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

 

Welcome to Birmingham - Resort World

It was a chef that first changed my mind. Possibly like you, I supposed here's another Americanism popping into our culture right here on our city's doorstep. But as I've heard more about Resort World, I've grown markedly more excited. Of course it's bringing jobs and many £££s into the region but more than that, when people think they've been in Birmingham because they've departed from the airport or been to the national exhibition centre which as we well know is in lovely Solihull, they now actually will get to experience some of that famous, warm Brummie hospitality. And spend loadsa money in the region.

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.

@BrumFaves

 

 

Steel and Jelly: Contemporary and Traditional Menswear in Grand Central

 

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.

@BrumFaves @RickieWrites

 

At the Flix with @Timmy666

 

Greetings one and all and welcome to this week’s wholesome slice of toasted movie goodness - let's see what's exquisite and buttery and what's burnt and 'marmitey' shall we.

Ted 2 (15)

As a Family Guy aficionado, I’m always a firm believer that the best bit of the show's longevity and wit is its ability to pick its moments of humour objectively, even its gross-out or more vulgar elements. Ted certainly doesn’t do this. 

I liked the original Ted in parts! I laughed the requisite number of times that one should hope to and I also recoiled probably as many, if not more, times too! Ted 2 promises much the same with an additional heap of sperm jokes and crude interludes interspersed with a mass of numerous cameos.

Ted sounds like a Southern cross between Brian and Peter Griffin. Many of his affectations have the genesis of Family Guy albeit on a whole other level of what’s considered tasteless - that's all to be expected. The plot focuses on Ted’s rights alongside those as a human, many of which have a lot of crude sexual situations, naturally. 

Let’s face it, a large proportion of the Ted audience are Family Guy fans and I guess we expect more - I suspect it will be a curate’s egg of a film. Yet, I still await a big slab of Seth MacFarlane genius on the big screen.

Dear White People (15)

Of the more unknown releases this week, it's brilliant to see this on release, Dear White People won the Sundance Film Festival's Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. The film is an indie-fuelled, sharply written satire about race during Obama’s presidency and hilariously follows a group of African-American students navigating campus life and racial politics at a predominantly white college.

Love and Mercy (12A)

A moving and unconventional portrait of Brian Wilson starring Paul Dano and John Cusack, both as Wilson!  Set to Wilson's music, the film follows his journey to success and how it came about at huge personal cost. The response to the film has been uniformly positive focussing on star turns from its leads, in particular that of Dano. In a nutshell, all the notes fit and is seen as a fitting tribute to a great artist!

West (15) 

Showing at the mac (Mon-Thurs), Christian Schwochow's late 1970s-set drama is about a young East German woman Nelly (Jördis Triebel) trying to build a new life in the west. For fans of films like The Lives of Others, this film clearly revels in recreating the unease of the time, the surveillance world mixed with the same level of paranoia as a large amount of personal and political intrigue.

Going Clear: Scientology & The Prison Of Belief (15)

With a few showings over the next week at the Electric Cinema, acclaimed documentary maker Alex Gibney turns his attentions to the Church of Scientology, following eight former members of the Church, detailing their experiences and what they do inthe name of religion. Knowing Gibney’s former work, expect the film to be telling as well as entertaining.

That’s it from me this week. As always, if you have comments, I’d be delighted to hear them. Find me on twitter at @timmy666 and let’s continue the conversation. 

Auf wiedersehen!

If I Ruled The World...by Rickie J

The Birmingham Favourites founder would solve the world's problems with cake and put persistent social media moaners in a 'sin bin'.

People are positive

A tricky one to enforce although it means the world of difference in people’s happiness. Government to set the example by changing their language, after all, even the Queen tends to look on the bright side. The media will report bad news in a sombre, constructive, non-scandalous way and make it their business to make people feel positive with contrasting, upbeat news stories.

Anyone who constantly swears or uses social media only to complain rather than offer constructive criticism will be temporarily banned and placed in the sin bin as ice hockey would have it.

Pet allowance

Everyone has the choice of child allowance or a pet allowance. They can live with a pet or put it towards saving an endangered species.

MPs to be civilised

They will only talk about what they are doing or promise to do, rather than what the opposition are up to and we can re-elect a new one otherwise. (see People will be positive, ‘sin bin’ etc.)

There will be quiet coffee shops

Loud music will be banned before 6pm so we can all hear ourselves think while working. And, indeed, converse.

