Itihaas

Out In Brum - Itihaas Indian - BarThere’s a four tiered system of Indian restaurants in Birmingham (I’ve decided, it’s not official, you understand). Let’s start at the bottom, tier 4, the dives that are frequented by drunks at 2am for a post lager curry – you know them, the Kohi-I-Noor, and the like. Then there’s the tier 3, cheap as chips and tasty, like The Royal Bengal, which we’ve been to many times. Tier 2 are the slightly pricier places with linen napkins, and generally better service and presentation, such as Maharaja and Celebrity Indian. And finally tier 1, which includes Pushkar, Lasan (actually Lasan are probably a special tier 1++), Asha’s, and Itihaas. It is the latter, Itihaas, who have recently had a bit of a makeover and who invited us to a taster evening.

It’s not lost on the owner of Itihaas, Raj, that the location is a bit tucked away from the Out In Brum - Itihaas Indian - Canapescity’s dining centres, and he wants to draw more people in to eat and drink, and to make it a destination. To that end he’s employed the makeover skills of local interior designers Mr. McQueen to redevelop the bar, to make it feel less corporate. The night we attended the makeover of the bar areas wasn’t quite complete, but having seen photos since it looks like a Nuvo/MPW type affair but with Chesterfields. Another place in which to be seen.

I can’t comment on how well the makeover has done because I don’t know what it Out In Brum - Itihaas Indian - Interiorlooked like before. What I can comment on is that the main restaurant has an attractive colonial quality (although a zebra skin in an Indian restaurant?), and that the dark wooden panelling and intricate carvings of the private dining “Tiffin” room feels both intimate and impressive.

We were served a set menu designed to showcase the cooking skills and ingredients used by the enthusiastic team. Before dinner we had canapés: the Paapri Chaat was light and crisp with a truly mouth-watering topping, and the Amritsari Cod was served with a batter so light and well cooked it was hard to tell if it was batter or crisp cod skin we were crunching.

On to starters we tried a spicy chilli paneer, and a fusion salmon and goats cheese samosa.
We also had a Koyla Murgh – that’s tandoori chicken which is served as complete chicken joints hanging on skewers, apparently this is the traditional serving suggestion rather than having it chopped and plated with lettuce.

Out In Brum - Itihaas Indian - LobsterFor mains we had dishes including Kahari Paneer, Makahani Murgh, and lamb chop masala. We also had an impressive dish of Lobster Panchphoran – a whole lobster cooked in coconut curry – not a traditionally Indian dish, but nonetheless it was a showstopper.

 

I’m not a fan of Indian desserts, and I’m afraid they weren’t able to win me around. We Out In Brum - Itihaas Indian - Desserttried a chocolate samosa with apple and ginger, and halwa pastry filled with chocolate and apple which was served with kulfi. There was nothing wrong with them per se but Indian desserts just don’t seem to blow my skirt up. They were served on slate. Ugh. The scourge of many an OCD diner who doesn’t want ice cream running off on to the table.

Out In Brum - Itihaas Indian - Tiffin Private DiningThe verdict – the food was excellent, seriously tasty stuff. The Tiffin room is a gorgeous space for a special occasion, and the rest of the restaurant is also attractive. It is around £40 a head for a la carte dining excluding drinks, which does put it at the top end of the Indian restaurants in my previously defined “tier 1”. We’d go back for a special occasion, but for me at least, Lasan has pipped it to the post for Brum’s top Indian restaurant.

Posted in Area: Colmore Business District, Area: Jewellery Quarter, Cuisine: Indian, Price: Get your dad to pay - above average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bar Opus at One Snow Hill

The trio who brought you Opus Restaurant a decade ago, and then Cafe Opus last year, are bringing you Bar Opus at the One Snowhill development in the Colmore Business District.

Cafe Opus Outside with heatersThe venue will serve you breakfast and lunch, and then after work it will bring a touch of Barcelona and Copenhagen to the city.  Their chefs will create a selection of sharing plates in an open kitchen – with the price decided by the colour of the dish in which they are served.  Customers will be encouraged to interact with the open kitchen and even make requests for dishes they may have tried in recent weeks. In addition, a selection of draught and bottled beers will be complemented by an excellent wine and cocktail list.

Ann Tonks, one of the trio of founders, said: “The area at this end of Colmore Row is a realOut In Brum - Revolution Bar - Cosmopolitan Cocktail destination for those looking for bars and restaurants and we’re excited to have secured a prime location so close to Snow Hill station. The building is home to great professional businesses like KPMG, Barclays and DWF and the fact that Wragge Lawrence Graham are now ensconced in Two Snowhill and the HS2 construction headquarters are moving to the building is an indication of how the area will continue to develop over the coming years”.

