Venice – some quick notes for Scot and other travellers

We’ve just spent a lovely few days in Venice and had a lovely time. Here are some tips from me written quickly while overlooking Barcelona from their Olympic swimming pool which now has a tourist cafe.

VENICE TIPS

We stayed in this super little hotel, a former monastery, away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists, with a private courtyard providing an oasis in the chaos that is Venice:

http://mobile.abbaziahotel.com

Get a pass for the water buses – the vaporetto run by ACTV – unless you don’t mind walking miles and miles. We had a three day pass with airport bus transfer. Note the airport bus included is a local bus so can be a squeeze if you have big cases. In fact big cases are a pain anyway unless you’re staying very close to a vaporetto stop. Cobbled streets are no fun on suitcase wheels. Transfer to airport from the bus station took 30 minutes. There are quicker transfer coaches but those are not included in the ACTV tickets.

We purchased vaporetto passes from here: https://www.veneziaunica.it

There’s useful info on use of the vaporettos here: https://europeforvisitors.com/venice/mobile/articles/venice-vaporetto-fares.htm

Single vaporetto tickets are expensive compared to the passes.

Here’s a PDF of the vaporetto routes by the operator ACTV (read the key at the bottom to understand how you know if lines stop at each stop):

http://actv.avmspa.it/sites/default/files/WEB_mappa_linee_di_navigazione_marzo_2018_A4_venezia_official_APP.pdf

The bus station is at “P.le Roma” vaporetto stop.

Private water taxis are expensive €18 to flag one down then €1.80 per minute!

We took a trip to Murano and had some lunch and a beer and a wander round the shops.

We enjoyed pizza and ham and melon (retro!) at Ostaria al Vecio Pozzo, (recommended by Emma from El Borracho), round the corner from there you can get an Aperol spritz before dinner at a bar (it’s one minute from the restaurant) Pizzeria Calle Sechera https://goo.gl/maps/F3q99NTnjwy

Pizza at Al Vecio Pozzo:

Google directions do not seem to work in Venice but you can use it as a map at least.

We loved having beers and cicchetti (Venetian tapas) outside Al Parlamento. Many bars will have cicchetti at a euro or two a piece.

View from Al Paramento:

Go up the campanile tower in St Mark’s square but purchase queue jump (skip the line) tickets from here, making sure you get to the side door and knock precisely at the time on the ticket. https://www.venetoinside.com/attraction-tickets-in-veneto/tickets/st-marks-bell-tower-skip-the-line-entry/

Many places on and near St Mark’s square are hysterically expensive (think €24+ for two espressos). Behind St Mark’s square we had coffee and beer reasonably priced at Osteria Calle 21 https://goo.gl/maps/GrqM5Npq55M2

St Mark’s:

Behind St Mark’s, go past left of it and hug the side of it to get to the cafe:

The view from Osteria Calle 21:

Gondolas are terrifying and they’ll cost €80 for thirty minutes. I suggest getting one from Santa Sofia gondola station between the Rialto bridge and “Ca’ d’Oro” vaporetto stop. It was suggested to us by our concierge who was lovely. It’s not too busy and takes you past Marco Polo’s house and also the Rialto bridge for a great selfie. If you go for a gondola by St Mark’s the water can be very choppy.

If you want to tip at bars and restaurants just round up a couple of euros. Service is typically Italian so try not to be in a rush anywhere!

Enjoy!

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I like graffiti… but is it art? Let’s tour Brum’s Street Art!

Street art in Harborne on instagrammer Yipski's house by Cheba of BristolGraffiti – is it art?  Of course it is!  Our friend, and Birmingham grande dame of street art @yipski, has come in for some outrageous criticism for commissioning Bristol artist @cheba to paint a wonderful mural on the otherwise-dull side of her Harborne home.  We love it, and I’ve been entirely bemused by the mean-spirited responses it’s received on our community facebook page.  You can see for yourself here how beautiful it is, from this photo I’ve taken of it this week on its completion.  Also catch up with @yipski’s instagram to see her street art snaps from around the world.

Timely then it was to find out about a new Birmingham Graffiti self-guided walking tour route on “Run Walk Cycle Birmingham“, a free app available on Apple and Google Play Screenshot from Walk Run Cycle Birmingham showing graffitistores and developed by Brummie entrepreneur Ian Bush at Innovation Birmingham at Aston University Science Park.  It’s also available on their website here.

