I read a review on TripAdvisor today and whilst the feedback was entirely honest in regards to the negatives, it also highlighted the things that were just excellent too but yet this was not the thing that stuck in my memory. Instead I will no doubt forget the pointers on dishes I want to try and be left recalling an anecdote about bad service. This got me thinking about why sometimes, it’s easy to focus on all that is challenging or controversial and not the simple things that make you happy.
I wrote a post not too long ago about the things in the food world that were grating on me at the time but I think it’s about time I did the opposite, so instead, here are some of my moments of joy, the standout dishes, the experiences I will never forget and will treasure forever.
So, the fact that it’s midway through August before I am getting to posting the July roundup gives you a bit of an indication as to how busy things are at the moment. Without wanting to delve into #firstworldproblems , we have been out a lot, are in the middle of buying a house and generally have been spending our time just getting stuff done. So here it is, a rundown of July- full posts to come.
We have been here several times but it’s a really easy option for a family friendly dinner and at the moment you can get 20% off if you order through the app. I tried the Surf and Turf pizza a while ago and really enjoyed it (I just love prawns *so* much) so when I saw on Twitter that it was due to come off the menu, I had to make sure i had it one last time. I’m not a huge fan of pizza normally but if it’s crisp and the tomato sauce tastes fresh I can be swayed.
After seeing several Birmingham Bloggers posting about this place we went to visit on a quiet Friday night. It’s probably the closest independent to where we live so I was amazed that we hadn’t heard of it before. I came away with a warm glowing feeling (nothing to do with wine) because the two owners were incredibly lovely and we really enjoyed dinner. We followed the advice of other bloggers and let our wine be selected by our server and ordered the soon-to-be-famous Octopus. We had a really good chat with the two brothers behind the operation and have committed to going there more often
I’ve read the ‘I was there when they first started’ reviews and that’s fine, but I confess I’d never been that interested in Baked in Brick before but went for lunch on their opening weekend. I opted for the lighter dishes rather than a pizza and was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been following their social media channels more closely and it’s the specials that keep drawing me in.
The Trip Advisor reviews for this place are a bit hit and miss so I had some apprehension about eating there. Whilst I still don’t like their ‘discount for cash payments’ policy I did enjoy dinner albeit I did play it safe when it came to ordering
Another local find we stopped in here for a quick dinner before going to the cinema one night. We were impressed with the Gin selection and the charcuterie offering which is a real bargain. We stopped by their stall at the Independent Birmingham Festival to try out their pasta which is delicious.
Another ‘never really fancied it’ kind of place but I spent a leisurely lunch there with a big cup of mint tea and finally tried the food. It’s a pretty nice venue to work from so next time I am in town I will certainly give it another go. I’m not overly keen on Tahini so it’s something I need to bear in mind when I order again.
A real shame, after weeks of glorious sunshine I was really looking forward to this event at Cannon Hill Park but then the heavens opened and (excuse the pun) it put a dampener on events. The shows were good as was the Thai boxing and there were plenty of interesting stalls. The food options were mainly Thai but some did lean towards Chinese too, for some reason there was also a burger van! I probably would have stayed to shop for ingredients had the weather been better and had I not accidentally dressed as a banana…. I really hope the event comes back again next year as it could be a real success.
This is becoming a highlight of the year for me and I was pleased to see that the number of food stalls had increased again this year. Whilst there were some familiar faces there, I tried to concentrate on visiting the stalls that I either don’t see very often (or am too lazy to queue for) and those that wouldn’t normally appear at an event such as Peel’s at Hampton Manor. The weather was excellent so I spent most of the day lounging on the grass sampling different plates and some pretty good wine too.
A bit of an unknown to me but I heard about this via the Birmingham Bloggers community and it turned out to be a great set-up. After finishing up at Independent Birmingham we headed here for the evening session and spent a good few hours wandering around before finishing off with a burger from the Original Patty Men which is always a treat. It’s like most beer festivals in that you get a glass on arrival and pay using tokens but the stalls favoured local producers and it had more of a community atmosphere, as a Cider drinker there were still plenty of choices for me and a couple of interesting fruit or sour beers too. Jordan however had the full range of options to choose from so we spent time tasting different beers and talking to the various stall holders. I thought we might have been a bit fatigued from the earlier festival but both had a very different feel to them which meant it felt like an all day party instead. We are hoping it comes back again next year.
