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    Events

    What Would Elvis Eat?

    Part-play, part-tribute act This is Elvis is showing at the New Alexandra Theatre for the next few days and it made me think, if The King of Rock and Roll really were in town, where would he eat.

    Charting Presley’s monumental return to performing live for the first time in seven years via his ’68 Comeback Special’ and residency in Las Vegas, This is Elvis is a hell of a lot of fun, and I say that as someone who is probably more familiar with cover-versions of the King’s songs.  Award-winning tribute artist and actor Steve Michaels, who plays Elvis, looks the part but more importantly performs with such energy it’s infectious.

    I wrote a more in-depth review of the show over on my other blog, but as Elvis’ diet and weakness for food was mentioned in the performance, I thought it might be quite fun to come up with a list of places in Birmingham Elvis might’ve liked…

    Burgers

    Some claim that Elvis was found dead with half a cheeseburger in his hand, which is almost certainly not true, but his love of cheeseburgers throughout his lifetime is well documented.  If the King were after a proper cheeseburger in Birmingham then his best bet would be either Original Patty Men or The Meatshack. Or maybe both.

    The Elvis Presley Milkshake

    Rightfully so, nowhere in Birmingham is made enough to make this calorie-laden monstrosity of smoked bacon, bananas, ice cream, bourbon, and peanut butter. But if shakes are what you’re after then try the rather charming sister venue in the San Carlo group in Selfridges, Gran Cafe, where you can get an indulgent cake shake, but with a much coherent flavour combination.

    Southern Fried Chicken

    On the menu at his 1967 wedding to Priscilla, but if you’re after fried chicken in Birmingham then new-kid-on-the-block, Bonehead is definitely the place to try.  And bonus points are that it’s just round the corner from the Alex Theatre too.

    Breakfast

    In James Gregory’s 1960 biography of Presley, there’s a note for anyone interested in dating Elvis, it reads: “Note for his future wife: Elvis loves enormous breakfasts complete with sausage, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, home-baked rolls, and coffee. He has a tremendous appetite at breakfast. His wife should never develop elegant or expensive tastes.”

    For a proper hearty breakfast Cherry Reds on John Bright Street or Gas Street Social in the Mailbox will do a good fry up, minus the airs and graces.  But if you’re after something bottomless but refined, then try the Electro Brunch at Gaucho on Church Street.

    The show is at the New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until 24 March before it continues its national tour.  For tickets, visit atgtickets.com/Birmingham.

    This was a press event. Photographs were taken by Pamela Raith.

    Cafe News, News

    Cherry Reds Kings Heath is closing…

    Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is closing.  It hasn’t closed yet, but it is closing.  That’s the essence of this blog post and I want you to remember that it’s as simple as that.  A whole pile of things have closed or are threatened with closure and there are rumours swirling about, much like the current weather. But with Kings Heath’s Cherry Reds, it’s a lot simpler.

    Jen, the owner of Cherry Reds, asked to have a chat with me about this and honestly I thought it was going to be a therapy session because I bloody love Cherry Reds.  I love the Kings Heath Cherry Reds even though it took over the greasy spoon cafe I had an affinity towards because it served me sausage and bacon sandwiches when I first moved to Kings Heath.

    “People asked how I got started, and the simple answer is with experience and savings from running pubs for M&B, as well as help from friends and family” says Jen. And this comes through, Cherry Reds is the sort of low-key place that caters for a multitude of dietary requirements without having fifty-thousand menus to certify this; vegan cake sits alongside cake with lashings of buttercream and you can order a vegan full English just as easily as you can a meaty one. No one judges you for ordering tea and cake on a Friday night, and there’s a great selection of beers without being all holier-than-thou about its craft beer credentials. The staff are consistently lovely, from letting your pregnant friend queue-jump a sudden influx of people because you were saving the table, through to explaining the ins and outs of Pokemon Go.

    It might well be their Twitter handle, but it’s true. I do love Cherry Reds. But more importantly, so does Jen; “A few years back I was having a mini-meltdown, probably about some unconstructive negative review online, and one of the team tried to comfort me by saying that I take these things too personally. It occurred to me that she was right, I do take it personally.”

    So why is Cherry Reds in Kings Heath closing? Rumours have been going around for a while that it was going to turn into this, that and the other. Or with seemingly a new coffee shop opening in Kings Heath daily, has Jen had enough? Nope, it’s a lot simpler than that…it’s about putting down roots and making the painful decision to let something you love go, so it can become better. “Last year while still trying to find the money for a deposit on a house, I asked myself whether I had the energy and funds to invest in Kings Heath too, which seven years on needs a new lease of life. I feel a new owner could do it better and allow me to move on to other projects.”

