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The Bullring

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Searcy’s Balcony at Selfridges

    Cities are great, they’re great because there is always something happening, a sort of slow hum, the soundtrack of living.  And I like nothing more than to find somewhere to sit and appreciate this; I’d call it an abstract people watching if it didn’t sound so bloody pretentious.  It is, for me, one of the many reasons I like going out for dinner, because you can watch the action of the staff moving like they’re in a choreographed dance between tables, the clinking of cutlery and glasses, and the people watching, oh that’s always the best bit.  Everyone plays the guessing who’s on a first date game, right?

    And way up high in the skies of Selfridges in the Bullring is The Balcony, not an inventive name, I’ll give you that, but it does give you an indication of where it is.  I love that floor, because as my mum puts it I “have a thing for bags” and I like to covet them and daydream over a time I can justify buying a Mulberry Bayswater.  It is, at times, a floor that feels a bit like a museum but the restaurant itself is neatly tucked away in a corner and stretches out into the belly of the Bullring – but the view is not intrusive, it just adds a bit more life whilst giving a relaxed vibe.

    We start with a cocktail, because we’re on a floor of shoes and handbags and it’s probably the done thing here.  The cocktail menu is compact, nine alcoholic and two without, and the theme seems to be British summer time – lots of berries, fruits alongside gin and fizz.  The Goji Blush is made with organic goji berry liqueur, organic Virtuous vodka, lemon juice, honey, raspberries and Selfridges Prosecco; it’s a light, delicate drink, made well by the bartender and simple enough that most people should enjoy it.

    I honestly worried that the menu at The Balcony would be miniature bites aimed at ‘ladies what lunch’ but don’t actually seem to be interested in eating.  But thankfully they’re well thought out dishes that allow you to be as gluttonous or restrictive as you like.  Mains are classic dishes: braised shoulder of lamb, fish and chips, salmon fish cakes and the like.  There’s also a burger – we’ll get to that later though.  For starters my friend Jo-ann had the pea and ham terrine, which she enjoyed but said would’ve preferred less pea and more ham, though not ungenerous with the meat.  I had pesto gnocchi mainly because it has been a very long time since I’ve had it and I was surprised to see it on the menu, but it was a nice light version.

    For mains, Jo-ann had the braised shoulder of lamb, fondant potato and butternut squash purée and unsurprisingly I went for the Lake District beef and Applewood cheese burger with fries. Jo’s lamb was a good-sized portion and she said the lamb had been cooked well, the butternut squash puree added a nice summery look to what could’ve been a more wintery dish. My burger was delicious, the smokey applewood cheese gave it a lovely flavour and the bun was toasted but still pliable…all in all a very decent burger and one I’d be happy to go back for. The miniature mayo and ketchup pots were a nice touch and the fries were of a good standard.

    The Oreo cheesecake that Jo-ann had looked lovely, but also seemingly a little tough to crack through the base – I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I went for the stick toffee pudding, another classic dish on the menu, which had a lovely caramel flavour and the toffee sauce had a perfect touch of saltiness to cut through the sugar. Delightful.

    For a menu that I expected to be all a bit ‘ladies what lunch’ this was a surprise. Sure, you’re paying more because of the location and associated exclusivity, but the portions are a reasonable size and the menu is largely fairly classic, well-known dishes done well using nice ingredients. For those people who want to eat well but dislike the hectic crowds that can sometimes descend on the Bullring, the Balcony is a good place to seek refuge, if you don’t mind paying a little for it.

    The Balcony at Selfridges, Bullring, Moor Street Queensway, Birmingham B5 4BU

    Disclaimer: I was invited down, or should that be up, to the Balcony for a complimentary meal. As ever views remain my own, because lying is too much effort to remember.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    wagamama Birmingham Bullring has had a refurb

    chicken_katsu_curry_wagamam

    I spend about eighty percent of the time with my camera being surprised at the results it comes out with.  I’m never going to be a food photographer, but I think that dear little camera does a good job at making it look like I know what I’m doing.  I really don’t.  And if you’d like any evidence of this, ask me to take photos of things that aren’t food or drinks – I really struggle.  So when wagamama invited me down to check out their newly refurbished Bullring venue, I really did try and take some photos of the new refurb but I’ve just got a series of strangers making weird faces as they try and eat noodles. And I’m not mean enough to subject them or you to that.

    tori_kara_age_wagamama So yeah, wagamama, I don’t really need to introduce them do I?  I mean even my mum knows them; admittedly she calls them “that place I have noodles” whenever we’re thinking about lunch in Solihull but I think that says more about the scarcity of my mum eating carbs than anything.  Anyway, back to Brum.  Turns out the Bullring branch was the first wagamama restaurant to open in the UK outside of London, which I didn’t know, and has had a refurb, which I did know because I had an email telling me.  On the surface it doesn’t look like anything massively structural has changed; the seating is much the same although there are now some little semi-booth like tables to the side and it feels distinctively less like a canteen (I think the official term is ramen bar), which is always a good thing.  I think its the inclusion of darker wood on  the tables and walls, plus the lighting feels more ‘mood’.  The kitchen is still open, the long tables are there but overall if feels less functional and more pleasant.  It’s definitely a change for the better.
    duck_gyoza_wagamama

    Food wise I had convinced myself I was going to go for something a bit different.  But I was having one of those days when it All Gets a Bit Much and was moments off making a fort under the nearest desk and staying there.  On days like this comfort food is an absolute must and, for me, chicken katsu curry covers that pretty well; fried chicken, carbohydrates in the form of rice, a small but tasty salad to absolve you any guilt and a mild curry sauce.  And that’s what I got.  It was chicken katsu curry, it was exactly what I wanted and tasted like every other chicken katsu curry I’ve had a wagamamas – you’ve got to give them credit for consistency on their part.  And that’s what I wanted, a familiar favourite when I couldn’t handle more choice.  Had it been another day I may well have gone for something else, which does occasionally happen, and there is a nice selection of ramen, curries and teppanyaki.

    For starter I went for another well known favourite, the duck gyoza with dipping sauce.  These were possibly a bit over done for my liking, but this time round I actually remembered to try the sauce and it whilst it was very sweet it did have a nice fruitiness to it that complimented the duck.

    Oh and I’d also dragged along my friend Jo-ann, who I’m pretty sure ordered tori kara age and some sort of donburi.  I’m always a bit wary of putting words into people’s mouths but she seemed to enjoy them both, which is the mainly thing really.

    donburi_wagamamaSo there you have it, the wagamama in the Bullring has had a refurbishment.  It’s a good refurbishment, you don’t spend ages wondering where the hell everything is, but it looks different enough that you know they haven’t just out a lick of paint on the wall.  In fact, there’s a bit on their ‘about us’ page (see I do do research) which talks about ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘good change’ and I think the refurb certainly adheres to that.

    http://www.wagamama.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited down by wagamama to check out their newly refurbed restaurant. The lack of ability to remember names of anything is an inherited trait, so I blame my mother, the eccentricity is largely my father’s fault.

    Competition, News

    Win tickets to Masterchef winner Tim Anderson’s ‘Taste Japan’ evening

    Paul Winch-Furness / PhotographerWant to win a pair of tickets to 201 1 MasterChef winner Tim Anderson’s ‘Taste Japan’ evening at The Balcony in Selfridges Birmingham?

    Taking place on Wednesday 2nd March from 7pm, the event promises to serve up traditional Japanese dishes with a modern twist, with influences from Tim’s personal history of worldwide culinary tourism and a keen interest in food science.  Guests will be served a selection of small plates, a ramen, a dessert, and matching drinks.  Sample dishes look pretty interesting and include Kumamato ramen (noodles in nose-to-tail pork broth with garlic chips, burnt garlic oil, pork belly, tea-pickled egg, and pickled mustard greens) and banana miso ice cream with black sugar syrup, kinako and castella.

    Alice Weryk, general manager at Searcys at The Balcony, comments: “We’re thrilled to welcome Tim for what we’re sure will be an outstanding event. As the youngest ever winner, Tim is well known for his excellent performance on MasterChef, and we can’t wait to see what he cooks up on the night. For fans of Japanese cuisine, the ‘Taste Japan’ evening promises to be an unforgettable experience…”

    Tim Anderson said: “I’m excited to be hosting this event at Selfridges in Birmingham – I love ramen & I want everyone to taste how good it can be, plus show off some of my favourite dishes from the book. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen there!”

    To win a pair of tickets, just follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter below.  Of course, if you want to buy some tickets yourselves, they’re available here.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Summer Dine at The Bullring

    bruschetta_jamies_bullringI remember when the Bullring opened.  I also remember when they added bits on and opened Spiceal St.  And yet for some reason I never really remember about the Bullring when I think about dinner.  Actually that’s a lie, my friend and I will sometimes go for a cheeky Nando’s before heading off to have a Grey’s Anatomy marathon, but that’s because it’s by her bus stop.

    So when an invite to Summer Dine at the Bullring landed in my inbox, I thought it would be a good excuse to get reacquainted with the place.  It was also a chance to have a look at the Bullring Plus app, which is free to download and has a bunch of discounts on it – a few of which are under the Summer Dine idea.

    fried_mini_ravioli_jamies_bullring

    We started the night in Jamie’s Italian with drinks and nibbles.  I’ve been to Jamie’s a few times pre-blog and had some pretty mediocre experiences so it was nice to go back and see if things were better this time around.  We ordered what felt like one of everything on the starter menu, due to an excellent waiter whose enthusiasm was infectious. It was certainly a good re-introduction; the fried ravioli in particular was pretty stand out and something that could tempt me back to give the place another try.

    For mains we headed to Chaophraya for a mini-cooking class, to make our own dinner.  I’ve blogged about my experiences of going to the full class earlier in the year and was looking forward to learning more.  This time we made a Thai red chicken curry which was delicious…and I got to take home some leftovers for tea the next night.

    red_thai_curry_chaophraya_bullring

    The fun thing was cooking almost entirely from scratch, grinding the spices in an old style pestle and mortar, adding in more ingredients and making something that really was tasty.  I’ve made a few curries from scratch in my time but having an expert on hand to tell you what to do and why was very helpful.  And I was pleased to be able to take the paste home to make more curry after the leftovers were finished.

    And then for pudding we heading into the main part of The Bullring to Joe Delucci’s Gelato.  Despite us running late, the staff had stuck around to tell us about what they sell and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what they offer – particularly when we asked about their favourite flavours.  As someone who doesn’t always get on with dairy, ice cream is a rare treat but it was nice to hear they do fat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free flavours and not just naff sorbets like some places – things that taste like actual ice cream.

    joe_deluccis_ice_cream_bullring

    And then, with some mint choc chip ice cream, I headed for the bus home.  Much like the rest of the Bullring, the food offerings are mainly from national chains which isn’t to everyone’s taste but there is a wide range of cuisines which will cater for most people; from Italian, French and Thai to burgers, pizza…and chicken.   And after a long day shopping, finding something to keep almost everyone happy is kind of what you want really.

    http://www.bullring.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited to the summer dine experience by the Bullring’s PR team and the food was provided complimentary.  As ever, all views remain honest and my own…and I’m not entirely sure what a cheeky Nandos is, but I love that some people are losing their **** over it.

    News, Pop Ups and Streetfood

    What’s Your Biggest Craving…?

    Mini Cravings are the latest product to join The Laughing Cow family and they’re designed to offer a satisfying nibble when you’re craving something but don’t want to spoil your appetite.  They come in a range of flavours, including original, smoked cheese and garlic & herb.  They’re also 14 calories a square and my calorie-conscious mother has already tried them and given them her seal of approval – she had a couple right before lunch and I was a bit worried, thankfully they really didn’t spoil her appetite but did give her enough energy to wander around some shoe shops first.

    minicravings

    Ahead of their Cravings Cube rolling into Birmingham this weekend to launch the Mini Cravings range, the team at The Laughing Cow decided to play cravings genie, promising to satisfy my cravings after posing the question to me “What’s Your Biggest Craving”.  For someone who is pretty much constantly curious (and not just about food), this is a terrible question.  After discounting things like Bernard’s Watch to stop time, one of those Matrix plug-in thingies so I can learn everything, or a pet dinosaur, I realised that by biggest cravings were pretty simple – and food and drink related, obviously.

    coffee and waffles

    Having just moved into a flat and gained a kitchen of my own, I’ve found myself wistfully coveting kitchen gadgets, to the point where my mum will often find me wandering off to gaze at them when we meet up to go shopping.  As someone who spends a lot of time busy doing things and not enough time sleeping, I’m always crazing lazy mornings with good breakfasts.  I have a total weakness for disco coffees (coffee with some sort of sugary flavouring) which I indulge a little too much on my way to work when I’ve decided to press snooze one too many times.  Plus my new flat means that my mum and her husband sometimes pop in on their weekend cycling trips for a coffee, so good coffee is an absolute requirement in my home.  I’ve been eying up a proper coffee machine for weeks now so I can save my pennies and make my own disco coffees at home, but I’ve been buying practical things like bookcases instead.

    waffles and ice cream

    And you know how the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I love nothing more than treating myself to something a little indulgent at the weekend.  Ever since I stayed in a hotel which had its own waffle maker I’ve been wanting a waffle maker of my very own.  Ordinarily I prefer savoury over sweet, but waffles and maple syrup (with streaky bacon if I remember to buy it) is a gloriously indulgent breakfast.  Until now, I just used to buy the pre-made ones, but always fancied having a go at my own.  They’re also pretty nifty with a few scoops of ice cream for pudding too.

    The Laughing Cow’s Cravings Cube has been touring the country and will be rolling into The Bullring this Saturday and Sunday, 22-23 August 2015, to offer you the chance to play the cube and possibly win some great prizes, check out the mini cravings range and try out the Mini Cravings too.  Check out The Laughing Cow Facebook page for photos from previous visits too.

    caving cube locations

    So what have you been craving?

    Disclosure: This post was in collaboration with The Laughing Cow.  As always, they are my honest opinions…and my mum really did eat the cheese right before we left for lunch. I also resisted any urges to make jokes about how my surname sounds a bit like cravin’.

    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.

    DSC_1007
    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.

    DSC_1032

    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.

    Drinks, Events, News

    Bespoke Bombay Sapphire bottles this Saturday

    bombaysapphireIf you’re feeling a bit stuck about what to get someone for Christmas and want to avoid the impersonal bottle of plonk, then Bombay Sapphire has your back as they’ll be doing personal engraving on bottles purchased in Selfridges this Saturday.

    Head down to the Wine Shop in Selfridges on Saturday, between midday and 8pm, to have a Bombay Sapphire hand-engrave something nice on one of their crystal-blue bottles.  It’ll cost £29.99 for the bottle of gin and the hand-engraving, which is pretty good for a unique Christmas gift.

    Personally I’m a much bigger fan of gin than I am wine, so this sounds like a pretty neat idea to me – plus with a certain hazelnut chocolate spread offering customised jars in The Bullring too, you’ve pretty much got Christmas evening sorted right there.

    www.bombaysapphire.com