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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
A few weekends ago, Wifey and I swapped out Birmingham for somewhere a little different. Kenilworth is just over 20 miles drive or a train ride away from Birmingham. It’s a great destination for a day out with the renowned Kenilworth Castle and Stoneleigh Abbey nearby.
Wifey and I had another reason for visiting too. It’s also a location for one of the Peach Pubs collection, The Almanack
The Almanack is one of the more modern looking Peach Pubs, nestled in under a new apartment building. It had an impressive decor with lots of nice little touches, including a selection of Sunday newspapers to read if you were there to relax.
We were here to try their Sunday Best Menu, which has a regular selection of roasts and some of the highlights from the main menu.
Not feeling up to a full roast, Wifey and I decided to pick a few from the highlights of the main menu,but first, a bit of bread and butter to get our bellies in the mood.
The bread was a warm wholemeal seeded mini loaf accompanied by garlic butter.
It was served a little like a hassle-back potato, sliced part the way through. It was devoured with relish with the bread hitting the trifecta of soft, airy and sweet. The tangy peppery garlic butter could have done with being a touch less on the garlic flavour.
We skipped starters, to keep room for dessert, and went onto the mains.
For my main, I went for a Chicken Caesar Salad. This came with a free range chicken breast, crispy bacon, anchovies and a classic Caesar salad.
The chicken was moist and tender with a crispy seasoned and blackened skin. The bacon was as expected, crispy and sweet and salty at the same time. The anchovies gave an additional salty blast to the rich dressing. The lettuce was nice, crisp and fresh.
Wifey went for something a little more fishy. Cod (substituted from Monkfish on the menu) and Scallops with Bombay Potatoes, Indian Salad and Mint Yoghurt.
This came to the table with a wonderful smell of the Indian spiced potatoes and the fresh clean smell of great fish. The cod was light and separated on touch. The scallops came to the table with the roe (always a nice touch) and had the clean sweet taste you’d expect. The Bombay potatoes were light, buttery and with just enough spice as not to overwhelm the fish. The Indian salad was made up of Rocket, Tomato, Red Onion and seeds added a touch of colour to the dish and disappeared quickly!
As it was Sunday,we couldn’t miss out on a bit of Apple & Rhubarb Crumble.
This was served at the table from a great big enamel dish full of the stuff. It came with a decent jug of custard from which you could pour as little or as much as you want to personal preference. The crumble topping was sweet, chunky and packed with oats. The fruit filling was rich and not too sweet and combined perfectly with the delicious sweet custard.
And to wash it all down, we had a coffee with a latte for me and an Americano for Wifey with some Smarties to finish.
And with that bellies full and happy smiles off back to Brum.
Following from Wifey and I’s previous adventures in Oxford, we journeyed further to the west with a visit to Cirencester. Cirencester is a market town nestled in the southern part of the Cotswolds and was the second largest Roman city in Britain…
After a quick stop and shop in Cirencester, we headed to our hotel about 9 miles east in the little village of Coln St Aldwyns. Our bed for a few nights was the 16th Century New Inn.
Ran by the company behind Cripps Venues, it’s their first venture into the Inn trade. After being warmly greeted by the team and their lovely dog, we were shown to Room 15 (Ampney Crucis) in the dovecote:
Set away from the main pub, it has its own private courtyard which I can imagine is lovely to sit out and enjoy a coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening during the summer months.
The room itself was very spacious and came equipped with the mod cons of a TV, Ipod dock/DAB radio, Nespresso coffee machine, kettle with Teapig tea bags. Phone signal is no great (we’re in the middle of the countryside, of course!) but there is free Wi-Fi to make up for it. The room was tastefully decorated with a red theme, simple and elegant with some beautiful rustic pieces. The heavy curtains certainly blocked out the cold during the nights! The bathroom area was split in two with his and her sinks leading off the bedroom, and the bath/shower and toilet in the adjoining room. Complimentary toiletries and fresh white towels were provided, which is always a nice touch. Not sure why there was a mirror right next to toilet, though. Maybe there used to be a sink where the toilet is now?
Coincidentally, our arrival coincided with guest streetfood pizza providers Baz and Fred, who are taking over every Wednesday, cooking pizzas using Chadwick ovens rather than than a traditional brick oven. These novel little cookers reach 500 degrees celsius in about 10 minutes and once up to heat can cook a pizza in a touch over 3 minutes.
I chose a chorizo, oregano & basil pizza whilst Wifey went for a prosciutto, garlic & parsley, portobello mushroom and rocket, accompanied by a side salad or rocket, avocado, cherry tomato, parmesan shavings and house dressing.