Public Sector to have accountability

The public sector will have the same flexibility to offer their employees holidays and perks as commercial organisations, ie dependent on profitability and targets achieved. There will be consequences for anyone discovered to be losing the organisation money, or I don’t know, paying men more than women for doing the same job. Of course profits will go back into offering the people the council serves better value for their taxes (i.e. cleaner streets, better resources, access to arts and culture, green spaces etc)

Email etiquette

No email auto-responder will ever say ‘we are busy and will respond to your enquiry within 72 hours’. We’re are all busy!

Empty Nests

Commercial buildings will be disallowed from remaining empty for more than two months. I will pass a law whereby owners/landlords have to offer empty space to anyone who needs it (small businesses, small charities, even the homeless where appropriate). A nominal rent will be charged to cover legal expenses, staffing and security costs for short term (month by month) lets and all tenants will need to abide by the regular terms of rental. Local councils will have a small team, accessible to facilitate this.

Wars are settled with cake

Country leaders will settle disagreements with others over cake and coffee. Or tea, rather than guns and killing. Our foreign aid budget will include homemade Victoria Sandwich.

There will be transparency

Taxes will be simplified and tax payers decide where are tax money is spent and I doubt then, it will be spent on overpriced library websites or digging up the same road three times in as many years.

The community has a say on where their tax ££s are spent through online voting.

Help where it’s needed

Benefits will be simplified so that those who do fall on hard-times or are seriously unable to work or take care of themselves, are supported quickly with love and hugs rather than endless forms and wait times.

Those who are able to work and look after themselves, do so, in a job they like doing.

We need to work harder in matching people up to what they love doing, regardless of experience. People can be taught skills, but the not the attitude. I would urge employers to recruit staff on their attitude and personality and less on skills.

Unless they are applying for a job as a brain surgeon, pilot, etc.

Respect the dead

It will be illegal to sit on or vandalise graves, tombstones and memorials.

Head stones will fitted with alarms that will give electric shocks to offenders, that can only be turned off by those maintaining and paying their respects to the departed.  

Work from home

Every employee is able to work from home one day a week, say, after six months with the same employer.

Everyone has to use their right to vote

If there’s no one worthy, there will be space on the ballot paper to vote for any random person. Votes are only counted when there’s a 100% 95% turnout and pubs will remain closed until everyone has voted.

Oh and voting booths will be in pubs, coffee shops, organisations with large reception areas and golf clubs.

Constituencies to be re-divided across the land so they are of similar size. 

Paper serviettes under cake

Banned.

A serviette will be supplied separately but never underneath where it already messy and unfit for purpose.

By Rickie J, Founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@BrumFaves @RickieWrites

Dear, Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is a beautiful building, nonetheless, I had my doubts that it was going to be functional from the start.

Having coped without a weekly visit to the old library for nine months, like many, I counted down the weeks to having access to a local library again. The excitement remains even while in the queue to squeeze into Birmingham’s shiniest gem. And during the time it took to get to each of the nine scintillating floors. There are escalators which then turn into a travelator and then lifts or stairs–your choice. I spend the whole day in there trying to see it all; now that I’m back in, you just try to get me out! 

During this day, I notice there were only three lifts for a building that fits 3000. We didn’t have 3000 people waiting to get in though so why the delay – too few doors?

Similarly, 3000 people trying to get to the bathroom is tricky. On the map, it’s delightful that there are facilities placed everywhere – I mean every corner you look. Except most of these are single occupancy lavatories so there’s either a wait or ‘cleaning’ sign to greet you. (If you’re in a hurry, by the way, the best ones to use are on the ground floor in the Rep. Plentiful and functional)

Some solutions

With the opening hours reduced this Spring, we’ll cast aside the reported £1 million wasted on an average website and the number of empty meeting rooms spotted.

In its first year, Birmingham’s newest tourist attraction is said to have received three million visitors, more than twice the previous library.

Surely, the idea is to get as many people in as possible to spend money and make this a sustainable public building it can so simply become, but what to spend cash on? There is only one coffee shop.

The days of libraries earning revenue from unpaid fines are gone – we can now renew books online or pop them into the external book deposit. There are plenty of other ways for the library to earn it’s living in order to retain its status as the must-see community building for all to access seven days a week.

Coffee/wine

Three million people deserve more than one coffee shop by the entrance. How about a fine dining restaurant, preferably with a view or a decent cafeteria with something for all at an everyday price? (see Amsterdam PL (Cost €80m). Another coffee shop/bar on one of the floors will bring in people to watch the sunset with a glass of something. Well they will when the library extends the hours to 10pm, like many cities around the world.

Have coffee served by people who love customers, promote the loyalty card (did you know they have one?) and install coffee machines that are not designed for self-service. They  do work in the ICC, which by the way is the same company, operating a cafeteria and their staff provide fantastic service.

