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fine dining

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Two Cats Roaming, March 2015

    You’d think given my life is basically punctuated by what I’m having for dinner I’d be better at keeping a track of when I last ate somewhere, but apparently not. I still can’t believe it’s been eight months since I last visited a Two Cats Roaming pop up, but that was when I last blogged about it and their food is so pretty I wouldn’t pass up an excuse not to share the photos.  However, I finally got round to revisiting them at their latest pop up at the newly opened Six Eight Kafe at Millennium Point, last month.

    Best described as New Baltic (at least according to their Facebook page), their five day residency at 6/8 was a fine example of the inventive yet tasty cuisine that chef Nick Astley and his partner Diana have come to be known for.

    First off we were treated to a linseed crisp with smoked eel and bacon pate, topped with celeriac noodles, and a cheese and cep cookies with cheese custard.  Both excellent to nibble at before the larger courses arrived.

    1 linseed crisp and ced cookie

    Delivered next to the tabled were chunks of bread nestled in brown paper bags to keep them nice and warm.  Soft, doughy but with a nice crust, this bread is always delicious and this was no exception.

    2 warm bread in a bag

    The Tartare ‘Olivier’ of beef, smoked duck, lumpfish, roe, coal, tarragon, pickled swede and chicken liver pate was delicated decorated with edible flowers and a quail’s egg with the shell still on.  There was some debate about whether this was the best way to enjoy the egg – I enjoyed the almost savoury mini-egg concept with the lightly crunchy shell, but one was enough for me (unlike actual mini-eggs which I’m convinced have addictive properties).

    3 quail egg and tartare olivier

    The soft shell crab with elderflower vodka and sourdough batter was just fantastic.  Wonderfully light batter, thanks to the vodka, alongside squid ink, flowers and kale was quickly re-named the best dish of the night by my friend Katie – a battle which raged for most of the night.

    4 soft shell crab

    For me though, my favourite dish of the night was definitely the pork belly with clear onion broth wild garlic oil, crackle and potato.  The onion and garlic broth was fantastically packed with flavours and the delicious pork topped with crackle was spot on.

    5 pork belly

    There were a couple of mysterious additions on the menu, one of which was just entitled ‘sorrel’ and this is exactly what arrived; stone-cold and fresh from the freezer this was dusted with icing sugar and needed to be eaten straight away.  Fresh, sweet but with a lemony zing this was an unusual palate cleanser but at least I could report back to my mum I’d definitely had my greens that day.

    Our first pudding was sliced apple with hazelnut praline, ice cream and dill.  This was my favourite of the puddings because I’m a sucker for anything with hazelnut in it.

    6 apple hazelnut ice creamNext up the Little Sponge of curds, fennel, elderflower, flowers and blueberries looked pretty but was probably my least favourite – I just can’t get on with curds.

    7 little spongeAnd then the final mysterious dish ‘potato’ had gained ridiculous suggestions from our end of the table all night but what arrived, much to Lauren’s delight, was choux pastry filled with sweet cream and covered in biscuit soil. A fantastic end.

    8 potato profiterole

    I’m aware of how pretentious this might sound but I love that we’re now at the stage where Birmingham has a fine-dining pop-up scene.  It’s pretty awesome that people, chefs and diners alike, are willing to take a chance on something a bit different in the city and it feels like Two Cats Roaming have been a real catalyst for this.  Although I’m equally excited that they’ve just announced that they’ll be opening their own permanent restaurant in the Jewellery Quarter, it doesn’t take away from the fact they’ve really helped push the food scene in the city into something new and exciting.  This evening was brilliant and I won’t leave it so long to return.

    https://www.facebook.com/twocatskitchenbirmingham/

    Disclosure: Nothing to see here, I paid for this all out of my own money and I’d totally do it again.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Lasan, Jewellery Quarter

    Talk about famous Birmingham restaurants and bets are someone will mention Lasan pretty quickly.  It’s not hard to see why, with it’s Indian fusion, fine dining cuisine and nationwide recognition from being voted Best Local restaurant by Gordon Ramsey’s F Word to inclusion on BBC’s Great British Menu and several British Curry Awards.

    After enjoying food a few times as Lasan’s sister venues, Fiesta del Asado and Raja Monkey, I was keen to try Lasan for the first time and so my friend Ed and I ventured down to see what all the fuss was about.  We had a look at the menu, but after hearing rave reviews about the tasting menu we decided to treat ourselves.

