At the Flix with @Timmy666 - the best of 2015

Hello one and all. Welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix. This week is all about my favourite films of the year, along with some honourable mentions and a few I missed along the way. What were yours? Top 10
  1. Inside Out
  2. Carol
  3. 45 Years
  4. Brooklyn
  5. The Martian
  6. Mad Max: Fury Road
  7. Songs of the Sea
  8. Ex Machina
  9. Sicario
  10. Spectre

Missed list

  • Tangerine
  • Crimson Peak
  • The Assassin
  • The Lobster
  • The Duke of Burgundy
  • What We Do In The Shadows

Honourable mentions

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • It Follows
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

As always, any comments or queries, please drop me a line on Twitter @timmy666. Normal service resumes next week. Until then, have a great week at the cinema.

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix, the weekly trawl through all the cinematic releases in Birmingham.

It's a quiet week in most respects, as there aren't that many new releases. There is one though.

I think you know the one.

Star Trek: The Force Awakens (12A)

Okay, so, what needs to be said! I imagine most of you reading this have already seen this or have been wrapped up in the incessant hype.

The anticipation for anyone who grew up loving the original three films has been marked.

Thankfully JJ Abrams has proven that he is the master of crafting a successful ode to the things we loved whilst growing up. He does this whilst seamlessly managing to bring everything up to the technical standards and audience demands of the cinema going crowds today.

In Abrams, there is frankly no one better to deliver the goods and, boy does he deliver. I'll say no more other than this is the Star Trek film you might have hoped and expected.

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (3D) (U)

With Snoopy and Charlie Brown returning to the big screen for the first time since 1980, I think this film supersedes The Force Awakens in terms of a pure nostalgia trip.

One would argue that the film's prime audience with be that of the 50/60+ generation who grew up with the comic strip. It is an iconic part of American culture.

The Peanuts Movie chooses computer generated images rather than hand-drawn representations, an obvious concession, but one where Schultz's drawings are faithfully referenced.

Elsewhere, check about various Christmas fare, including various showings of Elf, Home Alone and It's a Wonderful Life at the Electric.

That's it from me. Next week, I will reveal my favourite films of the year. Be sure to tune in. In the meantime, have a great week at the movies.

Birmingham Trail: The Rediscover Your City Trail

Ideal for: proud Brummies and curious in-laws

Avoid if: you can't stand the Birmingham accent

Bring // Youll need: to prepare your brain for information overload

Terrain: top decks and sheds

The start: The Big Brum Open Top Buz Sightseeing Tour

Yep, bus with a z - because that's just how we like to pronounce it in this neck of the woods. And what understatedly fascinating woods they are. This most charming of bus tours guides passengers beyond the usual 'more canals than Venice' mantra and takes us off the beaten track, picking up the Tolkien trail in leafy Edgbaston and exploring the urban glamour of East Side alongside the perennially popular Jewellery Quarter and the Golden Mile (yes, apparently we have one). Jam-packed with interesting facts that will surprise even the most veteran of Brummies, this memorable tour will uncover Birmingham as you've never seen it before. Warts and all.

Tours depart from the Council House, Victoria Square at 10.30, 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturdays and Sundays

£12 for an adult ticket, concession and group tickets available. Here's the website.

The middle bit: Birmingham: its people, its history - Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Steel yourselves for more facts! This brilliant (and massive) exhibition is a great deal more interesting than it may sound on paper. Innovative displays, films and interactives tell the story of Birmingham in chronological order - travelling right back in time to the city's medieval beginnings, journeying through the grandeur and squalor of Victorian Birmingham and uncovering the role the city played in the two world wars. It really is an epic tale - expect to be chilled, disgusted, moved and, ultimately, very proud.

Chamberlain Square, city centre

Open 10.00 - 17.00 (Fridays 10.30-17.00)

Free admission. More on the website

The end: Music and Ale Night - The Two Towers Brewery

Where better to bore people to tears with your newfound facts than over a locally brewed ale down at the pub...or industrial estate. The Two Towers Brewery has been providing Birmingham and beyond with delicious and brilliantly-named craft beers since 2009 (a half of Complete Muppetry, anyone?). They currently operate from the rather incongruous setting of a Hockley industrial unit, but don't let that put you off. The site has the feel of someone's garden shed - cosy, charming and welcoming, just like the hosts. Get down to one of their lively Music and Ale Nights and expect to leave with your Brummie pride well and truly in tact.

Unit 1 Mott Street Industrial Estate, Hockley

Approximately a 20-minute walk from BM&AG

Check the website for events listings - typically, Music Night takes place on Fridays 20.00 - 23.00 at a cost of £5 entry including four halves of ale

Tips:

Be sure to wrap up for The Big Brum Buz...it gets windy

Check out the BM&AG's Edwardian Tea Rooms for what must be the biggest pot of tea available in Birmingham

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.

#BrumTrail

Recipe: Toasted Spicy Nuts

Hey Birmingham

How is the Christmas shopping going? Anything wrapped yet

I have found a new recipe that is more addictive than crack.  To compliment your drinks, try Spicy Toasted Nuts.  Furthermore, they are really easy.

You need the following equipment:

  • One baking tray
  • One mixing bowl
  • One spatula

And the following ingredients:

  • One big bag of mixed nuts
  • Two tablespoons of sunflower oil
  • One tablespoon of salt
  • One teaspoon of sugar
  • One tablespoon of paprika
  • Half a teaspoon of cracked black pepper
  1. Set your oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix them well with the spatula.
  3. Pour them into a baking tray, lined with grease-proof paper and place in the oven.  Spread them out a bit.
  4. Bake them in the oven for five minutes then turn them over with the spatula.
  5. Bake for another five minutes then pour them into a bowl.  Allow them to cool and serve

They taste amazing, make you very thirsty, but they go great with beer or cider.

Enjoy your party!

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

#ChefsTable

At the Flix with @timmy666

Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix.

