Category Archives: Midlands Restaurants

Review of Itihaas, Fleet Street, Birmingham

It’s quite amazing how many people haven’t heard of this place, the few people who know this fine dining establishment speak about it like it’s the best around and yet in all my years of searching for quality Indian cuisine I have never had the pleasure of visiting Itihaas. Thank goodness I did…

Itihaas is Indian fine dining at its very best. It is situated on Fleet Street, central Birmingham and is easily walkable from the summer row and Jewellery quarter pubs and bars. On the particular evening of my visit the country was enjoying a warm spell of weather which made the very cool air conditioned ambiance most welcoming on my entrance to the restaurant. I was also welcomed with warm smiles and shown swiftly to my table.

Upon first glance and to be fair second glance the menu was extensive, my dining partners were more aghast than flummoxed as we studied the array of dishes available. Much deliberation later we decided on starters:

Mirchi Lasooni Jhinga – butter coated prawns in a flaming wok, tossed with spring onions, green chillies, garlic, sweet plum chilli sauce and soy sauce

Tiranghi Murgh – marinated trio of chicken skewers displaying the colours of the Indian flag. Fiery orange chicken tikka, fenugreek, spinach and mint marinated Baabri Tikka and creamy mild yogurt and cheddar cheese marinated marai chicken.

First thing to note was the stunning presentation, candles with elegant trays to add a bit of style and more importantly warmth to keep your dish fresh. The prawns were tangy and sweet with the plum sauce and had just enough spice to make this dish a perfect mix of sweet and sour ingredients which is often evident in asian cooking. The food whilst a delicious mixture of flavours if anything was more substantial than I would normally expect of a starter and it made me wonder if I would be able to enjoy my main course as much.

My girlfriend’s dish was even more appealing; it mimicked a small tandoor in which a candlelight shone from the bottom highlighting the exquisite presentation. The chicken was 3 kebabs of 3 pieces of brilliantly succulent meat which fell deliciously off the skewer, the 3 colours showing the colours of the Indian flag, this displaying the attention to detail which Itihaas clearly goes to for it’s customers. For all its plusses this dish was very large by starter standards and again we wondered how big the main courses would then be.

Again we were pleasantly surprised; the main courses came and offered a more reasonably expected portion which had my taste buds tingling with anticipation. We selected:

Tandoori Trout – a fusion of east and west. British seafood with Indian cooking techniques and spices.

Maha Jingha – freshwater king prawns, in a tangy marinade roasted in the tandoor.

Being a seafood fan I was intrigued as to how this fusion would work. The fish was served on the bone and was a delight to look at. The fish came off the bone very nicely and the spices were just enough to highlight the beauty of the fish without overpowering. Also with enough lettuce greens to compliment.

The prawns also highlighted superb attention to flavouring, the prawns perfectly cooked, juicy with bags of flavour and spice, they were large but yet were so good to eat made you want more and more.

The side dishes of naan bread and rice were more traditionally cooked and also showed good texture which added to the overall experience. The wine list was expensive, but with a decent selection of wines of fruity and tangy red wines which would compliment spicy food. I was looking for a merlot wine which I find goes excellently with Indian food and found this reasonably priced on an expensive list.

There is no doubt this was a ‘very’ fine dining experience, possibly the best I have experienced, not the cheapest, but with quality comes expense and on this occasion that was most definitely worth it. By no means however was the bill excessive either, the main winner of the night was the food though, brilliant flavours and elegant presentation. Don’t be too keen to tell your friends about this one, you may want to keep it to yourself. I know I will be…

By Robert Wilson

Lazy Sunday Brunch

I love going out for Sunday brunch, it is the perfect way to spend the morning and breeze your way into a lazy day. I’ve been a bit greedy lately and I have been out for Sunday brunches two weeks running and both times were at one of Peach Pubs in Warwickshire. My first trip was to The Almanack in Kenilworth and the second to The Rose and Crown in Warwick. I thought about writing two separate posts, but as I virtually had the same breakfast at both, it seemed better to have one joint post.

