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    Masterclasses, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Making chocolates at the Chocolate Quarter

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    I know, writing about chocolate in Birmingham, that’s never happened before…but this time it’s not the big purple monolith, but a cute little family-run boutique chocolatier in the Jewellery Quarter, also known as The Chocolate Quarter.

    Jay, Maninder and Kempes run the Chocolate Quarter and they have the sort of warmth and friendliness that is infectious.  I’m generally a sort of take it or leave it person when it comes to chocolate, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in their eagerness.  You know that sort of giddy enthusiasm which helps you absorb information so much better because you know this is less transactional and more a genuine love of the product?  Yeah, that.  And there was lots to learn; the basics about cocoa mass and white chocolate not really being chocolate, but also about beta prime crystals and tempering chocolate, and how higher percentage of cocoa mass doesn’t necessarily make better chocolate, if cheap beans are used.  But you know, in a fun way, that didn’t make it feel like a year nine science class.

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    A few of us went down to hear about what they do, what they sell and check out one of their chocolate making masterclasses.  We started with hot chocolate, because it would be rude not to, then Jay took us through the process of chocolate making and explained that we’d be having a go at making our own caramel truffles; piping in caramel, sealing, then tempering some chocolate to ensure once we dunked the truffle, the chocolate wouldn’t go gritty.  We were given a few options on how to display the truffle, from a smooth look to something a bit more rustic, dusted with icing sugar, cocoa or coconut.

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    Most hands on masterclasses I’ve been to have either been alcohol-filled or the sort of specific and detailed thing that I can’t see myself doing outside of the class.  I’ve made truffles at home before and the tips I picked up were useful, but mainly it was just a really lovely way to spend an evening.  There’s the option to BYOB if you like, somewhat dangerous I expect given how close they are to Hard to Find Whisky, or just enjoy hot chocolate, which gives it a nice option if you want to do something fun but the group are less about the drinking.  This could totally work as a birthday party of hen/stag do, or just a good excuse to get a group of friends together.

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    After we made our chocolates, Jay and Maninder used us as guinea pigs to check out some of their experiments for Father’s Day; whisky, bacon and stout chocolates.  I’ve had bacon cupcakes before and whilst it’s a bit weird, the chewy texture didn’t quite work for me, but the salt and chocolate flavours worked.  The whisky chocolate was great; I hate it when things are flavoured and it’s a bit shy but this had a great hit of whisky.  And then it was time to collect our chocolates, pick up a few more (it would be rude not to) and then head home, with a new found respect for chocolate. 

    gold_chocolate Disclosure: This was a free event for a small group of bloggers, but I totally bought chocolate too because it was gooooooood. And we got a free Darth Vader chocolate too.

    Masterclasses, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Chaophraya Cooking School Birmingham

    Moving into a house with a small kitchen and starting a food & drinks blog means that I don’t really do a lot of cooking anymore, which is a bit of a shame as I really enjoy it. The treat of going out for dinner is always lovely, but there’s something quite satisfying about cooking up your own dinner. So when Lynsey from Chaophraya asked if I wanted to be a guinea pig for the Bullring-based branch’s first cooking school, I was keen to give it a go.

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    Chaophraya, located in the Spiceal St area of the Bullring, opposite St Martin’s, is somewhere I’ve never been before, although people I know have,  and there were a fair few people in which was good to see, considering it was a Tuesday night. Alev from Bella & Robot and Natasha from Nutella Tasha were also willing guinea pigs so once we were all assembled we headed upstairs where the room had been re-arranged for a make-shift cooking school.

    After being introduced to the chef, we were each given our own station to work at and our own minder to make sure we had help. But first we had to dress for the occasion and were given an apron and chef’s hat each. I usually don’t wear an apron when I cook but it did give it a nice sense of occasion.

    DSC_1024First up we were taught to make spring rolls. Chef introduced us to chopping in a professional manner, which he seemed impressed I managed to almost pick up (it’s watching all those cooking shows). The folding of the spring rolls was a little trickier, in so far as making sure they were all about the same. Then it was the bit I’m less keen on, the frying, but the assistance from our minders made this a lot less daunting. Once we’d fried a few it was time to sit down and enjoy the spoils of our hard work.

    Main course was a beef and basil stir-fry with oyster sauce. This was perfect for me, I love oyster sauce and if I make stir-fry at home then this is usually what I’ll go for, but advice from Chef on using fish sauce to balance the sweetness gave it a really lovely taste and something I’ll be trying at home.

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    For dessert it was banana in coconut batter with syrup. Chef showed us how to peel a banana so it was handled less before going into the coconut batter. After giving it a good mix we dropped the chunks of banana coated in batter into the hot fat and waited for it to cook. I’m not a massive fan of bananas generally but the creamy banana, sweet syrup cut through the batter and was lovely, although I couldn’t eat a lot of them.

    DSC_1036Even as someone who is pretty familiar with Thai cooking and making stir-fries at home, I really enjoyed the evening. The chance to learn some new skills and get advice from a Chef was fantastic – in fact I’d have liked more about the hot, sweet, sour and salty principles in Thai cooking. I was also impressed with their flexible attitude to dietary requirements, which didn’t seem to phase them at all.

    The class costs £60 per person which at first seems a lot, but a three course meal, expert tuition and a goodie bag to go home with (ours contained a fresh apron and hat, ingredients to make the dessert and a bottle of beer) it seems pretty reasonable. I’d say they’re aimed more at people who aren’t used to cooking Thai or East Asian food but even people who are familiar with the cuisine are likely to pick up something new. The dishes change each month, so if you’re interest it’s worth emailing lynsey.milner@chaophraya.co.uk who’s also the person you need to contact to book the classes too.

