Thursday, 18 May 2017

Food Review: Malmaison Birmingham Spring Menu Launch

Spring is in the air, and with it the new menu from Malmaison Birmingham. I was lucky enough to join some of the city's finest foodies to try out the new Spring Menu.

Meeting at the bar, we were treated to a welcome drink from the Spring Cocktail menu. With plenty to choose from including the Spring Fizz, a mixture of Rinquinquin a la Peche, Aperol, grapefruit, sugar and Prosecco to the Pina Caipirinha, featuring Germana cachaca, lime, pineapple and coconut.

I opted for the Gimlet, a mix of King of Soho gin, lime cordial, sugar and lime.

Sipping on this refreshing and sweet drink at the bar on a bright summer's day, it was easy to feel at home in the smart and sexy Malmaison bar.

We were soon led into the private dining area, where the table was laid out ready for a taste of the new menu.

The Spring Fixed menu offers two courses for £19.95 or three courses for £24.95. The menu to me felt fresh and unexpected, so although there was a lamb dish for example, this was a starter portion of Spring Lamb Benedict, a slow braised Dorset lamb shoulder on brioche with mint Bearnaise. Again, although a Spring menu would typically feature a vegetable soup, instead the Malmaison twist is a Cauliflower veloute.

With plenty of choices for dietary requirements of all kinds including vegetarian, vegan and gluten free, I was spoilt for choice.

Tucking into olives and bread whilst we chose from the menu, I did enjoy the olives but unfortunately couldn't partake of the bread. No matter, at least I could avoid the carbs!

For starters, I opted for the grilled masala spiced mackerel with sweet potato and lime pickle and a cumin raita, followed by the pan fried river trout with pea and broad bean puree, Anya potatoes and truffle vinaigrette.

The spiced mackerel arrived on a large square dish, presented on a bed of cubed sweet potato and topped with the raita. The presentation was good and the balance of different elements to the dish was also strong. A light but filling starter, the mackerel was perfectly cooked and the sweet potato was balanced out with the tangy yoghurt. Although the masala spices didn't really come through, and I would have liked to see a true pickle on the plate to really set off the fish, I thoroughly enjoyed the starter.

Next, the sea trout. Firstly, I adored the plate that this was served on, as it was a real earthy handmade piece. Secondly, the trout itself was a substantial portion, which I feel is needed when it comes to the fruit of the sea or else you can find yourself snacking soon after.

Nicely pan fried on a pea and broad bean puree, this was again, filling but light and not at all stodgy. Overall, that's exactly what I would hope for from a Spring dish. We were also able to try some of the sides at the table including the mixed spring greens, Anya potatoes and pan roasted artichokes.  If you're ordering the fish dishes, then do make sure you have a side too. My favourite was the artichokes which were just delicious! Crispy and full of earthy flavours, I sadly couldn't get a picture before everyone had tucked in!

Lastly, to the dessert. I opted for the seasonal fromage slate with fruit chutney, quince and crackers. The crackers were very kindly substituted for gluten free bread in my case, and the chutney came later on, but the cheese selection itself was very good and included a Shropshire Blue, goat's cheese and french cheese.

I really enjoyed the new Spring Menu at Malmaison. The menu is not just great value, but great tasting and also great quality. The venue itself is such a sophisticated option for food and drinks, with a great hotel ambiance.

I'd definitely recommend the new menu to anyone after a meal away from the crowds. The service we received on the night was outstanding and for me, I felt the quality of the food really came through. Overall, a great option for friends and families alike for a meal that's special without breaking the bank.

*With thanks to Malmaison and EV for the invitation

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Event: Birmingham Whisky Club Tasting - New Releases with Pernod Ricard

Whisky is sometimes considered to be an acquired taste. Not for all, the golden dram is not for everyone. And yet, how many of us can truly say that we've tried and tasted some of the finest whiskies, enough to give an informed opinion?

I've always been pretty impartial to whisky, enjoying a taste when it's around but never actively seeking it.

However, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued when I was invited to attend the Birmingham Whisky Club's event, New Releases by Pernod Ricard.

