Wednesday, 28 September 2016

New opening: The Alchemist

Love The Botanist and Aluna?

Love cocktails with a side of theatre, smoke and ice?

Then you probably already know about The Alchemist, now open on Colmore Row. Perhaps you've been to one of their other sites around the country.

I visited one of the Manchester sites in 2013 and it was like nothing I'd seen before. Potions being cooked on little stoves, smoke everywhere and a rather classy atmosphere. It was packed and I can imagine it will be the same in Birmingham.

The Alchemist is in The Grand, the beautiful renovated building on Colmore Row. As well as a traditional bar upstairs, they have a table service bar in the basement. These can't be booked but if you turn up early enough you will have table service with water and nibbles. A very popular concept at the moment a la Bourne and Co and 40 St Pauls.

I wrangled my way in to the media preview via Emily and was able to try a selection from the menu.

Non-purists and those with a sweet palate will be happiest but don't assume that the drinks are all froth and no substance.

There's plenty of fun 'pudding' cocktails, with the Key Lime Pie coming recommended by manager Taylah.

The Solero was very popular too.

The Light Bulb Moment was a minty gin based drink, fun presentation but also a tasty cocktail.

You know you'll be seeing this all over social media any time soon.

My star drink of the night was the Candy Crush, a kind of vodka based Clover Club (one of my favourite cocktails) with rhubarb and rosehip cordial, lemon and egg white. It was prepared in a blender so was extremely foamy. I do love a good egg white cocktail.

I was less impressed with their spin on an Aviation, using blue curacao instead of Creme Yvette and serving it in a tumbler over ice. I don't mind a twist on a classic (see the Candy Crush) but sometimes there's no point. I will have my Aviation a delicate violet colour and served in a coupe please.

Saying that, it's not a hugely popular drink so perhaps this is a good way to bring it to more people.

I liked the grown up vibe contrasted with silly, fun cocktails and it's definitely somewhere I will bring friends. I wouldn't go expecting a classic cocktail like I'd get elsewhere- it's not that kind of bar. There's a few concoctions I've got my eye on and I'll look forward to working my way through them.

There's also quite a substantial food menu. I tried a few bites and they were tasty- I really liked the pork bon bon. I'm not quite sure how to describe the menu. There's a variety on there- prawn katsu curry, fried chicken in a basket, wraps, burgers... Quite crowd pleasing but good for a large group before a night out I suppose! I'd be going for the pork bon bons and some truffle and Parmesan popcorn to snack on while drinking.

Drinks are around £7.50, more for sharers, premium booze or ones which come in reusable hip flasks. Average price for the area.

Certainly a fun new addition to the Birmingham bar scene.

The Alchemist, Colmore Row

Photos by Helen.

I went along as Good Girl Gone Brum's plus one so I wasn't required to write a post. Drinks were complimentary. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Review: Pasta di Piazza

I often hear it said that Birmingham hasn't really got any little independent bistros. You know the type- somewhere you could equally go with your family, for a date or for a catch up with friends. It's not fashionable but it's softly lit, warm and friendly. The sort of place you see in films about middle class people. The menu is massive and the food is probably French or Italian. It's been there forever and customers keep going back and back.

Except, it does exist and it's been in the Jewellery Quarter, just off St Pauls Square for 21 years. I first noticed Pasta di Piazza after I had been at Lasan, round the corner. It looked warm and inviting and was full of couples and groups having a jolly time.

"What is that place?" I cried. "It looks so nice!"

I finally got around to visiting for a meal about a week after coming home from New York. We had a 7.30pm booking on a weekday evening and while it wasn't full, it was certainly busy.

We had a lovely seat by the window in the corner so it felt intimate but we could still enjoy the buzz of the restaurant. Lots of pictures of famous Italian sights, exposed brickwork and flowers on every table. It was exactly the sort of place I'd imagined eating at in Italy.

Being in an Italian restaurant, I had to go for an Aperitif. I love an Aperol Spritz (£7.85) with a meal as it is long and refreshing thanks to the prosecco and soda but the Aperol is suitably savoury.

There isn't an extensive cocktail menu but there are three other pre-dinner drinks- Americano, Negroni and Bellini. The classics.

A basket of bread was left on the table, which put me in mind of the coperto charge in Italy, where you don't tip but you do have to pay for bread of varying quality which is automatically put on your table. Happily, we are in the UK and it's always lovely to see bread to start the meal. I particularly enjoyed the focaccia, dunked in balsamic.

The menu was huge, filled with everything you would expect and more besides. After New York I wanted to keep things light- not always possible in an Italian restaurant. I chose Crab Meat and Smoked Salmon (£8.95) which is exactly the kind of thing I like to eat. Not very complicated but great quality produce, well seasoned and elegantly presented. Asparagus had been carefully sliced and placed in a spiral, topped with bitter leaf salad, plenty of white crab meat and thick smoked salmon. The whole thing was pulled together with just the right amount of olive oil and lemon juice.

Edd made (for him) a controversial choice of a vegetarian starter- Zucchine All Caprese (£6.95). Again, a simple but effective dish. Courgette had been carefully sliced and grilled, then rolled up with goats cheese, rocket and peppers. Lovely to see so much green.

We finished our Aperol Spritzes and moved onto a glass of prosecco. I don't really go for a bottle of wine with dinner anymore for various reasons. One, I just prefer spirits to wine, two, too much wine makes me sneeze and it isn't worth it.

A glass of fizz is always welcome though.

