Gaucho Electro Brunch

Out In Brum - Gaucho Brunch - InteriorNote this is a write-up of a freebie as we were guests of the restaurant.  We pay for almost everything we review and when we occasionally do a freebie event we’ll tell you and be as critical as usual.  See our reciprocity promise here.

Gaucho restaurant opened in Birmingham just a few months ago.  They’ve taken a basement unit in the newly refurbished 55 Colmore Row building, and what a transformation they’ve made to it.  It could’ve been a dark and dingy claustrophobic box, but they’ve pulled off a cool and cosy hideout.  One steps off the street in to a reception that acts as a transition area, protecting the plushly carpeted inner sanctum from the pedestrian brightness and noise of the Out In Brum - Gaucho Brunch - Drinksoutside world.  The space is broken up by comfy booths, lit column “trees”, and white pathways, which give a sense of separation and privacy between the tables.  Stemware is fine, seating comfortable, and lighting subdued; this is a place to escape from the real world for an hour or three.

Which is what we did last Saturday morning.  We were invited to the newly launched Gaucho all inclusive Electro brunch.  Priced at £45 per head and running from 11am till 4pm, you can sit for two hours ordering plate after plate and drink after drink from the Electro Brunch menu, while upbeat music plays.  The menu is classical brunch, with plenty of eggs, plenty of pork, toast, sweet treats, and of course, booze.

What we needed at 11am on a Saturday was some booze to bring us around from the Out In Brum - Gaucho Brunch - ChorizoFriday night hangover.  We tried the Argentinian fizz Domaine Chandon (yes, that Chandon) which was not quite fine enough for me, however the Bloody Mary I had was excellent: fresh zingy tomato juice, with a slug of vodka, plenty of ice, and plenty of spice.  I also had  a delicious refreshing Aperol Spritz.  I thought about having a juice or a coffee but I couldn’t bring myself to do it when there was free flowing spritzes on offer.  I did try an orange, carrot, and ginger juice which was good, and the apple, cantaloupe, and mint juice was refreshing – although we always think melon juices are better with Midori (joke!).

The service was not impeccable, but it was a PR event and they were taking multiple plate-at-a-time orders from more than thirty people which I think took its toll on the stylish waiting staff and the normal order of things.  I’m assured the service from the is usually spot on.

Out In Brum - Gaucho Brunch - French ToastNow to the main event, the food.  Our table tried pretty much everything.  First up the mini croissants with peanut butter dulce de leche which were a sweet and salty buttery start.  Then to the oven baked chorizo sausage, which by rights should be called the Gaucho Full English in my opinion, which included a delicious spicy baked chorizo, plum tomato, mushrooms and a fried egg, all super hot served on a small skillet.  For my final dish I tried the fried provoleta – breaded and deep fried soft cheese, very rich and decadent.  The bacon sandwich, french toast, beans on toast, and Gaucho Benedict with Salt Beef instead of ham was all good.  The star of the show though was, unsurprisingly
Out In Brum - Gaucho Brunch - Exteriorgiven it’s an Argentinian steak house, the Steak and Egg – a small but super tasty and tender steak with a fried egg, absolutely delicious.

Everyone says Gaucho steak is excellent so it’s on our list of places to try for dinner, but given the price point it’ll wait for a celebration of some type.  I thought £45 per for brunch was a bit steep, but the drinks are great, the place is beautiful, and the food is really really good.  If you want cheap then feel free to go to the Wetherspoons for a five quid breakfast and a pint of mild.  This place is for luxuriating in style, consuming excellent food and cocktails.

Posted in Area: Central Shopping, Area: Colmore Business District, Birmingham Restaurant, birmingham restaurant review, birmingham review, Cuisine: Argentinian, Cuisine: Fine Dining, Cuisine: Steakhouse, Price: Get your dad to pay - above average, Price: My eyes are watering - expensive, restaurant review, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Architect-turned-photographer to stage first exhibition at Bar Opus

The man who helped to drive city centre redevelopment in Birmingham has joined forces with Bar Opus, the leading independent city bar, to stage an exhibition of his photographs.

Philip Singleton’s Pause Project, which features 12 images of buildings that are in a state of transition, is the third art exhibition that the bar at One Snowshill has showcased this year in support of local talent.

Philip, the former CEO of Millennium Point and assistant director of city centre development at Birmingham City Council, is studying for a Masters in photography at the Falmouth University Institute of Photography and says he is looking forward to unveiling his atmospheric images on September 20th.

With a background in architecture and urban development, Philip says his interest in photography grew out of considering the architectural metamorphosis across the city.

