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    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.

    Breakfast and brunch, Reviews

    Quick brunch at Coffee Residence, Cotteridge

    I nearly entitled this ‘blown away by beans’ but then I realised that I would spent the entire post trying to slip in as many fart jokes as possible, and if you had any illusions of me being a serious food blogger then they would be shattered.  But seriously, who knew proper beans could elevate a full English breakfast?  Coffee Residence in Cotteridge, that’s who.

    In a haze of having booked a day off work to go cycling, only to be overcome with the lurgy and thusly subjecting myself to a day of errands, I wandered up to Cotteridge to go visit the charity shops.  Now whilst its neighbour Stirchley might be getting all the kudos for being the ‘Shorditch of Birmingham’ (seriously, whoever invented that, you need to stop), Cotteridge is a lot less cool, but it is functional – its got a sorting office, and a butchers, and a green grocers, and a bunch of fast food places, and a strange looking Italian that keeps threatening to close but never does. There is a cake decorating materials shop with some fantastic cakes in the window, but it’s hardly worth the trip for.

    In fact, before today my only experience of Coffee Residence was that it was the only place nearby that will do a big disco coffee for me to take out if I’ve visited the sorting office before work. But today a combination of the lurgy, a rather overambitious plan to take something back to the shop and lunchtime meant I needed a large coffee and some food, and there seemed the best option.

    The place is fairly functional, but cosy, although if anything it was a bit too warm for my liking, but that could well have been the lurgy talking.  There’s lots of seating, and I was pleased to find that it was nicely busy, which is pretty unusual for a Monday lunchtime in an area which doesn’t attract yummy mummy types.

    I ordered the Residence Breakfast and a large vanilla soya latte.  We’ll get to the breakfast in a minute, but let me tell you about the coffee.  It was an excellent disco coffee, and reasonable priced considering their idea of a large is actually more of a bucket.  It was disco-sweet without being sickly and frankly a lot better than a lot of the chain places I usually go if I want a warm caffeinated hug of a drink. It also survived because drunk lukewarm (I was distracted by the breakfast).

    The Residence Breakfast consists of a butchers sausage, streaky bacon, scrambled egg, homemade rosti and beans, grilled tomato and sourdough toast, except I swapped out the grilled tomato for a mushroom which they were totally fine with.  For seven pounds it was a pretty good deal, although there’s a bigger breakfast if you fancy it.  And a bunch of other stuff – including hot dogs, which I saw a small girl trying to navigate trying to eat and she looked like she was having fun.

    Breakfast wise I was impressed.  Although the sausage was a little on the small side, but tasty nevertheless, the bacon was delicious – superbly salty and just what I wanted.  The mushroom was cooked well and I was pleased they let me substitute it, and the scrambled eggs were delightfully creamy and fluffy and utterly wonderful. The single slice of sourdough was sufficient and nicely toasted which gave it a crunch without making it too crusty.  But the absolute star of the show was the beans.  It was clear they were homemade and under normal circumstances I always want to see beans with my breakfast, but they’re there to make me feel a bit better about all the red meat, rather than any particular actual enjoyment.  Yet as I was munching away on the bacon I realised a plant-based lifestyle was never going to be something I’d achieve, I would honestly I’d come back here for beans on toast… they were that good.

    So there we have it, whilst Stirchley might have my favourite bakery, a vegan pie shop and a cracking couple of cafes…it turns out, up the hill isn’t so bad after all.

    Coffee Residence, 23 Watford Road, Cotteridge, Birmingham B30 1JB
    https://www.coffeeresidence.co.uk/

    Disclaimer: Paid for it all by myself, and though I didn’t tell them I was a food blogger, I don’t imagine they get many people who take out a camera to photograph their lunch. Then again this is Cotteridge, where stranger things have happened.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Miss Saigon Summer Menu at Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome

    Given where the Hippodrome is located, in the heart of Birmingham’s Chinatown, it would be easy for the Circle Restaurant to skip over the Vietnamese inspiration of its latest big blockbuster musical.  Sure, Birmingham is not particularly well served for Vietnamese food, but there are enough East Asian eateries within skipping distance of the restaurant that many theatre goers could be forgiven for being sidetracked.  However the Birmingham Hippodrome’s own AA Rosette Circle Restaurant has created a menu which combines a modern British menu with some surprising Vietnamese and East Asian inspired elements, in ode to Miss Saigon which is currently enjoying a run at the Hippodrome.

