Monthly Street Food Markets brings culinary delights to Kings Heath

Every second Saturday of the month, Kings Heath’s Village Square is turned into a street food market. With plenty of street food on offer, I made the trip up to Kings Heath to see what it was all about. Originally organised by Brum Yum Yum, the Kings Heath BID now organises the market. The market is not just about good food, but also the entertainment which creates a great atmosphere. There were new vendors, as well as long-time street food vendors, ready to serve customers with sweet or savoury dishes. Street Kitchen Brothers’ Director Chris Butcher spoke about what attracted his company to the market. “It’s got a fantastic reputation. We’ve seen it promoted and it’s an up and coming event, which is superb. Even though the weather is really grim, I think we’ll do very well today. “We want to broaden people’s horizons a little bit. You can get standard Greek food from any restaurant and get nice stuff abroad, but we have our own twist on the Greek classics and we’ll do some beautiful stuff today.” The Spice is Right Director Ams Singh, with his team of Sous Chefs served up a creative samosa and maple syrup and sweet chilli chicken dish, which tasted amazing when I came across their stand. Ams said “Having fun and experimenting with the spices that are around us all the time. “I have a Punjabi background and a lot of heritage there, so it’s about using what I have learned from my mum and getting it into chicken especially because it absorbs anything and it returns great results.” Chef James Walter, who travelled from Stoke-on-Trent to be at the Street Food Market, added “My brother-in-law saw it on the TV and we decided to come down and see what the locals were raving about. “It’s all about having some good food and a few cheeky wines along the way.”

Words and pictures by Umar Hassan

If you are interested in seeing what went on at the market, watch this video here. Follow me on Twitter at @umarjourno for all things news and journalism related.


Birmingham Fest 2016

A highlight of the year, Birmingham Fest takes place from 15-31st July. The theatre festial organised by the energetic Darren Haywood promotes new plays, dance, music, comedy, magic amongst it's performances all with low-price tickets.

I headed to the preview and have highlighted a few must-sees [FAVE]

Honey [FAVE]

Alice in the Wilderness


Sentimental Journey of Jazz

The Austerity Games [FAVE]

Fanny a New Musical

Learned Friends [FAVE]

Sings Ella Fitzgerald

Our Kylie’s Getting Wed

Make Britain Magic Again

Green Witches & Funny Girls

Rivers Up [FAVE]


All the Things We Could Have Been

The Voices in My Head


Back again this year, the fabulous

An Audience with Gorgeous George [FAVE}

Find out more: Website @BhamFest #BhamFest

Knife & Fork: St Paul's House

I thought that since the new Saint Pauls House boutique hotel, restaurant and bar had opened recently and was promoting itself as the new “happening place” to eat and drink in the Jewellery Quarter, I would book a table for two and try it out. On entering, it is apparent that little expense has been spared in converting this space into something which is light years away from the not-very-appealing boozer that it used to be in its period as The Ropewalk. The ambience is reasonably welcoming though perhaps a bit confusing as to where to go or whom to speak to in order to confirm a booking. It is all perhaps just a bit overdesigned in some respects. It felt a little as if the establishment was making a major point about being different and a bit chi-chi. Anyway, we were taken to our table in a very quiet dining room where only one other table was occupied. That in itself was not a great problem as I imagined that we would probably receive very attentive service as a consequence.

The furniture is comfortable and welcoming although I was a bit at a loss as to what the visual relationships were between the tables and chairs – or the rest of the décor for that matter. It did not have the feel of a really integrated interior, but currently that’s not entirely unusual in establishments which are trying to make a statement.

All food and drinks on the menu looked quite interesting to begin with, possibly a little, shall we say, pretentious, but inviting enough. We shared the fish board to begin with followed by our main courses. I had the Dual of Lamb and my companion for the evening chose the Minute Steak, both of which we requested to be “pink”. I selected a bottle of Rioja – Villa Pomal Centenario - from the relatively small but very intriguing looking wine list. It looked as if it had been chosen with some thought.

While we waited we were offered a little basket with a very generous two pieces of bread and a small pat of butter. When the wine came I am sorry to say that the lovely and delightful, but ridiculously undertrained, waitress had to admit that she didn't know quite how to use the Waiters Friend bottle opener. The upshot was that, to avoid more embarrassment than was already evident, I opened the bottle of wine myself. Perhaps this did not presage well for the rest of the evening. I do not understand how a manager can put any member of staff out there in front of customers without proper basic training.

The fish board comprised of a “Crab Roulade” (in reality a bowl of shredded crab) mixed with I'm not quite sure what but it seemed to be mayonnaise and rather a lot of vinegar, not tasting much of Crab at all. There were a few slices of Smoked Salmon and you can't really go wrong there I suppose, Pickled Cucumber “Salad” which tasted mainly of vinegar, Seaweed Crisps which were hard then teeth-stickingly chewy and - heavens above - Lobster Bisque Popcorn. Well, that was a bit of a surprise. Yes, I know we read it on the menu but, really, why would anyone want popcorn to begin with let alone lobster bisque flavoured popcorn? I cannot really describe the taste accurately, but let’s try: cardboard with the vaguest taste of lobster and thus very strange. I thought this was a bit of a disaster and a quite unnecessary inclusion.

The crab was rather mushy, tasting mainly of vinegar and a little mayonnaise, hardly anything of crab overall although the texture was most definitely crab-like.

The Minute Steak, instead of being pink, was moderately well done, not so well done that it was like a cinder, but it was certainly not pink. Nevertheless, it was tender, tasty, and enjoyable. The accompanying Confit Tomatoes and Lamb’s Leaf greens were quite delicate, the Bearnaise Sauce delicious, but the Triple Cooked Chips rather mushy. My lamb, on the other hand, was delightful. The medallions were beautifully pink, very tasty and succulent; even the rib which looked a trifle overdone turned out in reality to be quite delicious, the accompaniments were tasty, the side order of Sweet Potato Fries were a little bit overdone and quickly turned mushy but, I have to confess, tasted pretty good.

Why is everybody doing salted caramel?

We then moved on to desert. The Sticky Toffee Pudding which we shared had most definite overtones of salted caramel. Why is everybody doing salted caramel at the moment, please? Doesn't anyone have the wit not to? Must every kitchen with pretensions feel the need to follow the culinary in-crowd?

Having said that, it was actually very pleasant and really enjoyable! It was well enough presented with slices of peach, three raspberries, and a scoop of ice cream.

The wine was not perhaps what I think of as a typical medium to full-bodied example of Rioja with those familiar and meaty vanilla and oaky overtones, smooth, velvety on the palate. This one was a bit on the thin side - not unpleasant, but not particularly flavourful either. I couldn't say that it was bad but it was a little, shall we say, underwhelming, especially for the meat dishes.

Overall it was not exactly an exciting or particularly satisfying culinary experience. This is a new establishment and may well need time to bed in yet, but, on the basis of this experience, it was rather disappointing. The management has stated that it aims to bring something of Shoreditch to Birmingham. Whether Birmingham actually needs Shoreditch is perhaps a question worth asking but - on the basis of this experience - it seems that some of the negative aspects of Shoreditch have been brought to Birmingham, rather than the positive. The menu was not without ambition but not terribly well thought out and, regrettably, not well executed in reality. I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps there is an underlying presumption that the word Shoreditch is all that anyone needs in order to impress in Birmingham.

My companion for the evening is someone who, like me, enjoys food, has eaten extensively around the world in all sorts of restaurants from the humble wayside café to the Michelin starred establishment. Her reaction: at best, 6 out of 10 and I think that's fair. I normally do not award stars or marks out of 10. It’s not the way I generally think about food but, on this occasion, I am stumped for words which would explain adequately the quality of the food and the overall experience of dining at St Paul's House.

