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Musings

    Musings

    Where independents lead, chains will follow…

    img_5712Brummies, we’ve got to stop being so harsh about our city.

    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.

    useitloseit

    Another post I wrote recently on a similar topic

    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.

    Food and Restaurant News, News, Pop Ups and Streetfood, Round ups

    News round 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

    Bar Visual new

    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.

    GPFNKLogo[1]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

    LogoFoodies 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.

    Tickets are on sale now at www.foodiesfestival.com or by calling 0844 995 1111

    Round ups

    March round up

    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?

    useitloseit

    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.

    Big_Verns_Krispy_Ring_burger_OPM

    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.

    Hot_cross_buns_basket_bunny

    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.

    As always, I love getting emails and messages from people.  If there’s anything you want to tell me about drop me an email on hello @ fulltothebrum . co . uk or catch me on Twitter or Facebook.

    Musings

    Happy Easter!

    Hot_cross_buns_basket_bunnyOkay, so I know that for most people the best thing, food wise, about Easter is chocolate but for me it’s hot cross buns – and more importantly that I get 40 days in which they’re entirely acceptable to eat them (unlike just a weekend of chocolate eggs).  I was going to do a post pitting buns from two of the city’s finest independent bakeries, but after much thought and many hot cross buns eaten, I’ve realised they both great.  So there you have it, thanks to the utterly wonderful Loaf in Stirchley and Peel & Stone in the Jewellery Quarter for consistently excellent hot cross buns.

    I’ve got six five hot cross buns left I picked up from Loaf this morning and I doubt they’ll last long, so whilst I’ll await their return next year, I just wanted to wish everyone a very merry Easter – here’s to bank holidays, excellent baked goods, a thriving food & drink scene and hopefully lots more exciting things to come!

     

    Musings

    Use it or lose it

    useitloseit
    So I was on Brum radio earlier, blathering about something vaguely related to Full to the Brum, food blogging and Birmingham. And on the walk back it made me think about something I’ve been mindful of for a while and what I probably should’ve talked about, rather than my weakness for fried chicken outlets.

    I’ve jokingly been calling this in my head the State of the Nation address, because I think last year was an interesting and exciting year for Birmingham food and drinks wise but now that we’re firmly into 2016 we’re beginning to see some changes.

    It’s hard to remember or record all the great food and drinks things that happened in 2015 in the city, but there are a few that stand out, at least to me; a fifth Michelin star for the city thanks to Carters of Moseley, home grown talent like Original Patty Men, Nomad and 40 St Paul’s opening their own venues, Grand Central Birmingham bringing some national chains to the city for the first time and just generally the explosion of venues that have opened. I don’t know how anyone else feels, but I feel like it might take me another year just to get through all of those.

    But after what felt like a bumper year of venues opening in 2015, we’re starting to see some casualties, namely Le Truc and Alfie Birds who have both closed their doors in recent weeks. I think anyone who works, or has an unhealthy interest, in the food and drinks scene in Birmingham isn’t surprised by either place going, but what if it’s the start of things to come? It’s no real secret that a lot of venues seem to be struggling to recruit chefs; that a lot of the very talented bartenders are no longer ‘in the trenches’, so to speak and that they’re not being replaced in the numbers all the new bars need; that all these new seats in restaurants need bums to fill them.

    Ever hopeful, I’d like to think that perhaps the casualties, and I’m expecting more, are merely a case of pruning so that the city’s gastronomic scene can continue to flower. And I’m not much of a gardener, but to labour the metaphor a little longer; that means it’s up to us as drinkers and diners in the city to help choose which budding venues stay, which ones to nurture in the hope that the scene continues to thrive.

    I spend a lot of time talking about what I think of places and sarcasm and dry humour aside, it’s all because I want this big old beast of a city to have the best food and drink scene it can, and the best way I think I can help is hopefully by telling other people about it. But really, it’s up to us as consumers to put our money where our mouths are and make sure we support the places we love, lest they whither.

    Musings, Recipes, Vegan

    Recipe: Vegan Shepherds Pie

    vegan pie

    Chances are if I’m cooking something at home and it’s meat-free it’ll probably be vegan too.  I could spin you a line about the ethics of this, but really it’s just that dairy and my digestive tract don’t always get on. And if it’s not going to make much difference, I’d rather switch it out for something that isn’t possibly going to kick me in the gut and give me a hangover (and that’s the polite version).

    I have a similar view of meat really, that unless it’s the star of the show then I don’t really mind it being switched out for something else.  So after seeing some recipes for shepherd’s pie that used lentils for the filling, I figured I’d have a go at making my own vegan version.  Again, I’d like to tell you that the sweet potato was a conscious health choice, but really it was just that I had one left over, although to be fair given that I didn’t bother with cheese I hoped it would add a bit more flavour, which it did.