Like John McClane declaring his need for a regular, normal Christmas, one has to measure up the festive film season with a mix of joy and befuddlement. It’s joyful because of the crescendo building up to awards season which means that we get to enjoy fantastic films like Carol; yet it’s also befuddling as we get a lot of executive produced, committee-led Christmas trash which puts your seasonal faith in other things than cinema.

To be blunt though, this feels like the ‘quiet’ week before The Force Awakens, when everything else will appear secondary.

Anyway, let’s have a peer at what jollities are in store for us at cinemas across Brum over the next week or so.

By The Sea (15)

Angelina Jolie stars and directs alongside hubby Brad Pitt in this tale of a rich artistic couple trying to rescue their marriage and deal with their unhappiness.

The film is set in the idyllic surroundings of the French Riviera - the opulent surroundings for less than opulent relationship. Fame and fortune does not buy happiness. The French Riviera is no coincidence. The film looks like having a certain Gallic arthouse regard and miserabilism - cameos from the likes of Richard Bohringer only add to Jolie’s knowing sense of French cinema and where she is nodding towards - cigarette smoking, sexual frustration, post-coital philosophy - this is the sort of French-style fare that critics and film lovers lap up.

Critics Stateside have been scathing about this film. Contrary to certain reviews, I’m not too bothered about whether or not it is a vanity project or not - isn’t most cinema, a vanity project? I’d rather watch the ambitions, however flawed, of this film, that than Christmas with the Coopers.

Grandma (15)

Lily Tomlin plays a punkish lesbian Grandma who fresh from breaking up with her partner, gets a knock on the door from her granddaughter Elle who needs to raise $600 for an abortion. Paul Weitz’s low budget comedy is not just a vehicle for Tomlin’s extensive talents but an ensemble cast of great actors including Julia Garner as Elle and Marcia Gay Harden as her mum.

What’s promising is that this isn’t typical of many low budget quirky comedies with big casts, where the performances are mere cameos and an excuse for actors to do their ‘thing’. There appears to be well drawn characters and purpose to them. All in all very promising.

Christmas stuff...

In the week’s Christmas fare, the Electric have a number of festive events such as Film Food Club presents It's A Wonderful Life with Hotel Du Vin (U) on Sunday and Conjurer's Kitchen presents The Nightmare Before Christmas in 4D (PG) (yes, 4D) next Tuesday and Wednesday. Also be sure to check out the excellent Trash Film Night showing of the delightfully dreadful Silent Night Deadly Night 2 (18).

True to form, the mac know their audience and have gone with classics such as Gone With The Wind (U) (Sunday) and True Romance (18) (Sunday) as part of the BFI Love season.

In other one off events, Urban Coffee Company are doing their annual Christmas Film & Supper Club (Thursday) a double bill with the classic short How the Grinch Stole Christmas followed by the 1951 version of ScroogeTickets are £20. jq@urbancoffee.co.uk, 0121 2331599.

That’s it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666.  Until then, have a great week at the cinema and I’ll be back to pour over Episode VII next week.

If I Ruled the World at Christmas

I love Christmas.

It is the most wonderful time of year and it so because it’s unique. Uniquely in December. I am at the front of the queue to make yuletide stretch as much as possible but no, Wizard, I don’t wish it was Christmas every day (still a great track though). To keep it special, we need to keep Christmas in December and embrace it.

  1. No public lights switched on until December 1st. It will be great if all Christmas lights came on actually on December 1st. Or at least after November 25th, one month before Christmas is plenty of time. What you do at home is up to you of course.
  2. Absolutely no festive music played where the public gather i.e. shops, cafes, restaurants or on radio before December. Thereafter, 10% of music play can be festive in the first week, 25% in the second week and then more as we get closer. After 19th December bring it on.
  3. No one can moan about turkey. We only have it one day a year – 2-3 if we’re lucky. If you don’t like it, learn to cook/choose/buy it better.
  4. If anyone has no idea what to buy someone, they don’t know them well-enough to buy anything. However, if they've been acquainted a long time, think a little harder.
  5. What do you buy someone who has everything? An experience, food or anything that will be used up. Or update something they already have. The only boring gift is a cheque/cash. Socks, toiletries and chocolates are all gratefully receiving. In my house at anyway.
  6. If I ruled the world, there will be no ‘Gifts for her’ and ‘Gifts for him’ sections promoted. We know our loved ones well enough to know what they like. (see no 4)
  7. If you are going to re-gift, keep a spreadsheet of who gave you what, and who you then gift it to. It’s just polite.
  8. Christmas cards should arrive at least the week before Christmas. Cards arriving on Christmas eve are not displayed and yes, it is the thought that counts but if you like someone enough to spend time and money on sending a lovely card, then send it early so they can display and enjoy it. For some people, that’s their only form of festive decoration.
  9. Everyone has a compulsory clear-out. If they have something they don’t need, it goes to someone who does want it.
  10. Finally, if you don’t enjoy it, just do something else!

By Rickie J, Founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites & Christmas fan

@BrumFaves @RickieWrites

 

Recipe: Thai Salmon Fishcakes

In the on-going party season you need to sometimes give something slightly bigger than scrawny chicken wings.  Especially when there is that much alcohol floating around.  I will be straight with you, that fish cakes take a bit of work, but you can freeze them, and defrost them on the day you need them, so plan ahead.

For equipment you need the following:

  • saucepan
  • colander
  • green chopping board
  • small knife
  • lime zester or fine grater
  • juicer
  • three bowls
  • large mixing bowl
  • grease proof paper
  • small ice cream scoop

Ingredients:

  • four large potatoes
  • two salmon fillets
  • two limes
  • three red chillies
  • plain flour
  • two egg whites
  • breadcrumbs
  • Thai seven spice

Firstly take your green board and place it over a damp cloth on a clean surface.  It is going to get a lot of use today.  Peel and chop the potatoes and add them to the pan. Add boiling water and cook until they are soft.

