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    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/

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Film Food Club: Harold and Maude

    photo 1

    I love films almost as much as I love food, so I’ve been looking for an excuse to go to the Film Food Club at the Electric for as long as I’ve heard about it.  When I realised that, as part of the Shock & Gore festival, they were teaming up with Conjurer’s Kitchen for a showing of Harold and Maude, I bought tickets immediately – afterall, the film has been on my ‘to watch’ pile for ages.

    On arrival at The Electric we were handed edible ticket stubs, not all that dissimilar to the ones the Electric give out.  Then after a quick stop at the concessions counter for drinks we headed up to screen two where we were given a lunchbox of goodies containing; a syrupy concoction in a test tube, a scented mask, a wafer pot filled with edible soil & sugar daisy, and a foil bag with popping candy in it.  Curiouser and curiouser.

    photo 2Once sat Annabel, of Conjurors Kitchen, explained that each piece related to a certain part of the film and she would wave a placard to let us know when to unwrap the item, all carefully explained on a menu in case we forgot.

    And so it was on with the film.  IMBD sums it up rather well “Self-destructive and needy but wealthy teenager Harold is obsessed with death and spends his leisure time attending funerals, watching the demolition of buildings, visiting junkyards, simulating suicides trying to get the attention of his indifferent, snobbish and egocentric mother, and having sessions with his psychologist. When Harold meets the anarchic seventy-nine-year-old Maude at a funeral, they become friends and the old lady discloses other perspectives of the cycle of life for him. ”

    photo 5aAnd without giving too much away, the courses throughout the film were fantastically playful.  The red wine, Chambord, cranberry and chocolate reduction when Harold’s mother walks in on a particularly bloody set up, snow masks when Maude brings out a machine which recreates the scent of snow, an edible pot plant, plus cherry popping candy for when…well Harold pops his cherry.  All wonderfully done and made what was an interesting film even more so.  Oh and we got to go home with a gingerbread hearse cookie for afters!

    Fantastic work by Annabel / Conjurer’s Kitchen and the teams at The Electric and Shock & Gore for a quirky and unusual event.  More please!

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Two Cats Roaming Kitchen July event

    I think I’ve just about recovered from the food extravaganza that was Two Cats Roaming Kitchen last month.

    If you read my June review you’ll know I was pretty blown away by the experience…but this was on another level entirely.  In a brilliant case of quality AND quantity, we were treated to eleven different courses, ranging from vodka & gooseberry, sea urchin, and lumpfish roe to build your own dessert and candles made from butter.  Chef Nick Astley and his partner Diana took a modernist culinary approach that leaped away from the ordinary and created a fantastic experience as well as great food.

    At this point it would feel a little ridiculous to try and go through each dish and comment, but suffice to say that hopefully my terrible smartphone photos give you some indication as to what a fantastic array of food was on offer.  Even items seen on the menu the month before were given new life and once again the monkfish was a particular favourite.  I was also grateful that my lactose intolerance was taken into account and some dairy-heavy dishes were swapped, but at no point did I ever feel like I was missing out.

    Two Cats Roaming are taking a break in August, but will be back in the autumn.  Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for details of any upcoming events and book some tickets.  You won’t be disappointed.

     

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    Cafe News, Drinks

    Coffee tax and Birmingham

    Screen shot 2014-08-10 at 17.11.44

    Fellow Brummie Jon Hickman has written a really interesting article over on Contributoria about tax, coffee shops and Birmingham.

    It’s well worth a read – and not just because I’m quoted in it.  But it looks at issues which have affected both Cafe Blend and very recently Ashton Levi, both well loved coffee shops sadly forced to close.

    I’m a big fan of independent coffee shops, I think they offer a great deal to the city both in quality of products (although I have a giant soft spot for Costa’s gingerbread soya lattes) and the willingness to open up their space for book clubs, exhibitions and spoken word.  The article gives a really interesting insight into the issues affecting independent businesses and the people behind them.

    Read the article here.