The pizza base we delightfully light and crispy with finely grated mozzarella and parmesan with what i suspected to be a plum tomato base. My chorizo pizza was nice and spicy with the underlying smokiness of paprika coming through. Wifey’s proscuitto pizza had plenty of meat, but a touch too much rocket for me, the portobello mushrooms were plump and juicy.
The next day it was back in for breakfast I opted for a full english whilst Wifey plumped for Eggs Beni…
Alongside a good selection of cereals, pastries and fruits, our breakfasts were cooked perfectly and made with highest quality ingredients. Perfect for a day of long walks and exploring.
Post breakfast we returned to Cirencester and went for a walk in Cirencester Park. Based in the estate of Earl Bathurst it’s know for the world’s largest yew tree hedge and has some great walks. Thought it was a January morning and mid week the park was surprisingly busy (not that you can see from the pictures).
Post burning off breakfast with our walk, it was back into town to recharge with waffles and icecream at He Says, She Waffles.
We shared a S’more Waffle which was a waffle topped with melted white chocolate and toasted marshmallows. It was very nice, with a fresh made waffle soft marshmallow and not over sweet with delicious vanilla ice cream. If you’re in Cirencester and need a pick me up I recommend it!
Our afternoon was spent in the Corinium Museum. We in not expecting much for a small market town but we were surprised how informative, interactive and entertaining the museum was.
We spent at least two hours looking at the mosaics and artifacts, and even had a go at making a mosaic ourselves!
Post museum we popped into another Cirencester must visit, Bib Gourmand Made by Bob. Wifey, as always, had done her research and made sure we visited this little gem in the town centre.
We only had time for a slice of cake and cup of tea, however next time we’re in the area we’d definitely be back for a larger repast. Wifey had a choccy cake and I chose a white chocolate and pistachio cake. Both were delicious and both were gone in a matter of moments!
We did a little more shopping in the town centre and then back to The New Inn for our evening meal
For starters I had a sumptuous chicken liver parfait whilst Wifey had a very rich and creamy tomato soup. To accompany this Wifey had her traditional rose, but I had something a little unique. Billed as a “sipping beer” it was a little different than my usual IPA and went down great with the food! I was also glad to note they made special care to mention their meat came via Aubrey Allen. You can read previously my thoughts on Aubrey Allen produce here.
For mains Wifey had Fish and Chips and I went for their pie of the day which was a delightful game pie with mash and veg. Both were well cooked and beautiful with the battered fish wifey’s highlight and mine being the heavenly mustard sauce and pastry!
After dinner we whiled away a few hours in the extremely comfy pub part of the premises of a pair of sofa’s next to a roaring stove fireplace and played a few of the provided board games before bed (I won!).
The morning after, it was a sad farewell in the rain and back to reality, we’d love to go again soon.
We had such a great time, better than expected.
If you think getaways should be limited to the summer only, I’d suggest trying a winter break as you’ll find a lot more to do than you might think!
A few weeks past, Wifey and I were in the doldrums of post Xmas haze. The celebrations of the festive period were far behind and Chinese New Year looks far away. Therefore, we were glad we had booked a ‘staycation’ covering Oxford and Cirencester. Always a good chance to try a few more restaurants too.
After a driving down on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Wifey and I were ravenous. Dropping the bags at the hotel, we made a beeline for the city centre and ended up at Thaikun as Wifey was in the mood for noodles. This Thai chain has branches in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Cambridge and of course, Oxford.
Inside was spacious and as can expected, very Thai with canoes, rickshaws and Thai signage bedecking the interior.
Whilst trying to work through the extensive menu, I ordered a draft Singha (only available in their Oxford branch) whilst Wifey had a very coconutty Thaisky cocktail from their special cocktail list.
We found we couldn’t choose any particular dish so opted for their starter and main platters and a side of sweet chilli crackers.
Our starter platter, “Sukumvit 38” consisted of:
Honey Pork – crispy and chewy with a velvety texture, very moreish!
Chicken Spring Rolls – nice and mild with a good amount of meat
Fish Cakes – flavourful, with an underlying chilli aroma and taste
Salt and Pepper Squid – nice light batter but a touch greasy and underseasoned for me
Whereas, our main platter “Pinto Siam” contained:
Stir Fried Pork Belly in Red Curry Sauce – this was nice and crispy, and a little bit spicier than I’m used to with Chinese pork belly.
Chicken Massaman curry – easily my favourite dish, nice and sweet with plenty of star anise flavour coming through the creamy overtones.
Beef in Oyster sauce – nice veggies but the beef had a little too much of the chargrill for me.
Coconut Rice – we’d swapped this out from the Egg Fried Rice that usually accompanies a platter. It was sticky with a mild coconut aroma and flavour coming through.
Post meal, we caught the bus back to the hotel to sleep it off.