Room Hire

With the view and the state of the art facilities, the library shapes up to be an impressive place to hold events. I was one of those sucked in by the glamour and then regretted it when it took me two months to book rooms. I saw empty rooms everywhere but I was told they were booked up.

The event service needs to be on a par with the hundreds of fantastic venues across this city. They need to match up to the friendliness of quirky Studio Venues, the food offerings of Etc. and the professionalism of ICC.

Eventually the library staff are responsive and I book rooms for several events. On more than one occasion I find I’m unable to have the air conditioning in this green library turned off without calling maintenance and waiting ‘up to four hours’! The staff bend over backwards to help you but just seem to be poorly trained and this  just capped a catalogue of errors over the course of several months.

I’ve organised events for years and worked with some fantastic venue people. We just need to get a few of those in and make the events department a winner here.

Be welcoming

Refrain from using hesitant council language (these chairs are for the use of library café customers only) to welcoming, customer friendly speak (you are welcome to come and purchase drinks and snacks from the café and enjoy them sitting here).

Call me old-fashioned, but a sign that says ‘lending library this way’ would be helpful in a library, right?

Business Centre

This can be the go to place for business starts ups – drop in, have your questions answered or be sign posted to someone that can help.

I understand we're in a community building and knowledge should be free. Nevertheless, how about charging a nominal fee for those who can afford it? Would you pay £10 for a drink and some mingling with lovely views? Or £15 for a workshop to learn some skills while admiring the busiest public library in Europe?

And the study rooms – can we just pay to book some of them for meetings?

Volunteers

For those of us (me) that adore libraries and reading, volunteering here is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want a few hours of their month spent here? Only, at the time of writing, the library is not offering any opportunities.

Any cost factors to train volunteers are surely offset by the better service to customers = more customers = more revenue = more opening hours.

I say bring in an army of enthusiastic volunteers to over shadow some of the (understandable) gloom. 

Heritage

Sadly, the last couple of times I’ve made it to the top, I’ve noted the Shakespeare room no longer has a person sitting at the desk watching over this key piece of wondrous heritage. It’s lovely to have someone there to answer questions or just have banter with. A perfect role for a volunteer. Frankly, I’m happy to move into that room!

Any more suggestions? Please, let’s hear them.

By Rickie J,  library geek, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@RickieWrites @BrumFaves

 

Recipe: Mexican Meatballs with Green Rice

Every country seems to have its own meatball recipe these days, Italy, Sweden, Greece.  The Mexicans have their own, and, naturally, it is made with beef.  Lamb and pork do not feature too much on their menu.  Of course it is spicy, but what would you expect?

So you need the following:

  • A pound of beef mince
  • Four egg whites
  • A teacup and a half of  breadcrumbs
  • Dried chillies

For the tomato sauce:

  • Two tins of tomatoes
  • 125 ml of Mavrodaphne Red Wine
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Pork stock or beef stock
  • Minced chillies

 For the rice:

  •  One and a half tea cups of long grain rice
  • A handful of spinich
  • garden peas and/or sweetcorn (as an option)

Right, let's get started.

Do you still have all the tomato sauce from the other day?  If so, tip it into a cooking pot, add a teaspoon of minced chilli  and heat slowly.  Then skip to the meatballs.  If not, then read on here:

Take one large cooking pot with a lid and place on a medium heat.  Open two tins of good quality chopped tomatoes and tip them into the pan.  Add 125 ml of Mavrodaphne red wine and two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.  Stir slowly and allow to simmer. Then add a teaspoon of minced red chillies.  Leave it for a few minutes, reduce heat and have a taste.  It should have a rich, full flavour with a sudden kick of spice at the end.  If not, then add more chillies.

So, leave the sauce to simmer, gently, and wash your hands.  This is the messy but fun bit.

Put one mixing bowl and one large plate on the work top.  Add the minced beef to the mixing bowl with the breadcrumbs.  Now crack and separate for egg whites from the yolks.  Add the egg whites to the bowl, and a small sprinking of dried chilles and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. and mix the ingredients together with your hands.  Kneed the mixture like bread until it all comes together.  If it is too dry and crumbling, add more egg white.  If it is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.  Mix it all together into one huge meatball.  From there, break off small handfuls and roll into golf sized balls in the palms of your hands.  It's fun, but messy. Set each ball on to the plate.

Now wash your hands with plenty of soap!

Using a hot deep fat fryer, fry the meatballs for a few seconds, just to brown the outside, then transfer them onto a clean plate. This prevents cross contamination from raw meat to cooked.  Add the bowl and the first plate to the washing up.

