Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Food Review: Sabai Sabai Thai Birmingham City Centre

For a city as into it's food as Birmingham, there really aren't too many places to go for Thai. However, Sabai Sabai, the local chain that started off in Moseley before spreading to Harborne, Stratford and now Waterloo Street in the city centre, is now on hand to cater for all your Thai food and cocktail needs.

With a good sized bar offering diners or simply drinkers a place to perch, there is a great selection of cocktails on offer from classics to something different. We started off with the Bangkok Fizz (£8.25), a prosecco based cocktail with citrus flavours. This was a great way to kick off the night, where bloggers from the city and beyond had gathered to try out the new joint. 

At the table, we were treated to sharing portions that weren't really that. I'm pretty sure we all had more than one dish each, which meant that we could avoid the awkward "oh no, you take the last one" situation because there really was plenty to go around. The portion sizes themselves were also extremely generous.

The first dish to arrive was the Meat Sharing Platter (£12.95 each), a mix of lamb chops, spare ribs, chicken wings and crispy duck rolls. The lamb chops were served pink, which is how I like them, and were very, very meaty. The chicken wings were again, thick and meaty and seasoned with chilli and salt. I was also treated to a warm bowl of Tom Yam Goong, Spicy and Sour Prawn Soup to cater to my gluten free dining requirements.

Next, we moved onto the main event, where the table was laid out with Monkfish Thai Green Curry (£17.95), Short Rib Beef Massaman, Papaya Salad (£9.95), Weeping Tiger Steak (£16.95), Pad Thai (£10.95), Tenderstem broccoli and Garlic Rice. 

A veritable feast, and something I would heartily recommend to anyone dining in a large group, please do order as we did and get stuck into a variety of dishes; it really is the most fun way to dine!

The stand out dishes here were the Massaman Beef, a delicious, thick nutty curry sauce poured over the softest piece of short rib beef you'll ever try paired with the garlic rice, with nutty flavour hints that complemented the sauce.

For fresher flavours, it was the Papaya Salad and Pad Thai that worked well together. Pad Thai was exactly as you'd expect it to be, a consistently good dish that never fails to deliver just the right balance of sweet, nutty and sour. The Papaya Salad was something little different, with shredded papaya and veg brought together by some big, crunchy peanuts and a touch of sour and sweet from the lime, chilli and palm sugar. 

For dessert, we opted for the prettiest Espresso Martini, just because food bloggers don't do Dry January. Cheers!

*With thanks to Sabai Sabai for the complimentary meal

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Food review: Fressh Food Birmingham

Happy New Year folks!! Welcome to my first post of 2018. Excuse the delay, but sometimes it's good to take a break :)

Back to food. Fressh opened up last year in a prime location, close to Corporation Street in the City Arcade (also home to Tilt Coffee).

Hailed as a vegan cafe, it seemed fitting to talk about Fressh in January, also known as Veganuary, the movement that's taken the country by storm whereby followers opt to adopt a plant-based diet for the month.

In keeping with the name, Fressh adopts a colour scheme of mainly white with touches of green, making it look instantly calm and zen.

Walking in, the first thing you'll notice is the fresh salad bar area as well as the seating, which is varied between small tables, larger communal tables and benches; always good for when you're dining solo.

After receiving a very warm welcome from the manager, who went through the concept, menu and how to order, I picked out a few dishes to try.

First of all, I had to get the Taco Bowl (£4.75) if only to try Walnut Taco. This can be served as either a salad or a wrap; I opted for a salad. I then pontificated between the What the Guac? and Son of a Bun burger, finally opting for Son of a Bun (£5.95) because it's less spicy.

A word on gluten free options. The team were well versed in the gluten free options on the menu, which always makes me happy. What's also great is that the main menu is helpfully annotated with GF and GFO to make it really easy for us Gluten Free folk when picking from the menu. For example, the burgers are both GFO because the bun can be switched out for a gluten free bun for an extra £1, whilst the salads can be made gluten free by being served as a salad and not a wrap and by removing items such as croutons.

There are plenty of gluten free choices on the menu, from the burgers and salads to the butternut squash curry. Breakfast also affords much choice, with the porridge and smoothies also being gluten free.