We’ve always loved the food in Opus and Cafe Opus and their winning formula will doubtless translate well in to this new 120 capacity bar when it opens in November in the business quarter.

Follow developments on twitter @BarOpus.

 

Posted in Area: Colmore Business District, Article, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Cocktail Bar, Venue type: Restaurant, Venue type: Wine Bar | 3 Comments

Getting Our Rocks Hot at Moor Hall

Out In Brum - Moor Hall - Hot Rocks - ExteriorAgain we ventured far beyond our normal comfort blanket of the inner ring road to the dizzy distances of Sutton Coldfield, to a Best Western hotel for dinner. I know, right! Having plucked up the courage and boarded our public transport for Sutton, and our eventual destination of Moor Hall Hotel & Spa, we were given some mixed feedback from some of our friends and followers on Twitter. It appears to be a venue that some have loved and some have hated in the past.

Moor Hall is a 4 star Best Western Premier property. On the approach I did wonder about the route our local friends took us. After a few suburban roads, a short-cut down a cul-de-sac, and a wander past the golf club we came across what is in fact a rather splendid looking country house dating from 1905 (the current version, the earliest records show a Moor Hall on the site in the 15th century).

We were dining with friends for a long overdue catch up and decided to make the most of the weather and opt for the more informal dining option on the terrace, with lovely views of the golf course.  There are several restaurants in the hotel with different menus, so do check out the website to understand what they offer.

Out In Brum - Moor Hall - Hot Rocks - Ham HockFor starters we tried the Ham hock terrine with crispy smoked Brie & apple, and the Potted crab with dill butter and cider bread. The ham hock was prettily presented with three generous slices of ham sandwiching two crispy melt-in-the-middle breaded balls of smoked brie accompanied by apple puree, slithers of fresh apple and pea shoots. A combination that worked really well. We also tried the potted crab, which was cool and tasty and served with crisp bread.

We are not massive fans of theatrical dining options, I’ve complained many times about food served on roofing products and chopping boards.  This time however, after a tip off from Birmingham dining twiteratti @richardpope (you probably know him, everyone does), we opted for main courses served on sizzling slabs of hot volcanic rock.

Out In Brum - Moor Hall - Hot Rocks - FilletThe premise of the “Hot Rocks Menu” is that the food is brought to you uncooked, alongside an extremely hot rock, and that you cook it yourself on the rock. The best steak I ever had was in a tiny Portuguese village on a hot rock, so I had high expectations. We ordered a variety of main courses, including fillet of local beef, tuna steak, and halloumi with sweet pepper skewers.

The beef fillet was juicy, and the experience of cooking it just-so was as delightful as I found it in Moncarapacho. The beef was served with Portobello mushrooms, beautiful heritage tomatoes, and crisp onion rings. We also had hand-cut chips which were served perfectly Armadillo – soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, Armadillo!

All of the hot rock dishes come with a garden side salad and a choice of new potatoes, hand cut chips or sauteed potatoes with shallots and bacon. All were good. The tuna steak and the halloumi mains went down a treat too. In fact we couldn’t fault the food.

We rounded off the meal with a tasty Amaretto torte with coke sorbet. I did have my Out In Brum - Moor Hall - Hot Rocks - Brownie Coke Sorbetdoubts about how well this would be executed but I can say the warm and tasty tart was well received with a crisp top layer and moist succulent middle which went well with the coke sorbet. (I apologise for the poor quality photos but it was getting dark outside by this point of the night).

The Hot Rocks menu is available lunchtimes and evenings, 7 days a week on the terrace. Price depends on the choice of main but a single course starts at £16 and goes up to £30 for 3 courses if you choose the fillet. Given the mixed feedback we’ve had from friends on eating in the main restaurants, we’ll have to go back and try them soon…

Posted in Area: Out of Birmingham, Cuisine: English, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: Average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bare Bones Pizza

Out In Brum - Bare Bones Pizza - LogoOver the past few years the trend for quality street food across the UK has rocketed.  Birmingham has long held its own in the street food steaks with events like Digbeth diner, Brum Yum Yum’s lunch market at The Square, and various farmers markets becoming a weekly feature of the city centre and many of the suburbs (notably Moseley farmer’s market).

Recently we’ve had curries from Canoodle, brilliantly dirty burgers from The Meatshack,Out In Brum - Bare Bones Pizza - Mike burgers on a Krispy Kreme doughnut from Original Patty Man, Mexican from Habanero, toasted sandwiches from Jaberwocky, and for afters waffles from the Bournville waffle company.  The most recent entrant to the Brummy Street Food scene though is a father and son team, Mike and Tim, in their portable pizza wagon – Bare Bones Pizza. The name “Bare Bones” relates to the ingredients being natural and organic.

