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
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.
Ideal for: Bus nerds and budding thespians
Avoid if: you don't like sitting down or standing up for long prolonged periods
Bring // You’ll 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.
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
Avoid if: you can't stand the Birmingham accent
Bring // You’ll 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
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
Challenge Gemma to a Brum for…? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!
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……
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.
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
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
William Attwood MP laid the groundwork for the First Reform Act of 1832 and was responsible for the setting up of the first Trade Unions at the time of The Tolpuddle Martyrs who were transported for Trade Union activity with his '#Birmingham Political Union. Attwood held a political meeting of the Birmingham Union on Newhall Hill overlooking Birmingham in 1832 which was attended by over 30000 people. The Government of the day feared that 'Revolution was in the air' and decided to allow limited reform and the abolition of 'Rotton Boroughs' thanks to the words and political action of Birmingham MP William Attwood whose statue once reclined next to the Chamberlain Memorial in Chamberlain Square.
John Bright MP who was instrumental in both the Abolition of Slavery and the 1867 Reform Act which gave the working man the vote......his statue is at the top of the stairs on the first floor of #Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Bright's bust was once on display in The White House of President Bill Clinton as Hillary Clinton found a dusty old statue in a store cupboard. Bright had written to his friend and fellow Abolitionist President Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln was wavering about continuing the American Civil War against slavery. This letter was found in the pocket of Lincoln when he was assassinated in 1865 it had meant that much to him to have the support of his friend. The Clinton's researched the bust and found its great importance to a previous President. Imagine a Birmingham MP in The White House.
Joseph Chamberlain: The 'Modern Municipal Father of Birmingham' The first of the Chamberlain family to become an MP. Former Colonial Secretary and the man behind the University of Birmingham when Mason College was transformed to create the first of the 'Redbrick' Universities. The Clock Tower, the tallest free-standing campanile in the world at 350 metres is named after Chamberlain and called 'Old Joe'. At his funeral in 1913 over 30000 Brummies lined the streets to pay tribute to 'The Father of Birmingham'.
Sir Austen Chamberlain MP Birmingham's first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for his work on the 1920's Locarno Pact and Joseph Chamberlain's son and Neville's brother. He held the post of Foreign Secretary. His brother Neville Chamberlain MP held the post of Chancellor of The Exchequer and helped set up the Birmingham Municipal Bank, whose headquarters stands at 301 Broad Street. He is probably better remembered for returning from Berlin with his ' little piece of paper' after meeting Herr Hitler and proclaiming 'Peace in our time'. The result was the Second World War.
Denis Howell MP, the 'Minister for Drought' in 1976 & the first proper Sports Minister as a former FA Cup Final referee. Howell was MP for Small Heath and a Minister in Harold Wilson's 1974 government. In the summer of 1976 there was a long drought after one of the best summers of the twentieth century. Denis Howell was brought into the Cabinet as 'Minister for Drought' and advocated the sharing of baths to save water.....soon after he was appointed the summer broke and it started to rain.......and Denis was credited with the change in the weather by the Wilson government. Who says 'spin' is new...? Denis Howell's real impact was as the first proper Sports Minister as befits a former FA Cup Final referee. He also led Birmingham's Olympic bid for the 1988 Olympics which were eventually held in Barcelona.
Part of Brummagems…..Birmingham History Buff Keith Bracey’s fantastic historical facts about Brum……
I used to eat occasionally at The Old Contemptibles on the corner of Edmund Street and Livery Street. This is one of Mitchell and Butlers’ Nicholson’s branded houses and always has a decent selection of cask ales. I have been going there for a few years now but I didn’t frequent it before the makeover some years ago so cannot be sure how much the interior and ambience might have changed from the original. It is certainly a congenial place to have a beer. The eating area is to one side, with plenty of space for comfortable dining. The menu is reasonable and the service usually cheery and friendly.