Hosted in the upstairs room at The Wellington pub, I joined a mixed group of men and women, from different backgrounds and ages, to taste five whiskies; Scapa Glansa ABV 40%, Chivas Regal Extra ABV 40%, Chivas Regal Ultis Blended Malt ABV 40%, Longmorn 16 ABV 48% and The Glenlivet Peated Cask ABV 61.5%.

Presented by Lauren Mustard, the Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador, she talked us through the history of the brand, how each whisky was made, what kind of barrels were used in the process and also the characteristics of each whisky.

By no means a connoisseur, I learnt a lot from the whisky tasting. I also really enjoyed the pace, which was slow enough to allow everyone to taste, appreciate and also discuss each whisky whilst still keeping our interest.

The first whisky we tried, the Scapa Glansa, is matured in American barrels and available only in specialist retailers. From the Speyside area, this area is known as a centre for distilleries because whisky was easy to hide in the valley! Known as the smooth flowing one, this was fruity, floral and sweet.

Second along was the Chivas Regal Extra, a blended scotch of single malt and grain led whisky. This process was started by an American, Robert Stein, and refined by an Irishman, making it not too Scottish at all! The grain whisky is considered to be a canvas on which to paint the malt. This whisky is smooth, rich and harmonious, which is considered to be the house style of Chivas Regal.

Here, we learnt a lot about whisky barrels, about how casks can be used for up to 90 years after which all the oak colours and flavours will have been drawn out. Over time, a spirit line appears and this is how to tell how much longer the barrel is good for. Often, barrels are repurposed too and made into different shapes to hold different spirits.

Thirdly, we tried the Chivas Regal Ultis, another blended malt released in October 2016. This used five single malts, and Ultis means strength in Latin. With a floral element and a spicy element too, the blend honours five master blenders and uses five single malts from five Speyside distilleries. The names of the master blenders are even featured on the box, along with the Chivas Regal symbol which represents friendship and included Scottish symbols such as the lance.

The penultimate whisky we tried was the Longmorn, a single malt from Elgin created in 1893 by John Duff, a Victorian whisky personality. Matured for a minimum of three years, this was characterised by mellow caramel and toffee flavours which made it easy to drink. This was by far my favourite tipple of the evening. A helpful whisky connoisseur recommended I try the Glendronach 8 or 12 year old since I enjoyed this so much.

Lastly, the Glenlivet is a cask strength single malt, which is finished off in a peated cask. Typically, peated whiskies come from the islands, but not in this case.

Two hours later and I could safely say that I'm a little wiser on the ways of whisky, but by no means an expert! It was fascinating to learn a little more about the history and the making of whisky, as well as tasting the differences between each kind. What's the prescription? Another dram of whisky for me, there's still plenty to learn!

*With thanks to The Birmingham Whisky Club for the invitation

Monday, 10 April 2017

Event: Siamais Thai Restaurant and Bar Launch, Brindleyplace

Siamais restaurant has just opened in Brindleyplace, Birmingham, and I was lucky enough to attend the launch event and also sit down for a three course meal on the night.

Located on the corner of Oozells Street by the IKON Gallery, Siamais sits on the site of Thai Edge. Offering Thai food and cocktails, the restaurant takes it's name from the word Siamese to reflect the dual experience on offer to customers.

At the entrance is a gorgeous gothic cocktail bar, decorated with lamps and skulls to create an exotic, stylish area for serious cocktail drinking.

Beyond here is the main restaurant, where diners can sit and eat in a space that's quite separate from the bar area.

At the launch, we were treated to a VIP night of smoking cocktails, music and Thai treats.

Following a champagne reception, we were able to choose from two cocktails at the bar. I opted for this smoking teapot cocktail:

This was prime selfie time and you can see I got to spend time with the very lovely Denise Morris and Claire from Nosh and Breks.

After the cocktails, we were seated and presented with a menu that included dishes such as satay chicken, prawn rolls, stir fried chicken beef or lamb and pad thai.

As a gluten free diner, the team were great at navigating me through the menu and instead of a starter platter, I was able to try the Tom Yum soup instead of the House Platter of prawn rolls, fish cakes, spring rolls, satay chicken and chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves. There was also an option to try the Vegetable Platter which included spring rolls, deep fried tofu, sweetcorn cakes, deep fried vegetables and samosas.

