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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    White Truffle menu at San Carlo

    white_truffle_san_carlo

    Before I tell you how I spent my Friday lunchtime, I feel the need to tell you that once I rolled back from lunch I found out the keynote for my event next week had pulled out.  I tell you this, because the special guest star at the preview lunch I went to was a £2,000 white truffle and we were going to be some of the first to eat it.  But as with most things, there needs to be a balance in life. Just, you know, not at lunchtime.

    Thanks to celebrity chef and executive consultant chef for the San Carlo group Aldo Zilli, who personally selected one of the world’s most expensive ingredients from his home town in Italy, this Temple St restaurant now has a rare white winter truffle and it’s on the menu or the next two weeks, or until it runs out.  Yep, that kind of rare.

    lobster_risotto_white_truffleA group of us were invited down to check out some tasters from the exclusive menu at San Carlo.  It’s been a while since I’ve been to San Carlo, although not too long since I was at its sister venue, Fumo, round the corner.  In fact, last time I remember going my friend Fran had great fun translating some of the overheard Italian, which made for a great lunch.  And whilst that was a while ago, it was nice to see that San Carlo’s reputation for original and signature Italian dishes remains strong, as it was pleasantly busy whilst we were there.

    Anyway, back to the truffle, which is a rare treat to have in the city, particularly of such size.  This white winter truffle was found in the national park of the Abruzzo region, by specially trained dogs – and not pigs, as I thought.  Prized for their aromatic qualities and taste, they grow in the soil under trees and can only be harvested for around two months of the year.  So, you know, when they find one, and one that costs around £2000, you can see why it’s a cause for celebration.

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    And to celebrate the arrival, San Carlo have created a special menu of five dishes; Steak tartare with egg and truffle shavings, lobster and truffle risotto, Tagliolini pasta with truffle butter and shavings of fresh truffle, Carpaccio and burrata with shavings of truffle and turbot with a truffle and Prosecco cream sauce.

    I enjoyed getting to taste each of the dishes; despite all having the same start ingredient all felt like they brought something different to the palette.  Personally, my favourite was the tagliolini pasta with truffle butter and shavings of fresh truffle because it was so simple, but executed so well; the buttery oil slick over perfectly cooked, al dente pasta with a hint of the garlicky musk from the truffle.  I also enjoyed the lobster and truffle risotto, and I know it’s pretty much heresy to admit, but I’m not usually that fussed by lobster (too fiddly).

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    Five courses of white truffle might well be a bit overkill for most, but it’s definitely worth checking out a dish (or two, if you can convince a dining partner to order from the menu too).  But you’ll have to be quick, as the menu will only be around for as long as the truffle is.  It’s expected to be around for two weeks, but booking is highly recommended by the restaurant – call San Carlo on 0121 633 0251 or email birmingham@sancarlo.co.uk aldo_zilli_san_carlo

    Disclosure: Obvs I was invited to a press lunch, which means they sort of hope you’ll write something, but I never agreed to be positive unless I meant it. And so lunch was complimentary. Or I ran away without paying, who knows.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Byron burgers finally bounce into Birmingham

    byron_proper_hamburgersMy first Byron experience was in 2013 on one of my many trips to London, which I claimed was about seeing friends, but was really about going to go eat burgers.  So, shame on Byron for taking this long to get to Birmingham.  Salisbury has one and it only has a population of 45,000; York, Harrogate, Exeter and Camberley all have ones.  Manchester’s got three Byron’s…but, you know, no Michelin stars, so we’re clearly still winning in that respect.  I can only imagine that with a Birmingham-born burger chain already here, they figured they’d come back to us later.

    So what of the Birmingham one?  Located on New Street, the fact that it means that lovely old building is no longer some sort of gambling-machine arcade is major plus points.  Inside the space is well used; there’s an open kitchen it doesn’t feel forced into being the centre of attention and there’s enough interior design that it doesn’t feel like a canteen.  Apparently they’ve gone for a Cuban-inspired ‘Havana Good Time’; I’ve no idea quite what that is supposed to mean but the warm, tropical colours are used well. The exposed brickwork and relics of the old cinema knocking about if you know where to look too.  It feels like a nice space to be in, warm and inviting, not too gimmicky.