Next add the Salmon fillets to a baking tray and bake for twenty minutes at 180 degrees.  While they are cooking, take the lime and grate off the zest into a bowl.  Juice the remaining lime.  Now take the chilli and slit them lengthways.  Remove the seeds with the knife tip.  If you miss so much as one you are playing fish cake-Russian-roulette with your mouth.  Which can be fun if you have my warped sense of humour, but I digress.  Now dice the chillies very finely

Drain the potatoes and crush them up in a bowl.  Remove the salmon from the oven and slice it from the skin - throw that bit away.  Crumble the salmon into the potatoes, add the lime zest, juice and red chilli.  Now add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir the mixture up really well.  Let it sit in the fridge for half an hour or it will be too hot to handle.

Clear some space on a table, and lay down some grease proof paper.  And right about now, you want to switch on your fryer.

Using the ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of fish cake mix and place them on the paper.  Then, you can mould them into shape with your hands.  Set up three bowls, one with flour, one with egg whites and water mixed, and one with breadcrumbs and a little 7 spice. One at a time, roll them in the flour, then the egg white, and then the breadcrumbs.  Place them in the fryer carefully.  Repeat, until you have three balls in the fryer.  Fry them for about a minute, and repeat.

Drain them carefully and place them in a bowl.  And serve with any dip that you like.  I recommend homemade tartar sauce or Thai sweet chilli dip.

Enjoy the party, kids.

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

#ChefsTable

Brummagem: City of 1000 Trades

A Birmingham Poem by Keith Bracey as a tribute to the 'City of 1000 Trades'

BRUMMAGEM’S SONG

If you’ve never been to Birmingham then you ought ta

It’s a grand city made up of many a quarter

There is jewellery to be sold, diamonds, platinum and gold

Boulton’s silver to assay, precious gems from far away.

Guns were made nearby, helping soldiers fight and die

In the English Civil War we made musket, cannon and ball

A more powerful Lewis gun helped the British beat the Hun.

Mr Webley made a revolver fired by many a pitiful soldier

On a lighter note in The Theatre Quarter

The stage is set for talented daughters

The Rep, the Alex and Hippodrome

Encourage performers to make Birmingham their own

Chaplin, Burton and Olivier

Travelled here to perform their plays

Musicals, ballets and pantomime

Ensure cultural visitors have a good time

The NEC and NIA have changed their names along the way

The Good Food Show, Crufts and fashion galore

Ensure our visitors come back for more

In the Symphony Hall there was often a battle

Between the CBSO and Sir Simon Rattle

The Chinese Quarter is colourful and bright

A fantastic place to go out at night

Stir-fried noodles, a tantalising odour

A grand Dragon Parade from Wing Yip’s Pagoda.

The Balti Belt, full of saris and spices

Tasty Asian food cooked with different rices

An area to visit to sample a curry,

At Adil’s or Imran’s there’s no need to hurry

Bring your own beer, share various starters

Poppadoms, Pakoras, Aloo with tomatoes

A ‘curry in a bucket’ naan size of a table

Mild, medium or hot, eat it all, if you’re able.

Our City has Cadbury, Jaguar Land Rover too,

Speedway, rugby, and cricket for you

A passion for sport, you can hear the roar

For a goal scored by Blues or Villa football.

Indoor and outdoor, The Bull Ring Markets

Sell everything from cheese to carpets

The Germans come at Christmas time

Bringing Bratwurst, Schnitzel and Gluhwein

Part of Brummagems…..Birmingham History Buff Keith Bracey’ s fantastic historical facts about Brum……

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu

Competition - Share Your Old Wife Tale Cleaning Tips & Win a DIY Bundle From eSpares

tnDid you know that on average we spend two years of our lives cleaning the home? From running the vacuum over the floors and polishing shelves, to cleaning away the food splatters from the cooker and defrosting the freezer.

None of these tasks are particularly enjoyable and then there’s the cost. Cleaning can work out expensive, particularly if we’re buying a multitude of different cleaning products which seem to be available for each household chore. But there are ways in which you can cut the cost and time of cleaning your home.

No, we’re not talking about paying someone to do it for you (no matter how tempting this may seem), but to turn to those old wives tales which we’ve all heard – and some of us still swear by. Whether it’s removing red wine spills by immediately splashing white wine onto the mark, or achieving streak free windows by adding a drop of vinegar into the water, there are thousands of such gems available – and WE want to hear yours.

It might be one which has been passed down through the generations and helps you achieve perfectly clean floors every time, or one which you stumbled across by accident all those years ago – but it has helped you quickly and easily clean your cooker ever since.

Whatever it is, tell us it and you could win with eSpares. We’re offering one lucky winner the opportunity to win an eSpares DIY & Maintenance Bundle (worth over £30) – whilst all entrants will get to see their top cleaning tip and name feature in the eSpares blog. Entering the competition couldn’t be easier, simply send you old wives cleaning tale to myounger@connect-service.co.uk with the subject line “eSpares Old Wives Tale” before January 5th 2016 T&Cs:

  • Entries to be sent to myounger@connect-service.co.uk with the subject line: “eSpares Old Wives Tale”
  • One winner will be selected at random to win the eSpares DIY & Maintenance Bundle
  • To be eligible, your email address will be added to the eSpares newsletter
  • Deadline for entries is January 5th 2016 and winner will be announced on the eSpares blog (here) on January 11th 2016 and on Birmingham Favourites

 

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix. The festive season has arrived! Cue to the usual mix of Christmas films, hefty blockbusters and a cinematic blend to either make you reach for a celebratory mug of glogg or make you scream, “bah humbug”. Let’s take our weekly look at what’s hitting the big screen in Birmingham over the next week.

Victor Frankenstein (12A)

The first sizeable adaptation of Mary Shelley’s eponymous novel since Kenneth Branagh’s underrated version of Frankenstein, pitches James McAvoy as Victor Frankenstein alongside his assistant played by Daniel Radcliffe.