The next day started with a general shopping trip and wandering around the city centre to get our bearings sorted.
After picking up a few bags, we stumbled upon Beerd, a spin-off from Bath Ales and billed as Oxford’s first “craft beer and pizza bar”. Based in Oxford’s last surviving Victorian pub, the tiled interior was very pretty and curiously all draft beers were served by the schooner.
I picked a “Cubic”, a triple hopped pale ale. As expected, it was a very citrusy and hoppy beer and didn’t last long! Wifey had a “very nice rose”.
They had a lunchtime offer of a £5 pizza which we added an additional two toppings for £1 (prosciutto and pepper). To accompany, a side of sweet potato fries and homemade garlic mayo. The pizza was thin, crispy and not doughy, though it could have done with a tad more sauce. The proscuitto was flavourful and earthy and was complemented by the sweet pepper. The fries were longer cut than usual but nice, hot and crispy. The garlic mayo was fresh and with a not overpowering garlic flavour.
Post pizza, we headed to the cinema, our cultural day starting tomorrow.
Day 3 began with a large breakfast at Cafe Loco, a little walk from the main part of the city centre by the Alice in Wonderland shop.
Wifey picked an Eggs Benedict Royale and I had a Full English.
The breakfast was an uneven experience. Wifey’s eggs came with a hard yolk rather than soft boiled. The smoked salmon was nice, as was the muffin. However it was swimming in hollandaise which was way too salty to me, but fine for Wifey.
Mine came on a cold plate, never a great starter for me. The toast was pre-buttered, a trend which I’m happy to do without. My beans were congealed, the tomato had seen the grill for approximately a femtosecond. The bacon and eggs were just there, not bad or good, just “meh”. At least the sausages (though small) were flavourful and the highlight was the fried mushrooms. Very nice and Wifey liked these very much, having swiped most of them!
Appetites mostly sated, we stopped at the day’s first museum. The Ashmolean is the world’s first university museum and is made from the collections of University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum. It has a very wide range of collections covering from Ancient Cyprus to Modern Chinese Paintings. Entry is free (suggested donation boxes abound if you wish to give a small sum). Wifey and I highly recommend it if you’re in Oxford with a few hours spare. We’ll be back in April for the Andy Warhol exhibit.
The Natural History Museum holds the University’s internationally significant collections of geological and zoological specimens. The first exhibit we came across was the live beehive which was fascinating, I even managed to find the queen (pink dot on the back).
Next to what all young and old paleontologists love, the dino’s!
Nestled into the rear of the Oxford University Museum Natural History is the Pitt Rivers museum, one of my favourite museums in the world. The museum contains archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world and all time periods, arranged according to type of object rather than place of origin or date. They are displayed to show how the same problems have been solved at different times by different peoples. Unfortunately, the low light meant no pictures but I suggest you go and see what you can find. You can even get a torch.
Museums done, time for more food. After returning to the hotel, Wifey and I took a detour out of the city centre and visited The Fishes in the little village of North Hinksey.
A member of the Peach Pubs group (see previous posts here and here), it’s a beautiful gastropub which even Raymond Blanc is a fan of!
We started with Bread and Olives. The mini ciabatta style bread was warm, fresh and doughy with a very punchy garlic butter. The plump olives were nice and salty with a good tang.
For starters, we shared a Scotch Egg with Chorizo stew and Truffle Mayo. The breadcrumbs were just right and combined with nice meaty sausage meat. The egg inside was a soft texture and soft with a golden yolk (perhaps a touch runnier would have been nicer). The chorizo stew tasted more of tomato than anything else yet was a very pleasant accompaniment. The truffle mayo was very creamy but needed more truffle to come through.
For mains, I chose the lamb with butternut squash whilst Wifey picked the sea bream and shallots. We shared a side of honeyed carrots and parsnips.
My lamb was delightfully tender, it fell apart with a touch of the fork. It was beautifully seasoned and the mint just was powerful and gave a piquant counter to the sweet butternut squash.
Wifey’s sea bream was light and flaky with crispy skin. the slight saltiness of the fish combined well with the lightly pickled shallots.
Our honeyed parsnips and carrots had a good mix, with earthy and al dente parsnips and sweet soft carrots.
To finish, Wifey had Mango Sorbet and a coffee and I had just enough room for a slice of St Clements Cheesecake. The curd was utterly delicious and I mopped it around the plate with the tuile. The cheesecake itself was at the same time heavy with a light flavour and a good crumbly base. The sorbet was a refreshing end to a full meal.
With that, it was ta-ta to Oxford and off to our next destination, Cirencester…
It’s not very often I’ve ventured outside of Birmingham for this blog. That’s something I aim to change in 2016. So when I was invited to visit Leamington Spa to experience The Star & Garter’s Ultimate Grill Night with Aubrey Allen. It was the perfect opportunity to kick off the new year.
