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    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Butchers Social, Henley-in-Arden

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    I’m totally going to blame jet lag for not remembering Butchers Social when my mum suggested lunch in Henley-in-Arden recently. Not the sort of jet lag that makes you wake up at 4am; I mean the jet lag that affects those of us with a love of good food, whose circadian rhythm may be back on track but whose stomach still yearns for the food of their holiday destination. My head knew it was lunchtime, but my heart wanted the glorious burgers of Melbourne or £3.50 plates of Michelin-starred noodles from Singapore.  Failing that, Mum lured me to Henley with the promise of ice cream, but then we found Butchers Social.

    For those that missed the first iteration, Butchers Social began as a pop-up in an old butcher’s shop on Harborne High St, which stuck around longer than I think anyone expected but everyone was thankful that they did.  Whilst a fairly extensive refurb has happened and in its place, reopening as Harborne Kitchen, the dream of Butchers Social and those wings didn’t go away…it just moved to the town of Henley-in-Arden.  Which is technically a small town in Warwickshire, and on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon, but with its B95 postcode, it totally counts as one of ours still.

    Henley-in-Arden always seems like the kind of place that’s build for proper english summers, perhaps because the only time I seem to go is for ice cream and there is precious little on what I expect is the high street. There are, though, lots of places to eat; a collection of cafes, the well-respected though relatively new Cheal’s and a bunch of pubs I never remember then name of but are pleasant.  Having exhausted the charity shops, including one that seemed to be selling clothes at full retail value, Mum and I went in search of lunch.  For anyone that ever doubted the legitimacy of A-boards as advertising, let me tell you, it was the one outside Butchers Social that made me realise where we were.  Okay sure I was trying to take a photo of the funny sign about coffee, but it worked and we went in.

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    I’d be lying if I told you I had any plans to order from the main menu because it was clearly always going to be about the chicken wings, after all it’s what Butchers Social is famous for, round these parts.  Because my tastebuds beat my sense of reasoning I ordered the soy, ginger and spring onion chicken wings, and of course had to have the salted caramel wings too.  Two portions of wings totalling 1kg is a bit extreme, this was clear madness on my part and why I ended up going home with a doggy bag.  I know everyone bangs on about the salted caramel wings and they were delicious, but I found them kinda sickly after a while – I would totally order them again but with someone who would help me out by sharing the dish, although having them cold the next day was a winner.  The soy, ginger and spring onion chicken wings are probably the best wings I think I’ve ever eaten and I really like fried chicken.  The salty yet slightly sour earthiness of the soy sauce and crispness of the skin was superb.  I am struggling to convey how much I enjoyed those wings, just know they were fantastic.

    My mum had the lobster salad which was on the specials too, and her exact words were “well, this is delightful” which I take to be a very good sign because, for as much as my mum likes salads, I’ve never heard her call one delightful before.  I tried a bit and I can see why.  Lobster rarely appeals to me because it always seems like an unnecessary faff and whilst playing with your food can be fun, if I wanted to work this hard for my dinner I’d bother to cook, but this was indeed delightful, light and not at all messy. Unlike my wings, though thankfully a bowl of wet wipes are provided so you can make a mess safe in the knowledge you’ll be able to clean up after.

    soya_ginger_chicken_wings_butchers_socialA final note about the service, which was attentive and friendly.  I’d totally missed the bit about chicken wings being half-price on Saturdays in January, but we were reminded and this was after I’d ordered myself two portions, so probably good they didn’t tell me before.  That said, they would’ve been a good deal at full price…and certainly enough to lure me back to Henley-in-Arden, which is turns out is only about a half hour train ride away from Birmingham city centre.  Which is nothing, not for wings like these. Go, go now, and take me with you.  Or bring me some wings back.

    And I still got my ice cream.

    Butchers Social, 97 High St, Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, B95 5AT

    Disclaimer: Food was provided by the venue which my mother paid, in full, for everything because she is awesome. I left a tip, because I try. Also, that lack of apostrophe, I’m just going with what they do.