Last week, on the way to the cinema, I popped into the Shakespeare on the corner of Summer Row, another of the Nicholson branded pubs. Others in the group are Bacchus Bar in the basement of the Burlington Hotel in New Street and, confusingly, another Shakespeare in Lower Temple Street. Pubs can change a lot in relatively short periods as managers and staff move on and are replaced and it had been about six years since my last visit to this Shakespeare. I was not, however, disappointed. The pub décor seems not to have changed in aeons (which is good in my book) and there was a decent selection of beer which was well-kept and tasty.
The food menu had a reasonable variety of good plain dishes and I opted for the “famous” fish and chips, my companion for the evening taking the steak and pale ale pie. Both were tasty, well cooked, well presented and just hearty enough to prepare us for a screening of Guillermo del Toro’s utterly bonkers Crimson Peak which is as great a load of old tosh as I’ve seen in a long time (by which I mean that I enjoyed it immensely). I had no complaints about the cod which was cooked well without too much heavy batter and almost perfect chips. The flesh was meaty and well textured as you would expect yet quite delicate in flavour. My companion left some of the short crust pastry of the pie which was a bit on the doughy side, but not a disaster. The meat inside was delicious, apparently. We drank some of the Nicholson’s Pale Ale, Redemption Brewery’s Rising sun, and Cross the Line: perfect accompaniments.
So this is not a place with pretensions to be a gastro pub but it does offer good food and drink at reasonable prices which set you up for the evening. Having recently downloaded the Nicholson’s Hop Circle app, I was looking forward to using it for the first time in order to claim my 25 pence per pint discount. Imagine my surprise when I realised that my lovely friend had quietly paid the bill. Another time, then….
On the way home we had a beer in The Queens Arms on Newhall St, one of those old bars which seem to have become more friendly in recent years without losing too much in the way of original features. There’s no food that I am aware of but it offers a decent pint and a friendly atmosphere.
Another bar offering food which is worth trying is The Old Joint Stock, which I find a bit too packed and noisy to consider the food as anything other than fuel for the engine, but which nevertheless has some great Fullers ales to taste.
In the Jewellery Quarter The Rose Villa Tavern (aka the School of Jewellery Common Room) in its most recent makeover offers surprisingly decent food, and there are others such as The Lord Clifden and The Church, both on Great Hampton St, where I have drunk good beer but not yet tried the food, which I am told is pretty good in both. One informant tells me that The Hen and Chickens, further down Great Hampton St towards the city centre, which from outside looks less than inviting, frankly, does excellent curries and just has to be sampled. So there are three for my list.
If you venture out to Aston (oh go on, be brave, it’s not that frightening) The Bartons Arms just has to be visited if only for its architecture and interior design. It is simply magnificent and I understand that on certain evenings there are official tours of the building followed by food and drink. The wonderful, and almost surreal, surprise here is the restaurant which offers pretty damned good Thai food. I went there a few months ago, had an excellent and ridiculously inexpensive meal, wrote a review, asked the manager for a little more information about the recent history and a few jpegs – and received nothing, even after a couple of prompts. So, no full review, folks! But go anyway: you will almost certainly love it.
#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman
After all the publicity in the lead up to the recent opening of Resort World at the NEC site I thought I would like to go and have a look. From what I could understand, there should be a major architecturally significant building housing a casino, restaurants, IMAX cinemas, conference centre, and an outlet shopping mall to rival Bicester Village.
From the centre of Birmingham the sensible option seemed to be to take the train and, after a twelve-minute ride, I alighted at International. It was pretty straightforward to follow the signs and walk along that great soul less corridor which I have trudged so many times in the past to attend the annual Spring Fair and other events. It has been tidied up considerably since I last traversed it but it is still just a long metal tube, I suppose. Once down into the NEC complex, signage was a bit less obvious and it took a few minutes to be certain quite where to go. Slightly to my surprise I found myself being routed outside again and faced with a walk of not much less than a quarter of a mile to the actual Resort World building. On a fine day this was perfectly pleasant but would be a bit daunting I think in the middle of winter.
