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Great Western Arcade

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    Chatting with Gizzi Erskine

    I am way more the girl in the back of the room making sure things run to time and tweeting about them than sitting up front where people can see me.  Effectively that’s part of the reason this blog exists, it was never about me it was because I want people to know about the cool stuff and talented people mixing drinks and cooking up fantastic food in Birmingham.  But ever one to laugh in the face of her own comfort zone, when Square (more about them later) asked me if I fancied being in conversation with chef and TV personality Gizzi Erskine, I waved goodbye to my comfort zone and started thinking up some questions.

    Gizzi was in Birmingham as part of a series of events being held at a pop-up shop in the Great Western Arcade.  Square is the brainchild of Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter, and is a payment service which aims to make it easier for independent traders to accept card payments by using a reader that connects to smartphones or tablets.  As something which is designed to appeal to independent traders, Square invited Gizzi Erskine, creator of wildly popular pop-ups, to come and have a chat with us Brummies.

    Talking to Gizzi is a wonderful whirlwind of conversation, which gave me some insight into what it must be like for my friends when I’m all excited about something and trying to get my words out at the same speed my brain goes.  Honestly, I could’ve happily sat up there and prompted her to tell us more stories about her life and fantastic food career, ranging from a bohemian childhood full of exotic food to being at the forefront of the pop-up scene, her time at Leith’s Cookery school, and being on TV.  I really enjoyed her candor, particularly around the topic of authenticity and believing in your passions.  And all the talk of Korean fried chicken.  My friend Amy summed up Gizzi well; “We could all imagine getting s***-faced with her on a Friday night down the Hare & Hounds.” – and turns out she’d lived in Moseley for a few years, so that’s not entirely impossible.

    Gizzi warned me she has a tendency to go off on tangents, but they’re so utterly fascinating that it was worth letting her to hear more about her career – in fact I think we went well over the time allocation, but still managed a few questions from the audience, as well as a few I’d picked up from friends earlier.

    Being up front meant I was mainly trying to practice some active listening, which makes it pretty tricky to commit to memory much of what we chatted about.  And because I was busy being the ‘hostess with the mostess’, you might find these write ups by the lovely Brummie Gourmand and Gastronomic Gorman contain a bit more information.  Ryan from Brummie Gourmand was an absolutely star and audio recorded the whole thing, so once I’ve worked out how to do sound editing, I’ll put the conversation up here.

    Gizzi appeared at the Square pop-up shop in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade. Square enables millions of small and medium sized businesses around the world to take credit and debit card payments without monthly fees or long term commitments. There are only a few days left to visit Square’s first UK pop up in Great Western Arcade (between Colmore Row and Temple Row). Running until the 16th September, local business owners can get a free Square Reader worth £39 if they visit the pop up shop and sign up for Square in September.

    Round ups

    This week: 11 – 17 April 2016

    I’ve realised there’s a lot going on and I don’t always get time to write up everything; so I’m trialling out a sort of weekly round up of good places I’ve been to (that may or may not be blogged about later), news I’ve stumbled across and anything else short and snappy. Let me know what you think of the idea…

    Went to / discovered

    • A nutrition talk at in the Great Western Arcade.  It was an interesting overview on ways to overcome bad eating habits.  They’re looking to run some more sessions looking as specific areas of nutrition, so once I hear more I’ll let you know.
    • Ikea as part of the Live Lagom project – there was a bit of an update, a chance to meet some of the others taking part locally, see some new products Ikea are bringing in which have sustainability in mind, and eat some meatballs.
    • Slow cookers can make pretty decent curry for lunch. I’d blog the recipe, but whilst it tasted good, it looked a bit oddly coloured.
    • Cherry Reds and Waterstones Birmingham cafes for tea and cake.  I’m not doing a write up of them as that seems a little silly, I can heartily recommend the rainbow cake at Cherry Reds and red velvet cake at Waterstones.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 15.25.39

    News

    Rofuto, the new Japanese concept bar and restaurant at the top of Park Regis at Five Ways is offering early birds keen to try them out with 50% off food as part of their soft launch offer running from Friday 22nd April to Saturday 23rd April.  Reservations can be made via email – reservations@rofuto.co.uk

    Deliveroo Birmingham turned one this week!  The on-demand delivery service delivered via a fleet of delivery mopeds and bicycles and can often be spotted in the city, covering more than 3,000km a week and providing more than 60 jobs, as well as food to your door.

