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 ofSquare’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.
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 Foodwith 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
My knowledge of the Vietnam War and Vietnam in general is limited to a few war movies and an episode of Top Gear. So when I was invited by Brum Bloggers and the Hippodrome to fill in this shocking lack of knowledge on my part, how could I say no…
Based around Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, this takes the frame of the story and moves it into Saigon, Vietnam at the end of the war. It focuses on the relationship between a bar girl, supplanted from her village life into the chaos of war era Saigon, and an American GI who falls madly in love with her; their threads weave throughout the late 1970’s to take in Atlanta, USA and Bangkok, Thailand.
Since its London premiere in 1989, Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon has become one of the most successful musicals in history.
To celebrate the tour, The Hippodrome’s Circle Restaurant has launched a special summer menu to compliment the production, which we were here to taste, along with a viewing of the musical itself.
We went in through the Thorp Street entrance which is a bit of a gem, hosting the Dance Exchange and a range of private venue spaces available to hire, for some pre-show nibbles and cocktails.
The cocktail we tried was a Sun & Moon, Archers peach liqueur and orange juice, which was fruity and summery, setting the tone for the rest of the menu. The nibbles, included pea and mint soup, and goats cheese bruschetta. It certainly got our appetite going for our visit to the Circle Restaurant for Acts I & II of the menu.
The Circle Restaurant is open usually 2 hours prior to each performance (matinees & evenings) and the menu is designed around each performance to take advantage of seasonal produce and to match the theme of each production. A boon for us bloggers, it has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the main entrance, giving wonderful light for photographs too! They’ll also hold your table for the interval so you can return for drinks or dessert without stress.
As we wouldn’t be able to get through all of the menu in full size portions, we were given tasters to ensure we could experience the full range on what’s on offer. For Act I, we were given an immaculately presented slate of starters to sample
White bean soup with basil pesto (V) – A good creamy delicate flavour from the white bean, giving a velvety mouth feel, this was counterbalanced by the punch of the pesto with its powerful basil lifting the savoury taste.
Vietnamese prawn summer rolls with sweet chilli sauce – The less well known cousin to the ubiquitous spring roll wrapped in rice paper rather than pastry. This gives it a much fresher edge than it’s deep fried cousin, with sweet chilli adding a touch of verve.
Salt beef croquette with salad of mooli, shallots and capers – My favourite from the start selection. Salt Beef is a delicious thing and its savoury texture matched well with the crispy coating. The mooli and shallots added a fresh edge but I still have my irrational hatred of capers, so they went unloved to the corner of the plate.
Goat’s cheese mousse with marinated tomatoes and walnut toast – Mousse was the perfect description; it was so light and airy, and made me think of a savoury take on a Mr Whippy. The marinated tomatoes were a solid accompaniment giving acidity and the walnut bread adding crisp.
To partner all this wonderful food, I had a Marques De Morano Rioja Tinto, which was lighter than expected, and went perfectly with the tapas style light bites.
With that, it was onto Act II.
Chilli & coriander crusted pork tenderloin with soy & sesame braised savoy cabbage – The pork was well cooked and the coriander crust gave it an extra dimension from normal. The cabbage was divine, its soy and sesame braising really giving it some punch and this is something I’m going to be stealing for my own cabbage in future!
Pan-seared fillet of coley with rice noodle, samphire, ginger and spring onion broth – It’s great to see a sustainable fish getting some limelight on the menu. Wifey and I often have coley from the supermarket as an alternative to salmon, and it’s a solid substitute for cod or haddock. With a gentle pan searing, the fillet had kept most of its character and flaked wonderfully into the broth. The broth itself was good with samphire, salt and ginger and spring onion adding heat. I liked the rice noodles but maybe a vermicelli style rather than the Udon ones present would’ve suited the dish, as they were hard to fish out of the pan (nudge-wink). I expect this is not an issue on the full sized version however.
Honey-brushed confit of duck leg with celeriac purée, bok choi and star anise jus – Confit is a word that brings joy into the heart of any glutton and this is no exception. Duck leg is a meat that takes well to a confit with the rich unctuous fatty deliciousness, given a touch of sweetness with the honey. The celariac puree was a delight and I’m no stranger to a bit of bok choi, providing crunch and a touch of bitter to take away the sweetness of the meat.
Yellow curry lentil scotch egg with asparagus & new potato salad (V) – This took the majority of us by suprise! I thought the lentils were going to be replacing the breadcrumb (me not noticing the little (v)), but they fully en-robed the egg, giving a really nice variation on the traditional scotch egg. The curry spices gave an almost fizzle on the tongue.
Miss Saigon – Part 1
Post munching, it was time for us to take our seats for the first act of Miss Saigon. I’m not going to spoil it too much if you haven’t seen it but you’re suckered in by the first minute. The whole performance is song based with little to no dialogue between each transition. However, it’s performed with such verve and gusto amongst incredible staging and set pieces, you’re instantly struck dumb with your eyes greedily trying to absorb each detail.