Having seen pictures of the building I was not entirely expecting an architectural masterpiece but the reality is, frankly, even worse than my already rather low expectations. It is certainly new, large, shiny, and asymmetrical but those qualities do not necessarily constitute architectural value. I was somewhat, shall we say, underwhelmed.
The day I went, preparations were underway for the local premiere of the new Bond film Spectre and so the main entrance was partially blocked by the workmen labouring to lay the Red Carpet.
Once in, I found to my left what looked like a decent enough bar with food, and a high street restaurant branch straight ahead at the beginning of the mall. What was particularly noticeable was the small numbers of visitors at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. My experience of indoor shopping malls is that they are often complex and confusing to negotiate my way around but not this one: it is very straightforward, being laid out in a simple oval plan. It is also pretty small, with most of the standard high street names you would expect, a number of units bearing Open Soon messages and others which still seem to be available to rent. Some of the shops are pretty decent, others somewhat scantily stocked, and one well-known High Street name looking not unlike a charity shop with all its surplus sale items laid out on what appears to be a Pile Em High Sell Em Cheap basis.
I did enjoy the ProCook store, however, and found some small items to take home from there and elsewhere. Staff in a number of the shops were at pains to tell me that they were expecting more stock in soon. I guess it would be unfair to judge the place too harshly on the basis of the first week of operation but normally that would be when traders would especially want to meet the expectations of customers as fully as possible in order to encourage repeat visits.
So, what of the rest? I glanced in to the casino which looked glitzy and respectable, not dowdy and slightly seedy like some others encountered. Not being a gambler, I had no reason to stray too far beyond the threshold. The spa on the top floor looked like it might be quite inviting, were I in the mood for pampering. It was the wrong time of day for watching a film, so I cannot say anything about the IMAX experience but RW staff to whom I spoke were very upbeat about it and absolutely certain that they have a winning combination out there. I mentioned my disappointment with the shopping experience and suggested that Bicester had nothing to fear from the RW offering. It appears that what RW wants to do is offer the whole experience, concentrating on the casino, cinema, and food and drink “offers” (don’t you hate that word?), with shopping being an additional benefit rather than the main reason for going.
Well, fair enough. I take that at face value but overall it was a disappointing experience for me. Perhaps I will return when it has become more established but I think I can find much better places to eat and drink, to shop, and to relax in the city centre without troubling myself to go out to the edge. As for cinema, I still find it hard to better the Electric Experience (admittedly a slightly odd acquired taste).
However, don’t let me put you off. Go out and try it for yourself. It is, after all, an addition to the many visitor attractions Greater Birmingham has to offer and which, one way or another, makes it such a great place to be right now. There is always the new Andy Waters restaurant to look forward to, though, when I called RW to find out when it is due to open, no one could tell me! [We're all waiting for that one! - the Ed]
By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman
There is another of these Chamberlain Clocks at Five Ways at the junction of Calthorpe Road and Harborne Road in Edgbaston.
Chamberlain was a prominent local Birmingham business man who made his money from the great Birmingham screw and bolt maker Guest Keen and Nettlefold in Heath Street in Smethwick which still exists today as the giant engineering business GKN whose headquarters is still in the West Midlands in Redditch. Chamberlain’s business success led him to pursue a political career and he reached high political office without quite making it to Prime Minister, which his son Neville did achieve.
These clocks were built to commemorate the contribution to the city of Birmingham of one of its greatest sons and a man dubbed 'The Father of Birmingham' Joseph Chamberlain MP who created the modern Municipal Birmingham with the Elan Valley Scheme to pipe fresh water from Mid-Wales to Birmingham and the creation of the first of the 'Redbrick' Universities the University of Birmingham He also built Highbury Hall in Moseley as the result of his success.
One of these Chamberlain Clocks stood in Bearwood for many years until being moved to High Street in Birmingham, about 30 years ago and standing outside Marks & Spencer's for a number of years.
On Saturday 24th October, this particular Chamberlain Clock is returning to its original home in Bearwood and will stand at the junction of Bearwood Road and Adkins Lane, near to the soon to be refurbished Lightwoods House, built by local Smethwick Soap magnate William Adkins after whom Adkins Lane where Lightwoods House (1793) stands is named.
