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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    A vegan raw food experience

    It’s good to get out of your comfort zone right?  I’ve inadvertently eaten vegan dishes a few times, what with the whole not getting on so well with dairy, but raw food is a new experience.  So when an evening of vegan raw food in conjunction with Jay Halford of J’s Organic was listed on Warehouse Cafe’s facebook, I thought it was worth a try.  And somehow I convinced a group of friends decided to accompany me.

    In one of those ways Alanis Morrisette would sing about, I’d managed to eat a full English breakfast and some pork scratchings earlier in the day (which isn’t exactly the norm for me) – something was telling me my stomach was not as curious about this vegan raw food thing as my brain!  But after a cocktail for courage at Le Truc, we moseyed on to the Warehouse Cafe to try something new.

    On arrival it was nice to see a sort of group dynamic with the tables being in a giant horseshoe formation and a good mix of people.  There’s always that stereotype of vegan raw foodists being a bit “right on”, so it was nice to see this wasn’t the case.

    Once everyone was seated we were presented with a drink – a raspberry lemonade, of sorts, the lemon giving a natural fizz and some sort of superfood that I didn’t quite catch the name of (and probably best, I’m deeply suspicious of things called ‘superfoods’).  Tart but tasty, this was an excellent aperitif.

    The first course was a beetroot gazpacho with a sort of hazelnut cracker– a lovely summery soup with a cracker that had a nice zing to it.  The sort of thing you’d eat somewhere and not really think about it being vegan.

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    Main course was the pun-entitled chia non carne, a chia seed mixture, with parsnip rice.  I’ve heard a lot about chia seeds, but mainly adding them into smoothies rather than the star of a dish, and I found the texture of the chilli to jelly-like, which was a bit off-putting.  The parsnip rice however was delicious – somehow buttery and something that I’d happily eat again, ditto the parsnip crisps as garnish.  But this was the course which divided opinion the most – there were meals barely touched and others mopping up seconds.

    The final course, the dessert, was a show stopper.  A sort of millionaire shortbread/cheesecake with a chocolate mousse this was the kind of thing that could convince any carnivore of the merits of raw-food veganism. I wasn’t a massive fan of the banana chocolate mousse, which was a little too bitter for my liking and felt like it could’t done with some sugar, but the cheesecake was delightful.

    This was certainly a more unusual food experience than in usually found in Birmingham. It opened up the possibilities of what vegan raw food can be; a familiar dish you wouldn’t know was such, a no nonsense vegan raw food main and a dessert that showed that the movement can mimic well-loved food surprisingly well.  I’m not sure I’d be in a rush to indulge in vegan raw food all the time, but the night certainly opened my eyes to the possibility of some tasty food minus the meat and heat.

    http://www.thewarehousecafe.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/JsOrganic11

    Pub and Drinks News

    Two new bars for Birmingham – Bar Opus and Botanist

    Bars are like buses, it seems.  You don’t have a new one open for a while and then two come at once – or at least before the year’s end.

    The Opus family will be welcoming their third venue at the foot of One Snowhill.  Opening in November, Bar Opus will be open for breakfast and lunch, but it’s the after-work concept which is where the bar will really come into its own.  Drawing inspiration from Barcelona and Copenhagen, the team have created a concept which sees their chefs creating a selection of sharing plates in an open kitchen.

    Centred in the heart of the Business District and with a pedigree which is already well respected in the city, Bar Opus is likely to be an excellent addition to the city.

    http://www.twitter.com/BarOpus

    The Botanist has also slowly been making some noise, albeit very quietly.  Eagle-eyed Brummies will have noticed the licensing application that went up on Cheltenham House, Temple St a couple of months ago.  The application belongs to Northern-based New World Trading Company, who are said to be bringing their popular brand to the city; with the Botanist concept already proving popular in Leeds and similar venues in Manchester.  Julian Rose-Gibbs, previous general manager of The Victoria, is set to be involved…a pairing which is sure to see it succeed in the city.

    http://thebotanist.uk.com/

    Product reviews, Reviews

    Review: Hotel Chocolat Mojito chocolates*

    I imagine the planning session for these chocolates went something like this: “everyone likes after dinner mint chocolates right?  And rum truffles go down a blinder.  What if…what if we combined them?!  But we can’t just call them minty rum truffles, how about adding some citrus and calling them Mojito chocolates?!”

    Sorry if that sounded glib, but it’s the only way I can think the idea of Hotel Chocolat Mojito chocolates would come into existence.  Because Mojtos are a quintessential summer drink; cooling mint, refreshing lime, soda and white rum clear as the summer skies, with a hint of sugar for celebration.  But chocolate, chocolate to me is more a comforting indulgence good with hot coffee and cold winter nights.

