I’m a bit please about this; recently Virgin Trains got in contact and asked me if I fancied writing something to lure people to the fine city of Birmingham, and of course I was more than happy to do so. After much debate (and excuses to go and make absolute sure how much I liked some of the places), I wrote a bit of an opus about some of the places I’d check out, food and drinks wise, if I were travelling to Birmingham. Of course there are loads more places I missed off the list, but I’m really pleased with how this turned out. If you want to have a read of it, here’s the link to it;
- Eden, a new café in Erdington opened recently and it looks worth checking out
- There’s a musical about food crime on Sat 14th May outside St Martin’s in the Bullring at midday and 2.30pm, which sounds crazy enough to be fun.
- James Bowker Head Bartender of the Edgbaston Boutique Hotel is through to the Diageo Reserve World Class GB final and is a pretty flipping big deal
- Be at One Bar opens this month, I spoke to one of the founders and it’s sounds like it’s going to be ace.
- Bagels, beer, cocktails and more, Peaky’s finally announced their new location and they’re going to be on John Bright St
- Celebrating local and sustainable produce, Opus has a cracking new Friday deal – two elegant courses, half a bottle of wine and a selection of homemade bread for £25 per person
- A nutrition talk at in the Great Western Arcade. It was an interesting overview on ways to overcome bad eating habits. They’re looking to run some more sessions looking as specific areas of nutrition, so once I hear more I’ll let you know.
- Ikea as part of the Live Lagom project – there was a bit of an update, a chance to meet some of the others taking part locally, see some new products Ikea are bringing in which have sustainability in mind, and eat some meatballs.
- Slow cookers can make pretty decent curry for lunch. I’d blog the recipe, but whilst it tasted good, it looked a bit oddly coloured.
- Cherry Reds and Waterstones Birmingham cafes for tea and cake. I’m not doing a write up of them as that seems a little silly, I can heartily recommend the rainbow cake at Cherry Reds and red velvet cake at Waterstones.
Quick one from me, as I’m a bit poorly at the moment, but I wrote something for the nice folks at OpenTable on a few places to find the flavours of summer in Birmingham…given the weather has been a bit rubbish recently (although I hear it’s getting sunnier next week) it felt like an apt thing to write about!
I seem to start a lot of these round-ups with the realisation that the month was busy, like that’s some sort of new revelation. Which is silly really, because nearly everyone I talk to these days is busy. You know, even those people who think having a dental appointment as their only engagement counts as busy (yeah mum, totally looking at you here). So if we’re all busy then doesn’t the word stop having any real meaning? And a lot of the time I should be busy but I’m avoiding doing things and instead doing things like binge-watching iZombie on Netflix instead.
Anyway, you’re not here for a quasi-philosophical exploration into the nature of busy. In fact, you’re probably here to get an idea of what happened last month, because that’s sort of what I bill these posts as. And last month was
busy kinda awesome. Two exciting things happened; the first was that I was shortlisted in the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards in the blogger category and the second was I did a presentation to a bunch of digital communications enthusiasts about building a brand as a blogger. I’ll write up the presentation, because strangers said nice things about it which means it might be of further interest to people. Oh and a third thing, which I nearly forgot to mention, was that Ting (of The Ting Thing) and I are attempting to revive Brum Bloggers, because there are lots of ace bloggers in the city shouting about cool stuff.
Anyway, back to this blog. I tried to do a few more round ups of news things this month, and I’m not sure how successful they were, but I don’t really have the time to re-write every food related press release going, and given there’s enough places doing that, I figure rounding them up so I’m sharing the news but in a less time-consuming way. I also did a sort of mid-month round up, with the intention of doing it weekly, but frankly my life is not that interesting and some weeks my food adventures are defrosting turkey meatballs and sneaking off to KFC on a Friday. But I did do a quick post about Peel & Stone’s Harborne venue pop up at their JQ location, because it looked kinda awesome and I was gutted I couldn’t get to any, but I will be jumping on the bus to check out the new store when it opens.