    Moseley is getting a new upmarket wine bar thanks to Prince of Wales’ Keith Marsden.  The Cheval Blanc will be next to the Dark Horse, one of Keith’s other venues, and is due to open in May.

    The worst kept secret in Birmingham is that Langley’s are going to be opening a bar in the city. I tweeted a photo of the licensing application stuck to the Great Western Arcade, but lets keep that between us, right?

    Did I mention Brum Yum Yum are going to be opening a permanent city centre Hawker style venue on Pershore Rd, near the Arcadian.  It’ll give street food vendors a chance to have a bit of a permanent base, without the costs associated with it.  I’ll get more info when it’s closer to opening.

    Shaanti’s Holi Rave Festival is back on city on Saturday 16 April 2016 at the Digbeth Gardens with daytime and evenings shows so everyone gets a chance to go.  Taste & Liquor will be curating the food area, and there’s more info on http://www.holirave.com

    Cafe reviews, Deli, Reviews

    Treat Greek Deli, Great Western Arcade, Birmingham

    treat_greek_deli_coffee

    Until recently, I’m pretty sure most of my experiences of Greek food in Birmingham involved stepping over the broken crockery on the way to the old Snobs or parties at my Greek-Cypriot school friend’s house.  But having travelled all night, I landed back in Brum to check out the relatively new Treat Greek Deli, only to be offered a cup of thick, dark sludgy, traditional Greek coffee, which was akin to heaven.

    I’ve drunk a lot of coffee over the years, but never the Greek version.  It’s boiled in a special pot (a briki, if I’m remembering correctly, but I was pretty sleep deprived), and produces a strong brew, which when served has an almost foam on top…and I was warned not to drink the whole cup as the grounds in the bottom of the cup.  You know sometimes people refer to strong coffee as being a bit like rocket fuel, yep, it’s like that, only deliciously so.

    traditional_greek_cheese_pie_treat_deliCoffee isn’t the only thing the family-run Greek deli located in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham city centre sells.  They’re aiming to bring an authentic style Greek food to the city, with traditional Greek pies and pasties, salads, healthy smoothies, Greek yogurt and coffees.  The deli itself is a lovely bright, airy space and has a couple of tables outside, which is prime people watching space particularly on a weekday lunchtime.  The staff are lovely and friendly, although everyone we met seemed to be called George.

    I’d headed down with Roz and we were treated to a sample of their savoury products; traditional cheese and spinach pies, gyros with chicken, pizzarela and a Greek salad sandwich.  Both of the pies were made with handmade olive oil filo pastry, which was lovely and crisp and the fillings both equally tasty.   Actually everything was lovely, fresh and felt healthy…well as healthy as filo pastry can do.

    bugatsa_treat_greek_deliWe also tried a pumpkin pie which straddled the sweet and savoury bridge.  With the autumn/winter seasons firmly in place and everyone going nuts for pumpkin spiced lattes, this was a much less sickly sweet variety, made with organic Greek pumpkin.  The final treat was Bugatsa, a Greek breakfast pastry made of handmade olive oil filo pastry with milk, fine semolina and vanilla cream.  It comes dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon and if you pop in for one of an afternoon, which I did a couple of weeks later, they’ll chop it into bite size pieces for you.  You’ll also convince yourself that you won’t eat the whole thing, but you’ll fail (or maybe that’s just me).

    I really enjoyed my visit to Treat Greek Deli the Great Western Arcade and I’ve been back since.  Someone recently asked for recommendations for Greek coffee in Birmingham and I sent them to Treat and they said one sip took them straight back to Crete.  It’s a welcome addition to not only the Great Western Arcade, which is slowly becoming a bit of a foodie hot spot, but to the city. Go visit and have a coffee – but don’t leave it too late as it’s pretty strong.
    http://treatgreekdeli.co.uk/
    treat_greek_deli_drinks Disclosure: I was invited to Treat to try their products and have a chat with the chef-owner. I wasn’t obliged to write anything. And I wasn’t obliged to return a few weeks later to buy a portion of Bugasta instead of lunch one day, but it’s a hard life.
    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Bistro 1847 festive menu

