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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Good Food Show summer 2016

    bluebird_tea_colourful

    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).

    urban_herbs_GFS16

    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.
    crafty_devil_beer

    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.

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Meet the brewer with Magic Rock Brewery at Tilt

    tilt_beer_birmingham

    Back in a past life, when I controlled a pub’s social media accounts, we announced that we were going to get some Magic Rock Brewery beers in as guest ales and the online enthusiasm was palpable.  I remember harassing the poor bar staff on site to tell me, and photograph, when the beer was in, racked, tapped etc.  Back then beer wasn’t something I had any interest in, but I am a sucker for nerdy enthusiasm and this was like Christmas.

    It’s largely the reason I have a bit of a soft spot for Magic Rock, and when Tilt mentioned they were doing a tap take over and meet the brewer session, I figured that my newly acquired desire to get into beer should probably go along and find out what the fuss was about.  Turns out that nerdy enthusiasm I witnessed online years ago, yeah I got to see that in real life and it was great.

    magic-rock-brew_rich_talk_tiltRichard from Magic Rock spoke about the brewery, the beers and Birmingham, but mainly answered a lot of questions.  They might be based in Huddersfield, but it was clear there was a lot of love for Magic Rock in Birmingham; people asked a lot of questions about the beers, Magic Rock’s history (they started back in 2011) and what to expect in the future.  To be honest I should probably be able to recall more of the talk, but I was mainly interested in how what had previously felt a bit like a noisy common room had gone deadly silent to listen to Richard talk.  I guess that shows how much respect people have for the brewery – and why RateBeer named they second best new brewery in the world 2012, after only being open a year.

    magic_rock_beers_tilt

    This is a terrible write up of the night because I failed to pay attention to how many beers were available, mainly because I was still a bit cautious about the whole ‘getting into beer’, but I think there were about seven.  Given my propensity to forget names, the fact that I’d remember two of the beers that everyone raved about years ago was pretty impressive and so I mainly stuck to the core range, namely the Cannonball IPA and High Wire – Magic Rock’s tribute to the pale ales of the West Coast of America.  Both a bit fruity, but fresh and delicious.  I also tried the Bearded Lady, Magic Rock’s Imperial Stout which was rich and heavy; I tasted notes of chocolate and coffee, maybe some darker fruits too, which made it feel like if you were looking for a two-in-one dessert and after-dinner drink, this would hit the spot.

    magic-rock-brew_bearded_lady_tilt Disclosure: All beer paid for either by myself or a friend (and by this I don’t mean the venue or brewery)

    Reviews, Take away

    Shawarma City, Martineau Place, Birmingham

    shawrma_wrap_fries

    Ever since I went to Qatar last year (yeah I know, how awesome was that) I’ve been on a mission to find some of the delicious foods I got to eat whilst I was out there in Birmingham.  I found Za’atar on sale at Loaf, and I’m still sad I’ve not been able to find um ali, but shawarma is pretty easy to find in Birmingham, and there’s been a couple of places I’ve stumbled across in the last few months.

    Shawarma is a style of meat preparation which is sort of rotisserie-style, think Turkish döner kebabs and Greek gyros.  You can eat the meat as is, usually with salad (my mum will be happy), or have it all neatly wrapped up in a flatbread, which is always going to be my preferred option.  Whilst in Qatar I pretty much ate what I was given and there were some delicious spreads, most likely things similar to tahini and hummus, sometimes with additional salad bits.shawarma_meal_deal

    A few months back I discovered that nestled in Martineau Place was Shawarma City, which doesn’t look like anything special from the outside – in fact it looks like the sort of lurid, neon-signed homing beacon where you’d head after a few too many drinks to soak up the alcohol.  But don’t let that put you off, there’s a reason it can get pretty packed at lunchtime.  First time round I ordered a meal deal of mixed meat shawarma, fries and a drink which is way too much food for a workday lunchtime but the shawarma was delicious.  The meat was tender and tasted fresh, probably because it doesn’t have time to hang around too long as there was a bit of a queue – I take that to be a good thing.  There are plenty of options to include salad items and spreads and I can’t remember what I went for, so I’ve not been able to recreate the first wrap, but subsequent visits have proven to be just as good.

    shawarma_fries

    Shawarma City, 15A Martineau Place, Corporation St, Birmingham B2 4UW.
    Disclosure: Paid for my own Shawarma; ate the whole thing and fries the first time round, so was also responsible for the almost-food-coma that came with it.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    A World of Gin

    bartender_lucy_pouring_martini

    So summer has finally arrived.  Sure we’re now all whinging about it, because this is Britain and we love nothing more than talking about the weather, but remember last month when there was one solitary sunny weekend which we all thought might be our only glimpse of the sun?  Well of course that would be the weekend I chose to go and find somewhere nice and cool to hide…and where better than a bank vault with gin? I mean, really, it’s perfect.

