Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Event: New menu launch at Annexe

Annexe holds a dear place in my heart. It was one of the first non-chain restaurants I went to in Birmingham as an adult and Edd and I have returned there several times over the years. The front is styled after a French bistro but the back is more 1920's inspired.

They regularly have themed nights, with live music, cocktails and special menus.

Previously, the food was French inspired and a la carte, but they have a new chef and have changed things up a bit.

I went along to the launch of their new Mediterranean-inspired menu. You can now choose from a three course menu for £39 or five courses for £59.

There is also a very affordable wine-matching available with both menus. The maximum you could pay for five courses with large glasses of wine is about £120 per head, which is not terrible for fine dining, for a special birthday or similar. Equally, you could have three courses with small glasses of wine for half that.

We were treated to a vast array of samples from the menu. I was impressed with the presentation of each little dish and with how the staff managed to ensure everyone had some food and a wine sample even though we were all standing around in groups. We felt dietary requirements could have been better catered for but I am sure this would be better at a sit down meal.

We tried a variety of vegetarian, fish and meat starters and mains as well as a few desserts. Everything was beautifully cooked and the strength of flavour in each dish impressed me. I can't wait to book myself in for a full meal!

This little beetroot and goats cheese dish, available on the five course meal, was one of my favourites.

The mozzarella ice cream got everyone talking! I love savoury ice cream and this worked perfectly- creamy, slightly tart and a perfect companion to the heritage tomato.

Lavender and fennel duck was stunning and I don't often use that word. It took me back to one of my favourite ever meals, at a French bistro in Valencia, where three courses was 20 euros and there were red and white checked table cloths. I had lavender and honey duck there and I still think about it now. Sigh!

Desserts were lovely. I particularly enjoyed pistachio and olive oil cake with a little chocolate bon bon.

I should mention that there were also some slightly different drink pairings, including a cocktail and a vodka. I like it a lot when it's not just a 'wine' pairing- I remember having a Japanese beer paired with a dish at Nomad (The Wilderness) which was fantastic.

Although this wasn't a sit down meal, I was really impressed with the quality of food I tried at Annexe. It's definitely time for me to revisit.

Check out their website to see more of the menu and to find out when their next theme nights are.

Annexe, Corporation Street, Birmingham

Photos by me and by Edd.

Food and drinks were complimentary to showcase the new menu.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Event: Foodies Festival 2016

I had such a fun time at Birmingham's first Foodies Festival last year so I was excited to be back again this year. It's a great event to kick-start the summer, with plenty of booze, food and things to buy.

I went along on Friday evening with Yelp and we all had a mooch about, trying various free samples and chatting to the stall holders. There were plenty of local producers but I felt there were less local restaurants there this year.

So, the festival is split up into drinks and food stalls, shopping stalls and chef demonstrations. I don't tend to bother with chef demonstrations but others seemed to enjoy them.

There seemed to be more free samples this year. My first taste was from a pasta sauce company. I'm not the biggest pasta fan but I enjoyed this fresh and light bite.

Old Mout Cider had a lovely little stand set up, with plenty of free samples. 

There was also the chance to win some prizes by pulling the fruits off the display in a silly fashion.

Reggae Reggae Sauce were handing out delicious samples of chicken marinaded in their sauce, plus a packet off sauce, which I used and enjoyed later that week on some chicken breasts.

We all enjoyed the samples of flavoured vodka and gin from Tipsy Tart. The bottles cleverly leaned to one side.

I loved the delicious pork scratchings from Snaffling Pig. I don't usually like spicy scratchings but they had some brilliant habernero ones. So good. I was tempted to buy but controlled myself. I've just spotted they are available on ocado so I may have to pick up a small packet as a treat.

The next day, Edd and I headed down for lunch and drinks and to meet my friend Rachael. Edd and I loved the gin van which was offering some great quality gins. Martin Miller's is one of my favourites and it was lovely with the touch of black pepper.

Stripy straws may shout INSTAGRAM ME but I want some. Don't judge me.

Edd and Rachael both went for a burger from Cau, which they both loved- juicy and oozy and cheesy like it should be. I've since had charcoal chicken from Cau via Deliveroo and I am now super keen to visit the restaurant!

I went for some favourites from last year. Swirly, spicy potato on a stick. What a lovely carby treat! Now I have a spiraliser I am tempted to try and make a baked version of this.

Later, after more gin, the charcoal grilled chicken wings were calling me.

Everything on the Flaming Rooster stand looked and smelled incredible.

My chicken wings had a smokey, almost spicy flavour but I felt the skin could have been crispier in places. I think I'm more of a wing connoisseur than I was last year.

Finally, we had room for pudding. At Whipsmiths, you choose your flavours and your ice cream is made in front of your eyes. I chose salted caramel- literally made with sea salt and caramel. It's wonderfully smooth and makes it hard to go back to normal ice cream.