A big link to this film is Sherlock - not only is the film is directed by talented Sherlock regular Paul McGuigan but also features Mark Gatiss and Andrew Scott amongst others.

Sadly all this talent a good movie does not make!  Judging by the less than favourable reviews, the impressive cast is not matched by the material - a film guilty of taking, or more arguably grabbing, influences from films that are nearly all superior than this. Just be grateful then for the many superior Frankenstein films that have been made over time!

Krampus (15)

In the spirit of Christmas horror films, the title Krampus immediate evokes a hint of dark, knowing humour. Hoping that its execution matches the title, Krampus tells the story of a boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

In horror fan circles, the anticipation for this film is palpable - it looks like it might actually being able to deliver a blend of flat out nastiness along with humour - in the year that saw the passing of Wes Craven, Krampus seems like the sort of fare that he would have appreciated along with a fun factor - it could be seen as something of companion piece to something like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Night Before, The (15)

I like much of what Seth Rogan does. He has ability to make ‘all’ audiences laugh and in this Christmas comedy, brings a festive mix to the usual stuff you’d come expect from Seth Rogan films - the bromance of three long-time friends, the flat out ‘crude’ situations mixed and with tenderness and affability and a hefty dollop of pathos to boot.

His scripts never pretend to be anything that they’re not and even if some of his efforts don’t land consistently, a curate’s egg of a Rogan film still packs something to make you chuckle. Furthermore, with The Night Before, Rogan might also have an ability to bring folks to the cinema who ordinarily wouldn’t watch Christmas films - a film that celebrates Christmas through a Rogan blender, quite literally.

Christmas With The Coopers (12A)

From a distance, I approach such a flick with a sense of trepidation - a large ensemble cast, a Christmas family theme and a comedic undercurrent, this feels like one of those ‘by committee’ studio affairs in the vein of Valentines Day or New Years Eve that I would ordinarily run a mile from watching.

The plot involves four generations of the same family convening for their annual Christmas Eve get together. Then some stuff happens and things go wrong, but it brings everyone back stronger than ever in that ‘oh so typical’ Yuletide kind of way.

The big issue is that the whole thing seems so full of clichés that even when I read the predictable plot, it incurs a sense of impending tedium. Joy is not a word I’d apply here ….

… Then again I might be wrong!

BFI Love: A Brief Encounter at Moor Street Station (PG)

With tickets available from Friday to Sunday, and selling fast, the mac invite you to Moor Street Station for the classic love tale between a housewife and a factor! This seems like a joyous experience combining the splendour of Moor Street Station, an iconic film and some festive cheer.

Does anyone know if Terence Davies’s Sunset Song (15), out this week, is being shown in Birmingham?

That’s it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666.  Until next time, have a great week at the cinema.

Recipe: Southern Fried Chicken Wings

 

Hello noble people of Brum,

Well the party season is just around the corner, and you seem to have the drink end pretty much sorted out.  But what about party food?  Nibbles and buffet food?  We need that too or people will be trollied by the first hour.

Let's start with an old favourite.  Chicken wings are cheap, cook easy enough and are pretty tasty.  But if you add a dash of the deep south, they become a whole lot more.

You need:

  • One red board
  • One meat cleaver or very sharp knife
  • one baking tray
  • three bowls
  • a deep fat fryer

And the ingredients:

  • Chicken wings, as many as you want, really
  • Plain flour
  • Two egg whites and a little water
  • White breadcrumbs and southern fried chicken spices

Take the red board and place it over a damp cloth on a clean work top.  Make sure it is really secure for this one.  Take your cleaver or big-ass knife.  Cut the chicken wing at the pivot joint.  They sometimes take a little sawing so be very careful.  Seriously, now.

Add them to the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes at 180 degrees.  You may wish to check them with a knife for any pinkness.  Allow them to cool for about 15 minutes.

Take three bowls, add the flour to the first one.  Then separate two egg whites from the yolks and add the whites to a bowl.  Stir in a little water to dilute them.  In the last bowl, add a fifty-fifty mix of dried breadcrumbs and southern fried chicken spices.  You can buy these from the foreign foods section of most food stores.

Dip the wings into the flour first, then the egg white, followed by the breadcrumb mix, and add to the fryer basket.  Fry for about a minute and allow to drain.  Shake them a little and add them to a bowl.

I serve them with a dip, such as Thai sweet dipping sauce.  Or blue cheese dressing.  That's just yum.

That's it, give it a good.

Enjoy the party season, Brummies.

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

#ChefsTable

Knife & Fork: Syriana

Birmingham’s own version of the Flatiron Building on the corner of Constitution Hill and Hampton St on the Jewellery Quarter/Newtown border has hosted a number of enterprises over the years but, to the best of my recollection, Syriana Restaurant seems to be one of those which have lasted longest and gives every indication of being a successful operation. I had often passed by and wondered what it might be like. Was it actually Syrian cuisine? What exactly IS Syrian cuisine?

Well, a few months ago, for want of anywhere else able to accommodate two of us at short notice on a Saturday evening, I found myself sampling the cooking which, it transpired, is actually Lebanese/Eastern Mediterranean in style. Given the chance nature of this experience, it turned out to be a very pleasant one. The frontage is not forbidding but neither particularly inviting, the interior is perfectly OK but not exactly luxurious, the place might benefit from a bit of a makeover or, at least, a freshen up: I am inclined to think that the décor is pretty well leftover from its previous incarnation as a straightforward Indian restaurant.

Nevertheless, that first culinary experience must have been good enough to warrant a return visit a few days ago.

The welcome was warm and pleasant, we were made to feel almost as if the staff knew us like regulars, which is always a good start. The place was warm, clean, and comfortable.

