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    Drinks

    Festive cocktails at the Mailbox

    aluna_cocktail_bloggers

    Anyone else feeling the festive pinch, time wise?  I nearly lost the will to live queuing to pick up presents in my lunch break today, but after a couple of bottles of wine (as presents people), I think I’m all done…now I just need to wrap.  Talking of Christmas and drinking, a natural pairing I think you’ll agree, I joined a few other bloggers for a mini festive bar crawl at the Mailbox last week to check out some cocktails at Aluna and Gas Street Social.

    I’ve been to Aluna recently to try out their new food menu (review soon), but this time round it was much busier – there were a few Christmas parties in, by the looks of things.  Thankfully we were meeting Natalie from Rewired who had a table reserved for us.  As we all caught up and heard about each other’s Christmas plans, we grabbed a drink – I had a Passion Fruit Mojito which is a variation of the classic rum drink, but was a bit too sweet for me and could’ve done with a bit more lime juice, but I know lots of people who like sweeter drinks.
    watching_aluna_cocktails

    After everyone had caught up and finished their drinks we were taken over to the end of the bar for a mini cocktail masterclass.  Having participated in a few cocktail masterclasses before, I was quite content to stand on the right side of the bar and let me fellow bloggers do the hard graft while I documented the event instead.  One pair of bloggers had a go at making a Black Forest Gateau cocktail, which always feels like a wintery to me although I’m not entirely sure why.  The second group got to make one of Aluna’s most popular drinks from their menu, the Lava Lamp cocktail which bubbles away and has little floating balls of gel in it – it seemed to involve a syringe and a steady hand, but both girls managed to get it and their drinks looked great.

    cocktail_shaking_pair

    After Aluna we headed upstairs to Gas Street Social to check out some of their festive range.  Gas Street Social have really gone to town on Christmas and the decoration in the venue is fab.  Sadly I didn’t get a decent picture, but they’ve turned their booths into little festive huts and created a lovely little festive haven.  But the drinks haven’t been forgotten either; they’ve got four festive cocktails plus two more unusual mulled drinks (cider and ale) and 12 festive cocktail shots.

    I’m not much of a shot person, but these all have some lovely flavours to them, including Black Forest (clearly a bit of a theme) and After Eight, which was probably my favourite.  Whilst you could order a paddle of shots for a table of friends as a way to celebrate the upcoming festivities (drink responsibly), they’d actually make pretty nice drinks to sip after dinner too.  We also tried a few of the cocktails and whilst I generally like anything with gingerbread in it, the Gingerbread Espresso Martini was delicious.

    gas_st_social_festive_drinks Disclosure: I was invited down by Rewired and drinks were complimentary. I wasn’t obliged to write anything, but I like Christmas and I like cocktails, plus writing means I can avoid wrapping presents.

    Breakfast and brunch, Reviews

    Brunch at Gas Street Social

    scrambled_eggs_bacon_toast_brunchBrunch is great isn’t it?  It’s like breakfast only without the wake up call.  One day maybe I’ll grow up to be one of those people that sets their alarm at weekends and does all they need to do before 10am.  But for now I love not having to set my alarm, rolling out of bed whenever I please and finding food to carry on a laid back approach to the day.

    Ordinarily I wouldn’t think to go to the Mailbox for brunch; it’s in the city centre and I’m usually straying into lunch territory by the time I get to town, but I’ve managed to get to Gas Street Social a few times for brunch now.  Despite confusingly not being on the road it’s named after, Gas Street Social opened in the Mailbox earlier in the year and has become popular ever since.  Decor wise it has that sort of industrial look that seems to be pretty popular and toilets which have been built with enough wood (though thankfully not the loo seats) it looks like a carpenter’s dream.  Given that it’s a venue brought to you by the Shaker Consultancy lot, there is understandably a decent bar and cocktail offering and well as lunch/dinner menus.  They’ve also been doing brunch there for a while, I know because I’ve been a few times now – and an all day breakfast for lunch once too.  You can’t say I haven’t thoroughly tested this one!

    brunch_drinks_mimosaOne of the selling points for Gas St Social’s brunches is their bottomless Bellini or Mimosa offer.  For £15 you get two hours worth of refillable prosecco cocktails; with orange juice as a Mimosa, it’s basically the fancy name for a Bucks Fizz; or peach puree, also known as a Bellini, or possibly apricot puree if, like my friends managed, you drink them out of the peach stuff.