A lovely couple of afternoons at Foodies Festival. I hope it's back next year and I'd like to see a few more local restaurants selling their wares. Look out in the next couple of weeks for a blog on Colmore Food Festival for an example of what I mean by that!

On the other hand, Foodies Festival has plenty of things I'm not able to try in Birmingham the rest of the year- whipped ice cream, potato on a stick and I came across a favourite new gin- Silent Pool.

Photos by me and Edd.

My tickets were complimentary through Yelp and through Foodies Festival. I paid for all my own food and drink other than the free samples. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Review: The Almanack, Kenilworth

I've been taking a little tour of the Peach Pubs over recent months. I've now visited The High Field in Edgbaston (my local one) on several occasions, as well as staying at their town house. There was also The Rose and Crown in Warwick, which Edd and I combined with a day in the town.

This time I was at The Almanack in Kenilworth. As I've mentioned before, I love the way Peach Pubs all have a different feel. The Almanack is very different to others that I've visited. It's in a modern building and feels smart and grown up. A great place for a date or a catch-up dinner with friends.

Modern and grown up it may be but there were still plenty of lovely, quirky design touches. 

We were sat down in a booth which was set up for two. Despite the airiness of the restaurant, our table managed to feel quite private and intimate, which was lovely.

I don't drink a lot of wine anymore (it makes me sneeze, true story) so I love that The Almanack have a variety of Grand Gins served in large glasses to last you through a good part of the meal. I went for one of their specials which was Sipsmith gin infused with Earl Grey tea, served with lemonade.

Edd stuck to a Grand Gin and Tonic. They have a lovely selection of gins- some you'll know, like Hendricks and others you my not, such as Brockmans and Whitley Neill, served in big glasses with juniper berries and plenty of ice.

Onto the food! There are similarities between the menus at each Peach Pub but I like their specials boards, which allow the chefs to use ingredients available to them. This means that you can get quite a random mix of food on the specials, but that's exciting!

Edd chose a summer vegetable risotto with ham (£7.75) for his starter.  It was well cooked with the right amount of bite and the vegetables added freshness.

I chose Devon Crab Gratin (£8.75) which was utterly delicious. I've never had anything like it before. Creamy but sharp at the same time. It was also quite a large portion and would make a fantastic lunch.

For my main I chose Pan Fried Aubergine and Feta Escalope with a heritage tomato salad (£13.25). The tomatoes were lovely and fresh and tasted of sunshine days. The aubergine had been topped with plenty of feta, breaded and pan-fried. This was a really lovely plate of food. The cheese and breading pleased my greediness and the salad stopped things from getting too heavy.

Our waitress had suggested a side of new potatoes (£3.75) but they were completely unnecessary as my meal was quite filling enough. I barely touched the potatoes, which seemed like a waste.

Edd chose one of the meals from the specials board. Neither of us had heard of Spider steak before. It's not the most common cut and is so called because of the fat marbling. It sits on the hip of the cow and there's only two per cow. The Almanack get their beef from local butcher Aubrey Allen and like to grab the unusual cuts when they can.

I don't usually touch steak as I find it too rich. This steak surprised me. It had the tenderness you expect of medium rare steak but it wasn't too rich or fatty. I'll definitely look out for this cut in future. This was served with classic sides of a potato rosti and broccoli.

I was feeling quite full at this point but I wanted to have a cheese board for dessert!

For the summer they have a special of strawberries, chocolate, cream and shortbread for dipping. I've tried this before at The High Field last summer and I was tempted to go for it. It's quite big so would be good as a sharer. However, that cheese board was calling to me...

Edd had a lovely gooey treacle tart with clotted cream (£5.75)

When I was at The Rose and Crown I had a mini cheese board with just one cheese. This time I went a little larger and had three cheeses (£7.75). I'd really recommend this to fellow cheese lovers. They've got a great, unusual selection, mainly from the UK.

I chose (from left to right) Sheep Rustler ( reminded me of a lighter Manchego), Tor (ash coated goats cheese) and Camembert (you know what that is). Impossible to pick a favourite; I loved all three. They came with a lovely tomato chutney too.

A lovely meal and very filling too. They certainly don't skimp on portions so sharing a pudding or starter might be the way to go. Service was lovely throughout and the atmosphere was buzzy but relaxed. Definitely one to stop off at if you're in Kenilworth.

We had decided to combine the meal with a stay at Woodside Hotel on the outskirts of Kenilworth. our room was simple but looked out onto the lovely grounds with rabbits hopping around. I also had one of the best buffet breakfasts I've ever tried.

The Almanack, Abbey End, Kenilworth

Woodside, Glasshouse Lane, Kenilworth

Photos by myself and Edd.

Food and drinks at The Almanack were complimentary. We paid for our hotel stay.