    Cafe reviews, Reviews

    Benugo Birmingham New St

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    I don’t get salad people…even though my mum is one.  Those people that would voluntarily choose a torturous game of needle in a haystack only with the hay being lettuce and the needle protein, instead of pretty much anything else for lunch.  But when I headed down to check out Benugo, one of the latest openings at new New St station, I voluntarily ate salad.  And it was good.

    Benugo Birmingham New St is the first ‘high street’ store outside of London for the group.  Founded in 1998 by two brothers, Ben and Hugo, which is presumably where the name came from, you can find Benugo outlets up and down the country but mainly in cultural centres and museums.  Their first foray into Birmingham has more of an actual coffee shop vibe to it – the decor is that rustic, industrial look which is becoming a bit too familiar in coffee shops, but here is softened with colourful furniture.  Frankly with such a good spot for people watching, they’ve rightly left half the walls as windows, which gives you the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by or watch people marvel at the new station.

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    On the surface they don’t do anything we haven’t seen in Birmingham before – tea, coffee, sandwiches and salad boxes.  But their focus is on honest, responsibly sourced food, healthy too but with the occasional sweet treat.  Most of the food is prepared on site, all chicken is free-range and British, and they support a raft of charities from farms working with children in urban areas to projects delivering fresh drinking water in India.

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    It’s clear coffee is a big thing for them, with coffee bean sacks and milk jugs decorating the space above the fridges, they’ve won London’s Coffee Shop of the Year twice.  But just like the capital, there’s a raft of great independent coffee shops in Birmingham who take their coffee seriously too.  The flat white I tried was lovely, the coffee had a smoothness to it which was rounded off by a nice velvet milk – and no need for sugar.  It would certainly be a good coffee to catch on the way to work; strong enough to wake you up, but steady enough that it wouldn’t be a shock to the system.

    They’re trialling hot food in the Birmingham Benugo, which given how autumnal a day it was might’ve been a good choice, but I spotted something better, something which suggested to me that maybe these London lot might be at home in Brum after all; curry.  Or rather masala chicken with curried quinoa & lentil mix, edamame, roast sweet potato, cucumber, mixed leaves and cabbage and carrot slaw.  They call it a super wholefood box which is the sort of righteousness in food that usually puts me off, but the riot of colour made this look like more than your average salad.  And it was.  I get bored of salad before I feel like I’ve eaten enough, but the mix of flavours from the spice of the chicken to the sweetness from the potato and the crunch of the carrot was enough to keep me interested.  By most work-day lunch standards it’s not a cheap option, but it feels like something which is nutritional and fun…which is certainly worth the splurge.

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    After something so healthy I probably should’ve rounded it off with fruit, but I’m a sucker for an afternoon sweet snack, so I took with me a mango and passionfruit cheesecake, which travelled surprisingly well up past Colmore Row.  Whilst I was worried that this looked like a lot of cheese, it had layers of zingy fruit nestled on a bed of biscuit crumble that still had some bite to it.  Although a flatter serving dish with more crumble would’ve been my preferred choice, this will still tick a lot of boxes for most people.

    The previous offerings at the old train station were pretty lacklustre, to say the least.  But with good coffee, tasty food and a great location, Benugo Birmingham New St makes a much better meeting place than a tired old cookie stand – or just a place to watch the world go by.  I’ll be back…and I’m taking my mum, she might even get to see me eat a salad for once.

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    Disclosure: Benugo invited me down to try a complimentary lunch, although to be fair I was already planning on visiting anyway.  As ever my views remain honest and my own, even though I’ve just admitted to liking a salad, which my mum pointed out she “knew you would grow up to like them”.

