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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio’s autumn menu tasting

    studio_curryIf you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know how much I like the seasonal menu tasting at The Studio.  We use a lot of conference facilities at work at the food at the Studio makes them one of my favourite venues in Birmingham – and I have a lot of feedback comments to prove I’m not the only one!

    chicken_skewers_studio_autumn

    One of the things that makes the food so good is that it’s not a platter of sad sandwiches, but a proper hearty meal – and pudding.  If you’re in an all day event, having a proper meal at lunchtime is a good way to perk everyone up.  I know we’re well into the colder months now, but I went along to the menu tasting a couple of months ago and wanted to share a few photos of the autumnal menu tasting because the food was delicious.

    bacon-potato-chickenThere were some lovely dishes, with everything from hearty Italian chicken wrapped in bacon through to sweet potato curry, lasagne and a vegan shepardess pie.  Each day there are meat and vegetarian menus as standard, with other dietary requirements covered as and when.

    bakewell_trifleAnd then there is pudding.  My favourite was the churro popover dipped in cinnamon sugar and chocolate dipping sauce, because sugar doughnuts are a total weakness of mine, but the Bakewell sundae was a lovely light pudding too, as was the dark chocolate and mint mousse with mini marshmallows.

    churros_studio_autumn The Studio is a conference facility and training room hire venue, and sadly not a restaurant.  But if you want to book a meeting so you can have lunch, then I totally wouldn’t blame you.

    The Studio, 7 Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP

    Bar reviews, Reviews

    The Anchor in Digbeth relaunches

    cocktails_jacob_anchor

    Here in Birmingham we have a thing about anchors. It can largely be traced back to Matthew Boulton and the Crown & Anchor Tavern in London, with anchors now gracing Birmingham products worldwide as our hallmarking symbol. But I want to talk about a different pub and a different anchor.

    A few months ago, Julian Rose Gibbs, took over the CAMRA-lauded Anchor pub in Digbeth. Most discerning drinkers of Birmingham will know Julian from the heydays of the Victoria on John Bright St, which he opened back in 2008 as general manager for Bitters n Twisted. During Julian’s stewardship, the Vic went from being a disjointed pub to one of Birmingham’s best, with an eclectic vibe that some confused with ‘hipster’ but appealed to the daytime old man supping ale as much as the style-conscious cocktail drinker.  The Vic blended together good drinks, a great atmosphere and groups of people who you wouldn’t normally expect to see together.  And whilst it feels very much to this writer like the Victoria has lost its captain, its loss is the Anchor’s gain.

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    The Anchor is one of those pubs Birmingham is lucky to still have. Nestled away in Digbeth, the grade II listed traditional style pub has largely avoided the glitzy renaissance of the city’s drinking culture over the last few years, remaining steadfastly traditional, yet welcoming, and well regarded by real ale drinkers, often noted in the Campaign for Real Ale publications.  It retained a loyal set of regulars and for those of us who infrequently frequented it often had a soft spot for it too. And not just because of the cob sandwiches and Tayto crisps.

    Jules and his team, headed by Jacob Clarke, who many will recognise from the Victoria and The Botanist, have brought a breath of fresh air to the Anchor. The repainted almost Tiffany blue coloured walls compliment the dark wood and stained glass to create somewhere that marries the traditional and modern; something which is echoed in the drinks menu, with real ales sitting alongside craft beer and modest cocktail and wine menus, the latter of which has been has been curated by Ed at Connolly’s Wines.

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    Talking of drinks, some well known Victoria cocktail classics like the Bombphire and Sherbertini are rightfully back on the menu, the gin list curated by Carl Hawkins aka the GINtleman, and several drinks have been named after friends and ‘various Birmingham bar industry reprobates’. Sure there are some in-jokes and cynics will scoff, but it’s clear that there’s a lot of love here – for the drinks, for the venue and for the drinks scene in the city.

    It would be cliched to say they’re trying to create a place “where everybody knows your name” but whilst they might not remember your name but they will remember your drink.  Those who remember the Vic team of days gone by will remember a dysfunctional family where those who were on the other side were welcomed like visiting relatives. The Anchor isn’t trying to replicate the Victoria circa 2012, that would be impossible, but it is trying to create a proper boozer for the modern age; good drinks, good service and a sense of community, whoever you are and whatever you drink.

    For all the shiny newness that has come in the last few years of the Birmingham bar scene, it’s nice to see one of it’s anchors back; best of luck Jules and your team.

    The Anchor in Digbeth relaunches on Thursday 17th November.  Find it at 308 Bradford St, Birmingham B5 6ET.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    White Truffle menu at San Carlo

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    Before I tell you how I spent my Friday lunchtime, I feel the need to tell you that once I rolled back from lunch I found out the keynote for my event next week had pulled out.  I tell you this, because the special guest star at the preview lunch I went to was a £2,000 white truffle and we were going to be some of the first to eat it.  But as with most things, there needs to be a balance in life. Just, you know, not at lunchtime.