    “I never really intended to do Cherrys on a bigger scale, but the momentum kicked in and when thing started clicking into place and I thought I’d see how much I could borrow. John Bright St opened in September 2014, again things were tight, a few months in a row I was late paying people which was definitely the lowest point, but they stuck by me, which I’ll never forget” admits Jen. “I may have done it the hard way, but the whole point was to be my own boss, make my own mistakes and trust my own long game, so an investor was out of the question for me.”

    “Growth for the sake of growth, take more money, spend less every year. Kudos to those people who have built big businesses from nothing, but it’s not a road I think ends well for staff or customer experience.” And whilst so many other places might bang on about customer experience, people are at the heart of Cherry Reds – both the customers and the staff. Jen is thankful for both; “I have been fortunate enough to work with and serve some awesome humans over the last seven years, as well as working alongside great businesses made up of more great humans. I thank them all for truly caring, helping me build my little business and making the tough times worth getting through.”

    Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is closing because Jen wants it to become more, to flourish. And we’re not losing Cherry Reds entirely; “John Bright St Cherrys will continue to bring a little bit of the Kings Heath spirit into the city centre.” Jen tells me. And for that I’m thankful, because in a sea of chain coffee shops, pre-ripped wallpaper and overly complicated menus, there still sits a corner of the city where Cherry Reds stands out as the kind of place which welcomes everyone, without any fuss. And there’s nothing more Brummie than that.

    Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is currently up for sale and will close when a new buyer is found – which means you still have time to go. I’ll keep you updated.

    Musings, Round ups

    International Women’s Day 2017

    FAIRY

    I know, on the face of it, International Women’s Day might not have a lot to do with the food and drink scene in a city in England.  However, for anyone who has been paying attention you will have noticed that it’s a bit of a sausage fest, and most of the well known names are distinctly male.  So I figured today was a good day to celebrate some badass women doing cool stuff in Birmingham – apologies to all those who I missed off the list, I ran out of time!

    Amy Seton and Victoria Osgood, Whisky Birmingham festival and Birmingham Whisky Club

    Whisky has this reputation for being a bit of an old man’s drink so if you’re young and female then you expect a bit of confusion when you turn up to whisky events.  But imagine being a woman and the organisers of the best whisky festival in the city and a whole raft of great whisky events too?  Yeah, that is not going to be the easiest thing ever, but Amy and Vicky know their stuff and put on some great events highlighting some great whiskies from around the world with some top-notch speakers. http://thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/

     Holly Jackson, Carters of Moseley

    I’ve been lucky enough to visit Carter’s a few times over the years and whilst there is no doubt about how fantastic the food is, that Michelin star was well deserved; but it was the relaxed, friendly but entirely on point service that drew me back in.  And for that, Maitre d’ and proprietor Holly must be congratulated.  Thank you for creating a place that feels like a real treat, but somewhere you can relax and not feel like you’re being observed like a specimen in a lab. http://cartersofmoseley.co.uk/

    Imogen Hudson, Jen Smith, Holly Smith and Jen Nadin (Cherry Reds). Picture, used with permission, by Jas Sansi

    Jen Nadin, Cherry Reds

    I bloody love Cherry Reds. This will come as no surprise to anyone who interacts with me on social media; it’s often my most recommended place because it covers nearly all dietary requirements without making a song and dance about it, has a great beer selection and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.  And no one minds when you order tea and cake on a Friday night.  Jen is the brains behind Cherry Reds and for that I salute her. http://www.cherryreds.com/

    Marverine Cole aka Beer Beauty

    Marverine is Birmingham’s first Beer Sommelier, as accredited by the UK Beer Academy, in another industry typically associated with men.  As well as winning award for her beer videos, she has appeared on a bunch of TV shows promoting Britain’s national drink. http://www.marverinecole.co.uk/beer-expert.html

    Martha and Molly, Loaf

    I think all the staff at Loaf are great but special mention to Martha and Molly who put up with me every Saturday morning after I’ve rolled out of bed and headed to Loaf, pre-coffee and still half asleep.  As well as starting my day with one of their delicious croissants, a quick chat with them is a great start to the day. http://loafonline.co.uk/

    Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaroon, promotional photo

    Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaron

    Rosie trained as a high-end pastry chef at University College Birmingham and worked at the Michelin-starred Purnell’s restaurant before founding Miss Macaroon.  As well as making these sweet treats, they provide employment and training programmes aimed at young people who have left care, slipped through the education system or find themselves homeless. https://missmacaroon.co.uk/

    Kaye Winwood

    If you’ve been to any slightly out there events in Birmingham that fuse food and art together, chances are that Kaye has been behind them.  From her work with Companis through to last year’s Diabolical Roses and the upcoming Expanded Intimacy, Kaye has been producing immersive dining experiences, which are a highlight in Birmingham’s calendar. http://kayewinwood.com/