That said, whilst I didn’t do so many out and out news pieces, I did do a bit of a rant editorial about something the local newspaper put out that irked me a bit about the nature of chain restaurants versus independent ones. I’m quite liking doing posts which are more thinking about the city’s food and drinks scene as a whole, and I might inflict a few more on you, as and when I can come up with ideas for them.
Back to the actual food blogging itself, I went to a bunch of new places, some of which I’m yet to write up. One place I did get to was Rofuto, which a lot of people were very excited about and so was I. In fact, I’m so excited I’ve done two trips, and the post about the food will follow. On a Japanese-ish theme I went to have a look round the new-look wagamamas and had everyone’s favourite chicken katsu curry. And after all that raw fish and battered chicken, it was nice to head to 3 Three’s in Martineau Place, which is Birmingham’s first mainly-vegan café. Finally, one of my favourite things about the change in season (I feel like I can say this now we’ve actually had some sunshine) is that The Studio switch up their food menu and they’ve been nice enough to invite me along to sample the dishes, which form part of their package for people hosting events there.
And I think that’s about it in terms of things I need to tell you – and this post is way longer than it needed to be. This month is looking equally enthusiastic, I just need to find some time to write everything up, but if I can there will be steak, chocolate, cocktails and maybe pizza.
Quick news round up
I’ve realised there’s a lot going on and I don’t always get time to write up everything; so I’m trialling out a sort of weekly round up of good places I’ve been to (that may or may not be blogged about later), news I’ve stumbled across and anything else short and snappy. Let me know what you think of the idea…
Went to / discovered
Rofuto, the new Japanese concept bar and restaurant at the top of Park Regis at Five Ways is offering early birds keen to try them out with 50% off food as part of their soft launch offer running from Friday 22nd April to Saturday 23rd April. Reservations can be made via email – email@example.com
Deliveroo Birmingham turned one this week! The on-demand delivery service delivered via a fleet of delivery mopeds and bicycles and can often be spotted in the city, covering more than 3,000km a week and providing more than 60 jobs, as well as food to your door.
Moseley is getting a new upmarket wine bar thanks to Prince of Wales’ Keith Marsden. The Cheval Blanc will be next to the Dark Horse, one of Keith’s other venues, and is due to open in May.
The worst kept secret in Birmingham is that Langley’s are going to be opening a bar in the city. I tweeted a photo of the licensing application stuck to the Great Western Arcade, but lets keep that between us, right?
Did I mention Brum Yum Yum are going to be opening a permanent city centre Hawker style venue on Pershore Rd, near the Arcadian. It’ll give street food vendors a chance to have a bit of a permanent base, without the costs associated with it. I’ll get more info when it’s closer to opening.
Shaanti’s Holi Rave Festival is back on city on Saturday 16 April 2016 at the Digbeth Gardens with daytime and evenings shows so everyone gets a chance to go. Taste & Liquor will be curating the food area, and there’s more info on http://www.holirave.com
This morning I awoke to a headline in the Birmingham Post’s daily bulletin “Restaurants being ‘pushed out’ of Birmingham city centre by big chains” and of course it was the first thing I read (before coffee, rarely a good idea). And I wondered if I was living in another Birmingham.
Whenever I head to Manchester, I jump off the train, swing a right and make a bee line for the Northern Quarter and all its fab little indie hot spots; I’ve been to Bristol several times and yet to find any shops, but I know several streets with some great eateries; but Birmingham, we’re a bit messier than that.
We don’t have a maze of streets, a Northern Quarter or such ilk. In fact, I saw a similar discussion unfold about the city’s creative sector and where our ‘Northern Quarter’ was, because good lord to we like to compare ourselves to Manchester. But even then I pointed out that we don’t have a quarter, we have Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter and Moseley and Kings Heath. We don’t have a quarter, because our independent scene is a lot more scattered than that.
As I see it, independent venues are usually risk takers, leaders if you will, doing something a little bit different in the city. And without the purse of a large chain behind them, they opt to go on the outskirts where rent is cheap. Take John Bright St for example. For nearly five years there was nothing worth visiting there except The Victoria. It took years before Brewdog (its indie qualities debatable), followed by Cherry Reds and now the chains – Turtle Bay, The Stable (51% shares of the company belong to Fuller’s brewery), easyhotel is looking to build, rumours of a pub chain too. And Moseley seems to be going the same way.
