Talk: Squaring Up with Gizzi Erskine

Something rather Square and American has come to Great Western Arcade in the shape of Square UK’s  first ever pop-up shop,  and follows in the footsteps of Square’s first physical store in New York, which opened last month.

To celebrate opening in Birmingham they have also had a few speakers over the last few days including Ree Ree Rockette (lifestyle blogger) and Paul Hardwood (Birmingham Brewery Company), who’s talking on Thursday 14th September.

 

I had chance to hear the amazing Gizzi Erskine talk about her life and career with Birmingham’s own amazing Full to the Brum (Laura)

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It was a fantastic talk, covering her bohemian upbringing, and her mothers introduction of world food to her diet at a different age. Her difficulties with completing her normal education and then moving in to being a trained body piercer.

We then moved on her enrolment at Leith’s Cookery school being the most intense and fulfilling experience of her life and balancing cooking in professional cooking with completing her course.  She was also lucky to work at St John with Fergus Henderson  provocateur of ‘Nose to Tail Eating’ and her first day at work boning a goat.

This led to her becoming a pioneer of Pop-Up cookery with her friend and fellow St John employee Abby at an art gallery in Brick Lane in 2001. With three course dining and a pay what you want ethos.

Gizzi also won the intern prize at Leiths to work at Good Food magazine and was lucky to go to the Good Food show in Birmingham as a warm up act for Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, and from then on was being chased to become a TV Chef, starting behind the scenes on Full on Food with Heston Blumenthal and Richard Corrigan, and then on to Ready, Steady, Cook. She found her feet on the second series of Cook Yourself Thin and the battles between being an authentic chef and meeting TV’s demands.

She’s now taken her early inspiration of Eastern cuisine into her latest show (Gizzi Erskine Seoul Food airing now on the Good Food Channel), and her love of Bao buns via way of Dave Chang (Momofuko), and the amazing boiling pot of fusion cuisine in New York.

We also learnt about her experience in setting up K-Town,  a pop-up eatery inspired by New York’s Korean quarter in Shoreditch in 2012, the story of how Korean Fried chicken came to be, and how she’s now looking to Malaysian and Thai food and how that wave will soon hit the UK.

 

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An hour wasn’t long enough to hear her talk and was great to see the warmth, wit and genuine passion for food coming through and I’ll be attempting to make food from her books at some point in the near future, where she gives lots of technical advice.

A big thank you to Square for giving me a heads up about the talk (free and open to the public).

IF YOU POP DOWN BEFORE SATURDAY 16TH SEPTEMBER AT 6PM

Local business owners will also be able to pick up a free Square Reader if they visit the pop up shop and sign up for Square in September.

OPENING HOURS:

Square’s pop-up shop will be open from 4th – 16th September from 09:00 – 18:00 Monday to Saturday and 11:00 – 17:00 on Sundays.

There’s one more free masterclass being held (tomorrow at the time of writing) and I urge you to get down if you have chance.

FREE EVENT

  • Thursday 14 September at 18.30: Birmingham Brewery Company’s Paul Hardwood will talk about the challenges and joys of giving up your job to follow your dream – in his case to launch a ‘Brummie Beer’ range – a tasting of which will be held after his talk

WHERE: The Great Western Arcade, Unit 6, Colmore Row, Birmingham, B2 5HU

With the Square card reader, businesses can take card payments with no monthly contracts or hidden fees, and get their money the next business day. It takes minutes to get started, and sellers can quickly and securely begin accepting chip & PIN and contactless payments from Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

Square’s card reader costs £39 +VAT, but to celebrate Square’s first UK pop up shop, local business owners can get a free Square Reader if they visit the pop up shop and sign up for Square in September.

For more information visit www.square.com/westmidlands

 

When: 11/09/2017

Where: Square UK Pop Up Shop, Great Western Arcade, Unit 6, Colmore Row, Birmingham, B2 5HU

Who: Square UK, Gizzi Erskine,

BrumGoesLon Part 2 – The Blues Kitchen, Shoreditch, London

At the end of last month, Wifey and I took a trip down to the big smoke for a few days for geeky pursuits (more on that side will be at GeekyBrummie) and, of course, food.

Our second stop off in London was a completely different kettle of fish to Pizza Pilgrims. A Shoreditch staple since 2009, The Blues Kitchen is all about live music and soul food.