I appreciate that this was a quiet night with only three tables occupied in the whole restaurant and it is still early days. I do wish the enterprise all the very best for the future but I think to make a real mark in Birmingham it is going to have to work very, very hard to provide a much better experience than this and one which is worth the money. Just being a new face in the Jewellery Quarter isn’t enough.

Cost for two, including wine £76

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


St Paul’s House, 14 St Paul’s Sq, Birmingham B3 1RB. 0121 272 0999



Knife & Fork (Chopsticks): Noble Seafood Restaurant, Shanghai

Some months ago I wrote about eating out in China and Australia, recording some of my culinary experiences during a working visit last year. Recently I was in China again to fulfil my duties as a Visiting Professor at Nanjing University of the Arts and undertake a few other interesting and enjoyable tasks. No business meeting in China is complete without lunch or dinner as a conclusion. There were several of these during my trip which was very much one of those living-out-of-a-suitcase experiences. The longest stay in any hotel room was three nights and I never, during the two weeks, actually managed to empty my bags properly.

The cities visited were Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou, each with a different kind of cuisine. Shanghai of course is very much the most cosmopolitan of them all withal sorts of international as well as regional cooking available. I find that my colleagues and friends quite like to take me to impressive European-style restaurants when I am there but that’s not why I go to Shanghai; it’s Chinese cooking that I want to try. As always, my preference is to wander the streets and find a decent looking, clean neighbourhood restaurant and try the food there. Often enough there is no English menu but that just means looking to see what the locals are eating and pointing at it. Easy, really, and it occasionally results in a few surprises.

That said, one of the best places in the city is Noble Seafood Restaurant which is conveniently situated in the same building where I often have meetings and, this time, where I was teaching a Masterclass. Consequently I was taken there twice – and I didn’t complain. The setting is indeed somewhat noble, being decorated in a sort of mix of Olde Englishe and Louis Quatorze styles. The bone china crockery is very aristocratic looking and the cutlery would grace any English country house table. Somehow or other the silver plated chopsticks rest and the rosewood chopsticks themselves seem perfect in the setting.

The food is excellent, tasty, gently spicy, and full of textures from the delights of shrimps which offer substance, flavour, and bite to the saffron rice and noodles of many sorts which just glide into the mouth once you master the exact amount of “slurp” required.

It is more or less in the Cantonese style, slightly spicy but not overly so. In Britain most of the Chinese restaurants we encounter are in the “Cantonese” category but it means something much more complex and varied in China.

Normally, friends are keen to show off a little and explain something about the food so, when I am with them, there is absolutely no stress in deciding what to eat: I am happy to leave it to them. “Surprise me”, I say. And they usually do.

Noble is always a delightful experience. Food tends to come in quick succession. The concept of separate courses seems strange to most Chinese and things will just be brought to the table as they are prepared so the diners can dip in and out of several dishes during the course of the meal. Highlights will usually be the Tofu, Crab with Crab Roe, sometimes with Quail’s Eggs. The Abalone is delightful, not rubbery or slimy, just tender and more or less melt-in-the-mouth. Sashimi is also a good bet here and what they describe as baked Codfish is always tender and flaky. I am not certain that it IS cod but it’s delightful anyway. The fish that I most enjoy is usually one of the freshwater types – pike, perch, carp - which always taste slightly “earthy”. It’s a strange taste for a Westerner at first but kind of grows on you and eventually is delicious. It may be baked, poached, or deep fried in a tempura batter. The bones are always a bit of a trial and require careful sifting but the delicacy of the flesh makes the trouble worth it. Other meats are available, of course, too and one of the best at this place is the Peking Duck and the Roast Goose with Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Desserts in China are sometimes a bit hit-and-miss. The commonest authentic ones tend to be based on some form of sweet(ened) bean paste, often wrapped in a pastry of some sort. To a Western palate these are not at all sweet but, given all the current angst around sugar consumption, probably not a bad thing. Certainly they are an acquired taste but soon become quite delicious in their own way. Alternatives usually include some form of ice cream and/or sorbet, not really so very “Chinese”, I would say.

As I mentioned once before, wine is usually only drunk sparingly, often there may be just one glass to accompany a whole meal. That may seem niggardly to a Westerner but is an indication of its value in Chinese society. That said, wine consumption has risen incredibly over the past five or six years to the point where even quite ordinary stuff is expensive by Western standards. At the top end, it is Chinese buying which has driven the market to ridiculous highs. Once upon a time, an “ordinary” wine drinker here might have aspired to save up a bit and enjoy a bottle from one of the better French houses but now it’s virtually out of the question.

The steadily rising affluence of the Chinese middle class makes them more and more interested in the trappings of a suitable lifestyle and overt wine consumption is one of the markers of this.

The local wine is getting better too. For a long time only Chinese wine was available in most restaurants and it was pretty poor stuff but now much of it is pretty reasonable. It may not be a match for anything imported yet, but give the vignerons time……………

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman



At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix, a weekly trawl through the films out in Birmingham.

Anomalisa (15)

Charlie Kaufman is arguably cinema's most daring and interesting screenwriter. Anomalisa is another example of why!

Only Kaufman, with the exception perhaps of Woody Allen in his pomp, can blend the metaphysical questions with a blend of surrealism and humour, all wrapped up in a extremely realistic stop motion animation.

This is film about loneliness, the mundane and the search for love. In the lead character Michael Stone's search for love, you are reminded of the fragility of human existence that Kaufman has covered many times before, and yet such profound dark subject matter is dealt with incredible deftness and it always funny.

As Stone says, "our time is limited, we forget that!". Be sure to catch this film while you can.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A)

Finding a niche somewhere between the Twiglet and Hunger Games franchises, The Divergent Series is proving itself a potent success in box office terms.

The film follows up from where Insurgent left off, getting outside the wall of Chicago, where Tris and Four get embroiled in a battle threatening all of humanity. Cue a bunch of universal themes including courage, love and, yes, allegiance.

Despite box office success, you do feel that the series is a bit of a second rate Hunger Games and sadly the critical response has borne this out.

Fifty Shades of Black (15)

A year after the 'Gray' adaptation got its big screen outing, Marlon Wayans turns his spoof antics to a film and book already much satirised and mocked.

Does it actually require parody? Well, Wayans thinks so. In a way, Wayans has effectively taken the Chevvy Chase mantle for the millennial generation, going for lampooning movie franchises steeped in cultural referencing.

The question arises, are the unintentional laughs greater in the film it is trying to send up? I think someone in Hollywood must start to realise the "cinema parody" genre isn't really working.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

Po is back as everyone's favourite furry action hero. Jack Black inhabits the role with the kind of joy and verve which brings a smile to kids of all ages.

Dreamworks Animation have seemingly struck a little gold here, focusing on the action adventure first rather than  fixation on it being a funny animal film.

If the film posits the mantra "Be the best you can be", then it seems that this could be the film where this is the case for Po, bristling with exciting action set pieces, beautiful design and with the knowledge that pandas are, by their nature, free from criticism.

Add to this cast of big names bigger than Mongolia, and this little furry slab of awesome is realised.

The Witch (15)

This is a film to really pay attention to. Robert Eggers’ passionate study of 17th Century New England life, provides a focus on witches with the sort of sensibility and intensity that other directors in the horror genres would envy.

It's about family, honour and the traditions of life turned upside down through witchery. It is a meticulously researched and honestly acted portrayal of superstition, religion and virtue.

As a historian, and one who studied witchcraft at University, I am excited for a director willing to allow the audience to embrace the life of a 17th Century family, and for us to feel the horrific world it inhabits.

This sense of the 'other' only serves to make the horror more terrifying. And as is made clear, the devil is within 'us'.