    If a champagne brunch isn’t your thing then they also offer non-alcoholic drinks.  Listed under restorative drinks is a half pint of Berocca, which is appearing on a few city brunch menus, and seems a clever choice particularly if you’re feeling a little delicate from the night before.  There are also cold pressed fresh juices, which are listed as freshly made in Shropshire and whilst these are tasty and packed with flavour there’s something which a little disappointing about a cocktail bar not making them up fresh on site.

    gas_st_full_english_breakfast_brunchAnyway, the food!  The menu has pretty much most things you want from a brunch menu, from pancakes and pastries to granola and various sizes of English breakfasts.  I particularly like the concept of the social breakfast, which serves four and looks like it has plenty of food.  My mum was pleased to see granola and a fruit platter on there, which is pretty much what she has for breakfast daily…the idea of treating yourself when going out for brunch is lost on her.

    The first time I headed down (and when I took these photos) I went with my friend Beccy who had the bacon and scrambled egg on toast, which she enjoyed.  I went for the Gas St Works which comes with two rashers of bacon, two Cumberland sausages, eggs (I went for scrambled), roasted plum tomato, Gas Street Social beans, black pudding, flat mushroom, sautéed potatoes and toast.  On paper it seems like a heck of a lot of food but in reality it felt managable.  The sausages and eggs were all lovely; the eggs had a nice creamy texture and the meat had a good texture and they seem to have given up on the idea of streaky bacon with a full breakfast – good, leave that to Americanised pancake breakfasts, if you have to.

    Whilst on the whole it was a pretty decent breakfast there were a couple of disappointments.  The baked beans have herbs in them, I forget which ones because frankly I want to block that memory…it just didn’t work for me at all, and I wasn’t the only one.  Also, black pudding featured quite regularly in fried breakfasts in our house growing up (it might be an Irish thing, my dad loved it) so I appreciate the stuff but this one just felt powdery to me and I wasn’t overly keen.  That said, there are certainly more hits than misses on this breakfast and I’ve happily eaten it again since.

    Gas Street Social’s brunch is an extensive and well thought out offering.  There’s almost certainly something there to suit everyone and the setting is such that it is an ideal place to meet friends for a catch up over brunch (can we still mention Sex and the City, it totally has that sort of vibe).  Whilst I wasn’t overly keen on all elements of the full breakfast it’s somewhere I’ve been back to for brunch several times and would be happy to continue.

    http://www.gasstreetsocial.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Gas Street Social to try a complimentary brunch when it first launched and as usual wasn’t required to be nice about anything. It has taken me so long to write this up that I’ve managed to subsequently get there twice since – I’d say I’ve paid both time but in reality my mum paid for once…don’t judge me.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Gourmet Burger Kitchen Mailbox refurb

    GBK_chicken_bacon_burger

    Having visited the Mailbox on a regular basis, it feels like the building work is never ending.  But thankfully it’s starting to take shape with some new venues opening, but it’s not just the new cinema and bars that are adding to the new look – Gourmet Burger Kitchen Mailbox has had a £350,000 interior and exterior makeover.

    GBK_elderflower_fizzI went down to the ‘grill warming’ with some friends to check out the new look.  I wasn’t a fan of the old look; brightly lit and expansive, it felt a bit like a school canteen.  The new look has lowered the lighting, with darker wood, scrabble tile signage and interesting lighting, plus a range of different sections and types of seating which breaks up the space and feels much more comfortable.

    Jo-ann and John went for the classic milkshakes, which I hear are a popular thing at Gourmet Burger Kitchen Mailbox and definitely were that night, given by how many people were ordering them!  Both agreed the Oreo Milkshake is their favourite, although Jo-ann also had the salted caramel milkshake which was also tasty.  Careful not to upset my lactose intolerance too much I went for the Elderflower Fizz, which was lovely and refreshing, perfumed and a nice hint of mint from the garnish.

    GBK_cajun_chicken_burger

    Being a bit of a burger fan, I’ve always preferred the more classic ones which let you taste the flavours of the meat, so I went for a cheese and bacon burger with smoked applewood crispy bacon, BBQ sauce, mayo, pickle and salad.  To be honest I didn’t notice a massive hit of BBQ sauce, although with a cheese and bacon burger I want these to be the predominant flavours and they were.  The meat patty wasn’t too thick so remained nice and juicy and overall was very pleasant.  Jo-ann said her Cajun chicken burger wasn’t dry and was nicely spicy.  John had the Salvador burger which has a Pork & Chorizo patty and seemed to enjoy it.

    GBK_rosemaryfries

    Having been on many jaunts to London for burgers, I’ve had many portions of rosemary fries as they seem to be the in thing.  However GBK’s rosemary fries were a bit of a disappointment, despite the plentiful portion.  I’m not really a fan of string fries, I find them a bit dull and sadly the rosemary wasn’t enough to lift them, even with a few dusts of the saltshaker provided. John ordered the sweet potato fries and although the portion size is notably different they looked a better choice.  Jo-ann’s onion rings were nice and crispy, without being greasy and another good side.

    Gourmet Burger Kitchen Mailbox’s refurb has brought a new lease of life to the restaurant, which has been a stalwart amongst quite a few changes in the development.  Whilst the sides were variable, the burgers are definitely the star of the show and are a decent offering.  A positive experience, one I’d be willing to repeat – particularly if the rosemary fries are improved.

    http://www.gbk.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited to Gourmet Burger Kitchen Mailbox for complimentary dinner for me and my guests, free of charge.  I wasn’t obliged to write anything and I definitely wasn’t required to say anything nice unless I meant it.  Frankly if you read this blog you’ll understand my near devotion to burgers and know that I wouldn’t say anything nice about them unless I meant it anyway because it would be tantamount to sacrilege.

    Food and Restaurant News, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Coming Soon to Birmingham #3

    comingtobrum3

    It’s time for another of those Coming Soon posts, because it seems 2015 is THE year to open up in Birmingham.  With Gas Street Social already open and positive reports flooding in, it’s been joined by a few others I mentioned in a couple of my other Coming Soon posts – Amanita on Bennets Hill has just opened and The Botanist on Temple St is due to open in a couple of weeks.  So that means there’s space for some more names on the Coming Soon board…

    Rub Smokehouse
    With their first venue opening in Nottingham late last year, Rub Smokehouse and Bar are looking to expand to Birmingham in the summer.  All about American style smoked meats, think brisket, burgers, low and slow cooked pork shoulder, plus bourbon and a range of cocktails.  Given the city’s appetite for low and slow smokehouse style food it looks like an interesting addition, plus with a late night cocktail bar and a license til 4am it sounds like a night out in one venue.
    http://www.rubsmokehouse.com/

    Aluna
    I can find very little information about this, other than it’s going to be a bar and grill located in The Mailbox.  Their Facebook page went live end of last year, but they’re clearly not advertising it…however rumour has it there is some goings on.  It looks like Coventry-based 360 Commercial Interiors might be involved in the refurb and there’s a rather snazzy logo on their website’s holding page – could it be hinting to some molecular style cocktails, perhaps? EDIT: a little bird tells us it might be a Nuvo venture, but don’t quote me on that.  http://www.aluna.uk.com/

    Bistrot Pierre
    Serving up provincial French cooking in a relaxed atmosphere and established in 1994, the privately owned family company has 12 bistrots located around the country, including Stratford upon Avon and Leamington Spa, and it looks like they’re coming to Birmingham (and Bath and Newport).  They’re aiming to open in a former tollhouse on Gas St, not far from Broad St and the Mailbox, although there are no dates confirmed as of yet. http://lebistrotpierre.co.uk/

    Nomad
    Focusing on memory, place and nature, Nomad is a three month residency run by Alex Claridge, previously of Bistro 1847 and Warehouse Cafe.  It’s being held at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath from the beginning of April with two fixed menus on Fridays and Saturdays, ranging between four and twelves courses, with menus changing regularly to incorporate ingredients as and when they’re ready from foragers and their allotment. www.foodbynomad.com

    Soho Rooms
    Set to open on 24 March in an ex-strip club, the Soho Rooms on Holloway Head  are aiming to be a luxurious steak restaurant, bar, Shisha lounge and karaoke. http://www.sohorooms.co.uk/

    Nosh and Quaff
    I’ve tweeted and facebooked about this a lot already but managed to miss it off the previous Coming Soon posts, and as the name for 130 Colmore Row’s newest occupant was finally announced recently and the signage has gone up it seems worth mentioning.  From the group that brought you Lasan, Fiesta del Asado and Raja Monkey comes Nosh & Quaff, lobster and beer focused -a venue no doubt aiming to attract the afterwork crowd.  Expect to see them opening around May time. http://noshandquaff.co.uk/

    Woktastic
    Ever since they closed their doors to make way for the new Paradise Circus development, Woktastic have been teasing us with the prospect of a new venue…and then they announce three!  Along with the re-opening of a city centre Woktastic in spring (exact location to be confirmed), owner Ali Karakaya has also announced Yaki Nori, a fast food concept which will open in Selly Oak and Grand Central Birmingham. http://www.woktastic.co.uk/

    Praza by Pushkar
    Broad Street based restaurant and cocktail bar is expanding out to the Hagley Road in Edgbaston.  Praza will continue Pushkar’s North Indian cuisine, but also hopes to bring a more international flavour to its dishes all headed up by head chef Bishal Rasaily. http://praza.co.uk/

