UK Burger Battle at Spotlight Digbeth

Out In Brum - Burger Battle - The Flying Cow BurgerLast weekend saw the man that brought you the much acclaimed Rib Nights launch his latest cook-off venture: UK Burger Battle.  World leading street-food burger vendors (“crews” if you’re down with the kids), The Beefy Boys and The Flying Cows, got together on Sunday at the Spotlight in Digbeth to stuff rowdy punters with oozing burgers to garner their votes.  Spotlight is home to the award winning Digbeth Dining Club (our review of that here) which almost every Friday offers Brummy foodies an opportunity to try some of the UK’s finest street-food purveyors.

For the inaugural Burger Battle event we had two challengers.  Firstly The Beefy Boys (@thebeefyboys) from Hereford who have recently returned from being voted the second best burger team in the world in the Las Vegas World Food Championships.  They offered “The Butty Back” – a third of  a pound Hereford dry aged beef burger with slow smoked Hereford beef brisket.  This considerable mouthful, served in a Brioche bun, was topped with Butty Bach BBQ Sauce (named after the beer from Wye Valley Brewery which is used in the sauce), Swiss cheese, American cheese, lettuce, onions, and red cabbage slaw.

The Beefy Boys were competing against The Flying Cows (@Dans_Kitchen) from Rugby. Out In Brum - Burger Battle - The Beefy Boys They have an ex-fine dining front man who has worked in some of the top restaurants both here in Birmingham and in London.  They offered us “The High Flyer”.  This was a dry aged grass fed Dexter steak with Aubrey Allen smoked maple bacon topped with Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese,
pickled red onions, gherkins, FLC sauce, lettuce, and Peel & Stone pork fat brioche bun.

We ordered our tickets weeks in advance as at £22 a head they sell out quickly!  When we arrived we were wristbanded on entry which is your ticket for a burger from each of the two contestants and an arrival drink, and we were provided with a voting slip. We then had 4 hours to enjoy our burgers and the entertainment before the voting closed. There was a bit of a queue for the burgers but it was no worse than other street-food events and the queuing is absolutely part of the experience.  We chatted to quite a few random people about what they thought was good and who was going to win.  The  cheerful burger battle team did a great job of keeping the queues to a manageable level.  Between burgers and while waiting for one of the queues to die down we had drinks from the bar and played retro video games on consoles that were set up in an anteroom.

The burger crews were utterly competitive but were chatty and keen to talk to everyone to share some of their top tips and secrets (though I’m sure not all) whilst trying to get well over 300 burgers per team served to very exacting standards. The pressure was made even more intense for them at the opening event when they were reminded they had just about every food blogger and reviewer from Birmingham in attendance and two Michelin starred chefs who were on the judging panel, and who had also brought their entire brigades and front of house teams to the event.

For both of us and most of our foodie friends there on the night we were in agreement with the judges on The Flying Cows taking top marks. The combination of the sweet bacon with the beef and the added flavour from the pork fat brioche was a great combination. I found that every element of the Beefy Boys entry was superb (I could have eaten that beef brisket all night long) but it didn’t come together as a whole for me.  Nonetheless, it was the people’s choice winner!  So both teams were deservedly awarded.

Out In Brum - Burger Battle - Victoria CreperieAfter we devoured our burgers and wiped down our chins, there was just enough room for dessert from Victoria Creperie who make some of the best cheesecakes you’ll find in the midlands.

Any night from Ahmed Kage would not be complete without his trademark features: a funky soundtrack,  a close up magician to freak us out, and an after party to ensure everyone remembers the event, if only for the hangover!

Thanks to Ahmed, The Beefy Boys, and The Flying Cow – we look forward to the next one.

You can find details about upcoming Burger Battles here.

Posted in Area: Digbeth, Price: Average, Price: Cheap as Chips - Inexpensive, Special Event | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blue Mango

Out In Brum - Blue Mango - FoodBehind The Solomon Cutler pub on Broad Street is Regency Wharf, which is home to a couple of eateries including Blue Mango Indian restaurant.  We were asked to check out their offering, so dragged a few friends along for a pre-Christmas Indian.

It’s a fairly large family restaurant broken up by wooden railings and differing levels.  Dining on the night we were there were families with children, guys out on the beer, and other random groups of friends.  It’s not overly loud like some dining rooms can be, and we were able to have an animated conversation over the generously sized decoratively inlaid table.

Obviously we had to have poppadoms while we reviewed the menu, and they included the cone shaped ones that are utterly hot and spicy.  The dips alongside them also contained a chilli heated raita with a real kick, and a sour mango chutney.