Once the meatballs have cooled for a little white, add them one at a time to the tomato sauce.  Place the lid over the pot and leave to simmer on a very low heat.  It takes at least an hour for the meatballs to absorb and cook in the sauce.

When they are nearly done, take a saucepan of freshly boiled water and place on a medium heat.  Add the rice and a handful of spinach.  Leave it to simmer for fifteen minutes.  You will slowly notice the water goes green as the colour is boiled out of the spinach.  It then absorbs into the rice.  Feel free to add half a tin of corn or peas if you want to add a bit of Carribean influence.

Pick out the spinach and drain the rice through a strainer and pack it tightly into an upturned plastic timbale or other small dish. Even an egg cup could work.  Now the tricky bit.  Take a plate and press the top of the timbale or egg cup tight against it.  Now slowly and carefully turn the whole thing over and raise the timbale.  You should get a perfectly pressed little mountain of rice to the side of the plate.

I always like to serve my meatballs in a separate oven ware dish so I can add toppings to melt in the oven.

Carefully, using a thick towel, transfer the oven ware bowl with the meatballs to the main plate, and serve.  It is nice with Guacomole and sour cream. 

Enjoy your dinner!

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, a weekly trawl through all things cinematic hitting screens across Brum.

Danny Collins (15)

Al Pacino has done comedy drama before on a number of occasions. Here he clearly gets to find some ageing rock star persona, receiving a life-changing letter from John Lennon, that was written to him 40 years earlier but never delivered. He embarks on a heartfelt journey to rediscover his family and himself.

The trailer and pre-release publicity has shown a deliberately mushy and sentimental underbelly but with a dominant central performance and excellent support from Christopher Plummer, Annette Bening and Jennifer Garner there's surely than enough to go with.

This looks like enjoyable fare.

Man Up (15)

On the surface, the second comedy of the week looks a bit like a British version of When Harry Met Sally, or rather When Ephron Met Curtis.

The film is clearly laced with a number of familiar clichés but within the setup, much depends on the likability of the leads and the measure of the comic entertainment on show.

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg are both fine actors and can hopefully lap up what looks like being a relatively light and breezy comedy, yet that's kind of the point and provides pleasant and undemanding viewing for a weekend night.

San Andreas (3D)

Disaster films still evidently pack the audiences in. This one boasts a big cast, stellar special effects and bags of enthusiasm. Dwayne Johnson, our dependable action hero, is thrust into the heart of film surrounding an earthquake that hits the West Coast. That’s kind of it as far as plot synopsis goes.

The big issue for many disaster films is the not the care and craft that goes into destroying things, it is the setup and characterisation around it. Let's be blunt though, many folks flock to see disaster films because of the urge for some well-crafted destruction and director Brad Peyton is very capable of delivering that. Johnson is usually always fun with it too!

The Connection (15)

Getting a wide release, this French thriller stars Jean DuJardin as a Marseille magistrate Pierre Michel on a campaign to dismantle the drug smuggling operation: the French Connection.

He enters into battle the kingpin, Gatean "Tany" Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), who runs the largest underground heroin trade into the States. Of course, Michel needs to make the decision between bringing La French down and the dangers for him and his family.

Set in Marseille, the film is bound to get comparison to The French Connection (a tad unfair as very few thrillers match up to that classic!) as well as more contemporary fare such as Michael Mann’s Heat. Can the film’s Gallic charm and superstar actors outweigh the film’s sense of familiarity?

The New Girlfriend (15)

Showing at The Electric, this week’s most intriguing film is from the great French director François Ozon’s new film, a psychological drama starring Anais Demoustier as Claire, a young woman whose closest friend since childhood passes away leaving behind a husband (Romain Duris) and a new-born baby.

She drops by his house and finds him dressed in his dead wife's clothes and feeding their baby with a bottle. Aware of his predilection, he has a female persona created for him named Virginia - he becomes more attached to Virginia, leading to a number of troublesome situations and a rift between Claire and her husband (Raphael Personnaz).

Ozon is a master of subversion and this seems like being no different - sexuality, gender roles, lust, desire - all territory for two fantastic leads to fly!

That's it from me this week. As always, any queries or quibbles, you can find me @timmy666 on twitter. Have a great week at the cinema! 

Theatre: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Performed at Birmingham Rep

A performance at the Birmingham Rep is already a winner as it’s an exceptional theatre (except for the lack of an aisle in the middle meaning a very long row to get in and out of past c24 pairs of knees, but, still the theatre is a pleasure to be in). 

The story of Little Voice, the introverted young girl with the big voice too match every diva is about to unfold before me.

I hear a soundtrack of adverts and music of the 1980s as I make my way to my seat gawking the fantastic set. It depicts a two up, two down house and the audience immediately finds that often two scenes are witnessed at the same time.

