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Pop-up and Event reviews

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Foodies Festival Birmingham 2016


    Planning an outdoor festival in Birmingham is pretty brave these days, particularly given the almost biblical floods we’ve been having.  But whoever organises the Foodies Festival managed to pick what might be the only sunny weekend we get this year to hold their second event in Cannon Hill Park, earlier in the month.

    This time round there felt like there were a lot more stalls, or maybe that’s just because I spent more time at them trying to hide from the sunshine like a vampire.  Like the previous festival, there were some local stalls dotted amongst the national offerings, plus a raft of Birmingham-based chefs doing demos at various stages dotted about.  I’d like to tell you I went to see some of them but they were pretty busy, although I did stop my the Appleton rum tasting, which was giving people the opportunity to try their signature blend as well as the 12 and 21 year old rums.


    Having drunk quite a lot of rum, and Appleton at that, it was nice to be reminded of the story of this Jamaican rum.  Appleton had a change up of their naming structure of their rums last year, which was a pretty sensible move as trying to explain Appleton Estate VX to people can’t have been fun; it’s now been more logically been renamed as Appleton Estate Signature Blend.  Me personally, I really like Appleton rum and in particular the Appleton 12 year old as it’s got a deeper flavour and I pick up notes of vanilla with a sort of oaky finish, which makes for a cracking rum Old Fashioned.


    I always like to see a local flavour at food festivals and there were some scattered throughout the Foodies Festival.  I stopped by Chaophraya, who have a restaurant in the Bullring, and tried some of their panang beef curry which really hit the spot in the summer sunshine.  I’ve been to a cooking class at Chaophraya and at some point I really do need to go back and check the place out properly.


    I know it’s really cliched but I had a total soft spot for macarons, and when I spotted Mademoiselle Macaron from Edinburgh I went over to check out the delicate little beauties.  They had a whole raft of flavours and I love a bit of a gimmick, so when I spotted several alcoholic macarons using drinks synonymous with Scotland I knew I had to pick up a few for later, namely Hendricks gin, Innis & Gun and Irn Bru flavours, along with a lavender one.  These were delightful, the flavour was delicate, something that’d ordinarily disappoint me, but with something like macarons they sort of have to.  I only wish they were a bit closed to Brum so I could go back for more!


    No idea what stall I spotted the above photo from, but it had a long queue, so clearly everyone was much more forgiving of their geographical illiteracy that I am.

    And to round off the day I headed over to the Appleton rum bus for a cocktail in the sunshine – or you know, desperately clinging to the shade which was more realistic in my case.  I went for the Tiki classic Mai Tai because it’s a tiki classic and the original creation was said to be developed by Trader Vic using Jamaican rum, so it would be rude not to.

    appleton_rum_bus Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary ticket to the Foodies Festival and some complimentary samples by some of the stalls, but some I bought my own. Also, was that weekend our only sun for the season, or should I buy some sunscreen?

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    So you want to be a beer blogger? With Matthew Curtis


    At the risk of becoming one of those bloggers that blog about blogging (which I avoid, at least on here anyway), I’ve been mulling over this event for something stupid like six months.  Which I realise, even for me, is a ridiculously long time to leave to finish a blog post, but I’m still thinking over some of the things that were said – and more interestingly, seeing some of the cool stuff that has come from it.  But basically last year Matthew Curtis from Total Ales came to Brewdog in Birmingham to talk beer blogging, in a sort of talking about beer, and blogging, and blogging about beer.

    Neil, previously of Brewdog and now at the excellent Tilt in City Arcade, introduced the talk and what the afternoon was about – mainly about getting enthusiastic people to hear about and hopefully talk/write more about beer, and hopefully about beer in Birmingham.  And it’s totally worked – more on that later.

    Talking about blogging to non-bloggers can be really dull, I am well aware, but Matthew managed a talk which appealed to bloggers, non-bloggers and wannabe bloggers alike, which is much harder to do than you’d think.  In as much as you’re allowed to have a life-long interest in beer, he talked about where his enthusiasm for beer was really sparked, and where that journey has taken him since.  And if that sounds pretentious then it’s not meant to, but there’s so much beer stuff happening that it’s hard to see it as anything other than a journey.


