The Scores on the Doors – dismissing the myths…

FHRS 5 Rating LogoWhen entering eateries in Birmingham (and in fact the rest of the England, Wales, and Northern Ireleand) many of you will have seen a tripadvisor style rating from the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in the window or on the door. A business can be rated 0-5, with 0 meaning ‘urgent improvement required’ and 5 meaning ‘very good’. There’s been considerable noise from the local restaurateurs and foodies lately around the scheme, with some of them being less than impressed at not scoring a 5.  Several times we’ve heard comments like “it’s a load of rubbish, you can get a 1 just because a bit of paperwork isn’t up to date”.  We weren’t sure how true that was, so we thought we’d give you some background so you can decide for yourselves whether to pay it any attention.

Birmingham local authority have reviewed over 6,400 venues and the results are available on the the Scores on the Doors website here. Venues are not legally compelled to display the score (although they will soon be in Wales), but you can easily check for a venue’s score online.

The riskiest categories of venue can be inspected as often as every six months, but other types of venue may only be inspected once every two years.  The food safety officer inspecting a business checks how well the business is meeting the law by looking at:

  • Food Hygiene & Safety – how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored;
  • Structural Compliance – the condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities;
  • Confidence in Management – how the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe and so that the officer can be confident standards will be maintained in the future.

Each of these three elements is essential for making sure that food hygiene standards meet requirements and the food served or sold is safe to eat. On the website you can see how the venue scored for each of these categories. Personally, I’m more bothered about the Food Hygiene category than the other two, but I’d certainly expect high-end venues to be scoring a 4 or 5.  If they’re not then they’re surely showing contempt to the Food Standards Agency and to me as a punter forking over considerable amounts of cash for top end nosh.

If a venue does score low the Food Standards Authority will work closely with them to try and improve the score, and will re-score it at the request of the venue – so they don’t have to wait the normal time period to get re-scored if they’ve worked hard to make improvements.

Emma Richbell, Environmental Health Officer commented:

“There are lots of different elements that are important to look at during an inspection on a food business. From the moment I walk in the door, I start getting a general impression of how the food business is run – but often, it’s not until I look beyond the front of house that problems can present themselves.

“Of course, it’s crucial for businesses to be able to prove that food is prepared and stored correctly: for example, that there are good standards of cleanliness around preparation areas, fridges and freezers are at the correct temperatures and that food is labelled and stored correctly. But there’s much more to it – it’s important that ventilation and lighting enables a safe working environment for staff and that food hygiene records are up to date.

“Every business is able to get a 5 – it’s about ensuring that correct practices are followed and the basic principles are the same whether it’s a one-man burger van or a fine dining restaurant.”

So the next time it’s 3am and you’re contemplating that dodgy burger joint, check its Score on the Door to avoid unsafe food…  Who are we kidding, eh?  At 3am, who’s going to care?! I’ve eaten at Mr. Egg (“Eat like a king for £1.50″)! I didn’t need a Score on the Door to know that was a bad idea! But do look before you book the next time you’re making a reservation by checking the FHRS website, and see whether or not there are any surprises from your favourites (sadly, there are quite a few).

On the FSA website here you can find links to their apps on both Android and iPhone, so if you have a smart phone you can check ratings of venues while you’re on the move.

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Marco Pierre White at The Cube – Festive Menu

View from Marco Pierre White's at The Cube BirminghamWith Christmas around the corner MPW on Level 25 of The Cube is gearing up with a new festive menu. We were invited along to give our opinion on it (see our reciprocity promise).

Zooming up 25 floors in the elevator to go for dinner does make the place feel exclusive. The décor is luxe and the lighting tasteful, making you want to sit down and have a special glass of wine or whiskey. I’ve said in previous reviews though that the low ceilings seem to amplify every conversation and it isn’t a place for a quiet drink, but instead a place for a loud celebration. The bar is often thronging and it can be difficult to get a drink. When you do fight through you’ll find Out In Brum - MPW Xmas - Salmon Terrinethe cocktails very well made and a good selection of beers and wines. All at the upper end of the price scale, especially considering you may well end up swigging it next to some lairy rugger-buggers who are the worse for ware and whose behaviour is being studiously ignored by the staff. I’m hoping the charming new general manager John will do something to reduce the crude ebullience of some of its more squiffy patrons.