“Birmingham has to be one of the most rapidly changing cities in the country and is a master at reinventing itself,” he said. “I wanted to capture and document what is happening and have been able to gain access to spaces that are private or hidden away. These aren’t architectural studies; instead, I’ve focused on another layer of the empty, melancholic spaces that people leave behind.”

The photographs include an empty cell in Steelhouse Lane police station; the safe deposit boxes in the former Municipal Bank in Broad Street; the industrial units at Icknield Port Loop; and the BCU Conservatoire, which has been demolished to make way for the new Paradise development.

To further cement the exhibition’s connection to the city, Philip used Digbeth-based photographic developers Palm Laboratories and framers Harris Moore to create the exhibition.

“Bar Opus has given me a tremendous opportunity to exhibit my work and it has been incredibly generous in its support,” said Philip. “It’s great that a high-quality independent business in the city is helping emerging local artists and I’m excited to have my works exhibited there in the Colmore BID.”

Irene Allen, director, said: “2017 has been a transformational year for us as we’ve sought to bring the work of local artists into Bar Opus. We’ve enjoyed giving a platform to some incredible artists and our last exhibition of the year is another fascinating study, documenting spaces that we don’t normally see. We’ve no doubt that they’ll be a real talking point for our customers.”

Since the beginning of the year, Bar Opus has showcased the work of internationally renowned artist Sophie Hedderwick, art from Birmingham-born innovators Key & Tam, the creative duo behind LOWLFE, and Birmingham artist and owner of Disorder Boutique Mark Howard.

Whilst you’re at Bar Opus, why not make the most of their tie-up in conjunction with Selfridges and local gin distillers Langley’s and give the new Birmingham Gin a try.

This London Dry Gin is carefully brewed with coriander, angelica root, liquorice and orange peel at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham. The chic bottle is decorated with copper foils dots, which are inspired by the iconic Selfridges discs and the 150-year old copper still in which the spirit is distilled, and is avilable exclusively at Selfridges Bullring for £44.99.

Bar Opus at One Snow Hill is now the first bar in town to be serving the Birmingham Gin. The expert booze technicians have created three bespoke Birmingham inspired cocktails to match this new flavour.

Brummie Mary 

Birmingham Gin, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, volcano salt, ground black pepper, sriracha sauce, fresh lemon

Brumtini 

Birmingham Gin, dry vermouth, grapefruit bitters, grapefruit garnish

Midlands Mojitio 

Birmingham Gin, fresh lime, sugar, mint, ginger ale

For more information on Bar Opus, visit www.baropus.co.uk

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Otto Wood Fired Pizza

Out In Brum - Otto Pizza - NdujaDichotomy of architectural style is apparent all over Birmingham, and nowhere more so than the Jewellery Quarter.  Hideous 90s blocks of flats and offices sit side by side with beautiful Victorian temples to manufacturing, some of which have undergone chic refurbishments, repurposed to service the bustling village community that’s been built there.  And so to Caroline Street, just off St. Paul’s Square, where a building that used to house part of the biscuit factory has been turned in to The Eight Foot Grocer and deli (built in the factory’s 8 foot wide loading bay), and Otto Wood Fired Pizza restaurant.  A former London restaurant manager, Chris James, is behind both ventures.

Although I’ve heard it’s great, I can’t comment on the grocer’s (see what I did there grammar nerds?) as I’m never around when it’s open to try the produce, coffee, and lunches that they offer daily.  I can however comment on the pizza as we’ve eaten there a couple of times now.

The last time was a summer’s Friday evening a few weeks ago.  Straight from work we Out In Brum - Otto Pizza - White Sauceheaded to the brilliant Rock ’n’ Roll Brewhouse for a couple, and then over to Otto’s.  We sat out on a pavement table with a bottle of beer in some rare 2017 sunshine, looking over at the gold trimmed Bloc hotel.  I’ve just noticed on the menu that I could’ve ordered a pre-dinner Negroni or Aperol Spritz, I shall give them a go next time.

This place is about provenance of ingredients.  Coffee comes from Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Roastery, flour from the Cotswolds, salami from Shropshire, and the blue cheese is Colston Bassett.  There’s nowhere to hide on a pizza, the ingredients and their quality must speak for themselves.

There are eight pizzas on the menu, and usually a couple of specials.  It goes without saying that they make their own dough, and have a fiercely hot pizza oven to cook the pizzas in.  I chose the ‘Nduja, mushroom, mozzarella, tomato, and I think it was drizzled with honey (I failed to get a copy of the specials menu).  Sweet honey complimented the the spicy heat of the soft ‘Nduja sausage which packed great flavour.  The base of the pizza was thin and crispy. I loved it, and I think it’s one of the best pizzas I’ve had in Brum.  We also had a pizza with a white sauce base instead of tomato, perfect for tomato haters.