    Byron's smoky burger with Byron sauceFood wise it’s all about the burgers.  Okay sure there are some wings and chicken nuggets and things for starters, but this about the burger.  It’s a simple menu, with a regularly-changing special, but there’s enough to keep you interested and back to try different things.  And my mum will be pleased because they already specify that you can order a burger without the bun, or a salad if you really must.

    I’m re-evaluating my friendship with Jo-ann after she ordered the Smoky burger and swapped the smoked chilli BBQ sauce for Byron sauce…because seriously, BBQ sauce.  She did say it was really good although did feel there might’ve been a bit too many crispy onions, but I think that’s just because for once I wasn’t the one who made the biggest mess.

    Byron burger from Birmingham with friesI had the Byron burger because I’d hope that if you’re going to put your name on something it should be good; dry-cure bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and Byron sauce, cooked medium in what they call a squishy bun, with a pickle on the side and then I added some fries.  The fries managed to survive being left to go a bit cold as I took photos and didn’t seem to suffer, still holding a crunch.  I liked the burger, it is simple but a nice mix of flavours and was cooked medium as standard, which makes me happy.  But, I wasn’t blown away by it, and maybe that’s my fault for ordering what’s akin to the house burger. And I’ve been spoiled for burgers.

    Drinks wise, there’s something for everyone with milkshakes and soft drinks, as well as beers, wines and cider.  They have a couple of own-brand beers, made specially for them by Camden Town brewery, and I thought I ordered a Byron pale ale, but I’m pretty sure what arrived was a lager. I didn’t mention it to the staff because it was actually quite drinkable, even though I don’t often choose lager, which I think is a positive sign.

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    I’ve warmed to Byron since 2013, largely because I stopped expecting them to be the best burgers in town.  Instead, I realised that what they do well is providing somewhere you can go for dinner, that does simple burgers, but feels like going for dinner.  Over the years I’ve had some amazing burgers, but they’ve nearly all been in places where it’s all about the burger, and less about the experience.  Byron is where I could meet non-food-obsessed friends for dinner and a catch up and not be disappointed, but I doubt I’d convince them to trek to a sketchy part of town, queue for ages and then try and balance a beer and burger, no matter how out-of-this-world that burger is. Byron is about satisfyingly simple comfort food that’s burger-shaped, and I think there’s room for that in Birmingham.

    Byron burgers, 92 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4BA

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Triple ‘Meet the Brewer’ at Cotteridge Wines to celebrate Rule of Thirds

    siren_craft_cotteridge_wines_web

    Summer feels like a long time ago, but I’m getting through this massive backlog of posts and one of the ones I’d half written up was about the Rule of Thirds event at Cotteridge Wines, way back at the end of August.  Thinking back, it was also about the time I was starting to feel a bit ‘off’ which has made me realise just how long whatever the hell is wrong with me has been knocking about.

    Rule of Thirds is an India Pale Ale born from the flagship IPAs of three breweries, Beavertown, Magic Rock and Siren Craft, blended together to create something unique.  It’s the second time the three breweries had collaborated to create Rule of Thirds and to celebrate they decided to have an event somewhere in the middle of them…Which resulted in a pretty awesome event at Cotteridge Wines with a triple Meet the Brewer event.

    MBBC_magic_rock_stuart_web

    I bumped into the Midlands Beer Blog guys who were chatting with Stuart from Magic Rock.  And, even though it doesn’t feel like all that long since I went to a Magic Rock Meet the Brewer event, I still didn’t really have any questions (unless you count one about beer and food), so I was happy to snap photos and listen to the guys chat about the new brewery site and the brewing of Rule of Thirds, which sounded like a pretty fun day.  Dave, from Midlands Beer Blog has done a better write up, so head over there to have a read.
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    Being lucky enough to be able to regularly visit Cotteridge Wines, I’d already tried the canned version of Rule of Thirds which I thought was delicious, and enjoyed getting the chance to try it again, this time from the tap.  There were plenty of other beers from the three breweries, and I also enjoyed checking out The Great Alphonso from Magic Rock, Peacher Man from Beavertown and Orange Boom from Siren Craft, because it only felt fair to try a beer from each of the breweries.  Although I suspect it might’ve been more apt to try each of the flagship IPAs before finishing with Rule of Thirds, but I’ve never done things properly, so why start now?

