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    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    Lunch at Black Lab, Kings Heath


    Usually I wait till I get home until I write up a review, think about the experience overall and uh, digest stuff. But I’m sat in the window of Black Lab, a coffee bar and lounge in Kings Heath, where I’ve been waiting for half an hour for a sandwich and if I don’t focus on something then I’m going to start eating the potted plant I’m sat next to.

    Frankly I probably should’ve expected this when I tried to go earlier and it was inexplicably closed. And then I went to do some errands and walked past and it was open.  So I went in.  It’s has this nice shabby chic look to it, a bit grungy and mismatched furniture, exposed brickwork…you know, very Kings Heath.

    The drinks menu has some nice inclusions on there, particularly the spirits menu which has about four bottles per category and not just the same old typical ones. Compared to its sister suburb Moseley and a few notable venues aside, Kings Heath feels like more of a daytime place so it seems promising to have somewhere else nice and interesting to go in the evening.

    And the coffee menu is fairly to the point, which is what I’d expect from a coffee bar and lounge. But it seems to do it a disservice because whatever they’re doing the coffee is good. I went for a soya latte and it was deliciously sweet and creamy, with a nice head of foam. In hindsight it didn’t need the sugar, but the cube I dropped in suspended nicely.  Frankly if I wasn’t so annoyed at having to wait over half an hour for a toastie I’d have ordered another.  But I’ll be dammed if I’m going to buy a second drink because it takes so long for my food to arrive.chorizo_sandwich_black_lab_kings_heath

    Initially I’d tried to order the Serrano, mozzarella and spinach toastie, only to be told it wasn’t on the menu…despite being in the actually menu I ordered from. Something about causing too many accidents, so I went for its sister version with chorizo. After an age it finally arrived and whilst it wasn’t worth the half hour wait, it was delicious. The bread had been well toasted but still retained a buoyancy that meant you didn’t fear any accidents biting into it and the ratios of  Serrano, mozzarella and spinach were spot on.

    Black Lab looks like a great little space and certainly feels a lot more Kings Heath than the odd little cafe there before. What they’re serving is very good, and diversifying a bar/lounge to be useful during the day is a sound idea, but if they’re going to do this they maybe need to rethink their approach.  Kings Heath isn’t exactly known for good places for coffee and Black Lab should probably make more of a song and dance about theirs. But they should probably buy another sandwich press too.

    Black Lab, 100 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ

    Disclosure: the sandwich, the coffee, me paying for it and the epically long wait were all real. Pretty sure they didn’t know I was writing this up.

    Drinks, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Starbucks Red Cups come early to Brum

    Starbucks_056There are certain signs that Christmas is on its way; Cocoa Cola TV adverts, Christmas lights switch ones and the return of festive mugs in coffee shops.  So when I heard Starbucks in Birmingham’s Selfridges was launching their red cups a little early to coincide with the department store’s Christmas launch, I couldn’t help but go find out more.

    With Selfridges choosing a treasure theme for this year’s Christmas display, Starbucks have followed suit in their two in-store venues (the other being in London).  This means that as well as the red cups making a return early, the store has some exclusives including gold merchandise and gold sprinkles, which I was a bit too enthusiastic about (glittery sprinkles make everything better).

    Now I consider coffee to be two different things; stuff I’ll drink neat with nothing added to it, and what I call ‘Disco Coffee’ – coffee, mainly lattes, with flavoured syrups.  If I’m in Starbucks it’s nearly always because I’m ordering a Disco Coffee.  So trying their new Christmas blend coffee neat was a new experience for me.  I found it a lot more drinkable than their regular filter coffee (which I’ve tried once and instantly vowed never again); it doesn’t taste as bitter and unusually tickles the sides of the tongue, which was kinda fun.  I’ve been given some to take home, so I’ll be giving this another try.

    Hot choc with gold sprinklesTheir new drink this year is the Honey and Almond Hot Chocolate.  I had mine with soya milk and for someone who’s not overly keen on hot chocolate, I managed to drink the lot – the sweetness offset by my lack of lunch.  There’s a definite and delicious nuttiness from the almond syrup which is complemented by the honey.  It wasn’t too rich or sickly sweet either, which made it a nice little indulgence, though I don’t think you’d want to drink too many unless you were looking to gain a Santa style belly.  Also, mine was covered in gold sprinkles which are always going to help win me round.

    There were some other Disco Coffee drinks returning; Eggnog, Toffee Nut and (my personal favourite) Gingerbread lattes.  I was surprised to hear that Starbucks estimate there are 80.000 different ways to customise their drinks, so next time I find myself in one I’m going to try a gingerbread hot chocolate.

    The red cups return to Starbucks UK stores officially on 4th November, with reward card holders being able to get them from the 30th October if they ask nicely.  This means I just need to see a ‘Holidays are Coming’ advert and Christmas is officially on its way.

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Starbucks in Selfridges and given products to try, free of charge, in exchange for an honest review.  I wasn’t obliged to give a positive review, which you’ve probably realised from my views on their filter coffee.  Photos belong to Starbucks and/or their PR people.

    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


    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.

    Product reviews, Reviews

    Review: Beanies gingerbread flavour instant coffee

    Having started a new job three months ago, I’m now dangerous close to a coffee shop which does delicious dairy-free Gingerbread Lattes.  What started off as a bit of a treat has become almost a daily occurrence, which neither my purse nor waistline are particularly happy about.

    photo 3So when I was in the supermarket I stumbled across the coffee and tea isle and found a range of flavoured coffees.  Now instant coffee is something I usually shun; I find it bitter and frankly I’d rather drink tea or water.  I like coffee, but the instant stuff I just can’t get on with.

    However, when I found Beanies gingerbread flavour instant coffee I thought it might be worth giving it another try.  Beanies do a range of flavoured coffees but given my aforementioned love of gingerbread lattes I thought this was the best one to try.

    On breaking the golden seal you’re hit with a strong aroma.  It’s not so much the typical gingerbread flavour that I’m used to but instead smells more like a rich ginger cake.

    Sadly once I added hot water the flavour seems to be lost.  Despite the label telling you there’s no need for sugar, I’d disagree; the sweetness helps bring out the flavour, as much as it can.  I’ve now tried this black, with almond milk and cow’s milk, with and without sugar, and the gingerbread is, at most, very feint.  It is drinkable, the added sugar and flavouring masks the usual bitterness from instant coffee, but it just doesn’t have that delightful gingerbread flavour that tempted me in.

    I really wanted to like this.  At just under £3 for a 50g jar it would’ve been a bargain compared to countless trips to Costa, but despite the whopping ginger-cake aroma from the dried coffee, the flavour was lacking in the actual drink. Unlike most instant coffees this is perfectly drinkable without milk, which is a definitely positive to me.  But sadly it just doesn’t give the pleasant gingerbread taste I wanted.  I’ve read other blogs that suggest the Amaretto Almond flavour is lovely and this might be one to try at some point, but in terms of gingerbread coffee it’s still a coffee shop for gingerbread flavoured coffee that remains triumphant.