I have been to The Almanack a couple of times for brunch and have always enjoyed it. On this occasion I was visiting with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, so there was much to catch up on. The Almanack is quite a large, light, open pub which has a modern retro interior. You can see the whole of the venue wherever you stand. We ordered our coffees at the bar and went to find a table. We hadn’t booked a table, but that wasn’t a problem as there was enough room. When I have had brunch here before my choice has been pancakes and maple syrup accompanied by crispy bacon, however on this occasion I felt I should have a more healthy and substantial choice. My friend suggested the salmon muffin, with egg on a bed of spinach and hollandaise sauce. I went with her recommendation. Whilst we waited for our food, we chatted and took in the atmosphere. There was a good mix of families, friends and couples, which created quite a buzz and a relaxed atmosphere. Our food didn’t take very long to arrive but we were both a bit underwhelmed by it. There was only one half of an English muffin, with a little salmon, although there were two eggs. My friend commented that the last time she had this, there was a whole muffin and more Salmon. On the whole this was a nice meal, the flavours worked well together and our eggs were just runny enough. However, I was disappointed by the quantity of food based on what I have had in other venues for the same price. The service was of an acceptable standard, the food arrived within a short time and our plates were cleared in a timely manner. Before we knew it, it was early afternoon and we were surrounded by people eating their Sunday lunch! So definitely time to get on with the rest of our day.

The next week I found myself in The Rose and Crown, where I have not eaten for many years and not at all for brunch. I was meeting a different friend and this was a social as well as a business brunch. Having rushed from the car to the pub due to the rain, it was lovely to get inside a warm pub which as soon as I walked in the door I felt the relaxed atmosphere. This has a more homely feel to it and is in an L shape, with a real fire. I had booked a table for us this time as I know it can get very busy, but if I hadn’t there would have been tables available. I chose to sit by the fire so that I could warm up and dry out. Whilst waiting for my friend I ordered a coffee and reviewed the menu. Again I felt I needed to choice something more substantial so I opted for the free range eggs royale and my friend had a sausage muffin. When our meals arrived I was amazed at how much was on my plate, this time there was one whole English muffin, an abundance of salmon, two eggs and hollandaise sauce. My friend’s was as you would expect, two sausages on an English muffin. I felt the service here was a slot slower, I had to wait quite a while for my coffee and it took quite a while then for someone to come back to us to take our breakfast order. Due to the awful weather we were offered a Rain Cheque, which gives us a free dessert next time we have a meal at the pub. We thought this was a great initiative.

Having experienced more or less the same brunch at two of the Peach Pubs, there was evidently a difference in the dishes, which I would have thought would have been consistent due to being part of the same independent chain. However, overall I would recommend either of the two places as they both provide a relaxed atmosphere and a good standard of food. The use of the golden syrup and black treacle tins for the sugar is quite quirky and I like the little saucer of smarties you got with your drink.

By Lula Belle from Glamour in the County

Banfi Wine Evening at Malmaison Birmingham

Stuart and I recently went out on our first night out together since Thomas was born. We were invited to a Tuscan Wine and Food Evening at the Birmingham Malmaison Hotel, located in the Mailbox. We were joined by fellow Midlands Food Bloggers members Jules of Butcher, Baker and Julia of A Wannabe Foodie and their partners. The event was to celebrate Banfi Wines and the event was hosted by Dante Cecchini, UK manager of Castello Banfi and David Manson from Bidendum. The menu was designed by Head Chef Brian Neath. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by friendly faces and lots of wine and food to taste.

The menu and the wine was as follows:

Pinot Gigio Toscana San Angelo

Canapés; Pecorine risotto balls

L’antipasto; Mediterranean vegetables & cured meats

Le Rime Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio

Il primo; Hand made pumpkin & sage tortellini

Rosso di Montalcino & Belnero Sangiovese/Merlot

Il secondo; Veal ‘osso busso’, puré de patate, olio d’olivia

Brunello di Montalcino

formaggio corso; Bra formaggio, Piemonte

Florus Moscadello di Montalcino Vendemmia Tardiva

Il dolce; classic tiramisu

The Pinot Gigio with the antipasti and starter was excellent. It was light and refreshing and complimented the cured meats and vegetables. It was my kind of wine – the sort I could (and did!) drink too much of! The risotto balls were amazing and something I will definitely have a go making at home.