There will be an opening ceremony at 10am at the Adkins Lane site to welcome one of the remaining Chamberlain Clocks home to Bearwood after being renovated by Smiths in Derby.
Welcome home 'Little Joe'!
NB The original 'Old Joe' is the Clock Tower at the University of Birmingham....so it is nice for 'Little Joe' to be returning home, not too far from the University!
Part of Brummagems.....Birmingham History Buff Keith Bracey' s fantastic historical facts about Brum......
The Spooky Trail
Ideal for: Goths
Avoid if: Your friends tell you your 'sensitive'
Bring // You’ll need: A Proton Pack and Ecto-Goggles
Terrain: Involves graveyard loitering and an overnight stay (...not in the graveyard)
The start: Ghost Walk/s
It's Friday night, what better to do than head to the nearest dead people? Midlands Discovery Tours run a Graveyard Ghost Walk, taking in four different graveyards in one night (if that's what you're into) and includes a trip to the infamous catacombs in the Jewellery Quarter. Yikes. There's also the Birmingham Sinister City Walk, which takes you on an alternative tour through the heart of the Victorian city. Plague! Execution! Yay! The best bit is when you visit a haunted pub at the end. More info: Midlands Discovery Tours
Graveyard Ghost Walk - 7.00pm first Friday of the month Feb to Dec
Sinister City Ghost Walk - 7.00pm third Friday of the month Jan to Oct
The middle bit: Depending on the time of year you've got three truly terrifying options here, all of which happen annually:
In July you can get that gore-soaked horror itch well and truly scratched when The Electric Cinema's Shock and Gore Festival comes alive. There are horror and fantasy films old and new alongside live scores, Q&As and a legendary all-nighter. Expect controversy and spine tingles. More info: Shock and Gore
You find yourself out and about in the city centre one August weekend. Something isn't quite right. Ah yes, that's it - ZOMBIES! Everywhere!! But don't panic - all this carnage raises money for Birmingham's Children's Hospital (and clearly, what those kiddies are going through is the scariest thing on this list). Fake blood at the ready! http://www.birminghamzombies.com
If you're one of those people for whom fancy dress is not a painful experience, and becoming a zombie has merely whet your appetite, then get yourself on the Big Brum Buz in October for their Halloween Ghost Bus Tour. Take in the darker side of Birmingham from the open top roof (make sure to wrap up warm!) of this old bus, driven by a very shady character indeed. Expect an amalgamation of the two walks introduced above, only with less walking... More info: Birmingham Tours
The end: The Tunnel Club
Why not round the adventure off with some frighteningly cheap spirits at this atmospheric rock metal club, housed under a railway arch. Warning: there will be a lot of Metallica t shirts.
Livery Street, City Centre B3 1HL The Tunnel Club Every Saturday night, 10pm-4am
Tips: If you can't get enough of the haunted stuff then you might want to spend a night at The Station Hotel, Dudley. Your classic murdered-servant-girl-shoved-in-a-barrel stories abound. Head to room 214... More info: The Station Hotel
Challenge Gemma to a Brum for…? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!
What solidified my interest is hearing that one of my favourite local chefs, Andy Waters (Waters on the Square, ex- Edmunds) is opening a new place. That's worth a visit on its own.
Also, there's a purpose-built 11-screen Cineworld. Perhaps, as they're in an international setting, they may show the art house and world cinema films that our local indie cinema's lack.
Resort World have gone to some length to attract 51 outlet shops including H&M, Next and Gap and many more lesser-non brands offering up to 60% off regular prices as well as a luxury spa.
Alongside the Andy Waters restaurant, you have the choice of 18 bars and restaurants including the Sky Bar, Highline New York Bar and The World Bar.
For further entertainment, we have a Genting International Casino (the whole resort is bought to us by Malaysian-based Genting Group, their first in Europe) and you have the opportunity stay in the Genting Hotel, another 4 star hotel, when visiting the already re-branded Genting Arena.