Pizzas will cost you less than a tenner here and they’re made with real care and attention.  The food was great and the service was friendly, I’d highly recommend it.

Posted in Area: Jewellery Quarter, Cuisine: Pizza, Price: Cheap as Chips - Inexpensive, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taxi Cop: Stay Safe on a Night Out

Out In Brum - PC David Humpherson - Taxi CopWe spent about eight years living in Brum City Centre, first near the top of Beetham Tower (that’s the top of the Radisson hotel building on Holloway Circus Roundabout aka “Pagoda Island”), and then near the top of the Orion Building tower opposite The Mailbox.  While our reasons for moving out to leafy Harborne were numerous, part of the push was the unbearable amount of queuing traffic on the roads around our apartment, largely due to the rebuild of New Street Train Station.  Worst of all though, when trying to get our cars in and out of the building, were the bloody taxis.  It was through our despair at being told by at least one cab driver to “report me mate, we’re untouchable” that we started to chat to Birmingham Taxi Cop on Twitter, aka PC Dave Humpherson.

PC Humpherson has been policing the streets of Brum for the past 14 years trying to enforce the various Taxi laws to make sure both drivers and punters are safe.  He’s on secondment to Birmingham City Council licence enforcement team which deals with all kinds of licensing, not just taxis.

Illegally operating as a taxi isn’t a safe occupation, and quite apart from the legal pitfalls and fines that can be meted out, drivers who’ve failed to follow the regulations have been beaten up and robbed by their punters.  Neither is it safe for passengers to take cars that are breaking the rules, many have ended up paying over the odds, and worse still have been sexually assaulted.  If you have an issue with a car that you haven’t booked and you don’t get the registration plate it’s very hard to do anything about it, booking a car gives you and drivers security that you know you’re getting a bona fide car, and that if anything goes wrong there’s a record of the journey.  Sadly there are lots of examples of unscrupulous people willing to break the law to make a fast buck, and worse still using cars to lure in unsuspecting tipsy people.   There’s an interesting BBC Inside Out article about it here.

The laws and regulations concerning taxis are a complete hodgepodge with both national and regional components.  Mostly it’s regional rules by local councils that controls what taxis are and are not allowed to do, but neighbouring towns like Wolverhampton and Birmingham can have greatly different rules.  What with the advent of smart phone application booking of cars it’s about time central government harmonised how licensing worked across the sector, but as yet there seems to be no appetite for change, so PC Humpherson is getting on trying to ensure that drivers and punters in Brum are safe.  This includes mass operations to check insurance and vehicle issues and also spot checks of cars.

Different types of cars are allowed to operate in different ways.  Private hire cars, let’s call them mini-cabs, can work in any region for which their operator has a licence.  With the advent of Uber and such like that means many cars can pretty much work nationally, but only needs to obey the regulations imposed by Out In Brum - Taxi Cop - Advance Bookings Onlytheir authority.  You’ll note in Birmingham there are a lot of cars registered in other authorities.

Mini-cabs, dependent on size of vehicle can carry up to eight passengers, cannot ply for trade nor pick up anyone unless they’ve been booked by phone or smart phone app.  Bookings must be made by the operator, not by the driver.  If someone on the street is offering to call you a mini-cab, touting, that’s against the rules.  In Birmingham on Broad Street and near Hurst Street there are some taxi marshals but they’re only there to organise the queue of taxis and punters.  Mini-cabs with more than eight seats, for instance minibuses that try to round up groups of students going back to halls, are regulated by the DVSA rather than local council but they must still be pre-booked.  Hackney Carriages, also known as Black Cabs or simply Taxis, dependent on size of vehicle can carry up to 8 passengers, and can ply for trade in the area they’re registered in.  Outside that area they can pick up only booked passengers.  Both mini-cabs and Taxis must be able to provide a price list or tariff.

Legitimate taxis and mini-cabs have to undergo a normal MOT plus a supplementary MOT, and all legitimate drivers are DBS checked to ensure they’re not likely to assault their passengers.  You should be able to tell whether your taxi is legitimate by looking at the license plates or stickers (it depends on the registering authority whether it’s in the window or fixed to the license plate).

Here are some top tips for staying safe when ending your night out:

  • Only get in to a private hire car (mini-cab) you’ve booked, or a legitimate Taxi;
  • Do not approach private hire cars (mini cabs) parked at the side of the road asking them to take you unless you have booked it;
  • Wear your seatbelt – you are required to by law.

