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    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

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    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.

    Events, News

    Quickly – Vote for Birmingham’s best take away

    curry_night_inI’m crap at playing favourites, I blame having one of those minds that overthink a lot, but really I think it’s because context is king…sometimes I’m willing to overlook crap service for great food, other times I just need alright food that does the job from kind staff and no washing up. So when the British Takeaway Awards asked me to nominate my favourite takeaway, I nominated a few.  Because I could. More about that later.

    First, I need you to go to http://www.thebtas.co.uk/ and nominate your favourite takeaway in Birmingham. Or maybe Solihull, or Sandwell, wherever you live. Basically, I want to see us flying the flag for the B postcode. It’ll take you a minute or so (it’s really quick) and you’ll be in with a chance to win £1000 or some takeaway vouchers – and who doesn’t love free food?

    Here are a couple of the ones I’ve voted for…

    Cherry Reds – other
    I have a total soft spot for Cherry Reds – their fish finger sandwiches, but also the sausage sandwiches and their classic Diddy English breakfast. And anything involving halloumi. The Kings Heath cafe supplied the sustenance on a house move years ago, to which I will forever remain grateful, and the one in town provided many working lunches over the years – plus a bonus game of how high could I stack the cartons like a fort in the office.

    Original Patty Men – American (I guessed)
    Okay, confession time.  I’ve never actually ordered ‘to go’ from OPM, because frankly I’d only ever get as far as the kerb outside…who wants to wait to eat OPM’s glorious burgers?!  But take out they do, and the BTAs want to hear about take out, so nominate I must.

    Now, go go go nominate!

    Cake, Recipes

    Recipe: chocolate caramel cornflake bars (no bake)

    tray bake and daffodilsSee those daffodils, that’ll give you an idea of how long this post has been sat in my drafts folder.  Why, you might ask, namely that I made these lovely caramel crispy squares, wrote down the recipe on a sticky-note and then promptly lost the note.  I stumbled across the sticky-note again recently, so I’m posting this before I lose it again, and also because I might re-make them and it’s easier than trying to find my recipe book (which was the problem in the first place),

    The story behind these goes that we put fruit and sweets out as snacks during our work-events and a bunch of the mini chocolate bars kept being left.  I maintain this was because the labels all looked a bit similar and when you’re listening to someone talk, it might be a bit hard to root around and avoid the chocolate you don’t like.  As they were starting to get a little battered about being moved from event to event, I took them home and decided to do something with them.  Effectively this recipe uses Sainsburys’ own-brand versions of Mars Bars, but they’d work too, as I expect would other own-brand versions.

    And to stick with the own-brand theme, I also used Sainsburys own-brand cornflakes, mainly because I don’t really eat cereal and I didn’t see the point of spending loads of money on flakes of corn that were going to be covered in buttery, caramel chocolate.  I was planning on making them with Rice Crispies or something similar, but got swayed by the cornflakes.

    Recipe: chocolate caramel cornflake bars (no bake)
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    A really simple no-bake dish to use up leftover chocolates.
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Serves: 20
    Ingredients
    • 13 mini caramel and nougat chocolate bars (about 260g)
    • 200g cornflakes
    • 150g condensed milk
    • 55g butter
    Instructions
    1. Melt down the chocolate bars slowly - you could do this in a microwave, but I prefer to rest a glass bowl over some gently boiling water and melt them more slowly
    2. Once the bars have melted, add the condensed milk and butter and make sure everything is combined
    3. Take the glass bowl off the saucepan - be careful, it'll be hot.
    4. Add the cornflakes to the melted chocolate. You might want to do this in batches as it might be that you prefer your cornflakes squares to be stickier - alternatively you might want to add more if you think the melted chocolate can handle it.
    5. Once the cornflakes are properly coated, transfer into a greaseproof-lined tray - I used a brownie tray, but a roasting tray would work too.
    6. Spread the mixture out and pat everything down to make sure everything is nicely packed in.
    7. Transfer to the fridge and leave to cool and set - I left mine overnight, but a few hours would probably do it.

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Gin Festival, Digbeth

    holding-gin-webWe seem to be doing well at rainy Saturdays recently, don’t we?  Last weekend, the heavens opened for most of Saturday, which meant I spent a good chunk of the day wondering how a bit of rain can cause the roads around Solihull to become a giant car park.  Thankfully by the time the evening rolled round the roads and skies seemed to clear.  Which was just as well because I was meeting my friend Andrew (he’s modelling the gin glasses in the top photo) to head off to The Bond in Digbeth for the Gin Festival.