    Despite my mother trying to convince my otherwise, turkey is a key component Christmas dinner – and already this year I’ve eaten a few festive dinners.  So when vegetarian restaurant Bistro 1847 announced their new festive menu I was a little conflicted; I enjoy their take on vegetarian food, but I really like Christmas turkey too.  The only thing for it was to take the mothership with me and go check out their offerings.potato

    We had tickets to the theatre so it was an early dinner for us and at the beginning of the week, so the restaurant was understandably pretty quiet.  Having been to Bistro 1847 several times before (you can read a blogpost of their sharing plates here) I’ve come to quite like their unfussy decor, but the recent cold snap and lack of bodies meant that the restaurant was distinctly cold, which was a bit of a shame.

    It turns out my mum has never had falafel before so I suggest she order the carrot falafel with feta ice cream.  Although initially put off by the presentation, she loved it and I could see why; the falafel were lovely, crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside, they were a great example and won my mum round.  I had lemongrass, chilli, coconut, parsnip and wild mushroom; the chunks of parsnips were wonderfully cooked and the East Asian style sauce really complimented them without drowning or overpowering.

    halloumiFor main I went for the tempura halloumi, vegetables, pea, sesame and miso marinated potato scallop.  My very first visit to Bistro 1847 it was the halloumi that won me over and I was glad to see it return.  The halloumi was cooked beautifully, avoiding the plasticity that can sometimes occur with halloumi, and was encased in a nice crisp tempura batter.

    For pudding there was a clear choice for me, sticky toffee with ice cream.  I love the stuff, it’s what I make for Christmas dessert and it’s what’s caused a good friend and I to debate the philosophical nature of cake.  Bistro 1847’s was lovely, but if I’m honest it was a bit safe; I’ve come to appreciate that they usually offer something a bit different.  My mum had the whipped squash, roast plum, yoghurt and dark chocolate.  I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t keen on this and neither was my mum; the presentation in the terracotta pot made it look a bit dull and the flavours just didn’t work for me, plus I expected it to be hot.  We visited when the menu had just launched and it looks like it’s been removed since, I can’t see it being missed.

    Bistro 1847’s Christmas mini a la carte menu is a nice change from the stodgy turkey dinner and I’m sure a welcome improvement for most veggies from a dry nut roast.  It was nice to see the return of some old Bistro 1847 favourites, as well as some stalwart Christmas ingredients (brussel sprouts for starter anyone?).  Even though not all the dishes worked for me, it was nice to see that they work on customer feedback and tweak the menus accordingly.  With not a turkey in sight, this vegetarian three course meal won over a staunch meat-eater and would make a nice alternative festive meal out.  Just ask them to turn the heating up.

    http://by1847.com/

    Disclosure: My mum and I were given complementary dinner at Bistro 1847 in exchange for an honest review; I wasn’t obliged to be nice, which is hopefully evident from the review.  My mother, who is a meat and two veg kinda lady, is now much more open to vegetarian dining, although we’re still negotiating over Christmas dinner – I say turkey, she says goose.  Photos are mine, please don’t use them without my permission.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Bistro 1847’s new menu*

    We all know the story; vegetarian food has had a bad reputation as being stodgy plates of food either gracing the righteous movement and full of lentils or being distinctly ordinary food minus the meat.  Then along comes along chefs who actually seemed to know what they’re doing.  I don’t know about you, but I’m bored of the cliche.  And that’s where Bistro 1847 comes in.  Since opening in Manchester, and then in Birmingham last year, they’ve joined a wave of restaurants redefining what we know of vegetarian cuisine.  And thankfully so.

    When they first opened in Brum their menu, a standard a la carte affair, was playful, quirky and the meat wasn’t so much missing as never really invited to the party to start with.  However their new concept has gone a little further with two menus.  The ‘Grazing, Sharing and Exploring’ menu has a range of smaller dishes which are designed to encourage a more communal dining experience, similar to tapas.  The First Date – Taste of 1847 menu is, as the name suggests, a taster menu which compromises of five courses during the week and seven course taster menu on Fridays and Saturdays.