Ian’s plan is to release Walk Run Cycle city based apps around the world. Each city app will be free to download and feature the best curated selection of local walks, runs and cycles in each city.  Perfect for tourists wanting to see all the main sights, business visitors wanting to know a safe running route to take at night, or locals wanting to take the family out on the bikes.  Walk Run Cycle Birmingham has already achieved thousands of downloads only a few weeks after being launched.

The Birmingham Graffiti route is about 3 miles long, and will show you art from Birmingham based graffiti artists like Justin Sola, as well as international artists that created work for festivals in the city in years gone by.  Ian says it was one of the most fascinating tour routes he has worked on and was stunned by some of the artwork.  But don’t delay, graffiti art has a bad habit of disappearing when Screenshot from Walk Run Cycle Birmingham showing graffitinew developments are built, so get out to view these now!  Ian went on to say “it’s such a shame so much of the graffiti art gets destroyed, but fortunately new works come along to replace them so I’ll be keeping my eyes open to alter and update the tour where necessary!”

As we head in to the autumn it seems like a great way to get out for an hour to take some air and some sunshine, and to stop by the many pubs and bars near the graffiti hotspots for a beer and a bite to eat.

(Photos of graffiti in screenshots courtesy of WalkRunCycle.com)

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Twins to revitalise The Boathouse restaurant in Sutton Coldfield

Twin brothers from Sutton Coldfield who trained under Michelin star chefs are to breathe new life into a landmark local restaurant.

Scott and Steven Lewis, having worked for many years in some of London’s top restaurants including Quaglinos, La Tante Claire and the The Halkin Hotel, are revitalising The Boathouse restaurant in Sutton Park.

The pair, who trained under Michel Roux Jr at infamous Le Gavroche after studying at the Birmingham College of Food (now UCB), say it’s a dream come true to take the helm of the restaurant, which will be renamed The Bracebridge when it opens its doors in November.

Having spent 15 years heading up a company that supplied ingredients to the restaurant and catering sector, the brothers never lost their ambition to open their own restaurant.

“We’re very excited to be handed the keys to the restaurant,” said Scott, who lives in Sutton Coldfield.

“It’s a much-loved local institution that has been successfully run by Laurence and Fran O’Meara for almost 30 years, so we feel a huge responsibility in taking it on. It’s long been a dream of ours to open our own restaurant and we feel so proud that we’ve acquired this restaurant in such breathtaking surroundings.”

When it opens, The Bracebridge will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, with finer dining a key element of the evening service. There will also be a separate, more casual menu for the terrace.

“We’ll offer a varied menu, with dishes influenced by our travels, and aim to create a relaxed and chic restaurant that focuses on quality food, using first-class ingredients, for an accessible price,” said Scott.

“The next few months will be exceptionally busy as we create the menus, look for the right staff and prepare for the opening of the restaurant. We’re looking forward to welcoming diners who enjoyed The Boathouse and to attracting new customers who have a love of exceptional food in a perfect and unique location.”

Scott and Steven hope to create up to 30 new jobs – including eight full-time chefs.

Posted in Area: Sutton Coldfield, Article | 1 Comment

Pint Shop coming to Bennett’s Hill

Pint Shop will open it’s doors this October next door to The Wellington on Bennett’s Hill, bringing it’s brand of fresh, seasonal British produce and  selection of local and national ales to the Midlands.

The listed building will be transformed into a bar area on the Ground Floor and 50 + cover First Floor dining room. Pint Shop’s menu’s will provide a new and exciting addition to Birmingham’s already burgeoning eating-out scene. There will also be an, outdoor terrace to accommodate a further 20 guests.

This will be their 3rd site after Cambridge & Oxford. Co-owner Rich Holmes explained, “We’re really excited to be bringing Pint Shop to Birmingham and are thrilled to have secured two of the city’s most experienced hospitality professionals to take charge of our new site.”

General Manager Lee Coliandris joins from the award-winning Plough in Harborne along with Head Chef Mark Walsh from Opus Restaurant heading up the food operation.

Pint Shop takes the spirit of original beer houses – namely craft beer, intimacy and fun – and throws in some killer food cooked on the coals, just as it was in 1830 and has it all delivered in the heart of the city by an amazing people.

“We’re moving into a beautiful building in 38 Bennett’s Hill and intend to keep as many of the original features as possible. We can’t wait to get the work completed and show Birmingham what Pint Shop is all about!”

Pint Shop Birmingham is set to open in October.