    All in all, another fantastic event at Cotteridge Wines- it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Cotteridge Wines’ twitter to find out what other events they’ve got on.

    rule-of-third_three_beers_web

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Gin Festival, Digbeth

    holding-gin-webWe seem to be doing well at rainy Saturdays recently, don’t we?  Last weekend, the heavens opened for most of Saturday, which meant I spent a good chunk of the day wondering how a bit of rain can cause the roads around Solihull to become a giant car park.  Thankfully by the time the evening rolled round the roads and skies seemed to clear.  Which was just as well because I was meeting my friend Andrew (he’s modelling the gin glasses in the top photo) to head off to The Bond in Digbeth for the Gin Festival.

    The Bond is becoming a bit of a go-to place for drinks festivals, having hosted ones for beer and whisky already this year, and the Gin Festival had four bars; two for British gins, one for foreign gins and the final for sloe gins and liqueurs.  I won’t blather on about it too much here, as I did a write up over at the Gin Festival website, which you can read here.  But to end, here’s a photo of some of the botanicals that go into Sir Robin of Locksley gin.

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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Good Food Show summer 2016

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    Okay, so I’ve been having a bit of a technological nightmare as of late; first my SD card decided it would be really fun to wipe about 500 photos.  I found something on the internet which managed to recover some of them, but it probably means I’ve signed over my soul to some maleficent hacker.  And then after that my antiquated macbook kept telling me my disc was full, so I couldn’t edit any of the photos I’d recovered.  Good news it I think everything is back up and running via an external drive, a new SD card and a weekly séance to the computer gods.

    floral_afternoon_teaIn that pile of photos, I managed to recover some from the BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016, which took place back in June at the NEC in Birmingham.  And technically as the last day of summer I can still claim this is relevant.  Unlike the Winter show, which is a real food and drink extravaganza, the summer show teams up with Gardener’s World Live.  Personally I quite like this, even though my approach to flowers is pretty much is it pretty and what colour is it, it’s quite nice to get out of the Sisyphean halls and look at some plants.  Seriously, there are walls of the stuff, including a pyramid of lilies, it was immense.  One of my favourites though, was unsurprisingly an afternoon tea themed get up.

    Talking of tea, I was determined to revisit Bluebird Tea Co who are Brighton based and do use the unfortunate phrase of tea mixologists in their marketing, but their tea range and flavours are so good I kind of forgive them for it.  This time round I bought so much tea I got a free tote bag and have been happily sipping on their delicious award-winning Nearly Nirvana white silver needle tea with spearmint and jasmine, which is a constant favourite (and something I’ve purchased several times).

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    Although the BBC Good Food Shows aren’t necessarily local – after all, they also take place in Belfast, Glasgow and London, I always try and scope out some of the local flavours.  There is usually some local variety, if not at the Producer’s Village then usually amongst the stallholders.  Urban Herbs are a small, family-run, Birmingham-based business qho grow and source some delicious herbs and it’s always great to see them particularly at BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016 which makes so much sense with the gardening outside.  Another local producer, Gayani’s Kitchen HQ, were also there showing off their God Dust, an artisan Sri Lankan curry powder.

    Gayani_gold_dust

    I did actually wander around lots more food stalls, including Debbie & Andrew’s who do some really delicious, dairy and gluten free sausages and this Good Food Show they had some new products in the form of sweet chilli sausages and chicken & mango chipolatas.  As well as trying some at their stand, I took some home with me and used the chicken & mango chipolatas in a curry, which worked really well.  Unfortunately these were some of the photos lost to the computer gods.