    Cafe reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Shirley High St

    It feels a bit lazy writing this all as one blogpost, but having only really dipped my toes into the delights Shirley has to offer it feels right.  For years Shirley High St has been a bit, well, rubbish.  I remember trips to the Bank of Ireland as a child as my mum once inexplicably held an account there, waiting in the car because there was simply nothing else to do.  Fast-forward a few years and other than venturing to the rather delightful Crust, a pizzeria which is really worth a trip, I hadn’t bothered with the high st for years.  But the Parkgate development seems to have brought a new lease of life to Shirley, and in the last month or so, I’ve visited twice for lunch.

    photo 3On my first visit it was lunch at Desco Lounge, part of the Loungers group, which also has venues in Kings Heath and Harborne.  Despite having one on my doorstep, I don’t really visit a lot, but my mum wanted to go for lunch and as she was paying I wasn’t arguing.  The Loungers venues in Brum have this whole faux-shabby-chic thing going for them, but the high ceilings at Desco give it more grandeur.  I went for their Jambalaya, which was a little disappointing.  The chorizo was, at points, tougher than I’d like and the inclusion of the chicken on top of the rice mixture meant it lacked flavour.  The jamba itself was very spicy, a little too spicy for me, but still pretty tasty.  My mum went for a Goat’s Cheese salad, which she said was one of the best she’d had in a long time.

    photo 5After some errands we stopped for coffee.  Shirley has an assortment of chain coffee shops and my health conscious mother had vetoed the idea of trying Shake, Waffle & Roll, but did point out her new favourite place to stop for coffee – a furniture charity shop.  No, seriously.  Betel has a restored furniture shop on the high st which has some lovely pieces…and also a charming little coffee shop.  I asked for a soya milk latte, which given the size of the shop I wasn’t convinced they’d have, and they couldn’t be more accommodating.  Also, a Christmas mug…these people know their customers well (I LOVE Christmas).  The foam on the latte was luxurious and the coffee delicious. Top marks.  I’m looking forward to going back and trying some of their cakes, many of which cater for food intolerances.

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    Our second visit saw us at Pizza Express.  We both went for the Warm Vegetable and Goats Cheese Salad, only I had mine minus the goat’s cheese and with chicken.  With aubergine, red & yellow peppers, roasted tomatoes, artichoke, cucumber, Italian lentils, mint and basil this was another of those salads-I-don’t-hate; full of flavour and texture, with plenty of veg and just a little bit of lettuce – very enjoyable.

    Just like my mum and her banking, Shirley high st has moved with the times.  There are some interesting places to eat and it’s developing a nice buzz.

    Well done Shirley, I’ll be back soon.

    Recipes

    Blueberry balsamic dressing makes everything better

    I’ve been convinced I dislike salad.  I have my reasons and they’re usually a combination of soggy, bland lettuce leaves which make you bored of chewing before you get full.  But it’s summer and after feeling a bit under the weather I thought I needed to inject a lot more veg into my diet, so it was time to revisit the dreaded salad.

    My plan was for tuna mayo with a rainbow assortment of colourful veg.  If the saying we eat with our eyes is true, I didn’t want to subject myself to a plate of just green.  So I added orange pepper (diced), a good measure of sweetcorn, cucumber (because even though it’s a salad staple, I love it), sun-dried tomatoes (which taste like pizza), and stripes of carrot to go with the insipid lettuce.  Already this was looking good.

    And then I remembered blueberries.

    I can’t remember where it was, but once I had blueberry vinaigrette on a side salad and though I’ve forgotten the place, the taste is one of those things I’ll remember for a while.  Sweet and zingy all pepped up with a nice light vinegar taste, it’s truly a wonderful dressing and why it doesn’t feature in more places I’ll never know.

    After reading a few recipes online I got bored of trying to convert cups and made up my own measures.  I’d give you the full recipe, but really I made this to taste and I’d recommend you do too.

    Blueberry balsamic dressing

    • Blueberries
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Olive oil
    • Juice from half a lemon
    • Sugar

    The main thing is use a food processor / blender, blitz the blueberries first and then add the rest of the ingredients sparingly until you get the taste you want.  The recipes I read online suggested honey in place of sugar, but I didn’t have any to hand and it’s just something to balance out the lemon and vinegar, rather than needing the honey taste.  I started with 30 blueberries, 3.5 tablespoons of olive oil, 1tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, juice from half a lemon and a big pinch of sugar and went from there.  After adjusting the flavours I watered it down a little to make it easier to pour.

    The next day I took my salad to work and the tuna mayo stayed untouched in its container, where I ate my way through the rainbow.  And there’s plenty of ingredients left for tomorrow.

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