    La Tasca at Barclaycard Arena
    Was I the only person not to notice La Tasca quietly close their previous Birmingham venue?  Well they’re returning to the city with a new location in the Barclaycard Arena and are due to open at the end of the month.  The Spanish tapas restaurant joins Ed’s Easy Diner as the second restaurant in the newly refurbished arena. http://latasca.com/

    Fiddle and Bone
    Okay, so this one is already open by I missed it off both lists last time and was rightly berated for it.  I’m yet to go down, but the sympathetic restoration and return of live music to this well loved pub has drawn some positive reports. http://fiddleandbone.co.uk/

    Any that I’ve missed? Feel free to email me, send me a tweet or drop me a Facebook message!

    Food and Restaurant News, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Bun & Bowl’s Valentine’s Day menu

    My love of burgers is well documented; to me they’re the perfect marriage of meat and bread.  So it feels a bit remiss of me that I’ve not yet made it to Bun & Bowl, however that was remedied when I was invited down to a blogger dinner to preview their Valentine’s Day menu.IMG_1494.JPG

    Ironically I’d spent the day writing about Valentine’s Day as a guest post for somewhere else, so I knew a lot about what was happening in the city.  The article has a mix of traditional candle lit dinners and quirky devil-may-care events; Bun & Bowl have created a menu which fits more towards the traditional but with some interesting quirks.

    As we sat down, we were treated to a glass of red fruit champagne, a mix of strawberry puree and champagne (similar to a Bellini) which was a much more interesting twist on a glass of bubbly, but in keeping with the celebration.  I also had what was named a Bramble but was made with citron vodka rather than gin.   Personally I found there to be a little too much citrus flavour because of this, but I’ve drunk a lot of Brambles over the years, and I expect most people wouldn’t notice the difference.

    To start we tried Surprises of a Passionate Heart; a mushroom ‘cappuccino’ made with hot soy milk it was, as you’d expect, was like a foamy mushroom soup.  It was accompanied with a smoked salmon, avocado and cream ballotine on a crostini which tasted fresh and light, the bread was toasted yet still chewy.  We were also given a sample of the Pearl for My Love; fresh oysters.  To be honest I’m not a big fan of oysters, but this one was tasty, although I found the bisque a little too lemony for my liking.

    For main course we were treated to a sample of their classic beef burger which was recreated for the evening with truffle dressing, port glazed onion and cheese, served with fresh potato fries.  The burger was well cooked and I enjoyed the collection of flavours but the sweet onions dominated, which I enjoyed, but made the other accompaniments a little redundant.  The fries were fine and the sauces used a garnish were great; a BBQ sauce which was sweet and smoky; and a mustard mayo with truffle dressing which cut through the zing of mustard which I’m not keen on, so conversely enjoyed this sauce.  Frankly, I’d have enjoyed more of the sauces with my fries, or even the BBQ sauce with the burger.

    To end we had strawberries with mint gratin, marshmallow, cacao and raspberries.  This was an unusual dessert and I was pleased to see something on a Valentine’s menu that wasn’t just a predictable chocolate fondant.  Together this was a lovely combination of flavours and as a vegan, gluten-free dish is a winner all round.

    Bun & Bowl’s Valentine’s Day menu is trying to do something different; they’re still keeping their original concept, but bringing in elements of fine dining and aphrodisiacs for the season.  The menu costs £30 a head for three courses and a glass of red champagne, plus music from violinist Rebecca Kohler Baratto.  For those who don’t think burgers are an ideal Valentine’s meal there are other more typical options on offer too.  There’s still a few tables left, but they’re booking up quickly.

    http://www.bunandbowl.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to preview Bun & Bowl’s Valentine’s Day menu free of charge in exchange for an honest review of the food, with a bunch of other bloggers.  I wasn’t required to say anything nice, even if it is the season of love, and hopefully you’ve spotted that – and you’ve probably spotted my love of gin too.

    Food and Restaurant News, News, Pub and Drinks News

    5 new openings for the city centre?

    comingtobrum

    2015, it’s the beginning of a new year and already I’ve been hearing some pretty substantial rumours about a raft of openings in the city.  It seems a shame to keep them to myself, so here are some of the stronger rumours I’ve heard – and where possible, links to more info!

    Bitters n Twisted’s 7th Birmingham venue

    Birmingham bar and restaurant group Bitters n Twisted are set to open their seventh Birmingham based venue next month with Marmalade, a bistro bar in the Birmingham Rep Theatre on Broad St. Their website is more of a holding page at the moment, but there is an example pre-theatre menu on their website which looks pretty tasty – seems seasonal, homemade dishes will be the order of the day. I’m looking forward to hearing more!

