Tuesday 31 October 2017

Food Review: Blake's at The Westmead Hotel

It's not very often that I try out a restaurant outside of Birmingham City Centre, but that's exactly what I did on a recent trip to Blake's at Westmead Hotel. Located near to Longbridge, Westmead Hotel has been around for around 25 years and has recently been acquired by an independent new owner.

Entering the restaurant via a separate side entrance to the hotel, the space was exceptionally new, having just been renovated and relaunched the previous week. In soft greys and creams, with a mix of soft velvet chairs and smooth leather sofas, the interior has been well designed to appeal to most.

Moving away from the reception/bar area, we made our way to the main restaurant. Offered a wide selection of drinks, I went straight in for a Gin and Tonic whilst my dining companion opted for a Becks. What arrived was one of the most beautiful G&T's I've ever seen.

With a whole section dedicated to the Gin and Tonic selection, I specified slimline tonic but not the gin. The waitress picked the Brooklyn Gin, a citrusy gin that I thoroughly enjoyed (although it is rare that I meet a gin that I don't approve of!)

Onto starters, there was plenty to choose from including a couple of sharing platters that nearly won us over, however in the end I picked the poached duck egg, grilled asparagus, toasted pine nuts, avocado puree (£6.95) whilst my companion picked the potted ham hock terrine, cider and apple chutney, sour dough (£6.50). I happened to pick the vegetarian option, but there are a few others such as mushrooms on toast and I imagine the soup.

What struck me about our starters was the presentation. Artfully arranged on large plates, my dish was as pretty as a picture. Carefully arranged so that the asparagus spears all pointed upwards and fanned out, with a poached egg nestled on top and a smear of avocado puree to the side, I was impressed to say the least. As for the flavour? Who knew avocado puree was so tasty! With an acidic edge to it, this completely changed the flavours of this dish and lifted it from bland to wow. The pine nuts (toasted not raw), also added a much needed texture and nutty flavour. My only gripe? Sadly the egg was very slightly overcooked for my liking so I missed out on the gooey egg yolk.

The terrine meanwhile was meaty and well packed, studded with green gem peas. The cider and apple chutney was good enough for any county show and I'd happily take them home to enjoy with cheese. It also came with it's very own mini loaf; cute!

Next up, for mains I chose the roasted striploin of lamb, sauteed green beans, potato dauphinoise, watercress puree and mint jus (£16) whilst my companion went for the 8oz Sirloin steak (£20.95). The steak, as well as being perfectly cooked, was also served with a delicious mushroom sauce that really raised the dish.

My lamb was delectable; a little pink with a dense portion of potatoes on the side to add much needed carbs.

For dessert, I chose the tropical Eton mess (£6) and I'd highly recommend it to anyone visiting. A mountain of a dessert, it incorporates peaches, meringue, peach puree and lashings of whipped cream, topped with jewelled pomegranate seeds, strawberries and raspberries. As rich as this sounds, it was in fact a perfect summer dessert and reminded me of a beautiful fruity peach melba.

By now, we really couldn't move but we did fancy a nightcap in the form of a Remy Martin, which went down very smoothly, and an artfully served espresso.

Blake's offers a modern British menu. Artfully put together, there are also more casual dining options available such as the extensive pizza menu.

The service was absolutely spot on and it was evident that everyone we spoke to took real pride and pleasure in their work. The staff went above and beyond to ensure our every need was looked after, whether it was food, drink or information about the menu and venue itself.

My top tip? This is a great spot to bring mums and dads in particular who need a spot of spoiling.

* My meal at Blake's was complimentary.

Friday 13 October 2017

Event: Gateway to India, Birmingham

Birmingham is famed for it's curry, and never one to disappoint, we Brummies have another option for dining Indian style.

Located just behind Broad Street on Regency Wharf, Gateway to India is named after a monument built in the 20th Century, known as the Taj Mahal of Mumbai.

Serving traditional Indian street food, tandoori and mixed grills, the decor is very traditional, with plenty of artwork, dark wood and pictures of ancient Maharajas.

