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Restaurant reviews

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: El Borracho de Oro

    el_borracho_de_oro_sangria

    One of the rubbish things about growing up is the absolute bloody nightmare that is present shopping.  I mean this of course for other people, because I am a simple soul and the only thing I ever want more of, other than food, is books and my mother has put her foot down.  In fact that whole simple soul thing is hereditary and present shopping for my mum is so problematic that I’ve taken to buying her tickets as gifts but there’s only so many times luck will be on my side, theatre wise.

    Going for nice meals, though, that’s something my mum and I both agree on – I get tasty food, mum gets to people watch.  So when the nice folks at OpenTable asked me to check out their gift card option, I thought it would be a great dry run for present season later in the year.  Of course my mum would’ve been the obvious dining companion, but she was on holiday, so I took my friend Andrew.

    Naturally we booked through OpenTable, which is both handy and stops me worrying that even though I’ve called the restaurant and they’ve repeated my booking back to me somehow one of us will get the wrong date.  OpenTable send you an email, and then a reminder, which makes anxious types like me a lot happier.  If you’re buying someone the gift card (which you can buy here) then you have the option to send them the voucher direct – with a nice message from yourself, and they can then go to OpenTable and book a time/date that suits them.

    el_borracho_selection

    We arrived around 7pm which is probably a touch early for most people to eat dinner on a Friday night, but meant we got our pick of tables and naturally I went for one with the best view of the restaurant – I am my mother’s daughter after all.  Even at this time it had a nice relaxed atmosphere, and by 8pm the place was full and buzzing, yet the excellent service remained constant.

    El Borracho de Oro has a lovely, relaxed Spanish vibe to the place; terracotta, tiles and lots of yellow and orange hues, without feeling gimmicky…a themed restaurant, without feeling themed, if that makes any sense.

    To start Andrew had a pint of Estrella Damm, a lager brewed in Spain, and I went for red wine Sangria, mainly because I’ve had it at El Borracho de Oro before and it’s delightful.  Forget the cheap crap you get on holiday which needs diluting, El Borracho’s sangria has a lovely honey-like sweetness with a cheerful red wine flavour and none of the alcoholic burn you get with bad wine.  I like it so much had had two…or three.

    beef_cheeks_el_borracho

    We ordered a raft of tapas to share, because that’s the fun of tapas, although I remain terrible at photographing it.  Some dishes we ordered are, in my mind, tapas staples including jamón croquetas (ham croquettes), albondigas (pork & beef meatballs) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes) with spicy tomato sauce and alioli.  The meatballs were a good balance of pork and beef, being meaty without being too dense or tough, and the ham croquettes were crunchy on the outside and melt in the mouth smooth on the inside.  I was a little disappointed by the patatas bravas which arrived in a gimmicky frying baskets; I would’ve liked them to be chunkier but they tasted fine.  The spicy tomato sauce they arrived with was a bit too much for both me and Andrew, definitely higher on the hot-spicy scale than I’d have expected.

    The other dishes we ordered included beef cheek with shallots and mushroom sauce, fried fresh whole whitebait and roasted piquillo pepper stuffed with mushroom, wild spinach and manchego cheese.  The beef cheek was an absolute delight, it cut like butter and paired superbly with the mushroom sauce.  Equally good were the fried whitebait; El Borracho de Oro had sourced good sized fish which retained a delicate flavour and a light, yet right, amount of batter – I could happily eat a bowlful as a snack.

    churros_el_borracho

    Pudding was a tricky decision, in the end we went for churros and almond cake.  The churros were great, light and somehow simultaneously crispy and chewy without being stodgy – I didn’t try the chocolate sauce that went with it, but I hear it was pretty good.  The almond cake was also spot on, full of flavour, moist without being soggy, and worked well with the coulis and ice cream.