Elsewhere this week, the mac have showings of Hou Hsaio-hsien's comeback, The Assassin (12A), a 9th century martial arts inspired film highly regarded for its sheer visual beauty and poise.

At the mac, watch out for a showing of Meru (15) on Monday, a 2015 documentary film chronicling the first ascent of the "Shark's Fin" route on the Meru Peak, a film that won the U.S. Audience Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

That's it from me. As always, any queries or quibbles, please don't hesitate to tweet me @timmy666.

Until next time, have a great week at the cinema.


Brum Trail: The Winter in the City Trail

Ideal for: people who love both breakfast and board games

Avoid if: you're a bad loser

Bring // Youll need: your woollies

Terrain: high ropes and high stakes

The start: Bar Opus, Snowhill

Nothing takes the winter chill away quite like a hearty brunch. Bar Opus do a swish version with a choice of either trendy bar plates to share or a menu of classic dishes such as the New York Bagel, steak and eggs and, of course, a good old English - all delivered in the swanky surroundings of this popular Business District bar. Their Saturday brunch comes complete with drinks upgrades - why not indulge in unlimited Bloody Marys for a mere £12.50? Yet another compelling reason to travel by bus...

One Snowhill, city centre

Brunch served on Saturdays from 10.00am

The middle bit: Sandwell Valley Country Park, West Bromwich

This time of year may feel a bit grim, but it throws up the opportunity for crisp, sun drenched walks to put a smile back on your freezing face. The largest national nature reserve in the Midlands, Sandwell Valley has it all. Its 660 acres are home to an RSPB reserve, a working Victorian Farm complete with tea rooms, a cycle route, woodland, meadows, open countryside and some nice lakes to boot. There's even a high ropes aerial adventure course, for those feeling brave after all those Bloody Marys.

Salter's Lane, West Bromwich - just a few miles out from the city centre

The 74 and 75 bus routes stop a few minutes walk from Bar Opus at Colmore Circus, and take you into the centre of West Bromwich.

The Valley is a ten-minute walk from West Bromwich centre.

The end: The Queen's Arms, Jewellery Quarter

This comfy, Grade II listed proper boozer is the perfect place to kick back with a pint of cask ale and fall out with loved ones, as you take advantage of the pub's generous selection of board games. They're barmy for sausages here, and the rest of the food offering isn't bad either - comfort guaranteed. If you're seriously into your games there's a very popular quiz night here, every Thursday.

150 Newhall Street

If you're travelling back from West Bromwich on the bus, alight at Water Street - Newhall Street is a stones throw away

Open every day from midday, 11.00am on weekends

Tips: You can mix and match your choice of sausages at The Queens, and you get three - go for it!

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for…? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!

Words by Gemma Corden – writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.



Knife & Fork: Last Minute Comfort Eating - The Old Contemptibles

After being away for most of the Christmas and New Year break and having had a surfeit of eating out, January was largely a month of cooking and eating at home. As a friend of mine, a very good cook and gourmet, once said to me: why go to the bother of going out for the evening and paying through the nose for food which is no better (often inferior, actually) than you can make at home. That is a fair point: if you can cook well and enjoy doing so, it is all the harder to find really good professional cooking that is genuinely much better. If you are having a minor treat for a special occasion or just feeling a bit lazy, then it’s a different matter, hence my recent visits to a few of the city’s less pretentious restaurants and some of the decent pubs which serve perfectly decent food. The restaurants were, indeed, not pretentious which is as well, since they had nothing to be pretentious about - but they filled a gap on a couple of occasions when I had unexpected visitors, so there are no complaints. Pub grub usually falls into the category of comfort food and that is exactly what we often want in the depths of winter when we might not be worrying too much about the calories. What can be more comforting than a glass or two of a decent beer along with a generous portion of fish and chips or a good, tasty pie?

Some months ago I wrote about an evening at The Shakespeare on Summer Row and last week I popped into one of the sister pubs, The Old Contemptibles on Livery Street – one of my longstanding favourites.

I had a dear friend visiting and additionally a colleague arrived unexpectedly from China. Well, actually, his travelling companion was refused leave to enter the country at Heathrow and sent back, but that’s an entirely different story for some other time. Often visitors from China are not happy to eat Western food – yes, I know we are expected to eat Chinese food when we go there, so why shouldn’t they – but this friend is well travelled and sophisticated. Additionally, when he was a student at BCU he was happy to explore the city’s pubs along with his currently absent colleague.

We tried different beers as accompaniments to the standard Cod and Chips, Chicken and Mushroom Pie, and Steak and Ale Pie, all suitably large. For his small stature our Chinese visitor easily scoffed the fish and chips which he pronounced Very Tasty with a smack of the lips. My Chicken and Mushroom Pie was topped with a disconcertingly large Puff Pastry which I had some difficulty dealing with using anything remotely like good table manners but it was delightfully tasty, lightly seasoned, and full of good chunks of delicious chicken. The Steak and Nicholsons Ale Pie was full of texture and taste, with a good gravy, all inside a Long Crust Pastry which was unfortunately, but not disastrously, just a bit on the soggy side.

Our beers, Acer from Bristol Beer Factory (slightly spicy with a long finish), Uncle Sam from the Cotleigh Brewery (tasty, spicy, a bit strong on the aftertaste to want a second), and our old standby Nicholsons own Pale Ale which seems to go with damned near anything, were excellent accompaniments.

So, a short notice decision to go out rather than cook at home, a wish for reasonable winter comfort eating and drinking in a pleasant and convivial atmosphere, were all suitably catered for by The Old Contemptibles. It’s hard to believe that I lived in Birmingham for more than 14 years before discovering this place. Better late than never at all…..

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


At the Flix with @Timmy666

Greetings one and all.

After a brief sojourn, #AtTheFlix is back with a peek at what’s out at the cinemas in Birmingham this weekend. As always, let’s take a ganders….

London Has Fallen (15)

Butler, Eckhart, Freeman et al are back for another slab of action silliness moving the action from DC to dearest London, as the President and his trusty bodyguard attend the funeral of the recently deceased PM leading to a terrorist attempt to take down many of the world’s leaders in the same place, whilst as a convenient excuse to flatten much of the capital.

It’s worth noting that when Jack Bauer came to London in 24, he kept damage on a largely human scale, except for a momentary schtick involving Wembley Stadium going up in smoke!  Well, this franchise has grandiose (if that’s the right word) intentions to cause a lot of damage on many a London landmark in the sort of way that Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel would be rightly proud.

We know it’s daft and packed with wanton xenophobic and jingoistic sentiment. It’s clearly clap trap but loads of things get blown up and Butler kicks ass, so all’s forgiven, right? Mmm.

Hail Caesar! (12A)

The Coen brothers turn their attention to screwball comedy and satire in their portrayal of Hollywood’s Golden Age right at the point where things started to creak! The film follows a day in the life of a studio fixer who is presented with plenty of problems to fix.

This is a film with a gargantuan list of A-listers including Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum.

As is typical of the Coen brothers, the passion for period detail is to be applauded along with the gorgeous deft camera work of Roger Deakins. As is untypical of some recent Coen brothers fare, and something to met with great anticipation, the film not only has lighter tone but appears to be a feel good experience.

One to really look forward to!

Other Side Of The Door, The (15)

This week’s scary offering follows a family living in India whose lives are turned upside down the death of their young son. His mother travels to an ancient temple to carry out a ritual to bring her son back. She finds a door which acts as a portal between two worlds but disobeys the warning to never open the door, to horrific consequences.

Here follows what looks like a procedural exercise in the possession movie genre with the door a physical device and metaphor between life and death. It looks like a take on The Conjuring with a blend of Western ignorance mixed with Aghori rituals and Hinduism.