We had a trip to London planned so it seemed only natural that we try to fit in a good lunch whilst we were there.We have been fans of Marcus for quite some time now so I was quite shocked when I realised it had been 10 years since he first appeared on Great British Menu and I’d still not eaten his food. Full review to follow because this was inevitably amazing.
Continuing last month’s theme of ’empty the freezer before we move’ we have had a couple of weird meals but have managed to get rid of some of the more problematic items we had left over so some normality has returned. On Instagram we ran a ‘What we ate’ series for a week in response to some of the comments we get from people who assume we a)eat out every day and b) only do fine dining. It was quite interesting to do and to look back on so I think its something we will do again once things have settled down. In the kitchen we have been eating a lot of beetroot which seems to be in abundance at present, I’ve made a couple of dishes but variations of beetroot and cheese are always popular in our house. We cooked kingfish at home for the first time which was easier that possible and easy to source from the Bull Ring Market. Braised Ox cheek and chicory have made an appearance on our plates and the slow cooker provided a useful way to use up some leftover ingredients.
We have done well on the shopping front too after stopping at Hilliers farm shop and a bumper shop at the monthly Farmer’s Market in Moseley.
August looks set to be an exciting month, we have reservations at Opheem and 40 St. Pauls to celebrate my birthday but also have a mystery weekend away to look forward to. Bank holiday sees us fly to Copenhagen where we have booked a table at Relae (currently ranked number 71 in the world)
The rest of the month looks uncertain but I’ve got an evening planned at The Electric Cinema for one of the Conjourer’s Kitchen Movie Taste-along events.
Hopefully next month will also mean I can catch up on the long list of blog posts that need to be written too!
‘You are a food blogger, you must eat out all the time?’ Actually no, we Don’t. I thought writing about what we do would be an interesting insight away from the typical ‘Food Blogger Problems’ type posts.
We tried out Tiffin in Harborne this month which has taken residence in the former location of Turners. It’s run by the same people who previously owned Purnima in Bearwood which was our go-to curry house and a leisurely walk from our house. The menu remains mostly unchanged and the staff as friendly as ever, whilst they do offer the expected Indian fare it’s their specials that we tend to go for, Jordan is very fond of their Lamb Roshni and I often have a Jinga Mass. It’s a small venue in comparison to their former establishment so it will be interesting to see what happens with it in the future.
Nearby is the Hop Garden which is a cool pub with lots of outdoor space- definitely worth a visit
This is in Bromsgrove but as we are in that area quite often several people suggested we should try it out. The Barton Arms is one of our favourite places to go for a quick and easy lunch but it’s always good to try somewhere new. The menu is good with some different dishes for us to try and the sharing platter starter was good value. Given the choice we would probably still pick The Bartons Arms but I’d happily give this another go too.
A new opening in Quinton this place has a good selection of cask and draught ales but I was pleasantly surprised by their gin selection too. It’s a bit of an odd location (In a row of takeaways and opposite the Toby Carvery) but the atmosphere is suitably upbeat and they have a small kitchen too
I had very long lunch out in the sunshine at Mortimers in Ludlow, formerly the site of La Becasse, it’s had several changes in ownership and flips between gaining and losing a star. It’s very traditional in its styling and I would have liked a better selection of gin but the meal itself was done well.
We have been to this for the three years in a row, notably the food stalls tend not to be local so on one hand you get to try something new but on the other, the throngs of people that attend are not going to experience the Birmingham food scene or support the local independents. We had some tasty plates of food and there were some different options this year. We also watched a Malaysian cooking class with Norman Musa, a very charismatic guy and one we will certainly be looking up again following rumours of him opening up a place in Birmingham. The main let down for us this year was that the number of stalls to buy produce seemed to have diminished, we got some good sausages and a couple of plants but that was it. We left still feeling hungry and detoured into Digbeth dining club on the way home and I had my best dish of the day there.
