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Cafe reviews

    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.

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    Lunch at Black Lab, Kings Heath

    latte_black_lab_kings_heath

    Usually I wait till I get home until I write up a review, think about the experience overall and uh, digest stuff. But I’m sat in the window of Black Lab, a coffee bar and lounge in Kings Heath, where I’ve been waiting for half an hour for a sandwich and if I don’t focus on something then I’m going to start eating the potted plant I’m sat next to.

    Frankly I probably should’ve expected this when I tried to go earlier and it was inexplicably closed. And then I went to do some errands and walked past and it was open.  So I went in.  It’s has this nice shabby chic look to it, a bit grungy and mismatched furniture, exposed brickwork…you know, very Kings Heath.

    The drinks menu has some nice inclusions on there, particularly the spirits menu which has about four bottles per category and not just the same old typical ones. Compared to its sister suburb Moseley and a few notable venues aside, Kings Heath feels like more of a daytime place so it seems promising to have somewhere else nice and interesting to go in the evening.

    And the coffee menu is fairly to the point, which is what I’d expect from a coffee bar and lounge. But it seems to do it a disservice because whatever they’re doing the coffee is good. I went for a soya latte and it was deliciously sweet and creamy, with a nice head of foam. In hindsight it didn’t need the sugar, but the cube I dropped in suspended nicely.  Frankly if I wasn’t so annoyed at having to wait over half an hour for a toastie I’d have ordered another.  But I’ll be dammed if I’m going to buy a second drink because it takes so long for my food to arrive.chorizo_sandwich_black_lab_kings_heath

    Initially I’d tried to order the Serrano, mozzarella and spinach toastie, only to be told it wasn’t on the menu…despite being in the actually menu I ordered from. Something about causing too many accidents, so I went for its sister version with chorizo. After an age it finally arrived and whilst it wasn’t worth the half hour wait, it was delicious. The bread had been well toasted but still retained a buoyancy that meant you didn’t fear any accidents biting into it and the ratios of  Serrano, mozzarella and spinach were spot on.

    Black Lab looks like a great little space and certainly feels a lot more Kings Heath than the odd little cafe there before. What they’re serving is very good, and diversifying a bar/lounge to be useful during the day is a sound idea, but if they’re going to do this they maybe need to rethink their approach.  Kings Heath isn’t exactly known for good places for coffee and Black Lab should probably make more of a song and dance about theirs. But they should probably buy another sandwich press too.

    Black Lab, 100 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ

    Disclosure: the sandwich, the coffee, me paying for it and the epically long wait were all real. Pretty sure they didn’t know I was writing this up.

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    3 Three’s, vegan cafe in Birmingham

    3-threes_birmingham_counter

    As someone who frankly overthinks everything, dietary requirements are pretty high on my list of things to think about (I arrange a lot of events, it happens).  You know, there’s always that box on an event sheet that asks about them and I’m always curious about the response; is it just for religious, ethical, moral and health reasons, or should people tell us if they really don’t like mushrooms (true story)?  And then when someone tells you they don’t eat wheat, gluten, sugar or processed foods, only to then discover them snacking on a biscuit which has all those things are you allowed to be a bit pissed off?

    And as someone with a lactose intolerance, which provides some fairly unpleasant results for me and anyone using the bathroom after me, I tend not to mention it unless I think whatever is being provided is going to lead to DEFCON one.  But I’m always really grateful when there are places that I don’t need to worry about it and that’s mainly anywhere that properly caters for vegans.  And so I’ve been wandering past Birmingham’s first vegan/vegetarian cafe, 3 Threes in Martineau Place, Birmingham city centre for the last few weeks, wondering when it’ll open.  And finally it has.

    coffee_3_threes

    The cafe itself has plenty of seating and was surprisingly busy on the Friday lunchtime I trundled down, considering they’d only opened that week.  The decor is fairly nondescript which is not to say it’s boring…it’s just not that bloody industrial look everyone is going nuts for.  It feels functional, but comfortable, like it could be good for working in there off a laptop all day as well as hosting a spoken word night in the evening.  It feels like a coffee shop, which is surprisingly becoming a bit rare.  Also, the staff are lovely.  As one of them dropped off my sandwich, he checked on my drink, then came back with it later, apologising for the (not very long) wait but that the barista wasn’t happy with the first one and started again.  I liked his honesty.