If handled correctly, this could be an intriguing proposition for a horror film; played badly, the blend of cultures could be misinterpreted. Sadly, even with its Indian setting, it feels a bit predictable!

Truth (15)

Following under the weighty reputation of Spotlight, Truth is another look at the world of journalism, in this case Robert Redford as Dan Rather and his producer Mary Mapes played by a campy Cate Blanchett. Makes employs a team of top journalists (Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss) to uncover some leaked memos.

It’s pre-election 2004. Bush seeks re-election and is neck-and-neck with John Kerry in the polls.  After initial acclaim in the story, holes soon appear and careers begin to be put on the line.

First time director, James Vanderbilt (who previously scripted Zodiac) has received mixed reviews for his portrayal of CBS but the performances, in particular Blanchett are what might make this film most worth watching.

Other highlights this week...

Elsewhere this week, the mac are putting on a bunch of excellent stuff. The standouts for me include SNTRK a fusion of live music and films, starting with Darren Aronofsky’s 90s classic Pi (15), making the event SNTRK: PI (15) programmed by Jack Parker and featuring DJ sets from Hamish Campbell-Legg & friends. Watch out also for showings of the Icelandish film Rams (15), a touching deadpan comedy following two sheep farmers called Gummi and Kiddi who take on the authorities to save their special breed after a disease threatens the entire sheep population.

The Electric Cinema appears to be having a heap of action packed fun with its Labyrinth Party Nights (yes, I kid you not!) this Friday and Saturday night along with showings of a whole load of Oscar winning films. Be sure to also catch an exclusive showing of Ben Wheatley’s intriguing new film High Rise (15) starring Tom Hiddleston which is followed by a live Q&A with Ben himself.

That’s it from me this week. As always, if you have any queries or comments, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line on twitter @timmy666.

In the meantime, have a fantastic weekend at the cinema and be sure to catch me on Monday lunchtimes on Brum Radio as part of Paul Hadsley’s Happy Hour.


Beer Gurus at The Botanist

Birmingham Favourites were guests of The Botanist

I attended an excellent beer tasting at The Botanist on Temple Hill, Birmingham, on the evening of the 8th February, hosted by Kieran Hartley, one of the two officially-titled Beer Gurus for the New World Trading Group which numbers this bar amongst its stable. There were 13 other participants drawn from amongst the area’s food and drink bloggers and some very interesting PR people, all intrigued by what might be on offer.

Kieran began with a simple but very comprehensive overview and explanation of the brewing process and types of beer, then gave a brief rundown of what he would be offering us to try. Everyone was impressed by his light and friendly presentation which in no way masked his comprehensive knowledge of the subject.

First up was a Belgian style wheat beer from the Camden Brewing Company, Gentleman’s Wit, which had all the characteristics you would expect of the type – slight cloudiness, a strong taste of orange peel and coriander, nice and fresh. One could imagine it as a splendid accompaniment to a lunch of cheese and bread, as happens in Belgium.

By way of contrast, we then tried a sample of Erdinger Weissbier, the German version of wheat beer, less citrusy and more forthright perhaps. This was a little reminder for me of what I hope are joys to come as I prepare for one of my regular visits to Munich where drinking always starts with Weissbier and graduates to the stronger, heavier duty dark Dunkelbiers. In keeping with the first sample whereby a brewery makes a beer typical of another country, we then tried Chicago-based Goose Island Brewery’s Honkers Ale which is their idea of an English Ale. It was damned good and very convincing. Talk amongst us included the use of hops and we wondered if, in order to get that “English” taste, the brewery would have used more genuine English hops in the brew.

The Crafty Dan Brewery (where do they get their names, I sometimes wonder) offering was 13 Guns, their idea of an American IPA which again had many of the characteristics of the real thing. This was definitely becoming an intriguing experience which had us thinking and talking not only about brewing but international marketing, inspiration for brews, keeping beer fresh when it travels, what makes a good commercial brew, and when does a so-called “craft” beer becomes a normal mass-produced one. And I thought I was only there to taste the beer…………….

Other samples consumed included a delightful Vedett IPA from the Duvel Brewery in Belgium, a Guiness Dublin Porter which was strong tasting, chocolatey with caramel and toffee undertones, Wild Beer’s Millionaire “Salted Caramel and Chocolate and Milk Stout” which was a real WOW, and we finished with another German Weissbier, this time from the Schneider Braueri.

Well, what can one say? It was an evening of education, enjoyment, great company, and enlightenment from a master. Thanks to Frankie and all who organised the event and especially to Kieran and NWTC staff. This was my first visit to The Botanist, never having been sure about a place which is in a part of town which I might call the “Afterwork Braying Suits Run” but there was a really pleasant vibe about the place and a good smell from the food being served so, one of these days, I shall return and try the cooking as well.

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman #KnifeandFork



Recipe: Toad in the Hole

Hello Brummies

If you suddenly found yourself single in the last week or two you will be surprised to learn that you are not the only ones.  February is statistically the most popular for the breaking up of relationships. Maybe it is the thought of Valentine's day and all that lovey-dovey stuff that breaks shaky relationships.

So Chef Nick has something to cheer you up.  Good stodgy comfort food idea for a winters night.  I think we can kick the diet into touch now, can't we?  Yup, and open the bloody wine while you are at it.

You will need:

  • 200 grams of plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml of milk.  I would recommend full fat for this.  You will taste the difference.
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Two good quality butchers sausages.  Can I recommend Aubrey Allen of Coventry.
  • Half an onion
  • Sticky brown sugar
  • Sweet red wine, like Mavrodaphne
  • Instant gravy (yeah, don't judge me)


  • Sauce pan
  • Oven proof dish
  • Mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Tongs
  • Green chopping board
  • Sharp veg knife
  • Baking tray
  • Pan stand or nice thick wooden board


  1. Set your oven to 200 degrees.  Place your sausages on a tray and bake for ten minutes or until they are just starting to brown a little.  At the same time add two die-sized cubes of lard to a baking dish and place it into the oven next to the sausages.
  2. While they are baking, place a green chopping board on a flat work surface over a damp cloth.  Finely slice half an onion.  Heat some oil in a sauce pan and add the onion.  Fry it until it is golden brown.  Add two heaped tablespoons of brown sugar and allow it to melt into the onions.  Add 125ml of red wine.  You don't need me to tell you what to do with the rest of it...
  3. Make up some instant gravy in a jug, make sure it is nice and thick.  Add it to the sauce pan.  Stir it in and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
  4. Remove the sausages from the oven and set them aside.  Turn your oven up to maximum so the oil in the baking dish gets very hot.
  5. Measure out the flour, oil and milk.  Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and add the milk and oil.  Mix them well and slowly mix in the flour until you have a nice smooth batter.
  6. Now the dangerous bit, please use extreme caution. Using a thick dry oven cloth remove the baking dish with the oil and place it on a pan stand or wooden board.  Add to it enough batter mix to fill it a quarter way (or slightly less).  Add the sausages using the tongs.  Carefully place it back in the oven and cook for a further ten minutes at 200 degrees.

Do NOT open the oven for ten minutes, or it will deflate.

Go listen to Morrissey or something.

7.  Now check the pudding by standing well back and opening the oven door an inch.  If it looks risen and nicely brown it is good to eat.  If not, give it another ten minutes.  As long as you keep the heat in the oven, or can see it through a window, you will be fine.

 Remove the Toad in the Hole from the oven using great care.  Place your oven dish on a cool plate and pour the gravy over the top.  Serve it up with the rest of the bottle of red wine.

Now, give Chef Nick a smile.


Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.