For starters we tried the onion bhaji and the Dosa.  You’re no doubt familiar with onion Out In Brum - Blue Mango - Chicken Tak Takbhaji, and this was a particularly good version of it – spicy and crisp light batter, not at all cloy, with big chunks of mild onion.  You may not have had Dosa before, I think it’s best described as looking like a rolled french crepe.  However they’re made from rice flour rather than wheat flour and they’re rolled and stuffed with a spicy sour vegetable or chicken curry – I opted for the vegetable version as I sometimes find Indian food to be very heavy, and that the veggie versions are equally as tasty and lighter.  I very much enjoyed it and will definitely be having Dosa again.

For mains I had the Kori Gassi, a chicken curry with grated coconut and coriander seeds, – very enjoyable.  We tried the chicken Dum Ki Biryani, which was flavoursome although lacked the promised garlic in the accompanying raita and vegetable curry.  The curry was very smooth, I think I prefer the more normal version with chunks of vegetables.  We also had the Masala Gosht Tak-A-Tak, that’s a dish of lamb served on a bed of onion on a sizzling iron plate.  I think this was really the only disappointing dish of the ten we tried, which isn’t bad odds – it was a little bland we thought, certainly compared to the chicken version of the Tak-A-Tak which we also tried.

n Brum - Blue Mango - Onion KulchaAt this point of the evening I managed to tip a spoonful of orangey red food down the 2 inches of white fabric on my top, and then spent 20 minutes in the gent’s trying to rescue it!

The service was leisurely but pleasant, perhaps a little slower than we’d usually expect, but it was full of very large groups and we were kept well watered so we had a good time catching up.  We washed down our meal with the usual – Cobra beer – but they also often wine, and unusually for an Indian restaurant on this price point, a cocktail list.

I’d recommend it for a family or group gathering to be well fed at a reasonable price, it’sFHRS3
probably less than £35 for two people for two courses with sides.

See our reciprocity promise, as we did get a couple of plates free.


Posted in Area: Broad Street, Cuisine: Indian, Price: Average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bugis Street Restaurant

Out In Brum - Bugis Street at Millennium Copthorne - ExteriorWalking from Centenary Square towards the brutalist inverted pyramid that was until recently Birmingham Library you’ll see two black glass buildings flanking the walkway. On the left side is the Copthorne Hotel, which contains Bugis Street Brasserie – named after the well known Singaporean street food haven. I’ve been to another branch of this Asian eatery in the Millennium Gloucester hotel, and that was excellent (it was swanky, there was a harpist in the hotel lobby), so I was expecting good things.

Both the restaurant and hotel lobby are in a bit of a timewarp it would appear, it couldOut In Brum - Bugis Street at Millennium Copthorne -Interior really all do with a makeover to drag it out of the 90s. The restaurant is divided from the hotel lounge by some low walls with planting, which do little to separate the hubbub of the lounge from diners. Our dinner was accompanied by screeching children, and worse still, a drunk vagrant who twice staggered through the hotel lounge shouting at people without any sign of resistance from the staff – I guess from that this is a normal occurrence. Not at all relaxing.

The service was slapdash. It took twenty minutes to get a beer and a menu. At one point there were four staff stood around chatting for ten minutes about the next day’s roster while we sat beer-less. Finally we were served by a very Out In Brum - Bugis Street at Millennium Copthorne - Starter Platterpleasant waiter, who had a hard time understanding us. For starters we tried a mixed platter (£17 for two people) which included ribs, satay chicken, sesame prawn toast and tasty spring rolls. Our starters were delayed as chef had to whip up some more spring rolls because they’d run out, they were probably the best part of the whole meal.

The mains were a bit of a sorry story. We ordered the Nasi Goreng (£7.25), a spicy rice dish with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables with a fried egg on top. There’s a picture of this dish on a lot of their marketing and it always looks Out In Brum - Bugis Street at Millennium Copthorne -Nasi Gorengtempting. It was however thoroughly disappointing. The fried egg was hard and the rice greasy and bland. We also had the Kung Po Chicken (£8.25), also bland, and with chicken that was chewy and hard, utterly overcooked.

I fear hotel patrons won’t realise that just over the walkway, twenty paces from the hotel, is the lovely Woktastic that serves fresh and tasty Asian cuisine.

Poor service, unpleasant food, in a hotel lounge. We won’t be back.

Posted in Area: Broad Street, Area: Colmore Business District, Cuisine: Chinese, Cuisine: South East Asian, Cuisine: Thai, Price: Average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:

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.

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