries are always a good idea.  Coffee and carbs consumed, we then trundled off to the Birmingham Rep to the talk.

    I haven’t read Nigel Slater’s memoir Toast, despite a friend buying a copy for me years ago, nor have I seen the televised version.  I’m sure they’re very good, but the way Nigel writes and talks about food feels positive, joyful and curious, not the sort of brutish pedantic judgement of some food writers, and I want it to remain a place of comfort. Knowing too much about how some of that is borne from a painful childhood might break the spell, and I don’t think my fragile heart is ready for that.

    Nigel Slater is as warm and charming on stage as he is in his weekly Observer column or on the television shows he presents.  Ravinder Bhogal, chef Patron of Jikoni, was an inspired choice of interviewer, who gave just enough of her own story and thoughts to make it feel like a natural conversation.  They talked about childhood food memories, lardy cake and Fray Bentos pies, foxes in the garden, filming in Iran, and the joy of being a cook.  Perhaps my favourite comment was when Nigel spoke how much he enjoyed cooking for other people, but also the enjoyment of cooking just for himself; of setting the table for one, and feeling a sense of self worth to believe you are worth a proper meal even if there aren’t others around.  It made me want to go home and pull out all my cookbooks and imagine all the possibilities.

    The Birmingham Literature Festival is an annual festival which ran from 4th – 14th October 2018, which means you probably missed it if this is the first you heard of it. But keep an eye on their website as there is usually a spring mini-festival which is worth checking out, as well as the full festival in the autumn.

    Disclaimer: My friend gifted me a ticket which she got in exchange for volunteering for the festival. She definitely doesn’t care if I blog or not.

    Drinks, Guest Posts, Pop-up and Event reviews

    The Midlands Whisky Festival 2018

    Greetings, it’s been a while hasn’t it? And it’s not even me responsible for 99% of this blog post, but I’ll save you the sob story of where I’ve been and why I’ve not been blogging.

    Anyway, I couldn’t make The Midlands Whisky Festival 2018, despite being in one of my favourite conference venues, The Studio. This saddens me because whisky, whiskey and bourbon are all great, and festivals are a great place to try lots of ones you’ll probably never get a chance to.  But far be it for me to deny my loyal readers (if there are any of you left), so I put an ask out to friends and unsurprisingly lots of people came forward, but one of the suggestions what the talented Joe Beardsmore.

    Joe is a bartender and photographer, so frankly more qualified to be doing this sort of thing than I am.  You should definitely check out his website, www.joebeardsmore.com – I’d highly recommend looking at his outdoor photography because it’s just beautiful.  Also his Instagram account is pun-tastic which instantly endears me to it @Joemans_Land.

    Over, to Joe…

    The Midlands Whisky Festival 2018 brought a collection of Scottish, Indian, Australian, American, Scandinavian, Japanese and many more whiskies into perfect harmony, providing an incredible tasting and learning experience, whether it was learning new world whisky with the likes of Starward, or cigars and malt with Dalmore.

    A few signature moments for me where trying the Glen Dronach 24 year old which was a rare surprise to find such a bold full bodied Scotch that imparted the flavours of the sherry casks that it had been aged in for all of its “life”. Furthermore the Cambus 31 Year Old 1964 exceeded expectations as a smooth, easy going dram considering the 31 year old age statement.

    But really, you’re here for the pictures and I don’t blame you because they’re great and this is just a selection of them. They all belong to Joe, he’s just kindly letting me put them on here so if you want to use them for something or hire Joe to take some photos then get in contact with him.

    The Midlands Whisky Festival has been running since 2010, and as well as a Birmingham event, there was a Stourbridge version back in March.  I’m not entirely sure when the next one is, but feel free to keep an eye on their website http://www.whiskyfest.co.uk/.

    Cafe reviews, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Turkey Dinosaurs at Edwardian Tea Rooms, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

    I was talking yesterday with fellow blogger friends about what would be your most ‘off brand’ thing you love.  And I was stumped, because I don’t really have off-brand; I’ve blogged about fast food chains and frankly lying means having to remember what fibs you’ve told and I can’t be doing with that mental gymnastics.  Essentially I have one rule: it has to be food and/or drink related and be in Birmingham…ish.  I’ll accept Sandwell, Coventry and the West Midlands at a push, but it’s also why I’ve not blogged about my Melbourne burger adventures.