    Thanks to celebrity chef and executive consultant chef for the San Carlo group Aldo Zilli, who personally selected one of the world’s most expensive ingredients from his home town in Italy, this Temple St restaurant now has a rare white winter truffle and it’s on the menu or the next two weeks, or until it runs out.  Yep, that kind of rare.

    lobster_risotto_white_truffleA group of us were invited down to check out some tasters from the exclusive menu at San Carlo.  It’s been a while since I’ve been to San Carlo, although not too long since I was at its sister venue, Fumo, round the corner.  In fact, last time I remember going my friend Fran had great fun translating some of the overheard Italian, which made for a great lunch.  And whilst that was a while ago, it was nice to see that San Carlo’s reputation for original and signature Italian dishes remains strong, as it was pleasantly busy whilst we were there.

    Anyway, back to the truffle, which is a rare treat to have in the city, particularly of such size.  This white winter truffle was found in the national park of the Abruzzo region, by specially trained dogs – and not pigs, as I thought.  Prized for their aromatic qualities and taste, they grow in the soil under trees and can only be harvested for around two months of the year.  So, you know, when they find one, and one that costs around £2000, you can see why it’s a cause for celebration.

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    And to celebrate the arrival, San Carlo have created a special menu of five dishes; Steak tartare with egg and truffle shavings, lobster and truffle risotto, Tagliolini pasta with truffle butter and shavings of fresh truffle, Carpaccio and burrata with shavings of truffle and turbot with a truffle and Prosecco cream sauce.

    I enjoyed getting to taste each of the dishes; despite all having the same start ingredient all felt like they brought something different to the palette.  Personally, my favourite was the tagliolini pasta with truffle butter and shavings of fresh truffle because it was so simple, but executed so well; the buttery oil slick over perfectly cooked, al dente pasta with a hint of the garlicky musk from the truffle.  I also enjoyed the lobster and truffle risotto, and I know it’s pretty much heresy to admit, but I’m not usually that fussed by lobster (too fiddly).

    turbot_white_truffle_cream_sauce

    Five courses of white truffle might well be a bit overkill for most, but it’s definitely worth checking out a dish (or two, if you can convince a dining partner to order from the menu too).  But you’ll have to be quick, as the menu will only be around for as long as the truffle is.  It’s expected to be around for two weeks, but booking is highly recommended by the restaurant – call San Carlo on 0121 633 0251 or email birmingham@sancarlo.co.uk aldo_zilli_san_carlo

    Disclosure: Obvs I was invited to a press lunch, which means they sort of hope you’ll write something, but I never agreed to be positive unless I meant it. And so lunch was complimentary. Or I ran away without paying, who knows.

    Cocktail, Dessert, Recipes

    Recipe: Frozen French 75 cocktail

    burleighs_frozen_french_75

    From the West side to the East side…

    Back when I was at university, up north, there seemed to be this weird icebreaker where they’d split groups based on where they were in the country – north of Birmingham, south of Birmingham etc.  Me being me, and generally a pain in the neck, meant I’d stick my hand up and point out that I was neither, that I was actually from Birmingham.  My friend Beccy would then join in, for she was from the East (Midlands).  It got to the point where we started a joke east/west side rivalry…but now it seems like the Midlands are (re) united, thanks to gin.

    Launched in 2014, Burleigh’s gin hails from the picturesque Charnfood Forest in the heart of Leicestershire.  The inspiration for the gin came from nearby Burleigh Wood, which is adjacent to the 45 West Distillery, where Burleigh’s gin is made.  Whilst walking through the Woods, master distiller Jamie Baxter came across silver birch, dandelion, burdock, elderberry and iris, and used these as inspiration for Burleigh’s gin.

    Whereas most gin brands prefer to keep their bottles glass and see through, the unusual dark black, textured bottle of Burleigh’s makes it stand out on the shelf and so pretty easy to spot out and about. And because we Midlanders enjoy a good tipple, I’ve spotted Burleigh’s in a bunch of Birmingham bars, including Gas Street Social, Loki Wine, Cosy Club, The Botanist, Lost & Found, 40 St Pauls and others.

    burleighs_frozen_french_75_2

    For this slushie, I took inspiration from the classic French 75 cocktail, which involves gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Champagne.  As with nearly all the good classic cocktails, no one is really very sure of the history of it – there’s a suggestion that Charles Dickens liked to give callers Tom gin and champagne cups, and one of the first recorded versions of the French 75 is found in The Savoy Cocktail Book.  But, the suggestion is that the name comes from the French army’s 75mm field gun used during World War I, so when it was developed is anyone’s guess.