Example menu 

‘Dry hopped’ fish pakoras, onion & cucumber salad, coriander & peanut chutney

Bermondsey frier chips, rosemary salt, spiced yoghurt

Salt cod fritters, taramasalata

Steak tartar, black garlic, cured egg

Charcoal spit roast

Beer Brined half chicken & chips

Overnight pork belly, crackling, sweetcorn purée, chilli & coriander

 Coal-baked flatbread kebabs

Devilled lamb shoulder kebab, crispy red onions

Tandoori fish kebab, cucumber raita, tomato salsa, chili, dill

Charcoal Grill

 Lamb Chops, Mint Yoghurt, Summer Vegetables

irty Burger: Rum Pineapple, Cheese, Crispy Bacon, Avocado, Chorizo Mayo

ABOUT PINT SHOP 

Cambridge

In early 2013 we found an empty Grade 2 listed office building in the centre of Cambridge and fell in love with it. The building dates from 1830 and was once a house (E. M. Forster once lived there). It felt like the perfect place to open our very first Pint Shop. 10 months later in November 2013, we poured our very first beer…..

Oxford

Previously a 1970’s building society with Chinese restaurant underneath, we knocked the two businesses together and opened Pint Shop Oxford in September 2016. The first time we viewed it, it had no lights, a burst sewage drain and some furry friends running round- we knew straight away this was the place for us!

Birmingham

Situated in an old office building dating from 1860, Pint Shop’s newest addition will open it’s doors in October 2018.

 

No stranger to accolades, Pint Shop has been recognised for its focus on quality & provenance, with it’s ingredients sourced locally where possible to minimise the environmental tread of the business.

Awards and reviews include;

The Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurants 2017

Observer Food Monthly Awards – Best Bar & Best Sunday Lunch  runner-up 2016 & 2017

The Independent – “A great drinks menu and outstanding food”

The Guardian – “Get ready to indulge….”

Michelin Pub Guide – 2018

The Good Food Guide – 2016, 2017, 2018

The Great British Pub Awards – Best Beer Pub & Best Food Pub

Pint Shop, 38, Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham, B2 5SN

Follow The Pint Shop story here: 

Web : www.pintshop.co.uk

Instagram : pintshopbrum

Twitter : @PintShopBrum

Facebook :  Pint Shop Brum

Posted in Area: Central Shopping, Area: Colmore Business District, Cuisine: English, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Pub, Venue type: Restaurant | Leave a comment

Things are ‘Bloom’ing in Kings Heath

Bloom opened last summer, to much excitement amongst the local foodie scene. Reviews were excellent, and it seemed to be a hit with everyone who ventured through the doors. For some reason, though, we never got around to trying it ourselves. Now, 12 months later, our occasional guest writer Andrew finally got around to trying it and, based on his opinion, it won’t be long before we head over there ourselves!

What do you get if you cross a top chef, a skilled barista and a delightful space in suburban Birmingham? Magic, that’s what!

From the moment you walk in to Bloom, a short walk from the bustling Kings Heath High Street, it’s clear that you’re somewhere a little bit more special than your normal coffee shop. The cool white and grey walls, warmed nicely with light wood tables and flooring, give the place a relaxed vibe. Shelves of plants hint at the name Bloom adding a touch of class.

Ambience is always important, and Bloom excels here, but a place is only as good as its offerings and service. Approaching the counter, I’m greeted warmly by co-owner Alasdair Houston, whose magnificent beard is as much a feature of the establishment as the plants. I ordered a flat white – the best single test of a place’s coffee credentials – while my friend opted for an iced latte.

We took a place on one of the stools at the end of the bar and perused the food menu whilst watching chef Tim Paine working away in the kitchen. One glance at the menu is enough to tell you that this is not your average brunching establishment. Crafted, rather than thrown together, there are options to suit a wide range of tastes. There was nothing on the menu that I felt I wouldn’t have enjoyed, and ordering one of each wasn’t an option, sadly, so between us we opted for the Duck Hash – Bloom’s signature dish – and the Vodka-cured Salmon.

Our coffees arrived quickly – expertly crafted by the barista – with requisite art on top. Taking a sip of my flat white, it was clear that Bloom knows coffee. Hardly surprising as Alasdair has worked in some of the finest coffee shops in the city. In Bloom he may just have created one to surpass the rest. The flat white was punchy, with superb flavours complemented by velvety milk.

A few minutes later our food arrived. Instantly I knew that this was about to become my favourite place to eat. The vodka cured salmon is served on top of a lemon and black pepper scone and topped with a poached egg and a generous serving of spice hollandaise. It’s Eggs Royale, but better in almost every way! The tastes were incredible – mixing together in the mouth in a way I’ve rarely experienced before.