    So it’s entirely on ‘brand on’ me to tell you that not only did I have turkey dinosaurs for lunch today. Actually, let me be entirely honest with you: turkey dinosaurs are my comfort food.  I have them when I’m feeling a bit sad and I just need a bit of child-like joy in my life; I had them once for Christmas dinner when my mum was flying out to see my sister and my housemate was a vegetarian.  They’re not fancy, they’re probably not very nutritious and they’re never going to end up on a Michelin-starred meal [the fools], but I like them.  Because sometimes what is good and what you like don’t have to be the same thing, and for me turkey dinosaurs are the latter.  So hunting down and ordering turkey dinosaurs from the kids menu was something I did without one ounce of embarrassment. In fact, I had them as part of a two course ‘Dippy children’s menu’.

    Turkey dinosaurs are not normally on the menu at the Edwardian Tea Rooms, as part of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which is bitterly disappointing to me because I would go there for lunch more often if they were.  But they’re on a Dippy the dinosaur themed menu whilst the old lad is on an adventure having escaped the Natural History Museum.  I love a good menu tie-in, and I wasn’t going to let it being a kids menu stand in my way.  Turns out that the staff at the Edwardian Tea Rooms were completely unfazed by my ordering this for myself, which makes me think that maybe I’m not the first person over the age of eight to have done this.

    So, two turkey dinosaurs (they tasted very much like the Bernard Matthew’s variety, of which I have consumed a fair number), chips and peas.  And the turkey dinosaurs were as turkey dinosaurs always are, exactly the right amount of comfort food and two-fingers at a certain ‘Naked Chef’ (who I have not forgiven for the whole turkey twizzlers thing).  But lets talk about the chips. My god they were good.  Like proper classic chips with jagged edges that were crisp and golden in grease, without creating some sort of oily swimming pool for the dinos.  They were proper chips and there are not nearly enough of their kind in the city.

    The hot chocolate volcano with ice cream did not look particularly pretty, but it was gooey and chocolatey without being overly sickly. I was happy, my mum (who had appeared at this point) also helped me eat it.

    And whilst it was a kids portion it was surprisingly filling, especially as it was two courses – you could request the second one at your leisure, and it all came to about the same price of an overly fancy salad from one of those places that sell overly fancy salads.  And it was entirely more enjoyable that an overly fancy salad. To the point that my mother had wished she joined me for lunch than eating said salad.

    The Natural History Museum’s famous Dippy the Diplodocus is in Birmingham from 26th May – 9th September.  He’s going on tour to eight locations outside of his normal home, with the aim of 1.5 million people across the UK seeing Dippy in person.  Tickets are free, but you’re encouraged to book.  The Dippy children’s menu is available in the Edwardian Tea Room and they don’t care if you order it and are no longer considered a child.  If you fancy something a bit more grown up, they’re doing Dine with Dippy venue hire (you’ve missed the shared dinners), but I possess neither the attire nor desire to dress up fancy.

    And I leave you with the skeleton of a velociraptor, because they’ve been my favourite ever since I saw the first Jurassic Park (and yes I know they’re the wrong size in those films). And a request – go eat something you enjoy, not because someone told you it was technically ‘good’…

    Pop-up and Event reviews

    Summer menu tasting at Studio Venues, Birmingham

    It’s no secret that I think the Studio on Cannon Street in the city centre is a pretty ace place.  I’ve written about them a bunch of times (see here), and the time has rolled round for another seasonal menu tasting.

    If you’re not aware, and I have rescued many confused looking people on Cherry St to suggest that not everyone knows about the place, The Studio is part of a group of venues around the country which offer conferencing spaces.  They also do small meeting rooms too.  I arrange a fair amount of events for work and The Studio is one of my favoured places, not least because of the seasonal menu changes, but also because the staff are really helpful, and having staff who have your back when you’re running an event is invaluable.  Also, the afternoon cookies are a friggin delight.