    Anyone that’s been to a Good Food Show before can tell you that there’s usually a fair amount of alcohol stalls and this year there seemed to be plenty of gin stalls…never a bad thing in my eyes!  I stopped by the Bathtub Gin stall because they had some expressions there I’d not tried, but my recent-ish attempts at getting into beer meant my curiosity was spiked by the Crafty Devil Brewing Co.  I had a lovely chat with the lady manning the stall (my infamous inability to remember names strikes again) and she told me all about the history of this small Welsh brewery.  What I like most is that as well the quirky imagery, each of the beers has a recommended song to listen to whilst drinking.
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    I’d spotted that Firefly BBQ were back and determined to hunt them out.  Last time I picked up some of their pig rub and Memphis sauce, which I’m ashamed to say I haven’t used yet, but mainly because I don’t really cook big chunks of meat but it’s nestled in my cupboard waiting for its day.  This time I noticed something new and special; hot sauces and rubs in a range called REAVERS! Now if you’re a fan of the marvellous Joss Whedon show Firefly you will totally get the name and if you’re not then stop reading this and watch the show now.  I’ve got some of the ghost chilli cajun seasoning rub which I’m yet to get round to using because frankly I’m a giant wimp.  But I did pick up some of their Cuban Mojo, although I’ve been sticking it in my turkey meatball recipe rather than as a rub and it’s superb.  Hopefully they’ll be at Good Food Show Winter 2016 and I’ll pick up some more.

    firefly_sauce_rangeAs ever I really enjoy wandering around looking, tasting and talking about food and drink, and the BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016 was a great excuse to do this…and see some plants too.  The BBC Good Food Show Winter is back at the NEC from 24 – 26th November and if you can already book tickets here https://www.bbcgoodfoodshowwinter.com/.

    Disclosure: I was given a complimentary ticket to the BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016 in exchange for a post but wasn’t obliged to be nice. “I am a leaf on the wind; watch how I soar” *sobs*

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Cotteridge Wines 21st Birthday

    beer_burgerOkay, so this actually happened last month, but I popped into Cotteridge Wines at the weekend and ended up joining in with a conversation about their twenty-first birthday, and made me realise I hadn’t posted this yet.  I know, I know.

    Now for some reason Cotteridge Wines does not get the recognition it deserves in Birmingham.  I mean on one hand I think this is a good thing because it means I can pop in and wander round and pick up some excellent beer, but on the other hand every time I hear about how their biggest fanbase is mainly London-located it makes me sad for Brum.  Beer people of Birmingham, you are sorely missing out; Rate Beer have awarded them the UK’s Best Bottle Shop for three consecutive years running.  My journey to get into beer has been massively improved by them; I am always impressed by how well they remember what I’ve bought before, how they’ll save you beers if you tweet them nicely and the recommendations they make when you pop in are fab.  I mean really, they’re great.

    And if that’s not enough to convince you, then the beers on tap for their 21st Birthday should.  You see it’s not just their customers that think they’re awesome, some well respected breweries in the country do too, a testament to the relationship Jaz and Kal have built up with them.  So to celebrate their 21st Birthday, a bunch of breweries offered to make some special beers to mark the occasion and Cotteridge Wines threw open the doors to their tasting room to let their customers in on the fun – and Original Patty Men were around to make sure there was something to eat.

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    I was lucky enough to bagsy a space on the Saturday evening session and above is a quick photo of the tap list for the night.  I’m still relatively new to this whole drinking beer thing but even I knew that was an impressive array.  Sadly I didn’t get to try all of them, but I started the night with Tropical Cannonball, a passionfruit IPA, by Magic Rock Brewing.  A personal favourite of the evening for me was Figgy Bastard by Mad Hatter Brewing Company, as even though this was the middle of summer the almond and fig flavours created the taste of Christmas – all I needed was a mince pie to go with it.  The Mango Lassi by Northern Alchemy was, to me, deceptively non-beery and thusly dangerously drinkable with sweet mango and cardamom flavours coming through.  I also tried Deep Breath by Cloudwater Brew Co, 21st Breakfast by Steel City Brewing and Yam Yam by Beavertown, all of which I enjoyed too.

    As well as some excellent beers, Original Patty Men were there to make sure we could get something to mop up the alcohol.  I bought a bacon cheese burger and it was glorious, as always.  Beers and burgers, what a great pairing right?

    That evening, I managed to bump into Bob (and Sarah) and Dave from the Midlands Beer Blog Collective who have written a really lovely write up of the Cotteridge Wines story to mark their 21st Birthday, so I shan’t regurgitate it here, but it’s worth a read.

    Happy (belated) 21st Birthday Cotteridge Wines, here’s to many more birthdays!

    Disclosure: I managed to bag an invite to the birthday celebrations but bought all my own beers (and burger). Any wildly improper comments about how the beers tasted are all my own, sorry.