For my starter I had Wark Inab, vine leaves stuffed with tomato, rice, parsley and mint, with a lemon and olive oil dressing, served on a bed of green salad. These are similar to Greek Dolmades or Turkish Dolma.

My friend opted for Borak Jobneh, Lebanese pastry filled with mixed cheeses and parsley. The menu described the pastry as “freshly made” but in this case it was a bit leathery as if it had perhaps been reheated or maybe had been sitting for a while. However, once through the tough outer casing, the contents were somewhat delicious.

My vine leaves were a touch overexposed to the dressing but had a nice texture and were very tasty indeed. I began to conjure up memories of eating in warmer climes.

Our main courses were Farrouj Meshwi, a char-grilled baby chicken with baked vegetables, a helping of coleslaw on a lettuce leaf, and garlic sauce; and Lahm Bil Lkhodar, lamb cubes with a selection of seasonal vegetables and rice.

The chicken was full of flavour, a touch on the dry side, but enjoyable nevertheless. Although dryish, the texture nevertheless was good and whatever herbs had been used in the cooking gave a relatively subtle complexity to the dish. The garlic sauce was not particularly overburdened with garlic and, for my taste at least, might have befitted from an extra clove or two.

The cubes of lamb were described in the menu as “tender”. Often in eastern-styled restaurants lamb is a bit of a disappointment, being regularly tough and chewy. In this case “tender” did indeed mean tender. The meat may not quite have melted in the mouth but it was decently cooked and tasted very good indeed. The rice was fairly light and did not lie at the bottom of the stomach for ages afterwards, as can also often be the case.

This was not intended as a night for a special culinary treat. What we had hoped for was some decently cooked and presented Eastern Mediterranean food and we were not disappointed. After making my notes for this review I had a look on Tripadvisor to see what other people had thought of their visits to Syriana. “Variable” would be the best way to put it, some people almost raving about a wonderful night out while others were rather more negative in their criticism. All that tells me is that people come from all sorts of backgrounds and culinary experiences and with all sorts of expectations. Our experience on the evening was of a decent everyday restaurant which makes its customers very welcome and serves pretty decent food prepared and served in an Eastern Mediterranean style. The ethnic origins of that evening’s customers was pretty varied and that, for me, is often a good sign. These other customers gave every indication of thoroughly enjoying their experience.

On my first visit I had selected a bottle of Lebanese red wine from the restaurant’s small list and it was fine. My experience of Lebanese wines is that they can be pretty undistinguished or extremely good. Think of Chateau Musar, for example, in terms of the latter. There is not a whole lot in the middle: perhaps not entirely surprising, given the country’ recent war-torn history. Unfortunately, the really good ones like Musar are pretty expensive. On this occasion I took my own bottle of “The Parcel Series” Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand, which did the trick perfectly. This came from Majestic Wine Warehouse at a cost of £13.49 per single bottle or £8.99 if you buy two or more. I do hate that practice, not because it makes me buy more than I want (that is simply not possible where wine is concerned) but because it is frankly bloody irritating.

The cost for starters and mains for two diners was a very modest £27.30 plus tip and wine. Pretty reasonable, I would say, for a decent meal, and well worth making a booking.

Syriana, 1 Constitution Hill, Birmingham B19 3LG. 0121 236 9444

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

@BrumFaves

Cocktails with Nick : Espresso Martini

Good evening Birmingham.

What we are about to discuss is an important recipe. This is the secret drink that keeps bartenders wired and energized on even the toughest days.

You need the following equipment:

  • A martini glass
  • A cocktail shaker
  • An Espresso maker

Ingredients:

  • Good vodka
  • Espresso coffee

That's all.

Firstly, you need espresso coffee.  Make it in a proper espresso maker and allow it to cool.  Accept no substitute.  If you use Nescafé, we can't be friends.

Take the shaker and add five large chunks of ice.  Add 60ml of vodka and the same amount of coffee.  Shake well until condensation appears on the outside of the shaker.

Strain it into the martini glass and serve.

One sip is like doing the ice bucket challenge. But some nights, it is exactly what you need.  Trust me on this.

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

#ChefUnderTheTable

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix, the weekly look at what’s hitting the big screen in Birmingham over the next seven days.

Bridge Of Spies (12A)

This week’s biggest release sees Hanks and Spielberg team up once again to tell the story of James Donovan (played by Hanks), who plays Brooklyn lawyer who becomes embroiled in the heart of Cold War when the CIA sends him to Berlin to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot.

I love Spielberg and I love Cold War thrillers - consequently, this is a combination I am delighted to see together. Let’s be blunt though - Bridge of Spies isn’t as much about his latest collaboration with Tom Hanks but about the scene chewing performance of Mark Rylance. Added to this a script which has been polished by the Coen brothers, and also contains quite a bit of comedy to add levity to the high stakes situations, then you have a number of enticing reasons to see this film.

Spielberg continues to prove why he is modern cinema’s most important blockbuster director.

Black Mass (15)

Which Johnny Depp do you prefer? There are so many to pick from. It has been a while since we’ve seen a film to fully match his significant talents. Black Mass shows signs of being that film. Depp plays a Boston-based Irish mobster called James “Whitey” Bulger who collaborates with the FBI to hunt down the Italian Mob. We follow an unlikely alliance which soon tips over to enable Whitey to become one of the most notorious gangsters.

Depp’s performance has been widely praised - although I suspect this is a part relief of critics and fans who have been awaiting a role of actual substance for a while. Ably supported by the likes of Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch, this is heavyweight stuff following in the steps of other Boston based mob thrillers like The Departed and The Town. In a sense, this might make the film more difficult to stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, this means ‘terra firma’ - a familiar stomping ground through which mob types can act out their highly brash and horrific deeds in highly gripping ways.

Carol (15)

Carol has been sweeping up acclaim wherever it has been showing, a detailed, austere and affecting tale of two women from the 1950s, both from very different backgrounds, who end up falling in love with the many complexities that this throws up.