The dialogue doesn’t let up, despite the minute cast of six, but it’s good that two are pretty quiet, Little Voice herself and silent Sadie, best friend of LV’s mum Mari . Mari is by far the character with the most lines, most often consisting of made up language followed by a ripple of audience amusement.

Despite the serious undertones of the reclusive, yet talented daughter, her insecure, but over-bearing widowed mother and the sleazy, pushy talent scout, there are jokes throughout. The play is not as violent as the film as I recall it (from a long time ago) but I wouldn’t want to see Ray, Mari’s current squeeze and self-appointed show biz agent be particularly aggressive on a stage a few feet away from me. Plus fake hitting someone is a tricky manoeuvre to pull off.

As is the fire on stage – I could feel it getting warm and was worried for the shiny showbiz curtain lining the back wall! Another stand out moment is with the Jackson Five’s I Want You Back as the soundtrack.

A fantastic performance by all with so many great scenes, this one is going to be remembered long after the curtain comes down. Catch it if you can. Tickets from Birmingham Rep till 30th May.

By editor and founder Rickie J. Tweet on @RickieWrites or @BrumFaves

Photos courtesy of Birmingham Rep.

 

Brum Faves visits: Bar Opus

 

Corporate bars have come a long way since my days of working on London’s Fleet Street. Back then, us ladies who worked in the newspaper industry were prevented from being able to buy drinks at certain bars. Indeed in the early 1990s, there were two restaurant bars that I not only couldn’t buy my own drink but I couldn’t wear trousers at the bar.

My first visit to Bar Opus reminded me of these days but only because it’s just around the corner from where the Birmingham Post & Mail building used to be, before it’s relocation to Fort Dunlop. The third sibling of the Opus restaurant group, Bar Opus will clearly attract the corporate crowd the original restaurant in Cornwall Street does although the vibe is distinctly non-grey suited on a Saturday evening.

Tucked away under the One Snowhill building, set back from Colmore Row, we receive a bold, sociable service from the minute the bf and our out-of-town friend set foot in Opus three. I imagine it’s quite different during the day, however, on this weekend evening, the place is darkly lit and if anyone figures out how the taps work in the unisex loo first time should surely be compensated with a free drink.

We decide to take advantage of the tapas style menu to try a few things although one of our choices proved unavailable, we were recommended the honey glazed baby chorizo, which went down extremely well on our table. The child in me never loses the love for baby-sized versions so I’m a sucker for the dishes like mini but amply stuffed burgers and a basket of fries. (A new menu is coming was due so check what the current offering is). Elsewhere, the crispy salt and pepper Brixham squid with lemon aioli, served in ample portion, was appreciated.  These were quickly devoured - hence no photos - but go see for yourself!

Small plates are available from 12 noon at £5 each or four to share for £17.50. Regular all day menu includes breakfast also offered.

Do share your thoughts on @BrumFaves or comment below.

By avid eater and Brum Faves founder, Rickie J @RickieWrites

Photos courtesy of Opus Bar.

Book: Park Life by Katharine D’Souza

I’ve been meaning to read this book by the Birmingham author for some time so it thanks to bumping into another writer, AA Abbott, who lent me a copy!

I wanted to take a light, quick read with me while spending a few days of reading/writing/coffeeing in France and this is perfect. 

Even after reading it, I’m unsure of the title as there are only a few scenes based in parks but it is a great title! The story works around two main characters who find themselves living in the same building somewhere around Kings Heath/Moseley. Craig is a 20 something corporate who is on the first rung of the housing ladder and trying to advance his career. Susan has just left the only man she has ever been with after becoming stifled in a 20 year, domineering relationship.

They befriend each other as both have a distinct lack of friends, Craig after his best friend stole his girlfriend and Susan because she never had a life outside her husband and now, grown up son.

An easy read, I found it difficult to learn about so many, what I would call, weak characters in one book. Susan’s ex is a bully and Craig’s is manipulating. The only strong people are the two new café owners who offer Susan her first job since she left school.

So, I love that Susan does leave her husband but find it difficult to always route for her.

Joyfully, there are plenty of characters in the book, café customers, Craig’s colleagues and Susan’s non-friends from her suburban life and there is the old trick of using excerpts of a childhood diary to explain an adult character’s flaw.

Park Life makes you turn the pages to find characters steadily changing and that’s what makes it a good read.

By avid reader & Brum Faves founder, Rickie J @RickieWrites

 

Chef's Table: Plant Your Kitchen Garden

In the this exciting episode, your intrepid chef goes slightly off mission and gets some air.