The tortellini was expertly hand made. It was very thin and light. The filling was rich without being overpowering. I wish my pasta could look and taste this good. The Chardonnay was a lot smoother than the Pinot Gigio as you would expect. The Pinot Gigio was more crisp and light and although it was my favourite, Stuart preferred the Chardonnay.

The Veal ‘osso busso’ was our dish of the night. It was so tender you only had to look at and it fell off the bone. It was my first time of having this veal cooked this way and I certainly will be having it again. We had two red wines to try with this course and my favourite was Belnero Sangiovese as it was not as dry as the Merlot and had a more rounded flavour with the Veal.

The red served with the cheese course was a bit rich and intense for me. I still enjoyed it but not as much as the reds with the main course. The selection of cheese and crackers were fantastic but my favourite part of this dish was the onion chutney. Its sharpness cut through everything else and refreshed the palette.

For dessert, we had a classic tiramisu. I love coffee but dislike coffee flavoured desserts. I tried the tiramisu but found the coffee way too sharp, rich and overpowering. The regional manager Stephen very kindly asked the staff to bring out another dessert for me which was a lemon tart. This was much more up my street and the pastry was light and crisp and the filling tasted divine.

After a well needed cup of coffee and a final chat to Jules and Julia and their partners, we suddenly found ourselves as the last to leave. It was a wonderful night and one I would love to repeat again. The Malmaison run a few events like this a year.

Many thanks to Zara, Stephen, Brian and the rest of the team for a fantastic evening.

PS: You can read Jules account of the event here and Julia’s here 🙂

Finest Beef For All

Image by James Day

A special event was recently hosted by Michelin Chef  Andreas Antona celebrating the World’s finest beef, and raising awareness for grading British Beef.

Andreas is passionate about beef, and in particular considers Scottish the finest in the World. However he stresses, “Beef is not all of equal quality and that makes it especially important for diners and chefs alike, to be able to identify the very best that is available.”

“British beef should be graded” the Midland’s leading entrepreneurial chef Andreas Antona told specially invited guests at Beef, his Kenilworth Steak House restaurant. “After all” he explained, “restaurants are graded by Michelin and the AA with stars and rosettes, so it only makes sense to do the same to the produce they serve.”

Guests were treated to a tour of the Master Butchers Aubrey Allen in Coventry, including their extensive ageing rooms, and a presentation on their unrivalled support from farmer to fork ensuring quality is paramount throughout the process.

Simon Smith of Aubrey Allen commented, “We are very proud of our relationships between some of the worlds’ finest Beef producers and the team at Beef who like us put animal welfare, consistency and quality first, our philosophy hasn’t changed since the company formed in 1933. Andreas has visited the wonderful producers up in the North East of Scotland with us to see first hand the natural environment that helps to produce the ‘champagne’ of beef for his customers to enjoy at Beef.”

At the lunch, hosted by Andreas, guests were able to sample and compare beef cuts from around the world, at the award-winning in Kenilworth restaurant, including USDA (US) Wagyu (Japan/Australia) and Scottish.

Andreas commented, “Everyone has a favourite cut, breed and method of cooking, but I like finest Scotch beef, aged for over 21 days, and cooked simply on our custom char-grill. There is a lot of misleading information in the public domain, and through events like this we aim to share our passion, knowledge and understanding with others, so we can support outstanding quality.

