Monday, 2 July 2018

Food: Jailbird

Style: Steak and seafood          Price: £££ (Around £20 a main)   Location: Victoria Square

The Location

I was disappointed when Nosh and Quaff closed abruptly; I was always a big fan of the chicken wings. On reflection, I understood the closure. It was too pricey for the sort of food they were serving- 'dirty' American fare. There's many places doing that cheaply now. Lasan group kept hold of the beautiful building in Victoria Square and have reopened as Jailbird, a New York style steak and seafood restaurant.  It's still pretty pricey but perhaps steak will attract a more extravagant crowd.

I love the redecoration. They've moved the bar to downstairs, which makes a lot more sense. I'd definitely pop in for a cocktail, which are lovely. Upstairs has a smart casual vibe with plenty of seating and lots of greenery.

The drinks

The cocktails are lovely, many with New York themed names. They're all between £8 and £10 which is about right. There's a good mix of long, short, fizzy, dry and sweet cocktails without being too much on the menu, though you can ask for a specific classic cocktail. I can see many an Old Fashioned being sipped upon here.

I enjoy an Aperitif style cocktail, so that was the section I looked at and chose a Bartholdi's Gift (£8.50) named for the designer of the Statue of Liberty. This was a mix of Absolut Acai vodka, cherries and violet- I'm assuming it's Creme Yvette or similar. It was similar to my favourite Aviation, but longer and more refreshing. An excellent start to proceedings. There's other drinks on the menu I'd return for and it's a relaxed environment.

With dinner, we enjoyed the light red Tilia Bonarda. I'm not sure how much it was but it had the lovely cherries and vanilla type flavour I enjoy.

The food

I was pleased Jailbird are selling themselves as steak and seafood as I don't care too much for steak. I chose the Black Risotto with Prawns (£7.95) which is a delicious, moreish bowl of garlicky goodness. The prawns were huge, good quality and perfectly charred. I loved this and cleared the plate. Looking back at the menu, I can see this is available as a main for £15.50, which is definitely something I'd order in future.

Other starters include scallops, lamb chops (which I tried and were great) giant cous cous and asparagus salad (something I'd go for next time) and a ham hock sharer. Lots of very tempting dishes.

If I'd spotted the prawns-as-main situation, I would have chosen that, but instead I focused my attention on the fish. I was tempted with the garlic and herb chicken (still am) but instead I chose the Creole Sea Bass (£19.80) with a kale salad as it sounded light. Hah. For some reason I agreed to a side of chips (£3.50) despite having told myself I wouldn't.

The fish was giant. My dinner companion George of Caramel Latte Kiss joked that it was, in fact, a whale. The fish was beautifully cooked and tasty, though the creole flavouring wasn't as strong as I expected. The kale salad wasn't quite what I was expecting as it was mixed with sour cream or creme fraiche or something similar. It was surprisingly light but there was a lot of it. The chips were quite disappointing, they were more like wedges. I'd rather they were a little smaller and crispier. Realistically I just didn't need chips.

I felt bad because I left quite a lot, but I was just so full.

Despite this, I left room for dessert and I'm so glad I did as the Coconut Panna Cotta (About £5) was fantastic. Creamy but light and perfectly complemented by the caramalised pineapple on top. I also enjoyed a splendid glass of dessert wine as recommended by the waitress, who was excellent throughout.

Although it could be said that the prices are quite high and the portions quite large, there's a lot to love about Jailbird. Great cocktails, a fantastic set of starters and a lovely location. As I don't care about steak, lobster or expensive wine, I reckon I could have a three course meal and a couple of cocktails for around £40 a head, which is no more than many other places in less pretty settings. I'd recommend trying it out, but stray away from the obvious steak and chips: you'll be pleasantly surprised.

(Sidenote: I'm told they are addressing the portion sizes.)


Food and drink were complimentary for review purposes.

Photos my own.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Food: Breakfast at Primitivo

Primitivo is a wine bar in the Colmore Business District that you might not know about. It's incredibly popular with local business people due to its good prices, warm hospitality and complimentary bar snacks. It's been running for twenty one years: a seriously impressive amount of time in this industry.

As my job (teaching) doesn't really lend itself to the Friday night drinks scene, I'd only vaguely heard of it and wasn't sure where it was. A quick look on google maps made it easy; it's just at the back of the Grand Hotel. Inside, the decoration is simple but with nice touches like the arch shapes dotted around.

Primitivo is very much aimed at the business types who work in the Colmore Business District. Because of this, they don't usually open at weekends, unless specifically requested. They will now be doing breakfasts on weekdays, which is great because so many places only serve up eggs and bacon on the weekend.

They're not quite up and running with breakfast yet, but I went along to a preview service one Saturday morning. I enjoyed a few glasses of fizz alongside my food, an elegant way to start your day.

The hot drinks menu isn't extensive: tea and all the usual coffees. They were able to rustle me up a green tea bag as I prefer a lighter tea with my breakfast. I loved the crockery.