Right everybody, outside now.  Come on, leave your coats, it is lovely out.  We  are arriving in mid spring, which is the ideal time to plant your kitchen garden.  All those little green jars on your shelf all look the same, and after a while, smell the same.  So why not grow your own?

From my local garden centre I bought small pots of Oregano (two types), Coriander, Mint, and Rosemary.  These are pretty easy to maintain, just water gently every couple of days, 

Oregano is one of my favourite herbs, it smells like every Italian holiday I took as a boy.  It goes so well over Pizza or my trade mark Tuscan Chicken.

Coriander just goes so perfectly well with chicken, it is like a glass slipper for poultry dishes.  It's use was pioneered by Indian cooks down the years, and it soon caught on in England.

Mint is an old English favourite and has been used since Roman times.  I could lie and say I use it for lamb, but the truth is, Mint is for Mojitos.  But we will move on to them later in the year.  Oh yes, we most certainly shall.

Finally we have Rosemary.  This is a prince among herbs.  It can make the most bland lamb dish taste amazing and it can soon pep up your potatoes with a little roast garlic and seasoning.

So, to prep your herbs for use, take a clean green chopping board, and lay it on a work top, over a damp cloth to help with grip.  Then you fill a sink with clean cold water and let your herb of choice soak for five minutes.  Do not add anything else to the water, just let it do its thing.

Remove the herbs from the water and shake them dry or pat them dry gently with kitchen roll.  Place them on the green board.  Next take the biggest sharpest knife you have, and chop the herbs very finely, taking care of your fingers.  Alternatively, you can use one of those fancy curved blades, they work just as well.  Take care to pick out any bits of stalk.  You should be left with a fragrant herb in tiny pieces that goes well over the dish of your choice.  In your cooking you will tell the difference from the kick in the flavour.

See you next time.

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

#ChefsTable

Foodie Faves: Marmalade

When the Birmingham Rep was refurnished and opened to coincide with the new Library of Birmingham, it launched with a fancy new restaurant that came and went before I had a chance to visit it. So when Marmalade launched in February, I was there on day two.

Indeed I watched it being built as I was a big fan of Rep Eats, the short lived in-between café that I used for coffee meets with clients. Never having owned matching furniture, I loved the hap-hazardness of the seating from colourful nursery kitchen tables to the seats pulled out of an old theatre. Now with Marmalade, it’s an altogether more comfy, pre-theatre experience.

Although this is an unusually classic and formal setting from the latest of the Bitters n Twisted group, known for their quirks (see Jekyll & Hyde’s Gin Parlour and the old skool boozer, Rose Villa Tavern) the interior still has a couple of twists and of course, it’s own cocktail menu.

I’ve already eaten here three times, firstly with the bf during opening week when they had the half price offer, then for a birthday lunch and recently with the girls.

I’m eating my way through the menu, starting with the light and yet filling sea bass which helped me enjoy beetroot for the first time, then the battered cod & delightful lemon pea puree, even though it wasn’t my customarily Friday-for-fish day and latterly the burger.

I’ve recommended the former two to appreciative diners and the burger although fairly standard is served with spicy paprika fries. All are around £12-13.

I’ve only noticed one dessert on the menu – gingerbread cheesecake, maple sauce, toffee pecans and mint - there may be others.

A thoroughly warm welcome awaits you followed by a pleasant dining experience, whether you’re popping to the theatre or just ravenous.

Note: Marmalade refrain from serving cocktails pre-theatre so do check timings if that’s what you’re hoping for! But there is happy hour 4.30-6.30 and all day Sundays to make up for it.

Share your views on @BrumFaves

By founder, editor & serial eater @RickieWrites.

Foodie Faves: Edwardian Tea Rooms

Have you ever see your city through the eyes of a tourist?

Sometimes it takes a friend visiting from out of town that makes us see our city through the fresh eyes of a tourist. So when a friend came to visit from Devon who’d already stayed with me before, I decided to take her to some places we had yet to visit.

I’d been meaning to try the new look Edwardian Tea Rooms in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for some time and we thought it a good as place as any to fill up on a nourishing snack before the trip back to the south west. After a stroll around one of the floors of the museum, we enter the colourful ETR and pour over the wide-ranging  menu. So much for a snack; we end of with boulder sized jacket potatoes and served with a decent salad; a full-on meal and great value at under a fiver, especially in such majestic surroundings.

The only complication is that you have to get a table number before you then queue up to order your food at the till. Tricky when you’re on your lonesome but even when you are with people. It’s such an enormous space and you need to leave some personal belongings in order to let others know the table is taken and the staff won’t take your order without it! Even more troublesome when I went back the following week and just wanted a coffee while I work. I understand it helps to know you have a table before you bother to queue but it is a big space so tables aplenty, even during busy Sunday afternoons.