My Tom Yum was exactly as I'd want it to be, and edged enough to the side of sour to make me believe that this is a pretty authentic rendering of the dish.

I also tried the chicken satay and chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves, and was again pleased with how well these had been cooked and how delicious and tender they were.

Onto the main course, there was a choice of chicken or vegetable Thai Green Curry, vegetable or seafood Pad Thai or a spicier option of stir fried chicken, beef or lamb.

I opted for the Thai Green Chicken Curry and was again, pleased to find that there is finally a new player in the fight for the title of 'Best Thai in Birmingham'. Again, this was exactly as I'd want it to be, creamy without being overpowering, with large tender chunks of chicken and vegetables that made this a dish I can't wait to try again.

At the table, we were also able to try another cocktail, this time the Oriental Orchid. I picked this as my tastebuds do tend to edge towards the sweet scale. A blend of vodka and peach, served in something that looks like it came out the laboratory was light, but sweeter than I expected. However, the presentation was excellent, hot on the heels of our favourite trend for chemistry inspired concoctions.

Finally, we were able to finish off with a little bit of something sweet, the mango and coconut Thai sticky rice. A small but perfectly formed portion, I adored this dessert for being sweet enough to satiate a craving, but light enough to not overpower the meal. I'd take this over an Alabama Fudge Cake any day.

Siamais offers cocktails and Thai dining without compromise. Whether you're happy to stay at the bar and work your way through the extensive cocktail menu or prefer a quieter night at the main restaurant, you'd be happy with your evening either way. The cocktails on offer were varied, thoughtful presented and well executed, whilst the food was to an exceedingly high standard and fills the gap for Thai food, something which is under-represented in Birmingham. Personally, I can't wait to come back again soon.

*With thanks to Siamais and Delicious PR for the invitation.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Food Review: 1580 Restaurant, Sutton Coldfield

What's significant about the year 1580? 1580 is in fact the year that Sir Francis Drake set off to circumnavigate the globe, becoming the first Englishman to do so.  On his travels, he discovered gold and silver as well as more significantly, spices.

Back to Sutton Coldfield. 1580 restaurant opened its doors a few weeks ago. Located on the Chester Road, the restaurant offers up a contemporary Indian dining in a perfectly formed restaurant adorned with images of boats and sails.

I was recently invited to sample the dishes on offer at a blogger night, where we were treated to a wide selection of dishes.

First up, appetisers. We were able to choose between meat and vegetarian options, and my table opted for meat. Before the Murgh Tikka, Lamb Chops, Kochi Kekraa and Zaffrani Bada Jingha Tikka was served up, we were first of all treated to a delicious and unusual plate of Masala Cone Poppadums (£1.95). These spicy cone shaped poppadums were served with plenty of condiments.

Our appetisers were soon with us, and we were soon tucking into dishes such as soft shell crab (£8.45), chicken tikka (£7.95), grilled jumbo tiger prawns (£11.45) and lamb chops (£9.95).

The chicken tikka pieces were large and tender, and the lamb chops were a standout for me thanks to the generous helping of warm spices applied generously.

For our main course, we again chose a meat option that included Bater Curry (£9.95), Murgh Tikka Masala (£8.45) and Pot Pepper Lamb Curry (£8.95), as well as two vegetarian options, Paneer Tikka Masala and Dal Makhani.

The Bater Curry was something very unusual; a quail dish. A tiny bird served whole and on the bone, this was a tasty, tender meat that had been carefully marinated in lime and spices.

All of the meat dishes were well cooked and included plenty of sauce, and my favourites were the vegetarian options.

Finally, there was also Gulab Jamun for dessert, which I skipped, but did of course photograph, served sundae style in a glass.

As well as excellent, attentive service, what marks out 1580 from other Indian restaurants is the more unusual dishes available. For example, the quail and the pork madras, a meat that is rarely seen on most Indian restaurant menu's, is what makes this restaurant different. This, alongside the fact there are plenty of family and group friendly platters available are what makes this a great choice for local, casual dining.

*With thanks to 1580 for the complimentary meal