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Laura

    Afternoon tea, Reviews

    A festive trip to The Edgbaston

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

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

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

    Drinks

    Keeping warm with Highland Park on Winter Solstice

    Last night I went on a magical tour of south Birmingham, past some pretty impressive suburban Christmas lights, getting off the bus to realise that winter has been incredibly late to the party but seems to be on its way.  And just in time for Winter Solstice too.

    With all the stressing about going to the other side of the world in a few days where it’s summer, I’d completely forgotten Winter Solstice was today but the nice people at Highland Park whisky reminded me. I’m not going to bore you with too much but the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere which means we get the least amount of sunshine.  And of course it’s a big celebration for lots of different cultures throughout history, but the people of the Orkney Island in Scotland get a big kick out of it largely due to their Neolithic archaeology, which they’re well known for.  Particularly notable are the Runic inscriptions, a bit like Viking graffiti, on the inner walls of the Maeshowe – a Neolithic chambered cairn, which does some pretty cool things with the angle of the sunshine around the Winter Solstice. Also, Viking graffiti!

    And with Winter Solstice being a significant time of year in the Nordic calendar and all that Viking history, you know the people of Orkney have a good reason to celebrate.  And they also make Highland Park whisky, which means when it’s bloody cold outside and they’re celebrating, they’ve got something to toast with.  The kind folk at Highland Park sent me a hip-flask of their Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky and a lovely snuggly scarf to keep me warm, so I can join in the fun too.  The Highland Park 12 Year Old is a lovely dram; to me it’s smooth, with honey sweetness, a touch of fruit and a hint of sweet peaty smoke, but not overkill.  I’ve been sipping it as I write this and I don’t think it’s going to last long, although I’m going to try and save some for later.

    Because I’ve been coughing for weeks, Hot Toddys are pretty much my favourite thing at the moment and I need to find a way to mix them up. I get sent a lot of recipes and a lot of them, particularly cocktail ones, make me wonder if anyone has any clue about balance.  But this one I think sounds alright, mainly because the Angostura bitters are going to balance out the sweetness from the honey, which itself compliments the Highland Park.  Rooibos tea you can get in most supermarkets, you can probably switch it out for another type of tea but given it’s said to boost the immune system it makes this drink pretty much medicinal, right?

    Highland Park Hot Toddy

    Firstly, heat your tea cup or mug, then add:

    • 50ml Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky
    • 1tsp honey
    • 130ml Rooibos Tea (tbh I just top up the glass)
    • Add a dash of Angostura bitters or aromatic bitters

    Give it a good stir and garnish with some lemon peel

    …And whilst you’re at the kettle, can you make me one too?

    Disclosure: Complimentary samples, not paid to say anything let alone positive…now can I go back to drinking whisky on a school night, please? It’s research.

    Bar reviews, Drinks, Reviews

    Be at One, Birmingham

    bartender_shaking_BW

    Like most of the rest of the planet, I’m quite looking forward to the end of 2016.  It’s not been one of my favourite years, for various reasons, one of which was the great SD card meltdown and computer strop which meant that a bunch of stuff kinda got forgotten about. 

    But I’m in clear up mode before holiday and I stumbled across some photos from when I went to Be At One bar, a London-based bar group which opened in Birmingham earlier in the year.  I went on the preview night where the staff were overly friendly in a sort of try-hard way which brings out my hatred for small talk even more than normal – talk to me about your release from mental health hospital on the bus stranger, I’m fine with that, but bartenders pretending to care how my day has been…nah.  Look, I get it, bartenders are there to make sure you have a good time but talk overly in depth to me about the maturation process of the spirit you’re pouring, complain about something like the weather or whatever, but don’t channel the spirit of Matthew McConaughey with all your “alright alright” over-enthusiasm.  I’ve been in to Be At One since and they do seem to have calmed down a bit, thankfully.

    cocktail_be_at_one

    Hyperactive bartenders aside, Be At One is underground…I mean literally.  It’s underneath Piccadilly Arcade and the entrance is pretty small because it’s basically a set of stairs, so there’s a nod to the speakeasy but not much more, especially given there’s usually a doorman and red rope outside.  Downstairs the bar has a nice vibe which feels like it encourages a party, without feeling like you got to the party too early if you’re there when it’s quiet.  It’s deceptively inviting in some respects, like you think you’ll kill time having a drink before your train arrives and then find yourself dashing for the platform because you’ve been there too long.