    He also talked about the start of his blog, how it began as a space for his own beer musings but also how it has become part of the wider beer community, and how it led him to co-authoring beer books, writing for beer magazines, hosting beer tastings, photographing beery things and speaking and consulting.And more importantly, talked about everything it had led him to, whilst still retaining a passion for what he started doing.  And being sat in a room full of beer geeks the talk fell into a discussion about lots of exciting beers being brewed, breweries and the emerging beer scene in Birmingham.
    So why has it taken me six months to write this up?  Well there were lots of blogging related ideas that I kept coming back to, but I want to keep this blog about food and drink and Birmingham or a mix of the three and not blogging about blogging.  But if you’re a beer fan, a blogger about anything but in particular beer blogging, then I’d really recommend going to listen to Matthew speak.

    matthew_curtis_beer_writerOne of the things it did make me do was start paying more attention the beer scene in Birmingham.  I’ll readily admit that I’m more of a spirits drinker, cocktails preferably, and whilst I’ve tasted and written about beer before it was something that I knew I needed to look more at more.  Since, I have written about a beer tasting, I’ve not done much else other than pay more attention to what’s going on, but one of the things Matthew’s talk did do, was introduce me to the team behind Midlands Beer Blog, who, quite frankly, are doing a stellar job talking about the beer scene in the city – and beyond.  And sure, like a lot of things food and drink wise, Birmingham is pretty far behind other cities when it comes to beer, but things really seem to be ramping up; the aforementioned Tilt in City Arcade is awesome, the Craven Arms is also great (and not just for the name), the Birmingham Beer Bash is beer heaven, and Wildcat Tap has just opened in Stirchley.  And that’s not mentioning some of the beer stalwarts like Cotteridge Wines (brilliant, and award-winning), the Wellington, Post Office Vaults etc etc…  I’m always banging on about evolving and exciting Birmingham’s food and drinks scene is, the Birmingham beer scene feels like a massive part of that, and something well worth raising a glass to.

    Disclosure; bought my own ticket. And even if they knew I was blogging about it, they probably didn’t expect it would take this long.

    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.

    Food and Restaurant News, News, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Brum Breakfast Club at Nomad


    Confession time.  I actually went to this meal on the same day as the St Patrick’s Day parade, but I’ve just been super lax at finishing the write up.  However with the news that Nomad is evolving, Pokemon-style, into The Wilderness, it seems a good time to post about it.

    Despite all my known heritage being Irish, I avoid going anywhere near the St Patrick’s Day parade because being up early on a Sunday, surrounded by crowds of (usually fairly) drunk people and not knowing what the hell is up with my bus home is not my idea of fun.  I totally get why other people like it, but I’m good with a cup of Barry’s tea and seeing the photos on Twitter.  So when I tell you I got up early, got on a bus and went to Digbeth on the Sunday of a St Patrick’s Day parade you better bloody well know it took a lot to get me there.  And that ‘a lot’ was a Brum Breakfast Club presents Nomad breakfast.


    Firstly, I was a 45 minutes early, because it turns out, much like when it snows, the buses seem to work better when they theoretically shouldn’t; I assume this was down to most people leaving the cars at home (something they should do more of).  After a quick trip to Yorks for a coffee it was over to Nomad which has now found a home in BOM on Dudley St.  I’ve raved about various incarnations of Nomad before and I like that they’ve managed to create a rather chic place in what’s a bit of a bare-boned warehouse/workshop/exhibition space.

    On arrival we were given a cocktail.  Now pre-midday drinking isn’t something I generally do but I’m willing to make an exception for Nomad, because they rarely do me wrong.  This took the form of a drink they’re calling Viking Bubbles which contained mead, honey and cava.  It was lovely; sweet but not overly so and didn’t have that alcohol burn, which made it pretty perfect for a cheeky mid-morning tipple.  I paired it with black tea because I could and awaited the first course – apparently we were having a three course breakfast, which is entirely fine with me.


    The first course was three nibbles: tansy eggy bread; reindeer moss with bacon, egg and coffee; Forest of Arden honey and homemade yoghurt.  The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice the distinct lack of yoghurt in the photo and that was because my ability to tolerate dairy that day wasn’t great, and I’m not about to inflict that on anyone, but I hear it was lovely.  The eggy bread had a nice crispness to it and the reindeer moss, as well as looking very pretty, had a nice crunch before disintegrating to create a lovely flavour along with the egg and coffee.

    sea-buckthorn_mimosa_nomadWe then had another cocktail, a sea buckthorn mimosa.  Now sea buckthorn is one of those slightly divisive ingredients, due in part, I suspect, to its tartness.  It’s not often seen on menus, but Nomad have used sea buckthorn before and it’s nice to feel like there’s something a bit different going on.  Given it’s a bit sour, it seems to work well with the sparkling wine and balances it out well.  This paired well with our ‘main’ course, which like the first course had elements of the drink incorporated into the dish.