    Initially I planned to make these ice lollies, but then I realised two things: one, we live in the UK and there’s probably only a need for cooling ice lollies for two weeks a year; and two, I like to make sure things are decently boozy which doesn’t always make it easy to freeze, unless you’re willing to compromise on the alcohol content.  Also, tis nearly the season and a palette cleanser which involves something fizzy and gin is a pretty winning idea.

    Before anyone gets at me, this recipe is inspired by the French 75, but tweaked because it’s frozen and I wanted to get the flavours to come through the iciness. I used the Burleigh’s Export Strength gin (47% abv) because it’s distilled using the same botanicals at their signature gin but bottling at a higher ABV gives it a different flavour, including lasting flavours of lemon and juniper, but the intensity means it works served at a cooler temperature.

    Recipe: Frozen French 75 cocktail
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: cocktail, ice lolly
    Cuisine: dessert
    Serves: 2
    Ingredients
    • 50ml Burleighs export strength gin
    • 25ml fresh lemon juice
    • 62.5ml sugar syrup (2 parts water, 1 part sugar)
    • 125ml prosecco, or champagne if you're fancy
    Instructions
    1. Add all of the ingredients, give them a good stir
    2. Pour into ice moulds or a dish and freeze overnight
    3. Remove from container, bash up the ice a little
    4. Transfer to champagne glass or bowl and serve

    The people at Burleigh’s have given me a code so that readers of Full to the Brum can get 20% off purchases at their online store.  Head to burleighsgin.com/shop/ and add the code FTTB20 to get the discount.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Byron burgers finally bounce into Birmingham

    byron_proper_hamburgersMy first Byron experience was in 2013 on one of my many trips to London, which I claimed was about seeing friends, but was really about going to go eat burgers.  So, shame on Byron for taking this long to get to Birmingham.  Salisbury has one and it only has a population of 45,000; York, Harrogate, Exeter and Camberley all have ones.  Manchester’s got three Byron’s…but, you know, no Michelin stars, so we’re clearly still winning in that respect.  I can only imagine that with a Birmingham-born burger chain already here, they figured they’d come back to us later.

    So what of the Birmingham one?  Located on New Street, the fact that it means that lovely old building is no longer some sort of gambling-machine arcade is major plus points.  Inside the space is well used; there’s an open kitchen it doesn’t feel forced into being the centre of attention and there’s enough interior design that it doesn’t feel like a canteen.  Apparently they’ve gone for a Cuban-inspired ‘Havana Good Time’; I’ve no idea quite what that is supposed to mean but the warm, tropical colours are used well. The exposed brickwork and relics of the old cinema knocking about if you know where to look too.  It feels like a nice space to be in, warm and inviting, not too gimmicky.

    Byron's smoky burger with Byron sauceFood wise it’s all about the burgers.  Okay sure there are some wings and chicken nuggets and things for starters, but this about the burger.  It’s a simple menu, with a regularly-changing special, but there’s enough to keep you interested and back to try different things.  And my mum will be pleased because they already specify that you can order a burger without the bun, or a salad if you really must.

    I’m re-evaluating my friendship with Jo-ann after she ordered the Smoky burger and swapped the smoked chilli BBQ sauce for Byron sauce…because seriously, BBQ sauce.  She did say it was really good although did feel there might’ve been a bit too many crispy onions, but I think that’s just because for once I wasn’t the one who made the biggest mess.

    Byron burger from Birmingham with friesI had the Byron burger because I’d hope that if you’re going to put your name on something it should be good; dry-cure bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and Byron sauce, cooked medium in what they call a squishy bun, with a pickle on the side and then I added some fries.  The fries managed to survive being left to go a bit cold as I took photos and didn’t seem to suffer, still holding a crunch.  I liked the burger, it is simple but a nice mix of flavours and was cooked medium as standard, which makes me happy.  But, I wasn’t blown away by it, and maybe that’s my fault for ordering what’s akin to the house burger. And I’ve been spoiled for burgers.

    Drinks wise, there’s something for everyone with milkshakes and soft drinks, as well as beers, wines and cider.  They have a couple of own-brand beers, made specially for them by Camden Town brewery, and I thought I ordered a Byron pale ale, but I’m pretty sure what arrived was a lager. I didn’t mention it to the staff because it was actually quite drinkable, even though I don’t often choose lager, which I think is a positive sign.

    byron_beer

    I’ve warmed to Byron since 2013, largely because I stopped expecting them to be the best burgers in town.  Instead, I realised that what they do well is providing somewhere you can go for dinner, that does simple burgers, but feels like going for dinner.  Over the years I’ve had some amazing burgers, but they’ve nearly all been in places where it’s all about the burger, and less about the experience.  Byron is where I could meet non-food-obsessed friends for dinner and a catch up and not be disappointed, but I doubt I’d convince them to trek to a sketchy part of town, queue for ages and then try and balance a beer and burger, no matter how out-of-this-world that burger is. Byron is about satisfyingly simple comfort food that’s burger-shaped, and I think there’s room for that in Birmingham.

