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    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.

    Musings, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Akrams, Stirchley

    I kinda think the whole Balti Triangle thing in Birmingham is a bit of a marketing gimmick.  It’s one I’m totally fine with, because Birmingham on the whole never seems to do very well at claiming its rich heritage, but we totally claim the balti, check wikipedia.  Because if there’s one thing Brummie love, it’s a good curry.  And the reason i think the Balti Triangle is a gimmick is because whilst there might be a whole pile a cracking curry houses around the Ladypool Rd, Sparkhill, Balsall Heath area, I kinda think it’s pretty hard to find bad curry in Birmingham.

    You see, Travelodge wanted me to talk about the Birmingham Balti and whilst it would’ve been easy to bang on about the Balti Triangle, I’m gonna be lazy and tell you about a balti house down the road from me.  To me, this is one of the great things about Birmingham…you never have to go far for a good curry.  And, my friends, the balti at Akram’s in Stirchley is properly good.

    Akram’s pride itself on Kashmiri cuisine, which means lots of meat and rice and I can tell you they do both well.  Rogan Josh is probably the most well known of the Kashmiri curries, especially round these parts, and the traditional lamb version at Akram’s is delightful – and if you ask nicely they’ll add a whole pile of vegetables to it, because a girl’s gotta get her greens. I’ve been to Akram’s few times now, owing to it being one of my nearest curry houses, but on my last but one visit I discovered their spinach and chicken balti.  And whilst my food photography skills are passable at best, I cannot get a good photo of this, but trust me it’s good. Popeye would be happy with it because there’s a load of spinach, rightly so, and lovely tender chicken.  In fact, there’s so much spinach that it’s not so much a wet sauce as wilted spinach carrying some extra liquids.  It also means you rarely leave any behind, which is totally worth it.

    I like to do the duo of rice and naan, because carbs give me life.  They do those giant table naan at Akram’s and one day I will order it, but my love of bread is so strong that I will probably try and eat the whole thing myself.  So for now I stick with the standard naan which is lovely and fresh, but still nicely doughy round the edges.  They do all the fancy types of naan you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t, but the quality of the simplistic plain naan is so good I’m yet to move on.A special mention has to go to the music, which I’d totally not noticed on previous visit but I got to fully absorb the soundtrack this time round.  And the cover version of such classics like Careless Whisper and I Believe I Can Fly were so notable that I Whatsapped my friend to arrange a visit next time she’s in town.  If the good curry doesn’t convince you to make a trip, then the music choices should.

    Birmingham is the best place for Balti and whilst I’d recommend any visitors to the city to visit the Balti Triangle, but south Birmingham locals or those sticking around a bit, Akram’s is totally worth a visit.  And if you’re staying at the Maypole Travelodge, the food offerings for dinner nearby are fast food so come to Akram’s instead – it’s less than a 10 minutes taxi ride away.

    Akram’s, 1526 Pershore Rd, Birmingham B30 2NW.

    Disclaimer: Travelodge paid for my meal but all views remain my own, as ever. The restaurant didn’t know why I was taking photos of my dinner and giggling at the music, until they asked me if I used TripAdvisor and I thought I better own up.

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    First bite of Can Eat in Stirchley

    For anyone that follows me on social media, they’ll know that my Saturdays start with a trip to the bakery in Stirchley, so the conundrum of Can Eat opening posed some problems.  Well, I say that, really what I mean is that I try and fit in two breakfasts these days.

    For those who think the name sounds familiar, CANeat was previously a pop-up restaurant run by Dom, Vic and Lap in association with Loaf community bakery and cookery school back in 2013…which is my justification for the whole two breakfasts thing.  Dom has now revived the name to open a lovely little cafe in Stirchley that is so dangerously close to Bournville train station that I worry people might genuinely start getting the train to it and I’ll never get a seat in there again.

    Anyway, this isn’t a full review, just a ‘first bite’ to say how much I’ve enjoyed the few times I’ve been in there.  A preliminary visit for coffee left me pleasantly surprised to find out their non-dairy milk is oat milk (praise the gods, soya is not my favourite) and that they’re cashless, as in you pay by card…although cash tips, totally still welcome.  On second visit I had the eggs with gochujang mayo on toast…and then I had it a second time on my third visit, because it’s that good. Honestly, I’m planning on going back again soon and I’m telling myself I need to order something else, but the gochujang mayo makes me really happy…I want it on everything, even ice cream.

    I like the menu, it’s small and relatively uncomplicated with porridge, bircher and granola as well as a few toast options for breakfast and some lunch items, as well as a very well stocked cake cabinet.  Keeping it local, they serve Quarter Horse Coffee and there’s also something called a Turmeric Arnold Palmer which I totally had to look up and turns out it’s probably an iced tea and lemonade thing with turmeric…I think they’ve out-Moseleyed Moseley on that one.