Todd Haynes has always had a natural affinity for looking at outsiders and outcasts. Not only is he the ideal director through which to capture the details of two such powerful roles, he is able to bring significant weight to bear on Patricia Highsmith’s novel and count upon the towering performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Carol is already a front runner in the Oscar race and the bets are on for whether Blanchett and Mara will both be nominated. Judging by the praise for both, it would be fitting to see both recognised.

The Good Dinosaur  (PG)

Two Pixar movies in one year, you ask! Yep, it’s true! This is the bonus disc to Inside Out! The film’s simple premise is to imagine a world where the asteroid hadn’t wiped out the dinosaurs! We are introduced to the Apatosaurus, Arlo and a friendship story with a human boy!

Pixar’s affinity for putting lovable characters on the big screen continues abated and as is typical of them, the film has a way of humanising its lead, not just the boy. Furthermore, Pixar continues to push the envelope in its animation committing some of the more glorious landscapes to the big screen.

Some critics have criticised the film for not matching its ambitions in its execution and having a maudlin tone - it is Pixar though and I’m really grateful just for that.

Elsewhere, watch out for Taxi Tehran (Sun 29 Nov – Thu 3 Dec) at the mac, this year’s Golden Bear Winner from Berlin Film Festival, a film where the driver interviews diverse passengers enter the taxi. The driver is actually the director Jafar Panahi himself.

So, all in all one of the strongest big screen weekends for a while. If I missed anything good, then please let me know. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666.  Until then, have a great week at the cinema.

Cocktails with Nick: Mojito

Hello  Brummies, is it five o'clock yet?

Fresh out of Havana comes one of my all-time favourites.  The Mojito has a unique flavour, sweet and fresh, yet deep and mellow at the same time.  It is rum based, and everyone has their favourite.  I like Morgan's Spiced Rum, as it has a kick, and the spices add layers to the flavour.

So you start with a nice thick based glass.  You also need a muddler stick.  If you don't have one, just use the end of a rolling pin.  And a bar spoon.  Right, that's the kit.

For the ingredients you need:

  • Rum.  I recommend Appleton’s, Havana Club or Morgan's Spiced.  Bacardi, at a stretch.
  • Sticky brown sugar, nice and dark.
  • Fresh mint, nice big leaves
  • Fresh limes
  • Ice for crushing
  • A mixer, such as 7up or sugar syrup

Take a nice, wide, thick-based glass and, using the bar spoon, add a spoonful of brown sugar.  The darker and stickier, the better.  Add four or five large mint leaves. Carefully crush the mint into the sugar, this releases the flavour.  Cut a lime into wedges and add three to the glass.  Now crush them in too.

Add the rum, and we are talking 50ml as a bare minimum.  Make it 70ml, what the hell.  And stir well.

Take some ice cubes and crush them into tiny little pieces.  Pour them into the glass.  Decorate the edge of the glass with a wedge of lime placed over the ice and a few mint leaves arranged in a fan shape around the edge.

Enjoy, amigos. Hasta Manana

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

#ChefUnderTheTable

Knife & Fork: Bacaba

Of all the unlikeliest places to find a really good restaurant, the New Birmingham Road in Oldbury is probably it but recently I had one of the most delightful culinary surprises in a while when I took up the invitation of Aram Jit Singh, co-owner of Bacaba, to have dinner in his recently opened enterprise. Having undertaken a complete refurbishment of the premises bought when a previous restaurant closed down, this restaurant and cocktail bar has been open since August 2015. A veteran of several other successful enterprises, some of them with his business partner, the Chef Indra Baluni, is to offer the highest standard of Indian cuisine with an international character.

The evening I went there was relatively quiet, the dining room at about half capacity so the engaging and enthusiastic Mr Singh had time to talk about his ambitions for the restaurant and his vision for providing the best food he can to the West Midlands. I wondered if the clientele tends to be very local but he told us of regular customers who come from as far away as Solihull as well as the city centre some eight miles away. Ever the canny businessman, he offers a pick up and drop service to local hotels and thus seems to be building up regular custom from travellers and visitors to the area as well.

I had wondered at one point if I might be on a fool’s errand driving that far out of town for a curry when there are so many Indian restaurants in and around the city centre. The drive, even allowing for terrible map reading and satnav (all entirely my fault), turned out to be well worth the effort.

We started with Poppadums in a basket form, filled with a Kachumber (cucumber) Salad consisting of chopped cucumber, red onion, tomato, green herbs, and a fairly gentle chilli sauce. These were refreshing, tasty, and nicely textured, just about right to prepare the taste buds for our starter. This was a shared Mixed Seafood Grill consisting of Fish Pakora, Salmon, Cod, and Jumbo Prawn, all gently grilled and covered lightly in a very gentle, subtle masala, brought sizzling in a flat iron dish to the table and accompanied by a simple green salad with a couple of slices of tomato. As far as we could detect, the masala consisted mainly of saffron, turmeric, lemon juice, chilli, and something else we could not quite decide on. This turned out to be powdered dried Mango which somehow imparted a simultaneous sweetness and sharpness. The helping was substantial, to the point that it might well have served at least one more person but, since my friend and I had both missed a proper lunch, we scoffed the lot.

This was a light and subtle yet substantial starter, sharp yet sweet, leaving us with just a hint of a tingle at the sides of our tongues.

For main course I had Nalli Gosht, a lamb shank, and my colleague the Patiala Shahi Macchi, a fillet of Tilapia in a masala sauce and roasted cumin seeds. This fish was very tasty, beautifully cooked “to the point”, and the sauce was very complex, being robust, full of flavour and subtle all at once, the roasted cumin seeds adding a little extra bite, so to speak. This was simply presented and garnished with sprinkled chopped herbs.