We were given some croissants, toast and jam to start. I'm a big fan of a multi-course breakfast!

The breakfast menu is small but perfectly formed. There's lighter bits like porridge and granola with a variety of toppings, alongside a Full English, Eggs Benedict with ham, salmon or avocado; then there was my choice of potato rosti with portobello mushroom, poached egg and hollandaise (£7.95).

I loved having the potato cake at the bottom, which had a gorgeous, almost caramelised outer. The mushroom gave a good savoury hit, the poached egg was perfect and the hollandaise was thick and creamy. I liked that they put a little on the top with extra on the side. I don't really like lots of hollandaise so I don't want my food swimming in it.

The potato rosti was excellent. I'd actually like this available with ham or salmon, just like the eggs benedict.

Others around the table enjoyed the Full English, which featured beans separated in a pot, bacon cooked to your liking and sausages sourced from a very good butcher. I didn't think the tomato looked very good; it was just a basic tomato quickly grilled. Everyone who had the full breakfast enjoyed it and appreciated that it wasn't greasy.

Breakfast at Primitvo will be a Godsend to a certain sort of person who works in town, particularly those looking for a breakfast meeting venue. Equally, people searching for a breakfast on a Tuesday will be very happy. Who says breakfast is just for weekends?! The service was lovely and the owners are the warmest and most generous people you could meet.

Primitivo, Barwick Street

Photos my own.

Food and drink were complimentary for review purposes.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Harvey Nichols x Edinburgh Gin Afternoon Tea

I write this the day after World Gin Day. What a beautiful thing to celebrate. I love gin. I don't care how ubiquitous it has become, I don't care if it's on its way out and rum/whisky/sherry/whatever are the next new thing. I'll still be enjoying a cool, refreshing G&T or a crisp, clear martini.

The popularity of gin means there's some nonsense out there as companies try and cash in. Unicorn Tears and the current fad for 'pink gin' I'm looking at you. But I've spent my time researching and I know what I like, I know what's quality and has been carefully produced. Edinburgh Gin fits into this category, even as they keep expanding and bringing out more liqueurs and styles of gin. I visited their distillery last time I was in Edinburgh and was able to try several of their products. Their Seaside gin is my absolute favourite, I loved the Christmas one too and their liqueurs are delicious, without being sickly or sticky.

So a Harvey Nichols Afternoon Tea inspired by Edinburgh Gin was always going to be fantastic.

It launched last week, in honour of World Gin Day, and runs until the end of July, giving you plenty of time to book in. Which, if you're a fan of Afternoon Tea and/or gin, you must. It's £22 per person, or £30 with a cocktail, which is in line with other good quality establishments in the city.

You'll be sat in the stylish restaurant at Harvey Nichols, with its fashionable marble and gold colouring. Have unlimited tea or coffee and pick a cocktail from their list, all made with Edinburgh Gin of course.

When I tried a preview of the Afternoon Tea, I had a couple of cocktails too. They've cleverly stuck to long drinks, like spritzes, prosecco with liqueurs and gin and tonics, allowing you to sip your drink throughout your meal.

We weren't served tea or coffee so I'm not sure how the tea selection is. I like a light tea, such as jasmine or lemon verbena with my Afternoon Tea.

Onto the food! The head chef came to speak to us to explain that it's not just the cocktails that contain Edinburgh Gin. He visited their distillery and tried their range, using the botanicals and flavours to come up with a beautiful selection of savoury and sweet treats, but sticking to the spirit of Afternoon Tea.

First up, savoury. I don't care too much for standard finger sandwiches, so I'm always happy to see a roll, a wrap, some kind of dip. Harvey Nichols have gone a step beyond that with a beautiful variety of canape-like treats.

Little fish bites were coated in a Seaside gin and tonic batter and popped in a cone alongside rosemary string fries, such a fun idea. A vanilla and plum duck croquette was excellent quality, with the vanilla adding a little surprise twist. I loved these. The goats cheese and vegetable terrine satisfied my cheese cravings and finally, an artichoke and courgette wrap was a refreshing end to the savourites.

I moved onto the scones next, which were excellent, though purists would probably say they weren't crumbly enough. Plain scones and raspberry and white chocolate scones were served alongside plenty of jam and clotted cream. The white chocolate and raspberry were really beautiful.

You can put your jam or cream on first, it will still be delicious.

Onto the final layer: the sweet treats. I like a small, sweet burst of flavour from the sweet layer, nothing too heavy or cakey. These were great: cucumber candy floss made by local company Sweet Cheeks really did taste like cucumber. I would have liked a little more though (at Hotel Du Vin you get a whole stick!) The pastry on the rhubarb and ginger tart had a good bite to it. The panacotta was a little too sweet for me.

Overall, this new Afternoon Tea is high quality and very clever. I love the scones and the savoury bites particularly. I'll look forward to seeing the other Afternoon Teas Harvey Nichols produce.

Harvey Nichols Birmingham

Edinburgh Gin

Food and drink were complimentary for review purposes.

Photos my own.