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    Musings, Round ups

    International Women’s Day 2017

    FAIRY

    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/

    Imogen Hudson, Jen Smith, Holly Smith and Jen Nadin (Cherry Reds). Picture, used with permission, by Jas Sansi

    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 Macaroon, promotional photo

    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/

    Kaye Winwood

    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/

    Opus Restaurant Irene Allen, photo used with permission

    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!

    Bar reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, Jewellery Quarter

    indian_brewery_company

    I’ll accept a lot of things in the name of good food and drink, after all we’re only human we all have crap days, but it’s kind of hard to forgive a place built for beer that does it badly.  Anyone familiar with the Taj Mahal will be aware that an emperor built a palace in memory of his favourite wife he loved her that much.  In my head, this is the kind of thinking that goes into building a tap house; a brewery is so proud of their beers they build a living shrine to it.  You’ve lovingly crafted this liquid nectar, it’s going to be super fresh and if anyone is going to treat it right, baby it’s you.

    Sadly not.

    Recently, I went to the Indian Brewery Company’s tap house, newly housed in the old Brewsmith’s building.  It was a Thursday night, and understandably busy, but the place cramped and the music felt intrusively loud; there is very little space to stand if the lines of bench-style seating are taken, and the place full of men in suits.  I’m not complaining about the suits, having already attracted the locals is a good thing, but cramming up by the door because there’s nowhere to stand isn’t fun.

    Understandably, the bar takes up one side of the venue and Indian Brewery Snowhill’s beers make up the bulk of the offerings, with cans of Birmingham Lager used to decorate; a nice touch without looking too gimmicky.  There are several shelves of spirits and I saw a few people drinking wine; nice to see they’re catering for the non-beer drinkers too.  On my visit, there were lone cans of beer from Magic Rock and Evil Twin, on a shelf which would’ve been fine except they were served straight from that shelf, and unlikely to be at the correct temperature.  Call me dramatic, but that feels to me like a disrespectful way to treat other breweries beers, in somewhere that ought to know better.

    chicken_tikka_roti

    I’d like to be able to tell you that the can debacle was just a mistake, but when I was given a glass of Peacock, their take on an English style bitter, things just seem to get worse.  To me, and the two people with me, it did not smell right and it didn’t taste much better either.  The aroma was what caused me to google “why does my beer smell like pond water” because I could smell sulphur, and that’s not what I want to smell in my beer if it puts me off drinking. The reaction I got from the member of staff I complained to was a lesson in how not to do customer service and when he grudgingly replaced it, I realised the IPA he’d given me didn’t feel like it was being served at the right temperature either. My third drink there was a Diet Coke.

    And of the food. My chicken tikka roti was nice, the chicken tender and flavoursome but nothing particularly special, disappointing in a city like Birmingham where Indian food is ten-a-penny.  My masala fries arrived cold, and had to be sent back, replaced, this time, without much hassle.  As far as fries go they were alright, but I suspect others might find the heat of rather generous masala seasoning a bit overkill, as did one of my dining companions.  The fish and chips, and chicken wings enjoyed by my friends well received, the sauce on the chicken wings in particular, and something I’d be keen to try.

    fish_and_fries

    I really wanted to like the Indian Brewery Snowhill; a quirky little independent rising from the ashes of another fallen indie café, pushing forward the Birmingham beer scene and giving us somewhere exciting to go for food and drink.  This wasn’t my experience, but rather than leave me disappointed, I was angry.  I can forgive one mistake, but I had beer that didn’t taste right, poor customer service and cold fries.  I guess bad things do come in threes.

    I might go back for food, those wings looked good, but I won’t be back for beer. I’d rather go down the road or visit some of the cities award winning bottle shops and head for the Balti Triangle.  I can only hope that I witnessed a blip, but frankly there’s enough places selling better beer that finding out is likely to be low on my list.

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, 214 Livery St, Birmingham B3 1EU. http://www.indianbrewery.com/snowhill

    Disclosure: I paid for this myself. Well except one beer, which a friend bought, and reminds me, I owe him a drink.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Butchers Social, Henley-in-Arden

    salted_caramel_chicken_wings_butchers_social

    I’m totally going to blame jet lag for not remembering Butchers Social when my mum suggested lunch in Henley-in-Arden recently. Not the sort of jet lag that makes you wake up at 4am; I mean the jet lag that affects those of us with a love of good food, whose circadian rhythm may be back on track but whose stomach still yearns for the food of their holiday destination. My head knew it was lunchtime, but my heart wanted the glorious burgers of Melbourne or £3.50 plates of Michelin-starred noodles from Singapore.  Failing that, Mum lured me to Henley with the promise of ice cream, but then we found Butchers Social.