 

Out In Brum - Bare Bones Pizza - Tim and OvenAfter Mike sampled the delights of street food on a Thai holiday, and Tim returned from a
year living in Vietnam where he’d often eat on the streets, a chance reading of an article about the UK’s street food scene spawned an idea to set up shop in the midlands.  Mike had already built a career in catering from working aboard the QE2 and then in some more landlocked institutions, so it seemed a natural step to go it solo.

So pizza!  A local company, Dingley Dell Ovens in Kidderminster, provided the wood burning pizza oven, and a Citroen van was converted and fitted out fit for any dough slinger.

On a stormy August day we popped along and tried some of their crispy pizzas.  I tried theOut In Brum - Bare Bones Pizza - Frontage “Fishbones”, which has black olives and anchovies.  In Italy I ate more pizza than I care to remember, and I can say that these guys know what they’re cooking.  A super thin base was served crisp and a tiny bit charred with a light tomato puree, salty anchovies and strong olives.  Delicious.  We also had the “Bonefide” meat pizza with Pepperoni, N’Duja spicy Italian sausage, and Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese.  Again, the base was crisp, and the ingredients tasty.

This Wednesday 20th August ’14, they’ll be at the Birmingham Victoria Square Fine Food market – so if you’re around go and get a super lunch for around £6.

Out In Brum - Bare Bones Pizza - Fishbones PizzaNot only was the food super, unlike so many new businesses we interact with, the guys were really on the ball.  They’re looking to cater small private parties, functions, festivals, corporate days and all food related events, so give them a shout if you fancy a slice at your next birthday bash.

You can see the schedule of events they’re attending here, or go to their website for further information: http://barebonespizza.co.uk/

Good luck guys, although if you keep churning out that food, so professionally, you won’t need it!

Out In Brum - Bare Bones Pizza -  Van

Posted in Article, Price: Average, Special Event | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Le Monde Fish Bar & Grill

Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - ExteriorBeing one of the UK’s most landlocked cities, Birmingham was never going to be a pescetarian’s playground.  Yes there are restaurants with a few good fish dishes (I’m told San Carlo is the best, and the fish offerings at Côte and Andersons are always good), but no “fish restaurant” per se.  Enter Le Monde Fish Bar & Grill.  A stalwart of the Cardiff dining scene the Birmingham branch has opened, after a delay of a couple of months, above Café Rouge in Brindley Place.  We visited in the opening week to celebrate finally exchanging on our new Harborne home.

The entrances are a little hidden, so do pay attention if you’re trying to find it.  There’s oneOut In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Restaurant on just either side of Café Rouge, both having steps to the upstairs restaurant (one with disabled access lift).  Inside it’s a bit of a hodge podge of styles.  Reproduction Victorian furniture jars against modern chandeliers and glass cabinets, à la supermarket butchers and fish mongers, that brim with poultry, steaks, whole fish, lobster, and crevettes – a cornucopia of goodies for any gourmand.

Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Meat CounterIt was rather loud when we were there, a crooner with guitarist giving us Nat King Cole and Andy Williams, but in the low ceilinged restaurant it was just a bit too loud for comfort, and we found ourselves shouting over the background music.  We chose a seat at the back, away from the entertainment.  Then comes the lesson.  We were shown the menus, and told that we could order from the menu at the table but we should definitely go and look at the contents of the fresh meat and fish counters and order from the waiter there by pointing at what we wanted.  It’s unusual in UK restaurants that one is confronted with the flesh that Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Fish Counterwill soon become dinner, and it’s not for the faint of heart.  After perusing the aisle, I decided I’d choose from the menu.  I went to a steak house in San Francisco once where the waiter took great delight in producing great slabs of steaks on plates to explain what we could order, and promptly to his disgust I ordered the fish.

We ordered a bottle of Gavi to be getting on with which arrived a little warm, so we asked for an ice bucket to chill it down a little more, which was duly provided.  One hopes the wine waiter doesn’t have a penchant for serving whites at the temperature they like them rather than at the temperature I like them (which is probably a bit warmer than most anyway, due to having Phil at Loki frequently telling me that “people drink whites too cold”).

For starters I had the scallop (with roe, which is unusual) and prawn skewers, it was nice Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Scallop Prawnsand had a good char-grilled flavour.  Could’ve done with more than the dribble of sauce it was served with, and the lemon should have been de-pipped or served in a muslin square.  We also had the calamari which was a little on the chewier side of cooked than it could have been, we did mention that and it was taken off the bill.

