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    Masterclasses, Reviews

    Revolution Birmingham’s cocktail masterclass


    I was talking to someone the other day about looking back on old blog posts; one of my earliest posts was on the cocktail masterclass at Revolution Bar on Broad St, so when they mentioned that they’d revamped their and asked me to come along, I thought it would be a great chance to compare and contrast.

    To start off the class we had a Bubblegum Daiquiri which was singularly the most disco cocktail I’ve seen in a while, what with it being bright blue and in a frappe style plastic glass and garnished with flying saucers.  It was pretty sweet, as a lot of flavoured daiquiris tend to be, and whilst not something I’ve overly keen on, the sweet-toothed will no doubt adore.


    Cocktail masterclasses are those things which really work well if you’re in a group of friends, celebrating someone’s birthday or as a hen/stag do.  As a blogger you tend to get thrown together with a group of people you might or might not know, but thankfully it was a great group of girls and Paul the bartender hosting the masterclass made everyone feel relaxed and made sure we all had fun.

    Now, I used to book in cocktail masterclasses in a previous job and the question I got asked the most was “How much alcohol will we get” which always used to annoy me, because if it’s volumes of alcohol you’re after then go drink cheap spirits in a park.  If you want to get merry whilst having fun and doing an activity, then masterclasses are a great way to go.  But even if you’re not drinking they can still be a lot of fun, and during our masterclass one of the group was a little wary how much alcohol would be flowing so started off with non-alcoholic cocktails, which Revs were pretty chilled about.


    Each of us got to have a got at making a cocktail, from the well known Cosmopolitan and Mojito (or super-fruit mojito for a non-alcoholic version), through to a Guava Colada.  One of the drinks, the Blank Canvas, seems to take inspiration from the molecular mixology craze that went round a few years back; it’s essentially a Vodka Collins infused with a concoction decided on by the drinker via a pipette into the drink.


    To keep everyone engaged throughout the class there are mini challenges and after everyone has made a drink it’s time to split into teams.  The party games were similar to the last class I did, in that they were joint efforts to make cocktails, but they’d switched them up a bit and added a new one which involved a group effort, balloons and a lot of fun chaos.  They’re all a sort of good natured competition, which has a great atmosphere.

    And then to end it’s the Revolution classic; a vodka line, where shots of flavoured vodka, made from triple-distilled vodka handcrafted in Rev’s own vodka factory, are lined up and tipped, domino style, into lemonade.  It’s one of those spectacles that looks visually brilliant and is a fun way to end.


    We finished up with something to soak up the alcohol.  It’s been a while since I last ate at Revs, mainly because it’s a menu of burgers, pizza and sandwiches which is decent enough, but not really enough to make me want to wander out to the end of Broad St for it.  That said, they do a 50% off deal on Mondays which is something to remember next time I go for an impromptu Monday night cinema trip.


    Disclosure: I was invited to the masterclass free complimentary, but given it was a masterclass I think we mainly did all the hard work anyway right?


    Pig butchery and charcuterie at Loaf

    steve_rossiters_pig_butcher_cuttingOne of my most vivid memories of growing up is being about seven and sitting on the counter supervising my dad as he skinned a rabbit.  Weird right?  Now that I’m old (but certainly not grown up) I totally get that most people’s exposure to raw meat is whatever the butcher or supermarket has to offer, but my dad grew up on a farm in Ireland and had a typical no-nonsense attitude, even when they let us name the animals.

    So when I barrelled up to the fine Stirchley establishment of Loaf to check out their pork butchery and charcuterie course, I was eager to get stuck in, or, you know, supervise.  The course is run in the cookery school (next door to the shop) by charcuterie enthusiast Lap-fai Lee and starts with a butchery demonstration from Steve Rossiter, of the award-winning Rossiter’s organic butchers, which is just up the road from Loaf.


    Now I totally get that butchery makes some people squeamish, which is what took me so long to write about this.  But watching and listening to Steve explain how the half a pig is broken down is like listening to someone describe art; he talked about the animal having lines to follow about where to cut, and it’s so clear how much he respects his job and the animal he’s butchering.  It’s the sort of thing that you could totally see being a Netflix mini-series.