The Champagne bar is considerably more sedate and has 270 degree views across the city;Out In Brum - MPW Xmas - Potted Duck awe-inspiring candle flickers of buildings in the winter darkness. The private dining room has similar views to the Champagne bar, as it’s a mirror image on the opposite side. It’s a lovely room, seating a maximum of 22, which along with the rest of the restaurant is being redecorated in the new year by the city’s well-known interior stylist, McQueen.

Although it’s badged as a steakhouse the menu is fairly varied. We were there though to try their festive party menu. For starters I had a pretty dish of smoked salmon terrine, dressed Out In Brum - MPW Xmas - Beef Bourguignonwith cucumber strips, and with punchy dill and horseradish flavours. We also had the potted duck, served with crisp sourdough toast and a mild piccallili. Although the duck was tasty it lacked the “potted” unctuousness I’d expect.

For mains, I had one of my top winter favourites – beef bourguignon. I really enjoyed the dish but was disappointed by the lack of meat, just two small cubes of beef in a sea of shallots and mushrooms (you can see from the photo that I’m not overstating the lack of protein). The mash was buttery and hearty. Our other main was roast turkey with all the trimmings, enjoyable but perhaps the turkey was a touch on the dry side.

For dessert, obviously it was Christmas pudding which had good flavour but lacked Out In Brum - MPW Xmas - Christmas Puddingpresentation, and then a lovely cheese board.

A three course festive party Christmas Dinner menu will set you back £40.  We had a lovely Gavi di Gavi at £30 to go with it.

Details of their Christmas offering and other menus are available on their website here:

http://www.mpwsteakhousebirmingham.co.uk/

Posted in Area: The Cube, Area: The Mailbox, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Cuisine: Steakhouse, 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 | Leave a comment

Bar Opus – A quick look at the launch…

Out In Brum - Bar Opus - InteriorIn an age of uncertain financial futures diversification is important if you want to protect your business from the ups and downs.  The Opus team, who’ve successfully been running Opus restaurant for a decade, and for eighteen months the stylish and tasty Café Opus, now add another string to their bow – Bar Opus.

You’ll find them in the shiny One Snow Hill building on the ground floor, serving cocktails, wines, beers, breakfasts, lunches, and evening sharing plates, in their usual understated oh-so-cool manner.  With the arty lighting and grey hues you could be in any smart bar anywhere in the world.

Out In Brum - Bar Opus - MartinisNot in any smart bar though can you sip a Langley’s No. 8 Martini (£8.50) – a recent entry to the gin scene that’s distilled in our very own Langley Green, and that’s taking the UK by storm.  The cocktails we tried were all good, but do have a Martini if you’re a gin fiend like us.  We also thought the Figgy Pudding cocktail (Jim Bean Honey, Fig, Pear, Port, Egg – also £8.50) was impressively different and a real creamy winter warmer. We also enjoyed their own Opus Lager.

We’ll report back when we’ve eaten here.  They offer breakfast 7am-11am, and an all day menu 7am-3.30pm.  Breakfast includes a full English (£9.50), pastries (£6.50), and everything else you’d expect.  The delicious sounding day menu includes delights such as poached haddock brûlée (£8.50), and slow braised pork cheeks (£10.50), while the Out In Brum - Bar Opus - Open Kitchenevening menu post 5pm has just three items – meat or fish sharer (both £14.50) and a veggie sharer (£10.50, I think).  There’s a very open kitchen, so you can sit on the kitchen bar and watch dinner being prepared.

Good luck on the first few weeks team Opus – I’m sure we’ll be seeing quite a bit of you.