    And then it was time to try out the OpenTable gift card.  I always hate this bit because I’m worried the restaurant will have no idea what you’re on about, but after clicking the link in the email to the card it was a case of showing it to the member of staff and things were done and dusted, and I was free to enjoy my (third) glass of sangria and head off home, happy and full of food.

    www.opentable.co.uk

    Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with OpenTable, El Borracho de Oro didn’t know I was there to blog about it and as ever views remain my own. Ps don’t tell my mum otherwise she’ll know what she’s getting for her birthday.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    An afternoon at The Stable, Birmingham city centre

    alan_hogan_stable_birminghsm

    It’s not often I find myself on a sunny Sunday afternoon drinking cider and making my own pizza, but that’s something I did recently after The Stable on John Bright St opened its doors for a bloggers afternoon.

    Allen Hogan from Hogan’s cider, based up the road in Alcester (at least if the 50 bus is to be believed) started the afternoon with a session talking about his company’s cider brand; he has been making cider for 30 odd years, but it has only been within the last ten that they’ve been selling to the public.  Hogan’s make what they call “authentic, fresh pressed ciders” and we started the tasting with more traditional style ciders, those slightly cloud,y still ciders which pack a bit of a punch.  I think was a bit of a shock to some of the other bloggers who were more used to the sparkling, fruity-flavoured stuff.
    hogans_traditional_cider

    After all the cider it was time to have a go at making our own pizza.  Now if I’m feeling particularly enthusiastic I’ll make my own pizza from scratch with a pretty basic dough, but at The Stable they use sourdough bases to give extra flavour.  We were given the option of adding our own toppings and I was very pleased to hear they had vegan cheese and although I didn’t go for it, others did and professed it some of the best cheese-alternative they’ve tried.

    pizza_making_stable_birmingham

    True to form I failed to stick to any of the topping suggestions offered by their menu and freestyled it.  Which mainly means I can’t tell you what I added but it was a mix of black olives, ham, peppers and the like.  Once we’d loaded our pizzas we got to use one of the oven peels  (those things that look a bit like giant spatulas on sticks) to pick up the pizzas and transfer them to the oven.  If this had been a competition the group I was with would totally have floored everyone else with our oven peel using skills, which I’m weirdly quite proud of.

    pizza-cooking

    And then it was a case of waiting for the pizzas to cook; usually the doors are closed and as we asked them to open then I began to understand why – they pack out quite a heat!  Thankfully the pizzas don’t take too long, which means that The Stable is a pretty good place to go for a quick bite and a pint – echoed by the informal banquet seating.
    stable_DIY_pizza

    Disclosure: It was a bloggers event, which should tell you that the cider and pizzas were complimentary. And we weren’t obliged to a) writer anything or b) be nice about them.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    First Look: Rofuto at Park Regis, Five Ways Birmingham

    rofuto_bar

    Just a quick one from me, but good news is there might finally be a reason for Brummies to go to Five Ways and it’s not just for the cinema.

    Roftuo, the izakaya-style Japanese restaurant opens soon and they invited a few of us up to take a look before the official opening.  Translating as loft in Japanese, Rofuto sits atop of the Park Regis, a new four star hotel which has risen from the ashes of a fairly unloved mixed use development (I say unloved, really there are huge swathes of Brummies who have a bit of affection for some of the dodgy nightclubs that used to be there).

    I don’t want to write too much, because I think trying to get an idea of a bar and restaurant on a preview night is a little unfair, but on first impressions Rofuto should be a much welcomed addition to the city’s food and drink scene – and not just for the people stopping over at the hotel.  With a £3 million investment, renowned restaurateur Des McDonald and interior designers Tibbatts Abel have clearly put the money to good use.  The venue feels fresh, modern and with a contemporary hint to its Japanese theme without feeling kitsch – and the expansive windows giving a great view of the city will make it a great spot for dining.

    rofuto_cocktail_making

    I’m going back in just over a week to try out a full meal, so I think it’s only fair to leave most of the talk of the food until then – but of the samples I tried, I’m really looking forward to it.  Of particular note, and I’m saying this more as a reminder to myself to order them again, were the fried chicken and black cod.  And trust me, I really like fried chicken, so it has to be good.