If the fish was simply presented, the lamb was even more so. The shank sat part in – part out - of its deep plate, ungarnished but sitting in a deep bed of creamy looking “chef’s special” sauce. My colleague remarked on how ordinary it looked but it was apparently intended to look very plain, as I discovered later in conversation. The chef’s view is that the lamb shank is its own garnish. While I think I might want to take issue with that, believing that a little sprig of parsley or coriander would have finished it off better, the sauce was one of the gentlest curries I have ever tasted, but rather complex and intriguing. It was cream based with a limited and subtle range of spices and a definite presence of almonds. This is the kind of cooking which reflects an Afghani influence in parts of India.

What seemed at first to be a gentle, almost bland sauce, gradually revealed some more lively elements. As an accompaniment for a lamb shank, this might not have seemed an obvious choice, but its slowly unravelling, complex warmth was easily a match for this one. The lamb itself just fell off the bone, was beautifully, slowly cooked and utterly tender: none of your traditional chewy curry lamb in this place.

The accompanying boiled pulao rice was delicate, light and airy, and the cheese naan was indeed cheesy without compromising any of the normal qualities of a naan. This, in fact, was a bit of a minor revelation. The idea of cheese naan seemed somehow slightly bizarre but the reality was delicious. This again was light and tasty, not tough and chewy as one so often finds.

To drink, we opted for beer and selected Mongoose rather than the more or less ubiquitous Cobra, being a much less gassy drink, fairly smooth, more complex in taste, and accompanying all our dishes surprisingly well.

So, overall, a very pleasant experience and worth driving out of the usual confines of the city, even worth the hassle of poor navigation. If you feel like a break from the normal run of city centre restaurants, I am happy to recommend a little trip to Bacaba. You are unlikely to be disappointed. This is good, thoughtful, well prepared and presented cooking.

  • Bacaba. 157a New Birmingham Road, Oldbury, B69 1QP. 0121 552 4756
  • Starters and main courses for two: £33 plus drinks.

Norman Cherry was the guest of Bacaba on this occasion.

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

@BrumFaves

Cocktails with Nick: Old Fashioned

Take off your shoes, kick back and open the cocktail cabinet.

The Old Fashioned is exactly as its name suggests. It is also, in my opinion, a very masculine cocktail. It was the cocktail Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra would have waiting for them on the bar after a night playing at the Dunes hotel.

You need:

  • Your favourite brand of Whiskey
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Sugar (cube form is recommended)
  • Mixer (optional)
  • Big chunky ice
  • Garnish

Equipment:

  • One sturdy Whiskey glass
  • A bar spoon.

Take the sturdy glass and place the sugar in the base.

Drip five drops of Angostura Bitters on to the sugar.  Use your bar spoon to crush it down and mix it up.

Add a good measure of whiskey. Anything less than 50ml is just cheating yourself. Give it a stir. If it too strong, add a little mixer. Be it, tonic, lemonade or ginger ale. Never be embarrassed of a little mixer. This is your drink, for you to enjoy.

Add big chunky pieces of ice.  Anything small just melts away and dilutes your drink.  Cut a slice of orange for garnish, and a cherry if you like, and serve.

Enjoy your weekend, Birmingham.

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

#ChefUnderTheTable

At the Flix with @Timmy666

 

Greetings one and all. Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix, a weekly trawl through things coming out at the cinema in Birmingham.

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 2 (12A)

However many hours later, this powerhouse dystopian franchise reaches its final chapter (in a film sense!) as Katniss leads the army against Frost. The first part was effectively the set up to the big scrap - the revolution and invasion combined into one final push.

Where this franchise has absolutely worked is in its casting. Jennifer Lawrence has pretty much kept the whole thing going - even through the film is doing 'that Hollywood thing' of splitting the final novel, there’s seemingly enough at play to make it more than watchable! Unlike the Twiglet saga, the film has also kept an appeal which goes beyond purely the teen crowd - even though it’s possibly the best franchise in viewing the world from a teen’s perspective!  That said, there’s a universality to what’s at stake.

What I also like is how The Hunger Games is tonally dark, tough and grim - it doesn’t pull too hard at sentiment (it does just enough), and, in its delivery of action, it goes for absolute top end 12A, especially in terms of horror movie tropes and its delivery of tension.

The Dressmaker (12A)

Kate Winslet plays a glamorous woman who returns to  small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

Much has been noted for the film being a hotchpotch of tone and unexpected feel - which is far more of a darkly, oddly and unintentionally comic (if you find it funny!) revenge tale than a sickly sweet take on haute couture. The mixed reviews do give an overarching impression that the film’s entertainment is in large part due to its excellent cast, with Winslett ably supported by the likes of Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving and that the material itself is somewhat beneath their abilities.

Crow's Egg, The (PG)

A number of cinemas are showing this very well received Tamil language feature which garnered much momentum during the festival season - especially in Toronto and Rome. Set in a slum in Chennai, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, two young boys are growing up unaware of all the things they don't have – such as pizza. The boys turn their passion from stealing crow’s eggs to pizza, as they witness a TV add selling pizza, culminating in the opening of a pizzeria nearby. The film’s warm heartedness and humour combined with a foodie storyline has been a slice of joy globally already.

True Romance (18)

This is still one of Tony Scott’s best films, in no small part bolstered by the Quentin Tarantino film - which meant Scott’s vibrant, stylised flair has some significant counterweight, punchy dialogue, never less than raucous, graphically violent and ever so slightly unhinged. An exercise of where excess and indulgence could deliver something entertaining - it’s been a blueprint for dividing audiences ever since its release in 1993.

Momentum (15)

Opening on limited release and to less than favourable reviews, this action thriller stars Olga Kurylenko as Alex, an infiltration expert with a secret past, mixed up in a government conspiracy and entangled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a master assassin (James Purefoy) and on an mission to exact revenge on the murder of her friends and colleagues! I think Olga Kurylenko is a great actress she runs the risk of being the go-to for B-movie action thrillers, a bit like Milla Jovovich was for a number for years.