    BW_double_drinks_bartender

    Drinks wise the menu has over 150 cocktails, and some non-alcoholic cocktails and a wine list too.  For those who might think that’s cocktail overload, the menu has some handy tips, namely a top ten’s page which has the most popular drinks on there if you’re not fussy and a flavour wheel which lets you pick your poison based on your preferences for sour, bitter, smooth and then your spirit of choice.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s definitely a good start.

    cocktail_wheel

    I was invited down on opening night and I mainly tried out the classics…which was a bit of a risky move on my part because it seems like several chains in Birmingham think sugar syrup is the answer to everything.  Thankfully this didn’t seem to be the case for Be At One.  Sure, my first Aviation could’ve done with a touch more sourness but was a very good effort.  The Sazerac was made with a spritz of absinthe rather than a rinse, but at least this meant no wastage and didn’t seem to affect the drink, and the Daiquiri I tried was spot on.  One of my favourite drinks, the Clover Club, is referenced in the sweet section of the flavour wheel which worried me a bit.  To me, the Clover Club is a fantastic drink, pre-prohibition era, fruity and dry, where the sweetness comes from the raspberry syrup or grenadine but it’s not really sweet.  Thankfully Be At One’s doesn’t fall susceptible to over-sweetness, although the foam head on the drink wasn’t as bountiful as I’d have liked.

    making_drinks_at_bar

    Overall, my couple of experiences of Be At One have been largely positive.  Birmingham’s cocktail renaissance is in full swing and sure, Be At One is another out-of-towner but unlike some of the others it doesn’t feel like style over substance or that it takes itself too seriously.  But it also doesn’t stray too far and seems to stick to what it knows. The only time I asked a bartender to go off-menu he looked panicked, but with a comprehensive drinks list which is a nice mix of classic and contemporary – and creamy, sweet things if that’s your deal too, there should be something to keep most people content.  Be At One is a pretty safe bet.

    smiling_bartender_be_at_one_BWBe At One, Piccadilly Arcade, Birmingham B2 4BJ. http://www.beatone.co.uk/cocktail-bar/birmingham

    Disclosure: I was invited down to the opening and drinks were complimentary, but this hasn’t affected my opinion. And yes, I really did have a conversation on a bus with someone who’d recently come out of a mental health hospital.

    Round ups

    Christmas gift guide: Birmingham food & drink

    xmas_gift_guideDeck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la…it’s almost Christmas!  Hopefully you’ve all been good boys and girls and are sitting down to write your letters to Santa about all the loot you want for Christmas.  If that’s the case, then let me help you out.  Last year I came up with ten food and drink gifts you might want to indulge in, but this year I’ve got oh so much more ideas to share.

    This list is long but it is by no means exhaustive, I could’ve rambled on for days, but by then you’d have opened all your advent calendar doors and Rudolph would’ve come and gone.  But I did get a little overexcited with ideas, so I’ve split it into four categories; stocking fillers, gift cards, DIY and gifts that keep giving.

    Stocking Fillers

    So we don’t really do stockings in my family, the only one I’ve ever had was a Nightmare Before Christmas one handmade for me by my friend Beccy…it’s ace.  BUT, I hear they’re kinda a thing and rather than lumps of coal and oranges you might want to add something a little more exciting.

    • Gin lovers might like a bottle of HOCKLEY TONIC.  It’s a Birmingham-made tonic syrup, which added with some sparkling water, will lift your gin and let it taste its best – no more metallic aftertaste of cheap tonic for your friends!  Also, it’s a good gateway to get the gin-phobics in your life imbibing the stuff because most people who say they hate gin hate tonic. Get Hockley Tonic at Loki Wines.
    • If you want to get something that’s sweet for the recipient but leaves you with the warm fuzzies about doing some good, then head to social enterprise MISS MACARON in the Great Western Arcade.  They sell delicious macarons but also employ long term, unemployed young people, training them up to make the delicious macarons you nibble on.
    • So if your stockings are more figurative then what about a five litre mini-keg from FIXED WHEEL BREWERY?  Choose any of their beers you like, and prices start from £20 plus it means you’ll have something good to drink on the big day.  I’m a big fan of their Pope of Dope, a lemon and hibiscus saison.
    • Combining a classic card game (sort of) and mother’s ruin, check out JUST GIN, the world’s first gin top trumps, on sale by Birmingham’s own Gintleman for £8 plus postage.

    macaron_madamemoiselle

    Gift cards

    If you ask me, money as a Christmas present suggests a lack of imagination, that is unless the person really needs the money…in which case this entire post is a bit frivolous.  But if you want to get someone something but are crap at wrapping things, then gift cards are totally the way to go.  Because experiences, they’re often better than things…and this way you get the best of both.