The leads Sooha Kim (Kim) and Ashley Gilmour (Chris) gave incredible performances. My heart was won by Red Concepcion (The Engineer) providing humour amongst the drama, bouncing around the stage and eliciting cackles from the audience. The supporting cast (Ryan O’Gorman as John, Gerald Santos as Thuy and Na-Young Jeonas Gigi) were great with beautiful voices. The ensemble were amazing, every number was pulled off with panache and an energy.
We start in Dreamland, The Engineer’s bar in Saigon and a popular hotspot for American soldiers looking for a good time and escape the horrors of war. It’s here GI Chris first meets barlady Kim and we get to see the blossoming of their relationship in contrast to the Us soldiers losing their grasp on the country. We see the repercussions of the USA’s involvement and the finale leads to The Engineer and Kim escaping Vietnam to Bangkok to try and reach America for a new life and a reconciliation with Chris.
After a shocking finale to the first act, it was time for interval and for us bloggers a visit to the Gowling Suite, one of the private hire facilities available on site, for a quick run around the dessert menu.
Green tea panna cotta with sesame tuille – The green tea panna cotta was nice, with matcha green tea giving a savoury sweet balance.
Bitter chocolate tart with lychee, strawberry & mint compote – I’m a chocolate fiend so a bitter chocolate tart was always going to be a winner. A solid, sticky bitter and sweet tart, lovely with the strawberry and mint compote cutting through with an element of sharpness.
Poached peach & pistachio cake with raspberries and vanilla set custard – Pistachio is something I usually come across as an ice cream flavour, so it was nice to see something a little different. The cake had a gorgeous soft texture and the nutty pistachios went well with the sweet peach.
It was time to run back upstairs and reach the amazing finale.
Miss Saigon – Part 2
Again, another great opening piece to the second act which moves us from Saigon to Atlanta with Chris and John struggling to deal with post war life, their PTSD and John’s work with Bui Doi, the neglected street children left behind by GI fathers and Vietnamese mothers. We’re also introduced to Zoë Doano as Ellen, Chris’s new wife who has helped him to get over his post war trauma. Over the other side of the world in Bangkok, we see The Engineer and Kim’s new life echoing Dreamland in the first act, and their desperation in trying to reach America. By chance, they get in contact with John’s organisation which leads to a trip to Bangkok with John, Chris and Ellen. The tumultuous final scene leads to an end which will tug at the heart strings.
A special mention must be made to the set dressings. They are, in a word, stunning with an amazingly quick turn around between pieces.
If you’ve not seen Miss Saigon before, or if you want to relive a previous production, I can’t recommend it highly enough and it’s great to have a food option to match and make it a full evening.
Miss Saigon runs until Sat 23 September at Birmingham Hippodrome. For tickets, call Information and Sales on 0844 338 5000 or visit their website for details.
Disclaimer: For this visit, I was a guest of Birmingham Hippodrome, arranged by Brum Bloggers, 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.
It’s National Burger Day today, so what better way to celebrate then telling you about my visit to one of Birmingham’s hottest new venues, The Meat Shack at Thorp 17.
The Meat Shack are not new to the Birmingham food scene, in fact they’ve been established for 5 years as a streetfood vendor, and have served their faithful followers at Birmingham streetfood Mecca, Digbeth Dining Club for a long time. It’s great to see that they’ve put down roots in the heart of Southside so how could we not go down for a visit.
The interior is light and airy with a nice few touches of street art and corrugated steel to liven things up. We arrived early evening and we were glad we did, between arriving and finishing the place went from reasonably quiet to queuing out of the door. I think the burger smell had got to the Birmingham masses it certainly had got to us, it was also great to see cocktail extraordinaire Gary Anderson settling in to his new role as General Manager, his affable nature shining through whilst taking our drinks order.
I was dining with Wifey and “Award Winning #BrumHour” who joined us to see what all the foodie buzz had been about. The tap ale had ran out so I settled for a Sadler’s Dakota American IPA (yeasty, malty with citrus bite), Wifey on the Fentimans Elderflower (refreshing) and #BrumHour on the Hoxton Cidersmiths Craft Cider (green apple, tangy).
It’s short, but some of the best are, and all the usual bases are covered, including a veggie option.
Between us we covered off:
Mr C – beef patty, american cheese, iceberg lettuce, red onion, pickle, ketchup, shack sauce (Wifey)
Bella Embergmarinaded deep fried halloumi, mushroom duxelle, dutch cheese, ketchup, chipayo, crunchy onion flakes, iceberg lettuce, red onion (#BrumHour)
Dutch Piggybeef patty, dutch cheese, american cheese, streaky bacon, iceberg lettuce, red onion, pickle, ketchup, chipayo with an extra Sloppy Kissshack beef and pork meat sauce on top (me).