Choosing mains had been a challenge. I was pretty sure I wanted prawns but many other dishes shouted out to me. Naturally there was a large pasta section but you may know by now that I don't care for pasta. Chicken with garlic spinach, veal milanese, seafood salad and buffalo mozzarella salad all appealed.

But in the end, I had Gamberoni Provencale (£19.95) Not the cheapest item on the menu but a generous portion. Several large king prawns, served in a tomato, chilli and garlic sauce with creamy rice. The prawns were perfectly pan fried and the sauce was nice and spicy. A tad too tomato-y for me but I suppose that is what provencale sauce is.

Edd chose Pollo A La Crema (£11.50) tagliatelle in a white wine and cream sauce with mushrooms, spinach and chicken. A very generous portion and quite rich too. A hearty dish for the cooling weather.

We also shared a portion of mixed vegetables (£4) a simple side of sympathetically cooked veg.

My main was quite filling, but I'd focused on the delicious prawns rather than the rice which was there to add starch really. So I had room for a little sweet something and an espresso.

I chose lemon sorbet (£5.10) which was incredibly tart. Just what I wanted. The little wafer made me smile.

Edd loves a tiramisu (£5.50) and thoroughly enjoyed this coffee flavoured sponge and mascarpone dessert, with an intriguing addition of sambuca, though I can't say either of us picked that up!

Overall a completely lovely evening. Relaxed but with a great atmosphere. Pasta di Piazza have now renovated their upstairs space so there is lots more room also. Go expecting great classic Italian dishes, well cooked with good quality ingredients and friendly hosting.

We're already planning to go back and I'll be scouring the menu for my next choice!

To finish, Helen's happy face.

Pasta di Piazza, Jewellery Quarter

Photos by Helen and Edd.

Food and drink were complimentary for review purposes. 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Brunch at The One Elm, Stratford-Upon-Avon

I'm a fan of the bottomless brunch trend but haven't actually done it that often. Last time was at Gas Street Social at The Mailbox and you paid for your food and the bottomless drinks separately. I got through a lot of bellinis. A lot.

At the end of the summer holidays, Edd and I went on a little trip to Stratford Upon Avon to have bottomless brunch at The One Elm. This is part of the Peach Pubs chain which I am a fan of.

The train to Stratford was about 30 minutes from Birmingham Snow Hill and then about ten minutes walk from the station to the pub. It's a lovely building with lots of space inside, outside and upstairs! As it was still a lovely day we chose to sit in the beautiful beer garden. It felt very private because of the high wall. There's a lovely little shelter with lots of soft seats and cushions too. Great for the winter.

So, brunch. I was initially a tad confused about what your £20 'stiff bottom' got you. I'd assumed it was just  the drinks and you paid for food separately. Actually, it includes food AND drink.The manager and the server told us that most people start with something like toast or granola, go onto a bagel or waffles and finish with a Full English. We were also left with a timer for two hours.

So basically, you have two hours to get through as much food and drink as you can. You can also choose unlimited hot drinks or fruit juice if you aren't drinking. You have to have finished what you are on before you move to the next dish or drink and you can't change drinks. I had a coffee while I was choosing but then moved onto mimosas.

The mimosas were orange juice heavy, which was for the best! I think I got through about three which is probably quite enough for the morning. If you were a little quicker off the mark you could have more.

We shared some toast and jam to start with while we perused the menu. We were a bit worried about filling ourselves up too much but also excited at the prospect of trying lots from the menu.

Granola was tempting but I knew I wanted bacon and waffles so I decided to go for that first, just to make sure I actually got it! I loved the crispy bacon with the soft sweet waffle and plenty of maple syrup.

Edd chose a salmon and cream cheese bagel which I was a bit jealous of when it turned up. The cream cheese was slathered all over the bread, with greenery from the chives and just enough salmon.

Neither of our first dishes were huge but would be enough if you wanted a little bite without doing the bottomless brunch. We enjoyed our first round and were feeling happy to go onto another course.

To get my salmon fix, I had eggs royale. Half a toasted muffin, watercress, poached egg, smoked salmon and a lovely light hollandaise. Again, a very sensible portion size, which left me satisfied but still with room for more. I loved the addition of the watercress.

Edd was umming and ahhing but decided that, actually, what he really wanted was a good bacon roll. Again, this was simple, but came with three slices of perfectly cooked bacon. Look at that rendered fat!

I don't know what bread it was, but it was very light- they've thought this through!

Most people finish with a Full English apparently. I tend to find a Full English a bit heavy and was worried I wouldn't get through it. So I thought I'd have myself a sort of breakfast pudding of French toast with strawberries and yoghurt. Washed down with my final mimosa, this was the perfect end to my brunch. 

However, I may have spoken too soon on the Full English front as when Edd's arrived it didn't look too intimidating. Rather than including a ridiculous amount of meat like some can, there was one good quality sausage, one piece of that lovely bacon, one fried egg, half a tomato, one small mushroom and some black pudding.

Edd and I treated it a bit like a dinner and had three 'courses' but I think you can get through a lot more if you want to. We wanted to take it easy and eat about every half an hour, which we did. However, the staff members were quite prepared to take our orders much sooner.

So, believe it all not, £20 will get you two hours of unlimited food and either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Edd and I felt so completely relaxed. It was a lovely way to kick off the weekend. Click on the link below to see the menu and to book. 

The One Elm, Stratford Upon Avon

Photos by Helen and Edd. 

Bottomless brunch was complimentary for review purposes