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Surprisingly for a Monday, the place was full to the brim but Wifey and I were lucky enough to grab a couple of seats at the bar.

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After getting ourselves comfortable and having ordered drinks from our very hospitable bar man, we learnt why: Monday night is their Rib Night with a stack of ribs for £10. It was an offer I couldn’t say no to.

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From their rather extensive menu, we chose the following:

  • Cajun Popcorn Squid served with sriracha mayo & burnt lime
  • Cornbread with honey butter
  • Blackened Chicken & Ranch Salad (for Wifey) – crispy bacon, manchego cheese, mixed leaves, boiled eggs & heritage tomatoes served with a side of buttermilk ranch dressing
  • And for me, the Rib Special – short beef and St Louis pork ribs; according to the menu, all the barbecue is slow smoked in-house using a blend of hickory, oak, mesquite and fruit woods.

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The Popcorn Shrimp was in a tempura style batter and crisp, but the shrimp itself was a touch overdone and verging on the chewy.  The sriracha mayo was more sweet than spicy but with enough of a tang for Wifey’s tastes. I took full advantage of the sliced chillies on top for my lust for heat.

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The Cornbread was dense, crumbly, rich, and honeyed butter almost verging on a dessert. It’s the nicest cornbread Wifey and I had both had for a long time.

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Wifey’s Blackened Chicken salad came hidden under a mound of breast meat. Wifey’s feedback was the chicken was well cooked and on the right side of blackened not burnt. Her ranch dressing was, rich, creamy and tangy, and suited the crisp salad well.

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My Ribs were absolutely humongous, the photo doesn’t do it justice.  Even I, with my rapacious appetite, struggled by the second pork rib! The meat slid off the bone and had a complex but delicate smoke to it. If my belly wasn’t straining so much, I could’ve gone back for a second helping.

A special mention must be made for their whisk(e)y and Bourbon selection, try the Starward, it’s like a Dessert Whisky!  There’s also live music every night, which we didn’t stick around for after a long day exploring the city.  We’d more than likely return there again whenever we’re back in the area…

When: 24/04/2017

Where/: The Blues Kitchen, 134 – 136 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3AR.

Who: The Blues Kitchen

BrumGoesLon Part 1 – Pizza Pilgrims, Shoreditch, London

Firstly, apologies for being away for a month. A few things outside of the blog got in the way but regular service has been resumed now!

At the end of last month, Wifey and I took a trip down to the big smoke for a few days for geeky pursuits (more on that side will be at GeekyBrummie) and, of course, food.

First stop off for Wifey and I was Pizza Pilgrims. Set up by Thom and James Elliot after their tour of Italy, it’s a London chain going since 2011, with a Piaggio Ape and several locations including Shoreditch, which opened in March this year.

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We chose Pizza Pligrims on a whim whilst wandering up Shoreditch High Street and Wifey was getting peckish. There was no room to sit upstairs so we were ushered into their basement seating area, past a wall of pizza boxes decorated by customers.

The tables were mainly decorated in classic restuarant style: green gingham tablecloths to match their green tongue and grooved walls, accompanied by old style school chairs of laminated wood. There was also a football table converted into a dining table (not pictured) and a TV showing an overhead view of the pizza chef’s prep station, which provided an interesting view to waiting for your food.

Before ordering, we were told by the staff the place is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle), which basically means they don’t sell alcohol.  You’re welcome to bring your own but they’ll charge you £2.50 per head for the privilege.

Now, I understand if it’s not a licenced premises but to charge a corkage fee for customers to bring their own is a touch mercenary in my opinion. A corkage charge is usually restricted to private events, where you want to bring different alcohol than what the venue supplies, and I fully agree with that. However, £2.50 per head for a venue that doesn’t supply alcohol feels slightly larcenous; £1 would be a much more reasonable amount covering service and glassware.

They’re upfront about it and it’s mentioned on the website so kudos to them.  At this price, this is a trend I wouldn’t want to see replicated in Brum.

Anyway, onto the menu:

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It’s a simple affair, not a bad thing: ten pizzas, one guest pizza, two starters, three dips and five sides.

I ordered the Nduja; tomato, fior di latte (cows milk mozzarella), parmesan, basil & olive oil with nduja (spicy Calabrian pork sausage), whilst Wifey chose the Marinara, tomato, oregano, fresh garlic, basil & olive oil.  We shared their ‘Simple’ Green Salad, romaine lettuce with a lemon & parsley dressing, and their Pesto Aioli, and a couple of cans of San Pellegrino Blood Orange as we hadn’t pre-purchased alcohol.