And if cinema, casino, shops, restaurants, spa and bars just doesn't fill your day, there are events including the Style Insider Weekend (5/6 Dec) and before that the festive season launch (18 Nov).
The Resort by Day part will open on Wednesday 21st October, followed by Cineworld (23rd) and the Casino (26th) to coincide with the James Bond film release.
And it's all just 10 minutes by train from the shiny new New Street Station.
You can find out more here.
By Rickie J, founded and editor of Brum Faves who, when not following around favourite chefs can be found on @RickieWrites.
With this in mind, there are occasional fine dining evenings taking place and these seem to be rather sought after. Given the success of Butchers Social, the partners are now considering finding another site in the area in order to continue this part of the business while the current side is developed. It certainly seems to be a winning formula. The menu is short and simple, comprising variations on Chicken Wings, which seem to change regularly and other simple but genuinely interesting dishes. There is a small selection of wines and a list of nine featured beers and ciders of which normally only four or five are available at any time, due to the small number of pumps. There are, of course, a few bottled beers to be had as well
The evening I went there, it was quiet to begin with, filling up pretty quickly by about 8pm, to the point that people were having to wait a little in order to find a table. The décor is trendily basic, the tables being made from three industrial pallets joined together and much of the wall and other paneling fashioned from industrial quality chipboard. Quite funky really, certainly not luxurious. But then, neither are the prices. Everything seems quite reasonable and therefore the clientele is fairly democratic.
Chicken wings would not normally be a natural choice for me, conjuring up visions of cheap mass market cooking, but these were quite delightful, flavoursome, fairly lightly cooked, a bit greasy, yes (how couldn’t they be?) but not overly so. My friend had the squid and couscous sala and we shared French fries cooked in truffle oil, a real delight. The squid was perfectly cooked, tender and, well, perfect, really, the fries light, airy, and very tasty. This was certainly a very different experience to what you might expect from the normal kind of fried chicken joint.
To drink, we opted for some of the “craft” beers on tap. Living near Two Towers Brewery, following the business on Twitter, but never having actually drunk one of their beers, I thought I really ought to try the Hockley Bitter while my friend had Hockley Amber, a light and fruity ale. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed by my choice although the Amber was rather splendid.
As it happens I went to an event at Two Towers a week or so later, tried the Hockley Bitter there, and found it to be a much superior pint. It’s all in the cellaring, guys!.............. I will certainly be back to Mount St to drink more.
So, all in all, a decent experience sampling simple, well cooked food with a slight disappointment over one of the drinks. The disappointment was not enough to put me off and I will be back. Once I’ve saved a few more pennies, I shall definitely sign up for one of the fine dining evenings, too. Jamie and Mike have impressive CVs which include service in several top-end restaurants, including Per Se and Le Bernardin in New York, and Petrus in London. I want to see what these fellows can really do.
Butchers Social. 175 High St, Harborne B17 9QE
#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman
With their new store just opened in Grand Central, we're keen to find out about the people behind Steel and Jelly.
Who's behind Steel and Jelly?
Established in 2004, the brand name embraces the contrasting industrious (Steel) and benevolent (Jelly) approaches that father and son took when first starting the business. Their 40 years’ experience in the ever evolving fashion industry has led to the formation of the Steel & Jelly brand.
What made you want to open in Grand Central?
“In line with our recent program of expansion, we are very excited to be opening our new flagship store in Birmingham’s Grand Central Station. This major new transport & retail hub in the heart of the region is the perfect location to meet the growing demand for, and increasing interest in the brand. As well as welcoming those local to the region, we’ll be able to reach new customers from all over the country who will be travelling through the new station.”
What would you want a new customer to experience when they enter the store?
With a team of dedicated and skilled retail staff, the store will differentiate itself by offering a personal shopping style experience on the high street.
What makes your menswear business unique?
Our philosophy centres on scrupulous attention to detail. We are passionate about embracing innovative British design by creating a hybrid of the contemporary and the traditional. Every item is made with the modern-day gentleman in mind by threading the past through to the present with masculine shapes and styles.