    Anyway, as per usual they invite down a bunch of people who have used their venue to check out and comment on the upcoming menu, to make sure it’s appealing to customers.  Because some people get a bit uppity about these things, let me be clear, they’re not fussed that I’m Full the Brum, they always email my work account and I ask politely if I can bring my camera and take some photos, and that’s why this post is here.  I was amongst 50-ish other guests and there is enough food to feed an army.  Those of us who have been to more than one of these are now sharing our tactical knowledge of trying as many dishes as possible (small portions, pick up the desserts and save them on your table).

    There were a lot of good options this time round, and The Studio emailed us all after to tell us the dishes which stood out for everyone; I was pleased to see that the dark chocolate torte with salted caramel & fresh raspberry, and kofta meatballs scored highly, because both were delicious.  I’m not normally a fan of chocolate things, but even I was singing the praises of the chocolate torte. I’m trying to think of good reasons to book the Studio just so I can have another one.  Anyone fancy an important meeting?

    They’re also bringing in salads to be more of a thing.  Salad is not my thing, I get bored before I’ve eaten enough and I rarely bother.  But if anyone could convince me that salad is actually worth caring about, then the guys at the Studio are in strong running, and they seem to have done it by combining two things that on their own I’m a bit meh about.  So, despite having two things I don’t like much (raw tomatoes and feta are two things which my digestive tract is not on board with), the watermelon, cherry tomato, rocket, basil and feta salad was a well deserved winner, and the veggie winner (that was actually vegan) of vegan harissa spiced lentils ratatouille with falafel cobbler was a good choice too.

    So, back to that very important meeting we need to book…

    You’ll find the Studio in Birmingham on Cannon Street in Birmingham city centre. Whilst they rudely do not have a restaurant that you can just visit, they do have nineteen different spaces available for meetings and conferences. For more info, visit the Studio’s website.

    Guest Posts, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Preview of Rebel Chicken in the Jewellery Quarter

    I couldn’t make it to the preview of Rebel Chicken because I was too busy eating Melbourne out of burgers visiting my sister and meeting my new niece. But I thought it looked cool and worth telling people about.  So I figured I’d ask someone who I pretty much only know on Twitter but I knew would have good opinions being he’s the King of Digbeth, which we know is the epicentre of street food in Birmingham. He once called me out on something which I can’t remember, but I remember thinking if I ever decide to pick on people to help guest blog on here, Andy will be on the list. And because you usually get plus ones to these things, Andy brought his friend Tim who I do not know, but if Andy rates him, I’m willing to believe he knows his stuff too.

    If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Rebel Chicken is a new chicken restaurant, cocktail bar and beer garden in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. They are, apparently, fanatical about chicken; we’re talking twice-marinated, spit-roasted, free range, locally sourced, and expertly prepared – they’ve even employed a charcoal sommelier. Which is a job title I bet no one’s careers teacher ever told them about.

    You can choose between stuff like a quarter, half or whole chicken; wings, including buffalo hot wings; and then things like veggie bean burgers or Caesar salad sharer if you’re the sort of masochist who goes to a chicken restaurant but doesn’t eat chicken.

    Anyway, enough of me, over to Andy to tell us about the food…

    “The main menu is a mix of either rotisserie chicken or the wings. You can choose a quarter, half or full roast chicken (I’d suggest the full is a sharer – it was massive) or a selection of coated and battered wings.

    “The roast chicken itself was my fave – I’m not good with wings (I’m crap with messy fingers), so was looking forward to this element. The chicken itself was moist and slightly salty with a good helping of delicious crispy skin on.  I must admit, I thought the whole Cuban coal/sweet cherry wood thing was a gimmick, but if it was responsible for the flavour then it’s well worth the money they must be spending on it. Easily the tastiest chicken I’ve had in a long time.

    “The wings were good though – once I’d dissected them with my cutlery!  We had a selection of the BBQ and ‘hot’ wings – the BBQ sauce was tasty and not overly sweet or smoky, just about right. The ‘hot’ wings were good too – made with birds eye chillies so not overly hot (though I am known for my ability to do the dorset naga), I’d say just about right for all palates with a nice after-heat. The chef mentioned he was thinking of doing a hotter sauce too though.