    The second course was a twist on Kedgeree, made with pearl barley and spelt, topped with poached eggs and smothered in sauce.  I have a soft spot for pearl barley so I was delighted at this and I think it gave it a meatier meal, particularly alongside the delicate fish and rich curry sauce.  Kedgeree is one of those dishes I think works well for any occasion but feels almost like a bit of a comfort dish, gently lulling you into a lazy Saturday morning at brunch.  This one still had that element of safety but the twists just lifted it to be a bit more interesting.


    After a glass of freshly-pressed apple juice we were onto, what I think, was the real star of the show.  I’d been joking with Nomad over twitter earlier in the morning about them giving us Frosties for breakfast and I wasn’t entirely wrong.  Well only in so far as the last dish of the meal was a play on milk and cereal…but with bugs.  Yep, Nomad brought out the bugs again and I think, like previous times, this was a bit of a stretch for some people but they bought into the spirit of it and dove in.  I’m not sure you can see it in the photo, but there are roasted crickets in the mix and they had a delicious bite along side the crunchy cereal and caramel pieces.  It’s also worth noting that the ‘milk’ was actually caramelised milk mousse which you can’t see because it was presented to us first – putting the milk in first is usually a cardinal sin, but entirely forgivable it this time round.


    Yet again Nomad have delivered a dining experience that was both fun, inventive and a bit challenging.  Whilst this wasn’t from their ordinary menu, it included a lot of the same themes of seasonal, local produce without it being a marketing exercise.  The reimagining of three breakfast dishes along side drinks which worked as introductions to the next course gave a flow to the menu which is something often forgotten about.  All of the Birmingham Breakfast Club collaboration meals I’ve been to have been superb and this was no exception.

    So what’s with the name change?

    I mentioned that Nomad are changing their name and whilst this might be largely due to legal reasons, I think it’s a positive step.  Having moved around from south to central Birmingham, they’re now putting down roots in a part of the city centre largely forgotten about.  And sure, The Wilderness isn’t about how Dudley Street has been lost amongst the regeneration of Grand Central, but more that they seem to be wandering out into a drinking and dining experience that the city hasn’t really seen before.

    The Wilderness retains some of the previous team, but also is expanding with chefs coming from rosetted and Michelin-starred backgrounds, as well as an award-winning bartender curating the cocktail menu and a well respected barista from some of the city’s local indie coffee shops heading up the hot drinks programme.  Theatrical set designers Stax Creations are transforming the restaurant into a dining experience, with The Wilderness will be open to the general public from 25 May 2016.

    Disclosure: Paid for this all myself. Although some might say I didn’t get my money’s worth because that whistle totally didn’t work. Just kidding, it was an amazing meal.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio Spring 2016 menu tasting


    Due to the day job, I end up at quite a few conference venues in the city centre and so if I were ever to do a Buzzfeed style listicle it would likely be on conference lunches in Brum. Most of them are fairly uninteresting to be honest, but one that is less bland sandwiches and more restaurant quality food is The Studio on Cannon St.

    Rather than just roll out trays of beige, The Studio offer delegates a proper meal at lunch time; and they switch up their menu seasonally; and they invite regulars along to give them feedback on the menu. And so being as I’m there so often the staff seem to know me, and clearly liking my food, I went along to their spring menu tasting.

    salad_selectionMoving into spring this is transitional menu which balances the heavier winter food with something a bit lighter for those few sunny days we get in Birmingham. As well as the meat and vegetarian options, there are puddings and a range of salads. Now personally I struggle a bit with salad because I usually get bored before I’ve eaten enough but these salads have been thought through enough that they keep you interested as well as sated, and can be added as a side dish to your main.  I’ve since been back to The Studio for a conference and had the vegan Caesar salad alongside the Philly cheese ciabatta sandwich and worked really well as a tasty, nourishing meal in between a series of talks!


    A lot of the dishes are proper main meals which are part of what makes The Studio an ace venue (the staff are also great and they have a colouring in wall, no seriously).  Given that it’s spring, there’s a nice mix of fresh flavours and they’ve gone for a good range of cuisines from Chinese through to Cajun, Thai and something a bit more on the classic British.  I really liked the Chinese belly pork with spinach and pak choi, a brave option for a conference venue when you need to serve thirty odd people at once. Belly pork can sometimes be hard to cook well, but this was delicious, a perfect balance of crisp and chewy.  Another great dish was the pan-seared chicken on a bed of new potatoes, black olives and oven-roasted tomatoes, which sounds like a pretty simple dish but was executed well – one of the other testers on my table went back for seconds of that one!


