Follow:
Browsing Category:

Restaurant reviews

    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.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Loy Krathong bloggers night at Sabai Sabai, Moseley

    sabai_sabai_scallopsFirstly, lets get this out of the way, I had no idea what Loy Krathong was until I got invited to a blogger’s evening to celebrate it.  Turns out, or according to Wikipedia at least, it’s an annual celebration which takes place in some Asian countries on the full moon of the 12th Thai month (which is roughly around November, by Western calendars).  It sounds pretty cool to be fair; traditional krathong (crowns/boats/decoration) are launched along and river and people make a wish.

    Anyway, my cultural ignorance aside, I headed off to Moseley for an evening of Thai food at Sabai’s Sabai’s original restaurant.  They opened another one about a year ago in Harborne entertainingly, because if there’s two suburbs in Birmingham with a sort of middle class rivalry, Harborne and Moseley are it for sure.  Cleverly though, the interior of the two matches the characteristics of the location; the Moseley venue is cosy, a little bohemian and dimly lit for real intimacy, whereas the Harborne one feels much more modern and chic.  My personal preference is for the Moseley one, because I’m not really a smart and modern sort of person and the low lighting means you can easily hide something when accidentally spill sauce on the table.  Little things people, little things.

    sabai_sabai_starter_selectionThis time round I met up with a few other bloggers to celebrate the aforementioned Loy Krathong by trying out some dishes, most of which are featured on Sabai Sabai’s Christmas Menu.  This is a three course menu where diners can choose one starter and main and pudding is a trio of desserts.  Of course we tried a bit of everything in order to be able to write about it – the things I do for this blog, I tell you.

    First up was a selection of starters; scallops, chicken satay ribs, crab cakes and ribs.  I’m a bit of a sucker for scallops and these were delightful, with a warm butter-like texture that my knife slipped through with ease.  The garlic and pepper sauce and colourful sprinkling of vegetables was a welcomed accompaniment – in fact they could’ve just brought me a bowl of this dish and I’d have been happy.  The chicken satay had a nice balance of flavour, particularly with the peanut sauce which have a nice creamy savoury angle to it, without being cloyingly sweet.  The rib was nice enough but not particularly enthralling, particularly compared to the rest of the dishes.

    roast_duck_sabai_sabai

    For main course the table was positively filled with an assortment of dishes.  The first one to land was roast duck, and who amongst the meat eaters of us can say no to roast duck? Not I, that’s for sure.  With crispy skin and sweet meat, the tangy but sweet tamarind sauce elevated to a dish worth of a celebration and the bed of pak choi and cranberries alluded to just a little hint of Christmas cheer.

    The sea bass was served in a similar garlic and pepper sauce as the scallops, which almost made me think someone had heard my silent calls for more of the starter.  Sea bass is one of those items I find myself choosing more and more – the versatility of the fish means it’s nearly always a pleasant dish and this certainly was, and more.  Between the sauce, which had a nice punchiness to it, and another bright array of vegetables this didn’t feel like a stodgy indulgent Christmas dinner, but a fresh, light and yet still a flavoursome one.  Of all the dishes, it was the one I kept coming back to.
    seabass_sabai_sabai

    Clearly I was a bit over excited by the sea bass and some of my other photos suffered.  The pan fried monkfish served with bamboo shoots and fine beans, wrapped in chargrilled aubergine was another fresh, light dish and the heat from the Thai green curry sauce gave it a good kick.  Personally I found the sirloin steak cooked a little more than I would’ve liked, but the Panang sauce rescued it.  I’d imagine if you were ordering this for yourself you’d get an option to request how it ought to be cooked.

    I was sat next to a fellow blogger Emily, who is pescatarian and with the array of superb fish dishes wouldn’t have been short of things to eat, but the staff created an array of vegetarian friendly dishes, namely a tofu which looked good and a yellow curry, also with tofu, which I tried too.

    yellow_curry_sabai_sabai

    For pudding there was a trio of desserts; a square of brownie, scoop of ice cream and panna cotta.  Given the amount of food and the spice of some of the other dishes this was, the words of goldilocks, just right.  The square of brownie was chocolatey but not sickly and the refreshing cool ice cream maneuvered into the few remaining gaps left after a large meal.  That’s one of the things I like about Thai food, you know you’ve eaten a lot but the fresh flavours and vegetables mean that you rarely feel stuffed.