If you’ve a complaint about a taxi or mini-cab, ideally you should report it to the licensing authority on the taxi license plate or sticker – try and get the badge number or the license plate number.  PC Humpherson is usually around on Twitter if you have concerns or questions.  You can follow Birmingham Taxi Cop on twitter here.

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Birmingham Pride 2017 – Photos and Write Up

Birmingham Pride Logo 2017Last year I wrote about Birmingham Pride after the awful attacks on the LGBT community at Pulse nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were murdered.  This year I must write about Pride having taken place in a world where Chechnya’a leader Ramzan Kadryov has reportedly organized a pogrom against the LGBT community, rounding up gay men, torturing, and killing them; a time when the “leader of the free world”, US President Trump, has decided that The Whitehouse will not acknowledge LGBT Pride month as it has done over recent years; and even more close to home, I must write up a Pride that took place just a week after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester where 22 people were killed.

It is no surprise that due to the preceding week’s events that we arrived with our friends at Victoria Square to watch the start of the Pride parade somewhat apprehensive.  Many of us had received phone calls and texts from relatives and friends telling us to “stay safe” and to “keep vigilant”, in fear that such a large event, for a cause in conflict to those terrorists’ beliefs who found it fit a week previously to murder children, might attract nefarious attention.  Subdued compared to previous years the crowd applauded and cheered the efforts of our emergency services to keep us all safe, and remembered the victims of the Manchester attack with a minute’s silence.  As the parade kicked off the crowd became more relaxed, and were soon whooping, clapping, and hollering – tolerance resounding across the city as drag queens revelled in sequins and feathers, and go-go boys danced in the street.  Thankfully at around 2pm the national threat level was reduced and the weekend went off entirely without incident.  The security felt super well organised and security checks, given the recent events, were stringent.

And so to the fun, the frolics, the highlights, and the photos.  This year’s pride featured the usual array of drag and cabaret artists, entirely irreverent, and often downright offensive – god help those in the audience who felt like playing their face to Sandra, Miss Jason, and the other seasoned professionals because they were hilariously taken down.  Topping & Butch kept it current with their normal topical political banter – their job must’ve been made that much easier with the advent of Trump, Brexit, and the ridiculousness of the last few months of politics.  Dua Lipa, Boney M, Charlotte Church, Sophie Ellis Bextor and so so many more rocked the main stage to a thronging crowd.  The local joints outside the cordon offered their normal welcome to the weary festival goer who just wanted a sit down and a pint in a proper glass.

We’re already looking forward to next year!

Take a look below at some of the photos we took at the event.

Posted in Area: Hurst Street / The Gay Village / South Side, Special Event | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Otoro Sushi

Out In Brum - Otoro Sushi - InteriorI’ll forgive you that Birmingham may not be your immediate thought when you think about Sushi.  Perhaps your mind wanders to images of naked Japanese maidens decorated with crustaceans, rice, and tuna (that’s called Nyotaimori and there’s an interesting article about it available here).  It’s no surprise your brain doesn’t leap to Brum given it is as far from the sea as it’s possible to be in the UK, yet I’m hoping my review of Otoro will urge you to give seafood more of a chance.

The meat and fish market next to Brum’s well-known Rag Market is home to a six-stool Japanese style sushi bar, that goes by the name of Otoro, a word that refers to the fattiest part of a tuna fish.  The sushi bar has been open for a while and has developed somewhat of a cult reputation, partly for the wonderful food, partly for the unusual location.

Out In Brum - Otoro Sushi - Sharer BoardOn entering the market there is a noticeable fishy note to the air from the many stalls selling a grand array of fish and seafood.  The market is worth a visit for the best fish in town and the many knowledgable fishmongers will help you select fish, completely prep it for you, and even advise on how to cook it.  I wasn’t there for the shopping though, I was just nipping in to Otoro with two colleagues for a swift Friday lunch, rather than my normal weekday lunch which I generally eat al desko.

Sushi here can be ordered by the piece, by sets, and by platters.  A ten piece set costs from about £13.  We plumped for a £45 platter between the three of us, including: 8 tuna and salmon California rolls; 6 tuna, salmon, and king prawn nigiri; 4 sweet raw prawns; a load of tuna and salmon sashimi shaped in to flowers; raw thinly sliced scallop (I’m told these are rarely available around Brum); fish roe; and accompaniments (wasabi, lemon, seaweed, and radish).  We also had the Dragon Rolls – California rolls stuffed with tempura prawns and wrapped with avocado and cooked eel.

