Round ups

    September round up

    Is it really October already?!  September seemed to fly by; work was really busy, I went to the seaside with some friends and hung out a lot in the wilds of Solihull house-sitting.  But there was plenty of time for food adventures too.  I don’t know if anyone reads the round-ups, but it’s a nice reminder to me of all the exciting food and drinks things I’m managed to find and get to in the city.

    Screen shot 2014-08-31 at 20.08.54

    News wise, I was really proud to have written something in Area Guide which was food and drinks themed to tie-in with the Birmingham Independent Food Fair – I wrote an article on five places to go for an after-work drink that aren’t pubs, after a conversation with a friend about it.  There was also plenty happening in Birmingham with the Chilli Festival returning to Brindley Place, plus The New Optimists put on what I hear was a great event at the mac on Food Futures.

    Talking of new; I got to visit Edgbaston’s newest gastropub The Highfield and tasted the inaugural Sunday roast and got to try Bistro 1847’s innovative new menu.  Broad St isn’t the most obvious place for dining but I was invited down to its newest eatery, East Z East, to try a vast range of their dishes and also got to check out Revolution’s new streetfood-inspired menu.  I also took my mum to Le Monde to check out their fish counter.

    roastedchickpeasandvegWith all that dining out it’s a wonder I managed to cook anything, but I did – I shared a recipe for a vegan recipe, roasted chickpea vegetable wraps and after a spot of house-sitting I managed to make jambalaya in the microwave, so shared that recipe too.

    And when I didn’t fancy cooking I got to try out Moms Home Cooking, a sort of meals-on-wheels for the student/professional.  That wasn’t the only new product I tried this month, I also tracked down Twinings Salted Caramel Green Tea on Colmore Row.

    This month, I’ll be blogging about DIP a Lebanese stall in the Bullring, a taste of Christmas at Le Monde, cocktails at The Edgbaston, some Halloween treats and Tiger Bills on Broad St.  I’ve also got a glut of blackberries in my freezer from some foraging around Solihull with my mum, so I might try some recipes with those too.

    I’m always keen to hear from people about places I should check out, products to try and exciting food and drink related adventures.  So if you fancy emailing me, please do.  My email address is


    Recipe: Microwaveable Jambalaya

    Microwave meals don’t have a very good reputation.  But when you’ve agreed to house-sit and they’ve turned down their lovely Aga, there’s a choice between ready meals, take out or learning to cook in a microwave.  Having sampled several supermarket ranges and a couple of take outs, it was time to take matters into my own hands.

    Taking inspiration from the red jambalaya, this might not be the most authentic Louisiana cuisine you’ll ever eat, but it’s simple to prepare, tasty and doesn’t require a whole lot of laborious hovering over the stove waiting to stir.  The recipe I found didn’t require chicken or prawns and my altered version before doesn’t include it either, partly because I wasn’t sure how to cook chicken in a microwave and partly because I didn’t want to add more ingredients if it all went wrong and ended up in the bin. Lets just say I was incorrectly pessimistic.

    A few notes on the ingredients first.  I used easy cook long-grain & wild rice for no other reason that the supermarket I was in this was the cheapest, but any easy cook rice will do.  I also used four smaller chorizo sausages from The Bath Pig (who are RSPCA Freedom Foods affiliated and use British pork)  chopped into 2cm pieces, but so long as there’s around 200g-ish then using a large one is fine too.  Tomatoes with garlic added would be another timesaver, but garlic puree and a standard can of chopped tomatoes worked just as well.  Seasoning wise I used Schwartz cajun seasoning which saves a lot of time and is particularly handy if you’re not afforded with lots of spices to hand (I found that draw whilst washing up) – I like my jamba with some heat, but if you’re not keen then maybe add a little less spice.

    Microwaveable Jambalaya

    1 can of chopped tomatoes
    1 hefty squeeze of garlic puree or paste
    1 canful of (long-grain & wild) easy-cook rice
    1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
    200g-ish of chorizo, chopped into 2cm pieces
    198g can of sweetcorn
    2.5tsp Cajun seasoning


    1. In a large microwavable bowl, add the tomatoes, garlic puree, rep pepper, chorizo, sweetcorn and seasoning.  Using the empty can of tomatoes, fill it with rice and add to the bowl and then do the same with the water.  Give it all a good stir so it’s combined.
    2. Cover the bowl in cling film and piece with a knife.  Microwave everything for 12mins on 660W/medium or about 10mins on 750W.  Peel off the cling film and give everything a good stir.  Put back into the microwave for 5mins on 660W, take out and stir and then put back in for another 10mins.  By now the rice should be cooked, if not, give it a few more minutes.
    3. Take out of the microwave, give it a good stir and let some of the steam out.  Then serve.  Add a wedge of lime or a dollop of soured cream to serve if you like, I didn’t bother.