Back to my order, I also picked the Turmeric Latte (£3.25), which can be served with soya, coconut, oat or almond milk, as well as a bottle of Organic Kombucha (£2.95).

My food was freshly made to order and arrived served on a tray and artfully arranged (I get the feeling they're used to being Instagrammed).

First of all I tried my Turmeric Latte. Although I'm not one for milky drinks, I really anted to try out turmeric as it's such a hot topic right now, with health benefits such as its antioxidant and inflammatory properties. For me, I just wanted to see if I could stomach the stuff, and thankfully the answer is yes! Smooth and warm, this tasted like a cup of warm golden sunshine. Now, I just need to figure out how to get it into my diet.

I really enjoyed the kombucha too, and I'd definitely try it again. I'm quite fascinated by it as it's actually a living thing, don't ask, just look it up.

Onto the food, both items were hearty portions, and the salad in particular is plenty big enough to fill you up at lunch time.

They were great at being able to customise your items too so don't be afraid to ask for the team to hold the onions for example.

My Son of a Bun burger was a big, thick, "meaty" burger, piled up high with a black bean and sweet potato patty, onion, gherkins, vegan cheese and a Fressh sauce. The patty itself was very thick and the rice content made it especially filling. The gluten free bun was also tasty, and the sauces added just enough flavour without being overpowering.

The Taco Bowl salad had a really unusual taste, almost cheesy but I can't be sure. The salad itself was huge and varied, and I loved the sweetcorn to keep it from being too bland.

Overall, Fressh offered great service, a great environment and a great menu. The prices are really affordable, which is good to see as so often healthy food can come at a high price. There was plenty of choice and everything is easy to swap around and customise. Would I come back? For a midweek lunch yes! My top tip? Grab a burger and go!

*With thanks to Fressh for the complimentary meal

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Event: Hotel Chocolat Birmingham Launch featuring real Hot Chocolat

For a long time, I've been jealous of the city of Worcester for being the nearest Midlands city to be graced with the presence of a Hotel Chocolat cafe.

How things have changed! Now, our very own second city has a Hotel Chocolat Cafe of it's own, and I was invited along to indulge and experience this chocolate temple for myself.

You'll all be familiar with Hotel Chocolat, purveyors of fine chocolate and cocoa inspired gifts and treats since 1993, with the doors of the first high street store opening back in 2004.

Since then, they've gone on to become famous for everything from huge, thick-shelled Easter Eggs to Cocoa Gin, and have even opened a hotel in Saint Lucia. In line with that very same spirit of originality, they've also been opening up cafe's since 2015.

This is where Birmingham comes into play, and just in time for Christmas, we've been lucky enough to get our very own Hotel Chocolat cafe at the newly opened New Street store.

Fighting my way through the German Market crowds, I stepped into the store and away from the madness. Inside, I found an oasis of chocolate and a warm welcome as the team were ready for my arrival.

The store manager came to greet me and and I was presented with three, yes three, slate trays full of chocolate samples all to myself! Fighting the urge to devour the lot, I did manage to make quite a dent on the three samples; Illegal Gianduja, Mulled Wine and Salted Espresso Martini.

All three were delicious, and I definitely tried more than one of each (oops!) but my favourite was definitely the Salted Espresso Martini. These were moreish bites of smooth melting chocolate infused with Turkish coffee, cocoa vodka and sea salt sealed in caramel chocolate.

Next up, the hot chocolate itself. At the back of the store, there is a seating area where I settled in and made some big decisions! As well as offering a number of different flavours including White Chocolate, Chilli and White Vanilla, I was also able to choose from three different types of milk, skimmed milk, whole milk or coconut milk and have it served with or without chocolate whipped cream.

It's worth noting that there is also Iced Frappes, Coffee, Tea, Tealot and Coffee Chocolate Lattes on offer, as well as Ice Cream of the Gods and two Christmas Specials; Salted Caramel and Clementine and Winter Spiced.

First of all, I picked a flavour, which was the Hazelnut Hot Chocolate and then opted for coconut milk topped off with chocolate whipped cream. I picked the small size and I'm glad of it!

Served on a wooden tray, my hot chocolate was every chocoholics dream! Piled high with whipped cream and oozing down the side, this was quite clearly a decadent treat. I really enjoyed the taste of the coconut milk and the hazelnut flavour was subtle.