Chef recommended the Dragon Rolls.  We were trying to order something else but he Out In Brum - Otoro Sushi - Dragon Rollspretty much insisted!  He’s a bit of a character and has a reputation for upsetting his guests both here and at Sushi Passion where he used to work.  I like my chefs temperamental so it worked for me, and frankly I’ll put up with a lot when chef turns out tasty morsels like these.

I’ve not had the sweet prawns before and they were soft and delicious, and the raw sliced scallop was tender and sweet.  California rolls were packed well enough for chopstick eating (no one wants to be dropping half of one whilst taking a bite).  The Dragon Rolls were a real favourite, with great textural difference between the tempura prawn, rice, eel, and avocado.  By the time we ate all of it, we were pleasantly full and in need of a carb come down nap. 

My colleague who is a massive sushi buff thought it all very good, his only slight criticism was that the nigiri rice was “a little bit too compacted”.  I didn’t share his opinion, but that’s possibly because I know so little about sushi other than that I like it.

Otoro offer outside catering for your parties and office buffets or parties at home, it’s the prettiest party food going in my opinion and sushi chefs seem to be part chef part artist – who needs a sea of beige when you can have a cornucopia of fishes and shell food.  You can stop by for takeaway, or order it on Deliveroo if you live close enough and can’t be bothered getting off the sofa.

My colleagues and I loved the place and will definitely be back.  Give it a go.

 

Posted in Area: Central Shopping, Cuisine: Japanese, Price: Average, Venue type: Cafe, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

£3 Million Restoration for Roundhouse

One of Birmingham’s most interesting historic buildings, which we were lucky enough to recently have a peak inside, is set to be brought back to life after being awarded a £2.5m National Lottery grant.

The funding will enable a partnership of the Canal & River Trust and National Trust to revitalise the Grade II* listed Roundhouse into a city base from which to explore Birmingham’s famous canals by foot, bike or boat.

Situated on Sheepcote Street, next door to recently opened The Distillery, the Roundhouse was built in 1874 by the Birmingham Corporation and was originally used as stables and stores. Designed by local architect W.H. Ward, the horse-shoe shaped building has become a real landmark within the city but over the last ten years the majority of it has been steadily falling into disrepair.

The investment from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), together with the combined expertise of two major heritage organisations, will see the building restored to its former glory and rejuvenated as a focal point on the city’s canals.

As well as offering a base from which to explore the canal network, plans for the Roundhouse include a café, a cycle hire and repair workshop, volunteering opportunities and a shared working space. It’s anticipated that The Roundhouse will attract over 50,000 people a year, both from the local community and visitors from further afield.

The people of Birmingham will have an important role to play in the project. There will be a range of volunteering opportunities available and lots of chances for people living nearby and local partners to get involved, helping to shape the activity programme and tell the stories of Birmingham.

A fundraising appeal will also be launched to raise the additional funding needed to bring the project to life.

Local people will soon have the chance to explore the Roundhouse for themselves with events celebrating the history of the building, and encouraging people to explore the city’s canals, set to kick off in the summer. The building has already been used as a venue for this year’s Flatpack Film Festival and the Birmingham Literary Festival.

The £3.3m scheme was awarded an initial development grant of £225,000 by HLF in December 2015 and has now been given a full £2.5m award to enable the scheme to go ahead. Additional funding has been provided by the two partners.

Stuart Mills, Property Director for the Canal & River Trust, said: “This funding is fantastic
news for Birmingham, and will breathe new life into one of the city’s most recognisable and much-loved historic buildings. The Roundhouse will be a fantastic place to showcase Birmingham’s waterways and heritage and inspire people to explore all that the city has to offer.“There’s an exciting future ahead but to realise it we really want local people to join in and get involved whether that be through volunteering, donating money or simply participating in some of the amazing events and activities that will be taking place.”

Lucy Reid, Assistant Director of Operations at the National Trust, said: “The Roundhouse project is all about partnership and co-creation. The end result will be an inspiring and atmospheric space at the heart ofour city’s canal network from which to explore the waterways and the hidden histories of the people who made Birmingham – lamplighters, boatspeople and horses. There will be night-time paddles, ‘untours’, films and events, office spaces and a café. “

The grant has been awarded through HLF’s Heritage Enterprise programme.  It is designed to help when the cost of repairing an historic building is so high that restoration simply is not commercially viable. Grants of £100k to £5million bridge the financial gap, funding the vital repairs and conservation work needed to convert derelict, vacant and under-used buildings like the Roundhouse, into new, usable commercial spaces that can have a positive impact on local economies.

Posted in Area: Brindley Place, Article | Leave a comment