Saturday, 7 July 2018

26. Kiss Me Cupcakes And The Drink Of Summer 2018.

  It's the best summer we have had for years. We must do our best to make the most of it - we may not see it's like again, at least not for a long time. England is in the semi-finals of the World Cup and Mrs May has Brexit sorted out. Well possibly. Regardless, this glorious summer must be enjoyed as the heat and the sun and the football and the tennis and all that sort of stuff means the Englishman (and woman and, for that matter, dog - Labradors in particular) must relax in a seriously enjoyable fashion.
  And that is why we have been given, by a higher entity, two great pleasures to make our summer days, and evenings, float away quite happily.
  On the furthest edge of Birmingham, in West Heath, is a little cake and coffee shop, run by two charming young women. Kiss Me Cupcakes serves the most delightful cakes, baked freshly on the premises, in the form of delightful cupcakes (as you might expect) or truly wonderful lemon drizzle cake, enormously moreish Rocky roads, light and tasty Victoria sponge and, sometimes, fabulous scones with clotted cream and the fruitiest conserve. The cake worshipper can sit in a delightful dining room with plush armchairs and the most unexpected wood panelling or outside under the parasolled tables where an accompanying dog will be brought a bowl of water and possibly a doggy treat. An accompanying child might be brought a milkshake served, delightfully, in a milk bottle with a Cadbury's flake in it to add to the pleasure of it all. Birmingham food isn't all about what's going on in the city centre or about 7 course tasting menus - even its remotest little suburbs perched on the edge of the Worcestershire countryside can be the host to special little places where the food is simpler but in its own way is as fine and pleasurable as a Michelin starred restaurant.
  The cakes can of course be taken home to eat or made to special order including large cakes for special occasions. Today Kiss Me Cupcakes was serving a lovely Wimbledon cupcake appropriately 
topped by a fresh strawberry but it was so tempting I ate it before I could photograph it! But I did 
manage to hold back from consuming the blue berry and strawberry cupcakes so an idea of their prettiness can be gained from the illustration at the head of this piece.

  And so to the drink of the summer of 2018. Previously mentioned in Blog 24 is the amazing pure pleasure of drinking Warner Edwards Victorian Rhubarb gin with ginger ale as the heat of the afternoon gradually calms into the evening's cloudless sky coolness which I discovered on a recent visit to Purnell's. I thank the prize-winning restaurant manager and award-winning sommelier, Sonal Clare for suggesting I try the drink and consequently giving me so much pleasure.
 But I must also draw attention to Gun Dog Rhubarb Gin from Herefordshire which when combined with ginger ale may actually be even better than the Warner Edwards nectar.
 No matter what ... the drink of the hot summer of 2018 just has to be Rhubarb Gin and Ginger Ale. What a summer this is turning out to be.

Friday, 6 July 2018

25. Colmore Food Festival 2018.

  In burning sun, the 8th Colmore Food Festival opened today in Victoria Square. As Lucy The Labrador and I walked up to the square, keeping in the shade as much as possible, we heard the sound of a steel drum band. We entered the square at the Town Hall side where two stages were set up - one for cookery demonstrations and the other for other entertainments. After the necessary opening speech by the rather dreary Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council (politicians so lacking in charisma really shouldn't be seen at such fun public events) the show got underway with a fine cocktail-making demonstration by one of the excellent bar men from Purnell's Bistro but the dog and I had to move away after a few minutes because the scorching sun to which the audience, accommodated appropriately in deckchairs, was getting just a little too hot for the Labrador to bear.

  We went in search of food and shade and dealing with the first need we headed for the Asha's stall and bought a helping of some magnificent chilli garlic chicken tikka which was truly delicious. On to the stall belonging to The Old Joint Stock where I selected a fine Mini chicken tikka pie with coconut and coriander served with an excellent mash and red wine gravy. Lucy and I sat in the shade at the end of Waterloo Street sharing the excellent pie - fine pastry indeed - and then we prepared for Round 3. Before we could set off however a man dressed as a large red chicken came along quite unexpectedly and Lucy amused the surrounding crowd by having a sustained loud bark at the strange creature, a performance she was to repeat later when 2 human pigeons strutted along beside us.