    Can Eat is open Tuesday – Saturday from 7:30am – 4pm, which means I’m a little disappointed that there’s no after-work trips, but it does mean that if I speed up on my bike I could theoretically do breakfast before work.  Also, they do lunch but I haven’t gotten over the gochujang mayo to try that yet…one day.

    Can Eat, 1397 Pershore road, Stirchley High Street, Birmingham B30 2JR
    http://www.caneat.co.uk/

    Disclaimer: paid for all my visits myself. Or rather I used my magic contactless card to pay but probably should just set up a direct debit.

    Bar reviews, Reviews

    Haig Club whisky with a view at The Cube

    On the few brief glimpses of summer we get in Birmingham it’s worth either being outside in the sunshine, or my preferred option somewhere with air conditioning and a good view.  And way up high on level 25 of The Cube to check out the new Haig Club Bar isn’t too shabby a way to spend an evening.

    Haig Club, for those not in the know, is a light grain whisky launched by footballer David Beckham and produced by the titan spirits company Diageo.  It comes in a distinctive blue bottle that looks more like an oversized aftershave than whisky, but certainly makes for pretty pictures.  I once heard someone describe a dram as a ‘Breakfast Whisky’ and if I were looking for a way to describe Haig Club, this may well be it.  It’s incredibly light, easy-drinking but lacks the oomph associated with whisky, which will either disappoint drinkers or have the potential to turn them on to a spirit they thought they didn’t like.  Then again, sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit more temperate in the sunshine.

    The bar itself is nestled away in one of the corners of the top floor of the Cube.  It’s away from the bustle of main bar up there, but still has the wow-factor with the impressive views of the city whilst maintaining a sense of exclusivity.  If everyone who goes doesn’t take a photo like the one above of the cityscape in the background I’d be highly suspicious.  The shelves of Haig Club whisky lined up behind the bar also makes an impressive feature wall.


    Head barman Jack Spencer, previously of Bourne & Co and Bank, has taken helm of the bar itself and created a series of cocktails, several of which are based on fairly classic drinks, including the Ginger Julep and Clubman Apple Mule, as well as a few of his own including Berry Beauty and Pears in Paradise – and maybe a few other sneaky specials.  With such a soft spirit it going to be hard not to overpower it or create something sickly sweet and Jack manages to do a fine job of creating something that works.

    There’s also a food menu, which has been designed to highlight the flavours of the Haig Club whisky, apparently.  I’m not overly convinced by this, but it’s a decent array of tapas-style bar menu and there’s a good selection, although it seems to be fairly meat heavy, though there were some veggie options.  Highlights for me included the prawns and the chorizo and I really wanted to like the black pudding bon-bons, because hello black pudding, but I think they needed to be smaller.  I’m not overly sold on the food, it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s the main draw of the place; I think they’re more about having some snacks whilst checking out the view and having a cocktail or two.

    I don’t doubt that Birmingham is ready for a whisky bar, and I think it’s a brave move to focus one around a product which is incredibly smooth but lacks the depth that most people might associate with the spirit.  Then again with the bright lights, city lights twinkling below, perhaps it is more about starting the night than ending it, and if so a lighter-tasting whisky might be the way to go.

    Haig Club Bar, Level 25, The Cube, 196 Wharfside St, Birmingham B1 1RN

    Disclaimer: I was invited to check out the bar at a preview night where food and drinks were provided complimentary, but as ever my opinions remain my own. Also, totally stuck a reference to 50 Cent in there because I’m watching Power.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Searcy’s Balcony at Selfridges

    Cities are great, they’re great because there is always something happening, a sort of slow hum, the soundtrack of living.  And I like nothing more than to find somewhere to sit and appreciate this; I’d call it an abstract people watching if it didn’t sound so bloody pretentious.  It is, for me, one of the many reasons I like going out for dinner, because you can watch the action of the staff moving like they’re in a choreographed dance between tables, the clinking of cutlery and glasses, and the people watching, oh that’s always the best bit.  Everyone plays the guessing who’s on a first date game, right?

    And way up high in the skies of Selfridges in the Bullring is The Balcony, not an inventive name, I’ll give you that, but it does give you an indication of where it is.  I love that floor, because as my mum puts it I “have a thing for bags” and I like to covet them and daydream over a time I can justify buying a Mulberry Bayswater.  It is, at times, a floor that feels a bit like a museum but the restaurant itself is neatly tucked away in a corner and stretches out into the belly of the Bullring – but the view is not intrusive, it just adds a bit more life whilst giving a relaxed vibe.