    Disclosure: I was invited to Chaophraya’s cooking school free of charge in exchange for being a guinea pig.  Frankly I don’t remember agreeing to write about it at all, as the invite came out of the blue, and so I definitely didn’t have to be nice about it. But I’d particularly like to thank them as my first thought of deep fat frying is no longer that episode of Spooks.

    Bar reviews, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Yelp at Bar Opus

    I’ve been meaning to go to Bar Opus ever since they announced the opening.  I really have no excuse; I’ve enjoyed trips to their two sister venues and it’s round the corner from work, but yet somehow it was still on the ‘to visit’ list.  So when Yelp Birmingham announced they were doing a cocktail event there – I asked very nicely if I could go along.IMG_1326.JPG

    Two Snowhill, where Bar Opus is located, is an impressive building and the tall skyscraper feel is echoed in the venue.  It’s lofty and open plan with the bar and kitchen both open to curious customers.  Open from 7.30am for breakfast, I can imagine it’s an ideal place to go for a breakfast meeting, although they also serve light lunches and bar plates at other times of the day so it’s got every culinary mealtime covered.

    For Yelp’s Cocktail Opus (love the pun), we were graciously given a drink on arrival and a chance to catch up, before being treated to a gin cocktail masterclass by Langley’s brand ambassador, Carl Hawkins.  Carl helped found, and managed, the gin paradise that is The Jekyll & Hyde so it was clear that he knew his stuff and having seen Carl perform (honestly, it’s the only word for it, he’s a true showman), I knew we were in for a treat.  Balancing the story of gin’s evolution can be as tricky as balancing a cocktail, but Carl kept it humorous, interesting and full of things to taste, including a couple of cocktails; the classic Collins, which we made ourselves and contained rhubarb syrup; a Spanish-style G&T made by people who knew what they were doing; and finally we were presented with a twist on a White Lady – a carbonated version which was incredibly moreish.

    IMG_1337.JPGOnce we were suitably merry from all the gin it was time for some food.  Having dined at both Opus on Cornwall St and Cafe Opus in the Ikon Gallery my expectations were high and whilst I didn’t get to try a massive range it was good.  The fish cakes covered in sesame seeds were lovely and light and weren’t stingy on the fish and whilst the burgers weren’t my favourite in the city they were pretty decent.

    Sadly I had to skip off after that, although it would’ve been lovely to stay and check out their bar more, and order something from the menu. But on our way out we were presented with Opus privilege cards, which is a great excuse to go back – and I certainly intend to!

    Disclosure: I was invited to Yelp’s Cocktail Opus free of charge in exchange for writing something on Yelp about the event.  Rightly so Yelp are pretty keen on people being honest about their experiences and don’t require you to write anything positive unless you actually believe it.  Which I can totally get behind.  Thanks to Vicky, community manager for Yelp Birmingham for the invite.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Revolution Birmingham’s Cocktail Masterclass

    A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a cocktail masterclass with some fellow Birmingham-based food and lifestyle bloggers.  Having previously worked for a cocktail bar in a non-bartending role I felt a bit like a spy, but the aim of the game was to make some drinks and have some fun, so that was soon forgotten.

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    We were introduced to our bartender for the class, Michael, who was charming, friendly and made sure our group had a lot of fun – not easy when most of us had just met that night.  Revolution had also laid on some canapes from their new menu to complement the drinks we were sampling too.

    We started the night with a Strawberry Woo-Woo.  Not my favourite cocktail, I find the raspberry vodka, peach liqueur, strawberry and cranberry mix a bit too sweet, but it’s a fairly inoffensive drink to get the evening underway.   This was paired with a cheese bon bon, which actually sort of worked.

    Up first was possibly the world’s most well known drink, the Mojito.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to take this drink seriously after hearing “slap it, rim it, stick it in it” used in response to the mint (also, bit confused by the addition of puree to the drink, which I’ve not seen before).  The pairing of the Mojito with tempura prawn was an excellent choice, however.  Next, another well-known drink, the Cosmopolitan, was paired with a tortilla chip and guacamole, which wasn’t nearly as interesting as watching the bartender teach us to flame orange over the drink.  The dairy-ladened Tennessee Mud Shake wasn’t for me, but its sickly-sweetness seemed to leave the rest of the group impressed.

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    If that was the theory, it was time to put our lesson into practice and make our own drinks!  I’d found all the previous drinks too sweet for my tastes so I opted to make a more classic cocktail; a Whisky Sour using Monkey Shoulder whisky, egg white, lemon and a dash of bitters. Yum!  We passed around each other’s drinks to give people a chance to try them all and when we were suitably merry it was time for the party games, which were particularly entertaining considering most of us had only just met.

    Finishing the evening was a Revolution classic – a line of flavoured vodka shots balanced on top of glasses, domino style.  We were told Revolution has its own vodka factory up north which makes a lot of the flavoured vodkas – though thankfully none of us had to try the chilli vodka.

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    There’s no denying it this masterclass is a lot of fun.  Sure, if you want to learn the history of cocktails this isn’t going to be the class for you and there were a few slip-ups with info.  But if you’re looking for a fun activity for a hen/stag do or a birthday then this is a good way to start the night.

    Masterclasses start from £24.95 per person and there’s more information at their website:  http://www.revolution-bars.co.uk/cocktail-masterclass/

    Disclosure: I attended the masterclass free of charge but was under no obligation to write a positive review – all opinions are my own, as are the photos (please don’t use them without permission).