At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week’s At The Flix. In a busy week, we look at Marvel’s latest comic adventure Deadpool, observe Will Smith fighting the cause for medical advancement, bask in the fashionista glory that is the return of Derek Zealander, observe a mashup of Jane Austen and zombies and realise that Ralph Fiennes can really dance!

Deadpool (15)

Marvel seem to back in their A league territory with this latest and altogether more adult adventure. Ryan Reynolds plays Wade, a former Special Forces operative who on facing a critical life decision is offered the alternative ‘get out’, to become part of a rogue experiment leaving him with accelerated healing powers, becoming Deadpool.

Reynolds clearly laps up the opportunity to be the ‘reluctant’ super hero as the film’s meta tone, knowing, self-aware humour, and fourth wall breakages sees Marvel side with a style of dark comic cartoon that we have seen previously in the first Kick Ass.

If comparisons are to be made then Reynolds takes the mouthy, swagger of the Downey Jr hero model and turns it up a notch through providing a foul-mouthed, blood spilled realism that adult audiences will largely lap up.

Crude, sly and very much cartoonish - perhaps this is the Marvel movie that Marvel actually needs!!!

Zoolander 2 (15)

It was only a matter of time, albeit 14 years, yet I think the cinema is ready again for a blast of Derek Zoolander’s warped fashionistic wisdom!

In No.2, the setup is a simple one, as Messrs Stiller and Wilson return as Derek and Hansel begin modelling again, when an opposing company led by Will Ferrell’s Mugatu attempts to take them out from the business.

The first film has turned out to be very prophetic in its portrayal fame and vanity, for example, the prediction around selfie culture. At the time this was relatively cutting edge, partly because it had something to say and that it wasn’t dumb.

Given the way the world is, I think there’s never a shortage ammunition through which Stiller, Theroux and the other scriptwriters can take aim at! The satire, at least for me, is far more interesting than any plot angles - and here’s to also hoping the film keeps its sense of ‘fun’ as well as being mostly funny.

A Bigger Splash (15)

This week’s most interesting looking film is set in Italy - a story of pent up desire, jealousy and rock and roll.

Tilda Swinton plays a rock legend called Marianne Lane who is recuperating from a voice related illness with her partner Paul played by Matthias Schoenaerts when an iconoclast record producer and old flame Harry played by Ralph Feinnes unexpectedly arrives with his daughter Penelope and interrupts their holiday. Harry brings nostalgia and recollection - and the dynamics of relationship boils up and over under the Mediterranean sun.

There’s an brooding excitement and anticipation at the heart of pairing Swinton and Fiennes together as two ex-lovers - with sexual tension simmering around the swimming pool, comparison must be made to Francois Ozon’s excellent 2003 film Swimming Pool.

If that’s a comparator, then I’m sold.

Concussion (12A)

In this awards season, Concussion ticks many of the boxes which get rewarded with gongs, at least on paper. Will Smith plays a forensic pathologist who on conducting an autopsy on a former NFL football player discovers neurological deterioration similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

The film covers the doctor’s crusade to raise awareness of a disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy -  otherwise known as football-related head trauma.

This is a message movie with an earnest story, a bit of a corporate wrongdoing thriller thing and in Smith, you’d usually expect him as epitome of a likeable lead for the mission!

Yet despite all of this, the critics haven’t gone for it.

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (15)

Keeping the ‘knowing’, ‘meta-ish' theme going, another big film for this week is a kooky genre mashup blending one part costume drama, one part zombie fest.

Based on Seth Grahame-Smith book, this is a film aspiring for B-Movie status - blending dark horror comedy and a cast of young British talent, led by Lily James .

The setup is made for the teen audience and those kids studying Jane Austen will go along to see what aspects of the book make it in whilst really going for fight sequences and a hint of gore.

Add the mix Charles Dance as Mr Bennet and Matt Smith as a standout Mr Collins, and there’s an element of fun to perhaps be had. That said, Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter got adapted a few years to less than satisfactory results.

With its aspirations for a younger crowd, this doesn’t feel like a film for the hardcore horror fans, and it might be that any gore violence is kept off screen.

The jury is out but one expects it to be a rip-roaring success box office wise.

Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip (U)

As half term is approaching - we’re starting to get the family films creeping in - starting with another big screen adventure for Alvin and the Chipmunks and they’re are off on a road ‘chip’.

This is the fourth big screen adventure for The Chipmunks, and the film can be summed up by one reviewer stateside, “puns that can be constructed from “chip” or “munk” represent roughly 80 percent of the creative inspiration."

If you know the Alvin and the Chipmunks then you know exactly what you’re getting.

It’s Valentines Day this Sunday, so expect a few one-off films. For example, the mac, yes the mac, are showing Dirty Dancing (15), not once but twice. They know their audience.

The Electric have been doing a great season of classics as part of their Cinematic Time Machine season. On Saturday, they move to Birmingham Cathedral for a silent movie night to showcase the comic genius of silent star Harold Lloyd in Safety Last!. Laugh-out-loud funny and jaw-dropping in equal measure, this very special screening will feature live organ accompaniment from David Ivory, and will also be preceded by the 1920 Buster Keaton short One Week. Worth booking early for. Watch out also for a showing of Gone With The Wind too at The Electric on Sunday.

So that’s it from me. It’s a very busy week at the cinema, so whatever you go and see, be sure to tweet me your thoughts at @timmy666.

Watch out also for my weekly appearance on Paul Hadsley’s Happy Talk on Mondays on Brum Radio between 12pm and 2pm where I shall discuss film, tech and anything else geeky.

Have a great week at the cinema!

Meet the Artist: Liskbot

From Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, to Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Banksy. We all have our favourite artists - and we all have our from styles of art. Those who enjoy a Rembrandt may not necessarily like work by Shepard Fairey or other street artists.

Me, I do. I'm a big fan of street art. You only have to take a walk through Digbeth to appreciate some of the fantastic street art on offer in Birmingham. And to fully appreciate some of the street art available, I highly recommend you visit Millennium Point before February 16th 2016 to see the amazing art being exhibited by Liskbot.

To wet your appetite, get to know the artist a bit better, find out how they got involved in street art, why they've chosen their style and which artists they recommend we look out for, by reading the Q&A I did with them recently.

There are a few famous street artists, perhaps none more so than Banksy. But who inspired you to get into street art?

My earliest introduction to street art was while I was studying at Walsall College, when an older student brought a tiny street art book back from a trip to London. I was aware of graffiti but was blown away by the different ways artists in London such as Banksy, Toaster, Invader and D-face used different mediums to create humorous and cleaver art in a public space.

Who are the street artists both locally and further afield whose work we should be looking out for?

I'm always excited to see new work popping up on the walls and lampposts of Birmingham. Lately 'Johnny Vcnt's' use of poppy images and stylish fonts remind me of nostalgic advertisements.

'Foka Wolfs' been going for a while but still gets me excited seeing his paste ups around town. The work of Gent and Newso always leave my mind blown, such skill and imagination, creating some monstrous pieces of work around Digbeth.

Your art predominantly features robots, why?

While failing to support myself living in the Netherlands, sometimes I drew a little box like character that illustrated my thoughts and worries while I was in a different country. I came back and people seemed to like my character more than my holiday photos, so I drew some more onto stickers and over time each bot I drew developed its own character and sinister motives, it has been fun unveiling the plans for our future.

Your art has popped up in some places it may not be expected, such as stickers on lampposts (including outside Dismaland) & bins, but where's the most unusual place you've left your mark?

I've come to find stickers on lampposts as the norm, and I try and make my art available and accessible to all. Putting my robots in super public places up and down the country, from dark and dingy city alleys to rural village towns, whenever I'm on my travels I always have a back pocket full of stickers and if I've been anywhere new or see a fellow artists work I'll put a bot up.

