Monday, 21 May 2018

Food Review: Brunch at The Ivy, Temple Row, Birmingham

The opening of The Ivy, Birmingham, is one of the most exciting to happen in the city this year.

Located on the former Louis Vuitton site overlooking the Cathedral and park, we’ve been longing for the opening of those iconic green doors.

I was invited to an exclusive blogger brunch in the private dining room, the Spencer Room on the opening weekend.

Walking into the reception area, guests are greeted in the hallway before being able to pass through to the main restaurant. Here, you’ll be given a wait time or told if you can head straight through.

The bar is the first thing you’ll notice, a chic little hotspot for cheeky drinks and rendezvous.

From here, there is a ground floor seating area, leading up to a mezzanine space, which overlooks Fumo.

If you continue up the stairs, you’ll find the private dining room. Beautifully laid out and ready to host any number of formal occasions and celebrations, the room is large enough to seat around 20 guests. The corner houses a very photo ready backdrop of a large palm, two stunning blue velvet chairs and a side table. The walls are adorned with botanical art, mirroring the lush green of the park it overlooks. The lighting is spectacular, overflowing with natural light from the windows.

Onto the food and service, as soon as I sat down I was attended to with an offer of a drink. Between Beet It Juice (beetroot, carrot and apple) and Green Juice (avocado, mint, celery, spinach, apple and parley), I chose the former.

There was also a selection of pastries, which I declined on the basis that they weren’t gluten free, but I did enjoy some tea whilst I picked from the menu.

We were offered a selection of treats from the breakfast menu, including hot buttermilk pancakes, avocado tomato and sesame on toast, eggs royale, eggs benedict, avocado on toast or coconut yoghurt with berries. Had I been in the mood to count calories, I should have opted for the yoghurt. However, I picked the Eggs Royale on gluten free toast instead.

Everything miraculously arrived at the same time, and was gracefully served to the table so that we could start papping each others meals quickly before eventually digging in.

My Eggs Royale did of course look different to everyone else’s as it came on gluten free toast and not a muffin. It was however, delicious. The salmon was fresh and plentiful and the Hollandaise sauce was tasty but not too heavy or overpowering.

We then had an opportunity to sit and chat around the large table, and make use of the beautiful lighting to take pictures by the window and in the “made for instagram” chair corner!

Overall, I cannot fault the service and experience at The Ivy, Birmingham. The service was polite but friendly, and exceptionally professional.

The food itself was good quality and not at all overpriced compared to what you’d expect to pay for a similar meal in any of the city’s many brunch spots.

For me, the stand out element of The Ivy is not just the perfect service, but the beautiful interior. I would describe it as an Art Deco jungle, with metalwork, art and plenty of greenery, it’s a very chic jungle in there.

I can’t wait to go back, in fact, I already have.

*With thanks to Rewired PR and The Ivy for the complimentary meal

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Food Review: Itihaas Indian, Birmingham

Itihaas has a reputation as one of Birmingham's best Indian restaurants. Situated on Fleet Street, right in between the city centre and the Jewellery Quarter, the restaurant has a prime corner position.

Although I have been here once before, and still lament the loss of Itihaas's Selfridges Birmingham outpost, I was invited back to try out the new menu with a host of Birmingham Bloggers for a feast fit for royalty.

We were lucky enough to visit on a fairly sunny day, and we met at the reception where there are plenty of plush leather sofas to lounge on and drinks ready and waiting to be served at the bar. I was taken by this giant bottle of Chivas Regal, and realised quite quickly that they have a plentiful selection of whisky available.

Moving downstairs, which happens to be where the private dining area is located, we sat in the main restaurant banqueting style. Before we did so however, we were treated to plenty of canapes such as Lamb Parantha, Alloo Tikki Channa Chaat and Salmon and Goat's Cheese Samosa. Unfortunately, none of these options were gluten free, but the staff were incredibly kind in making me my very own canapes that were gluten free! I really didn't expect the team to go to so much trouble for nibbles, especially since we were about to sit down and eat, which just goes to show how excellent the staff and service is at Itihaas.

We were also able to sample a delicious grape based cocktail.

Onto the meal, we took our seats and were regaled with stories of rum and brandy by Yves, the drinks ambassador.

The Soft Shell Crab Pakora appetiser was quickly brought out, but sadly was not gluten free. Instead, I was served Chicken Tikka and Lamb Chops, a meat lovers paradise! The chicken pieces were huge, nicely browned at the edges, soft and juicy, and served with a lovely Raita. The Lamb was again, charred at the edges to bring out the flavour, and still soft inside. This was served with our first drink, Bonpland Rouge VSOP Rum over ice.

Next, onto the actual starter. For everyone else, this was a Reshmi Lamb Tikka, Chargrilled Salmon Fillet and Salmon and Seabass Fish Cake Tikki. For me however this was a Chargrilled Butterflied King Prawn, Chargrilled Paneer and Lamb Sheesh. Again, the Prawn was a huge size, as were all of the portions! The flavours were all chargrilled, which I prefer as it adds some depth, and the lamb was again, soft and tender. The flavours were spicier than I was anticipating, but not enough to overpower.