    For those that missed the first iteration, Butchers Social began as a pop-up in an old butcher’s shop on Harborne High St, which stuck around longer than I think anyone expected but everyone was thankful that they did.  Whilst a fairly extensive refurb has happened and in its place, reopening as Harborne Kitchen, the dream of Butchers Social and those wings didn’t go away…it just moved to the town of Henley-in-Arden.  Which is technically a small town in Warwickshire, and on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon, but with its B95 postcode, it totally counts as one of ours still.

    Henley-in-Arden always seems like the kind of place that’s build for proper english summers, perhaps because the only time I seem to go is for ice cream and there is precious little on what I expect is the high street. There are, though, lots of places to eat; a collection of cafes, the well-respected though relatively new Cheal’s and a bunch of pubs I never remember then name of but are pleasant.  Having exhausted the charity shops, including one that seemed to be selling clothes at full retail value, Mum and I went in search of lunch.  For anyone that ever doubted the legitimacy of A-boards as advertising, let me tell you, it was the one outside Butchers Social that made me realise where we were.  Okay sure I was trying to take a photo of the funny sign about coffee, but it worked and we went in.

    lobster_salad

    I’d be lying if I told you I had any plans to order from the main menu because it was clearly always going to be about the chicken wings, after all it’s what Butchers Social is famous for, round these parts.  Because my tastebuds beat my sense of reasoning I ordered the soy, ginger and spring onion chicken wings, and of course had to have the salted caramel wings too.  Two portions of wings totalling 1kg is a bit extreme, this was clear madness on my part and why I ended up going home with a doggy bag.  I know everyone bangs on about the salted caramel wings and they were delicious, but I found them kinda sickly after a while – I would totally order them again but with someone who would help me out by sharing the dish, although having them cold the next day was a winner.  The soy, ginger and spring onion chicken wings are probably the best wings I think I’ve ever eaten and I really like fried chicken.  The salty yet slightly sour earthiness of the soy sauce and crispness of the skin was superb.  I am struggling to convey how much I enjoyed those wings, just know they were fantastic.

    My mum had the lobster salad which was on the specials too, and her exact words were “well, this is delightful” which I take to be a very good sign because, for as much as my mum likes salads, I’ve never heard her call one delightful before.  I tried a bit and I can see why.  Lobster rarely appeals to me because it always seems like an unnecessary faff and whilst playing with your food can be fun, if I wanted to work this hard for my dinner I’d bother to cook, but this was indeed delightful, light and not at all messy. Unlike my wings, though thankfully a bowl of wet wipes are provided so you can make a mess safe in the knowledge you’ll be able to clean up after.

    soya_ginger_chicken_wings_butchers_socialA final note about the service, which was attentive and friendly.  I’d totally missed the bit about chicken wings being half-price on Saturdays in January, but we were reminded and this was after I’d ordered myself two portions, so probably good they didn’t tell me before.  That said, they would’ve been a good deal at full price…and certainly enough to lure me back to Henley-in-Arden, which is turns out is only about a half hour train ride away from Birmingham city centre.  Which is nothing, not for wings like these. Go, go now, and take me with you.  Or bring me some wings back.

    And I still got my ice cream.

    Butchers Social, 97 High St, Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, B95 5AT

    Disclaimer: Food was provided by the venue which my mother paid, in full, for everything because she is awesome. I left a tip, because I try. Also, that lack of apostrophe, I’m just going with what they do.

    As seen in

    Featured in Sainsbury’s Magazine

    Guess who was asked to write something for Sainsbury’s Magazine?  Yep, little old me!  You know me, any excuse to talk about the food (and drink) scene in the city and especially when it’s in a national publication – and one I actually read, usually on the bus home when I’m trying to balance all my shopping.