How did you first get into street art & can you remember your first piece (& is it still there)?

The first boxy character i did was hand drawn on a set of sticker labels and I sheepishly put five up around the grounds of my university, luckily they weathered off within a few months. I'm glad they did, they were terribly naïve.

Where do you get your ideas / inspiration from and how long does it take to turn the idea into the finished art work?

I'm fascinated with history, especially with the remains of what was left from before, like Birmingham’s dying industries and the deteriorating factories left behind. I also love all things Science Fiction, especially cartoons, movies and games, depicting apocalyptic landscapes. I take inspiration from these visions of the future, and from there the bots demand I put them into worlds similar to the ones in the movies, so I'll pencil quick ideas into a sketch book and normally sit on the idea till I'm able to apply it to the street. sometimes for months.

For you what's the best and worst thing about being a street artist / street art?

Well the worst thing is working with Birmingham's not-so sunny weather. It's hard to pick the best part. Meeting people who are as passionate as me about the art-form, being able to create collaborative pieces of art with some of my heroes, even hearing that the sight of one of my bots makes somebody’s bus journey to work a little better.

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief street art spotter.

At The Flix with @Timmy666


Greetings one and all! Welcome to this week's trawl through all things cinematic and hitting the screens in Brum this week.

Spotlight (15)

Todd McCarthy’s passionate portrayal and appreciation of the work of Spotlight, an investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe, is brought to the fore in an old-school procedural style.

The Spotlight team brought the Catholic Church to account over their cover up of child abuse endemic within the church. This is a no-nonsense love letter to journalism, brought to life by an excellent case led by Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo who plays the journalists who uncovered the stories.

The film will no doubt be compared to All the President’s Men, but irrespective of such a comparison, this is a story that needs to be told, and like the journalists, the cinema viewing crowd should lap up the old style journalistic thriller style.

Youth (15)

Paolo Sorrentino is a director of such visual flair and style - The Consequences Of Love, Il Divo, The Great Beauty - these films serve as proof of the man’s greatness.

So when he writes a film specifically for Michael Caine to star in, curiosity has been peaked. Set during a spa break in Switzerland, Caine teams up with Keitel as old friends reflecting on life. Caine himself is a composer dreaming of fronting an orchestra again.

The film is clearly both style and some crazy substance, coming in from left field as fast as a pop star cameo or an outlandish hallucination scene. Like his previous film, The Great Beauty, Youth as a title in itself is a touch of irony, a statement on the brevity of life and the fear of death.

Critics haven’t cast this film anywhere near the level of his previous work, and even it is something of a mess, what a  mess it looks like it is, and with a scene chewing Jane Fonda cameo to book.

Dirty Grandpa (15)

Our man Bob de Niro continues to wipe away our glorious memories of his great cinematic legacy with a frankly baffling decision to appear alongside Zac Ephron (the grandson). He plays the dirty grandpa on a trip to Florida. He is the one making the gross out decisions whilst poor Ephron follows along, and the poor audience gets to endure as well.

Or perhaps it isn’t baffling any more. We have become accustomed to seeing Bob make crazy decisions ever since Rocky and Bullwinkle. The big question is, is this some kind of spoof and knowing in-joke from de Niro? If not, one really has to question who is advising him. Anyhow….

The 33 (12A)

As filmic a piece of recent history as you can get, the 33 refers to the Chilean minors who were trapped underground. It’s a feel good film with Antonio Banderas as the unofficial leader of the miners providing heart and drive to the film.

The film goes for the big cast treatment across the board albeit with some bonkers casting including Juliette Binoche as the miner’s sister.

I’m yet to see the 2010 Chilean film, Los 33 de San José, but in reflecting on the big English speaking version, one wonders how much more authentic a native language version of this would be.

Nonetheless, this film’s intent is on delivering a feel-good disaster flick and in those terms, the film’s intentions are seemingly met.

Don’t forget that the Electric continues its excellent Cinematic Time Machine season with FW Murnau's legendary silent film Sunrise (U), the film which won star Janet Gaynor the first ever Best Actress Oscar. Be sure to also catch the Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (U) on Tuesday, a film which took the mechanics of cinema to a whole new level.

At the mac over the next week, watch out for two showings of Jean Luc Goddard’s Le Mépris (15) with Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance, as well as a showing of the documentary Chemsex (18), looking at the lives of men whose lives have been changed by the Chemsex phenomenon, which refers to the use of drugs in a sexual context.

That's it from me. As is usual, any queries or comments, please let me know at @timmy666 on twitter. Have a great week and be sure to support your local cinemas when you can.

If I Ruled The World ....... by Gemma Cordon

 The If I Ruled The World Trail

Ideal for: Bus nerds and budding thespians

Avoid if: you don't like sitting down or standing up for long prolonged periods

Bring // Youll need: wide eyes

Terrain: practically all of Birmingham!

The start: Backstage Tour - Birmingham REP Theatre

Culture is king in my world. See where all the magic happens on one of the REP Theatre's brilliantly immersive backstage tours. You get to feel the pressure of standing on stage, watch sets, costumes and props being made and who knows, you may even meet one of your favourite actors.

Broad Street, city centre. Website.

Selected Thursdays and Saturdays at 11.00am (lasts 90 mins). £6 or £4.50 concessions

The middle bit: Ride on the number 11 bus

Public transport is free - the perfect excuse to board what was until recently the longest urban bus route in Europe (Coventry stole that crown). The famous number 11 traverses the city's outer circle - that's 26 miles, 40 pubs and six hospitals. Phew! You can jump off at Cadbury World if the smell of all that chocolate gets too much.

For a full list of the route's 272 stops and for ticket prices visit the website

The end: West Midlands Police Museum

In a world ruled by me, British crime dramas are prescribed as medicine. There's nothing like a bit of Frost to provide a healthy distraction from the stress of real life. To get the old grey cells whirring you could visit the West Midlands Police Museum - it's curious and sometimes chilling collection that shows how policing has evolved, from the days of the watchman's lamp to modern-day forensics. Fascinating stuff.

Sparkhill Police Station, 639 Stratford Road. Website.

By appointment - for details call 08451135000 ext. 6243

Tips: Remember your Ps and Qs - in my world, rudeness is punishable by banishment. To Mars or somewhere. But hey, at least you could get there on a free bus.

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week's trawl through all things cinematic and hitting the screens in Brum this weekend. After last week’s tranche of awards season contenders, what will this week bring?

The Big Short (15)

This week’s biggest release, this adaptation of Michael Lewis’s non-fiction best seller, provides a dark satirical take on the financial crash. It tells the story of a bunch smart misfit analysts who made their fortune when they predicted the bubble was going to burst back in 2005.

Anchorman director Adam McKay’s black comedy benefits from a zippy, informative and quirky approach alongside the multiple talents of great cast (Bale, Gosling, Carrell, Pitt), some of whom do that thing of ‘wigging up’ and altering their appearance a bit, because that’s what you do! Amongst the film’s many artistic oddities, expect lots of asides, cameos and assaults on the fourth wall.

This is a film that dares to entertain, inform and appal in equal measure. I’m converted.

The 5th Wave (15)

If alien invasions and a slice of apocalypse are your thing then The 5th Wave aims to peek your interest! This well-trodden cinematic setup is an adaptation of Rick Yancey’s book. At the heart of the film is a simple tale with Chloe Moritz attempting to provide some ‘small scale human’ dynamics to a high body count film in an attempt save her brother.

The film eschews a dystopian backdrop for something a little more familiar which allows for the alien devastation to be that much more cutting! That alone might sustain the film’s interest. Judging by the critics, the narrative might not be one of the film’s strengths.