Service was brisk and came across as professional rather than welcoming, giving the feeling that they wanted to turn tables as quick as possible. The pizzas arrived very quickly but the sides needed an extra few minutes to join the party.

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My Nduja was minced rather than the usual slices you see and ‘blobbed’ onto the pizza in a ‘rustic’ fashion with a few basil leaves scattered.  The ingredients were good quality but the dough seemed over-proved and too ‘chewy’.  The sauce had little tomato character to it, tasting mainly of herb mix and not much else. The parmesan did heighten the fior di latte past just creamy, by adding a touch of sharpness.

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Wifey’s Marinara had a massive blowout, which is usually the sign of under-proved dough.  However, in this case, I feel it’s more likely to have been an uneven temp or crowded oven. If it had been me in the kitchen, back in my days of slinging pies, I would’ve more than likely got it remade. However, Wifey’s report was that whilst the dough was chewy,  it was light and there was plenty of sauce. A few more basil leaves would have been appreciated to balance it out.

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Onto the sides. The Simple Green Salad was crisp lettuce and sharp with the lemon and parsley dressing.  For the price paid, another leaf (spinach? rocket?) would have made a nice choice to add to the mix or even a touch of watercress to go with the description of salad, or for them to change it to dressed lettuce on the menu.

The Pesto Aioli, was all pesto, no aioli. We thought it was actually guacamole as it was chartreuse in colour. All taste of garlic had been wiped away by the pesto and even Wifey, a big pesto fan, said it was too much for her.

Overall,  I was firmly in the unimpressed camp.  It felt more a case of appearance rather than taste, hopefully better things later on during our trip!

When: 23/04/2017

Where: Pizza Pilgrims, 136 Shoreditch High St,  London, E1 6JE

Who: Pizza Pilgrims

Mussels of Moseley at Cheval Blanc

Coming from the creative minds behind The Humble Pub Co, owners of The Prince of Wales, The British Oak and next door neighbours The Dark Horse, Cheval Blanc comes with an estimable pedigree.

Run by GM Abigail Connolly and Chef Cyd Tachdjian their aim is to bring a wine bar with impeccable food to Moseley. Wifey and I heard about their special weekend offer on Mussels and a glass of Wine for £10 (also available as Mussels only for £5), so we took the brother and sister-in-law over for a taste on one of their rare visits from Jersey.

 

The decor could be described as eclectic, with bottles for light shades, vintage lampshades and mismatched chairs, all tastefully done. The star of the show is the wine cellar. Positioned in front of the bar and topped with thick glass, it’s a nice touch to look down and see some of the bottles on offer.

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The wine to the accompany the mussels was Clip, a Portugese Vinho Verde.  Made by two friends, Pedro Barbosa and João Maria Cabral, they are aiming to celebrate the local variety Loureiro grape.  This is done by following a policy of minimal intervention and care for the ecosystem, in order to grow grapes that ripen well and can display the terroir from which they come. The wine wasn’t dry but crisp, at the same time with a slightly floral taste and a complex almost mineral aftertaste.

The mussels themselves were no small portion – a huge bowl, full of large juicy morsels in a chilli and lemongrass broth. The mussels were very fresh with no overpowering ‘fishy’ taste. The broth was heavy on the lemongrass but enough chilli to make its presence known. Perfect for Wifey but brother-in-law would have preferred a touch more heat (maybe some chilli flakes on the table as an added extra would have allowed us to adjust for taste).

The accompanying crusty bread was delicious and soaked up the broth nicely, my only disappointment was there wasn’t enough! After munching through the mussels, there was still plenty of broth which I would have loved to dunk an extra slice or two into like the savage that I am! Maybe an option to pay a pound or two more for an additional portion of bread for the table would be welcome.

All in all, we loved the experience and will look to return again soon. Cyd will be rotating the recipes for mussels with other flavours such as chorizo, paprika and madras sauce. There’s enough temptation to keep returning…

When: 04/02/2017

Where: Cheval Blanc, 145 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8JP

Who: Cheval Blanc

 

Whisky meets Wok – Tasting Evening at Chung Ying Central

Regular readers would know I visited Chung Ying Central recently (and thoroughly enjoyed the experience too!). So when I was invited to return for a Whisky and Chinese food pairing along with Joe Ellis from Maxxium, how could I say no?