    Eager to see what Bistro 1847 had up their sleeves, I went down mid-week and samples some dishes from their Grazing, Sharing and Exploring menu.  It’s recommended to have 2 – 3 dishes per person, so my guest and I tried six of them between us: Tarragon polenta crisp, pickled wild mushroom, goats’ curd, baby aubergine, tahini and petals; Baby heritage potato, crispy bean curd skin, carrot seedlings, breakfast radish, onion ash and textures of coconut; Crispy potato & Old Winchester dumpling, herbed sauce, toffee apple, mead reduction, caramelised celery and foraged herbs; Heritage tomato & preserved lemon, pearl barley with Yorkshire fettle; Beer-battered halloumi, seashore herbs, mushy pea emulsion, smoked lemon curd, gin pickled shallots; and Garden pea mousse, broad bean, Yorkshire fettle and sesame filo shards.

    Each of the dishes was beautifully presented, think more a molecular-gastronomy and fine-dining than soggy mushroom pastry.  A particular favourite was the baby heritage potato, crispy bean curd skin, carrot seedlings, breakfast radish, onion ash and textures of coconut, which had a delicious laksa style taste, moreish yet satisfying.  The Tarragon polenta crisp, pickled wild mushroom, goats’ curd, baby aubergine, tahini and petals dish was truly lovely, but somewhat confusing as it felt like a dish which straddled main course and pudding, being quite sweet and therefore somewhat confusing on the palate.

    We spoke to Bistro 1847’s development chef, Alex Claridge, who said that the menu had been designed, with careful consideration, to take advantage of seasonal and foraged produce.  Each dish had a number of components which were designed to complement each other and for the most part they did superbly.  The only item we found that didn’t really seem to add much to the overall dish was the toffee apple, which didn’t have much apple flavour, though with the crispy potato and cheese dumplings were delightful by themselves.

    The puddings have a similar sharing element to them, suggesting 2 – 3 dishes between two people.  We were quite full after six dishes for dinner so opted for two between us; the Peanut brittle, slow-roast pineapple, Hoxton gin snow, white chocolate crème fraiche; and Foraged blackberry & almond sponges with hay cream.  The peanut brittle and white chocolate creme fraiche were delightful, interesting and unusual and very in-keeping with the innovative new menu.  The blackberry and almond sponge was a little more conventional, something you might expect to see on a standard menu but still perfectly pleasant.  Although we were too full to order it, we saw an Allotment Aero pass by, which looked high on the whimsy scale and definitely worth trying next time.

    I was already a fan of Bistro 1847’s stellar efforts to showcase vegetarian food as a cuisine in its own right, but their new menu is something else.  Whilst the taster menu might have the moniker First Date, this is a place to savour and enjoy over and over again…we certainly fell in love again like it was the first time.

    http://bistro1847.com/

    Bistro 1847 invited us down to try the new menu free of charge in return for an honest review – we were not obliged to write a positive review but were pleased to do so.  The views expressed here remain my own (with some input from my guest) and the photos are mine too.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Sushi Passion Birmingham

    The countdown to the opening of Sushi Passion in Birmingham was like an advent calendar with most of my friends.  Either through rumour, recommendation or just sheer excitement, we’ve all been a bit excited about this place opening..with constant updates since the sign when on the door.

    Mere days after it opened (I’m delayed in blogging, sorry) some friends and I went to see what the Great Western Arcade’s newest resident had to offer.  Unlike its bustling, but tiny, sister venue in the Indoor Market, there’s something delightfully serene about this place.  With enough to sit around 35 people there’s a mix of traditional Japanese-style lower seating, standard table-and-chairs and also seats at the bar.  We were sat at the bar which was a good view of the restaurant, the chefs and the slightly ominous mannequin in full samurai get-up…and the train; love a good train in a restaurant, which also proved to be useful in delivering miso soup.

    There’s a nice range of sushi, both in variety and prices, and enough description that if you’re not a connoisseur you’ll still be able to order – thankfully!  Two of us went for a couple of the meal deals, priced at about £14 and £20 approximately, which I foolishly forgot to write down what they were…so here’s a photo of it instead:

    IMG_3818.JPG

    The presentation was simple but effective and we’d managed to order enough food between the two of us for about three people.  But it can’t just be us who are never really sure how much sushi you can manage in one sitting.  And it was very enjoyable.  I’d like to pretend that I know more about sushi other than it’s tasty, but really I’m still learning.  And with Sushi Passion round the corner from work, I can see this being a thorough lesson indeed.

    Sushi Passion’s Facebook page