    Byron burgers, 92 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4BA

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Triple ‘Meet the Brewer’ at Cotteridge Wines to celebrate Rule of Thirds

    siren_craft_cotteridge_wines_web

    Summer feels like a long time ago, but I’m getting through this massive backlog of posts and one of the ones I’d half written up was about the Rule of Thirds event at Cotteridge Wines, way back at the end of August.  Thinking back, it was also about the time I was starting to feel a bit ‘off’ which has made me realise just how long whatever the hell is wrong with me has been knocking about.

    Rule of Thirds is an India Pale Ale born from the flagship IPAs of three breweries, Beavertown, Magic Rock and Siren Craft, blended together to create something unique.  It’s the second time the three breweries had collaborated to create Rule of Thirds and to celebrate they decided to have an event somewhere in the middle of them…Which resulted in a pretty awesome event at Cotteridge Wines with a triple Meet the Brewer event.

    MBBC_magic_rock_stuart_web

    I bumped into the Midlands Beer Blog guys who were chatting with Stuart from Magic Rock.  And, even though it doesn’t feel like all that long since I went to a Magic Rock Meet the Brewer event, I still didn’t really have any questions (unless you count one about beer and food), so I was happy to snap photos and listen to the guys chat about the new brewery site and the brewing of Rule of Thirds, which sounded like a pretty fun day.  Dave, from Midlands Beer Blog has done a better write up, so head over there to have a read.
    kal_cotteridge_wines_pouring_web

    Being lucky enough to be able to regularly visit Cotteridge Wines, I’d already tried the canned version of Rule of Thirds which I thought was delicious, and enjoyed getting the chance to try it again, this time from the tap.  There were plenty of other beers from the three breweries, and I also enjoyed checking out The Great Alphonso from Magic Rock, Peacher Man from Beavertown and Orange Boom from Siren Craft, because it only felt fair to try a beer from each of the breweries.  Although I suspect it might’ve been more apt to try each of the flagship IPAs before finishing with Rule of Thirds, but I’ve never done things properly, so why start now?

    All in all, another fantastic event at Cotteridge Wines- it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Cotteridge Wines’ twitter to find out what other events they’ve got on.

    rule-of-third_three_beers_web

    Musings

    Life update

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    Picture by Niall Kennedy

    So its been a bit quiet round here, as of late, hasn’t it?  Saying I’ve been poorly feels like a massive cop-out but it’s the truth; for what feels like forever I’ve been doing a pretty good impression of a zombie (and not the drink).

    You’ll notice the blog has been pretty quite for about the last two months and if I’m honest, that’s probably when everything started to go from being a bit “oh I must be a bit run down” to no, I’m really not very well. Without boring everyone it was sort of a pattern of going to work, coming home and bargaining with myself how long I had to stay awake for, then going to sleep for ten or more hours (as opposed to my usual seven) and waking up not feeling rested at all.  And even when I was awake I felt pretty brain dead most of the time.

    I pretty much had to cancel nearly everything in my diary, go into early hibernation and become a social recluse.  It was pretty miserable, and at times it felt like a rip-off version of iZombie where I had to pretend to be a functional member of society rather than a member of the undead, but thankfully no brain eating (or brain-eating superpowers).  I did have lambs liver for dinner a few times in case it was a low iron problem, but that’s more Hannibal Lecter than anything.

    Blood tests show I’m probably more vampire than zombie because I’m now taking vitamin D tablets – although turns out most of the UK probably should be.  On a plus side, I never get bored of being told I don’t have diabetes, but I’m not really sure what the hell was wrong with me.

    So why am I telling you this?  Several reasons really, but I suppose the main thing was I felt I owed an explanation to the readers of the blog, and to the people waiting on stuff on here.  I kept hoping that it was just a bug and whilst I was focusing on just getting through the things I absolutely needed to do day-to-day, in hindsight I should’ve called in sick on this blog weeks ago.

    It’s been a few days now since I stopped feeling like an extra from a George Romero movie.  I’m not completely better and I know I’ve totally overdone it by staying out past 9pm a few nights this week.  But I think I’m doing a better impression of being a functioning human (lets face it, I was never that good when I was well) and I’m hoping to get back to blogging.  I’ve built up a massive backlog thanks to the technological problems I had before, and the enforced hiatus.  I’m going to try and clear those, so hopefully there will be lots of posts in the next few weeks, but I’m also mindful I’m still not 100% and I don’t want to go backwards.

    …Grr, Argh.