The space itself is quite small, with around 80 covers, with a bar to the left and a view of the kitchen at the back of the restaurant.

For the launch, the restaurant was packed with guests enjoying prosecco and beers before we took a seat at our tables for an Indian feast.

To start, we sampled Malai Papri Chaat (Crunchy mini wheat crisps, spiced potato, onion, chickpeas, dash of malai yoghurt drizzled with hot sweet chutney), Vada Pav (Popular Maharashtra street food - deep fried seasoned potato patty served in a roll. Indian version of a chip butty), Pani Puri Gol Gappa (Crispy thin hollow pastry balls filled with chaat masala, chilled mint flavoured water and seasoned potatoes) and Daal Kachori (A delicacy from north India. Spicy puffed pastry filled with urid lentil, coriander, chilli flakes, fennel seeds and mango powder. Served with chefs special chutney).

Served canteen style in a metal tray, the presentation was in keeping with the street food theme. The Vada Pav had quite a few guests stumped as it's quite unusual to find on a menu, but these dishes were all well received.

Sadly, none of these were gluten free which meant more for my gluten eating dining companions! However, the mixed grill that came next was much more up my street.

What came next was a huge portion of mixed grill meats including chicken wings, lamb seekh kebab, chicken tikka and fish pakora. The flavours in this dish were full and rich, with the chicken tikka in particular deserving a mention for delivering unexpectedly big flavours alongside a tasty, juicy texture.  Not even the onions underneath were left untouched and we managed to devour this platter between four. This was served with a variety of chutneys for added flavour and texture.

For our mains, these were served again in metal bowls, alongside rice and yoghurt. These included Saag Paneer (a Punjabi dish of chunked Indian cottage cheese, simmered in a creamed spinach purée with, green chilli, ginger and finally garnished with a small dash of makhan or butter),  Tarka Daal (lentils with garlic, onions, tomato and exotic spices finishing with a sizzling tarka), Tari Wala Murgh (chicken breast slowly simmered in a refreshing and enticing soup of onions, tomatoes and spices) and Mughlai Kadhai Gosht (lamb delicately cooked in a rich curry, infused with whole spices, chilli, peppers, ginger, kala jeera, tomato and onions).

Of these, my favourites were the chicken and tarka daal. The Tarka Daal was creamy and again, flavoursome without being too heavy. The chicken was served in a much lighter sauce, unusually for a chicken curry, but the chicken pieces were a good size.

Luckily for me, all of the curry dishes on offer were gluten free, so I was able to enjoy all of these dishes.

Finally, there was Gulab Jamun on offer but unfortunately I couldn't eat this as it isn't gluten free. Fear not, there were plenty of takers who were more than happy to devour my share.

Thanks for the great night Gateway to India!

*My meal at Gateway to India was complimentary.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Event: Hotel Du Vin Christmas Menu Launch

Can you believe that we're talking about Christmas already? Although we may not be thinking about it yet, Hotel du Vin certainly is, and has already showcased it's delightful Christmas menu.

Held in the courtyard of Hotel du Vin Birmingham, I was able to sample some miniatures from the new Christmas menu.

Starting off the event with mulled wine served on tap, this fruity blend of oranges and spices is just what's needed in the cooler months.

Next, it was on to enjoy a hand massage courtesy of the team at the Hotel Du Vin spa. I adore the spa here as it is such a relaxing space, and it's worth taking a look at their offers as there are quite often packages available.

Onto the food, we began with canapes which included Christmas Cured Smoked Salmon with Pumpernickel and Spiced Pickles, Hazlenut Crusted Goat's Cheese Crottin with Cranberry and Endive Salad, Duck Liver Parfait with Plum and Figgy Chutney and finally Jerusalem Artichoke and Chestnut Soup.

Although I was unable to try any of the bread based canapes, I could try the soup. A rich, creamy, artichoke and chesnut soup, topped off with truffle creme fraiche, this was an absolutely delightful, rich and creamy soup that I could have eaten twice over, full sized. If you are dining at Christmas, this is my top choice for starters.

