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    Round ups

    Festive Food (I forgot to tell you about)

    So yeah, sorry this is late and you won’t actually get to try and of these dishes because it’s January and everyone is regrowing their livers with a green juice “detox” or whatever BS people do in the New Year New Me cause.  But the point was really an aide memoire that there are places in Birmingham doing interesting things, and we should remember to check them out – because restaurants are for all months of the year, not just for December.

    Pigs in Blankets Eggy Crumpets from Wayland’s Yard

    Isn’t Wayland’s Yard great?  The first time we went in to this little cafe hiding on Bull St I thought it looked a bit like a Melbourne coffee shop, which is a compliment because Australians really know how to treat their coffee well and Melbourne has the best cafes in the world. So yes, the coffee in Wayland’s is good, but thankfully so is the food.  I say food, I always have the eggy crumpets, but if they’ half as good as that, you’ll be fine.  For Christmas this year, they had the above version, pigs in blankets eggy crumpets and It Was Good.  To be fair, you can order your eggy crumpets with chorizo and bacon all year round, so you can sort of get the same hit. And I highly recommend it.

    Wayland’s Yard, 42 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF

    The Meat Shack’s Santa Shack

    Usually I’m a classicist when it comes to burgers and I think it’s hard to beat a bacon cheeseburger, but there are a few places I’m willing to deviate from my normal and The Meat Shack on Thorpe St is one of those.  And over December, they were selling the Santa Shack, a burger which tasted liked Christmas between a bun.  I know because I had it more than once.  A beef patty, braised red cabbage, camembert, candy bacon crumb, chipotle – cranberry, ketchup, deep fried greens and mustard mayo with parsnip crisps on the side, it was filling and hearty without putting you into a Christmas-style food coma, and that was just spot on.  Sadly it was only a December delicacy, but I’m hoping if we campaign enough, they might bring it back again for a special.  Christmas in July anyone?

    The Meat Shack, 17 Thorp St, Birmingham B5 4AT

    Deep & Crisp & Vegan pie from Pieminister

    When vegan-food explorer extraordinaire Tasha from NutellaTasha invites you to lunch, it would be rude to say no.  And it would be rude not to go native and order vegan too, so that’s what I did.  The Deep & Crisp & Vegan pie from Pieminister has one of the best pun-tastic names from the festive season, and it was delicious.  A creamy vegan turkey pie with celeriac, smoked garlic & sherry, on a bed of mashed potato and topped with stuffing balls and cranberry sauce. YUM.

    Pieminister, 16 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5UG

    Mama Creaven’s roast pheasant

    Christmas even dinner is when my mum gets to have some fun, and so this year because she wasn’t cooking Christmas dinner, we had roast pheasant with bacon, onions and a red wine jus.  There was also vegetables, and the biggest surprise of all, potatoes. Whilst my mum’s idea of carbs is usually stealing mine when we go out for dinner, this delicious sauce warranted leaving nothing behind and spuds were just the ticket.  Sorry, you can’t book into my mum’s house for dinner, it’s hard enough for me to get an invite, but this was one of my favourite festive meals, so it deserved a mention.  If you want to know the recipe let me know and I’ll ask my mum.

    Nice try, I’m not telling you where my mum lives.

    Disclaimer: I call my mum mum, or Bernie if she’s not replying. We’re from Birmingham, I’ve never called her mom and I’m not about to start now. Also, I didn’t pay for dinner at my mum’s because that would be weird. I did pay for the burger and the crumpets and I was Tasha’s guest for pie but I don’t really think they cared who I was.

    Afternoon tea, Reviews

    A festive trip to The Edgbaston

    My friend’s birthday is two days before Christmas and we seem to have a traditional celebration of afternoon tea; last year we went to Leamington Spa, the year before Stratford-upon-Avon. But the end of this year has been a bit rubbish for both of us so we wanted to stay local, but still enjoy something fantastically indulgent.  I’ve already written about my experience of afternoon tea at The Edgbaston so when they could fit us in, I knew we’d be in for a great afternoon. And The Edgbaston didn’t disappoint!