    Restaurant reviews

    The Highfield, Edgbaston

    Edgbaston has started morphing into a real food destination.  With Michelin-starred Simpson’s, The Deli at Edgbaston and the arrival earlier in the year of boutique hotel and cocktail lounge, The Edgbaston, it was already beginning to take shape.  But with Peach Pub’s first foray into Birmingham in the shape of gastropub The Highfield, it’s knitted the place together.  With a soft launch a week before the official launch party, I took the opportunity to head down and check it out.

    Sunday nights at 7pm aren’t traditionally busy times for pubs, but word of The Highfield’s doors opening had clearly spread and the pub was as full of people and had a great vibrancy to it.  The pub is open plan; the first half of the venue’s interior containing the well-stocked bar; the back half of the pub which is presided over by the kitchen has more of a dining area feel to it.  Decor is subtle but effective and the inclusion of booths, tables and barstools means the transition between the two spaces is seamless.

    DSC_2476Choosing a booth beside the kitchen meant we were able to peak in.  My friend Andrew, a food technologist who can spot a pre-prepared meal a mile off, enjoyed noting that everything that came out of the kitchen was made on site.  Given it was a Sunday we each ordered a Sunday roast.  I went for the organic roast pork, which was served with an enormous Yorkshire pudding, which kept two very salty pieces of crackling nice and crunchy and away from the gravy.  The pork and pudding sat on a bed of carrot puree and roast potatoes with cabbages and broccoli being served in a side dish.  Each component part was expertly cooked and whilst it doesn’t look like a mountain of food it was a decent portion – plus extra potatoes were on offer.

    DSC_2489For pudding Andrew and I shared a Sunday Sundae and an Apple & Blackcurrant Tart with Coconut Crumble.  The sundae was made with Chantilly cream which made it much more interesting than usual sundaes, although I’d have liked a little more brownie.  The apple and blackcurrant tart was more of a bakewell tart which despite having a very tough base was delicious and not too heavy after a large roast.  And where there is cake there ought to be tea, which is Yorkshire tea and served by the pot and arrives with proper mugs, which can be actually quite rare!

    With 16 other suburban pubs, Peach should certainly know what they’re doing and with The Highfield, even in its infancy, they seem to be on to a good thing.  Service was efficient and friendly, food was fresh and homemade and though I didn’t try any of the drinks (pre-dinner drinks at The Edgbaston had sorted that side) the bar was well stocked with a good variety of spirits and wines.

    Whether it’s post-drinks after Simpson’s, a spot of lunch after shopping at the Deli, or heading there for the whole experience, The Highfield is well worth checking out – but book, it’s already proving to be a popular destination!

    Disclosure: Like many others, we received free main meals during The Highfield’s soft opening phase.  We paid for our drinks and desserts and were not obliged to give a positive review.


    Birmingham Independent Food Fair

    Has it really been nearly two weeks since Dine Birmingham’s Independent Food Fair?  I’d comment how times flies, but that’s just an automatic reference to how close Christmas is and apparently not everyone is as keen as I on the festive season.

    Anyway, the Birmingham Independent Food Fair.  Of course I had to attend – that many food stalls in one place how could I not?!  Having been busy earlier in the day I didn’t get there until 3pm, when sadly for me some of the stalls had already run out of samples, which was a little unfortunate as the event wasn’t due to end until 6pm.

    My first port of call was to Langley’s stall for a nice afternoon GnT.  With a distillery on the edge of the city and sponsoring a roof terrace at The Bureau, Langley’s No8 Gin has great ties with the city.  The spirit is made using English grains and is flavoured with eight botanicals; it’s a smooth and no nonsense kind of gin and I like that about it.

    I also stopped by FoodCycle Birmingham and spoke to the lovely Poppy and Clare.  Foodcycle is a fantastic charity; based out of a community kitchen in Nechells, they use surplus fruit and veg donated by the vendors at the Bullring market to create a three-course meal for vulnerable groups.

    Other stalls included Peel & Stone to buy one of their last loaves; Patatas Bravas and chorizo from the Authentic Tapas Group, Coffee from the Urban Coffee Roast Company, and chocolate from Henley’s Chocolates.

    It was lovely to see so many independent traders in one place, even if I didn’t get to try all of the stalls I’d have liked.  Well done Dine Birmingham!


    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Bistro 1847’s new menu*

    We all know the story; vegetarian food has had a bad reputation as being stodgy plates of food either gracing the righteous movement and full of lentils or being distinctly ordinary food minus the meat.  Then along comes along chefs who actually seemed to know what they’re doing.  I don’t know about you, but I’m bored of the cliche.  And that’s where Bistro 1847 comes in.  Since opening in Manchester, and then in Birmingham last year, they’ve joined a wave of restaurants redefining what we know of vegetarian cuisine.  And thankfully so.

