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    Musings

    The evolution of McDonald’s #AD

    On the very few occasions I’m allowed out of Birmingham and to another country, I have this thing about visiting McDonald’s. It has been going on for years, ever since as a teenager, we were stuck driving through France for what felt like forever and the only place we could find food was McDonald’s.  This was back when salads here weren’t a thing, but they were in McDonald’s in France. Earlier this year, in Singapore I went to McDonald’s to escape the heat at the Gardens by the Bay and discovered McDonald’s there did curly fries.  When flying to see my sister in Australia, my stepdad told me he didn’t see any McDonald’s when he visited, so we counted them all reached over 30…and then took a selfie in one to prove it.

    Told you it was a thing.

    So when McDonald’s were like, hey wanna come hear about the new stuff we’re doing you can bet I was there.  It might not be popular to admit amongst “foodies” but I respect McDonald’s; If you’ve ever been in one of their kitchens between the switch between breakfast and the main menu, you’ll know it’s a feat of choreographed engineering genius.  And I have, multiple times because I worked in one for a couple of breaks at uni.

    Things have changed quite a bit since then and I headed over to the Wigston branch to hear more.  The first thing of note is that the interiors are continuing the theme of looking a lot less 80s plastic fantastic; there’s a choice of interiors these days, so it’s out with the identikit look and in with a more modern restaurant feel.  There’s also recycling, which made me unreasonably happy – recycle kids, the planet is ace!

    My favourite of the newer additions is the self-service machines, which means if you’re having one of those days when you just want the world to leave you alone and let you wallow in your chicken nuggets, you really don’t have to talk to anyone. I know, because I’ve totally done this in the McDonald’s on the ramp in town and it works.  There’s also going to be table service, which personally feels a bit too much for me, but if you’re a parent trying to rein in a bunch of kids then this is going to make things a lot smoother. And if you’re lucky, some of them, like the Wigston branch, has a play area for kids – I’m not jealous at all.

    We also got to have a look backstage at the kitchen process, which has also changed quite a bit.  It used to be that burgers were made up in batches (and disposed of if they didn’t sell in a certain timeframe) but these days they’re made up as people order them, which makes customising your meal so much easier.  The kitchens are laid out in such a way that it reduces the time required to make up a burger, and whilst we weren’t nearly as speedy as the staff, we all had a go – and ate the results.

    As we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour, we got to quiz the staff about anything McDonald’s related that we liked.  Of course, I asked a whole bunch of questions, thus proving myself to be a giant nerd, but it was great to hear about the extent that McDonald’s go to develop their staff (I finally got a badge with stars), their work with Ronald McDonald House Charities offering accommodation for families with children in hospital, and also get some sneak peaks at some of the new burgers coming out soon.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the new-look McDonald’s roll out across Birmingham (Cherry St was closed up for refurb last time I looked, so fingers crossed), and I’m unreasonably excited about the prospect of home-delivery nuggets…

    For more information on the evolution of McDonald’s and what’s coming to local branches near you, check out: http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/ukhome/whatmakesmcdonalds.html

    Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with McDonald’s, but all rambling thoughts remain my own, as ever. By the way, the only country I’ve visited and not been to a McDonald’s in is Qatar, so if anyone fancies flying me back over…

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Searcy’s Balcony at Selfridges

    Cities are great, they’re great because there is always something happening, a sort of slow hum, the soundtrack of living.  And I like nothing more than to find somewhere to sit and appreciate this; I’d call it an abstract people watching if it didn’t sound so bloody pretentious.  It is, for me, one of the many reasons I like going out for dinner, because you can watch the action of the staff moving like they’re in a choreographed dance between tables, the clinking of cutlery and glasses, and the people watching, oh that’s always the best bit.  Everyone plays the guessing who’s on a first date game, right?

    And way up high in the skies of Selfridges in the Bullring is The Balcony, not an inventive name, I’ll give you that, but it does give you an indication of where it is.  I love that floor, because as my mum puts it I “have a thing for bags” and I like to covet them and daydream over a time I can justify buying a Mulberry Bayswater.  It is, at times, a floor that feels a bit like a museum but the restaurant itself is neatly tucked away in a corner and stretches out into the belly of the Bullring – but the view is not intrusive, it just adds a bit more life whilst giving a relaxed vibe.

    We start with a cocktail, because we’re on a floor of shoes and handbags and it’s probably the done thing here.  The cocktail menu is compact, nine alcoholic and two without, and the theme seems to be British summer time – lots of berries, fruits alongside gin and fizz.  The Goji Blush is made with organic goji berry liqueur, organic Virtuous vodka, lemon juice, honey, raspberries and Selfridges Prosecco; it’s a light, delicate drink, made well by the bartender and simple enough that most people should enjoy it.