What inspires the designs?
We are very much inspired by British design & scrupulous attention to detail. Our collection features all the essentials in a modern-day gentleman’s wardrobe from formal tailoring to soft casuals and premium accessories to finish the look. Each piece carries an element of surprise from a patterned trim inside a collar, to a contrasting button thread reflecting our ethos “Because detail matters.”
What are you working on for your next collection?
Top secret! We are however continuously expanding our product range…
By Rickie J, founder of Birmingham Favourites and a woman who doesn't think eight (very full) wardrobes is excessive.
The Get Your Skates On Trail
Ideal for: petrol heads and wannabe Torvils or Deans
Avoid if: you're really boring
Bring // You’ll need: a sense of humour. Leave your pride at home
Terrain: tracks and bones...yes, bones
The start: Roller Disco at The Tower Ballroom
If, like me, you'll always have a place in your heart for Pontins holiday camps then the Tower Ballroom should offer a welcome slice of nostalgia. This mad old place overlooking the gorgeous Edgbaston Reservoir began life as a roller skating rink before transforming into a ballroom. Aptly, they now hold a Roller Disco twice a month. Expect 70s and 80s cheese and hair-raising bathroom trips in this mildly terrifying night out. www.thetowerbirmingham.co.uk
Reservoir Road, Edgbaston
1st and 3rd Friday of every month 8pm-1am. £15 (or £10 if you bring your own skates)
The number 80 bus stops nearby (a 7-minute walk), boarding at Smallbrook Queensway in the city centre and alighting at Osler Street. You'll need a taxi on the way back.
The middle bit: Go Karting at Teamsport, Oldbury
After a character building night on the skates you should be feeling suitably brave come Saturday morning, and with 1000 metres of track and 13 corners (unlucky for some) Teamsport indoor go karting is the perfect hangover cure.
Get up in the race-wear provided (the best bit) and channel your inner Sebastian Vettel in petrol karts on a multi-level track that includes a rather daunting flyover. There's a spectator area for the speed-averse and a bar in which to build some Dutch courage. Book in advance. www.team-sport.co.uk
Unit 7-10 Park Lane Industrial Estate, Oldbury
The nearest train station is Langley Green -15 mins from Birmingham Moor Street station.
The end: Le Monde Fish Restaurant
Like being in a market only much, MUCH posher, this place has a fish counter to die for. Take your time to peruse and, in light of this trail's theme, I heartily recommend the skate... A word of warning, all fish dishes are served a la plancha (cooked on a griddle to you and I) and the result if pesky fish bones. You might want to take them up on their offer of filleting the whole fish for you at the table. For the especially brave, they're big on oysters here. www.le-mondebirmingham.co.uk
Brindley Place, city centre. Approximately a 20-min walk from Moor Street station
If your skate-legs are a little dusty, Birmingham Wheels Roller Speed Club do roller skating lessons on Saturdays.
Lunch at Le Monde is a great deal at £12.50 for two courses.
Challenge Gemma to a Brum for...? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!
Photos kindly supplied by the venues.
We were met by Nick Astley the Chef/Patron and his partner Diana who seems to have been the inspiration for the cooking and indeed the establishment of the restaurant. She is Latvian and apparently it was visiting Latvia and falling in love with the cooking as well as the people, which led to the idea for Two Cats.
The cuisine is Latvian-Modern, so to speak: contemporary takes on traditional dishes. This “New Baltic”, as the restaurant prefers to call it, perhaps mirrors the continuing trend for New Nordic, which certainly made foodies around the world completely rethink their ideas on Extreme-North-European-Meat-and-Two-Veg cooking. For most of us, I imagine that none of the Baltic States would come to mind when we think of delicate, subtle cooking; rather more we expect robust fare without a lot of finesse. So, it was rather exciting to be presented with this subtle, flavoursome, delightful food which makes good and creative use of the smoking, curing and pickling traditions of that part of the world.