James Day of Midlands based Lifestyle Dining Club Gourmet-life.co.uk who helped organise the event added “to bring together such good quality ingredients, and experienced chefs who respect such ingredients, and who cook them to perfection is something that is worth celebrating. Andreas’ passion for quality beef is evident, and to share this with others was a real opportunity and a great success”

Louise and I were lucky enough to be invited to this event. It was so amazing and we learnt so much. We hope they do another one of these events soon! 🙂

By Jo of Jo’s Kitchen

on behalf of MFB

Glyn Purnell Is Going To Cook Up A Storm For Cure Leukaemia

Michelin-starred chef, Glynn Purnell will host an exclusive evening with blood cancer charity Cure Leukaemia on Monday March 5 at Warwickshire County Cricket Club’s Edgbaston Stadium.

Cure Leukaemia continues its long standing partnership with Edgbaston to showcase an evening of culinary talent at the brand new Jaguar Suite. Glynn will be directing a live cooking event with assistance from Edgbaston head chef, Dave Hill along with Warwickshire’s Director of Cricket Ashley Giles (also a Cure Leukaemia Patron), Captain Jim Troughton and BBC WM Radio DJ Phil Upton.

Guests will be given the opportunity to be involved in Q&A sessions in between each course and all attendees will receive an executive gift once the kitchen challenge has ended.

The evening is the first official event Glynn has helped organised since Cure Leukaemia announced him as a Patron for the Midlands based charity.

Glynn comments on becoming a patron: “It’s an honour to be a part of Cure Leukaemia and what better way to kick off my involvement than hosting an event at Edgbaston. Everyone has been so welcoming and it is fantastic to be able to combine my passion for food with hosting an event of this nature to raise awareness of the life changing research and treatment.

“I’m looking forward to helping promote the ground-breaking work at Cure Leukaemia. The pioneering research and life-saving treatments that the nurses carry out day-to-day is astounding, and so important because we’re still searching for cures to this illness.”

Glynn was made famous by his appearance on BBC’s Great British Menu where he championed local produce and created exciting and innovative dishes. Glynn owns and runs a string of successful fine dining restaurants in Birmingham city centre, Purnell’s, his Michelin starred restaurant which opened in 2007 and more recently, The Asquith and Ginger’s Bar.

Jackie Kelly, General Manager at Cure Leukaemia said: “We’re thrilled to have fellow Birmingham-based Glynn as a Patron of the charity. This event would not have taken place without Glynn’s support, the evening will be one to remember for all, a VIP event for all good food buffs  and cricket fans alike.”

Cure Leukaemia is a long-standing partner of Edgbaston and last year the venue donated more than £75,000 and renamed its iconic Eric Hollies in honour of the charity at last year’s npower Test Match between England and India.

For more information and to book tickets for this exclusive event, please Contact Ruth Bishop on 0121 371 4367 or email info@cureleukaemia.co.uk.

By Jo of Jo’s Kitchen

On behalf of MFB

Home of Rossopomodoro – visit to Naples

Back in September we had a guest post from friend of MFB, James Day of Eat the Midlands, tell us about Rossopomodoro – a new Italian in Birmingham. Now James is back with a detailed look into where the inspiration for the restaurant comes from. 

“They taste great, but I bet they are not true authentic Neapolitan pizzas?” –  A comment made during a recent review of the new Italian Restaurant Rossopomodoro, in Selfridges, Birmingham.  Two weeks later, my bags were packed and I was off for a visit to Naples, the ‘birth place of pizza’ to see for myself!

Naples

A hair-raising trip through the busy streets of Naples to the rustic head office for a welcome briefing, and even more welcomed Neapolitan coffee – seeing as I had not slept at this point for 24 hours! The senses awaking coffee was  accompanied by Pastiera – Traditional Neapolitan cake with wheat, ricotta cheese and orange flower water.

Neopolitan Pasteria Cakes

The briefing was then followed by a whistle stop tour of their suppliers … jumping in their company 4×4, and off to the mountains we went, a climbing up the side of the dormant (we hoped) and imposing Mt Vesuvius volcano, up to where they had just harvested the last olives. “The best olives are picked by hand, and traditionally pressed within a few hours,” the farmer explained (translated from Italian!) “we have been harvesting in this area for generations, and this year has been one of our best for a long time.”  The hillside was densely packed with large, twisted olive trees, some up to 300 years old, covered in nets to catch the falling dark olives.

