Ask the Concierge: Afternoon Tea

Brunch and afternoon tea are my favourite meals of the day; they come at a time when I’m most hungry, 11am and 3pm and arrive as a pick-a-mix of treats rather than one plateful of the same thing. With afternoon tea, the kid in me – which frankly never went away – takes delight in that I can eat everything in the sweet shop as it’s all delivered delectably in small portions.

I take pleasure in the fact that the meal was also invented in my home town by the Duchess of Bedford, who also, it seems, couldn’t go more than two hours without eating.

Hotel La Tour

The newest kids on the block brings us afternoon tea with a twist. Served while you’re seated on deep sofas or high backed ‘Alice in Wonderland’ chairs, Tea at HLT is on the ‘must do’ list of many  a local.

It’s the place that’s recommended to anyone who wants to impress visitors into the city. Your tea comes in floor standing three tier trays; dainty sandwiches, followed by scones and then the cakes HLT are famous for. The menu is varies seasonally so you can go back more than once a year enjoy anything from trifles and Welsh Rarebit to their take on Jaffa cakes and walnut whips. 

  • Take: your visiting best friend
  • Look out for: the inside out sandwiches
  • Location: Albert Street, Birmingham B5 5JE
  • Days and times: 2-5pm daily
  • Cost: £19.95; £29.45 with a glass of champagne 

Hotel Du Vin

Taking tea in the Hotel Du Vin almost feels like going back to the prohibition era. You are seated low on the sofas that look could be in the drawing room at an Aunt’s who inherited old money 

As the large napkins are unfolded and placed on your lap, the courteous staff start laying out the food in low square table in front of you. This is a classic case of eyes bigger than your belly as you want to devour every beautiful creation placed in from of you from the sandwich classics to the soft scones and the bite size cakes that you have to have a break before you tackle this final course.  

The staff will bring more food, coffee or tea as you require. Of course you won’t need any more food as the spread that starts to unfold in front of you is vast but this is the only place I’ve been to that offers this.

  • Take: your parents or anyone that want’s to join the Tea Set
  • Look out for: canapé sized cakes that you’ll need to take a break for
  • Location: Church Street, Birmingham, B3 2NR
  • Days and times: 2-5pm daily.
  • Cost: £14.50; £21.50 with Fizz, £20.50 for Cocktail Afternoon Tea, £19.50 for “G & Tea”. Or £7.50 for Cream Tea.

 Hyatt Regency

Talking of bygone eras, there is only one place to go for silver service afternoon tea. From the outside, the city’s most established 4 star hotel looks very modern, although now over 20 years old. As soon as you are helped through the door by the doorman, you enter old school charm.

Staff pull out the chair for you to take a seat in the light and airy Aria restaurant while the piano tinkles in the background. Once they have taken your order, they come back to gently place a linen napkin on your lap. I feel the Hyatt are just one step away from a bell on your table to draw attention to your staff and white gloves.

The two bite crust-free sandwiches are what you’d expect, the mini scones perfect for the dainty fingers and the cubed brownies exactly what you need when dining with chatty guests. As long as you are served bottomless tea or coffee, which has varied on my visits, this place is perfection.

  • Take: your nearest and dearest to celebrate an occasion
  • Look out for: the Patissiers selection & the setting; it’s pure old school charm.
  • Location: 2 Bridge Street, Birmingham B1 2JZ
  • Days and times: 12-5pm daily (12.30-5 Sunday)
  • Cost: £19 per person; £28 for Champagne Afternoon Tea, £30 for the Rose Champagne Afternoon Tea

Please note: The Hyatt is currently undergoing a major refurbishment and will be back with a new menu and photos soon. Please check all the details when making your reservation.

Boston Tea Party

Bang up to date but it still feels like it’s a forgotten time as BTP bring their west country charm – and clotted cream to Birmingham. Order at the till and bag yourself a diner style comfy booth to  enjoy a tea or coffee while you wait for your tea to be prepared.

Finger sandwiches included smoke salmon or cucumber and cheese and arrive on traditional tiered serving dishes along with cakes and of course scones with Cornish clotted cream.

This tea is for the everyday occasion and rather than white linen napkins and silver service, there is homemade charm and the knowledge that all the ingredients are sourced from the west country. Now, does the cream go on first or jam? Are you going for the Devon tradition or Cornwall?

  • Take: all your mates
  • Look out for: Actual Cornish Clotted Cream
  • Location: 190 Corporation St, Birmingham, B4 6QD
  • Days and times: Open Monday to Saturday 7am-7pm, Sunday 9-6pm.
  • Cost: £9.50 per person (min 2 people); £4.50 per person (minimum 2) Cake Plate; £4.50 per person Cream Tea. (Advise check availability of afternoon tea in advance, especially for larger numbers)

I have had other afternoon teas but these are the ones I recommend. Please add your favourites to the comments below and I will make it my priority to get there all in the name of research.