For mains, there was a selection of minis including Roasted Free Range Turkey Ballotine, Pigs in Blankets and Roasted Potatoes.

The vegetarian option of Cauliflower and Parmesan Crumble was also presented beautifully in mini dishes.

Finally, for dessert, we tried out some very traditional desserts of Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies.

The Christmas Menu is available from 24th November until 24th December, priced at £29.95 for lunch and £43.95 for dinner. This includes three courses and tea, coffee and mince pies. For the quality of the food and the time of year, it's a great price and perfect for any work, family or social gathering.

*With thanks to Hotel Du Vin for the invitation.

Friday 6 October 2017

Food Review: Gluten Free Gaucho Electro Brunch

Ever since brunch became "a thing", I've always thought it to be one of the most decidedly decadent activities any self respecting blogger could partake in.

There's something about the idea of a long lie in, following by a breakfast that slips into a lunch that spills over into either a trip to the shops or a few more drinks that screams "me time".

Needless to say, this doesn't happen very often; but when it does, my is it delicious.

Aperol Spritz, Bloody Mary, Domaine Chandon

Electro Brunch at Gaucho is described as "the ultimate bottomless brunch". Served between 11am and 4pm, Electro Brunch is a chance to sit and enjoy two hours worth of wining and dining, all to the soundtrack of cool melodic beats provided by the in house DJ.

The menu includes not just Gaucho's famous Argentine steak, but everything from Eggs Florentine to Banana Pancakes. Stepping it up from the usual Avocado Toast, Eggs Florentino and Eggs Benedict, there's also some Argentine twists such as Gaucho Benedict and Medialuna or peanut butter dulce de leche. There's also the Choripan Sandwich, chorizo sausage and chimichurri, and Beans on Toast with Spanish Chorizo.

The team were very helpful when it came to Gluten-Free offerings, and I was given a run through of what I could and could not eat.

I started with the Gaucho Benedict made gluten free. Served with Egg, Hollandaise Sauce and the addition of Salt Beef made this an unusual but delicious dish. The Salt Beef adds not just a different flavour, with the salt working well with the creamy sauce and smooth yolk, but another texture too. It's worth noting that the Eggs Benedict, Eggs Florentine and Eggs Royale can all be served on gluten free toast.

Next up, I had to try the steak and eggs. I asked for mine to be served medium, and it came cooked just right and topped with a fried egg. At 100g it is a manageable size for brunch too.

Finally, I tried the Beans on Toast, topped with mini hunks of cheese to add some flavour and salty seasoning.

There is another gluten-free option which is the Choripan Sandwich, which I did not try but I did manage to photograph. As you can see, this is a protein based breakfast of fried egg, sausage, mushrooms and tomato served in the pan.

Onto the non gluten-free options. My dear friends were lucky enough to have these delicious banana pancakes, a great sweet option. This can be served with either Nutella or maple syrup as it has been here.

Then there was the French Toast served with peanut butter dulce de leche and topped with strawberries and flaked almonds. I wish I could have tried this dish because it looks devine!

There is also a cheese dish on the menu, the fried provoleta served with caramelised onion chutney that was very well received.

As for the drinks; what brunch would be complete without a Bloody Mary? Sadly I'm not one for such a fortified drink, but I did get to try the Orange Zinger from the Juice Bar, which made me feel positively virtuous, and the obligatory fizz, the Domaine Chandon. My favourite naughty drink of the day was the classic Aperol Spritz.

The atmosphere was indeed, electric, when I visited a few Saturday's ago, and the interior lends itself to ear whispering and intimate conversation. That being said, I did dine as part of a very lovely group of bloggers, so fear not if you're visiting with friends and family.

Bottomless drinks, unlimited small plates and a spot in one of the city's sexiest spots, make Gaucho's Electro Brunch a top tip from me.

*I dined complimentary, with thanks to Gaucho.