For mains I tried the tuna steak with new potatoes.  Again this was well char-grilled and
served perfectly rare, but again the promised béarnaise sauce was rather meagre in quantity.  We also had the fillet steak which was juicy (although maybe a touch over the Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Fillet Steakmedium-rare we’d ordered), served on softened onions, with a pot of red wine and mushroom sauce, and excellent (really!) chips. We also had a side of brocolli with toasted sliced almonds.  Note that most of the dishes are just portions of fish or meat, so you’ll generally need to order veg, spuds, and sauces separately.  To finish we tried the ginger and lemon cheesecake for desert and it was very good indeed, light but fiery ginger working with the tangy lemon.

Service was reasonably swift and very polite, although we did have six different waiting staff attend our table throughout, and invariably that meant there were a couple of mix-ups which then had to be sorted out.Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Cheesecake

After dinner we retired to the separate lounge bar to have cocktails.  I was going to have a
Negroni but they had no Campari, not to worry though because the skilled cocktail waiter made me an Aperol variant of it which was delicious.

With starters, mains, sauces, sides, an average bottle of wine, and dessert, the bill was about £55 a head.  Plus £10 each cocktail.  It is upper end but if I’m honest we had a bit of a mediocre experience when we went.  Bear in mind it had only been open 5 days so it hadn’t had time to bed in really.  We will no doubt be back in a couple of months when everyone’s had a chance to learn their role and understand how the restaurant is going to work.  Good luck to the team there, they obviously have lofty ambitions and with a few tweaks and some time, I’m sure they’ll make it into a fine addition to Birmingham’s ever growing dining scene.

Out In Brum - Le Monde Bar Grill Brindley Place Birmingham - Bar

Posted in Area: Brindley Place, Cuisine: Fish, Price: Get your dad to pay - above average, Price: My eyes are watering - expensive, Venue type: Cocktail Bar, Venue type: Restaurant, Venue type: Wine Bar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Joint Stock

Out In Brum - The Old Joint Stock - FrontageOpposite St. Phillips cathedral The Old Joint Stock pub takes prime position in an imposing Grade II listed building built in 1862.  Originally designed as a library, it was used as a bank until converted to a pub and hundred seat theatre (yes, theatre, bet you didn’t know that) in 1997.  The interior is grand: a balcony overlooks the triple height drinking space with beautiful bar floodlit by an impressive glass dome above, that lights crimson and gold wall coverings, carpets, artwork, dark wooden furniture, and period features.

The bars around the Colmore Business District seem to go one way or the other: there are a few boozers such as Edmunds Lounge and The Old Contemptibles, and there are upmarket dining and drinking establishments like Out In Brum - The Old Joint Stock - BarBureau, Pure, Metro, and Opus.  I can personally vouch for all of those listed.  The Old Joint Stock may be grand, but it isn’t fancy, this one is definitely on the “boozer” end of the scale.  You won’t be coming here after Fumo or Gingers for another cocktail served in a hipster jam jar – it’s pint and pie territory, in fact they sell more London Pride than any other venue in the UK.  We went to check out their Sunday lunch a couple of weeks’ ago.

We tried the Roast Chicken which was served with all of the normal accoutrements: roast spuds, green beans, Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower, broccoli, gravy.  I thought the chicken was a touch on the dry side, and the spuds were a little over done.  Nevertheless it was tasty.  The roast Sunday lunches start at about £11 for one course or £14 for two courses.  We had the Eton Mess as dessert which was plentiful and well prepared, although it would’ve been better served in a glass rather than slopped on a plate.

Out In Brum - The Old Joint Stock - PieI had the chicken and chorizo pie (£13), and think it was much more successful than the Sunday lunch.  It was served with peas, cabbage, a jug of gravy, and lovely mashed potato that was well seasoned with white pepper.  The pastry was a little overworked so perhaps harder than it might’ve been, but I suspect it needs to be as they’re served as attractive slender pies, and it was very full of lovely chicken in a chorizo gravy.  There wasn’t much Chorizo in evidence but the flavour was good.  The food isn’t outstanding but it’s good enough for a feed while you’re out drinking or pottering around town.  Sometimes I want a good pie and a pint, and that’s when I’d come back here.

I mentioned earlier that there is a small theatre upstairs.  It shows some random acts – Out In Brum - The Old Joint Stock - Eton Messfrom comedy stand-up (including fabulously funny Brummy Aaron Twitchen) to straight plays.  Tickets are rarely more than about £12.  We’ve seen the fantastic Barbara Nice there (she got us all Bollywood dancing), and in October there’s a show called “Einstein: Relatively Speaking” which sounds hilarious, and apparently it “features the wurst sausage joke ever”.  Tickets for that are just £10.