    Yet, whilst I’d expect a restaurant with that much investment on top of a four star hotel to be able to pull a set of good dishes out of its kitchen on a preview night, I think the real highlight for me were the drinks.  Birmingham’s cocktail scene is on a massive up at rather than placate with sickly sweet drinks as has been the case in some places, Rofuto has the confidence to create a menu of drinks which don’t overcomplicate themselves.  Some will tell you a good cocktail keeps things simple and Rofuto’s signature drink, the Ronin Out of Time does just this; a nod to the Manhattan, it uses Nikka from the Barrel Japanese whisky, plum sake and bitters, and works wonderfully.

    rofuto_lychee_cocktail

    It’s not the cheapest of places but of what I’ve seen of the execution of the food and drinks, plus that view, it’s definitely worth a try.  I’ll report back again when I’ve been a second time…because I’m good like that.

    http://rofuto.co.uk/

    Disclosure: It’s a preview night, invite only…of course the drinks and nibbles were complimentary. Also, I’ve spent the entire of writing this up with Muse’s Time Is Running Out in my head, so thanks for that.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    wagamama Birmingham Bullring has had a refurb

    chicken_katsu_curry_wagamam

    I spend about eighty percent of the time with my camera being surprised at the results it comes out with.  I’m never going to be a food photographer, but I think that dear little camera does a good job at making it look like I know what I’m doing.  I really don’t.  And if you’d like any evidence of this, ask me to take photos of things that aren’t food or drinks – I really struggle.  So when wagamama invited me down to check out their newly refurbished Bullring venue, I really did try and take some photos of the new refurb but I’ve just got a series of strangers making weird faces as they try and eat noodles. And I’m not mean enough to subject them or you to that.

    tori_kara_age_wagamama So yeah, wagamama, I don’t really need to introduce them do I?  I mean even my mum knows them; admittedly she calls them “that place I have noodles” whenever we’re thinking about lunch in Solihull but I think that says more about the scarcity of my mum eating carbs than anything.  Anyway, back to Brum.  Turns out the Bullring branch was the first wagamama restaurant to open in the UK outside of London, which I didn’t know, and has had a refurb, which I did know because I had an email telling me.  On the surface it doesn’t look like anything massively structural has changed; the seating is much the same although there are now some little semi-booth like tables to the side and it feels distinctively less like a canteen (I think the official term is ramen bar), which is always a good thing.  I think its the inclusion of darker wood on  the tables and walls, plus the lighting feels more ‘mood’.  The kitchen is still open, the long tables are there but overall if feels less functional and more pleasant.  It’s definitely a change for the better.
    duck_gyoza_wagamama

    Food wise I had convinced myself I was going to go for something a bit different.  But I was having one of those days when it All Gets a Bit Much and was moments off making a fort under the nearest desk and staying there.  On days like this comfort food is an absolute must and, for me, chicken katsu curry covers that pretty well; fried chicken, carbohydrates in the form of rice, a small but tasty salad to absolve you any guilt and a mild curry sauce.  And that’s what I got.  It was chicken katsu curry, it was exactly what I wanted and tasted like every other chicken katsu curry I’ve had a wagamamas – you’ve got to give them credit for consistency on their part.  And that’s what I wanted, a familiar favourite when I couldn’t handle more choice.  Had it been another day I may well have gone for something else, which does occasionally happen, and there is a nice selection of ramen, curries and teppanyaki.

    For starter I went for another well known favourite, the duck gyoza with dipping sauce.  These were possibly a bit over done for my liking, but this time round I actually remembered to try the sauce and it whilst it was very sweet it did have a nice fruitiness to it that complimented the duck.