    Food wise, I suspect it’s in a bit of flux at the moment.  They’re doing vegan hot dogs, which looked good, but being it was a working Friday I opted for the British classic; sandwiches and a bag of crisps.  Okay sure, a vegan version of a chicken, sweetcorn and mayo sandwich isn’t exactly standard, but there we are.  In some sense, I think I ordered this because I wanted to see if chicken-flavoured stuff would taste as such and it does, in fact it tastes exactly like those packaged chicken slices you get in the supermarket.  So if you’re vegan and missing these, great, or you’re vegan and want to drag your meat-loving friend somewhere that you can both eat, then this is a good way to distract them from that.  Crisps wise, they’ve got a decent selection of Ten Acre crisps, which are vegan-friendly.  Sure, you might ask, why is this even A Thing, but for some reason most standard flavoured crisps are full of milk products.  Ten Acres aren’t, and their cheese and onion flavoured crisps are great.
    vegan_chicken_sandwich

    I rounded off my lunch with an almond milk latte which was superb (clearly worth making a second time); sweet, creamy and delicious.  For that alone, I’ll be back.  I also bought a caramel rose cupcake, which was all sorts of animal free and there were several gluten free dessert options available too.  I took this back to the office with me and it travelled well, was flavoursome and whilst not as identikit as the sandwich for its usual counterpart, was very tasty.

    All in all a large almond milk latte, cupcake, sandwich and bag of crisps came to around £8 which is pretty standard for the less animal friendly versions elsewhere in the city centre.  On leaving, the guy who served me asked if I’d be back and I will.  Not because it’s vegan friendly place in Birmingham city centre, but because the service was good, the latte was damn tasty and I want to try some of the ice cream I spotted on leaving.

    caramel_cupcake

    http://www.3threescoffee.com/

    Disclosure: Took myself off on a lunch date and paid for myself. Who needs other people when food is the best company?

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    Nibbles: Friska, Brindley Place

    friska_meal

    I have two major philosophical quandaries about food; one is what defines cake, the other is what counts as ‘lunch food’? If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then I’m going to come out and say that lunch is the most difficult.  Think about it, there’s a whole pile of food designated to be ‘breakfast food’ and at dinner anything goes, but what’s lunch got? Sandwiches, salads?

    In this unending quest to find out what is considered proper lunch food the question of timing always comes up. Going out for lunch gives it pseudo-dinner qualities, but if you’re stuck in that not really going out for dinner but wanting to either a) escape the office or b) go for lunch but not Go For Lunch then things get tricky.

    Enter Friska Foods.

    Friska have joined the Brummie indie food scene from Bristol.  Frankly I’m a more the merrier when it comes to places to eat, but the fact that Bristol are letting some of their indies come play in Birmingham is a Good Thing.  Friska do lots of things I like; namely they don’t go too overboard on this pseudo-industrial look that I’m getting really bored of, they have a variety of food and also, non-dairy milk choices.  CHOICE!   And their staff are super friendly, in a way that makes you think you’ve met them loads of times before and somehow forgotten, rather than that false enthusiasm.  In fact they have a nice ethos of generally being nice – each month they have a dish which helps support Deki, a microfinance charity that allows people to lend to an entrepreneur in the developing world – you know in that ‘give a man a fish…’ ethos.

    friska_almond_latte

    After getting over the initial confusion that I didn’t know the barista, she was just disarmingly lovely, I ordered an almond milk latte.  Now anyone that reads this blog regularly (I think that’s just my mum) will know I am a fan of disco coffee – AKA a latte, usually, flavoured with some sort of sugary syrup.  This almond latte was sweet, warm and everything I want in a disco coffee without me requesting sugary syrups.  Also, to substitute to almond milk is free, whereas the soya version is charged at 50p extra, which is fine by me because I’m pretty sure soya and I don’t get on too well (just better than milk).  Oh and they do Yorkshire Tea, which will make several people I know very happy, and a hazelnut hot chocolate which I didn’t try but I want someone to because I need to know if it’s like melted Nutella.