Words & photos* by Rickie J, editor & founder and Birmingham's Chief Cake Taster @BrumFaves @RickieWrites

*With thanks to Hyatt Regency for their Afternoon Tea photo.

Cocktail Maker & Shaker: Antony, Rose Villa Tavern

 

By Rickie J, Editor.

In the first of a series, I’ve tracked down Antony, who creates the potions for the old style boozer-esque, Rose Villa Tavern in JQ.

What or who got you into cocktails?

I started in the industry as a bar back, seeing the bartenders creating these mystical concoctions and the guests enjoying them and sharing special moments over these drinks really amazed me. My managers at the time Carl Finn and Matt Burke started to give me research to do on various drinks and it was when I realised the history and  processes behind the liquid/s that really sparked the passion.

Which are the easiest to make?

Antony felt this depended on where you work. ‘At the Rose Villa Tavern, we sling out porn star martinis and Bounty's like they're going out of fashion so the bartenders can make them with their eyes closed. Whereas over at the Jekyll and Hyde ‘they will do the same with their sweetie jars and so on’.

Which are the hardest?

The hardest to make are when you first start to create your own cocktails, making sure the flavours are balanced and measurements are perfect. The name is one of the hardest, I always struggle with this. The first things that come into my head are ridiculous so it has to be pulled back to something that can be put onto a menu for people to see. [I see a Brum Faves competition coming here!- Ed]

What are your predictions for the future?

Bartending has recently come out of quite a pretentious phase where everything has to be an artisan product, the oldest spirit you can find, served in a one of a kind vintage vessel.

With cocktails becoming more accessible to the people on the other side of the bar, I think it is/will become a lot more fun and it will push bartenders to use simpler ingredients to make amazing cocktails.

What’s your favourite to drink?

My favourite drink is a Blanco 100% Agave tequila, the finest spirit (in my eyes) ever made. My favourite cocktail is a Sazerac; this was one of the first cocktails that I learnt the history of and it sparked my love for the bar. Not many places will have it on their menu but any bartender that can make a good one is worth their weight in gold.

Where in the world have you had a great cocktail experience?

Boadas in Barcelona. It's a small dimly-lit room covered in pictures of the bar from the 1030's till the present and a big oak bar. Two bartenders in tuxedos are mixing drinks with no menu. What really got me was the elder lady sitting at the end of the bar without a drink in front of a picture of a Dandy looking gentleman.

We later found out that the gent in the picture had opened the bar and the lady sitting at the bar was his daughter. The entire place was draped in history and it was then that I realised how experiences shared in a bar or restaurant will last a lifetime.

If you could live in any era for its cocktails, when & where would that be?

Now, given the interest in Ant has in the history of cocktails and the story about the bar in Barcelona, I thought Antony may want to have lived in a bygone era of cocktails. But his answer surprised me!

Right now. Every bartender you talk to is excited about a new product or has just made their own infusion or learnt about a forgotten cocktail. The things that are available to us now means we can progress a lot further than ever before with help from the brands, the ingredients, the knowledge, the competitions etc. It's an exciting time for bars and bartenders.

Rose Villa Tavern.  Phone 0121 236 710 or Tweet @RoseVillaTavern   172 Warstone Lane, Hockley, Birmingham, B18 6JW

Take a look at the website here.

With thanks to Antony and Rose Villa Tavern for the photos.

Got a favourite cocktail bar you'd like featured. Contacts on @BrumFaves or comment below.

Wanted: Small Business News

Where is all the good news from the micro business?

You know, the business that is mostly run from home where a shop front or office is unnecessary?

Well from now on, it's going to be right here on Birmingham Favourites!

So send us your good news if you are a micro business, even if you're part time, working from home.

The good news we'd like to know about:

  • New business launch

  • New initiative

  • Event

  • Winning award

  • Anything different

  • Business successes

  • Major life changing news

Please complete the form below or email us with your news. If we're including it, we'll ask you to supply one or two appropriate photos too. And remember, we want to tell the world all about your GOOD news!

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Neighbourhood Watch : Jewellery Quarter

Still the largest jewellery quarter in Europe where 40% of the UK’s jewellery is made, the area is one of the city’s proud heritage neighbourhoods. Situated just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, in fact you can pick up the pavement trail down Newhall Street from the Great Charles Queensway (take a look at Milan’s on route, still serving an Indian lunch buffet for £4.95!), the JQ is awash with restaurants and cafes among the traditional and modern jewellers.