Our Brand is Crisis (15)

The other satire to hit the cinemas this week is the big film adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name, which follows  a management company who are recruiting by the failing Bolivian president to turn around his predicament. Sandra Bullock plays a talented strategist with a damaged past who comes face-to-face with her nemesis played by Billy Bob Thornton. Cue the film’s satirical setup.

David Gordon Green’s film has a grand setup and provides plenty of opportunity for weighty satire and a cynical take on politics. That said, the film hasn’t quite ignited the excitement of critics Stateside. That said, Bullock’s performance has been widely praised and is probably the main reason to watch!

Ride Along 2 (15)

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart return as bickering buddies, and now both cops assigned from Atlanta to Miami to work with their PD to take down a drug lord played by Benjamin Bratt. The film effectively plays out as one long comedic schtick for Hart to do his notoriously energetic histrionics. I guess much of your enjoyment of this film will be determined by whether you find it funny!

Truthfully, when I saw the trailer for this, I had to remind myself of Ride Along or perhaps I didn’t need or want to remind myself?

Star Men (PG) 

Showing at the mac (Mon 25-Thurs 28), Alison Rose’s touching documentary follows four astronauts on a road trip as they celebrate 50 years of work together, a portrait of lifelong friendships, old age, facing death and reminiscence at their life in astronomy and space.

Finally The Electric continue their excellent Cinematic Time Machine season with Sunday showings of Buster Keaton’s 1928 silent classic, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (U) and the eponymous Singing in the Rain (U).

That's it from me. As is usual, any queries or comments, please let me know at @timmy666 on twitter. Have a great week and be sure to support your local cinemas.

Recipe: Deep South Ribs

Good day to you Brummies, and welcome back.

An announcement.  As you may be aware, Birmingham Favourites is slowing down it's production.  This is for several reasons. Firstly, we agree that it has served it's purpose in getting the ball rolling, in highlighting the best of the city.  Secondly, we all need to move on to other projects. [Nicely put - the Ed]

But, as it stands, you will be getting one post a month from me, henceforth.

Anyway, crack on, Chef..

So, today we are doing ribs again.  But better this time.  Now, for a good rib recipe, avoid the 'Mommy-bloggers' on Youtube, with their Stepford-perfect kitchens.  You need the Hillbillies,  You know the ones I mean:  bad teeth, dungerees, loaded shotgun propping up  a propane tank, mirrored shades.  The guys who look like a casting call for Deliverence.  There are your guys. Check out the Barbecue Pit Boys on YouTube.

You will need:

  • One rack of pork ribs per person
  • Salt and whole black pepper corns
  • Bay leaves, one palm full

For the sauce:

  • One can of tomatoes
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • One onion, finely diced
  • Brown sugar
  • Garlic and tomato puree

Finally, kit:

  • One baking tray
  • Metal foil
  • One saucepan and a spatula.

Cooking time, two hours.

That's all.

Right kids, set your oven to 180 degrees centigrade.  Remove your ribs from the packet and carefully rinse them under the tap. You may have to cut off any excess membrane from under the ribs.  Place the ribs in the tray.  Add a liberal sprinkle of salt, throw in a handful of black peppercorns and the same amount of bay leaves.  Add a pint of water and cover tightly with the foil.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for two hours.

When you get up to one and a half hours, start on the sauce.  Take a saucepan and add a little oil.  Add the finely chopped onions and fry them until brown.  Add three tablespoons of brown sugar and allow it to caramelize into the onion.  Now add two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and one of Dijon mustard.  Stir it in well. Mind your eyes, the fumes can be potent.  (Why not add a glug of Jack Daniels?)  Add the tomatoes and bring to the simmer.  Once they are bubbling away, add a tablespoon of tomato and/or garlic puree.  Stir in well and allow to simmer for five minutes.

Grab a thick, dry oven cloth.

Remove the ribs from the oven.  Carefully remove the foil, allowing the steam to escape.  Remember, steam burns hurt like hell.

Drain off the water and scrape off the Bay leaves with a knife.  Now slowly pour the sauce over the ribs, rubbing it on with the spatula.  Make sure it is nice and even. Replace the metal foil tightly over the ribs and place back in the oven for a further ten minutes.

Now go play your banjo for a bit.

When the ribs are ready, remove the ribs from the oven and use oven tongs to move them to your plate.  I always serve them with coleslaw or chips.

Now, they taste A-freaking-mazing.  Remember to keep paper towels handy.

And enjoy, Birmingham.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.


Knife & Fork: (Curried) Hen and Chickens


I often used to pass the Hen and Chickens pub on Constitution Hill – and keep walking. It was one of those places which, regardless of which name it was trading under, was not exactly enticing any time I walked past during the past twenty years. However, some months ago, a fellow Tweeter - @myJQ – recommended that I should stop being so timid and go and try one of their curries. He told me that they were really, really good.

Just before Christmas I had arranged to meet Andy Munro, our city Balti Guru, whom I have mentioned previously in reviews of Birmingham’s curry houses, and he was insistent that we should have our Christmas lunch at this very place. So, I had to go, especially now that I had someone to hold my hand, so to speak.

In the event, three of us met a week or so before Christmas and I have to say that everyone had been right. It’s actually a very enjoyable place to go and the curry is indeed pretty good. The unimproved interior is none the worse for that, having apparently escaped any misguided attempts at makeovers in what I imagine would be the past century or so. The staff seem to be very proud of that, and so were most of the customers that day. The clientele were an interesting and eclectic mix of what looked like office workers, business people, construction workers, and local residents. It all felt very comfortable.

The beer was splendid: my Christmas Ale was spicy, meaty, fruity yet hoppily bitter – just what you want at that time of year. The wine my colleagues were drinking, a South American house Merlot, was doing the job for them, too.

I had been warned that the portions were very generous but I was doubtful when one of my companions suggested that we should have only one for the three of us. However, he was right and the Mixed Grill at £15 was excellent value and was just the right size for. I do have to admit that we also had a couple of portions of chips as well – another first for me. I would never have dreamt of accompanying a curry with chips – how déclassé, my dear! Somehow or other, the chips were just perfect as accompaniment. They were chunky, dry, satisfying.

The Mixed Grill itself was comprised of Fish Pakora, Chicken Tikka, Coriander Chicken, Shish Kebab, and Chicken “Lollipops”, all in a powerful but not overpowering sauce. To be sure, this was not the most subtle masala I have ever tasted but it seemed right for the day and for the occasion. We lapped it all up. My lips were suitably tingling without reaching that stage of numbness which can make a strong, basic curry more of a culinary commando combat course than a pleasant challenge to the taste buds.

So, if you are looking for a decent, honest curry without frills, in a genuine old Birmingham boozer with loads of character and you don’t want to break the bank, you could do much, much worse than pop in to the Hen and Chickens. Take a friend though, not for moral support but to help you eat the enormous portions.

The Hen and Chickens, 27 Constitution Hill, Birmingham B19 3LE. 0121 236 3121

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


At the Flix with @Timmy666

Hello one and all. Welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix, your weekly fix on what is coming out this week.

This is a very strong week, with a number of this week's releases having a definitive air of awards season. Yet there's more than that as well.

Let's take a peek shall we...

The Revenant (15) Part western, part survival flick, part revenge thriller, The Revenant is the latest full-bodied Innaritu feature from feature set in 1820s America with DiCaprio as a frontiersman, who when abandoned following a bear attack is forced to muster his survival skills to find a way back home to his family. He tracks down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the confidant who betrayed and abandoned him.

The proof is in the film's commitment to its survival element, with DiCaprio committed to demonstrating acting performance with added Bear Grylls grit and zeal.