    Food wise, they do hot boxed meals, warm soup, wraps, burritos, salads and also Vietnamese pho noodles dishes, plus cold salads and sandwiches.  There are eight types of salad, which I think might be my mum’s idea of heaven.  There’s also a bunch of cake things, because who has afternoon meetings without the promise of cake?

    I did what I always do when I get invited along to these things, I palm off the decision on someone else – their PR person chose the beef chilli hot box meal.  This has plenty of positives; four different things in one box means I don’t get bored and each of them were lovely.  And the beef chilli was too, but it’s not what I’d call beef chilli…it was more beef stew.  And the good thing about this is the honesty with which the staff spoke.  They’d had a few other comments similar to mine and they’d said that they had noticed that us Brummies like things a bit spicier…which I think is them being polite.  Maybe its just my sense of Brummie-patriotism but when I go elsewhere in the country I ask how spicy stuff is I point out that I’m from Birmingham and our idea of spice may be a bit different.  I suspect this dish might have a name change, and that’s no bad thing, because I liked this as it was…it felt hearty and nourishing and sort of tasty-but-good-for-you lunch food without feeling like it was pretending to be anything else (well, except chilli).  It’s also pretty filling without going overboard and £5.50 which feels like a good price.

    friska_beef_chilli_box

    And that brownie in the first photo was lovely, but I didn’t eat it til I got home. Although, as someone who generally goes for the non-chocolate options, I enjoyed slicing it up and having a nibble.

    It was only a quick visit to Friska for me, but first impressions were good, I liked the place, the people and the food.  And when there feels like there’s a bunch of places opening in the city, somewhere that delivers on all three feels like the promise of something good.  In the few short weeks it has been open its obviously become a place for nearby office workers to have informal meetings, but the number of plug sockets means that it could well be a good place for freelancers too.

    In the words of Arnie, I’ll be back.

    http://www.friskafood.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited down by Friska for a complimentary meal, which didn’t affect my opinions of the place. More importantly, what ARE the necessary and sufficient conditions of cake?! Seriously, this is a five year discussion two philosophy graduates have been having and neither of us are any clearer.

    Cafe reviews, Deli, Reviews

    Treat Greek Deli, Great Western Arcade, Birmingham

    treat_greek_deli_coffee

    Until recently, I’m pretty sure most of my experiences of Greek food in Birmingham involved stepping over the broken crockery on the way to the old Snobs or parties at my Greek-Cypriot school friend’s house.  But having travelled all night, I landed back in Brum to check out the relatively new Treat Greek Deli, only to be offered a cup of thick, dark sludgy, traditional Greek coffee, which was akin to heaven.

    I’ve drunk a lot of coffee over the years, but never the Greek version.  It’s boiled in a special pot (a briki, if I’m remembering correctly, but I was pretty sleep deprived), and produces a strong brew, which when served has an almost foam on top…and I was warned not to drink the whole cup as the grounds in the bottom of the cup.  You know sometimes people refer to strong coffee as being a bit like rocket fuel, yep, it’s like that, only deliciously so.

    traditional_greek_cheese_pie_treat_deliCoffee isn’t the only thing the family-run Greek deli located in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham city centre sells.  They’re aiming to bring an authentic style Greek food to the city, with traditional Greek pies and pasties, salads, healthy smoothies, Greek yogurt and coffees.  The deli itself is a lovely bright, airy space and has a couple of tables outside, which is prime people watching space particularly on a weekday lunchtime.  The staff are lovely and friendly, although everyone we met seemed to be called George.