    First up was an Amouse Bouche, an Indian broth of reduced lamb stock, black cardamom and cream with a sort of na’an breadstick on the side.  This was deliciously creamy and certainly set me up for the next few courses.  After that was a smoked duck samosa with sweet tamarind chutney and cucumber.  Although tiny this was delicious and a little sweet, with perfectly cooked pastry and I’d certainly have been happy to eat this again.  Our third dish was Kekda, soft shell crab dipped in ajwain and Kashmiri chilli batter which was inspired by the winning fish course on the BBC’s Great British Menu and so I had high hopes.  It was nice and the crab was beautifully light and dainty, but if I’m honest I wanted a bit more spice.

    Continuing the fish theme was Sarson ki Jhinga; a fresh water prawn marinated in mustard, turmeric and lemon, served with grapefruit, orange and fennel shoots.  The prawn was lovely and meaty with the turmeric giving it a nice flavour without being overpowering.  The accompanying salad garnish was also a lovely zingy contrast to the prawn and its marinade.  The Nellore Chappa, a pan fried fillet of wild Cornish bass on slow cooked aubergine was equally delightful with a lovely crisp ship and flavoursome meat.

    Until this point everything I’d eaten had been lovely, but a real standout dish for me was the Haleem; a speciality from Hyderabad of mutton cooked slowly with pearl barley and lentils, with fresh ginger, fried onions and lime.  Named after the Persian for ‘patience’ because of time needed to cook it, this was a wonderful, complex mix of savoury mutton with a hint of heat from the ginger and a nice twist of citrus.  I would go back for this dish alone.

    The last savoury dish was Hiran Achari – slow braised haunch of venison and pearl onion bhuna and tandoori spiced loin of venison with Bengalo sauteed chard and okra bhajee and picked pumpkin puree served with Achaar gravy.  Beautifully cooked with a lovely pink hue to the meat this was a close runner up for me in terms of favourite dishes.  I’m not sure the dish really needed the rice and na’an bread, but I was pleased to see their inclusion and would certainly allay any fears someone might have of fine dining being tiny portions.

    IMG_1418.JPGTo finish the sweet course was Bombay Mess, a twist of the classic Eton Mess with mango mousse, raspberry sorbet, berries, mango, pineapple and meringue with a hint of cardamom and Thai basil.  I much preferred this to Eaton Mess with its fresh flavours, contrasting textures and bright colours, it had a lovely simple playfulness to it and beautifully executed dessert.

    By this point both Ed and I were pretty full, which is a bit of an unusual feeling after a fine dining menu.  Each of the dishes had its own unique flavour and whilst the Haleem was a particularly favourite, I would struggle to pick one I didn’t like.

    The tasting menu was a great introduction to the breadth and complexity of flavours in the dishes at Lasan.  Having eaten there it’s easy to see why they’re rated so highly amongst Brummies and a host of celebrities, as well as chefs.  I’m looking forward to returning and trying some dishes from their menu soon.

    http://www.lasan.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Lasan by the team to give my honest opinion on the food.  A certain portion of the bill was deduced and the rest Ed and I paid for ourselves, although this didn’t mean I had to be nice about the food. Please note, that the photo of Hiran Achari also includes what is apparently becoming a sort of ‘photo-bombing’ of food blogging photography where your dinner guest partially ends up in the photo. Although Ed made me re-take this photo because he didn’t like the first one.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Lunch at Restaurant Epi, Bromsgrove

    There’s so many great pop-ups in Brum that I can’t always get to them and sadly that was the case when the team at Restaurant epi did a pop up practically round the corner from where I live.  Thankfully though, they’d set up a semi-permanent location out in Bromsgrove, so my mum and I went along to try out their lunch.

    Chef Nathan Eades and his partner Charlie make up Restaurant Epi, who started initially as a three night pop up that proved so successful they launched it full time.  Previous to Epi, Nathan started his career at The Royal Oak and also worked in Nailcote Hall, where he met his wife and business partner Charlie.  He’s also worked in Swinfen Hall and Wedgewood Hotel in Vancouver, so coupled with Charlie’s extensive events background they make a great team to set up a restaurant.DSC_1059

    Bromsgrove high st is much like most high streets in the area, but tucked away down a passageway is a beautiful old building, the Courtyard, which is where Restaurant Epi is located.  The Courtyard is both a cafe and fine dining, which is a little confusing at first but as we were spirited to a lovely room upstairs which maintains the building’s old world charm in a lovely comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.  After having our orders taken we were given some deliciously soft, and very moreish, bread.  I love bread but if my mum, who rarely eats carbs (unless she’s stealing mine), goes in for seconds then you it’s good – and she did!  For starters I went for ham hock which was lovely; it wasn’t too salty nor dry and accompanied by an apple puree was just delightful.  Mum said the salmon was lovely and tasty too.