    • On spotting this I was unreasonably excited, but CHERRY REDS do gift vouchers which means you can buy a friend brunch, beer…or halloumi (which is a cornerstone of Cherry Reds, surely).  With one on John Bright St in town and one in Kings Heath, there’s double the excuse to get one.
    • What about giving someone the gift of the ‘water of life’?  The always excellent BIRMINGHAM WHISKY CLUB have an array of vouchers, from Whisky Tasting Gift Vouchers available in £5 and £10 or how about a voucher for their annual Whisky Birmingham 2017 festival?  Or if you want something year round, there’s also their annual membership. Whisky fans rejoice!
    • For the vegetarians and vegans in your life then gift vouchers for 1847 in the Great Western Arcade are a great shout.  Buy them a sum of money or a voucher for a three course meal for two, because surely you should get in on the fun too.  Here’s what I made of their latest menu.
    • Ever wanted to treat your friend to a Michelin-starred meal?  Then check out CARTERS OF MOSELEY who do amazing food and let you buy gift vouchers. My sister bought me a voucher a couple of years ago, which was a total surprise when the email landed in my inbox, and proves that she is rather excellent.
    • If you’ve got a friend who loves food but you never know where they’ve already eaten, then why not get them an OPENTABLE voucher?  I tried it out using it at El Borracho de Oro earlier in the year and it was super simple.

    pouring_whisky_webDo it Yourself (or themselves)

    If you’ve got a friend that’s a dab hand at cooking up a storm, then why not buy them something that means they’ll improve their culinary expertise even further?  Better yet, buy them a cooking or drinks masterclass and then ask them to show you what they’ve learnt…that way you get to enjoy the gift too!

    • I entirely adore the team at LOAF COOKERY SCHOOL and having done three of their masterclasses now, I highly recommend them.  Whether it’s learning to make macarons, bread or a full day of learning some of the art of butchery, whoever attends one of their masterclasses is guaranteed to go home with plenty of  food – you never know, they might share.  Buy a gift voucher here.
    • If you know someone who always orders wine but knows nothing about it, why not send them to a beginners guide to wine class at LOKI WINE?  This two hour wine course will give them the basics to start exploring the world of wine.
    • If you’re looking for a group gift, then why not buy your friends a cocktail masterclass?  There’s plenty on offer in Birmingham from the likes of Island Bar, All Bar One, Bodega…check out the one I did at Revolution here.
    • Chocoholics should head down to the CHOCOLATE QUARTER in the Jewellery Quarter who do several chocolate related masterclasses.  I mean generally you should go there anyway, but if you’re looking for a present for a friend, I tried their truffle making masterclass earlier in the year and it was a lot of fun.

    making_sausages_group Gifts that keep giving

    Who wants to get all their presents at Christmas?  I mean you could be as rubbish as I am and end up not seeing friends until a few days after Christmas so you get to extend the gift giving season…but what about extending it even further, say for the whole year?  If that sounds up your street, here are a few ideas…

    • How about an INDEPENDENT BIRMINGHAM card?  This will get you some excellent discounts at the likes of Fiesta del Asada, several Michelin-starred restaurants, Peel & Stone and the Hippodrome theatre.  Because they’re up on the festive goodwill they’re on offer with one for £12 or two for £18, which is ridiculous bargain given how much you can save.
    • For coffee lovers, the team behind YORKS BAKERY CAFE have started Birmingham’s very first Birmingham-born coffee roastery.  As well as an array of brewing equipment, they do a coffee subscription whereby they’ll send a bag of 300g coffee every fortnight.
    • What do you get the person who has everything?  What about something a bit more left-field and a subscription to LOVE BRUM, a Birmingham charity who supports the local community to build an even better Birmingham.  Buy your loved one a membership for £20 and let them help supporting the projects they choose.