    I’d headed down with Roz and we were treated to a sample of their savoury products; traditional cheese and spinach pies, gyros with chicken, pizzarela and a Greek salad sandwich.  Both of the pies were made with handmade olive oil filo pastry, which was lovely and crisp and the fillings both equally tasty.   Actually everything was lovely, fresh and felt healthy…well as healthy as filo pastry can do.

    bugatsa_treat_greek_deliWe also tried a pumpkin pie which straddled the sweet and savoury bridge.  With the autumn/winter seasons firmly in place and everyone going nuts for pumpkin spiced lattes, this was a much less sickly sweet variety, made with organic Greek pumpkin.  The final treat was Bugatsa, a Greek breakfast pastry made of handmade olive oil filo pastry with milk, fine semolina and vanilla cream.  It comes dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon and if you pop in for one of an afternoon, which I did a couple of weeks later, they’ll chop it into bite size pieces for you.  You’ll also convince yourself that you won’t eat the whole thing, but you’ll fail (or maybe that’s just me).

    I really enjoyed my visit to Treat Greek Deli the Great Western Arcade and I’ve been back since.  Someone recently asked for recommendations for Greek coffee in Birmingham and I sent them to Treat and they said one sip took them straight back to Crete.  It’s a welcome addition to not only the Great Western Arcade, which is slowly becoming a bit of a foodie hot spot, but to the city. Go visit and have a coffee – but don’t leave it too late as it’s pretty strong.
    http://treatgreekdeli.co.uk/
    treat_greek_deli_drinks Disclosure: I was invited to Treat to try their products and have a chat with the chef-owner. I wasn’t obliged to write anything. And I wasn’t obliged to return a few weeks later to buy a portion of Bugasta instead of lunch one day, but it’s a hard life.
    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    Benugo Birmingham New St

    benugo_new_st_birmingham

    I don’t get salad people…even though my mum is one.  Those people that would voluntarily choose a torturous game of needle in a haystack only with the hay being lettuce and the needle protein, instead of pretty much anything else for lunch.  But when I headed down to check out Benugo, one of the latest openings at new New St station, I voluntarily ate salad.  And it was good.

    Benugo Birmingham New St is the first ‘high street’ store outside of London for the group.  Founded in 1998 by two brothers, Ben and Hugo, which is presumably where the name came from, you can find Benugo outlets up and down the country but mainly in cultural centres and museums.  Their first foray into Birmingham has more of an actual coffee shop vibe to it – the decor is that rustic, industrial look which is becoming a bit too familiar in coffee shops, but here is softened with colourful furniture.  Frankly with such a good spot for people watching, they’ve rightly left half the walls as windows, which gives you the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by or watch people marvel at the new station.

    tea_coffee_benugo_new_st

    On the surface they don’t do anything we haven’t seen in Birmingham before – tea, coffee, sandwiches and salad boxes.  But their focus is on honest, responsibly sourced food, healthy too but with the occasional sweet treat.  Most of the food is prepared on site, all chicken is free-range and British, and they support a raft of charities from farms working with children in urban areas to projects delivering fresh drinking water in India.

    masala_chicken_wholefood_box_benugo

    It’s clear coffee is a big thing for them, with coffee bean sacks and milk jugs decorating the space above the fridges, they’ve won London’s Coffee Shop of the Year twice.  But just like the capital, there’s a raft of great independent coffee shops in Birmingham who take their coffee seriously too.  The flat white I tried was lovely, the coffee had a smoothness to it which was rounded off by a nice velvet milk – and no need for sugar.  It would certainly be a good coffee to catch on the way to work; strong enough to wake you up, but steady enough that it wouldn’t be a shock to the system.