    DSC_1062

    Main course my mum carried on the the fish selection, Hake, I think, which she said was superbly cooked with a nice texture to the skin and meat and the accompaniments added an excellent flavour.  I went for the beef shin which was a nice chunk of meat, something which can’t often be said for fine dining.  Beef shin is so often relegated to stews but it was nice to see it pride of place on a menu and cooked suitably.  The mashed potato and veg gave it a real hearty vibe but without being too stodgy.

    DSC_1067

    For pudding mum decided she was full, but that didn’t stop her ‘helping’ me eat my slow-cooked pineapple, coconut sponge, and pineapple granite.  Pudding can be a little bit of a tricky course, with so many places offering something a bit boring and obvious; I loved this for not being a chocolate pudding but having a lovely freshness to it that just rounded off the meal wonderfully.  The icy pineapple granite was zingy and worked really well with the coconut sponge and juiciness of the slow-cooked pineapple.  A really unfussy dish which was just delightful.

    DSC_1068

    A note must be made about the waiting staff too, who were just wonderful.  Both my mum and I were really impressed with their professionalism and attention to detail.  I find the wait staff at fine dining establishments can sometimes be a little too suffocating, but the team at Epi had the perfect balance of being there when you needed them, but giving space to enjoy the meal.

    Bromsgrove might be somewhere I’ve not ventured to before, but my experience at Epi was smashing and I’d certainly be willing to go back.  Though I’d definitely make my mum order her own pudding.

    http://www.epirestaurant.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down by Epi for a complimentary meal to try out their lunch options.  I wasn’t obliged to write anything nice and the pudding-stealer aka my mother wasn’t either.  I also decided my camera should come on our adventure to Bromsgrove – the photos are mine so please don’t use them without permission.

    Pop-up and Event reviews

    Lunch at The Skills Show

    When I was invited to attend a lunch cooked by students as part of The Skills Show, the first thing that crept into my head was a Whitney Houston song. Once that was over, I remembered a course that was hosted at University College Birmingham, which gave me the perfect opportunity to visit the bakery and purchase delightful bread and cakes made by students. So of course I said yes.

    The lunch was part of the Skills Show, the UK’s largest careers event for young people, jam-packed with exhibitors from further education, apprenticeships and industry. Organisers Find a Future, are keen on experiential learning, so there were plenty of hands-on demos for students to talk part in, simulation centres and the chance to prepare and serve lunch overseen by Aktar Islam, from The Lasan Group.break_starter

    The bread, which I had such fond memories of, was served first and was deliciously warm and as good as I remembered. Then the first course, deep-fried soft-shell crab, crab cakes and tomato chutney. I’ve never eaten deep fried soft-shelled crab, but it was lovely and delicate with flavoursome batter that somehow didn’t overpower the crab, nor was it greasy.

    For main we had Aktar’s take on the Great British Roast: Ox cheek, spiced sirloin of beef, Yorkshire pudding, buttered vegetables and beluga lentils. The ox cheek was beautiful; it fell apart at the slightest touch and had such a wonderful flavour it made me wonder why it’s not on more menus. The spiced beef had been cooked well and the spice worked with the meat rather than overpower it. And call me simple, but I adore a Yorkshire pudding and they’re so rarely done well, but this one was; it was neither dry, burnt nor greasy.main_pudding

    For pudding we were served Spiced Queen of Puddings, which was beautifully presented. It tasted a bit creamy and with my lactose intolerance playing up I only ate a little, though I was the only person at the table to leave any. The raspberry sorbet cut through the creaminess to add extra dimension in flavour and the marshmallow tips were lovely and smooth.

    During the meal the service by the students was excellent, neither too overbearing nor scare. My drink remained topped, plates were cleared efficiently and they were very passionate about their courses. Afterwards Aktar came over and spoke to each table individually, praising the work of the students and the work of UCB, which was lovely to hear.

    Feeling rather full, I attempted to walk off some of the lunch by checking out a few of the exhibitions and saw lots of enthusiastic and engaged students learning to make cocktails, discovering the artistry behind cake decorating and trying out some of the simulations.

    The Skills Show was a great event and a truly fantastic lunch – these students have clearly been taught well and will lead the way to a gastronomic success.

    http://www.theskillsshow.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited to attend lunch at The Skills Show because of my ‘foodie focus’. I wasn’t expected to write a good review and I definitely wasn’t required to link to a Whitney Houston video either, but if I have to have it as an earworm then so do you. All photos are my own.