Elsewhere, be sure to check out a few Flatpack showings at the mac as part of their Celluloid City project including Outer Sight and Kings of the Road.  The mac have a special showing of Barney Douglas’s documentary Warriors (12A) which follows a group of young Maasai who, in a remote region of Kenya, who remarkably formed a cricket team. The film is followed by a Q&A with the director.

That's it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666. Until then, have a great week at the cinema.

Cocktails with Nick: Cosmopolitan

Hello you lovely Brummie people,

Let's get this show on the road shall we?  Clear some space, grab some clean glasses, because it is Cosmopolitan time. This drink of choice dates back to the days when Dorothy Parker and her cohorts would write a short column for Vanity Fair in the morning and then retire to the bar for lunch, and get kicked out about three in the morning.  In more recent years it became popular with Candice Bushell's alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw, who brought it to the attention of a new generation.

Ingredients

  • Vodka  (Smirnoff is fine, but have you tried Chase Vodka from Hereford?)
  • Triple Sec  (A typical brand is Cointreau but you can also use Grand Marnier for a deeper, richer flavour)
  • Cranberry Juice
  • One fresh lime
  • One fresh orange

Equipment and glassware

  • One two-part Boston shaker
  • One strainer
  • One knife and green chopping board
  • Crushed ice
  • Regular ice
  • and one cigarette lighter (I will explain in a minute)

Right, let's do this thing.

  1.  Take one clean martini glass and place it on a dry surface. Crush some ice and fill the glass with it, and leave it to cool.
  2. Take one lime and cut it lengthways in half. From one half cut a wedge and cut an indent into it so it will hold on to the side of the glass.
  3. Cut a thin slice of orange zest. That's all you need of it, put it back in the fridge.
  4. Fill the glass half of the Boston Shaker with ice.
  5. Take one spirit measure, add 35ml of vodka, 15ml of Triple Sec and  25ml of Cranberry juice to the shaker.
  6. Grab the half of lime and squeeze it into the shaker, using a juicer, or in your hand if you want to look all strong and masterful.
  7. Place the metal half of the shaker over the top and push it down hard and then place one hand on the top of the shaker and half on the bottom. Shake it like a pro, go on!
  8. Remove the crushed ice from the glass and place the lime wedge on the side. Place the shaker on the work top with the metal half at the bottom and the glass half at the top. Using the strainer to hold back the ice, pour the drink into the glass.

Now the final touch.

Take the orange zest and give it a quick wave under a flame from the cigarette lighter. Hold the flame over the glass and squeeze the oils from the orange over the drink. They will ignite as they hit the flame. It is perfectly safe [so he says – the Ed] and adds a bit of theatre to the drink.

To see this done properly (It is hard when you are holding the camera yourself) click this link here

And serve to the person of your choice, with one eyebrow slightly raised.

Next we are doing Don Draper's favourite cocktail, the Old Fashioned.

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

#ChefUnderTheTable

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Greetings one and all. Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix, a weekly trawl through things coming out at the cinema in Birmingham.

Steve Jobs (15)

Having Steve Jobs to the big screen is always going to bring forward some semblance of anticipation. Add to the mix a Sorkin script, Danny Boyle’s direction and a cast including Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogan, Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels and the interest might just peak a little more.

The story looks at three specific events in the Jobs era at Apple - each looking at the personal and business dynamics of his relationships with those around him. Expect lots of walking, long intense scenes of dialogue and a sense that everyone is smarter than the smartest human has any right to be!

The big question is which cinema flavour will win out here - is it the Sorkin universe, Danny Boyle’s visual flair or Michael Fassbender’s clear talents in the role of Steve Jobs? From what I’ve said above, I’m going to hazard a guess at Sorkin, and even in his most indulgent, it’s nearly always an intense ride.

A great film? Well, let’s wait and see.

The Lady in the Van (12A)

Earning a universal splattering of strong reviews at the London Film Festival, this film stars Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd, who 'temporarily' parked her van in Alan Bennett's London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years.

The film sounds like a cosy Sunday in a cinematic can - imagine a filmic version of earl grey served with crumpets and it might be somewhere close to what this is!

Maggie Smith can pretty much read the phone book and you’ll know it will be entertaining. The bit that people often miss though is that in playing these charismatic, eccentric older ladies, she isn’t playing herself or a caricature. They are all ‘definitely’ Maggie Smith - but they are all quintessentially different and that’s what makes the prospect of this film so enticing.

Love 3D (18)

With one showing at the Electric next Wednesday, Love 3D is French director Gaspar Noé’s semi-autobiographical, sexually-charged melodrama shot in stereoscopic 3D - and is Noé’s most ambitious work to date.

Murphy is a young filmmaker who wakes up on New Year's Day to a frantic phone call. His ex-girlfriend, Electra, has been missing for months and her mother fears the worst.  Over one day, Murphy reminisces about her former love, two years spent with Electra - to eye-opening, no-holds barred impact.

The film was deemed a must-see and controversial talking point from this year’s Cannes Festival and here’s your opportunity to find out why.

This screening will be preceded by a recorded introduction from director Gaspar Noé, followed by a recorded interview after the film.

Shout Film Festival

Watch out for a plethora of films as part of this year’s Shout Festival which runs from the 12th to 22nd November. Run since 2009, the festival is a fixture in Birmingham’s arts and cultural calendar promoting and showcasing the best in LGBT Arts and Queer Culture throughout Birmingham the West Midlands.

Films showing at the mac over the next week include Futuro Beach (15), My Beautiful Laundrette (15), 52 Tuesdays (15), A Girl At My Door (18), Dressed As A Girl (18) and a number of Shout Shorts.

For more info, click here.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners plus Q&A (18)

Showing on Sunday at the mac, is Shola Lynch’s impactful documentary about the life of young college professor Angela Davis, and how her social activism implicates her in a botched kidnapping attempt that ends with a shootout, four dead, and her name on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

That's it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666. Until then, have a great week at the cinema.