Mountain side

Nutty in flavour, and golden in colour, this was the ‘daddy’ of all oils the D.O.P. (Denomination of Origin Protection – monitored for picking to packing) with strict controls on horticulture and purity of process, which was evident in the flavour. We tasted variants, mixed with the local herbs, including rosemary, wild garlic, and even the lemon oil, which raised the flavour not to mention the potentials for usage to another level – of course Rosspomodoro only use the pure DOP for their salads, and buffalo mozzarella drizzle, and the extra virgin for their pizzas, topping with the aged black olives, sweet and firm in texture.

But there is more to pizza than great olive oil. Of course there is the base, and the toppings – not the now customary, ham, pineapple, peppers, and even eggs, and chicken Tikka as I have seen in the UK – but true authentic Neapolitan pizzas contain four simple ingredients: “00” flour for the base, tomato puree, mozzarella (Buffalo of course) and olives. So, Rossopomorodo olives – yep, wild flavoursome and hand-picked –  “Tick”, but what about the rest of the ingredients?

We headed back down off the side of Vesuvius and into the narrow cobbled ancient streets of Naples and found a small group of ladies or ‘Nonnas’ (grandmothers) who were tucked away at the rear of what I can only describe as a ‘volcanic cave’, which had been painstakingly carved out and had become the rear of the tomato packing plant with large Kilner jars stacked up to the roof on well used pallets containing rich red tomatoes, and fresh fruits, jams and preserves. The local San Marzano tomatoes, a variety of plum tomatoes, are considered by many chefs to be the best sauce tomatoes in the world – reputed to be a gift from ancient Peru – and grow on the sides of Vesuvius, to create a unique rich intense flavour and firmness of skin, and they certainly had both qualities.

San Marzano Tomato

The next day it was off to the lowlands of the region, about an hour from the City, just in time to see the last batch of the day’s Mozzarella “di Bufala Campana” from the DOP Compagna region being produced. Fresh straight from the Northern Hills, where the milk is tested on arrival for purity and authenticity of origin coming only from water buffalo on a farm in Paestum, Campania.Water Buffalo

The factory consisted of stainless steel vats and white tiled floors, as ordained by the DOP institute (Mediterranean Institute of Certification) but the cheese makers had fought for one tradition of retaining their wood mixing vats to ‘retain tradition and remind our workers of the origin of their works” which I must say looked out of place, but certainly added to the contrast of the need for modernity but maintaining the origin of tradition.

 Fresh Mozzarella

Trying it at this stage was a complete taste sensation – a firm rich outer texture, and then on biting it revealed its inner intensity, creamy, warm, airy, and lush – still being able to taste the fresh grass the Buffalo were grazing only a few hours ago, like a savoury marshmallow that one could savour all day; the unique quality of Buffalo Mozzarella. The owner has been producing this mozzarella for many generations and is considered a master in his field – supplying only the finest outlets in Italy, and selected European destinations – including Rossopomodoro in Birmingham (even in their ice cream)! So, Buffalo Mozzerall….”Tick”

Buffalo Mozzarella

So, the perfect tour to make the perfect pizza. Do the ones at Rossopomodoro in the UK taste like “true authentic Neapolitan pizzas” do in Naples?  Well, returning to Birmingham, I went straight to Selfridges and ordered a margarita (the first ever pizza created for Princess Margarita, in, er Naples) and they come pretty damn close – fired in their authentic oven, at over 480 degrees, taking just 90 seconds, from heat to plate, they are a delight to eat

Rossopomodoro restaurant and products are available in Selfridges.

Rossopomodoro Products

So thanks to James for giving us the low down on Rossopomodoro and the provenance of it’s ingredients and next time you get a trip like that ….. can we come?! 

Glynn Purnell’s Ginger’s Bar and The Asquith Restaurant

Did you see our favourite yummy brummie on Saturday kitchen this weekend with his Movember moustache? We loved his recipe and are so proud of his efforts in making Birmingham the UK’s culinary capital, as crowned by BBC Olive magazine, that we were so excited when he opened a second venue to add to the success of Purnell’s

One of theMidland’s finest Michelin star chefs, Glynn Purnell has fulfilled one of his many ambitions by opening his second business venture inBirmingham.

