It’s hard to believe it’s been TWO YEARS since my first post. I gave an update on what the first year had held so I thought I’d give you an update on Year 2!
This year has been an interesting one so far, having been shortlisted for the Midlands Food Drink and Hospitality Awards Blogger of the Year, the first anniversary of Geeky Brummie on Brum Radio, the launch of the Geeky Brummie Podcast, and lots and lots of blogging.
Some personal highlights have been:
The always amazing Colmore Food Festival
Birmingham Cocktail Weekend (already booked our return for 2017)
Trying something different with a gluten free menu at Henry Wong’s in Harborne
Meeting Omar Ahlibhoy at Tapas Revolution
Going game only at the British Oak
Enjoying a brunch with The Ting Thing & our partners at Malmaison
Pairing whisky with Chinese at Chung Ying Central
and their recently opened neighbours Canal Square
Finding fresh mussels at Cheval Blanc and returning for their Spring Menu
Enjoying Beef & Malbec at Gaucho
Choosing just a dozen of the things I’ve been up to was difficult so head on through the archives to read more!
To finish, a quick thank you, again, to long suffering Wifey and thank you to all those who’ve taken time to read my little corner of the internet. Here’s looking forward to year 3!
BMAG (Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery) is one of my favourite gems of the city. An extraordinary place for art with some stunning pieces, and plenty to do for all the family. Next Saturday (16th July) will be a little extra special as the Portraits Untold project visits the Round Gallery.
Portraits Untold sees acclaimed award-winning disabled artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber, undertake four live portrait sittings with high profile sitters. The idea is that the sitting will fuse digital, traditional drawing and painting techniques in an interactive live environment, inviting audiences to take part in person and online.
At BMAG, Tanya will be painting John Akomfrah, a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works investigate memory, postcolonialism and the African diaspora in Europe and the USA.
The sitting will take place in front of a live audience, who are encouraged to draw their own portraits of the sitter through traditional drawing and the use of digital drawing apps.
Drawing materials will be provided and audience members with mobile devices are encouraged to download free drawing apps before coming to the event.
The event, which will also be streamed live online, has been devised to reach new audiences through a variety of platforms to make art more accessible. Audiences, both live and watching online, will be able to send their digital and digitized drawings through to the artist on the day through social media.
Throughout the sitting, Tanya will fuse digital and traditional drawings, and versions of the audience’s drawings with her own to create a multi-layered portrait. The sitting will also involve a series of discussions about the lives of the two artists and their thoughts on diversity, which audiences will be able to take part in.
Portraits Untold will take place in the Round Gallery at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery across three two-hour sittings.
Tanya Raabe otherwise known as Tanya Raabe-Webber, was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has been a practising Visual Artist, devising artworks exploring and challenging identity, a disabled self and the nude in contemporary Art since 1987. She gained a BA(HONS) in Graphic Design at Leeds Polytechnic, an MA in Communication Design at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PGCE in Higher Education from Huddersfield University. Tanya has exhibited as a solo artist and in group shows nationally including screening Who’s Who at National Portrait Gallery, Exhibitions at Holton Lee, Dorset, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, The Bluecoat, The A Foundation, Liverpool, Oriel Wrexham, Laing Gallery Newcastle since 1990.
John Akomfrah is a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, postcolonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explore the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today.
A few months back (!), I had chance to spend an evening with Birmingham Whisky Club and the wonderful Colin Hampden-White, whisky writer extraordinaire. We were to taste a wonderful selection of Stilnovisti whiskies and learn about Whisky Quarterly magazine at the Upper Room of The Wellington.
Stilnovisti is the oldest alternative investments company in Central and Eastern Europe, and manages investments for private and corporate clients in Poland and abroad,
focusing on assets such as wine, whisky and art. Their whisky portfolio is not usually released to the public so tonight was a special treat to dip into this elusive collection.