    But what really impresses me about The Studio menu tastings is that they’re genuinely looking for people’s opinions on what works and what doesn’t.  I really liked the Thai green vegetable curry with basmati rice, but it was a little on the spicy side for me – it would certainly blast away any winter cobwebs! It’ll be interesting to see if it makes it onto the final menu…though I suspect not.

    And just a note about the desserts, oh yeah every lunch has a dessert.  The French apple tart with caramel sauce (the first photo on this post) was delicious, sweet, fresh and with the sauce was sweet without being too sickly.  There were also delicious Victoria sponge sundaes, trifles, cheesecakes and a zingy lemon & lime eton mess with passionfruit.  Frankly I think every meal should have a pudding, and if they’re as good as this then even better.


    Sadly, The Studio isn’t a restaurant that you can book into, but it is an excellent event space for meetings and conferences and worth a look if you’re booking  something – just invite me for lunch, yeah?

    Disclosure: Oh god, this again? It was a menu tasting for a conference venue, of course it was complimentary. But given how often I seem to be there between work and conferences I think they just assume I live there and feed me anyway.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio winter 2016 menu


    I love an excuse to visit The Studio on Cannon St for events, and the quarterly tasting for their new seasonal menu has to be the best reason yet.  A couple of weeks ago it was time for their winter menu to get put before the hungry eyes and tummies of a select group of people…actually I have no idea who most of the other people who attend this are, I’m too busy ooh-ing at six days worth of hearty lunches and puddings.

    As you’d expect with a winter themed menu, the dishes are warming and comforting.  Pastry is a big thing, which is something I wholeheartedly agree with.  That said the sausage wellington, or “posh sausage roll” as I called it was lovely, but I just couldn’t quite understand how it fit as a main meal.  Which is a shame because it was really nice! It’s going to be interesting to see if it makes the final cut, as not everything does, or whether it ends up appearing somewhere else.  I’m guessing The Studio probably do snack menus if you ask, but their standard day delegate rate package includes a proper hot dinner and pudding (and little snacks with morning and afternoon refreshments).

    One of the days had paired Chicken Marengo with roast potatoes and a Bubble & Squeak with leek and cheddar for the vegetarian option.  The bright colours were a welcomed sight when winter food tends to be focused on heavy, hearty foods. and the lack of sunshine means seasonal food isn’t always the most colourful.  The chicken marengo full of flavour, almost fruity and the chicken was nice and moist.  Sadly I didn’t manage to try any of the Bubble & Squeak as it had gone before I managed to get back…so I took that as a good sign!


    We’ve used The Studio at work a bunch of times and once, after a great first day, I looked at the feedback to discover it was all about the food.  Seriously, it felt like there was more about the food than anything else on the day – and the puddings in particular seemed to be a real hit.  This time round, dessert continued the usual mousses and cheesecakes in little glass dishes.  These are a great size, just enough to boost you up, but not enough to lull you into a sugar-coma for the rest of the afternoon.  One of my favourites was the Star Bar Chocolate Cheesecake, which is odd because I’m not normally one for chocolate desserts.  But it was just the right portion size with a sweetness that felt like a treat but wasn’t overkill.

    Sticky Toffee Pudding is one of my favourite puddings and it’s become a tradition amongst my family that I make one a boozy version for Christmas pudding.  So when I spotted the sticky date pudding with burnt caramel I was pretty excited.  These aren’t sticky toffee, but they’re not far off and with a nice crunchy crust they’d be nicely accompanied with a cup of tea, ready to set you up for another afternoon of events!

    Disclosure:The Studio invited me down to the menu tasting as we book the venue in my day-job for events. They didn’t require me to write anything about it, but given that all our feedback is about the food, I figured I might as well.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    BBC Good Food Show Winter 2015


    As I was editing the photos from the BBC Good Food Show Winter 2016, it occurred to me I took a lot of photos of alcohol.  Thankfully though I’ve been to enough Good Food Shows to know better than to try and drink spirits before midday, had a big breakfast beforehand and topped up on coffee once I got to the show.  Oh and I packed a bottle of water and wore sensible shoes. Remember these tips for next year folks.