The duck hash, meanwhile, forms the basis of an awesome tower, with spring greens, a layer of creamy sweet potato mash, a huge fried duck egg topped with crispy shallots, all surrounded by a generous helping of delicious duck gravy. Again, the tastes blend together to create a dish that is so confidently crafted that it would be worthy of the menu in any of the city’s fine dining venues.

After the food I felt nicely full, though I did still feel I could manage one of their incredible looking cakes. The Almond and Cherry Bakewell Tiffin was sublime and the slice was huge – but I managed! My friend’s Salt Caramel Brownie, on the other hand, was perhaps a little too rich for an after-brunch dessert. Incredibly delicious but the slice was a little too large to finish – no problem though as it meant he could take some home for later! I washed my tiffin down with a Piccolo which, again, didn’t disappoint.

Having learnt his trade in the capital, Tim has returned to his home city of Birmingham to give us something truly special. Combining very good food with very good coffee Tim and Alasdair have created a relaxed café that stands as a beacon for the rest. In the days when it seems as though blindly following trends is the only innovation – have you noticed that most places are throwing avocado at everything on the menu?!? – it’s great to see somewhere that’s trying to lead rather than follow.

Bloom is open 9am-5pm Wednesday to Saturday and 10am-4pm on Sunday. The kitchen closes at 2:30pm daily. The food menu changes frequently and whilst the food is not cheap, the quality of ingredients and size of the portions represent excellent value for money. The incredible drinks are priced on a par with those in the rest of the city.

In the interests of full disclosure, I went to school with Tim and Alasdair. My review, however, is honest and not tinted by any collegiate loyalty. We paid full price for our food and drinks and, judging by my observations when I was there, were treated no differently from the rest of the clientele.

Bloom – 32 Poplar Road, Kings Heath, B14 7AA

https://www.bloomkingsheath.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BloomKingsHeath

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Pizza Express Live

With the number of UK restaurants going bust up by a fifth in 2017 and the middle of the road fast-casual chains struggling with the likes of Byron, Jamie’s, Prezzo, and Carluccio’s closing venues left right and centre, now more than ever this category needs to evolve and offer something different to attract more diners and survive.

One of these chains may well have come up with a bright idea by looking back to its roots.

Let’s clear one thing up right away. I’m not about to say Pizza Express is going to be the best meal or even pizza you have had, nor that you can get in Birmingham (you have to go to Otto’s Pizza for that). This is about the overall Live Entertainment experience which is reasonably new at Pizza Express Live in the Brindley Place venue.

Founded in 1965 by Peter Boizot, PizzaExpress opened its first restaurant in London’s Wardour Street. Inspired by a trip to Italy, Boizot brought back to London a pizza oven from Naples and a chef from Sicily. This was quickly added to in 1969 with jazz performances beginning at its Dean Street restaurant in London.Now, with an eye to the past on how to stand out from the busy high street crowds, they have extended the live music offering outside London to include Maidstone, and most recently Birmingham.

Pizza Express Live presents more than 2,000 shows each year across its venues and just some of the artists they have worked with over the years includes Gregory Porter, Benny Carter, Amy Winehouse, Brad Mehldau, Bill Wyman, Bud Freeman, Monty Alexander, Jamie Cullum, Brian May, Rick Wakeman, Milt Hinton, Van Morrison, Barry Harris, Cybill Shepherd, Melody Gardot, Steve Ross, Art Farmer, Diana Krall, e.s.t., Larry Carlton, Buddy Tate, George Shearing, Adelaide Hall, Benny Waters, Charlie Watts, Mose Allison, Anita O’Day, Doc Cheatham, GoGo Penguin, and many more.

We have now been to two shows at the Brindley Place restaurant, and have had fantastic nights out on both occasions. The shows in Birmingham tend to be Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays with show times around 8 to 8.3o p.m.

The general gist is that you can arrive from two hours before the show  and take your table for the night. This is yours until the end of the night. We have aimed to arrive around an hour before the show time to order food from the full Pizza Express menu  which usually means we have finished eating just before the show starts (during some shows food service is restricted) though table service does continue during the evening.

Our first visit was a jazz music night.  With it being December and me loving the whole festive season, we plumped for Ian Shaw who is a Welsh borne jazz singer, record producer and a bit of a comedian all rolled in to one. His ‘Shaw Shimmers into Xmas’ show which was touring the UK at the time was mellow and very funny.  He explored the joys, tears, and sometimes shear horrors of the festive season. We left at the end of the night vowing to find another show to return to ASAP in the new year.