Independents lead the way, more often than not the chains follow.
And that must be incredibly frustrating for some; just as an area is beginning to get a reputation for being worth going to, those chains with buying power can use their reputation and wallets to beat the places that made it worth going to in the first place.
So are Birmingham’s independents being pushed out of the city centre? I’d argue it was never really their playground to start with. I’ve never considered Birmingham city centre to be a haven for independents, but then again neither have I Bristol nor Manchester.
And I’m not belittling the need for more centrally located independent venues, because I don’t want Birmingham to become a homogeneous version of every other city centre. But I also don’t expect to see Grand Central Birmingham awash with them either (that said the excellent Yaki Nori, a Birmingham independent, is in there). Rents in the city centre are high, of course they are, they’re prime locations and as city on the up it’s hard to see this stopping. And landlords want the safe bet of a national chain they know will pay. It’s massively frustrating as someone that wants to sit in an Andy Low ‘n’ Slow or The Meatshack venue, but can’t because they can’t find space.
And it’s not all doom and gloom: Original Patty Men have managed to find a great location tucked around the corner from the Bullring; Nomad are right by New Street Station; the Jewellery Quarter is awash with places; suburbs like Moseley, Kings Heath and Harborne have got some great indie eateries; and of course we can’t forget the likes of Sparkhill and Sparkbrook where the majority of the Balti Belt in indie. Hell, get an Independent Birmingham card, show there is an appetite for independent venues in the city.
Don’t be fatalistic; demand better, support what we’ve got, and don’t give up.
Park Regis on Five Ways now open
Well okay, it opened last week and so this is sort of old news, but given occupancy rates in the city (and how bloody difficult it is to find meeting rooms), I for one am excited about a new hotel in the city and this one sounds fancy. It’s up on Five Ways and they spent £50 million on this bad boy, which has 253 bedrooms, the largest presidential suite and ‘Shakina’ Urban Dry Spa as well as two restaurants. I’m totally tempted to book in for a night; I hear the views are fantastic.
Rofuto opens this month
Due to open on the 26th April, up on the top floor of Park Regis is Rofuto; a concept by former Ivy head chef Des McDonald, which has panoramic views of the city, with an izakaya-style restaurant, serving a high quality modern Japanese menu. There’s also the Kurabu Cocktail Lounge, which will serve fresh Sake from Takashimizu Brewery in Northern Japan, alongside Koshua aged Sake from Shiraki Brewery, unusual wines, a rather tasty sounding cocktail list and around ten Japanese whiskies from the likes of Nikka and Suntory.
Also, Des McDonald, the guy behind the concept said some pretty nice things about the city: “I am delighted to be opening my first modern Japanese restaurant Rofuto, with my partners at Park Regis Birmingham. I love rooftop spaces, having opened four successful restaurants on the roof of Selfridges in London. I fell in love with the unparalleled dramatic views from the 16th floor, Birmingham is a great, vibrant city and I’m excited to become part of it’s dynamic and diverse dining scene.”
Glynn Purnell’s Friday Night Kitchen is back for 2016
Michelin starred ‘Yummie Brummie’ chef Glynn Purnell will be bringing his Friday Night Kitchen back to Villa Park on 7th October to raise money for Cure Leukaemia.
Award-winning presenter Suzanne Virdee and Heart West Midlands presenter Ed James will host the evening, with Glynn assisted on stage by Sam Bailey (X Factor winner? I don’t know, I don’t have a TV). With on-stage guests discussing and cooking their favourite dishes with Glynn before the audience tuck in – presumably not all to the same dish as I doubt they’d be batch cooking on stage. There will also be a live band and DJs after an a raffle for one lucky person to win a meal for six, cooked at home by Glynn and his team – and they’ll clean the kitchen up before they leave!