Starting right at the edge with St. Paul's, Birmingham's last Georgian square, there's the Jam House and just around the corner, the Actress & Bishop for your live music mix. The JQ residents are lucky to have a choice of restaurants including the long-standing Pasta Di Piazza  and Henry’s Cantonese.also the award winning Lasan or you can enjoy the private booths of the Vaults. Further into the heart of the quarter, Big Nanny’s give you a warm Caribbean welcome and the Blue Nile is worth eating at just for the stunning Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

There are a couple of traditional watering holes in St Paul’s Square or at the other end of the quarter, there is the smart casual Drop Forge, great for private parties. Around the corner on the Hockley side, The Lord Clifden, with its garden, seemingly larger than the pub itself and with focus on music and food. A few steps down The Church Inn opened in 2013.

At the heel of the clock outside the Big Peg which marks the centre of the area, there’s a diner menu available from Rose Villa Tavern,  the 100 year old pub to restored to some of its former glory in 2011, complete with an array of global beers, real ales and cocktails. Beyond the RVT the traditional Red Lion not to be confused with the recently re-opened Brown Lion.

For a long time, Saints Caffe was the lone warrior of independent coffee shops in the city centre. That itself has recently changed hands to end a superb era but in recent years It has been joined by version two of Urban Coffee Co, Brewsmiths, the fantastic old school café just by the back entrance of Snow Hill, and Pomegranate, the gift shop/tea shop. Coffee can also be partaken in Fredericks which turns into a sleek bar in the evening.

The Quarter has more heritage than I can fit in a cluster ring but highlights are the RBSA which displays and sells affordable local crafts and jewellery and St Paul’s Gallery which is famous for its album cover and pop artwork. There is JQ’s own theatre, the Blue Orange, the Newman Brothers Coffin Works is currently being restored plus the must-see Pen Museum run brilliantly by volunteers. Finally if you’re going to the Jewellery Quarter Museum pop into the delightful Vee’s Deli.

Oh, and there are over 100 jewellery shops and makers that get very busy on a Saturday as visitors come from all around the Midlands to buy quality jewellery at a good price.

All of this is just touching the solid shiny surface of this nugget in Birmingham’s history. You can find out more here or by booking on a tour with the wonderful IABTours. Or pop along to the residents social every third Tuesday of the month in the Drop Forge run by @MyJQ or Likemind on the third Friday of the month, which is open to all at the aforementioned Brewsmiths, who serve bottomless coffee. Get it while it’s hot!

By JQ dweller, Rickie, founder of Birmingham Favourites, who can be reached on @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites or add your comments below.

Mid-week Dinner at Aalto, Hotel la Tour

By Rickie Oh Hotel la Tour! I remember you when you were just a building site waiting to be unleashed from behind the scaffolding and all the staff recruiting had to be done at a nearby faceless room. Hospitality hopefuls came in their droves to be selected for interview, not knowing what Hotel la Tour was going to become or indeed what it was going to look like, four months down the line.

Hotel la Tour dinner Brum FavesYou finally opened in March 2012 and quickly developed a strong local fan-base through your ‘classics with a twist’ (British) and ‘High Tea’ (afternoon tea). That's pretty good for a 4 star hotel whose main clientele is expected to be non-locals.

Every since inviting me to bring some unemployed students (one of my many projects is helping people get into work or business) along to the recruitment day you have worked with me on numerous projects and events and even invented a drink for the man known as my love, as a surprise when we came in to celebrate his birthday last year. (Ask for the Wilson Espresso dear reader; it’s not on the menu so you just have to be in the know, which you now are). HLT, you often invite me in on blogger/foodie/preview days, even though I’d never see myself as a blogger/foodie and can’t write about food for toffee.

Which is why I’ve managed to write these 362 words without mentioning the food once, despite the fact that this is meant to be about the meal I enjoyed when you invited me for a 50% off food deal. But anyway, I had one dish that was new to me - a great burger - and one that I've had before, the lovely pot of Creme Brulee. I bought with me some of the people that help me in championing my beloved local businesses, such as yourselves. So, if you want to know any more, please ask my dining companions @Timmy666 @IanBraisby @SJBTeaching @NotASkinnyMini @LydsBoyce or @Epsebah

Take a look at the changeable menu at Aalto, Hotel la Tour. I recommend everything.

Photos: Burger, Jaffa Cake Pudding and Crème Brule.

By Rickie, cake lover and serial eater (at least every two hours). Not a cook. Contact via @RickieWrites or www.rickiejosen.co.uk

6 Travel Packing Tips: Weight Restrictions Apply

By Rickie I love travel and after being on the go seven days a week, tend to run away from home just about every couple of months.