    Oh and I’d also dragged along my friend Jo-ann, who I’m pretty sure ordered tori kara age and some sort of donburi.  I’m always a bit wary of putting words into people’s mouths but she seemed to enjoy them both, which is the mainly thing really.

    donburi_wagamamaSo there you have it, the wagamama in the Bullring has had a refurbishment.  It’s a good refurbishment, you don’t spend ages wondering where the hell everything is, but it looks different enough that you know they haven’t just out a lick of paint on the wall.  In fact, there’s a bit on their ‘about us’ page (see I do do research) which talks about ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘good change’ and I think the refurb certainly adheres to that.

    http://www.wagamama.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited down by wagamama to check out their newly refurbed restaurant. The lack of ability to remember names of anything is an inherited trait, so I blame my mother, the eccentricity is largely my father’s fault.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Original Patty Men again, because I can

    Big_Verns_Krispy_Ring_burger_OPMI think I’ve pretty firmly nailed my colours to the mast when it comes to how much I think Original Patty Men are absolutely flipping amazing. So if you want a review you’re better off reading the previous post about them because this is pretty much just an excuse for burger porn.  But as I’d spent the day in Digbeth attempting to take photos of things that aren’t food (in short, I failed), I figured it would be rude not to go to OPM and as I had my camera with me anyway I figured I might as well take a photo and share it.

    So yeah, I stumbled down to Shaw’s Passage ready to eat all the food. And thankfully I’d arrived just in time as there were only ten burgers left in the venue and, for a Sunday evening, there were a decent number of equally committed-to-the-burger-cause diners.  I ordered a Big Vern’s Krispy Ring donut, and yes your eyes are not deceiving you that is a burger nestled between a Krispy Kreme donut.  The salt from the bacon, the creaminess of the cheese and the sugar from the donut make this everything you could ever want in a burger.

    So, Original Patty Men, have you been yet? And more importantly, have you tried the Big Vern’s flavoured beer by Siren Craft Brew that I keep hearing about but get too distracted by burgers to ask if there is any on tap.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Pie at The Botanist Birmingham

    botanist_pieOkay so I don’t really pay much attention to whatever national food stuff week it is because frankly it would be exhausting.  But there are a few exceptions.  And when National Pie Week rolls round and one of the Pierateers asks if I want to go and eat pie the answer is pretty obvious.  I mean pie, it’s pretty great isn’t it?

    I headed off to The Botanist on Temple Street with Rob from the brilliantly named pie review blog Pierate – yes there’s plenty of pies, puns and pirate related shenanigans.  The Pierateers take their pie rating pretty seriously, rating pie on everything from colour to content.  Rob had a ‘Pierateer in Training‘ pack for me and as much fun as we had chatting all things pie food and blog related, I think it’s safe to say I would probably make me a pretty rubbish Pierateer!

    That said, we both tried the Botanist’s chicken and chorizo pie, which came with gravy and a choice of either chips or mash.  The gravy was a bit of an odd choice, as the pie had a white sauce and they didn’t seem to go – and the pie didn’t really need it either.  It was a good all round pie, I thought, the meat in my pie had been cut into bite-sized pieces, although I think some bigger chunks would’ve been preferable, and I liked the pastry to filling ratio which doesn’t always happen.

    I’m keeping my final score to myself, because a girl’s gotta have some secrets (actually I’m just pretty indecisive at scoring anything, which is why I don’t do ratings on the blog).  But it was a lot of fun pretending to be a Pierateer for a lunchtime.  And thank you to The Botanist for helping us to celebrate National Pie Week!

    http://thebotanist.uk.com/menus/birmingham

    Disclosure: I totally wasn’t expecting it, but the Botanist gave us complimentary meals in celebration of National Pie Week, although I figure that was more to do with my dining companion being a Pierateer and it pretty much being like their version of Christmas.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    First bite: Original Patty Men & Siren Craft Brew, Digbeth

    OPM_venue_cornerSunday 16th December 2012 was when I had my first Krispy Kreme burger from Original Patty Men.  Ever since, I’ve been hoping and wishing that they would open somewhere permanent, a nice little slice of our own burger paradise in Birmingham – because I’ve had enough with feigning excuses to go to London (really for burgers) or being forced to queue for hours.  Finally my prayers have been answered; Original Patty Men have managed to add one more to the long list of new Birmingham venues in 2015.  It may well be the most exciting yet.