They currently have offers every day including 10% off brunch on Saturday mornings and a second wine/beer free when you buy two Sunday roasts.

The restaurant is gorgeous to be in and super comfortable, which is why I’ve gone back three Sundays in a row!

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites @BrumFaves @RickieWrites

Photos: courtesy of BMAG

 

Book: Pigeon Wings by Heidi Goody & Iain Grant

pigeonwings cover 2The follow up to Clovenhoof, one of the funniest books I read last year. That one had Satan being sent to live on Earth and covered all the trials and tribulations of the Prince of Darkness living in the West Midlands. This included working out what money is, what parts of the body do and what items are generally found in most homes across the civilised world. This time, after a – em, mix up – Arch Angel Michael is banished from heaven and is now the neighbour of his adversary. The other neighbours in the Sutton Coldfield building, Ben the book shop owner and Nerys the singleton who works in recruitment are still around.

Michael finds it easier to settle than Jeremy Clovenhoof did but the laugh-out-loud moments are still around him finding out what his man parts are used for.

Because he has been all about looking after mankind as his (former) boss wanted, he blends into human society so much better and is seen as a model citizen. Of course, he finds modern society with its lacksadaisy attitude towards church and god challenging. He even finds a way of earning a very good living by designing app for himself, which he is then encouraged to sell instead of giving way free. Who says being good doesn’t conquer all?

It took a little while longer to get into this one, what with monks on an island off Wales making magic jams, social climbing mothers and gay gym bunnies to contend with, but once past 100 pages, it’s a super-funny page turner.

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites @RickieWrites

@BrumFaves

 

Bimingham Gift Guide: Books

[gallery type="slideshow" ids="3419,3969,2850,3357,3950,2853,3274,3693"]

Here's Brum Faves selection of books about Birmingham or written by local authors - or both!

  • 27 by Ryan Davis - Rock 'n' roll novel based in Birmingham in 1999.

  • Father of Locks by Andy Killeen - Unveils the historical truth behind the Arabian Nights tales

  • No Mean Affair by Robert Ronsson - Glasgow housewife’s journey from the poverty of the tenements to the centre of British political power in Westminster

  • Clovenhoof by Heide Goody & Iain Grant - Satan is fired from his job as Prince of Hell and exiled to that most terrible of places: English suburbia.

  • After the Interview by A A Abbott - We’ve all made mistakes at job interviews, but what happens when the tables are turned?

  • Spilt Milk Black Coffee by Helen Cross - Handsome Amir, somewhere in his twenties, somewhere in a Yorkshire town, is torn between duty and lust.

  • Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns

  • Million Dollar Dress by Heide Goody - Modern-day Cinderella story

  • In Other Hands by Iain Grant - People on the margins of society and the ties that bind us all together.

  • Beatrice by Fiona Joseph - The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune

Any more to add to the list? Let's have your recommendations in the comments or please tweet @BrumFaves

Book: Beatrice by Fiona Joseph

Coffee was considered a little too stimulating for female workers!

I’ve always had interest in the Cadbury family’s business methods anyway so was delighted to find out that local author Fiona Joseph was writing a book about them. More specifically, Beatrice Boeke, nee Cadbury, daughter of Richard was born in 1884.

On the strength of this book, I went to hear the author do a talk. I planned to buy a signed copy to read and hearing Fiona talk with so much love and admiration for Beatrice, I ‘fell a little bit in love’ too.

The story starts as Beatrice is born into what is already a wealthy family. Her father’s first wife died after giving birth to their fourth child and Beatrice is a result of his second marriage to his treasured Emma. They go onto have a long and happy marriage but are long gone before Beatrice rebels and this is when the story takes off.

We are introduced to Beatrice’s future husband, a trained architect, when she is already doing missionary work and she is on a panel interviewing him for a role in Syria. By the time he starts the role, they are already about to embark on a marriage.

Even before this, I enjoy every bit of the story and the book gives me a greater understanding on the Quaker beliefs held by the Cadburys. They are already known for ‘their mix of thrift and generosity’ and I love that sentiment. The most interesting aspect is that the simple life led by Quakers is at odds with the wealth the family accumulate. But, the wealth is very much redistributed in that they open their home to those less fortunate, offer them the opportunity to wash and have fresh clothes and most famously, they treat their employees with the utmost respect and care.