We haven’t cooked as much this month, a reflection of being on holiday, the heat and preparing to move house. I did a bit of an audit of the freezer to work out what we needed to use up and was surprised at just how much we managed to cram in there! It was quite pleasing too as I realised the only things we had that were not ‘raw’ ingredients were a bag of ravioli and some onion rings leftover from making burgers some time ago. Everything else was meat,fish,veg or ingredients such as stocks and sauces we have made and frozen or herbs,spices and citrus. I did the same thing with the cupboards and discovered things I had forgotten about so we have some new things to try.
For our own cooking, we have made a chicken tagine with preserved lemon and giant cous cous, ‘lazy’ risotto (done in the thermomix) and tried a Jamie Oliver recipe for grilled aubergine with pomegranate molasses and yogurt. For the rest of the time, we have had a number of good sausages, plenty of veg after discovering a farm shop towards Kidderminster (Hodge Hill) that has an ever changing variety of veg available and I’ve become a bit fixated with having Weetabix for breakfast.
No holidays planned for July so we will be trying a few new things in Birmingham instead, with a house move imminent we are trying to use up as much as possible at home so that we don’t have to move it! We will be off to the Independant Birmingham Festival at Aston Hall again after having a great time last year and im planning to visit the Birmingham Thai Festival and the Dumpling festival in one day too which might be a very indulgent day! I’m also trying out some Korean food at Topokki at the end of the week having never visited previously.
We have also booked a table at Marcus Wareing for July as we will be in London for the day to see Kermit and the gang at the O2 and wanted to make the most of it, with the announcement of the 2018 Top 100 restaurants this month we have been busy lining up our future bookings and planning a few holidays around our desired dinner options!
Day 3 started with a hearty breakfast at The White Rabbit, a cool venue with an excellent brunch menu, fresh juices and very good coffee. Despite the array of weird and wonderful options, I couldn’t resist the lure of sourdough toast, poached eggs, avocado (swapped out instead of a mushroom), spinach halloumi topped with kale pesto= uber hipster but it was excellent. Jordan went for a duck sausage lasagne which seemed an unusual offering but was equally satisfying. After a lot of food the night before the fresh juices and strong coffee were much needed.
We spent the day walking around the botanical garden in glorious sunshine (a refreshing change from the day before) I was amazed to see an Ibis walking down the street and quickly discovered how common they really are. (I also thought I was very funny and sent a picture of one back home with a comment about Australia getting their pigeons wrong but nobody seemed that impressed)
The gardens are certainly worth a visit, it’s an easy walk with a lot of variety. We gawked at cacti and snapped photos of scary looking spiders whilst soaking up the sun. There are some incredibly viewpoints and we got some great photos of the Opera house and Harbour Bridge against clear blue skies. Sitting waterside for a cider it was a relief too see bottles of sunscreen lined up on the bar for much needed top ups.
We stopped off in a food court for a quick lunch and I went a bit crazy with my dim sum order before we headed back to the water and to the Barangaroo reserve. This was much more peaceful than the park swarming with sweaty runners and I enjoyed reading about it’s heritage and walking along the rocks trying to photograph some of the wading birds without scaring them off (not my most successful attempt on this occassion)
According to my phone we walked over 20k that day so we stopped off at a bar in Redfern for a drink on our way home. Craft beer has been popular in Australia (and let’s face It, everywhere else) for some time now so there are loads of places to choose from but cider remains in short supply. We hadn’t made dinner plans so after a chat with the staff we picked up a recommendation for a place near by that did ‘meats and bbq but not the American kind’ but more importantly a gin bar that was right on our doorstep!
Trusting the local intel we walked down back alleys and side streets until we found L.J’s Meats. It reminded me a lot of Buffalo & Rye in Birmingham but with a twist. The menu seemed pretty simple and service casual. We ordered what we thought would be a small starter to share of Blood Sausage served with pickled onions. It was served warm, packed with flavour and dotted with chunks of walnut throughout. Its pretty rich so the onions made a welcome addition. As we waited for our table to be cleared, and then realised that plates and cutlery are reused between courses we were presented with a platter of Loretta stuffed with fennel, smoked chorizo, potato gratin and a mountain of shaved fennel salad with peas and mint. Once again we regretted ordering a starter (although it was delicious) and set about tackling the mountain of food before us.