    The above picture is of the amuse bouche is a suitably festive with Irish whisky and chocolate cream with shortbread and the table was dowsed with smoke that smelled like Christmas.  I’ve been to enough afternoon tea and a few festive ones to know that everyone tries to add an extra sparkle at Christmas but the Edgbaston’s afternoon tea nails it.  The afternoon tea itself had hints of festivity with turkey sandwiches and smoked salmon, snowflakes and mince pies.  It was even better than last time, the desserts are wonderfully delicate and the scones are a delight.

    Edgbaston_winter_afternoon_teaAnd then I may have convinced Beccy we should also enjoy some cocktails, tis the season and all.  These were two cocktails from their festive Christmas menu and I’m not sure if they’re on the menu anymore.  Mine was the short, whisky cocktail with mince pie flavours – and a mince pie garnish. Lovely stuff.  We also had a second cocktail each and I went for my favourite drink at The Edgbaston, the Clover Club 3000.
    Disclosure: We paid for our own afternoon teas and cocktails…I mean really, who needs birthday cake when you can have afternoon tea?!

    Drinks

    Keeping warm with Highland Park on Winter Solstice

    Last night I went on a magical tour of south Birmingham, past some pretty impressive suburban Christmas lights, getting off the bus to realise that winter has been incredibly late to the party but seems to be on its way.  And just in time for Winter Solstice too.

    With all the stressing about going to the other side of the world in a few days where it’s summer, I’d completely forgotten Winter Solstice was today but the nice people at Highland Park whisky reminded me. I’m not going to bore you with too much but the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere which means we get the least amount of sunshine.  And of course it’s a big celebration for lots of different cultures throughout history, but the people of the Orkney Island in Scotland get a big kick out of it largely due to their Neolithic archaeology, which they’re well known for.  Particularly notable are the Runic inscriptions, a bit like Viking graffiti, on the inner walls of the Maeshowe – a Neolithic chambered cairn, which does some pretty cool things with the angle of the sunshine around the Winter Solstice. Also, Viking graffiti!

    And with Winter Solstice being a significant time of year in the Nordic calendar and all that Viking history, you know the people of Orkney have a good reason to celebrate.  And they also make Highland Park whisky, which means when it’s bloody cold outside and they’re celebrating, they’ve got something to toast with.  The kind folk at Highland Park sent me a hip-flask of their Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky and a lovely snuggly scarf to keep me warm, so I can join in the fun too.  The Highland Park 12 Year Old is a lovely dram; to me it’s smooth, with honey sweetness, a touch of fruit and a hint of sweet peaty smoke, but not overkill.  I’ve been sipping it as I write this and I don’t think it’s going to last long, although I’m going to try and save some for later.

    Because I’ve been coughing for weeks, Hot Toddys are pretty much my favourite thing at the moment and I need to find a way to mix them up. I get sent a lot of recipes and a lot of them, particularly cocktail ones, make me wonder if anyone has any clue about balance.  But this one I think sounds alright, mainly because the Angostura bitters are going to balance out the sweetness from the honey, which itself compliments the Highland Park.  Rooibos tea you can get in most supermarkets, you can probably switch it out for another type of tea but given it’s said to boost the immune system it makes this drink pretty much medicinal, right?

    Highland Park Hot Toddy

    Firstly, heat your tea cup or mug, then add:

    • 50ml Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky
    • 1tsp honey
    • 130ml Rooibos Tea (tbh I just top up the glass)
    • Add a dash of Angostura bitters or aromatic bitters

    Give it a good stir and garnish with some lemon peel

    …And whilst you’re at the kettle, can you make me one too?

    Disclosure: Complimentary samples, not paid to say anything let alone positive…now can I go back to drinking whisky on a school night, please? It’s research.

    Round ups

    Christmas gift guide: Birmingham food & drink

    xmas_gift_guideDeck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la…it’s almost Christmas!  Hopefully you’ve all been good boys and girls and are sitting down to write your letters to Santa about all the loot you want for Christmas.  If that’s the case, then let me help you out.  Last year I came up with ten food and drink gifts you might want to indulge in, but this year I’ve got oh so much more ideas to share.