The dishes are all relatively small, larger than tapas but not as large as conventional courses, so it is possible, desirable actually, to try several of those on offer and really sample the menu. There is also a complete tasting menu available for when you want the full culinary experience. Each month the menu varies with the addition of some and deletion of others.
We started with the Auksta Zuppa (Old Soup) and Goat Cheese Pelmeni. The Cold Beetroot and Buttermilk Soup – for that is what it was in essence – was a sweet, yet sharp confection, complex, subtle, tantalising, as I tried to identify the various constituent flavours: dill, cucumber, and radish. My companion’s Goat Cheese Pelmeni was equally interesting, the cheese itself strong and slightly pungent as you would expect, the lovage oil and flowers very delicate, the onion soup sweet and smooth; a really interesting set of contrasts and complements. The Pelmeni was perhaps too large in my friend’s opinion, although I begged to differ. I think this is simply a personal matter and no reflection on the food itself.
I then had the Raw Rose Veal with smoked duck, croutons, pickled kohlrabi, fermented apple and coal oil. Not everyone is a fan of minced raw meat but, if you like sushi and sashimi, why wouldn’t you care for raw meat – as long as it is good meat to begin with, well prepared and presented? This passed all the tests. It was delicate, the veal more or less melting in the mouth, full of flavour and delicacy. The accompaniments just went very well. Looking at text on the page does not do justice to the food as experienced. Rose Veal is, of course, the result of humane, more acceptable free ranging farming practice which does not involve shutting the young animals up in tight pens and results in this pink rather than white meat. There was a time when I could not have countenanced eating veal. Today I feel differently about it: utterly delicious when done well, as here.
The Squab Pigeon with toasted seeds, scorched broccoli, meadow sweet, red currants, and smoked sour cream had my companion in an ecstasy. This is young pigeon specially bred in France and delivered to select restaurants in Britain, not the cooked compacted elastic band that you often find. I couldn’t resist a mouthful or two myself and I understood why it was being so well appreciated. It was tender, moist, full of gamey flavour, and perfectly complemented by the accompaniments.
As these are relatively small portions, I opted to try the mackerel with gooseberry, fennel, sabayon, and almond and fennel sand. This was seriously tasty, a slightly surprising mixture of flavours and textures, but it certainly worked. Being such a strongly flavoured, oily fish, mackerel can be hard to get right in a restaurant as opposed to at home but I can say that, with the exception of a freshly caught mackerel I cooked just hours after plucking it out of the sea a couple of weeks ago, this was one of the best mackerel I have tasted.
And so to dessert. We decided to share the Almond Butter, granola, cucumber, elderflower jelly and meringue. I thought it was bitter, sweet, complex, with wonderfully mixed textures. My companion was a bit less impressed, feeling that the elderflower jelly was less successful. I loved the tiny sections of meringue which sort of teased my palate by their taste and texture.
To drink with this meal we had a bottle of Suri, a Barbera by Andrea Faccio, which was robust and full of flavour yet with deep-lying subtlety. All the wines on the short but excellent list are supplied by Connolly’s Wine Merchants in Livery Street. It’s good to see a local business working with others in the area to create good experiences.
And a Good Experience it was. A fellow diner that evening was the chef from a very highly rated Birmingham restaurant and I noticed that when he left he was very complimentary to Nick.
This venue has hosted several restaurant ventures since the days when it was one of the Michelle mini chain and perhaps only one has been really successful in terms of cuisine and reputation – the Toque d’Or. I rather think that Two Cats might be ready to fill that spot. You should go soon.
Cost for two diners, six dishes, and wine: £70 plus tip.
Two Cats Kitchen, 27 Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter B18 6JQ
#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman
Not just one owl either, 89 giant owls which have been dotted around Birmingham (with one being slightly further afield at Twycross Zoo) - from outside the new library to Gracechurch in Sutton Coldfield, and from Ward End Park to Kings Heath.