    Gas Street Social

    From the ashes of Bar Room Bar in the Mailbox?  From the team behind Shaker Group, Gas Street Social restaurant and bar is set to launch mid-March on Wharfside Street in the Mailbox. With 250 covers, this venue is set to serve simple, seasonal and modern European food, described as an urban neighbourhood kitchen. Given the Birmingham-based Shaker Group also run Shaker & Co bar and BarSchool in London, and run a consultancy for bars and restaurants internationally, Gas Street Social’s drinks list, containing cocktails, regional and international beers and fine wines should be something well worth checking out too.

    Mailbox Tavern

    John Bright St has rediscovered it’s roots as an entertainment hub; with The Victoria, Cherry Reds and Brewdog joined by Turtle Bay last year, it’s rapidly becoming a dining and drinking hotspot once again. But rumour has it the old Rosie O’Brien’s (the building in between Turtle Bay and Brook, with the red railings outside) has been snapped up by a Staffordshire based pub group and if all goes through, will be known as the Mailbox Tavern.

    The Botanist

    New World Trading Company’s first foray into Birmingham was announced last year, but I’m patiently awaiting it’s first offering to the city; The Botanist, due to open on Temple St – in March, if rumours are to be believed. Already proving popular in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, their deli and BBQ inspired food menu and selection of botanical cocktails, craft beers and ales, sounds pretty tempting!

    Spanish restaurant for Bennetts Hill

    And hot on the heels as another contender for food paradise is Bennetts Hill, with everything from fine dining to real ale, curry and South American cuisine. But rumour has it there’s a Spanish and Mediterranean restaurant that might be joining them.  Details are very scarce but there seems to be something cooking up at 9 – 10 Bennetts Hill in the shape of Amantia.

    Any that I’ve missed? Feel free to email me, send me a tweet or drop me a Facebook message!

    Restaurant reviews

    Christmas at Marco Pierre White Steakhouse

    A lot of people moan that Christmas starts too early, but I love Christmas, so when I was invited to a Christmas bloggers event at Marco Pierre White Steakhouse in The Cube, I was looking forward to meeting fellow bloggers and some festive cheer.DSC_0560

    I’ve never actually been to MPW, so it was a nice excuse to go.  The entrance is via Hotel Indigo’s elevator, which makes it feel all the more swish and you can’t help but be wowed by the view; way up there on level 25 of the Cube, with the pitch black winter sky – who needs festive fairy-lights when the city does it for you?  I can certainly see why it was so busy with well-to-do professionals dressed up for the evening sat alongside a couple and their baby (I’m guessing they were staying in the hotel).  We were in the seated section which was a little crowded, although I did hear that you can reserve tables and I think this is probably very wise – particularly to make sure you get a good view!

    Once we were all assembled we were led into the private dining room, which again had an amazing view overlooking the city.  There, John, the new general manager of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill, and Simon, the executive head chef, welcomed us to the restaurant and the evening’s festivities.

    To start I had the potted duck with piccalilli and sough dough toast.  Although not a massive fan of piccalilli this had a nice flavour and Jo, who was sat next to me, said it was excellent.  The potted duck itself was nice; with chunks of meat that were flavoursome enough on their own, they sat on the toasted, yet still chewy, sough dough bread well.

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    For main course I had to go with tradition; Roast turkey with Marco’s homemade stuffing cranberry and port gravy.  It was a generous portion of meat and was well cooked, another good example of turkey that had retained its moistness.  The gravy had been reduced well and was sweet and rich which was initially very nice but became sickly towards the end.DSC_0592_edit

    Sadly I’m not a fan of Christmas pudding so I gave this a miss and the other options were decidedly dairy-filled, so I’d asked for something with little lactose and was presented with a blackcurrant sorbet nestled on berries.  I’ve had this a few times as a dairy-free option before and the sorbet has always been a bit too watery, but this was lovely…sweet but not too tart, I’d happy have eaten a couple more scoops like ice cream!

    The Christmas Dinner set menu for groups of 10 or more costs £40 per person which is at the higher end of most set menus for Christmas night out.  If you were just looking at the food alone then this might feel a bit pricey, but with such a great view it feels like its worth a bit of a Christmas splurge.

    http://www.mpwsteakhousebirmingham.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited to MPW by Sarah Morris for a blogger’s event. My meal was complimentary in exchange for an honest review, I wasn’t required to write anything positive. Also, does anyone ever actually like Christmas pudding, apart from my uncle Alan?