    The Bond is becoming a bit of a go-to place for drinks festivals, having hosted ones for beer and whisky already this year, and the Gin Festival had four bars; two for British gins, one for foreign gins and the final for sloe gins and liqueurs.  I won’t blather on about it too much here, as I did a write up over at the Gin Festival website, which you can read here.  But to end, here’s a photo of some of the botanicals that go into Sir Robin of Locksley gin.

    gin-botanicals-web

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Good Food Show summer 2016

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    Okay, so I’ve been having a bit of a technological nightmare as of late; first my SD card decided it would be really fun to wipe about 500 photos.  I found something on the internet which managed to recover some of them, but it probably means I’ve signed over my soul to some maleficent hacker.  And then after that my antiquated macbook kept telling me my disc was full, so I couldn’t edit any of the photos I’d recovered.  Good news it I think everything is back up and running via an external drive, a new SD card and a weekly séance to the computer gods.

    floral_afternoon_teaIn that pile of photos, I managed to recover some from the BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016, which took place back in June at the NEC in Birmingham.  And technically as the last day of summer I can still claim this is relevant.  Unlike the Winter show, which is a real food and drink extravaganza, the summer show teams up with Gardener’s World Live.  Personally I quite like this, even though my approach to flowers is pretty much is it pretty and what colour is it, it’s quite nice to get out of the Sisyphean halls and look at some plants.  Seriously, there are walls of the stuff, including a pyramid of lilies, it was immense.  One of my favourites though, was unsurprisingly an afternoon tea themed get up.

    Talking of tea, I was determined to revisit Bluebird Tea Co who are Brighton based and do use the unfortunate phrase of tea mixologists in their marketing, but their tea range and flavours are so good I kind of forgive them for it.  This time round I bought so much tea I got a free tote bag and have been happily sipping on their delicious award-winning Nearly Nirvana white silver needle tea with spearmint and jasmine, which is a constant favourite (and something I’ve purchased several times).

    urban_herbs_GFS16

    Although the BBC Good Food Shows aren’t necessarily local – after all, they also take place in Belfast, Glasgow and London, I always try and scope out some of the local flavours.  There is usually some local variety, if not at the Producer’s Village then usually amongst the stallholders.  Urban Herbs are a small, family-run, Birmingham-based business qho grow and source some delicious herbs and it’s always great to see them particularly at BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016 which makes so much sense with the gardening outside.  Another local producer, Gayani’s Kitchen HQ, were also there showing off their God Dust, an artisan Sri Lankan curry powder.

    Gayani_gold_dust

    I did actually wander around lots more food stalls, including Debbie & Andrew’s who do some really delicious, dairy and gluten free sausages and this Good Food Show they had some new products in the form of sweet chilli sausages and chicken & mango chipolatas.  As well as trying some at their stand, I took some home with me and used the chicken & mango chipolatas in a curry, which worked really well.  Unfortunately these were some of the photos lost to the computer gods.

    Anyone that’s been to a Good Food Show before can tell you that there’s usually a fair amount of alcohol stalls and this year there seemed to be plenty of gin stalls…never a bad thing in my eyes!  I stopped by the Bathtub Gin stall because they had some expressions there I’d not tried, but my recent-ish attempts at getting into beer meant my curiosity was spiked by the Crafty Devil Brewing Co.  I had a lovely chat with the lady manning the stall (my infamous inability to remember names strikes again) and she told me all about the history of this small Welsh brewery.  What I like most is that as well the quirky imagery, each of the beers has a recommended song to listen to whilst drinking.
    crafty_devil_beer

    I’d spotted that Firefly BBQ were back and determined to hunt them out.  Last time I picked up some of their pig rub and Memphis sauce, which I’m ashamed to say I haven’t used yet, but mainly because I don’t really cook big chunks of meat but it’s nestled in my cupboard waiting for its day.  This time I noticed something new and special; hot sauces and rubs in a range called REAVERS! Now if you’re a fan of the marvellous Joss Whedon show Firefly you will totally get the name and if you’re not then stop reading this and watch the show now.  I’ve got some of the ghost chilli cajun seasoning rub which I’m yet to get round to using because frankly I’m a giant wimp.  But I did pick up some of their Cuban Mojo, although I’ve been sticking it in my turkey meatball recipe rather than as a rub and it’s superb.  Hopefully they’ll be at Good Food Show Winter 2016 and I’ll pick up some more.

    firefly_sauce_rangeAs ever I really enjoy wandering around looking, tasting and talking about food and drink, and the BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016 was a great excuse to do this…and see some plants too.  The BBC Good Food Show Winter is back at the NEC from 24 – 26th November and if you can already book tickets here https://www.bbcgoodfoodshowwinter.com/.

    Disclosure: I was given a complimentary ticket to the BBC Good Food Show Summer 2016 in exchange for a post but wasn’t obliged to be nice. “I am a leaf on the wind; watch how I soar” *sobs*