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!

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Birmingham Pride 2018 – The Photos

Birmingham hosted an estimated 70,000 people at its two day Pride event that takes place in the gay quarter around Hurst Street each year. The parade kicked off at midday from the civic quarter with thousands of people lining the streets to watch businesses, charities, and social clubs marching through the city, or dancing on flamboyant floats.  See parade pictures here.

The main sponsor this year was HSBC, and it was great to see so much support for Pride from businesses national and local – with representatives marching from PwC, KPMG, Deloitt, Gowlings WLG, Pinsent Masons, NHS, Fire Service, Barclays, JLR, National Grid, and so many more.

It was sad but unsurprising to see on social media some negative response to this outpouring of joy in the city. Such homophobia should remind us of the roots of Pride parades; they were not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but for the right of LGBT people to exist without persecution.

Literally hundreds of artists filled the three stages inside the ticketed site. Dozens of drag artists and vocalists filed through the hot-pink carpeted Cabaret Stage compered by the very rude Sandra.  The Hippodrome’s Kinky Boots cast did a couple of brilliant routines from the show which is coming to town next spring. The dance stage had sets by renowned DJs such as DJ Zinc. Top highlights from the main stage for me were 80s legend Howard Jones, SuRie (our diva from Eurovision), and Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) who brought his unashamedly flamboyant Freddie-esque act to Pride as he starts to promote his new single. He was simply outstanding.

It’s not all about the partying, of course. Over the last five years Birmingham Pride have raised over a whopping £300,000 for good causes around the city. This year it has a focus on homelessness and is supporting SIFA Fireside, St. Basils, and Birmingham LGBT. Apposite choices given a disproportionate 24% of homeless young people identify as LGBT, and of those 77% say that coming out to their parents was a major factor in them ending up homeless [source: The Albert Kennedy Trust].

A brilliant weekend with friends, thanks all who made it so brilliant!

And now, the photos…

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Birmingham Pride 2018 – The Parade Photos

What a weekend!  I don’t know where to start with writing it up!  I know you all love the photos, so here’s a few hundred to be getting along with.  I’m posting a gallery at a time so come back soon for even more photos.  We had an absolutely excellent weekend with friends celebrating the 21st Birmingham Pride.  Well done organisers and staff, the whole event seemed to run like clockwork.

We watched the wonderful parade, so brilliantly supported by local and national businesses and organisations alike.  The main sponsor, HSBC, brought an army of supporters and staff with them!  They were closely followed by The Alliance Network, which brings together professional services firms’ LGBT staff – PwC, Pinsent Masons, Gowlings WLG, E&Y, Deloitte, KPMG etc.  We saw lots from the public services with police, NHS, and fire service out in force.  The parade included all kinds of professional and friendship networks from gay dentists to LGBT Pagans and Christians!

Click an image to open it and then move through the gallery with the arrows.

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Purecraft Bar & Kitchen Supper & Beer Club

The team at much loved Purecraft Bar & Kitchen on Waterloo Street are launching a new treat on the first Monday of each calendar month, with their new supper & beer club starting Monday 4th June.

Head chef Neil, who’s food we have enjoyed not only at Purcraft Bar & Kitchen but also at an outstanding popup at 1000 Trades in the guise of One-Twelve Kitchen, will be serving a 5 course taster menu where he will be trying out new dishes mixed with some Purecraft classics.

Our sneak peak at the menu planned for the first meeting of the club includes:

Chefs Snacks:

Pork Belly with Apple

Smoked Eel with Horseradish

Colemore Sour Bread with Beef Fat Butter


Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Bacon Dash, Goats Curd

Turbot, Asparagus, Chicken Cream, Roast Chicken Sauce

Lamb, Cucumber, Black Garlic, BBQ Potato

Sheeps Yoghurt and Liquorice 

Chocolate, Praline, Milk Ice Cream

At 5 courses for £30pp or £40 including a beer flight matched to the courses, we expect this to be popular

You can book now at https://www.purecraftbars.com/join-our-supper-beer-club/ and by selecting Monday 4th June

Posted in Area: Colmore Business District, Birmingham Restaurant, Cuisine: English, Special Event, Uncategorized, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Pub, Venue type: Restaurant | Leave a comment

Tiffin Indian Cuisine, Harborne

Tiffin ExteriorOccasionally our friends R&M knock a review up for us, so thanks to them for this one.

We’re quite partial to a curry on a Friday night.  Indeed we can often be tempted on a Saturday night as well. Having sampled the delights of all of Harborne’s curry houses regularly over the past two decades, we were naturally eager to try out the latest entrant to the market – Tiffin.

Tiffin opened in February in the old “Turners at 69” restaurant on the High Street, after Richard Turner unexpectedly announced its immediate closure. Only a minimal refurb was carried out by the new owners to this small and somewhat cosy venue, and so it very much retains the chandeliered, somewhat flashy look of its former incarnation. This isn’t exactly how you might expect your average curry house to look, and so we were intrigued to see how the overall offering would be pitched.