    Apparently this should’ve fed five people, which I think would’ve made rather generous portions and I ended up making seven – although I’m not keen on a lot of potato, so whilst the filling is enough for seven, you might want to up the amount of potato (there was more in the photo, I just ate it so you could see the lentil mix).  I used these fab little dishes from IKEA (picked up as part of the Live Lagom project) which are, in my mind, just the right size and they can go from freezer to oven which makes them really handy. I defrost my pies before cooking, but they can be cooked from frozen if needs be.  They’ve become my go to TV dinner when I’m late home from an event, but not late enough to justify picking something up en route.

    Enough blathering from me, here’s the recipe for vegan shepherd’s pie…

    Recipe: Vegan Shepherd's Pie
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    An easy to recreate vegan version of a shepherd's pie which can be made in bulk and frozen.
    Author:
    Recipe type: dinner, frozen, batch cook
    Cuisine: vegan
    Serves: 5-7
    Ingredients
    • 1 onion
    • 2 carrots
    • 3 sticks of celery
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 100g mushrooms (I used button)
    • a bay leaf
    • 0.5 tbsp dried thyme
    • 250g dried green/puy lentils
    • Splash of soy sauce (Worcestershire Sauce if you’re not wanting a vegan version)
    • 2tbsp tomato puree
    • 850ml vegetable stock (use about 700ml to start and top up if needed)
    For the topping
    • 1kg potato – I went for 350g sweet potato (then peeled), 650g salad potatoes with the skin on
    • 40g dairy-free margarine
    • 50ml almond milk (but any milk will do)
    Instructions
    1. Add a splash of oil into a pan and gently fry the onions and garlic for five minutes, then add the carrots and celery until everything is soft and golden – should take about 15minutes in total.
    2. Stir in the herbs, and then add lentils, give it another good stir before adding the stock. Simmer for 50 minutes until the lentils are very soft, stir in the tomato puree, then season to taste.
    3. Whilst the lentils cook it’s time to sort out the potatoes; peel and roughly chop the sweet potato. Frankly I can’t be bothered to peel the little white potatoes, so I just chop them and add them, but peel if you’re keener. Add to a pan of boiling water and cook for about 15minutes until they’re tender. Then drain the potatoes and mash with the dairy-free butter and milk (I used almond, but I think any will do just make sure it’s unsweetened) and don’t forget the salt and pepper.
    4. To make the pies divide the lentil mixture between your dishes and top with mash. Add cheese if you like (there are some vegan cheeses about). If you’re eating straight away, heat the oven to 190c/fan 170c and bake for 30minutes until the top is a bit more golden.
    5. If you’re freezing them, keep them for no longer than a couple of months and it’s best to defrost them before cooking. But if not cover them with foil and bake at 160c/fan 140c for about 30minutes – 1hr (individual pies will take about 30minutes), then uncover and cook for a further 20minutes.

    Disclosure: As part of the Live Lagom project IKEA let me have a few of these glass dishes, but I also bought some myself, because I am a little obsessed. IKEA don’t know I’m writing this so they definitely didn’t ask me to be nice about anything.

    Round ups

    January update

    janaury_diaryOrdinarily I’d do a bit of a January round up about this time, but given I’ve only posted four times in January it seemed kinda pointless.  No one actually said anything, so I’m not even sure if anyone noticed that the blog had been a little quiet but it was a deliberate thing, I needed a break.  You see the thing about blogging, at least the way I’ve done it, is that it can get a bit all consuming – feeling the need to say yes to every opportunity, being out almost every night and the ones I’m not were spent editing photos or writing or scheduling social media.  And I’m not complaining, because it’s all on me, but this is a hobby and over the last few months I was feeling a bit burnt out by it.

    And one thing I’ve begun to realise is that it’s important to be kind to yourself.  And like almost everyone else, although unusual for me, I made some New Year’s Resolutions.  Last year felt like it was all about food blogging and I’m trying to rebalance my life, because I’m immensely proud of this blog and so ridiculously thankful for the opportunities its provided, but I wanted to feel like my I had more hobbies than blogging, even if it’s watching hours of Netflix guilt-free.

    One of my New Year’s Resolutions is inspired by a project I’m doing with IKEA.  It’s called ‘Live Lagom’ and it’s the idea that just the right amount is enough; it’s about living a more sustainable life.  And I figured that one of the best things I could do was be more mindful of what I ate, by cooking more at home, eating better and producing less waste.

    So where does this leave Full to the Brum? 

    Well after giving myself a month off from self-directed pressure, I’m feeling more positive about things.  To be honest, I’ve probably spent as much time focusing on food, but I’ve been meal planning and modifying recipes and battling with my food tracker app to try and work out what constitutes as a good meal.  I’ve still been going out for dinner and I’ve got a bunch of reviews to share with you, but I’ve also got some recipes too, as well as some other food and drink adventures.

    Sorry, this isn’t the usual irreverence you’ve come to know from me, and that will be back, I promise.  But I felt like I owed this blog, and its readers, an explanation – and myself a reminder that it’s okay to take a step back every once and a while.