    So there we have it, just a few Birmingham food and drink inspired gifts you might want to give your loved ones this festive season.  Tell me, what are you hoping Santa leaves under the tree for you this December?

    Disclosure: No one gave me anything to be included in this gift list because I’m a terrible blogger. I just did this for the goodwill.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Trying out the new autumn/winter menu at 1847

    1847_menu

    I’ve been talking a lot about comfort food recently.  It’s not really surprisingly, given the recently dip in temperature, the dark nights (which I actually like) and that time had three hours sleep because I stayed up for my traditional watch a Big Thing happening in another country.  I think anyone would be forgiven for craving comfort.  But what I didn’t expect was to find it at a vegetarian restaurant.

    I’ve posted about 1847 (which used to be called Bistro 1847) before, several times in fact.  It does vegetarian and vegan sort of fine-dining style, in a bistro in the heart of the Great Western Arcade, which is rapidly becoming quite the go-to place for those who like to excite their taste buds.  It’s a bit crass and overdone to say that as a meat eater I like the place, because that would be like going to dessert parlour and talking about dinner; it’s not about what’s missing it’s about the ingredients they use taking centre stage.  And whilst vegetarian options are now pretty standard on most menus they’re not always the most inspired, whereas at 1847 they’re the stars.

    maples_roasted_parsnips_1847

    This time round I pitched up for a taste of their new autumnal menu, which already tells you there’s a transitional move into comfort food, but it’s not heavy and bloating.  The menu picks up lots of the flavours and ingredients of the season – cauliflower, mushrooms, sage and butternut squash, but with some extra flavours for colour.

    To nibble on whilst we waited for everyone, we had focaccia with shakshuka hummus and if this was as good as it was to get (spoiler, it wasn’t) I’d have been happy; lightly toasted but still warm bread, drizzled with oil and a shakshuka hummus which was smooth and salty.  It was simple but delicious.

    For starter I went for maple roasted parsnips, parsnip cream, apple and pumpkin seed, because honey-roasted parsnips are an absolute winner in a Sunday roast and I wanted to know what a maple version would be like.  They’re delicious; cooked well so that the parsnips are soft but not mushy and the naturally sweetness of the vegetable is heightened by the maple syrup.  Sure it’s sweet but it’s just the right sized dish that it doesn’t become sickly. 

    spatzle_1847

    For main I went for spätzle, roast squash puree, smoked mushrooms and whipped feta.  I have a soft spot for spätzle ever since my German university housemate Barbara showed me how to make it.  The knöpfle variety is a German pasta which is like little droplets.  To make it, I used to comb the dough through a colander and cover with grated cheese once cooked, but the roast squash puree and smoked mushrooms gave it a really interesting flavour.  I wasn’t sold on the whipped feta, the tanginess of it seemed at odds with the other flavours, but then I’m not a massive fan of feta.

    Sadly, the only real misfire of the night was the dessert for me.  I went for the coconut malabi with apple rice donuts and caramelised pear because it felt like a nice comforting, lighter dessert but just didn’t quite work.  The coconut malabi felt a bit lacklustre; I’m not keen on overly sweet things but this dish felt like it needed more sweetness, perhaps more caramelised pear and it was hard to know whether you were supposed to swipe with the sauce with the anarachni-like donuts.  That said I did try some of my friend’s chocolate brownie with my coconut malabi and the creaminess worked well with the richness of the brownie, so it’s not bad it just didn’t seem to come together as a dish quite as I’d have liked.

    apple_rice_donuts_1847Overall it was a really enjoyable meal, even with the slightly disappointing end.  There are still some well loved classics on the menu like the battered halloumi, but the autumnal dishes really are a delight.  Once again 1847 have proved that vegetarian and vegan dishes don’t need to be the poor-man’s meatless afterthought but can be hearty, comforting and yet delicate.