    Lovely company, delicious food and learning about a new celebration – it was a good night overall.  If this is whetted your appetite then it’s worth having a look at their website for more info on their Christmas menu.  Or you know, just menu, because who needs Christmas as an excuse to go for dinner?

    http://www.sabaisabai-restaurant.co.uk/
    Disclosure: I was invited down by Sabai Sabai and Delicious PR for a complimentary meal with fellow bloggers in return for an honest post. More importantly, who do we talk to about getting a Loy Krathong celebration down one of the canals next year – it was be epic.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Sunny’s Soul Shack at the Sunflower Lounge

    buttermilk_chicken_chips_sunnys_sunflower

    There’s a quote on the coat of arms of Birmingham which reads “forward” and the city seems to have embraced this fully; the city centre is ever changing, much to the delight and displeasure of its residents.  Similarly, after a rather extensive – and badly needed refurbishment, The Sunflower Lounge on Smallbrook Queensway was greeted with open arms by the city and the food at the time was pretty good.  Fast forward a few months and gone are Big Papa’s, over to open their own place at the Mockingbird at the Custard Factory, and to replace them are Sunny’s Soul Shack.

    Sunny’s Soul Shack are doing much the same as what went before them; all-American comfort food, heavily inspired by the deep south of America.  It’s something which is becoming more represented in the city, but not so much that it feels saturated.  I went down to try out some of their dishes with some fellow bloggers, mainly because I wanted to know whether their buttermilk chicken would be as good as what came before.
    sunnys_sunflower_nachos

    We started the evening with a series of starters to share.  Even after the refurb, The Sunflower Lounge isn’t my first thought to go for a sit down formal affair, but more likely somewhere to hang out with friends and grab a drink and maybe some light bites to share, ahead of seeing some live music there.  Thankfully this works well with the starter selection as the menu includes things like homemade nachos, sticky bourbon chicken wings, Sunny’s hash and blackened catfish…most of which lend themselves fairly well to sharing.sunnys_chicken_wings

    Generously loaded with cheese, the nachos had just enough guacamole and sour cream to give them flavour, without losing too much bite and were easy to share.  The blackened catfish was probably my favourite starter of the evening, although I always think the use of blackened as a description seems a bit strange, though Sunny’s is ‘blackened and breaded deep fried catfish’ – I’d have been really interested to try these as one of the burger options.  The slow-cooked beef brisket hash served with potatoes and runny egg was nice, but felt more of a light bite than a starter…and almost like it would’ve made a better brunch option.

    sonnys_hash_sunflower_lounge

    When I went the main options were a little limited, which didn’t really matter as I was determined to try the buttermilk chicken and chips, to get a handle on whether it was a wise move to replace like-for-like.  Firstly I appreciated the ability to be able to chose a side which wasn’t sweet potato fries…seriously Birmingham, is there some sort of sweet potato producer who is blackmailing you all?  I get that they’re a bit of a healthier option, but once you’ve deep-fried them that seems like a bit of a moot point.

    The buttermilk chicken breast I had a deeper colour than previously, but still very tasty – the menu describes it as dusted in their signature coating, and I’d be at a loss to compare the two really, both were lovely.  Served with chips and sweetcorn on the cob, the price is pretty feels pretty reasonable.  One of the guests at the table had the burger, which comes with two patties, sticky brisket and cheese and frankly looked fairy gluttonous, but the fashion for load-em-high burgers seems to be ride a never-ending wave at the moment.  After sharing all those starters between us, I’m not entirely convinced he finished it.

    burger_sunnys_sunflower_loungeSince my visit, Sunny’s Soul Shack seems to have upped its menu slightly with a Rueben sandwich and hot dog varieties.  With New St station now re-opened it feels like Smallbrook Queensway is now a little more integrated into the city and easier to get to now that you don’t have to navigate a load of building works.  It’s still just out of the hub bub of the city centre crowds, which is no bad thing in my eyes, particularly with silly season upon us and pubs and bars being full of festive drinkers.  Plus the Sunflower Lounge host some really cracking gigs, so it may be worth getting yourself down early and trying out Sunny’s Soul Shack.