    The excellently titled A World of Gin, which described itself as “Think village fete, indoors…with gin” which feels like a fair way to describe it.  The ground floor foyer had a range of stalls with a bunch of gin stands, plus gin-cured salmon created by Andy Low’n’Slow, which sadly I did not get to try because I went rushing over from brunch and sadly there was not enough space to eat salmon and drink gin.  First world woes right?

    masons_gin

    Now as a seasoned gin drinker I’m always a bit wary of things like gin festivals because there’s always the worry that you’ll end up being surrounded by the usual suspects, and thankfully this wasn’t the case.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some gins I’m always pleased to see on a back bar, but if it’s a gin festival I want to try something new and there were plenty of options.  The Masons Yorkshire gin was a good find; it’s a pretty punchy gin which certainly lives up to not being “run of the mill” and it might divide people, but I like my gin to have flavour and this certainly does.  Masons do three versions: the original; lavender, which will be good in more floral gin drinks, which are usually a winner in my books; and Yorkshire tea edition, which is a nice nod to where this gin originates from.  According to their website you can buy Masons from Cellar Door in Sutton Coldfield, I think someone mentioned Harvey Nicholls too, but hopefully it’ll make its way into some bars in Birmingham.

    edinburgh_gin

    Another new to me gin was the range from The Edinburgh Gin, with their lovely art deco labeling.  With a nod to their homeland, this gin uses locally sourced and grown Scottish botanicals, which includes milk thistle and heather, the latter of which comes through in the taste.  Considering normal people don’t usually drink gin neat, this is surprisingly smooth and doesn’t need a lot of messing around with.  The seaside gin is pretty cool, a is a limited edition which uses ingredients found around the Scottish coast – it’s novel, but more importantly it evokes memories of the seaside, which isn’t easy to do stood in a disused bank in landlocked Birmingham.

    And it wasn’t just gin on offer either.  I stopped by 40 St Paul’s stand to check out some of their Hockley Tonic.  Now I’m convinced that most people that tell me they hate gin actually hate tonic and I don’t blame them because some of it really isn’t the way to get people to like gin.  But the Hockley Tonic stuff is superb.  It’s small batch, made by the guys from 40 St Pauls who plan to do seasonal variants and care about this stuff on a level that is impressively geeky.  In fact, it’s so nice that you could lengthen this with some sparkling water and drink it as a soft drink if you’d finished all your gin.

    gin_top_trumps_gintleman

    Another gin-related-but-not-gin find was at The Gintleman’s stall, a sort of Top Trumps for gin brands.  Just Gin, as it’s actually called, features international and award winning gins and can be played as top trumps with six categories or something called Quartet, which I am not cultured enough to know how to play; frankly I’d just buy two decks and play Snap if it were up to me.  As well as being useful for Top Trumps, the categories also give you useful information about the gins, like the botanicals used, the alcohol by volume and when it was established, as well as the perfect serve.  Come Christmas these are going to make a great stocking filler. 

    And to finish off, I headed down into the bank vault to hunt for gin.  The tricksy organisers had hidden miniatures in some of the safety deposit boxes and for any of you that have ever made your way down to the vault in the Birmingham Municipal Bank, you’ll know there’s bloody hundreds of them.  In fact, whilst several of us tried to find gin, we were luckier finding things left behind from other exhibitions, including someone’s glasses and some random postcard things…and a rather indecent cartoon, which was the best find of the session.  But there was gin, in fact I’d half expect that whoever uses the vault for the next exhibition might end up finding some lost ones.