The main course was served at the table, with plates and plates of food arriving at the same time. First up, the Chicken Biryani, served with a choice of three dips, raita, chutney and a onion and tomato raita, ceremonially served in a silver pan. Next up was the Jaipur Lamb Tikka, Methi Murgh Mirch, Goan Lobster Curry and Tandoori Soya Tikka Masala. This was all served with Truffle Oil and Poppy Seed Naan and Chilli Naan.

Again, my gluten free meal was slightly different, with a different Chicken Biryani brought out to the table along with a chicken curry and lamb curry. The cocktail of choice that was served alongside the main course was an Old Fashioned JM style using JM VSOP rum and JM Shrubb orange liqueur. This was delicious and I'd definitely order it again. 

Of all the gluten free dishes, the Biryani was my absolute favourite. I could eat this every day, it's not too heavy, but full of flavour and a mix of meat and rice, making it a whole meal in one dish. 

Finally, it was time for dessert. For the others, this was a choice of a very unusual Gajar Halwa Cheese Cake or Mango Colada Slice. For me, this was my absolute favourite Indian dessert, a classic Gajar Halwa. Nobody else seems to like this dessert, but for me, it's just the right amount of sweet with a great texture that's not too smooth and not too crunchy.

Overall, I was impressed with everything from the food to the service at Itihaas. The hospitality here is always spot on, with a warm welcome and a "nothing it too difficult" attitude that makes dining a delight, especially if you have dietary requirements.

Would I come back again? Absolutely! I'd come back for my two favourite dishes, a Biryani and Gajar Halwa dessert, washed down with a cheeky whisky.

*With thanks to Itihaas restaurant and Delicious PR for the complimentary meal.  

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Food Review: Rola Wala, Selfridges Birmingham

Rola Wala is a small but perfectly formed collection of four restaurants across the UK. Offering Twisted Indian food, the Birmingham outpost opened a few months back in Selfridges, Bullring.

Started up by Mark Wright after a life changing trip to India, Rola Wala was set up with a mission to ignite spaces everywhere with incredible Indian flavours.

Taking my seat at the table with Ting and Tasha, both of whom are vegan, we were given a full run through of the menu, with detailed explanations of every ingredient and flavour in each dish, along with some bonus facts around the suppliers they use.

With a focus on serving up Indian dishes with a twist, the menu is simple and easy to use. Every dish is available as either a bowl or wrap, and can be served on its own or with two sides.

Since both my dining companions opted for the Saag Wala bowl, I went for the Paneer bowl as the naan wrap option is not suitable for Gluten Free diners. Marinated in masala mix for 12 hours, I expected to be served something full of flavour; I was not disappointed.

Saag Bowl and Wrap 

Every dish can be served as either a bowl or wrap, with two sides or without, with a choice of heat from mild (Pear and Tamarind, Mango Lime and Ginger and Mint Lime and Pineapple) to spicy Tomato and Naga Chilli, The Scorpion.

I picked the Chargrilled Paneer, Mango Lime and Ginger and we shared a selection of sides including the Avo Chaat Salad, Rola's String Fries, Kashmiri Cauliflower Popcorn, Red Channa Dal and the Sourdough Naan (I didn't eat the naan). The dish alone as a bowl or wrap is £6.95 or £10.95 with two sides. For the size of the portion, variety and freshness of the dish, this is a steal.

All of the dishes were gluten free when I visited when served as a bowl, as well as the sides apart from the naan bread, but please do check if you have any dietary requirements.

We were also able to try some of the drinks including the Mango and Turmeric Soda, which was actually lovely. The turmeric is not overpowering and the slightly sparkling finish made for a very refreshing choice.

Back to my bowl. The food arrived extremely quickly and looked like a visual feast. The bowl was full of different colours, tastes and textures, which means that not only does the food look great, but it tastes great too. With every bite, there was something different to uncover, whether that was the fresh coriander or smooth yoghurt.

The bowl itself contains not just chunky cubes of paneer, but also red rice (extra health points!), coriander, yoghurt, mango, lime and ginger dressing, pink pickled onion, carrot ribbons and crispy strings of chaat on top made with chickpea flour.

The portion was generous and very filling, meaning that you can go without sides if you're trying to be good and still leave the table satisfied.

I also love the fact that every dish is under 500 calories, great for anyone who's watching their weight but still wants to go out and try different dishes.

For anyone expecting a traditional curry, look away now because my bowl had very little in common with a traditional Indian meal. The flavours were so much fresher and cleaner, without any heavy frying or creams to add calories and weight to the dish.

I tried all the sides besides the naan, and my favourite was the Cauliflower Popcorn. Little bites of flavoursome cauliflower, I don't think I've ever eaten this vegetable in such a delicious guise. The chips were of course, tasty, whilst the two surprises for me were the Red Channa Dal and Avo Chaat Salad. The Red Channa Dal was creamy and smooth, but also sweet thanks to the unusual inclusion of sultanas. The Avo Chaat however was the opposite; light and fresh.