I actually was enjoying the burger that much i forgot to take notes, but it was just amazing, it lived up to the stair case with dripping filthy goodness. The bacon was crisp, the ‘hand smashed’ beef patty flavourful, cheese drippy and the sloppy kiss lifted it to a different level with a sweet meaty extra tang, I was half expecting a golden shaft of light to peek out from the clouds and hit the tray, whilst a chorus of angels hummed in the back ground, the contents were THAT good.
My only, very minor, criticism was the bun. Which was very nice and oft with a touch of crisp from a light toasting. It was a touch to tall for my preference, with a slab of ingredients that size it makes a large mouthful and a slightly less voluminous bun would’ve been appreciated.
Noises from around the table confirmed the others were enjoying their burgers as much as I. Wifey even finished hers which is an unusual occurrence to say the least.
For sides we chose both Frickles and Onion Rings and 2 portions of Chipayo Fries, with #BrumHour opting for his Sloppy Kiss to be planted there.
The fries we nice, well seasoned and the Chipotle Mayonnaise added a nice zing to the proceedings. Onion Rings are always a good guide to quality and are Wifey’s default order whenever we go somewhere new and they’re on the menu. These were solid, crispy, golden batter which wasnt oily with a beautiful sweet onion inside which pretty much just melted away on contact. Don’t take my word for it Paul Fulford praises them mightily too here.
And the Frickles, what can I say about the Frickles. British peoples first instinct when pickling is the humble onion, or if you’re feeling racy an egg from the mysterious giant jar at the chippy. My favourite has always been a nice pickled cucumber. It’s sweet, it’s tangy it’s crunchy and it’s heaven with a beef and ham sandwich.
With the light battering supplied on these bad boys they’ve been lifted to an art-form. The batter adding extra crunch and that extra savoury edge. I’d have been happy as a pig in muck with a bucket of these and a cup of that delicious blue cheese dip.
The one thing I’d like to see, and agreed with the next table along, added to the menu would be a nice side salad, or coleslaw or something to just take the edge off the mostly fried nature of the menu and pretend we were at least being somewhat healthy.
Wifey and I had just enough space to get in a dessert. We both plumped for the take on Eton Mess with fresh peaches and mango amongst whipped cream, decadent and delicious. Next door had the Chocolate Torte and reports between mouthfuls were very positive nods. The dessert menu is under development at present so expect to see more options soon.
One of the things going around the foodie scene is if there’s enough Birmingham foodies to support two amazing burger restaurants in the city (these guys and the Digbeth chaps, OPM). In a city with over a million people, and a food scene which has exploded over the past few years, it’s daft to think that both wont thrive and co-exist happily.
For me and my cohort it was a very happy, fulfilling and positive first visit. It certainly wont be our last if we can beat the queues. I’m a man who needs his dripping filthy goodness after all, I mean how else do I maintain my figure.
If you’ve not been yet, GO NOW, today’s as good as any…
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to accompany Dave Massey aka #Brumhour to try a new summer cocktail at Rofuto in the Park Regis.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll already be aware Ryan has visited a few times to sample food and whisky. As I’m not a big fan of whisky so it was interesting to see how I would fare with this sake based cocktail.
Rofuto is based on the 16th floor of the Park Regis Hotel, at the Five Ways end of Broad Street. It offers lovely views of the Birmingham’s skyline, which is best seen at glittering night rather than the many cranes and scaffolding during the day.
They have created a Japanese inspired twist on the classic summer drink Aperol Spritz with Sake, peach liqueur and yuzu juice.
Whilst catching up with Dave, our mixologist got to work on the cocktail. Sadly no pictures of the creative process but you can happily enjoy the video shot by Rofuto:
For someone who doesn’t like Sake, this was actually perfect for me because the peach liqueur and yuzu juice added a lovely sweetness. I also liked the Vog prosecco that was used to make our drink.
The drink is on their current cocktail menu and available now.
Disclaimer: For this event, I was a guest of BrumHour and Rofuto who provided the drink; 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.
Now, Chinese food is a bit of a problem for me. As Wifey’s parents owned their own restaurant for many years, I’m a little bit spoilt when I go over for dinner.
However, Thai food, that’s a treat that I don’t often get to do, which is rubbish as there’s plenty of restaurants in Birmingham offering amazing Thai food.
The newest restaurant on the block is Siamais at Oozells Square Brindleyplace.
The new owner is Nishil Nathwani, creator of the Aluna cocktail bar at The Mailbox. His parents previously ran Thai Edge, who occupied the space prior to Siamais.
The cocktails pedigree from Aluna has carried over as part of the dual concept of Siamais, accompanied by a range of South East Asian dishes.