    This list is long but it is by no means exhaustive, I could’ve rambled on for days, but by then you’d have opened all your advent calendar doors and Rudolph would’ve come and gone.  But I did get a little overexcited with ideas, so I’ve split it into four categories; stocking fillers, gift cards, DIY and gifts that keep giving.

    Stocking Fillers

    So we don’t really do stockings in my family, the only one I’ve ever had was a Nightmare Before Christmas one handmade for me by my friend Beccy…it’s ace.  BUT, I hear they’re kinda a thing and rather than lumps of coal and oranges you might want to add something a little more exciting.

    • Gin lovers might like a bottle of HOCKLEY TONIC.  It’s a Birmingham-made tonic syrup, which added with some sparkling water, will lift your gin and let it taste its best – no more metallic aftertaste of cheap tonic for your friends!  Also, it’s a good gateway to get the gin-phobics in your life imbibing the stuff because most people who say they hate gin hate tonic. Get Hockley Tonic at Loki Wines.
    • If you want to get something that’s sweet for the recipient but leaves you with the warm fuzzies about doing some good, then head to social enterprise MISS MACARON in the Great Western Arcade.  They sell delicious macarons but also employ long term, unemployed young people, training them up to make the delicious macarons you nibble on.
    • So if your stockings are more figurative then what about a five litre mini-keg from FIXED WHEEL BREWERY?  Choose any of their beers you like, and prices start from £20 plus it means you’ll have something good to drink on the big day.  I’m a big fan of their Pope of Dope, a lemon and hibiscus saison.
    • Combining a classic card game (sort of) and mother’s ruin, check out JUST GIN, the world’s first gin top trumps, on sale by Birmingham’s own Gintleman for £8 plus postage.

    macaron_madamemoiselle

    Gift cards

    If you ask me, money as a Christmas present suggests a lack of imagination, that is unless the person really needs the money…in which case this entire post is a bit frivolous.  But if you want to get someone something but are crap at wrapping things, then gift cards are totally the way to go.  Because experiences, they’re often better than things…and this way you get the best of both.

    • On spotting this I was unreasonably excited, but CHERRY REDS do gift vouchers which means you can buy a friend brunch, beer…or halloumi (which is a cornerstone of Cherry Reds, surely).  With one on John Bright St in town and one in Kings Heath, there’s double the excuse to get one.
    • What about giving someone the gift of the ‘water of life’?  The always excellent BIRMINGHAM WHISKY CLUB have an array of vouchers, from Whisky Tasting Gift Vouchers available in £5 and £10 or how about a voucher for their annual Whisky Birmingham 2017 festival?  Or if you want something year round, there’s also their annual membership. Whisky fans rejoice!
    • For the vegetarians and vegans in your life then gift vouchers for 1847 in the Great Western Arcade are a great shout.  Buy them a sum of money or a voucher for a three course meal for two, because surely you should get in on the fun too.  Here’s what I made of their latest menu.
    • Ever wanted to treat your friend to a Michelin-starred meal?  Then check out CARTERS OF MOSELEY who do amazing food and let you buy gift vouchers. My sister bought me a voucher a couple of years ago, which was a total surprise when the email landed in my inbox, and proves that she is rather excellent.
    • If you’ve got a friend who loves food but you never know where they’ve already eaten, then why not get them an OPENTABLE voucher?  I tried it out using it at El Borracho de Oro earlier in the year and it was super simple.

    pouring_whisky_webDo it Yourself (or themselves)

    If you’ve got a friend that’s a dab hand at cooking up a storm, then why not buy them something that means they’ll improve their culinary expertise even further?  Better yet, buy them a cooking or drinks masterclass and then ask them to show you what they’ve learnt…that way you get to enjoy the gift too!