Gingers Bar and Asquiths Restaurant

Ginger’s Bar and The Asquith Restaurant, which is located at 11 Newhall Street has been welcoming guests since opening in October.

After The Asquith closed its doors at the beginning of 2011, Glynn promised to re-open his second restaurant with the original team, setting his sights on a project that would open as a joint venture.

The massive 6,500ft site on Newhall Street, formerly occupied by Must dim sum bar and restaurant has been given a £150,000 refurbishment. The theme adapted from the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire era, injects a touch of elegance and flamboyance into Birmingham’s bar and restaurant scene.

Glynn Purnell: “The concept of Ginger’s Bar complements The Asquith Restaurant perfectly. After identifying a gap in the marketplace, I explored opportunities within Colmore Business District and stumbled across this site. It was most definitely a momentous moment to finally see both ventures working alongside each other.

“The Asquith menu remains classically French, using the best produce and seasonal ingredients. The beauty of The Asquith is that if you choose to dine with us, you are not restricted to a set menu. Guests will be able to order a main course, or simply enjoy a dessert in the bar area if they wish.”

Ginger's Bar and Asquith Restaurant

The original team at The Asquith Restaurant remains. Head chef Jason Eaves has worked closely with Glynn Purnell to create the classically French inspired menu for the 35 to 40 – cover restaurant, using the very best ingredients and locally sourced produce. Julie Tonsgaard continues as restaurant manager at The Asquith Restaurant.

Jason has trained alongside some of the UK’s best Michelin star chef’s, at restaurants which include Simpson’s, Midsummer House and L’Autare Pied. Working with Glynn for many years has given him the confidence and knowledge to progress to head chef at The Asquith, where he works tirelessly to create a gastronomic menu for diners. Speciality dishes include the Ballotine of Quail Egg and Ox Cheek Rossini, which are firm favourites since the restaurant opened.

Ginger’s Bar and The Asquith Restaurant is a welcome addition to Birmingham’s thriving business district and bar culture. Award winning bar manager and mixologist Chris Hoy is at the helm, with the vision to create an atmospheric buzz throughout the venue.

Ginger's Bar and Asquith Restaurant

Chris, originally from Sutton Coldfield has travelled extensively to perfect his art and boasts an impressive portfolio of accolades, which includes Chase Vodka’s National Bartender of the Year 2011.

Chris Hoy, general manager: “Ginger’s Bar adopts the modern day “Design for Drinking” theory and is influenced by the golden age of the classic American cocktail bar.

“We want people to enjoy the experience, offering a taste of Manhattan in Birmingham’s Square Mile.  Customers can relax in the heavily influenced 1930’s surroundings, while sipping on re-mastered timeless classic cocktails or more outlandish drinks, to include vodka based autumnal tipples or a lamb and mint flavoured Sunday roast in a glass.”

He adds: “As well as classic cocktails, we offer ‘forward thinking’ creations such as the ‘Smoked Bacon & Maple Old Fashioned’ pioneered byNew Yorkbartender Eben Freeman. We also champion innovative techniques such as ‘grilling’ for the ‘Scorched Lemon & Vanilla Margarita’ which I highly recommend.”

Ginger’s Bar offers an extensive spirits list, a variety of local ciders, bohemian lagers and award winning cask ales. A fine wine list has been meticulously selected by Julie Tonsgaard, restaurant manager at The Asquith and Jean-Benoit Burloux, maître de at Purnells.

Glynn Purnell adds: “It is fantastic to have Chris involved to head up Ginger’s Bar, his experience and enthusiasm is mind blowing.  My faith in the original team at The Asquith has never been in doubt, so it is a pleasure to welcome back both Jason and Julie to create such an explosive formula, whilst working in partnership with Chris and his new bar team.”

If you go and try it we would love to read your review, or even better, write a review for this blog.