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    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Trying out the new autumn/winter menu at 1847

    1847_menu

    I’ve been talking a lot about comfort food recently.  It’s not really surprisingly, given the recently dip in temperature, the dark nights (which I actually like) and that time had three hours sleep because I stayed up for my traditional watch a Big Thing happening in another country.  I think anyone would be forgiven for craving comfort.  But what I didn’t expect was to find it at a vegetarian restaurant.

    I’ve posted about 1847 (which used to be called Bistro 1847) before, several times in fact.  It does vegetarian and vegan sort of fine-dining style, in a bistro in the heart of the Great Western Arcade, which is rapidly becoming quite the go-to place for those who like to excite their taste buds.  It’s a bit crass and overdone to say that as a meat eater I like the place, because that would be like going to dessert parlour and talking about dinner; it’s not about what’s missing it’s about the ingredients they use taking centre stage.  And whilst vegetarian options are now pretty standard on most menus they’re not always the most inspired, whereas at 1847 they’re the stars.

    maples_roasted_parsnips_1847

    This time round I pitched up for a taste of their new autumnal menu, which already tells you there’s a transitional move into comfort food, but it’s not heavy and bloating.  The menu picks up lots of the flavours and ingredients of the season – cauliflower, mushrooms, sage and butternut squash, but with some extra flavours for colour.

    To nibble on whilst we waited for everyone, we had focaccia with shakshuka hummus and if this was as good as it was to get (spoiler, it wasn’t) I’d have been happy; lightly toasted but still warm bread, drizzled with oil and a shakshuka hummus which was smooth and salty.  It was simple but delicious.

    For starter I went for maple roasted parsnips, parsnip cream, apple and pumpkin seed, because honey-roasted parsnips are an absolute winner in a Sunday roast and I wanted to know what a maple version would be like.  They’re delicious; cooked well so that the parsnips are soft but not mushy and the naturally sweetness of the vegetable is heightened by the maple syrup.  Sure it’s sweet but it’s just the right sized dish that it doesn’t become sickly. 

    spatzle_1847

    For main I went for spätzle, roast squash puree, smoked mushrooms and whipped feta.  I have a soft spot for spätzle ever since my German university housemate Barbara showed me how to make it.  The knöpfle variety is a German pasta which is like little droplets.  To make it, I used to comb the dough through a colander and cover with grated cheese once cooked, but the roast squash puree and smoked mushrooms gave it a really interesting flavour.  I wasn’t sold on the whipped feta, the tanginess of it seemed at odds with the other flavours, but then I’m not a massive fan of feta.

    Sadly, the only real misfire of the night was the dessert for me.  I went for the coconut malabi with apple rice donuts and caramelised pear because it felt like a nice comforting, lighter dessert but just didn’t quite work.  The coconut malabi felt a bit lacklustre; I’m not keen on overly sweet things but this dish felt like it needed more sweetness, perhaps more caramelised pear and it was hard to know whether you were supposed to swipe with the sauce with the anarachni-like donuts.  That said I did try some of my friend’s chocolate brownie with my coconut malabi and the creaminess worked well with the richness of the brownie, so it’s not bad it just didn’t seem to come together as a dish quite as I’d have liked.

    apple_rice_donuts_1847Overall it was a really enjoyable meal, even with the slightly disappointing end.  There are still some well loved classics on the menu like the battered halloumi, but the autumnal dishes really are a delight.  Once again 1847 have proved that vegetarian and vegan dishes don’t need to be the poor-man’s meatless afterthought but can be hearty, comforting and yet delicate.

    1847, 26 Great Western Arcade, Birmingham B2 5HU
    https://www.by1847.com/birmingham/

    Disclosure: I was invite for a complimentary meal by Brumderland in exchange for my views, but wasn’t required to be positive. Which is just as well because after three hours sleep I’d struggle to lie anyway.

    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.

    byron_beer

    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

    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.