A big winner at The Golden Globes, this could be the feature that lands Oscar gongs for both Innaritu and the film's leading man. A love/hate director, this is the sort of setup that was made for his particular, intense and close-up style of filmmaking.

Beautiful, bleak and tough, this is a film not to miss.

Creed (12A) Probably the film I'm most anticipating this month signals a shift in the trajectory of the Rocky franchise.

The consistent part of what has made Rocky work, or at least when it works, is not just its constituent elements that have served to make it iconic, it is an exercise in pure cinematic conviction and personality.

Rocky Balboa is Stallone's most enduring character!

The film's key spin is  that it is a spin-off switching over to the Creed bloodline, with Apollo Creed's son taking centre stage, as a boxer with by a tough upcoming, and turning to an initially reluctant Rocky Balboa to coach him.

On the surface, the film has parallels to the first Rocky with a rates of passage element very fitting of this enduring franchise.

Yet the real magic trick though is that this is a Ryan Coogler film and Stallone's focus is on acting his heart out alongside Michael B Jordan. Coogler brings his own energy and smart style to this franchise and this is another must seem

Room (15) Not to be confused with the impossibly bad 2009 film The Room, this is in fact the third Oscar of the week. Lenny Abrahamson's The Room. Emma Donoghue brings her 2010 novel to the big screen.

Brie Larson plays a young women kidnapped and imprisoned for years by an abuser; she lives with her young son Jack in a tiny room in basic rudimentary conditions.

Jack calls the space "Room", a cruelly ironic term as well as space in which they operate. The film asks many questions of what's at play and the psychological impact on Larson's character as well as her attempts to protect her son from the truth, as much as possible.

The film's uniqueness is in its focus, intensity. It a reflection on time itself and on family and seems to have human traits that we can all recognise, irrespective of the extreme situation.

Sunset Song (15) Showing at the mac, from the 15th to 21st January, a chance to catch Terence Davies's adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel.

Set on the coast of Aberdeenshire on the eve of World War, Agyness Deyn plays Chris Guthrie, a daughter in a farming family of  a father (Peter Mullan); yet when tragedy strikes, she finds liberty in the dissolution of their tight-knit family.

Davies captures nature and nostalgia like no other director, contrasting beauty with the bleakness of life and the uncertainty provided by war. Powerful, poetic and yet another must see.

Güeros (15) Showing from Mon 18th to Thu 21st, Gueros is a comedy road movie road in which the travellers barely manage to leave town, a tale of self-discovery set across Mexico City’s many frontiers.

This film has garnered many awards including Best First Feature, Berlin International Film Festival in 2014 and deserves a good reception.

Finally, at the Electric this weekend, watch out for showings of Bugsy Malone and Singing In The Rain as part of their Cinematic Time Machine season.

Ok, so that's it from me this week. What a great week for films, so whatever you go and see, I wish you a great one.

Until next week...

Make Cleaning Your Home Easier With Old Wives Cleaning Tips

When it comes to cleaning our homes, we all have our own ways of doing it. Some of us will tackle one room at a time, others will polish everywhere and then vacuum. However you clean your house, wouldn’t it be great if you had a few tips and tricks to make the process quicker and easier.

Over the last month, eSpares ran a competition on Birmingham Favourites to find the best “old wives tales” to help with cleaning. Below are a select few of the entries, including the winning entry from Norman Cherry PhD DA MCSD FRSA CRODCP.

Clean Your Windows...Without the Streaks:

On a bright spring morning, nothing beats sitting eating your breakfast and looking out onto the garden – as it becomes a hotbed of colour and nature. Yet many of us are greeted by dirty or streaky windows.

Whatever specialist window cleaning products we use, the results still seem to be the same – smears and streaks are left. But this doesn’t need to be the case, ditch the specialist cleaning products and instead follow the advice outlined, by Kathleen, below...

“Add a splash of washing up liquid and a splash of white vinegar into a bowl of warm water. Use this to clean your windows, before polishing them with old newspaper”

Remove Odours from Your Carpets:

When you vacuum your floors you remove roughly 80% of the dirt which is on them, but vacuuming alone doesn’t remove odours which may have sunk into the fibres and leave an unpleasant aroma within the room.

Looking to tackle a smelly carpet (or rug)? Keith has the answer...

“Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over your carpets and rugs, leaving the bicarbonate of soda for 15 minutes before vacuuming. You’ll be left with clean and odour free carpets.”

Tackle the Dust:

Dusting, do you do it before you vacuum or once you’ve vacuumed? If you do it before, any dust which falls on the floor can be removed but it always seems that you need to dust again straight afterwards. If you leave the dusting until after you’ve vacuumed any dust which falls onto the floor remains there, leaving the room looking untidy.

The solution, according to the winning “old wives tale” sent in by Norman, is to not dust. Norman explains...

“After two months, dust no longer grows on your stuff, so just ignore it. This was allegedly practised by the late Quentin Crisp, but my late friend the author Oppi Untracht DID practice this.  I visited his apartment in Porvoo, Finland, and was so impressed by how well it worked that I resolved to try it out myself - and it DOES indeed work.  Think of how much time we could all save if we gave it a try - even only for a couple of months............ and, if we normally employ cleaners, how much money we would save.”

The team at eSpares would like to thank everyone who took part in this competition, and remember if you’re looking for advice and tips on cleaning or maintaining your household appliances, visit the eSpares blog.

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature and Twitter user (@myounger14)

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Happy New Year! Welcome to the first #AtTheFlix of the New Year! As the countdown to awards season approaches, so expect a number of films that are just Oscar worthy versus those that are a little bit more Oscar bait!

It's a quiet week in terms of mainstream releases this week following a busy Christmas period with films such as The Danish Girl and In the Heart of the Sea. Let's take a genders.,

Hateful Eight, The (18) Out on wide release this week is Quentin Tarantino’s latest magnum opus, The Hateful Eight. As Tarantino approaches his self-announcement retirement, love him or hate him, each release comes with a mass of anticipation. Even at his most self-indulgent, Tarantino is an auteur of the ticks and eccentricities of cinema with a keen eye for genre-bending entertainment with knowing post-modern pokes at anything in his way, and always with ultra-violence, punchy dialogue and rip-roaring music!

So in the Hateful Eight, most of those constituents are in place, a three-hour Tarantino Western, a cast filled with Tarantino regulars and shot in glorious 70mm (oh for a local screen that can max this format!) with the added joy of a Ennio Morricone score mixed in with some typical Tarantino DJ-ing.

There are few directors who effectively have a niche all of their own - how many times have I said Tarantino above?

Being Tarantino he doesn’t lack self-importance in his own content - three hours long and one might argue where’s the word “cut". Critical response has ranged from the five-star eulogies to those who find his ticks overbearing at times. Tarantino continues to divide opinion. I tend to err to the former - I think his films are never less than a compelling proposition and worth the price of a cinematic ticket!

Doctor Zhivago (PG) David Lean's legendary tale of romance, hardship and wartime gets a warm Mac welcome from Friday 8th to Tuesday 12th January.

It's a film of beauty and heartbreak. It gave us Julie Christie and in Freddie Young, some of cinema's greatest photography.

Radiator (15) Running Monday through Thursday at the mac, here's the opportunity to see Tom Browne’s joyous and pithy portrayal of a marriage unravelling, in typical British fashion, held together by fear and familiarity.

The Lesson (15) Showing at the mac next Wednesday and Thursday, this tough 2014 Bulgarian drama follows a woman's desperation to keep her house at all costs. Filled with honesty and reality, the film has resonated in the art house circles, garnering awards at film festivals globally and it is good to see it getting a showing next week.

That's it from me this week. As always, if you have any quibbles or comments, I'm available on Twitter at @timmy666. Have a great week at the movies.

Take a look at the Films of 2015