Having just come back from a week in Bruges & Brussels, I’ve (people) watched a lot of cases being wheeled about. Because the BF and I journeyed by Eurostar, I’m prone to thinking that everyone packed lightly as you have to carry on your own luggage on the euro train. The current rule on this most civilised way of travelling - where no-one asks you to lose half of your outfit before being waved through a scanner and to spill out your hand luggage onto a plastic tray for all to gawp at - is that ‘if you can lift it, you can take it.’ Of course there are some size restrictions but really, whatever you can tightly pack into your case, goes.

Travel packing collageI like being comfortable, I love clothes but want to travel light. How do I achieve this? Here are my top tips for travelling on cloud nine:

Create Space

  • The best tip I can give you is to buy some roll-up up vacuum bags. Firstly they save you so much space that you will wonder, as I did several years ago just how you managed without them all your life.
  • Secondly all your clothes arrive organised rather than random socks running for freedom when you open your case.
  • Finally, the bags protect your clothes from any spillages or rain, that is if you have a canvass bag and it’s being thrown about outside by airline staff while you watch helplessly from the plane. I recommend the ones from the storagefastic Lakeland Plastics (see photo top left)

These boots were made for walking

~~I should preface this by saying I’m not a big fan of the colour black.

  • Choose footwear first then build your outfits around this. If, like me you do a lot of walking while discovering new places then comfy footwear is vital (I’m fine to walk around all day in 4” wedges but choose what’s good for you). If you’re taking brown shoes and say navy, (I’m trying to make this unisex!) then there’s no point in taking black jumpers or jackets as they won’t go with either! No need to be drably neural – although that is so much easier – but if you’re going to take the bright red pair, check how many outfits you can wear with them.
  • Choose footwear that plans to last the extra walking or get your best shoes repaired just before you go.

How to remember everything

  • Or just start making a list the first time you utter the words ‘I must remember to pack’, be that weeks before (holiday) or the morning before (business).
  • Lay out your outfits on the bed and match up accessories/undies/socks/footwear for each. Have you got tops that can go with different colour bottoms, thus creating more outfits? Have you one or two warmer layers that go with almost everything, to pop over outfits during colder evenings or create more outfits?
  • Now that you have your perfect mounds, pack them into those bags and start rolling out that excessive air. Pop your shoes into the case first, packing socks, adapter plugs or toiletries inside them and manoeuvre your bags to fit around them.

Top Tip: If you are taking two cases, separate everything so that if one case is delayed you still have everything you need for a couple of days; one or two outfits, some essential toiletries etc.

Weight Loss

  • Save all those sample toiletries and freebies you get all year, including all those you pick up from hotels. Can you live without your shampoo or daily shower gel for just one week?
  • Of not, grab little travel bottles to pour your regular stuff into (Boots have a variety) and cut up some white address label stickers to label up what’s inside each one. Trust me, you will forget otherwise!
  • On that subject, check if your hotel has a hairdryer and then just take that one hair appliance that will make the difference between a good or bad day.

Top Tip: Take some Fabreeze or similar clothes freshener. Spray on clothes you take off and leave overnight to freshen. Et voila, fresh jumpers and jeans for a second wear!

Laundry Day

  • Wear the heaviest footwear and clothes for travel, preferably layers which also means you’re comfortable in fierce air-con or extreme stuffiness.
  • Dress in something you’ll wear again or on your journey back.

To Tip: Take half the underwear you need and hand-wash with some hotel soap before drying them out in the hotel room while you’re out the next day. Two minutes of this will save loads of luggage space. And less laundry to do when you return.

Forecast the future

  • Check the five day weather forecast (or longer) the day before you go and pack accordingly. I once nearly went to San Francisco in the last days of October with a big coat expecting it to be winter but it was unseasonably warm and up to 25c! So I ditched the big winter coat and just took the autumn one saving me having to carry unnecessary weight.
  • If there is even a minute chance of rain, take a folding brolly (or a big one if rain is a certainty) or a rain hat and mac that fold into almost nothing. You’ll be grateful to have if it does rain or you’ll have another layer for when you’re out in the evenings. Or just something to sit on in it in parks.

Top Tip: For a lovely welcome, make friends with the hotel before you go. You’ll be amazed at the difference in service you receive when you get there, plus they’ll give you insider knowledge including tips on cheap transport from the airport. Pop them a reminder the day before you travel to let them know your ETA too.

Happy Travelling!

What are your travel tips? Please share below!

By Rickie, a storage geek who has a place for everything, everything in its place. Found in Lakeland Plastics (UK) or Container Store (N America). Contact via @RickieWrites or www.rickiejosen.co.uk