    Opus Restaurant Irene Allen, photo used with permission

    Irene Allen, Opus

    Director of Opus on Cornwall St and Bar Opus in Two Snowhill, Irene and her team have been doing some stellar work supporting young people in the hospitality trade with their links with University College Birmingham and their commitment to sustainability.  And their prix fixe menu is a really good deal. http://www.opusrestaurant.co.uk/

    Pip, Pip’s Hot Sauce

    I recently marinated some chicken in Pip’s BBQ sauce and it was bloody delicious, which is hardly surprising as Pip’s sauce has a cult following in the city.  Often found manning her own stall at various markets in the city, Pip’s Hot Sauce is made in small batches and can even be made up as wedding favours, which sounds like a superb idea. http://www.pipshotsauce.co.uk/

    Katie Rouse of Crushed & Cubed

    Katie has spent a good deal of time making sure that Birmingham’s independent scene has some decent drinks.  As a bartender she has been seen slinging cocktails behind bars at The Victoria, Jekyll & Hyde and The Botanist. But taking the step up, she’s currently managing director of Crushed & Cubed, making sure that there are some interesting bottles on the city’s independent back bars so we punters have something good to drink. https://twitter.com/CrushedandCubed

    Happy International Women’s Day ladies (and gents) – lets raise a glass to those women making Birmingham great!

    Musings

    Where independents lead, chains will follow…

    img_5712Brummies, we’ve got to stop being so harsh about our city.

    This morning I awoke to a headline in the Birmingham Post’s daily bulletin “Restaurants being ‘pushed out’ of Birmingham city centre by big chains” and of course it was the first thing I read (before coffee, rarely a good idea).  And I wondered if I was living in another Birmingham.

    Whenever I head to Manchester, I jump off the train, swing a right and make a bee line for the Northern Quarter and all its fab little indie hot spots; I’ve been to Bristol several times and yet to find any shops, but I know several streets with some great eateries; but Birmingham, we’re a bit messier than that.

    We don’t have a maze of streets, a Northern Quarter or such ilk.  In fact, I saw a similar discussion unfold about the city’s creative sector and where our ‘Northern Quarter’ was, because good lord to we like to compare ourselves to Manchester.  But even then I pointed out that we don’t have a quarter, we have Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter and Moseley and Kings Heath.  We don’t have a quarter, because our independent scene is a lot more scattered than that.

    As I see it, independent venues are usually risk takers, leaders if you will, doing something a little bit different in the city.  And without the purse of a large chain behind them, they opt to go on the outskirts where rent is cheap.  Take John Bright St for example.  For nearly five years there was nothing worth visiting there except The Victoria.  It took years before Brewdog (its indie qualities debatable), followed by Cherry Reds and now the chains – Turtle Bay, The Stable (51% shares of the company belong to Fuller’s brewery), easyhotel is looking to build, rumours of a pub chain too.  And Moseley seems to be going the same way.

    Independents lead the way, more often than not the chains follow.

    And that must be incredibly frustrating for some; just as an area is beginning to get a reputation for being worth going to, those chains with buying power can use their reputation and wallets to beat the places that made it worth going to in the first place.

    useitloseit

    Another post I wrote recently on a similar topic

    So are Birmingham’s independents being pushed out of the city centre?  I’d argue it was never really their playground to start with.  I’ve never considered Birmingham city centre to be a haven for independents, but then again neither have I Bristol nor Manchester.

    And I’m not belittling the need for more centrally located independent venues, because I don’t want Birmingham to become a homogeneous version of every other city centre.  But I also don’t expect to see Grand Central Birmingham awash with them either (that said the excellent Yaki Nori, a Birmingham independent, is in there).  Rents in the city centre are high, of course they are, they’re prime locations and as city on the up it’s hard to see this stopping.  And landlords want the safe bet of a national chain they know will pay.  It’s massively frustrating as someone that wants to sit in an Andy Low ‘n’ Slow or The Meatshack venue, but can’t because they can’t find space.

    And it’s not all doom and gloom: Original Patty Men have managed to find a great location tucked around the corner from the Bullring; Nomad are right by New Street Station; the Jewellery Quarter is awash with places; suburbs like Moseley, Kings Heath and Harborne have got some great indie eateries; and of course we can’t forget the likes of Sparkhill and Sparkbrook where the majority of the Balti Belt in indie.  Hell, get an Independent Birmingham card, show there is an appetite for independent venues in the city.

    Don’t be fatalistic; demand better, support what we’ve got, and don’t give up.

