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    Pop-up and Event reviews

    Summer menu tasting at Studio Venues, Birmingham

    It’s no secret that I think the Studio on Cannon Street in the city centre is a pretty ace place.  I’ve written about them a bunch of times (see here), and the time has rolled round for another seasonal menu tasting.

    If you’re not aware, and I have rescued many confused looking people on Cherry St to suggest that not everyone knows about the place, The Studio is part of a group of venues around the country which offer conferencing spaces.  They also do small meeting rooms too.  I arrange a fair amount of events for work and The Studio is one of my favoured places, not least because of the seasonal menu changes, but also because the staff are really helpful, and having staff who have your back when you’re running an event is invaluable.  Also, the afternoon cookies are a friggin delight.

    Anyway, as per usual they invite down a bunch of people who have used their venue to check out and comment on the upcoming menu, to make sure it’s appealing to customers.  Because some people get a bit uppity about these things, let me be clear, they’re not fussed that I’m Full the Brum, they always email my work account and I ask politely if I can bring my camera and take some photos, and that’s why this post is here.  I was amongst 50-ish other guests and there is enough food to feed an army.  Those of us who have been to more than one of these are now sharing our tactical knowledge of trying as many dishes as possible (small portions, pick up the desserts and save them on your table).

    There were a lot of good options this time round, and The Studio emailed us all after to tell us the dishes which stood out for everyone; I was pleased to see that the dark chocolate torte with salted caramel & fresh raspberry, and kofta meatballs scored highly, because both were delicious.  I’m not normally a fan of chocolate things, but even I was singing the praises of the chocolate torte. I’m trying to think of good reasons to book the Studio just so I can have another one.  Anyone fancy an important meeting?

    They’re also bringing in salads to be more of a thing.  Salad is not my thing, I get bored before I’ve eaten enough and I rarely bother.  But if anyone could convince me that salad is actually worth caring about, then the guys at the Studio are in strong running, and they seem to have done it by combining two things that on their own I’m a bit meh about.  So, despite having two things I don’t like much (raw tomatoes and feta are two things which my digestive tract is not on board with), the watermelon, cherry tomato, rocket, basil and feta salad was a well deserved winner, and the veggie winner (that was actually vegan) of vegan harissa spiced lentils ratatouille with falafel cobbler was a good choice too.

    So, back to that very important meeting we need to book…

    You’ll find the Studio in Birmingham on Cannon Street in Birmingham city centre. Whilst they rudely do not have a restaurant that you can just visit, they do have nineteen different spaces available for meetings and conferences. For more info, visit the Studio’s website.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio Spring 2016 menu tasting


    Due to the day job, I end up at quite a few conference venues in the city centre and so if I were ever to do a Buzzfeed style listicle it would likely be on conference lunches in Brum. Most of them are fairly uninteresting to be honest, but one that is less bland sandwiches and more restaurant quality food is The Studio on Cannon St.

    Rather than just roll out trays of beige, The Studio offer delegates a proper meal at lunch time; and they switch up their menu seasonally; and they invite regulars along to give them feedback on the menu. And so being as I’m there so often the staff seem to know me, and clearly liking my food, I went along to their spring menu tasting.

    salad_selectionMoving into spring this is transitional menu which balances the heavier winter food with something a bit lighter for those few sunny days we get in Birmingham. As well as the meat and vegetarian options, there are puddings and a range of salads. Now personally I struggle a bit with salad because I usually get bored before I’ve eaten enough but these salads have been thought through enough that they keep you interested as well as sated, and can be added as a side dish to your main.  I’ve since been back to The Studio for a conference and had the vegan Caesar salad alongside the Philly cheese ciabatta sandwich and worked really well as a tasty, nourishing meal in between a series of talks!


    A lot of the dishes are proper main meals which are part of what makes The Studio an ace venue (the staff are also great and they have a colouring in wall, no seriously).  Given that it’s spring, there’s a nice mix of fresh flavours and they’ve gone for a good range of cuisines from Chinese through to Cajun, Thai and something a bit more on the classic British.  I really liked the Chinese belly pork with spinach and pak choi, a brave option for a conference venue when you need to serve thirty odd people at once. Belly pork can sometimes be hard to cook well, but this was delicious, a perfect balance of crisp and chewy.  Another great dish was the pan-seared chicken on a bed of new potatoes, black olives and oven-roasted tomatoes, which sounds like a pretty simple dish but was executed well – one of the other testers on my table went back for seconds of that one!