    http://thesunflowerlounge.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited down with a few other bloggers to try their food, although frankly the other bloggers probably got round to posting their review in a much more timely manner. As usual, just because the food was complimentary, doesn’t mean I have to be.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Henry Wong’s blogger’s dinner, Harborne Birmingham

    henry_wongs_blogger_event_birminghamI’ve pretty much given up keeping a list of all the places I want to eat, after realising it would probably be as long as Kerouac’s On the Road scroll.  But if I had been keeping a list, Henry Wong’s would’ve been on the list for sure.  Being a well regarded stalwart of the Birmingham food scene, before there was such a thing, it been somewhere I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while.  So when an invite for a blogger’s event landed in my inbox, I figured it was finally time to find out what the fuss was about.

    For thirty years, Henry Wong’s has been challenging the notion that Cantonese food is something you enjoy as take out on a lazy weekend or in an oriental version of a greasy spoon cafe.  Personally I have a bit of an affinity with these ramshackle places where the food is tasty, the plates are plastic and you’re all but ignored once the transactions of money and food are done.  But having visited upmarket Cantonese restaurants elsewhere (once for a family wedding which was all kinds of impressive), I was keen to see if Henry Wong’s could match them and deliver great food along with ambiance they proudly boast about.
    henry_wongs_birmingham_prawnsWhilst waiting for everyone to arrive, I had a Citrus Summer Sensation cocktail; it was a pretty simple cocktail, but the fizz from the ginger ale complemented the gin and the hint of citrus was a nice touch.  I’ve recently been to another restaurant in Harborne with a bar, it was nice to find another with decent cocktails, although this had a more relaxed feel which I enjoyed.  Once everyone had arrived we were take through to an impressive table in a section of the restaurant which would be great for big occasions.

    We started with a trio of prawns; honey and pepper, wasabi cream, and garlic.  Whilst all three were good, the garlic was probably my preferred, but I always enjoy being able to try different things in one dish.  This was paired with Dr Loosen Red Slate Riesling which had floral and citrus notes which really worked with the prawns.
    henry_wongs_birmingham_lobsterWith such a large group, there were around 17 in total, the wait for the mains was understandably a little delayed but gave me a fine chance to catch up with everyone.  The presentation from all the dishes was outstanding and I enjoyed the sort of flamboyant reverie the lobster was displayed with and demanded, it was certainly a ‘look at me’ sort of dish. Thankfully we didn’t have to attack it as meat had been prepared for us, along with Longhorn sirloin steak in Teriyaki sauce.  Both were lovely, but of the mains for me the crispness of the sea bass skin contrasting with the glutenous sweet chilli sauce was a particular highlight.

    henry_wongs_iceballI can’t remember the last time I had dessert in a Cantonese restaurant (or cafe) but if the presentation for the mains was impressive, this was a real show-stopper.  A hollowed ice ball containing an array of fruits, along with a mixed fritter and vanilla ice cream, served alongside Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec was a delightful ending to a fantastic evening.

    It’s hard to judge a place on an event, particularly when it’s for such a large group, not least a group of bloggers.  But the food, the drinks and the experience made me want to bump it higher up the scroll for a return visit and sample some more of their Cantonese cuisine…and on proper plates too.

    http://henrywongharborne.co.uk/

    Disclosure: All drinks and food were provided complimentary on Henry Wong’s. As ever views remain my own and honest…much like the Laissez-faire lobster.

    Bar reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Aluna, The Mailbox

    “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

    When rumours of a new bar at the Mailbox bubbled to the surface and claimed it would have “a magical, mysterious allure” with molecular-mixology cocktails, I’m not going to lie I pretty much imagined walking into Diagon Alley and drinking a Butterbeer. So imagine my surprise when I walked into Aluna and spotted a quote from Harry Potter on the wall.

    passionfruit_mojitoSadly for me, but probably wisely for anyone who actually managed to grow up, Aluna is less Leaky Cauldron and more contemporary bar. They’ve moved away a little from the industrial-chic which seems to be standard at the moment and gone for eclectic glamour – orange crushed-velvet seating, studded with fake diamonds and gold frames everywhere. It’s sort of odd, but sort of works.

    The first night I went was a launch night and I tried a few of the cocktails. They’re definitely keeping with the magical theme with headings like Hubble Bubble, Vaccines & Potions and Midnight Madness. It’s refreshing to see that they’ve done something a little different with the cocktail listings too – sure there are some standard cocktails, and even smoked version of classics have been slowly appearing on some menus in Brum, but they’ve also gone down the molecular route a little. Some of this works better than others, and I’m wary of using dry ice in drinks, but good on them for trying something a little different – at least in Birmingham.

    aluna_prawns

    However this time, my friend and fellow blogger Roz invited me along to be her plus one and try out their food options.  I can’t help but feel that the food menu itself is a bit of a let down. I wanted chocolate frogs, dragon milk cheese or at least soup served in cauldrons. Instead it’s all too familiar – burgers, steaks, ribs and classic dishes like fish and chips.

    For a starter I had the buttered black tiger prawns, which were actually fried in a buttermilk batter. The batter was suitably light and complimented the prawns well. It seemed strange that they didn’t already come with a dipping sauce, although I quite enjoyed them without, but the waitress recommended a garlic mayo and this worked well enough.  Odd as it is, my only real complaint with this starter was that with seven prawns it was a bit much.

    aluna_burger

    For main it was a pretty simple choice; I went for the Aluna Burger which is an 8oz beef patty, topped with bacon, cheese, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato and mayo in a brioche bun, served with chunky chips and coleslaw – and because I didn’t realise everything was super-sized, I’ve ordered some seasonal veg too.  The burger itself was juicy and pleasant enough, although I think the patty could’ve done with a little more seasoning, but the brioche bun was one of the better I’ve had recently.  I did remove the jalapeno peppers from the burger, which I think was a wise move – I tried them later and they would’ve overpowered everything entirely.  The chunky chips were more like potato wedges, so didn’t really have the crunch I expect from chips and there were an awful lot of them.

    Roz had gone for the ribs, which were also super-sized, though sadly consisted of a lot of fat.  The manager did explain that they’d had a few issues with the ribs and were looking to change them.  The sauce had a good colour and was sticky and sweet, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

    aluna_seaonsal_vegThe seasonal vegetables should’ve been a riot of colour; aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, courgettes and beans, to name a few.  Instead what I could identify felt more like the leftovers from a Sunday roast – carrots and parsnips, roasted, I think, without any of the crunch you’d expect and a lack of colour.  I’m not sure if it was the portion size or just how they’d been treated, but I didn’t manage much.

    I found the pudding choices a bit limited, although frankly I was quite full by this point.  Roz went for green apple sorbet, which she said was lovely and refreshing but again at four scoops was just too much.  I went off menu and asked for some vanilla ice cream, which I noticed they served along side some of the other dishes, and I found it was fairly bland, so I could see why it wasn’t on their main menu.

    DSC_0011

    Whilst I found the food to be pretty underwhelming, the service throughout was excellent.  Our waitress was speedy, attentive and ready to recommend things.  I’d spoken to one of the managers on the launch night about their ethos on hiring staff and he said they’d gone for people with excellent customer service that they could train up, particularly on the cocktail side of things.  If the waitress serving us was anything to go by, they’d certainly chosen well.

    I couldn’t help but feel a bit deflated by Aluna.  I wanted it to be so much more; something different for the city and as much as I dislike the word mixology, I wanted it to force the city to up its game with cocktails and with food which followed suit.  And whilst the cocktails are certainly trying something new, variable as that may be, I found the food to be generic and uninspiring.

    The ‘choices’ quote from the mirror on Aluna is spoken by the Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore, but there’s another one from him which sums up my experience “We must all make the choice between what is right and was is easy” and sadly, I feel Aluna went for easy.

    www.aluna.uk.com

    Disclosure: My meal was complimentary as I was a guest of Roz who was, in turn, a guest of Aluna.  As a Ravenclaw (I totally did the Pottermore test), I say it as I see it and my views remain my own and honest. Quotes are fro JK Rowling, obvs.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Strada set menu, Mailbox

    Prosciutto_Involtini

    My mum is pretty awesome and generally a good sport, even if she is a little bemused by this whole me writing about my dinner.  So she didn’t seem to mind too much when I hijacked one of our evening meet ups to check out the Strada set menu in the Mailbox.

    On arrival we tried some samples from the new menu, which I didn’t photograph – or rather didn’t photograph well at all because I was busy trying to work out how to eat pasta with a spoon.  They were tasty, which is always a good start I find.  But we were here to try the Strada set menu, which is a pretty reasonable deal; served Monday to Friday from midday to 7pm, you can get two courses for £9.95 or three for £11.90.

    caprese_salad

    To start my mum, predictably had salad, or rather the Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, which was simple but she said it was tasty.  I struggled a bit with the starters as I didn’t want anything overly cheesy but everything had cheese in, so in the end went for the Prosciutto Involtini, which were towers of  prosciutto di Parma and mozzarella with rocket and sticky balsamic.  Again, nothing too fussy but was a perfectly pleasant, light starter.

    As suggested, I went for a glass of La Cavea white wine, which is a mix of Garganega and Pinot Blanco varieties, which was light-bodied and worked well with the uncomplicated starter.

    Fish_Fritti

    If my mum managed to have salad for a starter, it was almost certain she was going to go for a fish dish for main and she did – the Fish Fritti.  This was made up of battered squid, salmon and seabass.  I’m not convinced my mum was expecting it to be fried and I though the batter could’ve done with being a little lighter, particularly on the salmon and seabass, but it sort of worked out like being a but like fancy scampi.  Being on a bit of a pesto kick, I went for the Cavatappi Genovese, which included pasta, basil pesto, pine nuts, green beans, new potatoes and Grana Padano cheese.  I personally prefer my pasta a little more al dente and I’m not convinced it needed the new potatoes too, but the flavour was good and the green beans cooked well.

    Cavatappi_Genovese

    And then there was the usual dance of can I goad my mother into ordering a dessert.   I think the dessert menu is pretty limited with tiramisu, ice cream and affrogato (which is basically coffee and ice cream) so you’re only really presented with two options.  I do think adding a third, non-ice cream option would be better than the affrogato/ice cream choices, and just offering those as choices within the dish.  But hey ho.  I went for some vanilla ice cream because I find it’s a really good indicator of whether a place really cares about their ingredients and the Jude’s artisanal ice cream I was presented with was creamy, with specks of vanilla and really enjoyable.

    vanilla_ice_cream

    Despite a few niggles, the set menu at Strada really is a bargain at around £12 for three courses.  Whilst I do think another dessert option would be a good idea, it’s a neat menu which does offer value for money, plus dishes change on a regular basis to reflect seasonal produce and to let the chef show off his creativity.  Overall, the Strada set menu is a reasonable option for budget-conscious shoppers looking for an indulgent lunch or early supper.

    http://www.strada.co.uk/menus/birmingham-mailbox/set-menu

    Disclosure: Mum and I were guests of Strada and so our meals and drinks were complimentary.  As ever, my views remain honest and I wasn’t obliged to write anything positive. However, if you want to win my mum other, seafood and salads are the way to go

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Harvey Nichols refurb and menu launch

    harvelnichols_prIf ever there was need for an example to show the new-found confidence in Birmingham, both as a destination in itself and as a burgeoning food and drink destination, the new concept-store Harvey Nichols would be it.

    The 45,000 square foot Harvey Nichs, as it’s affectionally known, was designed in partnership with Virgile + Partners to present the a concept store offering customers luxury retail – and it feels like it, particularly as you descend down the stairway into a store where everything is lit in a luxurious golden hue.  roasted_scallops

    In the old Harvey Nichs the food hall and cafe felt like a bit of an uncomfortable fit amongst the high end fashion, handbags and associated lifestyle.  But descending down the stairs, from the third floor, into the belly of Harvey Nichol’s new concept store, it finally felt like a venue which had found a way to make food and fashion fit seamlessly.  The restaurant is enveloped by the food market and bar, giving it a sense of belonging but without feeling like you’re dining in a clothes shop.  The bar, which has a fairly extensive selection of spirits, is ripe for people watching without feeling voyeuristic.

    The food hall retains some of the old favourites, but has increased its selection, including a number of items which will suit people with certain dietary requirements – the no cheese pesto was indulgent and fresh enough that the lack of cheese was no loss.  The bar and dining area are separated by a wall of alcohol – with an extensive selection of wines, including a lovely English sparkling wine and a carefully selected range of spirits (the whiskies were of particular interest).

    squid_ham_sundried_tomato

    Over to the dining area.  The menu has been designed in collaboration with one of Birmingham’s Michelin starred chefs, Glynn Purnell, who was on hand during the preview evening to tell us about the concept. The menu itself is fairly small; designed to be all day dining there are six options labeled under brunch and an all day dining section with sixteen dishes, which include a number of items that can be scaled up or down depending on whether you want a light bite, sharing dishes or a main meal.

    The food preview night offered a taste of a number of dishes (although sadly not the burger, which is an excuse to go back).  First up we tried the roasted scallops, with piperade and scorched baby gem lettuce, and the scorched provencal squid, Oxsprings ham, oliver tapenade, sundried tomatoes and red pepper – both of which can be served as lighter items or main dishes.  The scallops were beautifully sweet and speaking to one of the chefs later, he mentioned he’d shuck the fresh scallops that morning, having sourced them from someone he had previously trained and trusted.  The squid too felt lovely and fresh, cutting well without being too rubbery.

    smoked_haddock_crme_fraiche_potato_egg_yolk

    Next was the spiced smoked haddock with sour crème fraîche potato and poached free-range egg yolk, made to look like a fried egg.  It was a whimsical concept and a clear mark of a Purnell dish, but had the wonderful balance of taste to back it up with.

    pork_belly_chinese_spices

    I’d heard a lot about the pork belly dish and once it was presented I could taste why; the Hampshire pork belly cooked in Chinese spices and served with pak choi and sesame glazed noodles really was utterly delightful.  The sweetness from the Chinese spice glaze balanced well with the pork and the cut itself was flavoursome and delicate.

    himalayan_salt_seared_fillet_steak

    The Himalayan pink salt-seared fillet steak and fries was an incredible popular dish on my table and it’s easy to see why.  The dish arrives with pink meat, but we were told as it’s placed down on the table, that should we wish it cooked further to leave it on the hot sea salt slab.  This did feel like a bit of a gimmick to me, and I wasn’t about to ruin a delicious piece of beef to test out how well it worked, so I’ll take their word for it.

    Ordering a salad when out for a meal always seems like an absolute waste to me, but it’s often my mum’s number one choice so it was nice to see that the Harvey Nichols’ menu had three to choose from.  I tried the Thai green salad which was a riot of colour and taste, and had the option to add scallop, should you wish.thai_green_salad

    For dessert there was a large bowl of Glynn’s famous chocolate mousse with a mango sorbet and chocolate crumble – this is apparently similar to one of the dishes on the menu at Purnell’s, although not on the menu I tried earlier in the year.  I’m not a massive fan of chocolate, but the contrast of rich warm chocolate against the cool, refreshing mango really was superb – although sadly did not photograph well.

    Have strategically placed myself near the kitchen, I was able to go and chat to the chefs whilst they were plating up some examples of their afternoon tea.  It was refreshing to hear such enthusiasm for the menu and to hear about the provenance of the ingredients – the raspberries for one of the petits fours was sourced up the road in Tamworth and likely to change, once they were out of season.  The afternoon tea also includes sandwiches on beetroot bread and a coronation chicken which has a lovely smooth flavour.afternoon_tea_treats

    After dinner it was over to the bar (after I got a sneaky preview of the store because come on people), where I tried some of the tinctures and syrups created in-store for the cocktails, including a curry sugar syrup which would’ve been amazing over ice cream.  Chatting to Sam, the bar manager, it’s clear that there is a real passion to help push forward the city’s cocktail scene and bring something a little different.

    2015 is a hell of a year for the drinks and dining scene in Birmingham, with more places opening and rumoured to open than I can remember in a long time.  It’s a testament to the city itself, to the bartenders and chefs who’ve been faithfully working away and pioneering to put Birmingham on the map.  And when a national, well respected name like Harvey Nichols adds to that, it’s hard not to think that maybe that faith isn’t going unrewarded.

    http://www.harveynichols.com/store/birmingham/

    Disclosure: HN invited me down to their preview…although I’m still trying to fathom out why. Scrubbing up and making sure I didn’t spill anything took a lot of focus and so everything here remains my own honest opinion because I wouldn’t have had the energy to lie, even if I’d have wanted to.