    And once the pig was broken down, Steve and Lap teamed up to show us how to make sausages.  After threading on the casing, it was a matter of applying the right amount of pressure and feeding through the meat, and then linking them up.  Sounds easy right?  It’s like that patting your head and rubbing your tummy only holding a slippery eel in one hand and trying to crack a safe with the other.  I think we all got there in the end, and linking sausages was definitely a bit of a group effort as it took most of us a bit of time to get the hang of it.  But if anything, it meant that a group of strangers quickly became pretty friendly…because you try talking about sausages and no one cracking a smutty joke.

    lap_cuttingAfter the sausages were made and linked, it was time to break down the meat further into usable cuts that you’d find in the supermarket.  This began with Lap showing us how to cut down some of the larger sections and then let us have a go…which meant hammering cleavers to get through bones, and slicing into a pig’s head.  I like to hope my enthusiasm for this is more TV hospital drama fan and less psychopath, but…*shrugs*.  Probably not a good time to mention we also learn some rope tying methods either, right?

    Lunch is provided and is, of course, suitably pig related.  A spaghetti carbonara cooked in front of us by Lap, with cured meats from previous courses, and of course bread from Loaf.  It’s a great chance to sit down, pick Lap’s brain about his extensive knowledge of food, curing meats, food photography and the rest (which feels a bit like talking to someone about their Mastermind specialist subject).  By this point the group has spent the morning working together to make sausages, butcher pig’s heads and it’s clear we’re all a bit keen on food, so it’s nice to just sit around and chat.


    The afternoon session of charcuterie was all about learning to cure, which is one of those things I know of but never really thought about.  And turns out it’s actually pretty simple, but also quite technical in so far as making sure you have the right type of chemicals.  And once you’ve measured the chemicals, mixed and made the sausages you have to prick them to let the air in…and queue more smutty comments.

    And with the chorizo and salami put out to dry, it was time to divvy up all the pork products produced from the day.  We were told to bring some plastic tubs with us, and I know I should’ve realised that half a pig would produce quite a lot of meat, but I wasn’t expecting to go home with quite so much.  I have a tiny freezer and by the time I took my loot home it was pretty much full of pork, except because I bagged the pork cheeks they went into a stew pretty sharpish and were amazing.

    making_sausages_groupThis is the second course I’ve done at Loaf and each time I go away inspired; they have this great way of instilling confidence and sending you off with a sack full of food, and a brain full of ideas.  Watching Steve cut down the pig was compelling, Lap is like an encyclopedia of knowledge and the course gives you to give things a go.  Realistically, given that I live in a small flat, curing my own meat might not be something I do very often, but it didn’t feel entirely beyond me.  And what it did do was inspire me to think more extensively about pork and not just buying the same things, but trying things a bit different – and not just when ordering at a restaurant.

    On the surface the courses at Loaf seem a bit pricy, but given the level of expertise of the teachers and the sheer volume of food you go home with, along with the food on the day and the arms full of knowledge, it’s well worth it.

    Disclosure: I was invited to the class, but I suspect that given I’m there so regularly they just assume I’ve moved in.

    Masterclasses, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Making chocolates at the Chocolate Quarter


    I know, writing about chocolate in Birmingham, that’s never happened before…but this time it’s not the big purple monolith, but a cute little family-run boutique chocolatier in the Jewellery Quarter, also known as The Chocolate Quarter.

    Jay, Maninder and Kempes run the Chocolate Quarter and they have the sort of warmth and friendliness that is infectious.  I’m generally a sort of take it or leave it person when it comes to chocolate, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in their eagerness.  You know that sort of giddy enthusiasm which helps you absorb information so much better because you know this is less transactional and more a genuine love of the product?  Yeah, that.  And there was lots to learn; the basics about cocoa mass and white chocolate not really being chocolate, but also about beta prime crystals and tempering chocolate, and how higher percentage of cocoa mass doesn’t necessarily make better chocolate, if cheap beans are used.  But you know, in a fun way, that didn’t make it feel like a year nine science class.


    A few of us went down to hear about what they do, what they sell and check out one of their chocolate making masterclasses.  We started with hot chocolate, because it would be rude not to, then Jay took us through the process of chocolate making and explained that we’d be having a go at making our own caramel truffles; piping in caramel, sealing, then tempering some chocolate to ensure once we dunked the truffle, the chocolate wouldn’t go gritty.  We were given a few options on how to display the truffle, from a smooth look to something a bit more rustic, dusted with icing sugar, cocoa or coconut.