The decor is a mix of traditional items like baskets and lanterns but in a modern setting. The reason for tonight’s visit was part of a ‘blog date’ arranged by Birmingham Bloggers. I’d decided to catch up with a good friend in the shape of Mr David “BrumHour” Massey.
After getting settled down, we started off the evening with a bit of a show. The Bang Pai Falls is from their Book of Siam, their specially themed cocktails. The description was “Overproof Rum with Cherry & Vanilla notes and cranberry juice. Names after the clear blue waterfall, you’ll see why!” It was a bit of a showstopper and there were a lot of onlookers in the restaurant (for the first time) when it arrived:
We decided to call him Steve as I thought it looked a little like the monkey from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’!
Onto our starters, I chose Soft Shelled Crab, a deep fried soft shelled crab smothered in chilli and salt. Dave went for Chicken Tom Yum Soup, a Thai classic with chicken, kaffir lime, lemongrass, mushroom, galangal, chilli and coriander.
My Soft Shell Crab had a crisp batter with the nicely balanced flavour of crab coming through. A touch of black pepper would have possibly lifted if further. The crunchy legs were my favourite part, with a flavour akin to a crab version of pork crunch, if you get what I mean.
Dave was certainly enjoying his Tom Yum Soup. I snagged a piece of chicken and some broth. The chicken was delicate, with the lemongrass coming through as a strong note, and the heat of the galangal and chilli following in quick succession. One thing I would’ve loved on the side was a prawn cracker or two to steal some of the broth from Dave when he wasn’t looking.
Our second set of cocktails, which turned out to be our first (more on that later) arrived:
Mine was the Dark Side of the Moon, Glenmorangie, blood orange and cherry. It was sweet and silky with a citrus finish and a whiff of whisky to the nose, but it didn’t linger on the palate as some whisky cocktails can.
Dave plumped for an Apple & Kiwi Mojito, white rum, mint, kiwi and apple syrup. I snagged a sip and it was a nice take on a classic mojito, with the kiwi adding an extra dimension and green apple keeping the bite.
For main I chose Lamb Massaman Curry.
I’m actually reminded of another visit to a Thai restaurant a few years back, when four of us ordered rice and three mains to share as we’d stopped for lunch. I was insistent on ordering Lamb Massaman, much to the grumbling of my fellow diners who wanted one each of red, yellow and green curries. I’d nipped to the loo just after the food arrived and upon my return to the table, one solitary piece of lamb was sitting in a small puddle of the middle of the dish. I was most upset!
If you’ve always stuck to green or red curry, I’d really suggest giving this a try. It’s a completely different dish to the others. Made, in this case, with coconut milk, potato, peanuts and onion along with star anise. It’s one of Thailand’s most popular dishes and I can see why, it’s certainly one of mine. I was happy to devour the lot and the accompanying sticky coconut rice quickly to avoid a repeat of my previous experience.
The erstwhile #Brumhour chose a Chicken Red Curry, chicken, coconut milk, bamboo shoots, aubergine, basil and red chilli. I once again did the blogger thing of darting my fork in to relinquish a piece from his plate. The chicken was again tender with a velvety spicy sauce.
Returning to the subject of #Steve, he had been bubbling away quietly in the corner of our table whilst we tried our others and got on with munching our starters and mains. We ordered dessert and I was moving Steve into position (he’s a sharing cocktail after all) and I dropped him…
… right on top of another glass, and contents pouring freely…
…and the whole restuarant paused for a breath.
Luckily the staff, probably warned that two of the most clumsiest and cloddish bloggers in Birmingham were due to visit, were marvelous. Within mere seconds, we’d been ushered to a new table and the disaster recovery team had swept the glass, mopped up the moisture and cleaned the table and chairs, whilst Dave and I were still rigid with adrenaline and embarrassment. I turned redder than Dave’s curry!
Thankfully nerves were returned back to normal with the arrival of #SonOfSteve and dessert:
For dessert, I selected the Coconut Cup, a half coconut shell filled with coconut ice cream
It was a really nice palate cleanser after a couple of heavy dishes, a light fragrant ice cream with nice chunks of coconut flesh throughout.
Dave went for something, in his words ‘photogenic’, so he had the Chocolate Ghirlanda, a coronet of dark chocolate with crunchy meringue, rich chocolate ice cream, white chocolate sauce and dusted with cocoa. Now if that doesn’t sound decadent, I don’t know what is!
It was rich, sweet, unguent and gooey, chocolate and all in all, deliciousness.
And that was it for our #mandate. We survived and so did #Steve (less his innards). I’ll be back again, with Wifey in tow, when I next get a craving for Massaman… mmmmm… Massaman…
Disclaimer: For this visit, I was a guest of Spray Marketing and Siamais, arranged by Brum Bloggers, 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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