Just outside the town centre (about 10 minutes from the station), The Star & Garter has been part of the Peach Pubs family for the past 3 1/2 years. You can read about my visit to another Peach Pub, The High Field in Edgbaston here. Now run by Colin Barber, formerly owner of Mixology in London in between living in Verbier, he’s been tempted by the team at Peach to bring a gastropub star to Leamington.
With a recent refurbishment in November, it has been transformed giving the venue a calm and relaxed feel with muted tones.
The main reason for tonight’s visit was to be introduced to their Grill night menu, with fish and pork options and a range of steaks, all supplied via Aubrey Allen. Every Thursday, there will be Grill Night with a selection of meats and fish fresh from the griddle, cooked by Head Chef Jakub Fijak and his team. Jakub has worked in a few of the Peach Pubs, after a period in Jersey and including spells at The Fishes in Oxford and The Almanack in Kenilworth.
With the meat option comes a selection of potatoes and sauce; ranging from triple cooked chips to baby jackets on the spuds side, and peppercorn to blue cheese on the saucy side. A well chosen pick of sides are available too, which include onion rings and garlic prawns:
Whilst we perused the menu, Russell Allen, Managing Director of Aubrey Allen came over and talked us through the range of cuts available. Aubrey Allen have an illustrious history; family run since 1933 and by appointment to Her Majesty, they provide meat to some of the best restaurants in the UK including Simpsons, the Manoir, The Waterside Inn and Opus, (as well as being available through their own deli bar). With a pedigree like this, you know you’re in for some quality:
Tonight’s selection of meat consisted of:
Spider Steak – cut from the rump and also referred to as the Oyster Steak. A little muscle that looks almost like a spider web due to the striations of fat within the roundish muscle. It sits on the hip and because cows only have 2 hips, there are only 2 per animal. This had been matured using their 28 Day dry-aging method which you can watch here.
Onglet Steak – variously known as the ‘Hanger’ and ‘Butcher’s’ steaks. Cut from the diaphragm and famed for its intense flavour, the onglet earned the title of butcher’s steak as it would often be kept back from sale. Traditionally used for casseroles, the steak is best served up to medium to keep its flavour.
Rump Cap Steak – a speciality in Brazil known as the ‘Picanha’, the cap sits on top of the ‘heart’ of the rump. It also traditionally ends up on the BBQ in South Africa too!
Fillet Steak – perhaps the quintessential steak, sourced from the tenderloin. It is the least used muscle and therefore, tender every time it is cooked.
Free Range Iberico Pork Cutlet – sourced from the legendary Jimmy Butler, these acorn fed pigs give a pork cutlet marbled throughout, like some of the best steaks.
It was difficult to choose but I went for a medium-rare Onglet steak partnered with triple cooked chips and blue sauce.
Whilst we waited for our steaks to be cooked, I investigated the other sauces provided, Tracklements covered the mustard and horseradish and a pot of their own BBQ sauce. The BBQ sauce was a thing of wonder with an almost smoked pork flavour. It was delicious with just about everything we ate.
My companion, not a fan of myoglobin (which most people confuse with blood), was convinced to swap from his usual well done steak to a medium Spider steak with baby jacket potatoes and peppercorn sauce and a side of onion rings.
The onion rings were delightfully crispy, with a nice light batter and sweet well cooked onion interior.
The spider steak was a thing of beauty. Freshly griddled, there were no complaints from the other side of the table and it was quickly demolished. The accompanied mini jackets matched their bigger cousins, with a lovely soft and floury texture. The peppercorn sauce provided a low even tempered heat.
My onglet steak was delicious. Cooked to medium, perfectly in my eyes, with a deep pink centre. The meat was moist, tender and perfectly complemented by the crispy triple cooked chips. My blue cheese sauce started out with an Gruyere type smokiness which then subsumed into the sharpness of the blue cheese.
To finish (even though I don’t know we had any room left), we went for a coffee and dessert. I chose a blood orange sorbet whilst my companion went for a banana and salted caramel, all from Jude’s free range ice creams.
My blood orange sorbet was a rich orange flavour. It was a scrumptious like eating a chilled orange.
The banana and salted caramel ice cream both had a nice natural flavour, with none of the artificial taste that you usually get with banana flavouring.
And with that, we were done, sated after a great meal. For me, it definitely won’t be long until I’ll return to a Peach Pubs again and the Star & Garter especially.
If you’d like to try out the steak night yourself, this takes place every Thursday at the Star & Garter you can book by calling 01926 359 960 or through their website here
Disclaimer: For this event, I was a guest of The Star & Garter who provided all food and drinks; 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.
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