Tickets are now on sale for the fun-filled, live show-cooking event via www.GPFNK.co.uk
Opus’ Source Dinners are back too
If eating food isn’t enough, Birmingham food enthusiasts can now meet the suppliers Opus use, hear their stories, learn why sustainability is at the heart of everything they and Opus do – and have dinner showcasing the produce.
Ann Tonks, director at Opus at Cornwall Street, said: “Ethical and sustainable sourcing really is at the heart of our menus. Not only does sourcing our produce from great British suppliers mean that we are supporting the local farming and fishing industries as well as reducing our carbon footprint, but we believe there is a direct link between ethical, quality sourcing and the astonishing flavours of the finished dish.”
Source Dinners include a fish dinner with M&J Seafood on Friday 17th June, vegetarian dinner with Worcester Produce on Friday 19th August, champagne Dinner with Laurent Perrier on Friday 30th September and rare breed beef dinner – Friday 21st October. Each tickets includes an aperitif, a five-course dinner and matching wines. To book, please call 0121 200 2323
And Foodies Festival returns with Bake Off winner from 3-5th June
Foodies Festival returns to Cannon Hill Park for its second year, serving up a lip-smacking feast 3rd to 5th June. As well as Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, local chefs will be sharing their insights, including; Richard Turner from Turners, Brad Carter from Carters of Moseley and Nathan Eades from Simpsons. There will also be a Feel Good Foods theme at Foodies Festival this summer, as well as a Vintage Tea Room and a special focus on Brazilian street food this year to celebrate the Olympic host’s cuisine and plenty more.
So March Madness…that’s a thing. I’m trying to get out of the habit of saying it was a busy one, because, frankly, they all seem to go that way and after a while the philosophical part of my brain kicks in and I start wondering about the nature of the phrase.
So yeah, March happened. It was a busy kind of month generally and I’m still having some sort of blogging existential crisis, so I was pleasantly surprised to find I’ve actually posted six times this month, which was about four more than I expected. Okay, okay most of those posts weren’t exactly very long, but it’s the thought that counts right?
Actually it was a bit of a reflective month for me, and I’d finally gotten round to summing up my concerns about the spate of venue openings last year and what it means going forward. It seemed to get a good reaction (well on Facebook, no one leaves me comments unless I make them for competitions) so I’m tempted to do a few month food related pondering. Don’t worry the necessary and sufficient conditions of cake won’t be one of them.
The lovely Dave at BrumHour guest interviewed me for his radio show and whilst I refuse to listen back I’m pretty sure I blathered on about how complimentary meals aren’t really ‘free’ given the pay off of work that goes into them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like giving away actual free things to people who read the blog…which I got to do thanks to hungry house and their Top Takeaway awards. Talking of new places, I wandered down to Friska, a Bristolian cafe which has come to Brum and located itself in Brindley Place.
I ate out way more than I actually got round to posting (they’re coming soon, honest) but one of the things I had to do ASAP was when I finally met one of the Pierateers and we ate pie at The Botanist for National Pie Week. I’m kind of tempted to see how many of these things I can jump on board with, along with fellow bloggers in the city.
I spent one Sunday at the awesome ImpactHub in Digbeth, attempted to a) pretend I know what I’m doing with my fancy camera and b) taking photos of things that aren’t food. I rapidly concluded that it’s probably best for everyone if continue taking photos of my dinner and being surprised by what my magic camera produces. But it did provide me with an excellent excuse to go back to Original Patty Men.
And then at the end of March, well near enough, was Easter. Religious stuff aside, I know for most people it’s all about the chocolate but for me it’s the hot cross buns. I’d been entirely meaning to do an in-depth comparison of Loaf Vs Peel & Stone hot cross buns but frankly they were both great and I can say this with great clarity as I ate a lot of them.
So April; well I’m off to Bar & Block tomorrow, Beefeater’s near steakhouse concept, so that’ll be going on the blog; as will my ode to chicken katsu curry (or chicken cats curry as my spell check keeps trying to autocorrect) at the newly refurbished Wagamama in the Bullring; a return to Benugo in Grand Central; Brum Breakfast Club at Nomad…and err, hopefully some other stuff.