Each of the 89 giant owls have been individually created by artists from Birmingham and beyond, whilst many schools and local community groups have had a hand in designing the small owls which have also been dotted around Birmingham. And every single one of the owls which landed in Birmingham on July 20th and fly off again on September 27th are part of The Big Hoot 2015.
What is The Big Hoot 2015:
The Big Hoot 2015 has been presented by creative producers Wild in Art who are working in partnership with Birmingham Children's Hospital to create a trail of fantastically designed owls, each with their own individual QR codes which provide more information about the owls and their creators, along with offering some special awards.
The aim of The Big Hoot 2015, along with providing beautiful owl sculptures in various locations throughout Birmingham which people can explore at their own leisure, is to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - and more information can be found here.
It's Not Just For Little Kids:
By now, if you've been anywhere in or around Birmingham you will have seen groups of people around the owls, having their pictures taken next to them - something which I like to refer to as an "owlfie" - or bending down at peculiar angles to read information available.
And the owl spotting as part of The Big Hoot 2015 isn't just for little kids either, big kids (aka mums, dads, aunts, uncles & grandparents) can and should get involved too....and this is from experience.
During the August Bank Holiday weekend, armed with The Big Hoot 2015 app (which I highly recommend you download if you're off owl spotting), the car - myself and my fiancée set off with the task of finding all 89 owls as quickly as we could. Once we found each owl, one of us would scan the QR code using The Big Hoot app, whilst the other took a picture - we even took a few "owlfies".
For the early stages of the owl spotting it was fairly relaxed, and we saw lots of other families also taking part - everyone was friendly, waiting their turn to scan the code or take a picture. Strangers who'd never met each other had quick conversations about their favourite owls so far or pointed out where some of the trickier to spot owls were.
We were making great strides into spotting all 89 too, with our plan being to start on Broad Street/Brindley Place, and work our way through the City Centre and down to Digbeth.
As the day wore on, more conversations with people we'd never met and more owl spotting took place. By this time, I'd learnt that Dr Whoot (in Snow Hill) was one of the more popular owls, not only within the City Centre but out of all 89 too - and then before we knew it, all owls located in the City Centre/Jewellery Quarter had been spotted, scanned and photo taken.
A quick check of the inbuilt map on the app and a plan was formed to drive to Kings Heath, Handsworth and Perry Barr to spot the owls there, before heading home and finding those at Fort Dunlop.
By the end of Day 1, we had made great in-roads into spotting as many owls as possible, although we were hindered slightly as we arrived at Soho House after the gates had locked so couldn't scan the owl.
Undeterred and adamant to find all 89 owls, we made a plan of action for the following day - which would involve driving to Twycross Zoo first to find the owl there, before heading back to Soho House to scan the owl we were unable to get to the night before.
We still had to find the owls in Sutton Coldfield, Blakesley Hall, Aston, Nechells and Erdington - and despite the rain, we knew we could do it.
It may have become tiring come the last couple of owls (this may also have something to do with walking over 10 miles on day 1), we may have got very wet due to the rain and we may have got a little lost coming out of Twycross Zoo...BUT we scanned all 89 owls, with the last one being Love Owl situated at Moore Hall - and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to do.
Finding all 89 owls also felt somewhat rewarding - and it paid off, as Satnam Rana of BBC news fame, contacted me via Twitter to see if I would meet her to discuss our owl spotting adventures. Whilst I wasn't able to, my fiancée did and featured on the news.
Honestly, if you have time to spot the owls go and do it. I'm not saying go crazy and spot all 89 in 2 days, nor am I saying you'll get on the news - but you will have a great time and you will see some great artwork which highlights how great Birmingham is.
The Big Hoot 2015 is more than the owls though, it's about seeing parts of Birmingham you wouldn't necessarily see or visit - places until I started the owl hunt I knew existed, such as Soho House and Sheldon Country Park.
But it's even more than that still. It's about charity, and helping Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - whether this be by taking part in the auction to buy one of the owls after September 27th 2015 or by texting HOOT to 70099 to donate £2 today to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.
Happy Owl Spotting!
By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief owl spotter.