    Breakfast and brunch, Reviews

    Review: Brunch at Giraffe, Birmingham Grand Central

    Surf's Up Sarnie Giraffe

    There are plenty of reasons why I hold brunch to high ideals: mainly because it usually befits a lie-in, but still means you get to eat all the delectable options that a proper breakfasts provides.  Frankly if I can avoid it, I don’t want to get up early on a Saturday and I still have nightmares from when a café-that-shall-remain-nameless cruelly robbed me of a sausage sandwich because it designated them breakfast foods and stopped serving after 11am.  Brunch, brunch lets you have a lie in and a fry-up and that, my friends, is a pretty good start to the day in my books.

    Recently, I met my friend Erica in Birmingham Grand Central to check out Giraffe’s brunch offerings.  I’ve eaten lunch at the one in Solihull a few times and wondered why they’d never made it to Birmingham before now, but looks like Birmingham Grand Central is a pretty good spot.  There are a bunch of Giraffe restaurants around the country and they’re a sort of light, casual dining which is family-friendly but without feeling like a crèche.

    The menu has always interested me, because I can never quite work out what they’re going for.  The dishes span a range of cuisines from Turkish bread to Tuscan meatballs, Japanese gyoza to TexMex burritos but without getting too experimental.  It’s a sort of introduction to world food without the more ‘out there’ stuff, but all from sunny climates meaning the plate usually looks fairly colourful.

    english_breakfast_giraffe

    For brunch I figured it only right and proper to try the Full Brunch, which comes with smoky bacon, herbed pork sausage, baked beans, eggs (fried or scrambled), potato wedges and sourdough toast.  As far as Full Brunches go it’s a good one, the bacon and sausage were both tasted like they were good quality and the sausage was suitably dense and meaty.  I was also pleased to see that the baked beans arrived in a separate dish, so as not to make everything else soggy.  The scrambled egg was delicious, but the presentation of them sat on top of the sourdough toast meant it was a little soft by the time I’d excavated it and this was a shame as the flavour was delicious.  The potato wedges were nice, but a little unnecessary; there was plenty of food that didn’t need bulking out by them, although mushrooms or more space for the toast would’ve been preferable.  But all in all, a good brunch.

    Erica went for the Surf’s Up Sarnie, which I half expected to be something with smoke salmon or fish fingers, but turned out to be smoky bacon, avocado, fried egg, baby gem, tomato and mustard mayo, nestled between sourdough toast.  It looked messy but Erica enjoyed it and that’s the main thing really.

    Shakshouka_giraffe_brunch

    And because one brunch dish each isn’t enough, and they’d added a few new dishes onto the menu we also tried the Shakshouka, a classic Middle Eastern breakfast dish of spicy egg and tomato which is ideal for brunch.  It’s a relatively simple one pot dish, and Giraffe’s arrives in that said one-pot, which means it is made up fresh.  And it’s delicious; sweet tomatoes, slightly spicy with baked eggs whose yolks beg to be popped by the Turkish bread its served with.  It feels like a healthier brunch option, if that’s your thing – or you can add chorizo to it, which I think would be an entirely great idea.

    By this point Erica and I had sat nattering and eating too much food, so we thought we’d try out some of the cocktails Giraffe offers.  As someone that’s drunk too many cocktails to keep count of I’m always a bit wary of places that serve cocktails as an add on, as I tend to find the technical ability isn’t always there.  We had a couple of issues with the Mango Colada that Erica ordered, but I was impressed by how the staff handled it, replacing it with no fuss.  Actually, I’d been people watching whilst we were there and the staff seemed on point the entire time, which is refreshing to see as they were very busy.

    giraffe_cocktails_tin

    Overall it was a pleasant experience, one I’d be fine to return to.  I always think the food court at Birmingham Grand Central was an odd choice, design-wise, but sat in the booth at Giraffe it feels less like a canteen and the buzz of the shoppers gives a night background hum.  Sure I’m not sure it’s somewhere you’d want to go on a date, but for a brunch with friends, food with the family or a quick bite before your train home it works and it’s handy.

    Giraffe Restaurant, Dining Terrace, Birmingham Grand Central, Birmingham, B2 4XJ.

    Disclosure: I was invited down to check out the brunch offerings and the food was complimentary but this doesn’t affect my opinion.  Previous visits to Giraffe in Solihull were paid for by my mum, as compensation for dragging me round clothes shops.