    “Then sauces for the chicken – aside from the hot sauce and BBQ, they had a really good chipotle sauce, a simple brown gravy (not mind-blowing but functional) and an aioli which I didn’t try.

    “Running it past Tim though, a wing pro, I asked him to compare it to the wings at Bonehead, and he without hesitation said these wings were a thousand times better. And he enjoyed Bonehead’s wings!

    “On an aside, in terms of comparing to Bonehead, I would say the two can co-exist nicely, since Rebel don’t offer any burgers and as a chicken burger lover, I could happily go to either – Bonehead’s burgers are insanely good.”

    [I asked Andy about the sides and desserts too and it seems that the chips/fries and charred corn are both fine, but pretty standard but the hero of the dish (sorry, too much Australian masterchef) is the slaw.]

    “the slaw was sensational. Was a simple red cabbage slaw with a delicious dressing, and if I’m right, a hint of coriander. I’d thoroughly recommend it and it went a treat with the roast chicken adding some much needed crunch.

    “Dessert wise, we tried a really decent cheesecake – was a caramel one as I recall, and the home made waffles in a caramel sauce which were good. Though after all that chicken there wasn’t too much room – fortunately these puddings weren’t too heavy though.”

    [I also wanted to know what the atmosphere and vibe was like, which is tricky to figure out on a preview night but it sounds good]

    “Vibe was very good. The décor in the upstairs dining area was stripped back walls with a clean and airy vibe with big windows (it reminded me a bit of the old Comida 21 room) and the bar downstairs whilst a wee bit cramped was smart and there were some nice armchairs at the one end.

    “The outdoor space is the one they’ll probably push as there was plenty of outdoors tables, and it’s a big big space to capitalise upon in the summer. Though conversely, how that will work in the winter remains to be seen.

    “It is good informal or last minute dining, or as an alternative to the multitudes of street food events, with friendly (albeit very new to the game) waitresses and Tim and I both agreed we would revisit for a Saturday night pre-night out meal.  Tim even said he would definitely use it for a first date as the food would impress, it wouldn’t be too showy or pricey and it would be a non-pressure environment.

    “Would be good for families that were on a day out in the JQ visiting the touristy bits or shopping for rings and so on, and they’re dog friendly too so that’s always a plus in my eyes!“

    People ask me about dog-friendly places a lot, which makes sense because they’re flippin adorable, so this is good to know. In fact I get asked so often that I decided to start a page to group them so I don’t have to keep trying to remember them.  Anyway, over to Andy for the summary of if Rebel Chicken is any good…

    “Overall, it was a very good first experience and I can imagine it’ll get better as it starts to come together and they gain more experience.  I think they pretty much do what they say on the box and they’re not re-inventing the wheel or anything but in terms of simple but quality chicken, they’re going to be hard to beat and I wish them well.”

    Sounds good to me. I’ll try and head down to check it out soon, once I’m over the sheer amount of burgers I ate in Melbourne.

    Rebel Chicken can be found at 5, 19 Pitsford St, Birmingham B18 6LJ, and from next month they’ll be joined by their sister venue next door, a Desi pub called Rebel Desi. Their website is http://therebelchicken.co.uk/

    Andy, who I roped into guest posting, is King of Digbeth, regularly eats burgers (which is probably why I follow him) and often posts pictures of dogs (that’ll definitely be the reason I follow him).  He also takes cool pictures around Digbeth and other bits of Birmingham, especially of the graffiti and such.  You should follow him on social media things like DJ Colatron on Twitter or Colatron on Instagram. I’ve no idea who Tim is, so if you want to follow him on stuff, ask Andy.

    Drinks

    Pink drinks in Birmingham

    Legally Blonde The Musical is coming to the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham this week, and I decided to compile a list of pink drinks in the city, in homage to Elle Woods.