    Opening two hours before the show, with the option to reserve a table and enjoy dessert during the interval, the Circle Restaurant overlooks the main entrance of the Birmingham Hippodrome, absorbing just enough of the pre-show excitement to add a little buzz to the dining experience, but not so overpowering that it detracts from the meal.  But it has got an elegant, refined feel about it, the sort of thing you’d expect if you’re indulging in dinner and a show (as opposed to pick n mix and the latest blockbuster).

    We sat down to tasters of all all four of the Act I dishes, also known as starters.  A highlight for me was the white bean soup with basil pesto which was well seasoned and just the right density without being to heavy or creamy.  The Vietnamese prawn summer rolls with sweet chilli sauce worked well as both a dish inspired by the musical and the season (that is, if we’d had much sun this summer); light, fresh and crunchy with a nice kick from the sweet chilli sauce, it was a pleasantly different type of starter.

    Of the Act II mains, the modern British with Vietnamese/East Asian inspiration theme continues.  The congenial pairing of the herbal and sweet from the honey-brushed confit of duck leg with celeriac purée, bok choi and star anise jus worked perfectly to create a delicious summer dish.Most surprising was the vegetarian yellow curry lentil scotch egg with asparagus & new potato salad, of which the lentils made up the traditional minced meat element, but worked surprisingly well.  Honestly, it’s hard to pick a favourite of the taster mains because each of them had a lovely finesse to them without being overly gimmicky.  But if I had to it would probably be the pan-seared fillet of coley with rice noodle, samphire, ginger and spring onion broth, because samphire is one of those things that ought to be on more menus, and as a sucker for sustainability seeing coley in place of cod makes me unreasonably happy.  The pan-searing was executed beautifully, crisp skin coating flakes of white fish, sprinkled with samphire, lazing on the ginger and spring onion broth.  It was simultaneously comforting and nourishing, whilst light and fresh.

    With starters and mains done, it was off to see the first half of the show that had inspired the menu.  Set in Vietnam, Miss Saigon tells the story of a doomed romance between a Vietnamese women and an American male soldier during the Vietnamese war in the 1970s, based on the opera Madame Butterfly.  I knew little about the plot of the musical going in, but the production is a blistering and absorbing portrayal, heavy and intense with emotion and utterly captivating.

    During the interval, instead of queuing up for the customary ice cream, we moved round to experience some of the  meeting rooms attached to the Birmingham Hippodrome.  Now I’ve used some of their rooms during my day job and I know they’re great spaces, but it was fantastic to see that they worked well for an evening meal – perfect if you’re looking for a spot of corporate hospitality.  Or if you’re dining at the Circle Restaurant, you can reserve your table and enjoy refreshments there.

    We tried tasters of the three dessert options on the Miss Saigon summer menu: matcha green tea panna cotta with kalamansi and sesame tuille; bitter chocolate tart with lychee, strawberry & mint compote; and poached peach & pistachio cake with raspberries and vanilla set custard.  Ordinarily I’m not one to favour chocolate-based desserts but the bitterness of the chocolate tart really worked well to counterbalance the creaminess.  The pistachio cake had a lovely bright green hue to it, with a nice nutty flavour but still pleasantly airy.

    I’d never have thought to eat at the Circle Restaurant before seeing a show, usually I’m more a grab a plate of something of char siu from one of the local Cantonese places nearby.  But with such an impressive show, like Miss Saigon, it’s worth the indulgence of making a night of it and treating yourself to dinner at the Circle Restaurant too.  I’m looking forward to seeing what menu head chef Melissa Menns comes up with for the next show.

    Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, Southside
, Birmingham, B5 4TB
    https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/plan-your-visit/food-drink/circle-restaurant/

    Disclaimer: The Hippodrome invited a bunch of Brum Bloggers to check out the Miss Saigon menu and show, in exchange for our thoughts on the menu. As ever all thoughts remain my own, including some pretty strong ones about sustainability…don’t ask me about transport.