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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Chick-fil-A pops up in Birmingham

    It is oh so very typically British of me, but I have a soft spot for a queue; it’s the anticipation, the idea that this must be good because that many people have decided to give up their time to hang around instead of going elsewhere.  I bloody loved midnight releases for Harry Potter, not just because I needed to know what happened next, but that shared excitement is dizzyingly moreish.

    So, as I stood inside The Cube, where American premium fast food group Chick-fil-A had organised a while-stop pop-up, listening to the excitement of everyone around me was addictive.  What’s more, it had a distinctly American accent.  Word had gotten out to the American ex-pat community and several groups of people had traveled the length of our fair country just to get a taste of home.  One American boy, who was probably about eight, could specifically recount the last time he’d had a Chick-fil-A sandwich, which is dedication you can’t buy.  And apparently journeying to get a Chick-fil-A meal isn’t all that uncommon; I was recounting my visit to my American friend Erica who told me she often travels and hour and a half when she’s back in the states just to visit one of their branches.

    And it turns out that it isn’t just the food that inspires loyalty amongst the Chick-fil-A fanatics.  The food and drinks industry is pretty transient by nature, people pick up part-time jobs tending bar or waitress throughout school and college.  But, as Vice President – International, Rich Matherne, told me, Chick-fil-A’s retention rate for staff who want to stay with the family is impressively high.  Their venues lead in the US average sales per restaurant, beating the likes of McDonald’s, and with a relatively small amount of money needed to become a Chick-fil-A operator, they often see staff who have come up through the ranks secure a position.  This is even more impressive because they’re quite particular with who they’ll partner with and have a high number of franchisee applicants every year.

    At the pop-up in Birmingham, the whole atmosphere has a real wholesome family feel about it, not just because they’re family-owned, but because the staff are so polite (they respond to thanks with “My pleasure”, something which Erica confirmed is a consistent thing) and they close on Sundays.  Closing on a Sunday sounds like a mad idea but in an industry where you’re at the mercy of a rota, knowing you’re guaranteed the same day off every week must be a godsend.  I know it would make it easier for me to make plans with friends and family.

    We tried their famous chicken sandwich and waffle fries.  I’ll admit, I was a bit sceptical about the waffle fries, they looked a bit light and like they may have been cooked in a rush.  Turns out, I need not have worried, they were delicious – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside but not oozing in fat.  I dipped them in the Chick-fil-A sauce that is available to dress the sandwiches, should you wish.

    Ah, the sandwich.  Ordinarily I roll my eyes at the idea that a burger is called a sandwich, but I’ll accept if from Chick-fil-A.  Their chicken sandwich doesn’t feel as heavy as a burger, and whilst it’s a chicken breast lightly spiced and fried, and encased in a bread bun with two (or three) pickles, that’s it.  There’s none of the extra faff that usually comes with a burger and it’s up to the diner to decide if they want to add sauce or not.  I’m what Rich called a ‘purist’, because although I did try the sauce and ended up using it for my fries, the sandwich was good enough that I didn’t need to add the sauce to it.  The food really doesn’t have the same run-of-the-mill fast food feel; the chicken breast is actually chicken, the fries aren’t overly greasy. As Rich puts it, it’s the kind of food mum’s don’t mind buying for their kids and I can totally see that, I’m pretty sure it would be the kind of place I could convince my mum to eat at.

    In the interests of science, I had a second chicken sandwich that had remained wrapped in the insulated bag and it did indeed remain fresh.  Rich mentioned that they’re often told stories about how some people who drive a distance to get their burgers actually like them at a cooler temperature and I could understand that – the flavours subtly changed when it was slightly cooler but worked just as well.  Had they been two burgers, I’d probably have needed to crash out on the floor, but the lightness of the sandwiches meant that I was definitely full but it didn’t feel like weighed down by it.

    Chick-fil-A haven’t decided where they’re opening outside the US, but they’re doing their research thoroughly, and they’re being supported by their friends who dropped in for food and to pose with the ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ mascot.  And if I needed any more convincing of the affection customers have for Chick-fil-A then the amount of adults who wanted their photo taken with the cow would’ve swung it – I think they might’ve been in equal measure with the children.

    I’m just hoping I’m not going to be like that little boy and have to wait two more years for another Chick-fil-A sandwich – fingers crossed they make it across the pond soon.

    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.

    Cafe News, Food and Restaurant News, News, Pop Ups and Streetfood

    More new ventures for Birmingham

    comingtobrum

    Wow it’s a busy old time in Birmingham’s food and drink scene.  I blogged about five openings coming to the city and no sooner had I clicked ‘publish’ but a raft of others have appeared!  Here are another few places that have or are due to open in the city soon, plus a couple of pop ups and residences…

    Hare & Hounds Pop-ups

    From South Indian dosa to pie from Eastside and South African dishes, the Hare and Hounds is playing host to three pop-ups this month with Pop Up Dosa on the 15th, Savanna Grill on the 22nd and Pietanic on the 29th January.  Tickets for each of the events are £15 and available via their website.

    http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk/2015/01/08/pop-up-kitchens-at-the-hare-hounds/

    Big Papa’s Beautiful South to take over the Sunflower Lounge

    To be honest I didn’t even realise the Sunflower Lounge had a kitchen until the boys at Big Papa’s announced they were partnering with the venue.  Known for their soul food streetfood, Big Papa’s will be taking over the kitchen seven days a week from 21st January; expect blackened shrimp, buttermilk fried chicken and cola-pulled brisket on the menu.