    For anyone not familiar with the musical, it’s based off the 2001 box-office smash movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a seemingly ditzy sorority girl who decides the best way to win her ex-boyfriend back is to follow him to law school.  Sure, it’s formulaic and predictable, but that’s sort of why I watch it – and Reese Witherspoon is kinda brilliant in it. It’s also very, very pink.

    And just like Elle Woods, pink drinks get stereotyped based on how they look, because lazy marketeers insist on gendering drinks, somehow suggesting that pink drinks are for girls.  It’s 2018, get a grip, drinks don’t have genders and it’s not like bars require you to whip out your willy if you want to order a drink with blue Curacao in it.

    Some of the best bars in Birmingham have cracking pink drinks on the menu, and with the help of them, I’ve compiled a list. This isn’t every great pink drink in Birmingham and I wouldn’t recommend trying them all in one night (drink responsibly folks) but as the theatre production is in Birmingham for a week – and these drinks aren’t going anywhere soon, you’ve got plenty of time…

    It’s pink…Oh! And it’s scented! I think it gives it a little something extra, don’t you think?

    The Edgbaston is the signature serve of the boutique hotel and bar which shares the drink’s name.  It is elegant and decadent, serves long with floral and fizzy notes coming from the Tanqueray 10, Suze Aromatics, seasonal citrus, all topped off with Rose Champagne. And with the beautiful settings of The Edgbaston on Highfield Rd, it’s hard not to feel like royalty.

    If you want to keep it simple and timeless, but also enjoy something with some fun, the Davenports run pub The Bulls Head on Bishopsgate St, up near Five Ways, serve Old Curiosity Lavender & Echinacea Gin, which turns from purple into a light shade of pink when you add tonic.  As Elle might say “OMG you guys, it’s like magic”.

    Avant-garde mischief makers (at least on twitter), The Wilderness have taken their approach to using British flavours and modernist technique to create a bittersweet, tongue-in-cheek variation on a classic.  Their Nuclear Negroni uses Dry rhubarb gin from Yorkshire and London-made Rosehip bitters to soften and create a fruit-forward drink.

    Champion Cobbler from 40 St Pauls

    Just like the tall tales in the Brooke Windham case, the Champion Cobbler from 40 St Pauls is inspired by a completely made up story of an amateur footballer from Jerez who feel in love with a lass from Yorkshire, and the county itself.  But thankfully this delicious drink of Slingsby Gin, rhubarb & rosehip cordial, Fino sherry, Yorkshire Tea, apple juice and lemon juice is very real, and very delightful. It’s also served in a trophy. How extra.

    With possibly my favourite cocktail name on this list, Gas Street Social’s “Alright, Petal?” cocktail is a fruity, fresh drink which uses Havana Club 3 Year rum, lychee juice, Fraise de Bois and fresh lime, with a delicate rose garnish.

    The Vanguard’s Vintage Candy Punch is inspired by the traditional British drink consumed in punch houses in the 18th century.  Traditionally bowls of spirits mixed with fruit juice, spices, and other flavours, The Vanguard’s uses brandy, rum, citrus flavours, cinnamon and Assam Tea with a Vintage Sweet Cordial to give the drink it’s name. If Elle and her Delta Nu sorority sisters were looking for something spectaular to serve at one of their parties, this would be it.

    The OG gin parlour of Birmingham, The Jekyll & Hyde on Steelhouse Lane has an array of sweet treats both upstairs and down, but it’s their Sweet Gin Music cocktail from the downstairs Mr Hyde’s Hostelry menu with Larios 12 gin, candy floss syrup & grapefruit bitters which will lift your spirits.

    The Ivy Royale

    Elle is taken to an expensive restaurant where she thinks she’s going to be proposed to.  Sadly that’s not the case.  But if Elle were taken to The Ivy on Temple Row, I could totally see her drowning her sorrows in something classy, like their twist on a Kir Royale.  Their The Ivy Royale is made with Briottet rose liqueur, Sipsmith sloe gin & hibiscus, topped off with Champagne.

    Tom’s Kitchen in the Mailbox has a delightfully named Belle en rose, made with strawberry-infused Beefeater Pink Gin, elderflower cordial, Chambord, lime juice, rose wine and topped with soda for a little sparkle.