    I honestly worried that the menu at The Balcony would be miniature bites aimed at ‘ladies what lunch’ but don’t actually seem to be interested in eating.  But thankfully they’re well thought out dishes that allow you to be as gluttonous or restrictive as you like.  Mains are classic dishes: braised shoulder of lamb, fish and chips, salmon fish cakes and the like.  There’s also a burger – we’ll get to that later though.  For starters my friend Jo-ann had the pea and ham terrine, which she enjoyed but said would’ve preferred less pea and more ham, though not ungenerous with the meat.  I had pesto gnocchi mainly because it has been a very long time since I’ve had it and I was surprised to see it on the menu, but it was a nice light version.

    For mains, Jo-ann had the braised shoulder of lamb, fondant potato and butternut squash purée and unsurprisingly I went for the Lake District beef and Applewood cheese burger with fries. Jo’s lamb was a good-sized portion and she said the lamb had been cooked well, the butternut squash puree added a nice summery look to what could’ve been a more wintery dish. My burger was delicious, the smokey applewood cheese gave it a lovely flavour and the bun was toasted but still pliable…all in all a very decent burger and one I’d be happy to go back for. The miniature mayo and ketchup pots were a nice touch and the fries were of a good standard.

    The Oreo cheesecake that Jo-ann had looked lovely, but also seemingly a little tough to crack through the base – I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I went for the stick toffee pudding, another classic dish on the menu, which had a lovely caramel flavour and the toffee sauce had a perfect touch of saltiness to cut through the sugar. Delightful.

    For a menu that I expected to be all a bit ‘ladies what lunch’ this was a surprise. Sure, you’re paying more because of the location and associated exclusivity, but the portions are a reasonable size and the menu is largely fairly classic, well-known dishes done well using nice ingredients. For those people who want to eat well but dislike the hectic crowds that can sometimes descend on the Bullring, the Balcony is a good place to seek refuge, if you don’t mind paying a little for it.

    The Balcony at Selfridges, Bullring, Moor Street Queensway, Birmingham B5 4BU

    Disclaimer: I was invited down, or should that be up, to the Balcony for a complimentary meal. As ever views remain my own, because lying is too much effort to remember.

    Drinks, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Beer and burgers with Byron

    Recently I went cycling for the first time since I were a kid and I’m pretty sure the only reason I made it home was because we stopped for burgers before heading back.  Thus reinforcing my idea that burgers are life.  And if burgers are life, then beer is burger’s natural life partner.

    So when Byron were like, come check out our new craft beer menu and tell us how you’d pair the burgers, I was all over this.  Anyone that followed my Melbourne food adventures will know that I have a soft spot for bacon cheeseburgers, and BBQ sauce is my favourite of the sauces (although garlic mayo comes a close second).  So naturally I was going to go for their Smoky burger: mature cheddar, streaky bacon, crispy onions, lettuce, pickles and smoked chilli BBQ sauce.  Now, that’s a lot going on in that burger, so I wanted a beer that wasn’t going to weigh me down, partly because I was going to the cinema after, but also because the rain outside was biblical and if Birmingham was going to end up undersea I wanted to stand a fighting chance of floating.

    I’ve been in to Byron before and even then it was pretty obvious then that they understood the bond of beer and burgers, as they’ve been collaborating with Camden Town Brewery since 2010 to produce their Byron Lager and Byron Pale Ale.  But Byron’s craft beer menu surprised me; the new craft beer menu is, in my mind, unashamedly pitched at beers that will compliment burgers, rather than being an extensive beer menu covering all styles.  And that’s a wise move; I got surprised with a super sour beer and burger accidental pairing in Oz and it just made me sad because it didn’t work at all.

    The beers are typically lagers, pale ales and IPAs and aiming for something middling will keep most people happy, particularly given the range of brewers.  I was pleased to see a couple of Beavertown’s beers on the list, as well as the, now fairly standard, Brewdog offerings and the Bristolian Moor Revival.  Whilst most of these are fairly commonplace names amongst the craft beer lot, there is also Peroni for people who want a name they know.  Birmingham’s branch has five taps, two are reserved for Camden Hells and Byron Pale, and the others are given over to guest beers – Magic Rock’s Hire Wire, which I have a total soft spot for, was on when I was there.  They’re all good burger beers, which is essentially what I want from a burger joint.

