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Laura

    Round ups

    Festive Food (I forgot to tell you about)

    So yeah, sorry this is late and you won’t actually get to try and of these dishes because it’s January and everyone is regrowing their livers with a green juice “detox” or whatever BS people do in the New Year New Me cause.  But the point was really an aide memoire that there are places in Birmingham doing interesting things, and we should remember to check them out – because restaurants are for all months of the year, not just for December.

    Pigs in Blankets Eggy Crumpets from Wayland’s Yard

    Isn’t Wayland’s Yard great?  The first time we went in to this little cafe hiding on Bull St I thought it looked a bit like a Melbourne coffee shop, which is a compliment because Australians really know how to treat their coffee well and Melbourne has the best cafes in the world. So yes, the coffee in Wayland’s is good, but thankfully so is the food.  I say food, I always have the eggy crumpets, but if they’ half as good as that, you’ll be fine.  For Christmas this year, they had the above version, pigs in blankets eggy crumpets and It Was Good.  To be fair, you can order your eggy crumpets with chorizo and bacon all year round, so you can sort of get the same hit. And I highly recommend it.

    Wayland’s Yard, 42 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF

    The Meat Shack’s Santa Shack

    Usually I’m a classicist when it comes to burgers and I think it’s hard to beat a bacon cheeseburger, but there are a few places I’m willing to deviate from my normal and The Meat Shack on Thorpe St is one of those.  And over December, they were selling the Santa Shack, a burger which tasted liked Christmas between a bun.  I know because I had it more than once.  A beef patty, braised red cabbage, camembert, candy bacon crumb, chipotle – cranberry, ketchup, deep fried greens and mustard mayo with parsnip crisps on the side, it was filling and hearty without putting you into a Christmas-style food coma, and that was just spot on.  Sadly it was only a December delicacy, but I’m hoping if we campaign enough, they might bring it back again for a special.  Christmas in July anyone?

    The Meat Shack, 17 Thorp St, Birmingham B5 4AT

    Deep & Crisp & Vegan pie from Pieminister

    When vegan-food explorer extraordinaire Tasha from NutellaTasha invites you to lunch, it would be rude to say no.  And it would be rude not to go native and order vegan too, so that’s what I did.  The Deep & Crisp & Vegan pie from Pieminister has one of the best pun-tastic names from the festive season, and it was delicious.  A creamy vegan turkey pie with celeriac, smoked garlic & sherry, on a bed of mashed potato and topped with stuffing balls and cranberry sauce. YUM.

    Pieminister, 16 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5UG

    Mama Creaven’s roast pheasant

    Christmas even dinner is when my mum gets to have some fun, and so this year because she wasn’t cooking Christmas dinner, we had roast pheasant with bacon, onions and a red wine jus.  There was also vegetables, and the biggest surprise of all, potatoes. Whilst my mum’s idea of carbs is usually stealing mine when we go out for dinner, this delicious sauce warranted leaving nothing behind and spuds were just the ticket.  Sorry, you can’t book into my mum’s house for dinner, it’s hard enough for me to get an invite, but this was one of my favourite festive meals, so it deserved a mention.  If you want to know the recipe let me know and I’ll ask my mum.

    Nice try, I’m not telling you where my mum lives.

    Disclaimer: I call my mum mum, or Bernie if she’s not replying. We’re from Birmingham, I’ve never called her mom and I’m not about to start now. Also, I didn’t pay for dinner at my mum’s because that would be weird. I did pay for the burger and the crumpets and I was Tasha’s guest for pie but I don’t really think they cared who I was.

    Round ups

    Christmas gift guide

    I know, this is way later than I intended but if you’re running low on Christmas cheer and need some inspiration for Christmas gifts for your foodie friends and loved ones, here are five to get you started…

    This Cookbook Belongs To Us

    Hear me out, recipe books might seem like a naff idea for the foodie in your life but this one is actually good. Not only is it packed with recipes which actual normal humans could feasibly make on a regular basis, it also has fancier ones too. Better yet, the recipes feature personal stories about what the recipes mean to people, and the money raised goes to support refugees in transit. So really you’re buying double the gift, a present for your lovely one and goodwill to men (women and non-binary folk).

    Costs £12.50 from Bearwood and Kings Heath Action for Refugees website https://actionforrefugees.org/product/this-cookbook-belongs-to-us/

    Independent Birmingham card

    Yeah, I know I recommend this every year, but every year it continues to add good value. I’m pretty sure I’ve recouped the cost of one on trips to The Electric alone, which I then spend on tea and cake to eat before the film. The IB card gets you some great deals at a number of independent venues in the city and you will easily make your money back within the year, even if your memory is as crap as mine. It’s also a handy little reminder about some of the more off the beaten track venues that exist around the city.

    Buy from the Independent Birmingham website

    Cheese and wine from Grace + James

    This is a great gift because the chances are they’ll invite you round to enjoy the cheese and wine you’ve just gifted them, and so it pays to get something good. Kings Heath’s Grace + James have pulled together a number of cheese and wine offerings from a top notch hamper through to an array of wines for the big day itself. Their Christmas Day wine case will see you through your Christmas Meal, with two bottles of red, two bottles of white, a bottle of fizz and a bottle of dessert wine for afters.

    Prices range depending on items ordered, which can be done in store or via email.

    Byng Inc’s Daily Special 2019 calendar gift set

    Local artist Louise Byng has created a calendar which takes views on a culinary voyage to discover the weird and wonderful experience of cuisine and culture. With everything from historic honey through to a special edition Burger King Whopper, this A4 calendar will not only provide you with some interesting fact, but 25% of all profits are donated to Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity.

    Order from Byng Inc: http://bynginc.bigcartel.com/product/daily-specials-2019-calendar

    Gift Cards

    What do you get the person who has everything? Easy, get them an experience they’ll enjoy and, even better, you won’t have to wrap anything – better yet, they might take you along to share the joy.

    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.