After a cancellation bought about by the snow in early March, we made it back to a rescheduled West End Night Off in late April with friends. Having not told them much about the format or the show, we again arrived an hour before the show for pizza and wine. I must admit I actually thoroughly enjoyed my Pollo Forza pizza – chicken with smoked chilli, garlic oil and dried chilli flakes with red & yellow peppers, Roquito pepper, mozzarella and tomato, finished with Gran Milano cheese, fresh parsley and chilli oil on their thinner and crispier Romana base (I am always a thin pizza base kind of guy).

The show turned out to be a surprise to all four of us as it didn’t follow the format we had expected. We had all, incorrectly, assumed the show would be the classics from all of the top West End shows that we all know and love. In fact the name should have been more of a clue than we took from it. Yes the singers taking part came from some of the West End’s top shows including Cats, Wicked, Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors, We Will Rock You, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and more, but as the name suggested this was their night off.

Therefore what we settled down and enjoyed was an intimate rendition of some of their favourite, and often less well known songs from a broad mixture of shows. This was interspersed with anecdotes and stories of “worst audition experience”, “most embarrassing moment on stage” (an over-zealous entry resulting in the lead ending up sprawled on the netting over the orchestra pit in front of the stage) general banter and chat between the songs.

Is this the best pizza or pasts in Birmingham?  No it isn’t.  Is this a good, fun night out, with tasty inexpensive food, either as a romantic date night or as a group of friends?  Yes it most definitely is.

To find out what shows are coming to Birmingham and to book, you can go to the website here: https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/venues/pizzaexpress-live-birmingham

Posted in Area: Brindley Place, Area: City Centre, Birmingham Restaurant, birmingham restaurant review, birmingham review, Cuisine: Pizza, Price: Average, restaurant review, Venue type: Entertainment, Venue type: Restaurant | Leave a comment

Birmingham Pride 2018 – Jake Shears, SuRie, Howard Jones, and Rozalla

JAKE SHEARS

Out In Brum - Birmingham Pride 2018 - Jake Shears - 5You, like almost everyone, will be able to bring to mind an album, or at least one song, that transports you to your late teenage years or early twenties. Whether they were traumatic or fun-filled, our emotional lives are linked inextricably with the lyrics and the sounds of our favourite bands.  For me, it’s the Scissor Sisters.

The eponymously named Scissor Sisters album invokes an emotional night in a sketchy club; all of our group too tired and too inebriated to go home, clinging to each other for support, hoping that this imperfect life-raft of friends, like that of the Medusa, will keep us safe until morning and the inevitable hangovers and embarrassment.

In my early twenties Scissor Sisters’ front man Jake Shears was exotic, and supremely unapologetic for his queerness. Freddie Mercury-esque, but with his sexuality writ large with every leg kick and near nude performance. His energy was so obvious in music videos, interviews, and on stage.  I saw the group perform in an arena some years ago, and loved their camp outrageous staging.  Typical of arena gigs, the chemistry that night with the audience was joyful but maybe not electric.  This past weekend though I saw the undeniable talent of Jake in full rock star mode up close, from the press pit of the Birmingham Pride main stage.  He certainly did not disappoint.

The incongruousness of having him introduced by erstwhile Gogglebox reality TV star Sandra was not lost of me, the diversity of the crowd is usually matched by the diversity of the acts and comperes at these types of weekend festivals, and I’m sure she had no idea who she was introducing to the audience (in fact she told us so).

I look forward to his new album, and we heard a bit of it on the day, but here’s a clip of him performing an old favourite.

 

EUROVISION DIVA – SuRie

We saw SuRie in Lisbon at the Grand Jury Final in the Altice Arena.  She was absolutely brilliant and it’s an injustice she didn’t do brilliantly!  She performed at Pride wonderfully and I think we’ll be hearing more from her soon (I also loved watching her watching Jake Shears!).

 

HOWARD JONES

This was Howard Jones’ first Pride performance and he was telling us that it had special significance to him as he has two gay sons.  The whole main stage audience were singing along with his great hits from the 80s like ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, and ‘What Is Love’.

 

ROZALLA

Another 80s pop sensation Rozalla again had all the audience singing along with her!

 

VERDICT

These were just four of the main stage acts over the Birmingham Pride 2018 weekend and they were just brilliant!  Can’t wait to see who’ll be there in 2019!

Posted in Area: Hurst Street / The Gay Village / South Side, Special Event | Tagged | Leave a comment