    So, to go with the Smoky burger, I went for Beaverton’s Neck Oil.  I really like Neck Oil, it’s a beer I’ll often pick if I see it on the menu because it’s juicy, crisp and not too heavy.  The guys at Beaverton call it a Session IPA, meaning that if you’re ‘On it’ this is a good one to go for because it’s not heavy and filling, and has a relatively low ABV…so you know, you can drink responsibly folks.  I like it for all those reasons, but because it’s light and not too heavy or gassy, it works really well with something filling like a burger, and the juiciness of it makes it really refreshing against the Smoky’s smoked chilli BBQ sauce, which has a really nice kick to it.  The flavours of the beer and burger don’t wrestle, but compliment each other. Individually the Smoky burger and Neck Oil beer are good, together they’re a great pair.  And in the interests of science, my friend Rob (who writes wonderfully, but mainly about SCFC) had the Smoky with the Byron Lager and this worked well too.  That’s the benefit to Byron’s new craft beer menu, it’s a sort of mix and match approach with their burgers which means you shouldn’t get a bad result.

    https://www.byronhamburgers.com/drinks/
    Disclaimer: This post was in collaboration with Byron, but seriously how difficult do you think it was for me to write about beer and burgers? And we all know how serious I am about burgers, all my own overthought views, as per.

    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

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Original Patty Men again, because I can

    Big_Verns_Krispy_Ring_burger_OPMI think I’ve pretty firmly nailed my colours to the mast when it comes to how much I think Original Patty Men are absolutely flipping amazing. So if you want a review you’re better off reading the previous post about them because this is pretty much just an excuse for burger porn.  But as I’d spent the day in Digbeth attempting to take photos of things that aren’t food (in short, I failed), I figured it would be rude not to go to OPM and as I had my camera with me anyway I figured I might as well take a photo and share it.

    So yeah, I stumbled down to Shaw’s Passage ready to eat all the food. And thankfully I’d arrived just in time as there were only ten burgers left in the venue and, for a Sunday evening, there were a decent number of equally committed-to-the-burger-cause diners.  I ordered a Big Vern’s Krispy Ring donut, and yes your eyes are not deceiving you that is a burger nestled between a Krispy Kreme donut.  The salt from the bacon, the creaminess of the cheese and the sugar from the donut make this everything you could ever want in a burger.

    So, Original Patty Men, have you been yet? And more importantly, have you tried the Big Vern’s flavoured beer by Siren Craft Brew that I keep hearing about but get too distracted by burgers to ask if there is any on tap.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    First bite: Original Patty Men & Siren Craft Brew, Digbeth

    OPM_venue_cornerSunday 16th December 2012 was when I had my first Krispy Kreme burger from Original Patty Men.  Ever since, I’ve been hoping and wishing that they would open somewhere permanent, a nice little slice of our own burger paradise in Birmingham – because I’ve had enough with feigning excuses to go to London (really for burgers) or being forced to queue for hours.  Finally my prayers have been answered; Original Patty Men have managed to add one more to the long list of new Birmingham venues in 2015.  It may well be the most exciting yet.

    Earlier today I headed down to a preview of the new Original Patty Men and Siren Craft Brew venture.  Siren Craft and OPM have been teaming up for a few years now, and it’s easy to see why – beer and burgers are a classic pairing.  And Siren Craft share the same enthusiasm for their product as the OPM guys do – in fact they’re brewing up a special beer which takes inspiration from OPM’s Big Vern’s Krispy Ring burger, in that it involves actual donuts. Yeah, you heard right.  It’s an exciting collaboration generally, Siren Craft Brew have been making more of an appearance in the city and it’s great to see them have an established base, further cementing the idea of Birmingham as a craft beer haven.

    siren_craft_beer_OPMWhere is it?!

    Located in a railway arch on Shaw’s Passage, it’s the sort of perfect place that marries accessibility and authenticity.  If you’ve never heard of Shaw’s Passage, and frankly there’s not much reason to, it’s just the other side of the railway arches to the Selfridges Moor St car park.  Unlike most other cities who’ve gentrified their railway arches, it’s a largely forgotten about place, near an adult cinema and next to a car garage and gaming centre, the Warehouse Cafe is probably it’s most well known neighbour.

    staff_at_the_pass_OPMWhat’s it look like?

    The look of the place is distinctly industrial.  This is a look that Birmingham is becoming all too familiar with, but between the location and the idea of bringing street food vendors indoors, it works. Exposed brickwork, untreated wood and huge sheets of metal which will rust over to give a great aesthetic, it echoes OPM’s previous unfussy incarnation, where diners are used to no airs and graces, just good grub.  The venue seats 33 people, but there’s also the option for take out and possible plans for outdoor seating – burger picnics, anyone?

    pulling_pint_siren_craft_brewWhat’s there to drink?

    At the moment there are four taps for Siren Craft Brew, the final menu yet to be confirmed, although I’m looking forward to trying that special donut beer, which is likely to make an appearance soon.  And whilst beer is a focal point, it’s not the only thing on the menu.  For those that want something else there are other options, canned beers, spirits and soft drinks from indie retailers (the ginger ale is lovely).

    original patty men burger_friesTell us about the Original Patty Men menu?!