To start off, a quick Tsing Tao and the requisite Prawn Crackers – perhaps the ultimate Chinese food accompaniment? Our selection of whisky went across a fair selection of the brand:

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A varied selection as you can see, this was being partnered up with a range of Chinese cuisine (and a dish closer to home):

  • Duck in Plum Sauce
  • King Prawns in Black Bean Sauce
  • Crispy Belly Pork
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken
  • Salted Caramel Brownie

For each course, Joe introduced the particular whisky we would be sipping, what flavours and scent to expect and why he’s paired it with the specific dish.

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To begin, we had Duck in Plum Sauce and The Macallan Gold. The Macallan Gold is a single malt. They replaced the previous age statement varieties with colours five years ago. It’s produced from 9-15 y.o. first fill and refill sherry casks, it’s quite a bodied whisky with a citrusy note, which matched the duck well, as you could expect.

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The duck was delicious though plum sauce is not my natural choice. I usually go for Hoi-Sin sauce with duck but the plum was balanced out by the citrus and vanilla in the whisky, giving it a fruity pairing.

Next was The Naked Grouse with Sweet And Sour Chicken. The Naked Grouse is a recent joiner to the Famous Grouse stable.  It was one of the last creations of the company’s long-serving Master Blender, John Ramsay, who retired after forty years shortly before the whisky was released. As it’s a blended whisky, it takes on elements of other parts of the Maxxium brand in The Macallan and Highland Park. It’s got quite a mix of flavours in there, mainly dried fruits with a hint of spice.

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The sweet and sour chicken was artfully presented with a carved radish. Sweet and Sour chicken is one of those dishes that will never go out of fashion in the UK, as is General Tso’s chicken in the US. This was a solid example, with the fruity tang people expect, and the chicken had a nice light tempura style batter.

Then it was onto one of my all time favourite dishes, Crispy Belly Pork, paired with a Highland Park 12 Yr Old. Back to single malt territory, this is a lightly peated whisky. I LOVE peated whisky (can you guess which one will be my fave of the night?). This is classed as the gold standard all rounder, bringing the peats of Ilsay, the heather of the Highlands and the fruitiness of Speyside, with a sherry cask finish into one glass.  This would be the bottle I’d have in the cupboard to  cover all guests, if I only kept the one bottle!

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There is not much to say with Crispy Belly Pork; it’s one of those ultimate indulgent foods for me, and one which is tricky to replicate at home. This version had the skin just slightly ballooning giving that light crunch, keeping away the toughness that is the downfall of many versions of the dish.

Our penultimate dish was King Prawns in Black Bean sauce paired with Laphroaig 10 Yr Old. This is the original Laphroaig, with malted barley which is dried over a peat fire. The smoke from this peat, found only on Islay, gives it an almost medicinal flavour and the peaty vapours make this one of my favourite winter drinks which warms from the feet up.

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These king prawns were beasts. For some reason, I’ve noticed king prawns seem to be shrinking recently (or is it just my imagination?). These kept their shape and remained plump swimming between the onions and peppers, the sweet ingredients countering the deeply savoury black bean sauce.

Our final pairing was a Salted Caramel Brownie with a Jim Beam Double Oak. Bourbon is an American whisky, distilled from corn rather than the malt or wheat as is tradition in Scotland. This Double Oaked variety is first aged in charred American white oak barrels, then we pour it into another freshly charred barrel to mature for a second time. It was actually too oaky for me as I’m more of a peat fan (as you’re probably aware by now!) but I can see why it’s sharpness was paired to cut through the sweetness of the brownie.

 

Covering the brownie side, these were supplied to Chung Ying Central from Mrs Mills Makes Cakes. As mentioned previously, the Salted Caramel Brownie is a deliciously slice of unctuous goodness, which I heartily recommend.

This was an interesting evening as I’d never considered pairing Chinese Food with Whisky but this worked really well, and it was nice to see Scottish and American rather than Japanese whiskies being used.

Disclaimer: For this visit, I was a guest of Chung Ying Central & East Village PR, this provides no bias to the post. This blog is my own personal opinion and strives to provide an independent view, promoting, enjoying and reviewing the range of exciting food and venues in and around Birmingham.

When: 26/01/2017

Where: Chung Ying Central, 126 Colmore Row, Birmingham, B3 3AP

Who: Chung Ying Group