    Sugar and spice and all things nice isn’t just for girls; The Butterfly effect from Dirty Martini uses Hendrick’s Gin shaken with fresh raspberries, rose syrup, soursop juice, Sichuan pepper, fresh lime juice, and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Teapot Butters, served with a Silent Pool kaffir lime mist.

    Revolución de Cuba’s Mariposa cocktail

    I like to think Revolución de Cuba’s Mariposa cocktail might be the sort of sugary, tropical drink Elle enjoys whilst she’s lounging around by the pool at her parents house.  With a Koko Kanu coconut rum based and Chambord black raspberry liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple, cranberry and lemon its certainly fruity.

    We know Elle enjoys a good pampering, so she would almost certainly approve of The Alchemist’s Bubblebath cocktail, which uses Tanqueray gin, Aperol, Chambord, lemon, apple and fairy liquid.

    So there you have it, a whole pile of pink drinks you can find in dear old Brum. And whilst this is a post that I did because it was fun, it would be remiss of me not to tell you Legally Blonde The Musical hits the Alexandra Theatre from 21 – 26 May. Tickets are available here.

    I’ll leave the final words up to Elle…

    Whoever said orange is the new pink was seriously disturbed.” – Elle Woods
    News, Pub and Drinks News

    The Digbeth Dozen map launches

    I like food. I like Digbeth. And I like maps.

    So top marks to The Ruin, who have unveiled a massive big map on the side of their wall showcasing some of their great neighbours – and having the guts to effectively point out where the competition is.

    The map, a 16ft by 10ft graffiti-style map, created by local artist as Andy Mills (also known as Title, apparently, because I am not cool enough to know these things) points out twelve of Digbeth’s best independent places to eat and drink.  Commissioned by The Ruin’s owner, Richard Hughes, it’s an ode to Digbeth with its realism-meets-traditional graffiti-style embodying the industrial-past and cool, new future of one of Birmingham’s favourite suburbs.  I mean, I like a lot of Birmingham suburbs but Digbeth is definitely in the list of one of the good ones. Even if it is severely lacking in cash-points.

    The Digbeth Dozen title refers to twelve independent and unique neighbours, unsurprisingly in Digbeth, and includes The Anchor pub on Bradford Street; Ghetto Golf, The Mockingbird Cinema & Kitchen, Clink and Kanteen, all in the Custard Factory; new kid on the block Dig Brew Co’s brewery and taproom on River Street; Digbeth Dining Club, which everyone should really know about by now; Tucked away tapas joint Rico Libre; Birmingham’s oldest pub, The Old Crown; The Spotted Dog on Alcester Street; and Baked in Brick which is due to open in May – and of course, The Ruin itself. It’s an incredibly strong list of places, with pretty much something for everyone, and showing that whilst Digbeth might look a bit like it’s knocking around waiting for HS2, it’s actually a hive of activity, you just have to know where to look – which is where a map comes in pretty bloody handy.  Someone really should make some nice postcards of this thing so we can put them in tourist information.

    The Ruin’s owner, Richard Hughes has this to say about the map; “Since opening The Ruin, Digbeth in September 2017, its been exciting to get to know our neighbours in the area and to check out each unique spot to eat, drink or socialise in. From Spanish tapas with a Brummie twist to delicious vegetarian brunches, 18 holes of crazy golf to blockbuster and arthouse film screenings, and new craft beer spaces as well as traditional city boozers, the Digbeth Dozen offering really is as varied as it gets in this exciting and creative quarter. We wanted to mark the exciting new period in the area’s history – and what better way than with an exclusive mural-style map to help people find their way!?”

    If you’re not familiar, The Ruin is situated on the corner of Floodgate Street and Little Ann Street in Digbeth.  Some readers may be familiar with this Grade II listed building formerly known as The Eagle, Horan’s Tavern and The Floodgate Tavern.  Offering local ales, coffee roasted in nearby Shropshire, and a heart European menu using regional ingredients, The Ruin also has a packed listings of events including live music, DJ sets and open mic.  It’s basically what you want in a modern pub – and pretty spot on for Digbeth.

    www.theruindigbeth.com