    They’re trialling hot food in the Birmingham Benugo, which given how autumnal a day it was might’ve been a good choice, but I spotted something better, something which suggested to me that maybe these London lot might be at home in Brum after all; curry.  Or rather masala chicken with curried quinoa & lentil mix, edamame, roast sweet potato, cucumber, mixed leaves and cabbage and carrot slaw.  They call it a super wholefood box which is the sort of righteousness in food that usually puts me off, but the riot of colour made this look like more than your average salad.  And it was.  I get bored of salad before I feel like I’ve eaten enough, but the mix of flavours from the spice of the chicken to the sweetness from the potato and the crunch of the carrot was enough to keep me interested.  By most work-day lunch standards it’s not a cheap option, but it feels like something which is nutritional and fun…which is certainly worth the splurge.

    mango_passionfruit_cheesemate_benugo

    After something so healthy I probably should’ve rounded it off with fruit, but I’m a sucker for an afternoon sweet snack, so I took with me a mango and passionfruit cheesecake, which travelled surprisingly well up past Colmore Row.  Whilst I was worried that this looked like a lot of cheese, it had layers of zingy fruit nestled on a bed of biscuit crumble that still had some bite to it.  Although a flatter serving dish with more crumble would’ve been my preferred choice, this will still tick a lot of boxes for most people.

    The previous offerings at the old train station were pretty lacklustre, to say the least.  But with good coffee, tasty food and a great location, Benugo Birmingham New St makes a much better meeting place than a tired old cookie stand – or just a place to watch the world go by.  I’ll be back…and I’m taking my mum, she might even get to see me eat a salad for once.

    benugo_birmingham_first_look

    Disclosure: Benugo invited me down to try a complimentary lunch, although to be fair I was already planning on visiting anyway.  As ever my views remain honest and my own, even though I’ve just admitted to liking a salad, which my mum pointed out she “knew you would grow up to like them”.

    Cafe reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Shirley High St

    It feels a bit lazy writing this all as one blogpost, but having only really dipped my toes into the delights Shirley has to offer it feels right.  For years Shirley High St has been a bit, well, rubbish.  I remember trips to the Bank of Ireland as a child as my mum once inexplicably held an account there, waiting in the car because there was simply nothing else to do.  Fast-forward a few years and other than venturing to the rather delightful Crust, a pizzeria which is really worth a trip, I hadn’t bothered with the high st for years.  But the Parkgate development seems to have brought a new lease of life to Shirley, and in the last month or so, I’ve visited twice for lunch.

    photo 3On my first visit it was lunch at Desco Lounge, part of the Loungers group, which also has venues in Kings Heath and Harborne.  Despite having one on my doorstep, I don’t really visit a lot, but my mum wanted to go for lunch and as she was paying I wasn’t arguing.  The Loungers venues in Brum have this whole faux-shabby-chic thing going for them, but the high ceilings at Desco give it more grandeur.  I went for their Jambalaya, which was a little disappointing.  The chorizo was, at points, tougher than I’d like and the inclusion of the chicken on top of the rice mixture meant it lacked flavour.  The jamba itself was very spicy, a little too spicy for me, but still pretty tasty.  My mum went for a Goat’s Cheese salad, which she said was one of the best she’d had in a long time.

    photo 5After some errands we stopped for coffee.  Shirley has an assortment of chain coffee shops and my health conscious mother had vetoed the idea of trying Shake, Waffle & Roll, but did point out her new favourite place to stop for coffee – a furniture charity shop.  No, seriously.  Betel has a restored furniture shop on the high st which has some lovely pieces…and also a charming little coffee shop.  I asked for a soya milk latte, which given the size of the shop I wasn’t convinced they’d have, and they couldn’t be more accommodating.  Also, a Christmas mug…these people know their customers well (I LOVE Christmas).  The foam on the latte was luxurious and the coffee delicious. Top marks.  I’m looking forward to going back and trying some of their cakes, many of which cater for food intolerances.

    photo 4

    Our second visit saw us at Pizza Express.  We both went for the Warm Vegetable and Goats Cheese Salad, only I had mine minus the goat’s cheese and with chicken.  With aubergine, red & yellow peppers, roasted tomatoes, artichoke, cucumber, Italian lentils, mint and basil this was another of those salads-I-don’t-hate; full of flavour and texture, with plenty of veg and just a little bit of lettuce – very enjoyable.

    Just like my mum and her banking, Shirley high st has moved with the times.  There are some interesting places to eat and it’s developing a nice buzz.

    Well done Shirley, I’ll be back soon.