    The BBC Good Food Show Winter 2016 was much like all the other shows, which isn’t a bad thing at all.  There are rows upon rows of food and drink providers offering samples as well as selling their wares, demos galore and a whole host of celebrity chefs.  If you go to both the summer and winter shows, as I’ve done for the last few years, then you get used to some of the same names appearing, but for me there are a few chefs who I’ll happily watch again and again and thankfully I managed to catch one of them this time round.  James Martin, host of Saturday Kitchen, was cooking up a few sweet dishes although he seemed to be running a comedy show between the cameraman and commis chef.


    After giggling away at James, it was time to wander around the show.  Having run a competition for them recently, I headed over to see the Debbie & Andrew’s stall and tried some of their sausages, as well as picked up some of their festive treats, which I think I was supposed to save until Christmas, but instead snacked on throughout the week after.  Every year I tell myself I’ll have a proper plan to methodically walk through the isles, but the good thing about going on the first day is there are less people than the weekend and it’s easier to meander about more.


    I soon (soberly) stumbled into the alcohol section, which seems a lot bigger in the winter show than the summer one.  Gin was a big thing at the BBC Good Food Show winter; I spotted a few well known names with plenty of people crowding round for samples, but for me I always like the chance to go and try some of the newer things.  As a thank you for the competition I ran for them, Thomas Dakin gin had a bottle waiting for me so I picked up that as well as listened to one of the staff on the stall tell others about its history.  I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to these things but I always like to hear more about the history of a spirit.kings_ginger_pour

    As well as plenty of gin I also spotted (and tried) into a few other interesting things – King’s Ginger liqueur, which was formulated in 1903 for King Edward VII and pretty perfect for the wintery months.  And a very new to market, Birmingham Lager from the Indian Brewery Company.  In fact during the BBC Good Food Show winter it wasn’t actually on sale outside of the hall, as far as I could tell, but you can now pick some up at Stirchley Wines.


    After another sit down and a cup of tea later, as well as watching a few chefs cooking and being interviewed, I went off in search of more things.  I found the Crabbies alcoholic ginger beer van and listened as the man opposite cooking fish tried to get them to bring over samples.  I also stumbled across the Dean’s mascot who I thought at first was a giant chip, but turns out to be a shortbread – I think.  I had a nibble on some biscuits at their stand and they were lovely, particularly their Crème Caramel biscuits, which I meant to go back and get some of…but I swear the Good Food Show is some sort of shapeshifter and I rarely end up being able to find the same place twice.


    I was really pleased to see Urban Herbs.  I never really know how to describe them, but being that I was reading about sixteenth century spice merchants I’m going to call Urban Herbs herb and spice merchants and hope they don’t get cranky at me for it.  They’re a great family run business and you often see them out and about at farmers markets in Birmingham, so it’s really great to see them at a big food fair like the BBC Good Food Show winter.  And their mixes are delicious, as are their herb plants.


    The one place I was determined to find again was Bluebird Tea Co.  Earlier in the year I’d managed to get some of their Hot Cross Bun flavoured tea which was lovely, but I’d been hearing about their Christmas blends and knew I had to get some – the Christmas Cake tea is delicious, but excitingly has these adorable snowflakes in the tea mix.  I may also have bought a few other types of tea and should be set for a few months, when I’ll actually have to try ordering from them online.

    The final stop for me was the Pomora olive oil stand.  I’d remembered them too from the previous Good Food Show and wanted to go back and actually buy some oil.  It’s always nice to chat to the people at the stall and I really like their unusual method of supporting traditional farmers by asking people to adopt an olive tree and then they send you olive oil, rahter than just being something you pick up at the shop.  There are a few different types of flavours that they do and I picked up some of the olive oil with garlic, as I’m keen to have a go at using it with pasta and try it out with some roast potatoes.olio_doliva_olive_oil

    And with that I was done.  It never fails to surprise me how tiring wandering round the show can be, particularly the BBC Good Food Show winter, which is much larger than the summer show.  It was nice to see an array of old favourites, as well as celebrity chefs and pick up a few bits and pieces that I wouldn’t ordinarily get to.  I’m already looking forward to what BBC Good Food Show summer 2016 brings!

    Disclosure: I was invited to the BBC Good Food Show as part of the blogging team, so my ticket to the show was complimentary.  Other than picking up a bottle of gin which I’ve already mentioned, I had much the same experience as everyone else – apart from being able to sit in the press room where there were chairs and tea.