I then managed to made room for just one more small Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate which was also delicious. Both were chocolatey and subtly flavoured.

Made with real chocolate and milk, Hotel Chocolat don't use powder and it's clear when you try them that this is the case as the flavour is so much more chocolately than anything from a packet. Topped off with whipped cream and depending on the flavour, more chocolate flakes or a biscuit decoration, these are hot chocolates on a whole other level!

You can also buy the ingredients yourself to make hot chocolate at home, which would make a great gift!

Regardless of whether you're feeling virtuous or not, it's easy to adapt your drink by changing the milk, asking for toppings or none, or even forgoing the chocolate whipped cream entirely.

A naughty treat, but a nice one, Hotel Chocolat Cafe is a welcome addition to the city. Handily located close to New Street train station, there's no better way to warm up than with a real Hot Chocolat from Hotel Chocolat.

* I was invited to sample the Hotel Chocolat cafe as a guest of the store

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Food Review: Lasan, Jewellery Quarter Birmingham

There have got to be very few restaurants in Birmingham that I haven't dined at; so when the invitation came through to experience Lasan I was pretty excited.

Lasan has always had a reputation as one of the finest Indian restaurants in the city, cemented by winning "Britain's Best Local Restaurant" on The F Word in 2010. 

Now, the eatery has come a long way with a whole new look and a whole new menu; one that's world's away from what you might expect.

Located just off Saint Paul's Square in the Jewellery Quarter, Lasan is hidden from the main square where you might find revellers enjoying a drink or two at the weekend. 

Inside, the restaurant has been renovated to create a bigger bar area, enabling guests to enjoy a drink at the bar, pre or post meal in a space that's quite separate from the main dining area. The restaurant itself is beautiful; light, bright and airy with giant mirrors and an air of grandeur (press pictures, not my own).

Settling on a bar stool, myself, Paul Fulford and Brummie Gourmand sat and enjoyed a drink before heading to the table. This space is great not just for drinking, but for waiting for your guests to assemble before being seated. On this occasion, I was last to arrive (sorry guys!) having driven into the city, but it's worth noting that there is street parking available close by. 

I did however have one drink here, a classic gin and tonic made with Hendricks pink gin and slimline tonic water. Served in a goblet, just how I like it, I sipped this slowly so as to savour the light, refreshing flavours.

At the table, which was laid out with crisp white cloths and napkins, we took a look at the new menu. Although I had never eaten at Lasan before, I got the feeling that this menu was simplified and easier to use.

I had been recommended the paneer to start, so I ordered the Ananas Paneer first of all followed by the Murgh Kari. Brummie Gourmand ordered the Haleem and Punjabi Makhan Chicken whilst Paul picked the Shakarkand Kofta for mains.

Before we began our meal in earnest, Pani Puri was brought to the table along with some poppadoms whilst my dining companions were able to enjoy on my behalf!

When my paneer starter arrived, it was love at first sight. Three large flat squares of paneer, grilled enough to see the colour changing on the corners and add a smoky flavour, served with a fresh pineapple relish and beetroot to boot. If the presentation hadn't already won me over, then the flavours would have; grilled tangy paneer served with fresh pineapple, this dish was a delight and could have happily been served as a delicious vegetarian main course.

Onto the main course, my Punjabi Makhan Chicken and the Murgh Kari arrived looking very similar, with the most visible difference being that the Murgh was served on the bone whilst the Makhan was served in enormous chunks.

Thankfully, the flavours of the two dishes were completely different, as the Makhan had a sweeter, nuttier flavour and creamier texture whilst mine (pictured second) was more tangy and flavoured with curry leaf and mustard seed.

I also tried a little of the sweet potato kofta, a light, smooth, vegetarian kofta that was equally delicious, and we also shared the cauliflower side which I highly recommend.

Onto dessert, there was far too much to tempt me. In the end, I was able to order the Beetroot Halva and have this adapted to be gluten free. Described as "slow cooked beetroot with caramelised nuts, apple crisps and dreamy pistachio ice cream", this for me was the star of the show and worth a visit alone. It is rare to find an unusual Indian dessert, with most restaurants treating dessert as something of an afterthought. At Lasan, I was overjoyed to see that finally, someone has taken the humble Indian dessert and put the time into developing something that is innovative whilst maintaining integrity.