    To give Hotel Chocolat their credit, these chocolates do look lovely, I’ll give them that.  But taste wise, this is where things go a bit off course.  The initial flavour is that of a sort of lime cordial taste which is quickly overpowered by rum.  There’s a lot of rum in these chocolates, 9% is a good glug by anyone’s standards, and if you like really boozy chocolate then you’ll like these.  If not, once the heat from the rum burns away there’s a rather pleasant taste to them, you just have to really stick with it.

    Hotel Chocolat’s Mojito chocolates are for sale at their website, but from the looks of the reviews over there, others found the overpowering rum an issue too.  To me, these are more of a novelty item than anything else, which is a little disappointing.  I’ve had some lovely Hotel Chocolat chocolates before, but sadly these just aren’t for me.

    mojitochocolate

    Disclosure: These were given to me at a bloggers event, although they’re probably wishing they hadn’t now, sorry.

    Cafe reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Shirley High St

    It feels a bit lazy writing this all as one blogpost, but having only really dipped my toes into the delights Shirley has to offer it feels right.  For years Shirley High St has been a bit, well, rubbish.  I remember trips to the Bank of Ireland as a child as my mum once inexplicably held an account there, waiting in the car because there was simply nothing else to do.  Fast-forward a few years and other than venturing to the rather delightful Crust, a pizzeria which is really worth a trip, I hadn’t bothered with the high st for years.  But the Parkgate development seems to have brought a new lease of life to Shirley, and in the last month or so, I’ve visited twice for lunch.

    photo 3On my first visit it was lunch at Desco Lounge, part of the Loungers group, which also has venues in Kings Heath and Harborne.  Despite having one on my doorstep, I don’t really visit a lot, but my mum wanted to go for lunch and as she was paying I wasn’t arguing.  The Loungers venues in Brum have this whole faux-shabby-chic thing going for them, but the high ceilings at Desco give it more grandeur.  I went for their Jambalaya, which was a little disappointing.  The chorizo was, at points, tougher than I’d like and the inclusion of the chicken on top of the rice mixture meant it lacked flavour.  The jamba itself was very spicy, a little too spicy for me, but still pretty tasty.  My mum went for a Goat’s Cheese salad, which she said was one of the best she’d had in a long time.

    photo 5After some errands we stopped for coffee.  Shirley has an assortment of chain coffee shops and my health conscious mother had vetoed the idea of trying Shake, Waffle & Roll, but did point out her new favourite place to stop for coffee – a furniture charity shop.  No, seriously.  Betel has a restored furniture shop on the high st which has some lovely pieces…and also a charming little coffee shop.  I asked for a soya milk latte, which given the size of the shop I wasn’t convinced they’d have, and they couldn’t be more accommodating.  Also, a Christmas mug…these people know their customers well (I LOVE Christmas).  The foam on the latte was luxurious and the coffee delicious. Top marks.  I’m looking forward to going back and trying some of their cakes, many of which cater for food intolerances.

    photo 4

    Our second visit saw us at Pizza Express.  We both went for the Warm Vegetable and Goats Cheese Salad, only I had mine minus the goat’s cheese and with chicken.  With aubergine, red & yellow peppers, roasted tomatoes, artichoke, cucumber, Italian lentils, mint and basil this was another of those salads-I-don’t-hate; full of flavour and texture, with plenty of veg and just a little bit of lettuce – very enjoyable.

    Just like my mum and her banking, Shirley high st has moved with the times.  There are some interesting places to eat and it’s developing a nice buzz.

    Well done Shirley, I’ll be back soon.

    Product reviews

    Review: So Mallow marshmallows

    Forget chocolate, for me the best sweet treat is marshmallows – I love them!  So when I heard about So Mallow, a company just outside of Birmingham making their own, I couldn’t wait to try them out.  They’re a relatively new company and, whilst you’ll be seeing their face at several food markets in the future, they’re sell marshmallows by post.  Figuring I didn’t want to wait ’til next month, I got in contact with them and duly ordered myself two flavours; Vanilla, and Maple & Pecan.

    somallow_vanillaArriving within a few days the marshmallows survived the trip (and extra two nights stay in a South Birmingham sorting office) remarkably.  Unlike some mass-produced marshmallows, they retained their cloud-like consistency, without beginning to condense.  They come packaged in simple brown paper bags which are resealable – although I’m not sure you’ll need to as the ones I had didn’t last long!