Various rumours swirled around about Tiffin before it opened, notably that it would be Out In Brum - Tiffin - Poppodomserving traditional Indian street food.  Putting to one side how trendy street food would have fitted in with the rather bling restaurant interior, we were really quite excited about the possibility of having delights such as chana chaat available on our doorstep. It transpired, however, that this was not actually the case, and the menu very much reflects the traditional curry house fayre on offer in the other restaurants locally.

Naturally we booked a table on a Friday night, opting for 9pm to allow for a cheeky post-work beer beforehand.  On arrival the restaurant was full, and it quickly became apparent that our table was not ready due to other guests staying longer than anticipated.  The small Out In Brum - Tiffin - Tiffin Starter 2size of the restaurant means that there is no space for a bar or other suitable waiting area (other than the serving area, which also acts as the corridor to the toilets), and so we were
asked if we would take a seat at one of the small number of tables outside.  On a chilly spring night this wouldn’t have mattered so much if there was heating and better lighting for the exterior seating, but unfortunately there was neither, nor was our drinks’ order taken so we could while away the time with a beer.  Worried about dehydration we went back inside to specifically ask for some.

Out In Brum - Tiffin - Tiffin StarterWe were seated in the restaurant around 15 minutes later.  To be fair, once at our table the waiters were apologetic and offered us complimentary poppadoms and dips.  Unfortunately, there is little they can do with the space available if guests already in the restaurant take longer than expected.

After a somewhat shaky start, and back in the warmth, things began to improve. The table was beautifully presented, and the glasses and tableware had a higher end feel than many other local curry houses we have visited (although the cobwebs and numerous blown light bulbs on the two chandeliers could do with being fixed, and quickly!).  The menu was also
well designed and of a standard that you would expect to find in posher city-centre establishments (sad as it may seem, I do enjoy a well-presented menu!).  Alongside the Out In Brum - Tiffin - Mainusual traditional favourites on offer at curry houses nationwide, there was also a decent selection of chef’s recommended specials.

The poppadoms were warm and crisp, and the dips fresh and spicy.  For starters, we opted for the harra chicken kebab and shami kebab.  The chicken was moist and full of flavour and really rather better than countless similar starters we have had elsewhere on the High Street.  The lamb was spicy but disappointingly dry.  Both came with a rather uninspiring undressed factory-prepared side salad, which somewhat let them down.

For mains, we had a korai and tawa, served with a plain naan and a boiled rice.  For us, the korai was the stand-out dish – served in its own mini wok, the lamb was succulent and full of flavour, with just the right amount of onion.  The tawa was a mixture of minced and diced lamb served in a sizzling dish, again warmly spiced.  The rice was steaming hot and incredibly fluffy, and felt to us as if it had been freshly cooked rather than sat in a warmer for a while.  The naan was the perfect combination of both lightness and crispness, with a drizzle of butter, a million miles away from the heavy doughy breads so often served.   The plates were hot, and the portion sizes just right.  We often find we simply cannot eat the Out In Brum - Tiffin - Main 2portions served in many curry houses, but these were perfect for us.  Our plates were cleared, and we were replete.

All-in-all, and putting to one side the glitch at the start of the evening, both the food and service were of a generally high standard.  In fact, in our opinion better than that on offer in most of the other local curry establishments.  The restaurant was bustling but not overly loud, and despite the small size did not feel cramped.  Although we stuck to our traditional Indian lager (2 large Cobras please), there was a decent wine menu on offer, with the head waiter happy to chat through his recommendations for wine-food pairings.  Most customers seemed to be opting for a bottle of wine, rather than beer, which would certainly suggest that they have the wine offering about right.

Tiffin is aiming to provide a more sophisticated experience than much of that on offer locally, and it succeeds in part. We have visited three times now.  The team of waiters is universally friendly, and hard-working and enthusiastic manager Rolly does his absolute best to try to help customers have a great evening.  We enjoyed the food, which compares favourably with the local competition, and notably each individual dish tasted fresh (and not as if made from a base catering pack of sauce/spice mix).  The place is clearly already attracting regulars and we suspect its popularity will continue to grow.  That being said, we couldn’t help but feel as if it aspires to be rather better than it is, and (whilst certainly good) the food and overall experience is not a patch on that on offer in either Asha’s or Lasan.  The small size of the restaurant and lack of any bar/waiting area clearly creates problems.  On a second visit (again having both booked and arrived on time) we were asked to wait for our table standing in the corridor to the toilet, constantly being moved to allow for waiters and food to pass.  We were not the only ones this happened to.  They really need to sort this particular issue out, even if it means booking tables further apart or giving a time period for each table at busy times.

Prices are a little higher than you will pay at most other curry houses in Harborne, although not hugely so.  Expect to pay around £5-7 for starters, £9 for a traditional classic main and £12-15 for chef’s special main courses.  The dishes are also on the spicier side, and so if you prefer your curry milder it is definitely worth requesting this when ordering.

We’ll definitely be back again, no doubt for our traditional Friday night curry.

Posted in Area: Harborne, Birmingham Restaurant, birmingham restaurant review, birmingham review, Cuisine: Indian, Price: Average, restaurant review, Uncategorized, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment