In honour of Velo Birmingham and my new-found enthusiasm for cycling, I’ve put together a page of some cycle/cyclist friendly cafes that I’ve found in Birmingham, Solihull and a bit beyond. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m totally happy to take suggestions (especially if it means I get an excuse to get on my bike and go and eat cake somewhere new). You’ll find it at the top of the page, if you hover over ‘Birmingham UK reviews’. But also, because I like to make things easy, you can just see it here…
I am way more the girl in the back of the room making sure things run to time and tweeting about them than sitting up front where people can see me. Effectively that’s part of the reason this blog exists, it was never about me it was because I want people to know about the cool stuff and talented people mixing drinks and cooking up fantastic food in Birmingham. But ever one to laugh in the face of her own comfort zone, when Square (more about them later) asked me if I fancied being in conversation with chef and TV personality Gizzi Erskine, I waved goodbye to my comfort zone and started thinking up some questions.
Gizzi was in Birmingham as part of a series of events being held at a pop-up shop in the Great Western Arcade. Square is the brainchild of Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter, and is a payment service which aims to make it easier for independent traders to accept card payments by using a reader that connects to smartphones or tablets. As something which is designed to appeal to independent traders, Square invited Gizzi Erskine, creator of wildly popular pop-ups, to come and have a chat with us Brummies.
Talking to Gizzi is a wonderful whirlwind of conversation, which gave me some insight into what it must be like for my friends when I’m all excited about something and trying to get my words out at the same speed my brain goes. Honestly, I could’ve happily sat up there and prompted her to tell us more stories about her life and fantastic food career, ranging from a bohemian childhood full of exotic food to being at the forefront of the pop-up scene, her time at Leith’s Cookery school, and being on TV. I really enjoyed her candor, particularly around the topic of authenticity and believing in your passions. And all the talk of Korean fried chicken. My friend Amy summed up Gizzi well; “We could all imagine getting s***-faced with her on a Friday night down the Hare & Hounds.” – and turns out she’d lived in Moseley for a few years, so that’s not entirely impossible.
Gizzi warned me she has a tendency to go off on tangents, but they’re so utterly fascinating that it was worth letting her to hear more about her career – in fact I think we went well over the time allocation, but still managed a few questions from the audience, as well as a few I’d picked up from friends earlier.
Being up front meant I was mainly trying to practice some active listening, which makes it pretty tricky to commit to memory much of what we chatted about. And because I was busy being the ‘hostess with the mostess’, you might find these write ups by the lovely Brummie Gourmand and Gastronomic Gorman contain a bit more information. Ryan from Brummie Gourmand was an absolutely star and audio recorded the whole thing, so once I’ve worked out how to do sound editing, I’ll put the conversation up here.
Gizzi appeared at the Square pop-up shop in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade. Square enables millions of small and medium sized businesses around the world to take credit and debit card payments without monthly fees or long term commitments. There are only a few days left to visit Square’s first UK pop up in Great Western Arcade (between Colmore Row and Temple Row). Running until the 16th September, local business owners can get a free Square Reader worth £39 if they visit the pop up shop and sign up for Square in September.
I kinda think the whole Balti Triangle thing in Birmingham is a bit of a marketing gimmick. It’s one I’m totally fine with, because Birmingham on the whole never seems to do very well at claiming its rich heritage, but we totally claim the balti, check wikipedia. Because if there’s one thing Brummie love, it’s a good curry. And the reason i think the Balti Triangle is a gimmick is because whilst there might be a whole pile a cracking curry houses around the Ladypool Rd, Sparkhill, Balsall Heath area, I kinda think it’s pretty hard to find bad curry in Birmingham.
You see, Travelodge wanted me to talk about the Birmingham Balti and whilst it would’ve been easy to bang on about the Balti Triangle, I’m gonna be lazy and tell you about a balti house down the road from me. To me, this is one of the great things about Birmingham…you never have to go far for a good curry. And, my friends, the balti at Akram’s in Stirchley is properly good.
Akram’s pride itself on Kashmiri cuisine, which means lots of meat and rice and I can tell you they do both well. Rogan Josh is probably the most well known of the Kashmiri curries, especially round these parts, and the traditional lamb version at Akram’s is delightful – and if you ask nicely they’ll add a whole pile of vegetables to it, because a girl’s gotta get her greens. I’ve been to Akram’s few times now, owing to it being one of my nearest curry houses, but on my last but one visit I discovered their spinach and chicken balti. And whilst my food photography skills are passable at best, I cannot get a good photo of this, but trust me it’s good. Popeye would be happy with it because there’s a load of spinach, rightly so, and lovely tender chicken. In fact, there’s so much spinach that it’s not so much a wet sauce as wilted spinach carrying some extra liquids. It also means you rarely leave any behind, which is totally worth it.
I like to do the duo of rice and naan, because carbs give me life. They do those giant table naan at Akram’s and one day I will order it, but my love of bread is so strong that I will probably try and eat the whole thing myself. So for now I stick with the standard naan which is lovely and fresh, but still nicely doughy round the edges. They do all the fancy types of naan you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t, but the quality of the simplistic plain naan is so good I’m yet to move on.A special mention has to go to the music, which I’d totally not noticed on previous visit but I got to fully absorb the soundtrack this time round. And the cover version of such classics like Careless Whisper and I Believe I Can Fly were so notable that I Whatsapped my friend to arrange a visit next time she’s in town. If the good curry doesn’t convince you to make a trip, then the music choices should.
Birmingham is the best place for Balti and whilst I’d recommend any visitors to the city to visit the Balti Triangle, but south Birmingham locals or those sticking around a bit, Akram’s is totally worth a visit. And if you’re staying at the Maypole Travelodge, the food offerings for dinner nearby are fast food so come to Akram’s instead – it’s less than a 10 minutes taxi ride away.
Akram’s, 1526 Pershore Rd, Birmingham B30 2NW.
Disclaimer: Travelodge paid for my meal but all views remain my own, as ever. The restaurant didn’t know why I was taking photos of my dinner and giggling at the music, until they asked me if I used TripAdvisor and I thought I better own up.
On the very few occasions I’m allowed out of Birmingham and to another country, I have this thing about visiting McDonald’s. It has been going on for years, ever since as a teenager, we were stuck driving through France for what felt like forever and the only place we could find food was McDonald’s. This was back when salads here weren’t a thing, but they were in McDonald’s in France. Earlier this year, in Singapore I went to McDonald’s to escape the heat at the Gardens by the Bay and discovered McDonald’s there did curly fries. When flying to see my sister in Australia, my stepdad told me he didn’t see any McDonald’s when he visited, so we counted them all reached over 30…and then took a selfie in one to prove it.
Told you it was a thing.
So when McDonald’s were like, hey wanna come hear about the new stuff we’re doing you can bet I was there. It might not be popular to admit amongst “foodies” but I respect McDonald’s; If you’ve ever been in one of their kitchens between the switch between breakfast and the main menu, you’ll know it’s a feat of choreographed engineering genius. And I have, multiple times because I worked in one for a couple of breaks at uni.
Things have changed quite a bit since then and I headed over to the Wigston branch to hear more. The first thing of note is that the interiors are continuing the theme of looking a lot less 80s plastic fantastic; there’s a choice of interiors these days, so it’s out with the identikit look and in with a more modern restaurant feel. There’s also recycling, which made me unreasonably happy – recycle kids, the planet is ace!
My favourite of the newer additions is the self-service machines, which means if you’re having one of those days when you just want the world to leave you alone and let you wallow in your chicken nuggets, you really don’t have to talk to anyone. I know, because I’ve totally done this in the McDonald’s on the ramp in town and it works. There’s also going to be table service, which personally feels a bit too much for me, but if you’re a parent trying to rein in a bunch of kids then this is going to make things a lot smoother. And if you’re lucky, some of them, like the Wigston branch, has a play area for kids – I’m not jealous at all.
We also got to have a look backstage at the kitchen process, which has also changed quite a bit. It used to be that burgers were made up in batches (and disposed of if they didn’t sell in a certain timeframe) but these days they’re made up as people order them, which makes customising your meal so much easier. The kitchens are laid out in such a way that it reduces the time required to make up a burger, and whilst we weren’t nearly as speedy as the staff, we all had a go – and ate the results.
As we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour, we got to quiz the staff about anything McDonald’s related that we liked. Of course, I asked a whole bunch of questions, thus proving myself to be a giant nerd, but it was great to hear about the extent that McDonald’s go to develop their staff (I finally got a badge with stars), their work with Ronald McDonald House Charities offering accommodation for families with children in hospital, and also get some sneak peaks at some of the new burgers coming out soon.
I’m looking forward to seeing the new-look McDonald’s roll out across Birmingham (Cherry St was closed up for refurb last time I looked, so fingers crossed), and I’m unreasonably excited about the prospect of home-delivery nuggets…
For more information on the evolution of McDonald’s and what’s coming to local branches near you, check out: http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/ukhome/whatmakesmcdonalds.html
Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with McDonald’s, but all rambling thoughts remain my own, as ever. By the way, the only country I’ve visited and not been to a McDonald’s in is Qatar, so if anyone fancies flying me back over…
Hey look, I was on the news! And no, it wasn’t because I was being arrested for something.
I’ll admit, being in front of a camera and public speaking are two things I’m really not keen on, so I can only blame the amount of caffeine I’d had that morning for saying yes. Because it was totally one of those days I decided not to wash my hair or put make up on, so queue me running around at lunchtime to look half-way human – and yet still I managed to pull a series of funny faces. Standard.
But seriously, the BBC is a respected institution worldwide and I was honoured to be asked to be on the local news edition talking about The Wilderness’ new reservations policy – more interesting than it sounds, I promise! I was even more proud that my mum and her husband were impressed, and my mum spent the evening forwarding me congratulatory texts from her friends. Because being on the telly is kinda terrifying but ace, but knowing your mum is super proud is totally the best thing about it.
Thankfully you can no longer watch me on the telly, so I will attempt to summarise some of what I said on the telly and add a bit more context. The Wilderness has been very vocal about the amount of no-shows they’ve had at their restaurant and the impact it has on their business, so implementing a 30 – 40% deposit to secure a reservation seems entirely reasonable. It’s an investment in a special night out and it’s not like somewhere like there can count of walk in, in the way mass mid-price chain restaurants might. It’s not like deposits or paying up front is a new concept; Christmas parties and Valentine’s day are just two examples, not to mention that you generally pay for theatre, gig and cinema tickets up front.
Personally, I would rather invest in a special night out and be guaranteed a table that faff about. Things like no reservations policies, paying up front and larger deposits are all a result of a small amount of people who aim to go out for dinner but have lost all sense of common courtesy and forget to cancel reservations they don’t need. Don’t be that person; cancel a booking you can’t make with as much notice as you can, restaurants are run by humans and the good ones will try and help you out if there’s a good reason you can’t make it. We all want the city’s dining experience to be a good one, so try and be one of the good ones.
I’m not going to bore you with lots of words about how delicious the menu tastings are at The Studio, because if you’ve been reading the blog you’ll know how much I enjoy them – or you can read past menu tastings here. But here are some pictures from the Spring 2017 menu tasting, because who doesn’t enjoy a nice excuse to look at pictures of food?!
Also, that’s the apple and sultana strudel with custard in the first picture.
The Studio, 7 Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP
I know, on the face of it, International Women’s Day might not have a lot to do with the food and drink scene in a city in England. However, for anyone who has been paying attention you will have noticed that it’s a bit of a sausage fest, and most of the well known names are distinctly male. So I figured today was a good day to celebrate some badass women doing cool stuff in Birmingham – apologies to all those who I missed off the list, I ran out of time!
Amy Seton and Victoria Osgood, Whisky Birmingham festival and Birmingham Whisky Club
Whisky has this reputation for being a bit of an old man’s drink so if you’re young and female then you expect a bit of confusion when you turn up to whisky events. But imagine being a woman and the organisers of the best whisky festival in the city and a whole raft of great whisky events too? Yeah, that is not going to be the easiest thing ever, but Amy and Vicky know their stuff and put on some great events highlighting some great whiskies from around the world with some top-notch speakers. http://thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/
Holly Jackson, Carters of Moseley
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Carter’s a few times over the years and whilst there is no doubt about how fantastic the food is, that Michelin star was well deserved; but it was the relaxed, friendly but entirely on point service that drew me back in. And for that, Maitre d’ and proprietor Holly must be congratulated. Thank you for creating a place that feels like a real treat, but somewhere you can relax and not feel like you’re being observed like a specimen in a lab. http://cartersofmoseley.co.uk/
Jen Nadin, Cherry Reds
I bloody love Cherry Reds. This will come as no surprise to anyone who interacts with me on social media; it’s often my most recommended place because it covers nearly all dietary requirements without making a song and dance about it, has a great beer selection and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere. And no one minds when you order tea and cake on a Friday night. Jen is the brains behind Cherry Reds and for that I salute her. http://www.cherryreds.com/
Marverine Cole aka Beer Beauty
Marverine is Birmingham’s first Beer Sommelier, as accredited by the UK Beer Academy, in another industry typically associated with men. As well as winning award for her beer videos, she has appeared on a bunch of TV shows promoting Britain’s national drink. http://www.marverinecole.co.uk/beer-expert.html
Martha and Molly, Loaf
I think all the staff at Loaf are great but special mention to Martha and Molly who put up with me every Saturday morning after I’ve rolled out of bed and headed to Loaf, pre-coffee and still half asleep. As well as starting my day with one of their delicious croissants, a quick chat with them is a great start to the day. http://loafonline.co.uk/
Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaron
Rosie trained as a high-end pastry chef at University College Birmingham and worked at the Michelin-starred Purnell’s restaurant before founding Miss Macaroon. As well as making these sweet treats, they provide employment and training programmes aimed at young people who have left care, slipped through the education system or find themselves homeless. https://missmacaroon.co.uk/
If you’ve been to any slightly out there events in Birmingham that fuse food and art together, chances are that Kaye has been behind them. From her work with Companis through to last year’s Diabolical Roses and the upcoming Expanded Intimacy, Kaye has been producing immersive dining experiences, which are a highlight in Birmingham’s calendar. http://kayewinwood.com/
Irene Allen, Opus
Director of Opus on Cornwall St and Bar Opus in Two Snowhill, Irene and her team have been doing some stellar work supporting young people in the hospitality trade with their links with University College Birmingham and their commitment to sustainability. And their prix fixe menu is a really good deal. http://www.opusrestaurant.co.uk/
Pip, Pip’s Hot Sauce
I recently marinated some chicken in Pip’s BBQ sauce and it was bloody delicious, which is hardly surprising as Pip’s sauce has a cult following in the city. Often found manning her own stall at various markets in the city, Pip’s Hot Sauce is made in small batches and can even be made up as wedding favours, which sounds like a superb idea. http://www.pipshotsauce.co.uk/
Katie Rouse of Crushed & Cubed
Katie has spent a good deal of time making sure that Birmingham’s independent scene has some decent drinks. As a bartender she has been seen slinging cocktails behind bars at The Victoria, Jekyll & Hyde and The Botanist. But taking the step up, she’s currently managing director of Crushed & Cubed, making sure that there are some interesting bottles on the city’s independent back bars so we punters have something good to drink. https://twitter.com/CrushedandCubed
Happy International Women’s Day ladies (and gents) – lets raise a glass to those women making Birmingham great!