    1847, 26 Great Western Arcade, Birmingham B2 5HU
    https://www.by1847.com/birmingham/

    Disclosure: I was invite for a complimentary meal by Brumderland in exchange for my views, but wasn’t required to be positive. Which is just as well because after three hours sleep I’d struggle to lie anyway.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio’s autumn menu tasting

    studio_curryIf you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know how much I like the seasonal menu tasting at The Studio.  We use a lot of conference facilities at work at the food at the Studio makes them one of my favourite venues in Birmingham – and I have a lot of feedback comments to prove I’m not the only one!

    chicken_skewers_studio_autumn

    One of the things that makes the food so good is that it’s not a platter of sad sandwiches, but a proper hearty meal – and pudding.  If you’re in an all day event, having a proper meal at lunchtime is a good way to perk everyone up.  I know we’re well into the colder months now, but I went along to the menu tasting a couple of months ago and wanted to share a few photos of the autumnal menu tasting because the food was delicious.

    bacon-potato-chickenThere were some lovely dishes, with everything from hearty Italian chicken wrapped in bacon through to sweet potato curry, lasagne and a vegan shepardess pie.  Each day there are meat and vegetarian menus as standard, with other dietary requirements covered as and when.

    bakewell_trifleAnd then there is pudding.  My favourite was the churro popover dipped in cinnamon sugar and chocolate dipping sauce, because sugar doughnuts are a total weakness of mine, but the Bakewell sundae was a lovely light pudding too, as was the dark chocolate and mint mousse with mini marshmallows.

    churros_studio_autumn The Studio is a conference facility and training room hire venue, and sadly not a restaurant.  But if you want to book a meeting so you can have lunch, then I totally wouldn’t blame you.

    The Studio, 7 Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP

    Bar reviews, Reviews

    The Anchor in Digbeth relaunches

    cocktails_jacob_anchor

    Here in Birmingham we have a thing about anchors. It can largely be traced back to Matthew Boulton and the Crown & Anchor Tavern in London, with anchors now gracing Birmingham products worldwide as our hallmarking symbol. But I want to talk about a different pub and a different anchor.

    A few months ago, Julian Rose Gibbs, took over the CAMRA-lauded Anchor pub in Digbeth. Most discerning drinkers of Birmingham will know Julian from the heydays of the Victoria on John Bright St, which he opened back in 2008 as general manager for Bitters n Twisted. During Julian’s stewardship, the Vic went from being a disjointed pub to one of Birmingham’s best, with an eclectic vibe that some confused with ‘hipster’ but appealed to the daytime old man supping ale as much as the style-conscious cocktail drinker.  The Vic blended together good drinks, a great atmosphere and groups of people who you wouldn’t normally expect to see together.  And whilst it feels very much to this writer like the Victoria has lost its captain, its loss is the Anchor’s gain.

    craft_beer_anchor

    The Anchor is one of those pubs Birmingham is lucky to still have. Nestled away in Digbeth, the grade II listed traditional style pub has largely avoided the glitzy renaissance of the city’s drinking culture over the last few years, remaining steadfastly traditional, yet welcoming, and well regarded by real ale drinkers, often noted in the Campaign for Real Ale publications.  It retained a loyal set of regulars and for those of us who infrequently frequented it often had a soft spot for it too. And not just because of the cob sandwiches and Tayto crisps.

    Jules and his team, headed by Jacob Clarke, who many will recognise from the Victoria and The Botanist, have brought a breath of fresh air to the Anchor. The repainted almost Tiffany blue coloured walls compliment the dark wood and stained glass to create somewhere that marries the traditional and modern; something which is echoed in the drinks menu, with real ales sitting alongside craft beer and modest cocktail and wine menus, the latter of which has been has been curated by Ed at Connolly’s Wines.

    gin_selection_anchor

    Talking of drinks, some well known Victoria cocktail classics like the Bombphire and Sherbertini are rightfully back on the menu, the gin list curated by Carl Hawkins aka the GINtleman, and several drinks have been named after friends and ‘various Birmingham bar industry reprobates’. Sure there are some in-jokes and cynics will scoff, but it’s clear that there’s a lot of love here – for the drinks, for the venue and for the drinks scene in the city.

    It would be cliched to say they’re trying to create a place “where everybody knows your name” but whilst they might not remember your name but they will remember your drink.  Those who remember the Vic team of days gone by will remember a dysfunctional family where those who were on the other side were welcomed like visiting relatives. The Anchor isn’t trying to replicate the Victoria circa 2012, that would be impossible, but it is trying to create a proper boozer for the modern age; good drinks, good service and a sense of community, whoever you are and whatever you drink.

    For all the shiny newness that has come in the last few years of the Birmingham bar scene, it’s nice to see one of it’s anchors back; best of luck Jules and your team.

    The Anchor in Digbeth relaunches on Thursday 17th November.  Find it at 308 Bradford St, Birmingham B5 6ET.