    But what really impresses me about The Studio menu tastings is that they’re genuinely looking for people’s opinions on what works and what doesn’t.  I really liked the Thai green vegetable curry with basmati rice, but it was a little on the spicy side for me – it would certainly blast away any winter cobwebs! It’ll be interesting to see if it makes it onto the final menu…though I suspect not.

    And just a note about the desserts, oh yeah every lunch has a dessert.  The French apple tart with caramel sauce (the first photo on this post) was delicious, sweet, fresh and with the sauce was sweet without being too sickly.  There were also delicious Victoria sponge sundaes, trifles, cheesecakes and a zingy lemon & lime eton mess with passionfruit.  Frankly I think every meal should have a pudding, and if they’re as good as this then even better.


    Sadly, The Studio isn’t a restaurant that you can book into, but it is an excellent event space for meetings and conferences and worth a look if you’re booking  something – just invite me for lunch, yeah?

    Disclosure: Oh god, this again? It was a menu tasting for a conference venue, of course it was complimentary. But given how often I seem to be there between work and conferences I think they just assume I live there and feed me anyway.

    Pub grub, Reviews

    Rose Villa Tavern new(ish) menu

    chicken_wings_rose_villa_tavernIf I was the sort of person that felt ashamed about the food they liked, then fried chicken wings would be a total guilty pleasure.  But life is too short to feel embarrassed about the food that makes you happy.  And chicken wings, with their crispy batter encasing juicy meat, with no airs and graces but to get in and use your hands, are a simple, but delicious pleasure.  The Rose Villa Tavern in the Jewellery Quarter has been gaining a bit of a reputation for their chicken wings for a while now, so when they mentioned a new menu was brewing and specifically mentioned those chicken wings, I knew it was about time to revisit the place.

    Their new food menu has built on the Americana vibe that they’ve been rocking for a while.  Sure it’s a bit weird that this glorious Victorian Grade II listed building has a menu which would be more at home in a town in Texas, but somehow sat in the sunlight streaming in from those glorious glass windows it sort of works.  There are some dishes that you’d expect on such a menu; burgers, hot dogs, classic American sandwiches, nachos and fries, as well as a few dishes that you don’t see quite so much.


    Anyway, those wings.  The Rose Villa Tavern’s crunchy fried chicken wings are definitely what they promised.  They can be ordered in batches of six, twelve or eighteen with a number of sauces.  Personally though, I like my fried wings to have enough flavour to cope without the need for sauce and these lived up to that.  If you’re feeling generous, the wings (which feature as part of the small plates), would make a good accompaniment to some of the sharer options, like the chilli cheese fries which come loaded with chilli (meat or three bean), melted cheese, onion and American mustard.  Personally though, I’d just order some all to myself.

    bacon_cheeseburger_rose_villa_tavernOf course burgers feature heavily on the Rose Villa Tavern’s new menu, with eight different varieties and the option to add bacon, friend onion and/or cheese and to switch regular to sweet potato fries.  There is a classic House burger, a chicken burger, and a vegetarian burger which comes with friend minted halloumi.  But the menu also includes a Bacon Cheese which includes American cheese, candied bacon and love…take of that what you will.  The Codfather burger is a beer-battered fried cod fillet which makes a nice alternative to a fish finger sandwich (although I bloody love fish finger sandwiches).  The American Meat burger comes with a beef patty and beef brisket, which always struck me as a lot of food but I guess that’s sort of the point.


    If burgers, hot dogs and the like aren’t your thing then the new menu has expanded out the lunch offerings with sandwiches and salads too.  Salad wise it’s mainly the Cobb salad which can have blackened chicken, cod or halloumi added to it to make a more substantial meal.  Frankly ordering salad whilst dining out always felt to me like a strange thing to do but the blue cheese, crispy bacon and avocado make it more indulgent – and the blackened chicken was nicely cooked on the one I tried.  There’s also a grilled avocado, chorizo and warm cherry tomato salad which sounds nice, if you like that sort of thing.