A lacklustre performance on the food front but overall a nice venue.

Posted in Area: Colmore Business District, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: Average, Price: Cheap as Chips - Inexpensive, Venue type: Pub, Venue type: Restaurant, Venue type: Theatre | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bluebell at Henley-in-Arden

Out In Brum - The Bluebell - ExteriorBetwixt Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon lies the sleepy town of Henley-in-Arden. It’s 30 minutes by train from the city centre through glorious postcard perfect English countryside, and on a summery Saturday we headed there to try out a Michelin recommended pub – The Bluebell. They’ve been around a while, in fact the Tudor hostelry has been feeding and watering the public for half a millennium, so they’ve had plenty of practise.

For the last decade owners Leigh and Duncan Taylor, and their head chef James Devonshire, have been offering food that has won plaudits including two AA rosettes, and Out In Brum - The Bluebell Belinithe Good Food Guide Midlands Restaurant of the Year 2013. They offer coffee and cake from 10am, lunch from noon, and dinner from 6pm. Obviously there’s an à la carte menu and they’ve also just launched a two course for £10 lunch club, available Tuesday to Saturday, noon till 2.30, and that’s what we went to sample.

The restaurant and bar are intimate spaces with low Tudor beamed ceilings, flagstone and wooden floors, and heavy velvet drapes. The furnishings are eclectic and owner Leigh’s eye for design is obvious with shabby chic furniture, artistic lighting, and quality stemware adding to the overall feeling of lusciousness. The private dining room looked particularly inviting.

The lunch club menu (two courses for £10, or three courses for £15) is changed daily, soOut In Brum - The Bluebell - Interior
you get what you’re given i.e. there are no options. If however you don’t like that day’s offering (I think that’s unlikely) you can of course eat from the normal menu. On the day we went, the lunch club menu comprised Sweet Corn and Basil Velouté followed by Cottage Pie with pickled red cabbage, and dessert of Pavlova with English Strawberries and Chantilly Cream.

We started our lunch with a “Bluebell-ini” (£7) that’s Prosecco and strawberry juice, with a ripe strawberry on the rim. Our first course was the Velouté of Sweet Corn and Basil. Out In Brum - The Bluebell - Corn VelouteServed in a vintage tea cup and saucer the smooth and creamy velouté was well seasoned, piping hot, with light sweet corn and basil flavours. It was served with sourdough bread made onsite from a “mother” dough that Chef James has lovingly nurtured for three years. The sourness of the bread worked well with the sweetness of the corn. As you’d expect The Bluebell are big on using the best suppliers, and the quality of produce shone through, worthy of mention was the creamy butter from Netherend farm, and that they use Aubrey Allen butchers for their meats.

The main was a Cottage Pie, which initially I thought might not be summery enough, but Out In Brum - The Bluebell - Cottage Piethe side of pickled cabbage with star anise lifted it so that it was not at all heavy. The pie itself had great beefy flavours with a good texture, and the mash was fluffy and buttery and attractively piped with crispy grilled edges.

The wine list is impressive and there are 15 by the glass. I went for the delightful Veramonte Chardonnay (£6.25 a glass, or £25 for the bottle). We also had a glass of the Luigi Bosca La Linda Malbec (£7.15 a glass, or £28 for the bottle). Those wine lovers amongst you will know from just those two name-drops that there are plenty of good wines to choose. Not a wine drinker? Worry not, there’s a good selection of other drinks including Purity ales (a local independent brewery).

Out In Brum - The Bluebell - PavlovaIn the interests of fully reviewing it, obviously we had to have desert. A large pink quenelle of crispy sweet meringue was topped with Chantilly cream, roasted pistachios, and English strawberries. A super finale to a summer luncheon.

Monthly event nights are run at the venue for about £40 which includes a three course dinner and entertainment. Coming up in July is a Calypso night with singers and dancers, and then in August there’s a Ratpack night.

I like venues that are run by a small and dedicated team because their passion translates in to the food and the service. That’s exactly what The Bluebell will offer you. Quality produce, well prepared, and served with care and enthusiasm for what they offer. The £10 lunch offer really is extra-ordinary for this quality, so get there when you can. We will inevitably be back, which given that we get a nosebleed when we cross Brum’s middle ring-road, is testament to how much we liked it.  Simply delightful.

Posted in Area: Out of Birmingham, Cuisine: English, Cuisine: Fine Dining, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: Average, Price: Cheap as Chips - Inexpensive, Price: Get your dad to pay - above average, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Pub, Venue type: Restaurant, Venue type: Wine Bar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments