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The Cube

    Bar reviews, Reviews

    Haig Club whisky with a view at The Cube

    On the few brief glimpses of summer we get in Birmingham it’s worth either being outside in the sunshine, or my preferred option somewhere with air conditioning and a good view.  And way up high on level 25 of The Cube to check out the new Haig Club Bar isn’t too shabby a way to spend an evening.

    Haig Club, for those not in the know, is a light grain whisky launched by footballer David Beckham and produced by the titan spirits company Diageo.  It comes in a distinctive blue bottle that looks more like an oversized aftershave than whisky, but certainly makes for pretty pictures.  I once heard someone describe a dram as a ‘Breakfast Whisky’ and if I were looking for a way to describe Haig Club, this may well be it.  It’s incredibly light, easy-drinking but lacks the oomph associated with whisky, which will either disappoint drinkers or have the potential to turn them on to a spirit they thought they didn’t like.  Then again, sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit more temperate in the sunshine.

    The bar itself is nestled away in one of the corners of the top floor of the Cube.  It’s away from the bustle of main bar up there, but still has the wow-factor with the impressive views of the city whilst maintaining a sense of exclusivity.  If everyone who goes doesn’t take a photo like the one above of the cityscape in the background I’d be highly suspicious.  The shelves of Haig Club whisky lined up behind the bar also makes an impressive feature wall.

    Head barman Jack Spencer, previously of Bourne & Co and Bank, has taken helm of the bar itself and created a series of cocktails, several of which are based on fairly classic drinks, including the Ginger Julep and Clubman Apple Mule, as well as a few of his own including Berry Beauty and Pears in Paradise – and maybe a few other sneaky specials.  With such a soft spirit it going to be hard not to overpower it or create something sickly sweet and Jack manages to do a fine job of creating something that works.

    There’s also a food menu, which has been designed to highlight the flavours of the Haig Club whisky, apparently.  I’m not overly convinced by this, but it’s a decent array of tapas-style bar menu and there’s a good selection, although it seems to be fairly meat heavy, though there were some veggie options.  Highlights for me included the prawns and the chorizo and I really wanted to like the black pudding bon-bons, because hello black pudding, but I think they needed to be smaller.  I’m not overly sold on the food, it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s the main draw of the place; I think they’re more about having some snacks whilst checking out the view and having a cocktail or two.

    I don’t doubt that Birmingham is ready for a whisky bar, and I think it’s a brave move to focus one around a product which is incredibly smooth but lacks the depth that most people might associate with the spirit.  Then again with the bright lights, city lights twinkling below, perhaps it is more about starting the night than ending it, and if so a lighter-tasting whisky might be the way to go.

    Haig Club Bar, Level 25, The Cube, 196 Wharfside St, Birmingham B1 1RN

    Disclaimer: I was invited to check out the bar at a preview night where food and drinks were provided complimentary, but as ever my opinions remain my own. Also, totally stuck a reference to 50 Cent in there because I’m watching Power.

    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.

    Food and Restaurant News, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Bun & Bowl’s Valentine’s Day menu

    My love of burgers is well documented; to me they’re the perfect marriage of meat and bread.  So it feels a bit remiss of me that I’ve not yet made it to Bun & Bowl, however that was remedied when I was invited down to a blogger dinner to preview their Valentine’s Day menu.IMG_1494.JPG

    Ironically I’d spent the day writing about Valentine’s Day as a guest post for somewhere else, so I knew a lot about what was happening in the city.  The article has a mix of traditional candle lit dinners and quirky devil-may-care events; Bun & Bowl have created a menu which fits more towards the traditional but with some interesting quirks.

    As we sat down, we were treated to a glass of red fruit champagne, a mix of strawberry puree and champagne (similar to a Bellini) which was a much more interesting twist on a glass of bubbly, but in keeping with the celebration.  I also had what was named a Bramble but was made with citron vodka rather than gin.   Personally I found there to be a little too much citrus flavour because of this, but I’ve drunk a lot of Brambles over the years, and I expect most people wouldn’t notice the difference.

    To start we tried Surprises of a Passionate Heart; a mushroom ‘cappuccino’ made with hot soy milk it was, as you’d expect, was like a foamy mushroom soup.  It was accompanied with a smoked salmon, avocado and cream ballotine on a crostini which tasted fresh and light, the bread was toasted yet still chewy.  We were also given a sample of the Pearl for My Love; fresh oysters.  To be honest I’m not a big fan of oysters, but this one was tasty, although I found the bisque a little too lemony for my liking.

    For main course we were treated to a sample of their classic beef burger which was recreated for the evening with truffle dressing, port glazed onion and cheese, served with fresh potato fries.  The burger was well cooked and I enjoyed the collection of flavours but the sweet onions dominated, which I enjoyed, but made the other accompaniments a little redundant.  The fries were fine and the sauces used a garnish were great; a BBQ sauce which was sweet and smoky; and a mustard mayo with truffle dressing which cut through the zing of mustard which I’m not keen on, so conversely enjoyed this sauce.  Frankly, I’d have enjoyed more of the sauces with my fries, or even the BBQ sauce with the burger.

    To end we had strawberries with mint gratin, marshmallow, cacao and raspberries.  This was an unusual dessert and I was pleased to see something on a Valentine’s menu that wasn’t just a predictable chocolate fondant.  Together this was a lovely combination of flavours and as a vegan, gluten-free dish is a winner all round.

    Bun & Bowl’s Valentine’s Day menu is trying to do something different; they’re still keeping their original concept, but bringing in elements of fine dining and aphrodisiacs for the season.  The menu costs £30 a head for three courses and a glass of red champagne, plus music from violinist Rebecca Kohler Baratto.  For those who don’t think burgers are an ideal Valentine’s meal there are other more typical options on offer too.  There’s still a few tables left, but they’re booking up quickly.

    Disclosure: I was invited down to preview Bun & Bowl’s Valentine’s Day menu free of charge in exchange for an honest review of the food, with a bunch of other bloggers.  I wasn’t required to say anything nice, even if it is the season of love, and hopefully you’ve spotted that – and you’ve probably spotted my love of gin too.

    Restaurant reviews

    Christmas at Marco Pierre White Steakhouse

    A lot of people moan that Christmas starts too early, but I love Christmas, so when I was invited to a Christmas bloggers event at Marco Pierre White Steakhouse in The Cube, I was looking forward to meeting fellow bloggers and some festive cheer.DSC_0560

    I’ve never actually been to MPW, so it was a nice excuse to go.  The entrance is via Hotel Indigo’s elevator, which makes it feel all the more swish and you can’t help but be wowed by the view; way up there on level 25 of the Cube, with the pitch black winter sky – who needs festive fairy-lights when the city does it for you?  I can certainly see why it was so busy with well-to-do professionals dressed up for the evening sat alongside a couple and their baby (I’m guessing they were staying in the hotel).  We were in the seated section which was a little crowded, although I did hear that you can reserve tables and I think this is probably very wise – particularly to make sure you get a good view!

    Once we were all assembled we were led into the private dining room, which again had an amazing view overlooking the city.  There, John, the new general manager of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill, and Simon, the executive head chef, welcomed us to the restaurant and the evening’s festivities.

    To start I had the potted duck with piccalilli and sough dough toast.  Although not a massive fan of piccalilli this had a nice flavour and Jo, who was sat next to me, said it was excellent.  The potted duck itself was nice; with chunks of meat that were flavoursome enough on their own, they sat on the toasted, yet still chewy, sough dough bread well.

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    For main course I had to go with tradition; Roast turkey with Marco’s homemade stuffing cranberry and port gravy.  It was a generous portion of meat and was well cooked, another good example of turkey that had retained its moistness.  The gravy had been reduced well and was sweet and rich which was initially very nice but became sickly towards the end.DSC_0592_edit

    Sadly I’m not a fan of Christmas pudding so I gave this a miss and the other options were decidedly dairy-filled, so I’d asked for something with little lactose and was presented with a blackcurrant sorbet nestled on berries.  I’ve had this a few times as a dairy-free option before and the sorbet has always been a bit too watery, but this was lovely…sweet but not too tart, I’d happy have eaten a couple more scoops like ice cream!

    The Christmas Dinner set menu for groups of 10 or more costs £40 per person which is at the higher end of most set menus for Christmas night out.  If you were just looking at the food alone then this might feel a bit pricey, but with such a great view it feels like its worth a bit of a Christmas splurge.

    Disclosure: I was invited to MPW by Sarah Morris for a blogger’s event. My meal was complimentary in exchange for an honest review, I wasn’t required to write anything positive. Also, does anyone ever actually like Christmas pudding, apart from my uncle Alan?