Presented like a work of art, there was everything to play for on this plate, from the sweet dehydrated apple crisps to the contrasting soft and crunchy sweet caramelised cashews.

Lasan is a restaurant that you'll want to save for a special occasion and find yourself going back to just because. A great location, wonderful service and delightful food that's raised more than a few notches by the presentation makes this a must visit for any curry lover. This is no ordinary Indian restaurant, so don't expect dated decor and one choice of gin.

I adore the interior, with it's refined feel and minimal but warm styling; it makes the food stand out against the palate cleansing white background.

Need another reason to visit? The picture perfect dishes make it a must visit for any foodie photographer!

*With thanks to Lasan for the complimentary meal and drinks.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Food review: Tamatanga Indian Birmingham

Any Brummie will tell you that we are well and truly spoilt for choice when it comes to curry in the second city. However, it seems our appetite for the spicy stuff show no sign of slowing down with the opening of Tamatanga and Mowgli within a short space of time.

I was invited to sample the fayre at the newly opened Birmingham branch of Tamatanga a few weeks back; and I'm ready to give my verdict!

Tamatanga is well known in Nottingham, having opened in the city over a decade ago. Now, they've spread their wings to Birmingham with a vibrant eatery located on Navigation Street, halfway between New Street station and The Mailbox.

Coming in from the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfare, we were warmly welcomed at Tamatanga and offered the choice of drinks at the bar or going straight to our table. We opted to try a tipple first at the bar (plenty of seats and even tables here!) and opted for the Non Alcoholic Bombay Cooler and a fabulous gin and tonic from the extensive gin menu.

As always, my gin was delicious and made all the better for being able to customise it to include a slimline tonic and garnish of my choice (orange peel on this occasion). The Bombay Cooler, made from pomegranate juice, lemonade and unusually, coriander was also a refreshing option. There's also a good range of cocktails, wine, beer, crafts and IPA as well as coolers, softs, spirits and mixers.

The food menu is pretty big with plenty of options, from salads and small plates to kathi roll wraps and curry bowls. With so many interesting options to choose from, we started off with small plates before we got stuck into mains. There is also a dedicated gluten free menu with plenty of choice, so be sure to ask if you need to see it.

Playing it safe, we picked the gilafi lamb kebab and garlic chicken tikka. Both dry starters, the lamb kebab was exactly as a lamb seekh kebab should be, with a kick of spice and plenty of onion. Personally, I do prefer mine a little more chargrilled, but that's just preference. The garlic chicken was a good appetiser, hearty and a good portion. Both were soft and tender dishes.

Onto main courses, I opted for the tamatanga thali, a dish containing many little dishes including salad, chutney, two veg dishes, daal, raita, rice naan (unless of course you're gluten free like me) and two curry dishes of your choice. I picked the saag paneer and  chicken tikka masala, two of my favourite Indian dishes.

My companion picked the chicken khurana (£11.45), a a mild and creamy chicken curry dish infused with coconut and curry leaves, topped with sweet potato chunks. This lovely mild coconut sauce was finished off with a kick of chilli, whilst the texture from the sweet potatoes added to the dish. This was served with your choice of rice or naan.

As for my thali, you can see from the picture that it was absolutely huge! At £17.45 for nine separate items, this is a steal and a must try for anyone with a bigger appetite. The dishes included in the thali change regularly, but when I visited there was a green bean dish in a dry paste of onion and mild spices, mango chutney, a cooling yoghurt, a yellow daal which was smooth, creamy and mild, as well as a meaty chicken curry.

What stood out for me was not just the friendly, genuine service, but the relaxed casual atmosphere and generous portion sizes. With so much choice when it comes to curry, Tamatanga is great for anyone who wants to try curry for the first time in a convenient location. Not sure what paneer is? The team here will be more than happy to guide you through the menu and help you decipher your daal from your saag.

Would I come back? Definitely! It's worth mentioning that there are some fantastic offers worth checking out, such as the daytime deal including a soft drink and main for £8.95, and the 2-4-1 cocktails served all day every day from 12-7pm.

*With thanks to Tamatanga for the complimentary meal