    Musings

    Birthday weekend

    Greetings!  Sorry for the silence but it was my birthday over the weekend, so it’s been a roller-coaster of eating delicious foods, drinking gin, dancing, opening presents, hanging out with friends and generally having a great time.  Here’s a quick update on what I got up to…

    Purnell’s Restaurant

    This has been on my ‘to eat at’ list for ages and my birthday seemed like a good excuse.  I left it a bit late and entirely didn’t expect to be able to get in for pre-birthday dinner, but the restaurant-gods were looking favourably on me, so mum and I snapped up a cancellation.  We went for the Reminisce tasting menu, a playful reinterpretation of well-loved meals from the 1970s onwards.  I might do a post about it later, but suffice to say for now it was a fantastic experience and the dishes were delicious. Also, my mum voluntarily ate bread and finished both pudding courses (and half of mine), which just added to the surprise – as did the lovely note on my plate (see below)!  http://www.purnellsrestaurant.com/

    Cherry Reds – John Bright St

    Having a birthday which always falls so close to Shrove Tuesday means you learn to associate pancakes with good things.  It was also something we used to whip up at university halls, and in an old house I lived in we’d have pancakes on birthdays and bank holidays.  Those old housemates and I used to go to Cherry Reds in Kings Heath, but I wanted to invite friends from further a’field so booked some space in the Cherry Reds in town.  I got my pancakes, others had Full English’s there were presents, an entertaining playlist of songs and lots of fun.  I love Cherry Reds’ laid back, comfortable feel, but with a deceptively expansive menu which means everyone can find something. And the staff are lovely.  http://www.cherryreds.com/

    The Church JQ

    I was lucky enough to have friends who wanted to join me that I needed two celebrations on the day, so I booked some space at The Church in the Jewellery Quarter.  They already had in a large party, it was Mardi Gras celebrations and it turns out I miscounted so we had three more people show up, but they were gracious under pressure and managed to find some space.  Also, the jambalaya was as good as ever and one of my favourite cocktails, the Clover Club, is on the menu (admittedly theirs has a bit of a twist).  The staff were brilliant, the food was good and we stayed for a few more cocktails before heading off with our dancing shoes on to party away to some cheesy-classics!  http://www.churchjq.co.uk/

    Round ups

    January round up

    Eesh, is January over already? It’s one of those months that nearly everyone seems to hate and for a chunk of the month I certainly wasn’t its biggest fan.  But I was certainly cheered up by hearing all about a raft of new openings in the city, in fact there were so many I had to write two posts – and then another with a sneak peak of one of those.olivemag_jan15

    For those whose New Year’s Resolution was all about making a change, one of those new venues was advertising a selection of job opportunities.  Or maybe your resolution was more about learning to cook; if so then I headed off to a monthly Thai cooking class and got over my fear of deep-frying things!

    I also managed to finally get round to blogging some of my December antics – including the inaugural UK Burger Battle which was a hell of a lot of fun.  There was also more burger antics with the Meatshack’s Christmas pop up at Carter’s and another Moseley hot spot.

    But I also managed to talk about some events that were happening this year, both whisky related; January’s Burn’s Night and the fantastic return of the Whisky Birmingham Festival.  I also finally made it to Bar Opus thanks to Yelp Birmingham.  And there were also a few surprises too, including a childhood favourite making an appearance at Cherry Reds and the most wonderful was a mention on Olive Magazine’s website.

    And so it’s on to February! I’ve got a bunch of exciting blogposts – a trip to Lasan, Australia Day kangaroo burgers, a Valentine’s Day menu and much more.  But before I sign off, I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who shared, liked and commented on here, it really does mean a lot.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Chippy Tea at Cherry Reds (John Bright St)

    Just a quick post to celebrate what was an awesome special at Cherry Reds on John Bright St, last week.

    I can’t be the only one that has fond childhood memories of Friday night trips to the fish ‘n’ chip shop. In my case, when I was young, my sister and I would fight over who would go with my dad to collect our dinner – whoever went would be allowed a sneaky potato scallop for the walk home as long, as we didn’t tell mum. Since then I’ve always ordered the same thing; battered sausage and chips.

    So when I heard Cherry Reds were doing my Chippy Tea order as their special I didn’t even need to think about what I was going to have for dinner. Accompanied by a choice of mushy peas or baked beans, I went for the peas and they were lovely. The bizarre fashion of aligning mushy peas with a Mojito by overloading it with sugar and mint was thankfully absent and they were delicious and just the right consistency. The battered sausage, or rather battered sausages as there were two of them, were meaty and the batter was lovely and thick, yet crispy on the edges. Cherry Reds’ rustic chips gave a nice balance of texture between the sausage and peas.

    As a special this is sadly not permanently on the menu, but if you ask really nicely they might whip it up for you. And thanks to my Independent Birmingham card, I got a free drink to make it even more special!

    IMG_1348.JPG

    Despite it being the same order from childhood there were no grown-ups around to pay for my chippy tea at Cherry Reds so I paid for it by myself and definitely didn’t have to be nice (not that my dad would’ve been very impressed with me being nice if I didn’t mean it). I’m hoping I haven’t annoyed Cherry Reds too much by suggesting you should order it, but it was bloody good and I’m hoping it makes a regular return.