  Round 3 proved to be disappointing - I bought a Chinese tapas from Chung Ying Central - the deep fried prawn was satisfactory and the prawn dumpling seemed to be generously stuffed with prawns but the Vietnamese spring roll was quite horrible, the contents tasted quite unpleasant and the surrounding pastry could easily have been constructed from old leather.
  Finally after another sit in the shade, Lucy and I headed for the Zen Metro Thai Restaurant stall and thoroughly enjoyed the generous helping of Spicy wok chicken which indeed was very spicy. I definitely needed to cool my mouth down so we rounded off our visit to the Colmore Food Festival with a visit to Gingers Bar stall and I had a most refreshing Thyme For A Pimms cocktail.
  The Colmore Food Festival, which this year hosted stalls from about 30 Food and drink businesses homed in the Colmore Business District, is now well established as an important feature of the Birmingham food scene - it seems to grow from strength to strength.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

24. A Purnell's Lunchtime Gallery.

  This Blog is intended to be used more as a history, recorded as it happens, of the way we eat food here in Birmingham rather than to provide a critique of that food though I reserve the right to do so if I feel like it. Sadly, whilst it is possible to include pictures of the food in this Blog no technology yet exists to record the smells, textures and flavours which are generally altogether far more important than the way dishes look. Still, if you like visual art then the modern chef's ability to provide some is an important part of his or her work at this present time and gives one a souvenir in part at least of what that chef can produce.

So we have some dishes from a 5 course lunch eaten with great pleasure at Purnell's yesterday (23 June 2018), the menu is also illustrated. Not only was this a reasonably priced lunch from a restaurant which is 'good in its class', it even surpassed the definition of being served in a restaurant which is 'worth making a detour for' and I would have quite happily have made 'a special journey' to eat it. Well, in truth, that's exactly what I did.

  Small slices of mackerel with various flavours of tomato with basil rounding it off:-

  A tartlet of the crispiest butteriest pastry filled with delightful small pieces of sweetbread, and many summery delights including perfectly cooked asparagus and pleasantly uncooked peas and slices of broad beans:-

  The pièce de résistance, Purnell's classic and mighty Brixham cod masala (initially of course the dish started as monkfish masala when it won Purnell a place in the Great British Menu banquet of 2009 though I prefer the cod) served with the most excruciatingly delicious perfectly spiced lentils and a shard of coconut and pickled sliced carrots. Unsurpassable and much copied.

  Perhaps two tarts in one meal was not quite the right thing to do but again a dish of extraordinarily perfect pastry filled with chopped raspberries and other little pleasures:-

  In addition to the highly pleasurable food illustrated above, Purnell's has introduced a new aperitif to its range of gins which is, frankly, also highly pleasurable - Warner Edward Victoria's Rhubarb Gin - with a lovely element of sweetness to it and made perfect served as it is at Purnell's with a slice of lemon and ginger ale.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

23. Purnell's Tribute To Spaghetti Junction.

  In the past couple of days there has been notable publicity on local television stations which has drawn attention to a new dish coming out of Glynn Purnell's worthy kitchen. As usual it has the wit and appeal which places Glynn at the peak of our local cuisine.

  Purnell was asked to come up with a dish which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the beginning of work on 'Spaghetti Junction', the notorious Gravelley Hill roadway interchange, and, as might be expected, he delivered a splendidly delicious-looking and witty dish which deserved the attention it received. And yet, as with the best of food, it's a simple enough concept, wholly apt, and completely designed to drive the diner into a sense of total lust to try it out. 

  The dish is made up of potato and celeriac 'spaghetti' cooked in a cream sauce with a pinch of dried ginger in it and served with truffle shaved over it.

  I'm looking for a reservation in the near future at Purnell's in the hope that this dish is on the lunch menu.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

22. London: 50, West Midlands: 1.

  In the recently announced Estrella National Restaurant Awards a bunch of critics put their heads together and chose what are, in their humble opinions, the 100 best restaurants in Britain.
  We won't be too surprised to find that they rated 50 of their choice to be restaurants located in London. Nor will we be too surprised that these doyens of gastronomic criticism rated only one West Midlands restaurant - Carter's Of Moseley - good enough to feature in the top 100 list and then in a rather lowly number 66 position though this single West Midlands representative is sufficient for the ever-optimistic Birmingham Post to claim that Brad Carter 'has helped put the Second City centre-stage again' which seems just a little unjustified.