    Most hands on masterclasses I’ve been to have either been alcohol-filled or the sort of specific and detailed thing that I can’t see myself doing outside of the class.  I’ve made truffles at home before and the tips I picked up were useful, but mainly it was just a really lovely way to spend an evening.  There’s the option to BYOB if you like, somewhat dangerous I expect given how close they are to Hard to Find Whisky, or just enjoy hot chocolate, which gives it a nice option if you want to do something fun but the group are less about the drinking.  This could totally work as a birthday party of hen/stag do, or just a good excuse to get a group of friends together.


    After we made our chocolates, Jay and Maninder used us as guinea pigs to check out some of their experiments for Father’s Day; whisky, bacon and stout chocolates.  I’ve had bacon cupcakes before and whilst it’s a bit weird, the chewy texture didn’t quite work for me, but the salt and chocolate flavours worked.  The whisky chocolate was great; I hate it when things are flavoured and it’s a bit shy but this had a great hit of whisky.  And then it was time to collect our chocolates, pick up a few more (it would be rude not to) and then head home, with a new found respect for chocolate. 

    gold_chocolate Disclosure: This was a free event for a small group of bloggers, but I totally bought chocolate too because it was gooooooood. And we got a free Darth Vader chocolate too.

    Masterclasses, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Chaophraya Cooking School Birmingham

    Moving into a house with a small kitchen and starting a food & drinks blog means that I don’t really do a lot of cooking anymore, which is a bit of a shame as I really enjoy it. The treat of going out for dinner is always lovely, but there’s something quite satisfying about cooking up your own dinner. So when Lynsey from Chaophraya asked if I wanted to be a guinea pig for the Bullring-based branch’s first cooking school, I was keen to give it a go.

    Chaophraya, located in the Spiceal St area of the Bullring, opposite St Martin’s, is somewhere I’ve never been before, although people I know have,  and there were a fair few people in which was good to see, considering it was a Tuesday night. Alev from Bella & Robot and Natasha from Nutella Tasha were also willing guinea pigs so once we were all assembled we headed upstairs where the room had been re-arranged for a make-shift cooking school.

    After being introduced to the chef, we were each given our own station to work at and our own minder to make sure we had help. But first we had to dress for the occasion and were given an apron and chef’s hat each. I usually don’t wear an apron when I cook but it did give it a nice sense of occasion.

    DSC_1024First up we were taught to make spring rolls. Chef introduced us to chopping in a professional manner, which he seemed impressed I managed to almost pick up (it’s watching all those cooking shows). The folding of the spring rolls was a little trickier, in so far as making sure they were all about the same. Then it was the bit I’m less keen on, the frying, but the assistance from our minders made this a lot less daunting. Once we’d fried a few it was time to sit down and enjoy the spoils of our hard work.

    Main course was a beef and basil stir-fry with oyster sauce. This was perfect for me, I love oyster sauce and if I make stir-fry at home then this is usually what I’ll go for, but advice from Chef on using fish sauce to balance the sweetness gave it a really lovely taste and something I’ll be trying at home.


    For dessert it was banana in coconut batter with syrup. Chef showed us how to peel a banana so it was handled less before going into the coconut batter. After giving it a good mix we dropped the chunks of banana coated in batter into the hot fat and waited for it to cook. I’m not a massive fan of bananas generally but the creamy banana, sweet syrup cut through the batter and was lovely, although I couldn’t eat a lot of them.

    DSC_1036Even as someone who is pretty familiar with Thai cooking and making stir-fries at home, I really enjoyed the evening. The chance to learn some new skills and get advice from a Chef was fantastic – in fact I’d have liked more about the hot, sweet, sour and salty principles in Thai cooking. I was also impressed with their flexible attitude to dietary requirements, which didn’t seem to phase them at all.

    The class costs £60 per person which at first seems a lot, but a three course meal, expert tuition and a goodie bag to go home with (ours contained a fresh apron and hat, ingredients to make the dessert and a bottle of beer) it seems pretty reasonable. I’d say they’re aimed more at people who aren’t used to cooking Thai or East Asian food but even people who are familiar with the cuisine are likely to pick up something new. The dishes change each month, so if you’re interest it’s worth emailing who’s also the person you need to contact to book the classes too.

    Disclosure: I was invited to Chaophraya’s cooking school free of charge in exchange for being a guinea pig.  Frankly I don’t remember agreeing to write about it at all, as the invite came out of the blue, and so I definitely didn’t have to be nice about it. But I’d particularly like to thank them as my first thought of deep fat frying is no longer that episode of Spooks.