    • I entirely adore the team at LOAF COOKERY SCHOOL and having done three of their masterclasses now, I highly recommend them.  Whether it’s learning to make macarons, bread or a full day of learning some of the art of butchery, whoever attends one of their masterclasses is guaranteed to go home with plenty of  food – you never know, they might share.  Buy a gift voucher here.
    • If you know someone who always orders wine but knows nothing about it, why not send them to a beginners guide to wine class at LOKI WINE?  This two hour wine course will give them the basics to start exploring the world of wine.
    • If you’re looking for a group gift, then why not buy your friends a cocktail masterclass?  There’s plenty on offer in Birmingham from the likes of Island Bar, All Bar One, Bodega…check out the one I did at Revolution here.
    • Chocoholics should head down to the CHOCOLATE QUARTER in the Jewellery Quarter who do several chocolate related masterclasses.  I mean generally you should go there anyway, but if you’re looking for a present for a friend, I tried their truffle making masterclass earlier in the year and it was a lot of fun.

    making_sausages_group Gifts that keep giving

    Who wants to get all their presents at Christmas?  I mean you could be as rubbish as I am and end up not seeing friends until a few days after Christmas so you get to extend the gift giving season…but what about extending it even further, say for the whole year?  If that sounds up your street, here are a few ideas…

    • How about an INDEPENDENT BIRMINGHAM card?  This will get you some excellent discounts at the likes of Fiesta del Asada, several Michelin-starred restaurants, Peel & Stone and the Hippodrome theatre.  Because they’re up on the festive goodwill they’re on offer with one for £12 or two for £18, which is ridiculous bargain given how much you can save.
    • For coffee lovers, the team behind YORKS BAKERY CAFE have started Birmingham’s very first Birmingham-born coffee roastery.  As well as an array of brewing equipment, they do a coffee subscription whereby they’ll send a bag of 300g coffee every fortnight.
    • What do you get the person who has everything?  What about something a bit more left-field and a subscription to LOVE BRUM, a Birmingham charity who supports the local community to build an even better Birmingham.  Buy your loved one a membership for £20 and let them help supporting the projects they choose.

    So there we have it, just a few Birmingham food and drink inspired gifts you might want to give your loved ones this festive season.  Tell me, what are you hoping Santa leaves under the tree for you this December?

    Disclosure: No one gave me anything to be included in this gift list because I’m a terrible blogger. I just did this for the goodwill.

    Musings

    Happy Easter!

    Hot_cross_buns_basket_bunnyOkay, so I know that for most people the best thing, food wise, about Easter is chocolate but for me it’s hot cross buns – and more importantly that I get 40 days in which they’re entirely acceptable to eat them (unlike just a weekend of chocolate eggs).  I was going to do a post pitting buns from two of the city’s finest independent bakeries, but after much thought and many hot cross buns eaten, I’ve realised they both great.  So there you have it, thanks to the utterly wonderful Loaf in Stirchley and Peel & Stone in the Jewellery Quarter for consistently excellent hot cross buns.

    I’ve got six five hot cross buns left I picked up from Loaf this morning and I doubt they’ll last long, so whilst I’ll await their return next year, I just wanted to wish everyone a very merry Easter – here’s to bank holidays, excellent baked goods, a thriving food & drink scene and hopefully lots more exciting things to come!

     

    Round ups

    Ten food/drink gift ideas for Brummies

    christmas_gifts

    If you’re struggling to come up with a present for the food and drink lover in your life then here are a few ideas.  I’m pretty crap at knowing what I want for Christmas, but usually alright at buying stuff for other people.  These are mostly Birmingham-based and some are really good last minute ideas too…

    Independent Birmingham card

    Want to give someone a gift that keeps on giving, right through ’til next Christmas?  Then the Independent Birmingham card is perfect.  It has a positively dizzying array of discounts at a number of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as a bunch of non-food places (yeah, that’s a thing, who knew).  Did I mention there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant on their offer role?!  What’s more, they’re doing a deal if you buy two cards at once, so that’s one for a friend and one for you – after all, sharing is caring.