    I could only pick four places, so I picked the ones that I think are pretty cool – and might appeal to fellow Sainsbury’s Magazine readers.  If you’d like to read the column, the nice people at Sainsbury’s Magazine have handily added it online.  If you’d like to read more about the places I mentioned, I’ve popped some links to my blog posts below;

    • Rofuto I haven’t written up my food experience, I think the photos got lost in the great tech fail of 2016, but I’m heading back soon so will link then – though here are my first look photos.
    • Gas Street Social I’ve been to a few times – here’s one on their brunch and some festive cocktails.
    • Original Patty Men, obviously they’re my favourite place in Birmingham for burgers.  But I also managed to get a mention of The Meat Shack who I also think are ace, I’m just sad they don’t have their own bricks and mortar place I can head to for burgers!
    • The Edgbaston’s afternoon tea, which is lush, whether it’s Christmas or the standard variety.

    Another fun surprise from the article was when my friend spotted a mention of it on TripAdvisor, as the reason someone went to Gas St Social.  Probably time to stop thinking the only person that reads the blog is my mum.

    sainsburys_rec

    Afternoon tea, Reviews

    A festive trip to The Edgbaston

    My friend’s birthday is two days before Christmas and we seem to have a traditional celebration of afternoon tea; last year we went to Leamington Spa, the year before Stratford-upon-Avon. But the end of this year has been a bit rubbish for both of us so we wanted to stay local, but still enjoy something fantastically indulgent.  I’ve already written about my experience of afternoon tea at The Edgbaston so when they could fit us in, I knew we’d be in for a great afternoon. And The Edgbaston didn’t disappoint!

    The above picture is of the amuse bouche is a suitably festive with Irish whisky and chocolate cream with shortbread and the table was dowsed with smoke that smelled like Christmas.  I’ve been to enough afternoon tea and a few festive ones to know that everyone tries to add an extra sparkle at Christmas but the Edgbaston’s afternoon tea nails it.  The afternoon tea itself had hints of festivity with turkey sandwiches and smoked salmon, snowflakes and mince pies.  It was even better than last time, the desserts are wonderfully delicate and the scones are a delight.

    Edgbaston_winter_afternoon_teaAnd then I may have convinced Beccy we should also enjoy some cocktails, tis the season and all.  These were two cocktails from their festive Christmas menu and I’m not sure if they’re on the menu anymore.  Mine was the short, whisky cocktail with mince pie flavours – and a mince pie garnish. Lovely stuff.  We also had a second cocktail each and I went for my favourite drink at The Edgbaston, the Clover Club 3000.
    Disclosure: We paid for our own afternoon teas and cocktails…I mean really, who needs birthday cake when you can have afternoon tea?!

    Drinks

    Keeping warm with Highland Park on Winter Solstice

    Last night I went on a magical tour of south Birmingham, past some pretty impressive suburban Christmas lights, getting off the bus to realise that winter has been incredibly late to the party but seems to be on its way.  And just in time for Winter Solstice too.

    With all the stressing about going to the other side of the world in a few days where it’s summer, I’d completely forgotten Winter Solstice was today but the nice people at Highland Park whisky reminded me. I’m not going to bore you with too much but the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere which means we get the least amount of sunshine.  And of course it’s a big celebration for lots of different cultures throughout history, but the people of the Orkney Island in Scotland get a big kick out of it largely due to their Neolithic archaeology, which they’re well known for.  Particularly notable are the Runic inscriptions, a bit like Viking graffiti, on the inner walls of the Maeshowe – a Neolithic chambered cairn, which does some pretty cool things with the angle of the sunshine around the Winter Solstice. Also, Viking graffiti!

    And with Winter Solstice being a significant time of year in the Nordic calendar and all that Viking history, you know the people of Orkney have a good reason to celebrate.  And they also make Highland Park whisky, which means when it’s bloody cold outside and they’re celebrating, they’ve got something to toast with.  The kind folk at Highland Park sent me a hip-flask of their Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky and a lovely snuggly scarf to keep me warm, so I can join in the fun too.  The Highland Park 12 Year Old is a lovely dram; to me it’s smooth, with honey sweetness, a touch of fruit and a hint of sweet peaty smoke, but not overkill.  I’ve been sipping it as I write this and I don’t think it’s going to last long, although I’m going to try and save some for later.

    Because I’ve been coughing for weeks, Hot Toddys are pretty much my favourite thing at the moment and I need to find a way to mix them up. I get sent a lot of recipes and a lot of them, particularly cocktail ones, make me wonder if anyone has any clue about balance.  But this one I think sounds alright, mainly because the Angostura bitters are going to balance out the sweetness from the honey, which itself compliments the Highland Park.  Rooibos tea you can get in most supermarkets, you can probably switch it out for another type of tea but given it’s said to boost the immune system it makes this drink pretty much medicinal, right?