    We start with a cocktail, because we’re on a floor of shoes and handbags and it’s probably the done thing here.  The cocktail menu is compact, nine alcoholic and two without, and the theme seems to be British summer time – lots of berries, fruits alongside gin and fizz.  The Goji Blush is made with organic goji berry liqueur, organic Virtuous vodka, lemon juice, honey, raspberries and Selfridges Prosecco; it’s a light, delicate drink, made well by the bartender and simple enough that most people should enjoy it.

    I honestly worried that the menu at The Balcony would be miniature bites aimed at ‘ladies what lunch’ but don’t actually seem to be interested in eating.  But thankfully they’re well thought out dishes that allow you to be as gluttonous or restrictive as you like.  Mains are classic dishes: braised shoulder of lamb, fish and chips, salmon fish cakes and the like.  There’s also a burger – we’ll get to that later though.  For starters my friend Jo-ann had the pea and ham terrine, which she enjoyed but said would’ve preferred less pea and more ham, though not ungenerous with the meat.  I had pesto gnocchi mainly because it has been a very long time since I’ve had it and I was surprised to see it on the menu, but it was a nice light version.

    For mains, Jo-ann had the braised shoulder of lamb, fondant potato and butternut squash purée and unsurprisingly I went for the Lake District beef and Applewood cheese burger with fries. Jo’s lamb was a good-sized portion and she said the lamb had been cooked well, the butternut squash puree added a nice summery look to what could’ve been a more wintery dish. My burger was delicious, the smokey applewood cheese gave it a lovely flavour and the bun was toasted but still pliable…all in all a very decent burger and one I’d be happy to go back for. The miniature mayo and ketchup pots were a nice touch and the fries were of a good standard.

    The Oreo cheesecake that Jo-ann had looked lovely, but also seemingly a little tough to crack through the base – I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I went for the stick toffee pudding, another classic dish on the menu, which had a lovely caramel flavour and the toffee sauce had a perfect touch of saltiness to cut through the sugar. Delightful.

    For a menu that I expected to be all a bit ‘ladies what lunch’ this was a surprise. Sure, you’re paying more because of the location and associated exclusivity, but the portions are a reasonable size and the menu is largely fairly classic, well-known dishes done well using nice ingredients. For those people who want to eat well but dislike the hectic crowds that can sometimes descend on the Bullring, the Balcony is a good place to seek refuge, if you don’t mind paying a little for it.

    The Balcony at Selfridges, Bullring, Moor Street Queensway, Birmingham B5 4BU

    Disclaimer: I was invited down, or should that be up, to the Balcony for a complimentary meal. As ever views remain my own, because lying is too much effort to remember.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Original Patty Men grilled cheese pop up

    For very little reason other than I wanted to remind myself about this filthy, gorgeous grilled cheese AND rumours have it Original Patty Men are doing another pop-up soon, I figured it might be time to blog about the OPM grilled cheese pop-up.

    Back at the beginning of March, one of the best places for burgers in the city announced that they were going to do a pop-up.  And grilled cheese pop-up, at Quarter Horse Coffee on Bristol St, at that.  I dashed out of work, power walked down and immediately ordered a braised ox cheek with pickled fennel and red Leicester cheese grilled sandwich.  I promise you, there is ox cheek in that grilled cheese, it was just oozing so much cheese you might not see it.  Lactose intolerance be damned, this was a thing of beauty and I’m glad I rushed down because the queue out the door when I left suggested there wasn’t going to be many hanging around – and indeed they sold out pretty quickly.  There was a vegetarian option, if memory serves, and whilst I have nothing against ordering the veggie option, there is no way in hell I’m ordering it if OPM are involved…that’s just madness.  The murmurs I heard from people around me who had ordered it suggested it was very good indeed.

    And because it was on sale, I had a bottle of Siren Craft’s siren Calypso, a dry hopped Berliner Weisse.  Given OPM have partnered up with Siren Craft for their Shaw’s Passage venue, it’s not surprising to see the two paired together. In my head, I’m a little wary of sour beers because I think I don’t like them, but turns out I’ve had a few now and this isn’t actually the case and I need to remember this – or check untapped before I order beer.  Anyway, Calypso and grilled cheese were a perfect match; the sourness from the beer cutting through all that oozy, melted cheese, complementing and contrasting each other superbly. Perfect.

    I totally know what the next OPM at Quarter Horse pop-up is and it’s a doozy, so you’re not going to want to miss this one (unless it means you get there before me and then there aren’t any left, then you should forget I said anything).  As ever, well worth keeping an eye on Original Patty Men’s twitter account to find out more https://twitter.com/OriginalPattyM

    Disclosure: Paid for it (and the subsequent pain from eating all that cheese whilst being lactose intolerant) all by best. So there.