    When they first opened in Brum their menu, a standard a la carte affair, was playful, quirky and the meat wasn’t so much missing as never really invited to the party to start with.  However their new concept has gone a little further with two menus.  The ‘Grazing, Sharing and Exploring’ menu has a range of smaller dishes which are designed to encourage a more communal dining experience, similar to tapas.  The First Date – Taste of 1847 menu is, as the name suggests, a taster menu which compromises of five courses during the week and seven course taster menu on Fridays and Saturdays.

    Eager to see what Bistro 1847 had up their sleeves, I went down mid-week and samples some dishes from their Grazing, Sharing and Exploring menu.  It’s recommended to have 2 – 3 dishes per person, so my guest and I tried six of them between us: Tarragon polenta crisp, pickled wild mushroom, goats’ curd, baby aubergine, tahini and petals; Baby heritage potato, crispy bean curd skin, carrot seedlings, breakfast radish, onion ash and textures of coconut; Crispy potato & Old Winchester dumpling, herbed sauce, toffee apple, mead reduction, caramelised celery and foraged herbs; Heritage tomato & preserved lemon, pearl barley with Yorkshire fettle; Beer-battered halloumi, seashore herbs, mushy pea emulsion, smoked lemon curd, gin pickled shallots; and Garden pea mousse, broad bean, Yorkshire fettle and sesame filo shards.

    Each of the dishes was beautifully presented, think more a molecular-gastronomy and fine-dining than soggy mushroom pastry.  A particular favourite was the baby heritage potato, crispy bean curd skin, carrot seedlings, breakfast radish, onion ash and textures of coconut, which had a delicious laksa style taste, moreish yet satisfying.  The Tarragon polenta crisp, pickled wild mushroom, goats’ curd, baby aubergine, tahini and petals dish was truly lovely, but somewhat confusing as it felt like a dish which straddled main course and pudding, being quite sweet and therefore somewhat confusing on the palate.

    We spoke to Bistro 1847’s development chef, Alex Claridge, who said that the menu had been designed, with careful consideration, to take advantage of seasonal and foraged produce.  Each dish had a number of components which were designed to complement each other and for the most part they did superbly.  The only item we found that didn’t really seem to add much to the overall dish was the toffee apple, which didn’t have much apple flavour, though with the crispy potato and cheese dumplings were delightful by themselves.

    The puddings have a similar sharing element to them, suggesting 2 – 3 dishes between two people.  We were quite full after six dishes for dinner so opted for two between us; the Peanut brittle, slow-roast pineapple, Hoxton gin snow, white chocolate crème fraiche; and Foraged blackberry & almond sponges with hay cream.  The peanut brittle and white chocolate creme fraiche were delightful, interesting and unusual and very in-keeping with the innovative new menu.  The blackberry and almond sponge was a little more conventional, something you might expect to see on a standard menu but still perfectly pleasant.  Although we were too full to order it, we saw an Allotment Aero pass by, which looked high on the whimsy scale and definitely worth trying next time.

    I was already a fan of Bistro 1847’s stellar efforts to showcase vegetarian food as a cuisine in its own right, but their new menu is something else.  Whilst the taster menu might have the moniker First Date, this is a place to savour and enjoy over and over again…we certainly fell in love again like it was the first time.

    Bistro 1847 invited us down to try the new menu free of charge in return for an honest review – we were not obliged to write a positive review but were pleased to do so.  The views expressed here remain my own (with some input from my guest) and the photos are mine too.

    Events, News

    Birmingham Chilli Festival returns

    chillifestival2014The weather today might be a bit drizzly but thankfully Brindley Place’s Birmingham Chilli Festival is back again to put some fire in your belly!

    Themed ‘Celebrating Chillies around the World’ the Birmingham Chilli Festival takes place from 11am – 6pm, today and tomorrow (aka Friday 19 and Saturday 20 September).  In association with Sketts, the event will feature a number of stalls selling chilli plants, pickles, pastes and jellies, as well as some streetfood vendors selling chilli influenced dishes.

    In terms of entertainment, there will be live cooking demonstrations from Cafe Rouge, Thai Edge and David Colcombe from Café Opus, as well as a Chilli Eating Competition.  During the contest, each participant will be challenged to eat a selection of chilli varieties including Naga, Scotch Bonnet, Thai Red and Poblano, until only two are left to face the final chilli-off.