    https://twitter.com/bigpapasUK

    Cosy Club in the Midland Bank

    The rumour mill had the original Midland Bank pegged as many things, but the Birmingham Post announced a deal was struck and it’ll become the first city centre venture by the Loungers group, who already have a number of cafe-bars in the city.  Agreeing a 25 year lease and spending a raft of money on repairs and a substantial fit out of the Grade II listed building, the venue will become a Cosy Club café-bar and is expected to open sometime in the spring.

    http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/business/business-news/midland-bank-building-become-first-8401763

    Quinto Lounge in Sutton Coldfield

    But if you need your fix of a new Loungers venture, then Quinto Lounge in Sutton Coldfield town centre opens today (14th January).  Taking over a two-story furniture store on the Birmingham Road, the venue will echo it’s over locations with a retro home from home serving up all-day breakfasts plus tapas and burgers.

    www.thelounges.co.uk

    Kyoto Sushi and Grill on Hurst Street 

    For a while sushi restaurants were a bit thin on the ground in Brum, but the tide is changing and with that comes Kyoto Sushi and Grill in the Arcadian on Hurst St.  With an all-you-can-eat buffet concept you get two hours to order and eat as much freshly prepared food, with over 70 dishes on the menu, including sushi, soups and handmade rolls.

    http://kyotosushi.co.uk/

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    A vegan raw food experience

    It’s good to get out of your comfort zone right?  I’ve inadvertently eaten vegan dishes a few times, what with the whole not getting on so well with dairy, but raw food is a new experience.  So when an evening of vegan raw food in conjunction with Jay Halford of J’s Organic was listed on Warehouse Cafe’s facebook, I thought it was worth a try.  And somehow I convinced a group of friends decided to accompany me.

    In one of those ways Alanis Morrisette would sing about, I’d managed to eat a full English breakfast and some pork scratchings earlier in the day (which isn’t exactly the norm for me) – something was telling me my stomach was not as curious about this vegan raw food thing as my brain!  But after a cocktail for courage at Le Truc, we moseyed on to the Warehouse Cafe to try something new.

    On arrival it was nice to see a sort of group dynamic with the tables being in a giant horseshoe formation and a good mix of people.  There’s always that stereotype of vegan raw foodists being a bit “right on”, so it was nice to see this wasn’t the case.

    Once everyone was seated we were presented with a drink – a raspberry lemonade, of sorts, the lemon giving a natural fizz and some sort of superfood that I didn’t quite catch the name of (and probably best, I’m deeply suspicious of things called ‘superfoods’).  Tart but tasty, this was an excellent aperitif.

    The first course was a beetroot gazpacho with a sort of hazelnut cracker– a lovely summery soup with a cracker that had a nice zing to it.  The sort of thing you’d eat somewhere and not really think about it being vegan.

    IMG_3991.JPG

    Main course was the pun-entitled chia non carne, a chia seed mixture, with parsnip rice.  I’ve heard a lot about chia seeds, but mainly adding them into smoothies rather than the star of a dish, and I found the texture of the chilli to jelly-like, which was a bit off-putting.  The parsnip rice however was delicious – somehow buttery and something that I’d happily eat again, ditto the parsnip crisps as garnish.  But this was the course which divided opinion the most – there were meals barely touched and others mopping up seconds.

    The final course, the dessert, was a show stopper.  A sort of millionaire shortbread/cheesecake with a chocolate mousse this was the kind of thing that could convince any carnivore of the merits of raw-food veganism. I wasn’t a massive fan of the banana chocolate mousse, which was a little too bitter for my liking and felt like it could’t done with some sugar, but the cheesecake was delightful.

    This was certainly a more unusual food experience than in usually found in Birmingham. It opened up the possibilities of what vegan raw food can be; a familiar dish you wouldn’t know was such, a no nonsense vegan raw food main and a dessert that showed that the movement can mimic well-loved food surprisingly well.  I’m not sure I’d be in a rush to indulge in vegan raw food all the time, but the night certainly opened my eyes to the possibility of some tasty food minus the meat and heat.

    http://www.thewarehousecafe.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/JsOrganic11

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Two Cats Roaming Kitchen July event

    I think I’ve just about recovered from the food extravaganza that was Two Cats Roaming Kitchen last month.

    If you read my June review you’ll know I was pretty blown away by the experience…but this was on another level entirely.  In a brilliant case of quality AND quantity, we were treated to eleven different courses, ranging from vodka & gooseberry, sea urchin, and lumpfish roe to build your own dessert and candles made from butter.  Chef Nick Astley and his partner Diana took a modernist culinary approach that leaped away from the ordinary and created a fantastic experience as well as great food.

    At this point it would feel a little ridiculous to try and go through each dish and comment, but suffice to say that hopefully my terrible smartphone photos give you some indication as to what a fantastic array of food was on offer.  Even items seen on the menu the month before were given new life and once again the monkfish was a particular favourite.  I was also grateful that my lactose intolerance was taken into account and some dairy-heavy dishes were swapped, but at no point did I ever feel like I was missing out.

    Two Cats Roaming are taking a break in August, but will be back in the autumn.  Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for details of any upcoming events and book some tickets.  You won’t be disappointed.

     

    165783093