    gin_in_the_vaultsA World of Gin is having another outing, sadly this time the London folks get all the fun, but the website suggests that there might be more in the way of fun gin-related things, so it might be worth keeping an eye out http://www.aworldofgin.com/

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Birmingham Cocktail Weekend 2016 (sort of)

    BCW16_lostandfound_bartender_pouringYou know what’s worse than being poorly-sick?  Being poorly-sick, but well enough to leave your sofa/sick bed, but not well enough to eat or drink anything interesting…AND the city simultaneously hosting a vegan beer festival AND the second Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

    However, I did manage to get to some of the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend before I was back to not being able to consume anything more exciting than flat cola, soya lattes and beige foods.  I started by picking up my wrist band at the Jim Beam hub hosted by Island Bar and said a quick hello to Joe and Luke who were there from Jim Beam.  Sadly I had to decline trying the Jim Beam Apple because I definitely wasn’t up for neat spirits.  Someone tell me what it’s like, because apple isn’t something I’d immediately think of with whisky and so I’m really curious.

    jim_beam_range

    My first stop as a Birmingham Cocktail Weekender was actually to something that I’m not convinced was officially part of BCW as it wasn’t taking part in the £4 cocktails, but was no doubt popping up for the occasion.  The yet-to-be-named Langley’s Gin bar which is coming to the Great Western Arcade sometime soon held a pop up bar outside the build works for their new venue – something we’ve all been looking forward to for some time (hence why the boards read “Birmingham’s worst kept secret”).  I had some gin, naturally, because it’s medicinal right?  My friends and I then headed to Bistro 1847 and had their signature serve for the BCW, but I figured better pace myself.

    Next up a bunch of us headed to Lost & Found to the not-so-secret bar behind the bookcase.  Gin is ridiculously popular at the moment, there’s no doubting that, and Lost & Found seemed to be doing something with Sipsmith, although for me (and checked with others in case my tastebuds were still home poorly) this just tasted of sweet lemon to me.  Which for a lot of people would probably have be fine, I just like a bit more nuance to my cocktails.ed_langleys_pour

    Our plan was to head to Bureau next to try out their Birmingham Cocktail Weekend signature drink, but apparently their doorman is still living in the 90s and refused us entry because several of the group were wearing trainers – kinda ridiculous considering how many offices in the Colmore area now operate a dress-down Friday policy.  And in case you think it’s just that I hang around with a bunch of deviants (I do), we bumped into a group of 12 who were also denied entry for the same reason.  Oh well, Bureau’s loss was Chung Ying Central’s gain.

    Our final stop of the night then was at Chung Ying Central, who’s cocktail was another gin one; Flamingo Island, again sweet but with enough watermelon kick that it contrasted well with the salt and chilli chicken wings that I had there for dinner.  Sadly, after a few drinks on Friday, whatever had struck me down for the rest of the week returned and I decided to call it a night on the rest of the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

    chung-ying-central_chicken-wings

    With somewhere in the region of 3000 wristbands sold and thirty venues taking part, Birmingham Cocktail Weekend is an impressive undertaking and the organisers should be proud; organising a multi-site event with lots of potential logistical nightmares is not easy, I know, and I’m really pleased to see the continuation of the festival for a second year – and hopefully a third, fourth etc.  There are some problems which do need ironing out, like the lack of mention of dress codes for certain establishments and some notable names missing from the list, but overall BCW seems to achieve what it sets out to do – showcase cocktails to the Birmingham masses.

    If there is to be another Birmingham Cocktail Weekend, I hope there will be a continued, if not heavier, focus on the things that make up a great cocktail – the ingredients, the brands, the expertise, the bartenders, the stories and mythologies.  Some bars seemed to revel in the challenge of a signature £4 cocktail, whilst others played it safe – and by safe I mean overly sweet.  £4 cocktails tend to be the low cost, knock them out quickly sort of drink and with a heightened exposure like BCW then it’s easy to see why some bars go for this option, but next year can we have less sugar syrup and a bit more imagination please?  It would also be nice to see some events for bars and venues who don’t generally serve high-volumes of drinks, perhaps in the form of some fringe events.

    Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing Birmingham Cocktail Weekend 2017!

    Disclosure: I was given a complimentary wristband but paid for all food and drink myself…as ever all views remain my own. Not the germs though, they’re free to whoever wants them.