    Whilst the menu is chockfull of meat, there are some surprises on the menu too – namely the Hipster Pasta Option, which is a vegan twist on a carbonara.  It uses pureed cauliflower and almond milk which isn’t quite rich enough to recreate cream and felt a bit powdery to me, but it is a decent effort at creating a vegan option on a pub menu.  It’s interesting to see that catering for vegans is becoming something of a thing on pub menus these days, which is never a bad thing.

    It’s also worth mentioning the house specials which include pulled brisket cannelloni, ribs, gammon and crab cakes, as well at meatloaf.  Maybe it’s just me, but years of watching American TV shows has made me wary of meatloaf, but the one we tried wasn’t nearly as dense and impenetrable as I’d been led to believe and had a nice flavour alongside the white gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans.

    I wasn’t really sure what to expect beforehand, given American diner menus have been popping up all over the city, which seems like a bit of an excuse to make a menu full of burgers, fries and hot dogs.  Sure the Rose Villa Tavern’s menu includes these, but there are also some nods to other traditional American dishes which give it a much more rounded menu.  And those wings…it’s worth going back for them alone.

    Disclosure: I was invited along to a complimentary menu tasting, although admittedly this was a while ago.  There was no obligation to blog about it and certainly none to say nice things, but when I’ve dragged myself to the JQ and brought my camera, it would seem a shame not to post something.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The Studio Birmingham, Autumn menu tasting


    Last time I went to The Studio Birmingham’s menu tasting I wanted to lie on the floor of my office quietly weeping about how full I felt.  As with the last one, this was a chance for the chefs to try out a whole new menu and with the colder months on their way (who are we kidding autumn has been here since June and I for one am a’okay with that), the Studio’s autumn menu has gone in a similar direction.  For any northern readers, The Studio have just opened a new venue in Leeds and so it was a bit of a head to head for the chefs as they’d come up with different items to find out which dishes were favoured best.


    The Studio Birmingham works on a six day rotation, where each day delegates of offered a choice of a meat or vegetarian option plus a pudding as part of the standard delegate day rate – no dull sandwich buffets here!  For the autumnal menu, the chefs had taken inspiration from the transitional period and created dishes which straddled the seasons.  Mains being tested including curries, cassoulets, mushroom stroganoff and slow cooked meats, all perfect for when it’s a bit cold outside.  I didn’t get round everything but of the things I did the tandoori roasted chicken skewers had a nice mild but flavoursome spice and the slow cooked pulled harissa spiced lamb had a delicate sweetness to it.

    Having used The Studio for a number of work events, where our participants always comment on the excellent quality of the food, I know that the venue takes their food very seriously.  The good thing about the seasonal menu tasting is that they can iron out anything they’re not happy with before the menu is launched, which I saw from the spring tasting as we were back there not long after for some work events and I tasted the improved dishes too.  This time round, I thought the beef madras option was a brave choice; it was not nearly as spicy as I’d feared, which itself was a bit confusing.

    snickers_eaton_mess_studioThe puddings always impress me at the Studio Birmingham, possibly because most places don’t bother or because there’s always some creative ones at the Studio.  This was fairly evident in the snickers eton mess which had piped cream, thick caramel sauce, chopped nuts and chocolate chips…fun, flavoursome but light enough that you didn’t feel like you were going to need to nap on one of their beanbags later.  The rich chocolate pot and praline crumble came in a shot glass and was a chocoholic’s idea of heaven, but I think it could’ve benefited from a raspberry coulis or something to cut through the richness.

    Anyone attending the tasting sessions is handed a form to jot down any notes and having been to a tasting and then there as a delegate when the menu has launched, it’s reassuring to know that they really listen and value the feedback.

    rich_chocolate_pot_studioAnd after sampling more food than I should it was time to plod off back to the office, pleasantly full.  The food at the Studio always impresses me as I don’t know of any other conference / meeting room venues in Birmingham which offer a proper cooked lunch, prepared on-site as a standard food option.

    The incoming autumnal menu, from what I’d tasted, is another corker and I’m trying to figure out if I can get myself invited along to any meetings there to test it out when it goes live!


    Disclosure: I was invited along to the menu tasting where all food was complementary…although given how much we’re there for work I think they assume I’m part of the furniture and just feed me anyway.

    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.

    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.