    Tickets to Whisky Birmingham

    Anyone else like presents which means you get to continue Christmas a few days after the 25th?  Well then, getting someone tickets for Whisky Birmingham festival means you can carry on celebrating right through until 12th March (that might be pushing it).  And what a celebration you’ll have as Birmingham’s festival of whisky and whiskey (and bourbon) showcases some of the best whiskies from around the world.  What better way to spend a Saturday?

    A bottle of Langley’s Gin

    A bottle of gin under the Christmas tree is always going to make me happy, but when it’s a bottle of the local stuff then event better.  Distilled in the B postcode area at the well respected Langley distillery, Langley’s Gin has a mix of eight traditional botanicals that produce a lovely smooth gin, which could be drunk over ice, as well as with a good quality tonic or in a cocktail.   

    A cookery class from Loaf

    Stirchley’s Loaf does more than just make amazing bread (seriously it’s great, as are their sweet bakes too), it also hosts a cookery school, teaching everything from bread basics to butchery, seafood and foraging.  As well as running some of the classes themselves, they also use a range of well known culinary geniuses from around the region.  I did the bread basics one a few years ago and went home with armfuls of bread, as well as more confidence in bread baking.

    Yipsy Macarons

    What do you get the person who has everything? Food of course, you can never have too much food! And whilst it’s Christmas, a bag full of cheese might be a bit much, but something light, delicate and indulgent would be perfect.  Yipsy Macarons’ limited edition Christmas-themed macarons include festive flavours of gingerbread and mince pies, and are hand decorated with snowflakes and other festive scenes.

    dotcomgiftshop

    Okay, not strictly Birmingham, but dotcomgiftshop do deliver here.  There’s lots of lovely food related things on there and I really like this recipe tin which I was recently sent – I’m terrible at remembering to write down recipes, so having this tin in the kitchen is really handy, as I can scrawl the ingredients down on a card and recreate the recipe later. 

    A hamper from Anderson & Hill

    Anderson & Hill is a great little deli in the Great Western Arcade and full of treats throughout the year (not least of all their epic sandwiches).  But at Christmas you can customise your own hamper – for a gift or just for your own really special Christmas.  With everything from cured meats to coffee, alcohol, chutneys as far as the eye can see and lots of other treats, the only real struggle you’ll have will be either finding a hamper large enough, or your wallet hampering your options.

    A cocktail masterclass

    Got a group of friends and getting a bit bored of secret santa?  Why not treat each other to a group cocktail masterclass?  There’s a bunch of places in Birmingham doing them, including Island Bar, The Edgbaston and Bar Opus, and you get the added benefit of avoiding dry January and having fun with your friends…and you don’t have to wrap anything.

    Gift vouchers for Carters

    So I can’t claim any credit for finding this one, my sister sent me a gift voucher for Carter’s of Moseley as last year’s Christmas present and I put it towards a Sunday supper which was awesome.  You can buy the gift vouchers in denominations for £20, £30, £50, £100 and £200 straight from Carter’s and can be put towards food and drink at this Michelin starred restaurant.

    Chocolates

    Okay, okay this is such an obvious one that I know you’ve already eyed up a selection box whilst in the supermarket.  But why not try something a little different?  Chouchoute in the Great Western Arcade opened in 2002 and sell luxury chocolates made by their artisan chocolatier.  Charlie’s Mom’s Chocolate Factory can often be found at craft fairs in and around the city (the latest one was Bearwood).  But of course there’s always a box of Cadbury’s Roses too.

    Disclosure: I wrote this because it’s Christmas and I wanted to do something nice.  Photos aren’t mine, they’re mainly promo photos, but the macaron photo is by stacie tamaki the chocolate by Artizone and the cocktail kit photo is by ProFlowers – all from Flickr.

    As featured in, Musings

    Festive Drinks in Area Guide

    area_guideSo, national Christmas adverts are flooding our TVs and timelines, and Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market (and Craft Market) has firmly entrenched itself into the city centre…so we’re clearly allowed to start talking festivities!  The folks at Area Guide let me waffle on about some delicious cocktails (and a beer) which are full of tradition and plenty warming for the autumn and winter months.   To read the article in full, head over to the online version of their November / December issue of Area Guide.