    Earlier today I headed down to a preview of the new Original Patty Men and Siren Craft Brew venture.  Siren Craft and OPM have been teaming up for a few years now, and it’s easy to see why – beer and burgers are a classic pairing.  And Siren Craft share the same enthusiasm for their product as the OPM guys do – in fact they’re brewing up a special beer which takes inspiration from OPM’s Big Vern’s Krispy Ring burger, in that it involves actual donuts. Yeah, you heard right.  It’s an exciting collaboration generally, Siren Craft Brew have been making more of an appearance in the city and it’s great to see them have an established base, further cementing the idea of Birmingham as a craft beer haven.

    siren_craft_beer_OPMWhere is it?!

    Located in a railway arch on Shaw’s Passage, it’s the sort of perfect place that marries accessibility and authenticity.  If you’ve never heard of Shaw’s Passage, and frankly there’s not much reason to, it’s just the other side of the railway arches to the Selfridges Moor St car park.  Unlike most other cities who’ve gentrified their railway arches, it’s a largely forgotten about place, near an adult cinema and next to a car garage and gaming centre, the Warehouse Cafe is probably it’s most well known neighbour.

    staff_at_the_pass_OPMWhat’s it look like?

    The look of the place is distinctly industrial.  This is a look that Birmingham is becoming all too familiar with, but between the location and the idea of bringing street food vendors indoors, it works. Exposed brickwork, untreated wood and huge sheets of metal which will rust over to give a great aesthetic, it echoes OPM’s previous unfussy incarnation, where diners are used to no airs and graces, just good grub.  The venue seats 33 people, but there’s also the option for take out and possible plans for outdoor seating – burger picnics, anyone?

    pulling_pint_siren_craft_brewWhat’s there to drink?

    At the moment there are four taps for Siren Craft Brew, the final menu yet to be confirmed, although I’m looking forward to trying that special donut beer, which is likely to make an appearance soon.  And whilst beer is a focal point, it’s not the only thing on the menu.  For those that want something else there are other options, canned beers, spirits and soft drinks from indie retailers (the ginger ale is lovely).

    original patty men burger_friesTell us about the Original Patty Men menu?!

    The food menu is short, simple and to the point – burgers, fries and sides.  There are five burgers, one of which is vegetarian, served in fresh yoghurt & buttermilk buns unless specified – the Big Vern’s Krispy Ring still comes in a Krispy Kreme donut (pretty sure there’d be a riot if it didn’t).  One of the benefits to no longer being just street food vendors means the option of sides are available; three types of fries and two sides – slaw and slow cooked beans…and you know, chairs to sit on.

    For the preview we were given the cheeseburger and Darron’s Fancy burgers to try and I can attest to them being the usual high quality  we’ve all come to know and expect from Original Patty Men.  Oh good lord, I love their burgers.  The fries are equally good and don’t feel like an after thought.  The ODB fries, with OPM spice mix, Sriracha mayo, crisp friend onions and fresh spring onion look as good as they taste.

    Original_patty_men_friesI’ve made many jokes about the opening of this venue being like an early Christmas present to the city and I feared that just like advent being better than the reality of Christmas day, this might be a bit of a let down.  I have unashamedly been a big fan of Original Patty Men since that burger back in December 2012 and this has been my most hotly anticipated venue of the year.  It didn’t disappoint, it was just what I hoped it would be (well I’d also like to be able to book, but you can’t have everything).  It’s great to see a local street food venue take the plunge, branch out to their own space and team up with a well respected brewery, in an interesting part of town.  For all the places that have opened in the city this year, this, along with a few others, makes me feel like maybe the city is starting to believe in itself.

    The venue opens this Friday and will be open from Thursday through to Sunday thereafter.  Keep up to date via www.twitter.com/originalpattym

    Disclosure: I was invited to a media preview and the food and drinks were provided complimentary, but that didn’t mean I had to be. Plus OPM had three years of my hopes to match, which was never going to be easy. Go, please, just save me a seat.