    The food menu is short, simple and to the point – burgers, fries and sides.  There are five burgers, one of which is vegetarian, served in fresh yoghurt & buttermilk buns unless specified – the Big Vern’s Krispy Ring still comes in a Krispy Kreme donut (pretty sure there’d be a riot if it didn’t).  One of the benefits to no longer being just street food vendors means the option of sides are available; three types of fries and two sides – slaw and slow cooked beans…and you know, chairs to sit on.

    For the preview we were given the cheeseburger and Darron’s Fancy burgers to try and I can attest to them being the usual high quality  we’ve all come to know and expect from Original Patty Men.  Oh good lord, I love their burgers.  The fries are equally good and don’t feel like an after thought.  The ODB fries, with OPM spice mix, Sriracha mayo, crisp friend onions and fresh spring onion look as good as they taste.

    Original_patty_men_friesI’ve made many jokes about the opening of this venue being like an early Christmas present to the city and I feared that just like advent being better than the reality of Christmas day, this might be a bit of a let down.  I have unashamedly been a big fan of Original Patty Men since that burger back in December 2012 and this has been my most hotly anticipated venue of the year.  It didn’t disappoint, it was just what I hoped it would be (well I’d also like to be able to book, but you can’t have everything).  It’s great to see a local street food venue take the plunge, branch out to their own space and team up with a well respected brewery, in an interesting part of town.  For all the places that have opened in the city this year, this, along with a few others, makes me feel like maybe the city is starting to believe in itself.

    The venue opens this Friday and will be open from Thursday through to Sunday thereafter.  Keep up to date via www.twitter.com/originalpattym

    Disclosure: I was invited to a media preview and the food and drinks were provided complimentary, but that didn’t mean I had to be. Plus OPM had three years of my hopes to match, which was never going to be easy. Go, please, just save me a seat.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    UK Burger Battle October 2015

    beefy_boys_burger_battle_oct15

    I love a good pun, so the final (for Birmingham, at least) UK Burger Battle being called JudgeMEAT Day was pretty clever.  I’ve written about a few of the Burger Battles before (three times in fact – January, May and June) so you probably know the drill by now – a ticket gets you two burgers, one from each stall, and a voting slip to pick the winner.

    This time round the competitors were Hereford’s The Beefy Boys and What’s Your Beef from Manchester.  The Beefy Boys have been at the UK Burger Battle before so I knew to expect something good.  This time round they brought us the The Chipotle Boy; a third of a pound dry-aged Hereford beef patty with maple-cured bacon, homemade chipotle mayo, Swiss & American cheese, lettuce, onion and gherkins all served in a semi-brioche bun.  I’m not entirely sure how a semi-brioche bun works, but maybe that’s what the sesame seeds were about.  It was a good burger; the bacon had a good bite to it, a nice flavour from the cheese, oh and I asked them to leave off the onions so they gave me extra pickles – bonus points, surely.

    whats_your_beef_shell_burger_battle_oct15Can we stop a minute to appreciate the wrapping the What’s Your Beef burger came encased in…it looks like a shell!  It confused a few people on how to open it for maximum effect, but I thought it was relatively easy – plus it meant it saved me from having burger sauce drip down my arm.  It also meant that I got to eat all those little bits of burger that usually escape.  Good work, What’s Your Beef.

    Their burger was the The Stateside Deluxe; a freshly made dry-aged patty from grass fed cattle, home dry-cured streaky bacon, mature cheddar, fried onions, Dutch pickles, lettuce, beef tomato, ketchup and mustard served in a toasted brioche bun.  Personally I found the ketchup a little much, it sort of distracted from the other flavours and made the burger feel a bit ordinary.  I don’t think I’d realised that most of the street food burgers have forgone ketchup, but this was a reminder of why – it overpowers the rest of the ingredients.

    whats_your_beef_burger_battle_oct15To me the clear winner was The Beefy Boys and their The Chipotle Boy burger.  The ketchup of the What’s Your Beef burger just overpowered it too much to be able to really tell what the rest of the burger.  I don’t know what the semi-brioche bun was about, but I liked that it had more structure that the alternative burger.  The judges on the evening and the public vote also went to The Beefy Boys, so it wasn’t just me!

    Sadly, there are no more UK Burger Battles planned, and this was the last one in Birmingham.  However that’s not to say that there won’t be others elsewhere, there has already been one in Leicester so it’s always worth keeping an eye on https://twitter.com/ukburgerbattle

    Disclosure: I paid for my own ticket to the burger battle. But I wouldn’t be overly positive about a burger that didn’t warrant it, because burgers are important.