Colin gave a remarkable talk on his own career, starting off with becoming a photographer for The Scotsman in 2001, moving to the Times, FT and Conde Nast and then moving onto having his fine art photography in galleries by 2008.
His other passion, whisky, led to the creation of Whisky Quarterly magazine. Perhaps the most exclusive Whisky magazine in the world, available only through subscription. Rather than just whisky reviews, it concentrates on stories of the people who run distilleries and who work within the field, covering the heritage of the whisky and the lifestyle that surrounds it. Previous issues are made available 2 quarters behind for free on their website!
Back to the beverages, we tried 4 whiskies from the Stilnovisti Private Reserve:
- Mortlach 4th fill sherry hogshead (315 bottles) 58% – this was a very young and very pale whisky, and given as an example given of how bottling a young whisky may not be the best idea. It was a touch on the harsh side and felt very ‘raw’
- Aultmore 2008 6yr old 1st fill sherry butt (534 bottles) 64% – our second taster was a much more rounded and balanced drink, which shows the alcohol content is not the only factor when it comes to taste.
- Ledaig 2005 8yr old 2nd fill (280 bottles) 58% – this was my personal favourite of the night. From Tobermory distillery, this was their peated expression. I’m a huge fan of peaty whisky and this was no exception, smoky and floral it was a superb dram.
- Rage Whisky [Peatside] – 4yr old Bourbon / Madeira casks (490 bottles) 63% – the final taster for the night, this was a very nice drop with a well rounded flavour.It was a different experience to the others but was my second favourite from the evening.
Stilnovisti is now on its third bottling and is a large investor in especially new make whisky, with over 10,000 casks purchased in the previous few years. It was a fascinating chance to see some whiskies which you’d never see again in the wild, presented with wit and charm and genuine love by Colin.
More recently, Wifey and I tried another sort of alcohol. The English Wine Takeover from The Food and Drink Events Company (sister to the Birmingham Whisky Club) at The Bond Company in Digbeth.
English wine has had a bad rap in the past few years. Though English sparkling wine has started to gain popularity, there is now a wide range of reds whites, roses and dessert wines for all occasions.
After wandering through the main hall with a wide range of wines on display.and making a few purchases, we popped outside to have a snack from the amazing team at Peel & Stone:
We picked up Aunt Sally’s picnic box, with cheddar, honey and mustard roasted ham, pork and apricot sausage roll, pickles, sauerkraut, beer chutney and a hunk of sourdough (which we were greedy and grabbed some New York Deli and Raisin multigrain too).
Wifey loved the sausage roll, the apricot adding a sweetness to the meaty filling inside a light pastry. My favourite bit was the bread, we loved it so much we bought a sourdough and a New York Deli to take home after being advised it freezes and keeps really well.
Based in a small village in Kent and starting with a 20 hectare plot (expanded to 40, and a second vineyard in West Sussex) and growing a variety of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, classic champagne grapes. These three are used across their range of wines. They first planted in 2004 and released their first wines in 2010 to critical acclaim.
We sampled 4 of their selection:
- Brut Cuvee – A classic blend of 40%+ Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and the remainder Pinot Meuiner. It was rich and velvety with a complex nose.
- Blanc de Blanc – Made from 100% Chardonnay and pressed in a champagne press to give the grapes a gentle squeezing. The wine is aged for a minimum of thirty six months on lees and three months on cork with two fermentations to get the best out of the grapes. This was much softer and fruitier than the first with a clean citrusy palate.
- Blanc de Noirs- This was a blend of 80%+ Pinot Noir with the remainder Pinot Meuiner – This one was a stunner, with a strong acidity, really making the Pinot Noir shine
- The final taster was their award winning English Rosé, which had beaten our the Bollinger Rosé at a blind taste. Made from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay and Pinot Meuiner, it was an astounding little beverage and one of the best examples of a sparkling Rosé I’ve tasted
It was a very fun and informative talk from Laura and it made us appreciate how good English Sparkling Wine can be.