 

 

Posted in Area: Colmore Business District, Cuisine: English, Price: Average, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Cafe, Venue type: Cocktail Bar, Venue type: Restaurant, Venue type: Wine Bar | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COMiDA Tapas Kitchen

Out In Brum - COMiDA Tapas - Sea BassWith virtually no marketing or sales push a tapas restaurant opened its doors five weeks ago in the leafy back streets of Harborne, in a converted hairdresser’s shop, next door to what was the frontage of Acorn Antiques. No Victoria Wood slapstick antics or paisley here though, thank goodness. From the street the bright front room looks inviting, with tapas bar and stools running around it. I always expect a level of Spanish kitsch in tapas restaurants – castanets, burnt umber paint, and distressed farmhouse tables with wrought ironwork. COMiDA however looks more like a trendy Soho eatery than a down at heel neighbourhood restaurant; think filament light-bulbs, white walls, and designed Out In Brum - COMiDA Tapas -Anchovies Boqueronesseating.  That’s probably due to the fine art trained eye of co-owner Jade, she and head chef Stewart have traveled widely but return to Spanish cuisine as a favourite.

Out In Brum - COMiDA Tapas -  Prawns GambasIt’s Bring Your Own Booze so we rocked up with our bottles of reds and whites (which were obligingly refrigerated) not really knowing what to expect, as BYOB joints can in my opinion be hit and miss. We were a table of eight, and there were already seated a table of twelve, a two, and a table of sixteen. It was pleasantly noisy.  A note of warning: do not drive to the restaurant. Seriously. Don’t. It’s in a residential area and you’ll really struggle to get a parking space. I suggest you park up on the car parks on Harborne High Street or better yet get the bus so you can have a tipple.

The restaurant serves tapas in the traditional way – small plates to share (or not) Out In Brum - COMiDA Tapas - Steakdelivered to the table as they’re ready. As we were a hungry eight, we decided to order the whole menu. Twice. That may sound excessive (it was) but some of the plates are quite small and inexpensive, and you can definitely have a good value feed here.  I won’t go over every morsel but there were some really lovely dishes: corn fed chicken with mojo sauce; grilled squid and garlic mayo; acidic anchovies with sweet part dried cherry tomatoes; goats cheese and butter-soft beetroot; rare steak with onion; fig with ham and honey; tortilla Espanola.

My favouritism is reserved for very few places, but after one visit this is definitely on the Out In Brum - COMiDA Tapas - Cheesefavourite list, with the likes of Loki Wine, Anderson & Hill Deli, and The Pickled Piglet.

Top job Jade and Stewart, I suspect we’ll be seeing quite a bit of you.

http://www.comidatapaskitchen.com/

Posted in Area: Harborne, Cuisine: Spanish, My Favourite Places, Price: Average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bistro 1847 – Sharing and Tasting

Out In Brum - Bistro 1847 - MontageVeggie restaurant Bistro 1847 is just about to reach its first birthday, and when we heard the menu was changing we thought it was definitely time to go back and review again.

Most people when thinking of veggie food conjure images of stuffed peppers and mushrooms or meat replacement products like tofu.  You’ll not find any of that here.  The food is original and vibrant, and very very tasty.  It’s also considerably achieved in terms of technique.

From his small kitchen Chef Alex Claridge (a dead ringer in face and public persona to Jack Whitehall) summons molecular cookery and classic techniques to bring you dishes such as Out In Brum - Bistro 1847 - Beetrootgarden pea mousse, with black sesame crisps, broad bean, and Yorkshire fettle; or pickled candy beet, spiced honey & smoked yoghurt, salt baked beetroot, rosehip, and beet falafel; and desserts such as the Allotment aero (the best bubbly minty creamy chocolate you’ll ever have).  Alex’s excitement about the food is absolutely visible in every dish.

The new menu is a departure from the strictly à la carte offering they used to have.  Now it is split between smaller plates, sort of like veggie tapas for sharing, larger versions of the smaller plates if you want a good feed and don’t do Out In Brum - Bistro 1847 - Barleysharing (à la “Joey DOESN’T share” from friends), and also a set taster menu.  The small plates average around £6.50, with the larger versions around £13.  There are two taster menus, £27 for 6 courses Monday to Thursday and Friday and Saturday lunches, or for that special Friday or Saturday night dinner £40 for 8 courses.  They call these “first date” menus – I think anyone would be dead chuffed to be taken on a date here.

Bistro 1847 is one of my favourite restaurants in Birmingham.  It may seem fairly casual, but the plates of food are more like something you’ll find in the considerably more expensive fine dining establishments.  Great value, great food.

You can read our previous review of Bistro 1847 here.

Posted in Area: Colmore Business District, Area: Great Western Arcade, Cuisine: English, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: Average | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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