This is not the kind of place for the meat averse, whilst the menu does offer some veggie friendly options, the kitchen is open plan and this includes the preparation of all meats, midway through dinner a carcass was brought to the counter and broken down into it’s appropriate cuts. To me, of you are going to eat meat you should certainly be comfortable with this but it can make some squeamish. I’ve become a bit tired of meat heavy menus lately but this was a refreshing change, everything was lighter and didn’t have the over sauced, heavily spiced kind of flavour that is so popular. The gratin was pleasant enough but I favoured the fresh salad and loaded up on minty peas. For a suggestion from a stranger, it certainly turned out to be a good one.
Although slightly out of the city Redfern was the ideal place for us to stay, the commute was easy with excellent public transport but it was nice to come back to somewhere a little quieter so when we found out about the gin bar we couldn’t have been more pleased. Entering through plush curtains, the bar is full of mismatch vintage furniture, old pianos and dark corners. It has a speakeasy kind of feel and an impressive bottle collection. We took a table at the bar and chatted to the owner as he stood chopping cauliflower for home made pickle. He told us how to make our own tonic and walked us so through some of the more unusual drinks on offer. We have been to a lot of gin bars but this one stands out in both product and environment. This is also where, after discussing my current preferences, I discovered my favourite gin of the trip- Dry Wattleseed by IronBark distillery. A good run through the menu and we headed home for an early flight to Melbourne.
After a few days in Bangkok we hopped aboard yet another plane for an overnight flight and headed south.
Arriving at the airport we easily found our way by train to the Air Bnb we had boomed in the Redfern district, which is on the City Central train line so good for access to the hub of things. The Opal card (like Oyster) makes it easy to get around and the prices are comparable.
After dropping off our bags we went for a wander around to get a feel for the location, Redfern is a quiet,sleepy kind of place but good for commuting and with plenty of bars and coffee shops. We stopped at a bar for a drink in the beer garden only for me to accidentally order a bottle of cider that cost about £8…. it wasn’t even imported! As we had flown overnight but without sleep we grabbed some bread,cheese and cold meat from the local shop for a quick lunch before an afternoon nap- I felt pretty rough by this point and am unlikely to ever eat prawns for breakfast on an airplane again!-I needed the sleep.
In the evening we met up with a couple of Jordan’s friends down by the water at Birrunga. The restaurant is fairly new and shaped like a giant UFO, it’s an area undergoing a bit of a transformation and as such, there are now a huge round of waterfront eateries cashing in on the revival and sunny climes. It reminded me a bit of Portsmouth. Dinner was good and the menu varied and interesting, I played it safe in terms of my choices after feeling ill for most of the day but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try butter made with powdered crickets-giving it a slightly smoky flavour. We also had asparagus spears served with crispy hunter ants! They were delicious with a citrus kick and I would love to try them again.
After dinner we went in search of some drinks and ended up in The Barbershop (I think there actually is a Barbershop at the front of the building) This was a gin bar and hipster dream come true. The back bar featured a rolling ladder that reminded me of a Victorian sweet shop and vintage cabinets around the room held the excess bottles from the bulging shelves. Their range of spirits was impressive and the staff certainly knew their craft. We had already decided that we wanted to try Australia or NZ gins as they are harder to get at home and we were not disappointed. Well served and with an excellent soundtrack that included Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks I was in my element. Staff were well dressed in waistcoat and dickie bows (and well groomed too with some amazing moustaches on display) and had plenty of useful suggestions for us on what we may like to try. 1 drink quickly rolled into many but with reasonable pricing and a big selection it was perfect.
One of the things that is often commented on when we have guests is the array of gadgets we have in the kitchen (along with the multitude of tableware to go with it) Ultimately this stems from years of cooking and collecting mixed in with a multitude of gifts from people who have worked out how much we like food! Jordan sometimes tells a story about being given a mincer as a birthday gift at the pub and getting a few funny looks in the process.
We were lucky enough to be given some great things this year so I thought I’d do a quick run through of them