We were also able to try all the sauces, and as well as enjoying all the milder options, I did notice that the Tomato and Naga Chilli was spicy, but not overpoweringly so.

Would I come back again? Absolutely yes. The service was fantastic, very attentive but also down to earth, friendly and full of energy. As for the food, I really enjoyed the lighter Indian flavours. Fresh and spicy as you like, the food was still filling without being heavy.

Next time, I'll be going back for the Saag Bowl with fries and Popcorn Cauliflower. When it's this healthy, you can afford to be a little naughty.

*With thanks to Rola Wala for the complimentary meal

Monday, 16 April 2018

Food Review: Comptoir Libanais, Grand Central

Admit it, you're not actually sure what Lebanese food is. If you're anything like me, you may have an idea of Lebanese food resembling Iranian or Middle Eastern food. I was certain there would be lots of meat involved and probably some kebabs, but that's pretty much as far as I got.

Comptoir Libanais opened three weeks ago at Grand Central, Birmingham. Located just above New Street station, things are changing very quickly around here with a new Fish and Chips restaurant just opened, and another two new restaurants on the way.

With a number of restaurants across the UK, most of these are clustered in London and the South East.

Promising to serve Lebanese and Middle Eastern food, I was invited along to try out the menu.

With a queue outside the door, it was clear to see that Birmingham has an appetite for new restaurants, and we're fast becoming a city of foodies. Seating was slow even though we had booked, but menus were available for the wait. The front of the restaurant is open and enticing, with a huge table of baklava and sweet treats to one side, and a wall of exotic goods such as tea and Turkish Delight on the other.

Taking a seat at the back of the restaurant, the market bazaar theme continued inside, with rows and rows of straw bags and silver trays for sale, set off with an array of colourful fez's which were sadly not for sale.

To drink, I decided I had to try a traditional lemonade, so went for the Vodka Roomana, a pomegranate and orange blossom lemonade (£7.95).  I'm fairly sure there's a tradition of drinking sugary fruit based drinks in the Middle East. This one was indeed sweet, and the orange blossom was an unexpected flavour.  Next time, I'll probably go for a mint tea as the flavours would be more subtle with a meal.  The most interesting drink on the menu was a Lebanese spiced hot chocolate made with halwa, cinnamon and tahini.

To start, I had to try the mezze platter, made gluten free for me which meant the tabbouleh, freekah salad and warm pitta bread were excluded. I did try the falafel, halloumi, hommos, pickles and baba ghanuj however. I would have liked to see a gluten free pitta bread on the menu to allow for some dipping, but appreciate this can't always be accommodated.  The mezze I did try was delicious, and my favourites were the falafel and halloumi. The flavours were near identical in these, the pickles and hommos as anything I have tried in Turkey.

My dining companion had the marinated jawaneh, chargrilled marinated chicken wings with garlic, lemon and pomegranate molasses. These were a good size, cooked well with just enough chargrilled flavour, finished off with the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses. To anyone who hasn't tried this sweet condiment, get yourself down to your nearest Waitrose and pick a bottle up! It adds instant flavour to any salad with very little effort.

For mains, I picked the mixed grill (£13.95), whilst my companion had the Lebanese lamb and halloumi burger (£9.45). I swapped the vermicelli rice for batata harra, spiced cubes of potatoes with red peppers, coriander, garlic and chilli.

My dish was a hearty one of lamb kofta, chicken kofta and chicken shish, that alongside the potatoes made for a filling dish for one or something smaller for two. The chicken kofta was my favourite; soft, tender and subtly spiced. The potatoes were nice but could have been crispier. I adored the salad and could have eaten a whole bowl of this, seasoned with sumac.

The lamb burger was again, very filling and dense, but the halloumi was a highlight.

As much as I should have resisted, there were two gluten free cakes on the menu and I couldn't resist. Saving the dark chocolate orange and cardamom tart for next time, I picked the orange and almond cake (both £4.95).

This cake was without doubt the highlight of my meal. Soft, moist and lightly flavoured, with a little bit of sticky glaze on top, I could eat this every day... but won't.

Based on what I ate, Lebanese food is extremely similar to Turkish food, so anyone who has ever holidayed there will be familiar with the style of cooking and flavours used. Baklava, houmous, halloumi, pickles and kebabs are all dishes that I've eaten and enjoyed in Turkey.

The dishes we ate were filling and flavoursome, perfect if you're not keen on spicy foods full of chilli and heat. Instead, the flavours are more subtle including onions, garlic and sumac.

The interior was an absolute delight, full of trinkets that you can't help but adore, whilst the Comptoir Souk was exactly that, a treasure trove of unusual Middle Eastern food treats that are great for yourself or as a gift.

Comptoir Libanais is well worth a visit. If you're gluten free, there's plenty to try, and the cakes especially are going to blow you away. Come with an appetite and you won't be disappointed.

*With thanks to Comptoir Libanais for the complimentary meal.