    The event schedule for the two days is listed below.  For more information, visit


    FRIDAY 19th SEPTEMBER 2014       11.00am – 6.00pm

    11.00am Chilli Festival Opens
    11.00am – 11.30am Chilli Chat – Introduction to the world of Chillies
    11.30pm – 12.00pm Kitchen School making an Italian-inspired Chilli dish
    12.00pm – 2.00pm ENTERTAINMENT: Synergy Live (Mediterranean)
    2.00pm – 2.30pm Café Opus at IKON making a British-inspired Chilli dish
    3.00pm – 3.30pm Café Rouge making a French-inspired Chilli dish
    4.30pm – 5.00pm Afia’s Samosa Shop making an Indian-inspired Chilli dish
    5.00pm – 5.30pm ENTERTAINMENT: Eternal Taal Bhangra Entertainments Team
    5.30pm – 6.00pm Bank vs. Piccolino – Cocktails at dawn (well 5.30pm…)
    6.00pm Chilli Market Closes


    SATURDAY 20th SEPTEMBER 2014       11.00am – 6.00pm

    11.00am Chilli Market Opens
    11.00am – 11.30am ENTERTAINMENT: Someone at the Door Samba Band
    11.30am – 12.00pm Coast2Coast making an American-inspired (Louisiana) Chilli dish
    12.30pm – 1.00pm ENTERTAINMENT: Latin Motion, offering free Latino dance lessons
    1.00pm – 1.30pm City Cafe making a Moroccan-inspired Chilli dish
    1.30pm – 2.00pm Thai Edge making a Thai-inspired Chilli dish
    2.30pm – 3.00pm ENTERTAINMENT: Fire Eaters, Stilt Jumpers & Eternal Taal Bhangra Entertainments Team
    4.00pm – 4.30pm Sharian’s Cuisine making a Caribbean-inspired Chilli dish
    4.30pm – 6.00pm ENTERTAINMENT: Rudie & The Revolvers (Caribbean)
    Product reviews

    Moms Home Cooking*

    All this dining out is all well and good, but some times I miss the call of a home cooked meal with no airs and graces. Enter Moms Home Cooking, a sort of meals-on-wheels for the student and/or professional. That’s to say they’ll deliver five days worth of home-cooked dinner for £10, which works out cheaper than a take out. Umar, the man behind Moms home Cooking, got in contact and asked if I wanted to give the delivery service a try, so of course I said yes.


    I was given the vegetarian Indian option to try, as they were looking to expand their offerings. Umar duly delivered individually portioned sets of Aloo (Bombay potatoes), Rajma (red kidney beans), Gobi (spicy cabbage) and Maash Daal (yellow lentil) .  Each dish is also served with the sort of fluffy plain rice that you find in restaurants that I just cannot recreate at home, no matter how much I try.  The portions all come in their own metal take-out container, which is perfect for popping into the oven to cook when you get home from a busy day, or transfer into a dish and stick in the microwave. The week I tried them was a busy one, so I took a few to work for lunch and they traveled well.

    All of the dishes felt like they were on the medium-hot scale of spiciness.  Ordinarily, I’d probably go for something a touch milder, but I enjoyed having my taste buds challenged and once I got used to it the heat was quite pleasant – probably helped by the cold spell we were having at the time.  A particular favourite was the Maash Daal, which uncooked resembled a sort of paste, but once heated and stirred through the rice to make a lovely sticky rice full of flavour. I’m not usually a fan of double carbs in my dinner (sorry chip butty fans), but even the Aloo and rice worked well, with a nice bite to the potato which prevented it being a big pile of fluffy carbs.

    DSC_2389I’m not aware of anything similar to Moms Home Cooking, but it’s a great idea and seems unusual I haven’t stumbled across something similar. Moms Home Cooking offers food which is flavoursome but isn’t dripping in the over-indulgence from the local curry house; it’s the sort of food you could imagine your mum cooking (or at least if my mum was Pakistani and not the daughter of Irish immigrants). And it’s good value at £10 for five meals, each of which is different – something which would be hard to recreate at home, unless you wanted a freezer full of extra portions.

    The ordering system is also pretty simple – order by Thursday and the following Monday a week’s worth of food will be delivered.

    Moms Home Cooking are expanding their offerings, so as well as the Indian cuisine option there is also British and Caribbean offerings. If, like me, you tend to be busy during the week and not always in enough to justify cooking, else risk reheating the same meal for days in a row, then this is a cost-effective way to make sure that you eat something decent without resorting to microwave meals. Being versatile enough that it also works as an alternative lunch, Mom’s Home Cooking is worth ordering if you’re expecting a busy week and don’t want the indulgence of consecutive nights of take out.

    <p style=”font-size: x-small;”>Disclosure: I was given a selection of dishes for free in exchange for a review.  I wasn’t obliged to give a positive review, all opinions (and photos) are my own.