Bournville in Birmingham is still a dry village and no alcohol can be sold and there are other quirks in this little suburb of the city that totally adhere to the original Cadbury ethos. It’s a beautiful, well-kept place as I learn from my first visit their last year for a much-needed view of a Christmas lights switch on that was actually in December and not several weeks previous!

Back to Beatrice, most of the book now centre’s on how the conflict within her heart grows and what leads her wanting to give up her shares and inheritance. It is odd that she did not feel the same way as her father in that their wealth could be put to good use help others. I’m left wondering what they could have done with all that disposable income rather than giving it back to the factory workers, something her brothers, now the Cadbury directors, urged her against.

Beatrice’s and her husband’s legacy centre’s on what they did for education in Holland, where they both lived after Kees was deported. Both in England and Holland, they were routinely arrested for publicly speaking their minds about being anti-war primarily, something that is against Quaker beliefs anyway. But their belief in letting children learn through play, at their own pace rather forcing tests and learning (they called this sociocracy) is fascinating and something I have had a long-term interest in. We are guided through the time when Kees started home schooling their younger children (they had 7 in all), mainly as they could not afford the school fees. The popularity grew and eventually they set up a proper school, with some funds from the Cadbury Trust that Beatrice started with her dividends.

The couple lived through two world wars, struggling and at one point living in tents. I’m at odds at this when there brothers and sisters were living in luxury but still doing managing to do good for others. Either you work and earn a living and pay taxes – something they were against as they didn’t want their money paying for the wars – or you do good with the money.

But the family Boeke stood their ground and eventually, later in life managed to earn their keep through educating others.

This is a fascinating read.

By Rickie J, Founder and editor of Birmingham Favourites. @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

7 places for laptop time in Birmingham

Stay.com recently asked me to compile a list of my favourites spots for working in central Birmingham:

Urban Coffee Co (Church St)

Good coffee in the heart of the business district.

Coffee Lounge (the one on Newhall St)

A vast menu in a scrumptious setting.

The Birmingham Rep Café

A pick-a-mix of old theatre seats with a view. Usually opens from 12.

Brewsmiths

Bottomless coffee (or tea) and legendary breakfasts.

Urban Coffee Co (Jewellery Quarter)

A big space to work right in JQ’s creative community plus breakfast or lunch to keep you going.

Boston Tea Party (Corporation St)

Baked beans on toast for breakfast or lunch.

The Studio (Cannon St)

Space to think, meet and get things done. Call/tweet to check availability as on occasional days, this meeting venue opens its quiet atrium bar to the public. £5 for all drinks and if you're lucky, snacks.

All have WiFi and large cups of coffee. Obviously.

By Birmingham Favourites founder & editor Rickie J. Contact: @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

Book: The Father of Locks by Andrew Killeen

I do have a love of historical novels that make me pay attention to history as an adult like I never did at school. This however, from Birmingham based author Andrew Killeen, is a whole other level of history.

We are following the adventures of Ismail, a young thief and (aspiring) poet who is desperate to get to Baghdad and be part of the world’s capital city’s vibrant culture.

As we read of his adventures, we learn of his history and how he came to be so young and travelling to the biggest of city alone. He soon falls into the hands of the most famous poet, womanising bi-sexual Abu Nuwas. ‘The Father of Locks’ takes him under his wing although this doesn’t stop either of them cheating death many times as they weave in an out of Baghdad’s back alleys and uncover ancient cults, multiple religions and beautiful people of both sexes.

Then there is the mystery of the missing children which unlocks more questions than answers.

I found it a tough to keep up with the colourful cast as we’ve weaved back and forward in history buy enjoyable nonetheless. If this era appeals to you, you will love it.

By Rickie J. Reader of books & founder of Brum Faves.

Contact @RickieWrites or @BrumFaves

 

Book: After the Interview by AA Abbott

The book is based in our two major cities, Birmingham and London and is full of thoroughly familiar landmarks in both. I now can’t walk past St Pancras without looking around for the flat featured!

As the author commented at the recent Meet the Author event, in this book, all the bad things tend to happen in London and the good in Birmingham. The main characters run companies. One started his and the other is an employee that’s risen up the ranks.

Whereas AA Abbott is fascinated by offices and what goes on in them, the book just served to re-remind me why I don’t like working in them. Even non-corporate ones. Every office that looks like, well, looks like an office!

The book title is only explained a little later on as we hear about all the characters eventually bumping into one another or indeed, we discover where they have met before. That must be the most fun part of writing fiction – creating the characters and seeing how they are going to collide.

Despite disliking all of the characters, even those that came good in the end had some major character flaws, it’s an enjoyable, quick read.

By Rickie, reader and founder of Birmingham Favourites

Contact @RickieWrites or @BrumFaves or directly @AAAbbottStories