    Highland Park Hot Toddy

    Firstly, heat your tea cup or mug, then add:

    • 50ml Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky
    • 1tsp honey
    • 130ml Rooibos Tea (tbh I just top up the glass)
    • Add a dash of Angostura bitters or aromatic bitters

    Give it a good stir and garnish with some lemon peel

    …And whilst you’re at the kettle, can you make me one too?

    Disclosure: Complimentary samples, not paid to say anything let alone positive…now can I go back to drinking whisky on a school night, please? It’s research.

    Bar reviews, Drinks, Reviews

    Be at One, Birmingham

    bartender_shaking_BW

    Like most of the rest of the planet, I’m quite looking forward to the end of 2016.  It’s not been one of my favourite years, for various reasons, one of which was the great SD card meltdown and computer strop which meant that a bunch of stuff kinda got forgotten about. 

    But I’m in clear up mode before holiday and I stumbled across some photos from when I went to Be At One bar, a London-based bar group which opened in Birmingham earlier in the year.  I went on the preview night where the staff were overly friendly in a sort of try-hard way which brings out my hatred for small talk even more than normal – talk to me about your release from mental health hospital on the bus stranger, I’m fine with that, but bartenders pretending to care how my day has been…nah.  Look, I get it, bartenders are there to make sure you have a good time but talk overly in depth to me about the maturation process of the spirit you’re pouring, complain about something like the weather or whatever, but don’t channel the spirit of Matthew McConaughey with all your “alright alright” over-enthusiasm.  I’ve been in to Be At One since and they do seem to have calmed down a bit, thankfully.

    cocktail_be_at_one

    Hyperactive bartenders aside, Be At One is underground…I mean literally.  It’s underneath Piccadilly Arcade and the entrance is pretty small because it’s basically a set of stairs, so there’s a nod to the speakeasy but not much more, especially given there’s usually a doorman and red rope outside.  Downstairs the bar has a nice vibe which feels like it encourages a party, without feeling like you got to the party too early if you’re there when it’s quiet.  It’s deceptively inviting in some respects, like you think you’ll kill time having a drink before your train arrives and then find yourself dashing for the platform because you’ve been there too long.

    BW_double_drinks_bartender

    Drinks wise the menu has over 150 cocktails, and some non-alcoholic cocktails and a wine list too.  For those who might think that’s cocktail overload, the menu has some handy tips, namely a top ten’s page which has the most popular drinks on there if you’re not fussy and a flavour wheel which lets you pick your poison based on your preferences for sour, bitter, smooth and then your spirit of choice.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s definitely a good start.

    cocktail_wheel

    I was invited down on opening night and I mainly tried out the classics…which was a bit of a risky move on my part because it seems like several chains in Birmingham think sugar syrup is the answer to everything.  Thankfully this didn’t seem to be the case for Be At One.  Sure, my first Aviation could’ve done with a touch more sourness but was a very good effort.  The Sazerac was made with a spritz of absinthe rather than a rinse, but at least this meant no wastage and didn’t seem to affect the drink, and the Daiquiri I tried was spot on.  One of my favourite drinks, the Clover Club, is referenced in the sweet section of the flavour wheel which worried me a bit.  To me, the Clover Club is a fantastic drink, pre-prohibition era, fruity and dry, where the sweetness comes from the raspberry syrup or grenadine but it’s not really sweet.  Thankfully Be At One’s doesn’t fall susceptible to over-sweetness, although the foam head on the drink wasn’t as bountiful as I’d have liked.

    making_drinks_at_bar

    Overall, my couple of experiences of Be At One have been largely positive.  Birmingham’s cocktail renaissance is in full swing and sure, Be At One is another out-of-towner but unlike some of the others it doesn’t feel like style over substance or that it takes itself too seriously.  But it also doesn’t stray too far and seems to stick to what it knows. The only time I asked a bartender to go off-menu he looked panicked, but with a comprehensive drinks list which is a nice mix of classic and contemporary – and creamy, sweet things if that’s your deal too, there should be something to keep most people content.  Be At One is a pretty safe bet.

    smiling_bartender_be_at_one_BWBe At One, Piccadilly Arcade, Birmingham B2 4BJ. http://www.beatone.co.uk/cocktail-bar/birmingham

    Disclosure: I was invited down to the opening and drinks were complimentary, but this hasn’t affected my opinion. And yes, I really did have a conversation on a bus with someone who’d recently come out of a mental health hospital.