Feeling lifted by the wines, we had another wander around the producers there and even got to taste a non-sparking Gusborne White and Red.
It was a thrilling introduction to the world of English wine and mine and Wifey’s english wine knowledge was expanded immensley by our visit.
Birmingham Whisky Club runs regular Whisky events throughout the year and discounted for members, you can find their website here, and regular updates on twitter at TheWhiskyMiss and WhiskyMsJnr
The Food and Drink Events Company also run a variety of events throughout the year which you can find out more on their website and Twitter.
The Jewellery Quarter is having a bit of a renaissance recently, attracting new and creative independent stores. One of the most recent editions is a new chocolaterie in the form of The Chocolate Quarter.
On #StarWarsDay (aka May the 4th for non-geeks), I had the hardest job in blogging to go and attend a chocolate making class and investigate this little (chocolate) gem courtesy of The Chocolate Quarter team, Kembes, Maninder and Jay, and Susie of Susie81Speaks.
The shop is artfully simple in its decoration to show their wares and gift packs. They’ve made use of the previous occupiers map of Birmingham to great effect showing off happy local customers.
I could even find BG towers on the map!
To start off, we had a cup of Aztec drinking chocolate, made traditionally with just chocolate and a touch of water. It was rich, smooth and unctuous and there was a range of spices, including chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg and inger, to spice up your drink. I picked the ginger, which worked really well.
Following our drink, we had a quick talk about the history of chocolate and how to taste chocolate correctly with samples of three different dark chocolate from Madagascar, Tanzania and Ecuador. All were high values of cocoa mass and all different in taste and texture. The Madagascan is grown in a humid and acidic soil but with a very strong citrusy taste. The Ecuadorian variety came from close to the Equator having a longer day, giving it a much smoother taste. The Tanzanian climate was probably the most closest to what you’d expect a dark chocolate to taste like. We also learnt white chocolate was not a true chocolates (gasp!) due to its lack of any cocoa mass.
Jay took us through making our own chocolate truffles and how to fill our truffles with caramel, then tempering the chocolate from 45 to 33 degrees for sealing and coating our filled truffles. The tempering was the hard part, requiring constant stirring and the addition of beta crystals to give the chocolate that firmness and shine. The bloom most people see in chocolate is where the beta prime crystal melts away, allowing the fat to come to the surface and discolour the chocolate.
Then it was our turn. We had 4 little hollow spheres to fill and coat…
I tried my best but still managed to get messy! After filling, we dipped them in the molten tempered chocolate and then rolled them in our choice of coverings. I went for icing sugar, cocoa powder, coconut and one just chocolate.
We went through a few flavours created especially for Father’s Day gifts, which we tasted and reviewed.
The three flavours were Stout, made with Jewellery Quarter’s own Jewellery Porter from Two Towers Brewery; Smoked Bacon made with real salty bacon and a dash of Laphroaig to give it a smoky kick; the final was Whisky made with Hard to Find Whisky of choice Glen Garioch. My favourite was the Stout which was rich and creamy. Whisky was very whisky and the Smoked Bacon was a touch too smoky for me. There was enough variety for everyone and I’m sure there’ll be some very happy dads come Father’s Day!
To finish off proceedings, we had a very tasty chocolate fondue with a selection of things to dip in, my favourite being honeycomb. After that, I waddled home very slowly and let the choco-coma seep in!
Chocolate Quarter also offer private events and parties, including those after a delicious stag or hen do twist, and can even create bespoke chocolates! You can also buy delicious Chocolate Quarter delights online here!
Disclaimer: For this event, I was a guest of the Chocolate Quarter 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.
Where: The Chocolate Quarter, 1A Spencer Street,Birmingham, Jewellery Quarter, B18 6DD
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.
Next stop was off to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers museums.
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.
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…
When: 17/01/2016 – 20/01/2016