    The first ones I tried were the vanilla.  Call me safe, but vanilla is one of those flavours I love – it’s simple and if done right can be lovely and perfumed, rather than sweet (done badly they’re better off labeled bland).  Thankfully these were delightful.  After being hit with a lovely waft of vanilla as soon as you open the bag the vanilla flavour of the marshmallows carries through without being overpowering.  These mallows were delicate in flavour…even if the chunks are more than generous!  With six to a bag I fully expected to get several occasions to sample these, but lost half the bag to friends who were genuinely impressed with them – “ooh” was a phrase most used.

    somallow_maplepecanNext up, the Maple & Pecan flavoured marshmallows surprised me.  I ordered them as a comparison, curious to see how the two flavours would be used; if the maple flavour would leave the mallows overly sweet or if the hardness of the nuts would interrupt the fluffiness of the marshmallows.  Thankfully, once again, I had nothing to worry about.  The crumbs of pecan were big enough to impart flavour, but small enough not to interrupt the delicacy of the marshmallow.  The maple flavour wasn’t sickly sweet, but rather complimented the pecan with it’s own natural nuttiness.  Unexpectedly, given how often I like well executed vanilla products, these were my favourite out of the two.

    With a well developed product which survived the postal service and a delay in being picked up, I think So Mallow are onto something great.  Their flavours are a good balance of being present without overpowering and combine textures without conflict.  If you’re looking for a more unusual treat to send in the post, these are well worth trying.

    https://twitter.com/SoMallow

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Brum Yum Yum street food fair – August ’14

    I’m lucky enough to live in South Birmingham which has a wealth of great places to eat…and is also the home of Brum Yum Yum’s monthly street food fair.  Thankfully, this month, the rain held off long enough to peruse the stalls and grab some great food and drinks whilst sitting on the grass listening to the live music.

    August’s fair seemed to have a few new faces amongst the well-loved favourites.  Keen to try something new, I went to Sultan, a Turkish stall which proved so popular the lamb koftes had already sold out before I got there!  However, having heard the mucver was a good I cheekily asked for half beef kofte and half mucver and they kindly obliged.  Both were wrapped up in a burrito style and were fantastic – light, flavoursome and with the lettuce felt almost healthy…unusual, it seems, for street food!

    Having spoken to The Bean Stall on twitter a few times, it would’ve be remiss of me not to visit and I’m so glad I did.  Not only is their coffee delicious, but they do non-dairy milk and the froth on my latte, which can sometimes be a bit limp with soya milk, was sweet and rich – just the way it should be.  I’ll definitely be buying more coffee from them next time I see them.

    brumyumyum_august14For more information on Brum Yum Yum’s monthly street food fair in Kings Heath, and other goings on, check out http://www.brumyumyum.com

     

    Product reviews

    Review: Propercorn

    Screen shot 2014-08-10 at 19.13.57

    There’s a real nostalgia attached to popcorn for me.  Growing up, there was always popcorn going spare at my best friend’s house round the corner – freshly made and with a modest sprinkling of salt.  And then of course there’s cinema popcorn, sticky and sweet which feels like a real treat, even now I’m (supposedly) grown up.  So when I came across Propercorn, I was a little sceptical as to where this would fit in my fond memories of popcorn.

    Recently I’ve tried two flavours; Sweet Coconut & Vanilla and Sweet & Salty, although there are five in total.  Billed as being guilt-free, with the calories contents proudly displayed, they’re going for the healthy snack label that my best friend’s mum went for when we were kids.

    Sweet Coconut & Vanilla

    I was given this bag free at a bloggers meet a while back and if they hadn’t been free I don’t think I’d initially have picked them up.  The pink packaging, the calorie contents, flavourings that sound like a body lotion…it all seemed a forced.  But when I was moving house and had nothing in the fridge I gave them a go – and I’m glad I did.  The flavours of vanilla and sweet coconut with a touch of sea salt were really well balanced and managed to taste light, flavoursome and sweet.  Initial worries about them being sickly soon evaporated; the flavours were so well done they never became overbearing.

    Sweet & Salty

    Another lunchtime, another meal deal I wanted something a little lighter than crisps and when I spotted Propercorn’s Sweet & Salty, I thought it was worth a go.  Usually I refuse to buy salted popcorn, it feels like such a waste when I know I can make it at home, but the contrast of sweet and salt really worked…again without being overpowering, just really lovely.  And these ones are suitable for vegans, so another dairy-free snack will keep my lactose intolerance content.  Big win.

    I was initially sceptical about Propercorn, but needn’t have been.  With interesting flavours which work well together but never overpower the senses, they are a delicious and light, yet filling, snack which are delicious – whether you’re looking for something guilt-free or not.

    http://www.propercorn.com/