  I don't think that this has anything to do with the quality of our great restaurants but it is more a consequence of the blinkered viewpoint of London-based, elitist critics who, in the words of Giles Coren, view us as 'One eyes'.
  What a waste of time these lists are. And what a shame that the Birmingham Post gives publicity to them though I suppose Brad Carter is glad of the mention.
  The Post points out that this is Carter's return to this particular list - in 2016 his restaurant was placed at number 91 and then was absent from the list in 2017. Meanwhile Adam's was at number 52 last year and Simpson's was at 91 but both have been dropped completely from the 2018 list.
  The post quotes the organisers of the list as saying, "From Michelin-starred dining rooms with tasting menus to casual neighbourhood bistros and steakhouses, the awards are a celebration of places in the U.K. that make eating out a true pleasure." Although they don't add the obvious qualification which states, "providing they're in London or the Home Counties".

  Meanwhile, I am delighted to report that Maribel, where Richard Turner is head chef, has opened in Brindley Place and some friends and I had the magnificent 7 course dinner there 2 or 3 weeks ago. The new decor is very chic and the excellent front of house staff who served us previously when the restaurant was Edmund's fit in nicely in their new stylish get up. Turner has designed a wonderful menu, much of it beyond criticism, with some splendidly delicious dishes which look good, as shown below, and taste even better. Turner certainly seems to be on form with this new venture.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

21. Birmingham Joins The Ivy League.

  The Ivy Temple Row opened recently in Birmingham. A review of mine on the dislikeable but sometimes useful website, Tripadvisor, is depicted below and summarises the impression of a lunchtime experience there. I did not find it to be a terribly enjoyable experience but it was not intolerable though the volume of din to be heard in the place did indeed push the boundaries of my tolerance.
  The food was satisfactory but nothing more and painfully overpriced. If The Ivy had not arrived in Birmingham then those who enjoy good food would be none the worse off but it's a glitzy addition to the range of places where the gullible who prefer style to substance may like to be seen though Birmingham has no real celebrities of note so spotting such people in the place is an unlikely event. I suppose that if Birmingham gets Channel 4 to serve as its new base then the sort of people who work for that television station might feel at home in the place.
  The original, hoary centenarian Ivy in Covent Garden is most notable as a place to be admired in, its Birmingham offspring is more a place to be deafened in.
  My lunchtime companion and I have no plans to return. The review below expands on the subject a little more:-

Saturday, 12 May 2018

20. Lunch At Pieminister.

Beggar Boy with a piece of pie by Giacomo Peroti

 I do like a good pie. Somehow it seems very English.

  So what could be better than a restaurant that specialises in serving pies? Let's head for Pieminister in Waterloo Street to find out. Fleetingly I think of Sweeney Todd and Bellowhead's song 'Black beetle pies' but such unpleasant fancies soon flee away as I arrive at the restaurant which specialises in minimalist decor and seems to attract far more male customers than females.
  Not much in the way of starters, somehow olives don't seem appropriate. And so straight to the main course - a chicken and ham pie on a bed of mash with accompanying mushy peas. I might have liked simple chips with my pie and peas, not modern chips with the skin on, but classic beautifully cooked chips, soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, but such was not available. But let's be honest, how can you better classic pie and mash? And the pie was fine. The classic chicken and tarragon combination with just the right amount of tarragon so that the powerful herb enhanced the flavour without killing it straight dead. The mash too was fine - proper mash not some near-liquid purée with all the body squeezed out of it - and the peas were admirable, perfectly minted, I wondered if there was a hint of vinegar which would have been spot on.

Pie, mash and mushy peas

  I had a vanilla milkshake with the meal which served as an accompanying drink and a pudding. The milkshake was inadequate in size and overpriced but I guess Pieminister has to make its profit somewhere or the other.
  The service was excellent and all in all the experience quite pleasurable and if it survives I will be happy to lunch at Pieminister again.
  Pieminister had begun as a business for 12 years prior to its opening in Birmingham and had been started in Bristol with other branches in Exeter, Nottingham, and Leeds. It's pleasing to have a chain of restaurants that specialise in food with a distinctly British character rather than yet another tedious burger joint but the restaurant could have looked more British. And going out to eat should have a little bit of excitement to it but there is really no thrill to going to Pieminister. Perhaps things could be made to be a little less routine by having special pies of the day to add an air of immediacy to the menu. 
  Nevertheless, a visit to Pieminister is a perfectly satisfactory experience. You could say, "The pies have it, the pies have it".

Children eating a pie by Murillo