Category: Mixed Reviews

Digbeth Dining Club – Pietanic and Big Daddies Diner reviews

Digbeth Dining Club (DDC) has been running for over 2 years, and continues to go from strength to strength, winning Best Street Food Event awards for two years in a row. It’s a very simple concept – bringing a collection of street food vendors together on a weekly basis to offer good quality, stripped back tasty nosh. And tasty it is! For some reason I’ve only ever been 3 times, which is quite ridiculous considering it’s pretty much on my doorstep, but I intend for that to change this year, for sure.

DDC is hosted at Spotlight, a large warehouse space bar with a DJ, comfy sofas and picnic tables inside. Drinks are reasonably priced and the bar was both well stocked and well staffed.

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I have to be honest that last night’s vendors didn’t really ding my dong compared to some of the other regulars, but it was my last night of “holiday” as I start my new job next week, and some friends were planning to be there, so I thought I’d make the best of it. How wrong I was to be reticent. The food was fabulous.

Starting with Pietanic.

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The Pietanic van is a retro cream and brown affair with their name painted across the side. They’re fully self sufficient and serve via a hatch in the side of the van. I went for Chicken and Chorizo, which was served hot from a foil container that resembled a deep pudding pot more than a shallow pie. There was a choice of either mash and gravy – an obvious pie accompaniment – or potato salad. With the weather doing a great summer impression I went for the latter, and what a choice it was. Skin on crushed potatoes, fresh and flavoursome. The whole lot was sprinkled with crispy fried onions.

The star of the show, as you’d expect, was the pie. Just delicious. Pies can sometimes be too much pastry and not enough filling, but this was the perfect combination. The outer was less of a crust and more of a soft doughy protective case around it’s precious contents of tender chicken, meaty chorizo and sweet spicy tomato sauce.

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My husband may or may not* have had a second one to take home with him at the end of the night.

*He did.

The beauty of street food events is eating more than one cuisine. Second choice for the night was Big Daddies Diner. Specialising in hotdogs, they had a choice of around 8 different types – from a basic dog right up to fully loaded varieties. I’m not a huge hot dog fan, but the beauties I was seeing people holding meant there’s no way I couldn’t try one for myself.

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I went for the Edna – 2 dogs in a soft bun, loaded with chilli and cheese. Yum.

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Husband chose a Turbo Pete – topped with pulled pork and red slaw. His opinion was also yum.

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Big Daddies Diner uses a combination of pork and beef dogs that are cooked right in front of your eyes. They’re thick, succulent and juicy. I was definitely converted. The chilli and cheese on mine were perfect bed fellows, although it did necessitate eating with a fork due to the sheer size! Big Daddies Diner was definitely the most popular vendor of the night, with queues of up to 30 people at a time running back across the car park. Was it justified? Hell yeah!

Its testament to the popularity of all the vendors that all of them were displaying sold out signs across at least one of their dishes by the time we left at 9.30.

DDC is open every Friday night from 5.30pm, as well as the last Saturday of every month. The key is to get there early and wear your Joey Thanksgiving pants!

Joey pants

I’m eating out again tonight – I fear for my waistline!

Fast and Furious 7 at the new Everyman cinema in Birmingham

I don’t go to the cinema very often. It’s expensive, uncomfortable, and not a great experience for me. I get annoyed by people eating, talking, or laughing at the wrong moments. I don’t deal well with having to be quiet myself, or the fact that I can’t ask what’s going on or press pause if I need to go to the loo  I’m not much of a film person – I never think I have time to sit and dedicate wholly to watching a movie. I’m also very judgemental in terms of what I will and won’t watch. And as a result I’m sure I miss out on some awesome stuff. In fact when I do sit and watch a film, even something that I’m very against, I generally tend to really enjoy it. Yet the same pattern repeats itself.

Go figure.

The Fast and Furious franchise is a perfect case in point. My husband loves them. I turned my nose up – fast cars and girls, why would I be interested? Under duress I watched one, just to shut him up. And I was hooked! The energy, the soundtrack, the characters. Of course Paul Walker was very easy on the eye, but that wasn’t the only thing. I got immediately drawn into the story, and immediately wanted to watch all of them. I even love Tokyo Drift (number 3).

When Paul Walker died there was obviously a massive outpouring of shock and grief, as well as a question over the future of F&F7, which was already being filmed. When it was confirmed that the film would be completed and released, we said we would definitely go to the cinema to see it.

Handily, the release date coincided with the opening of a new cinema in Birmingham – Everyman. There are only a handful of them in the UK at the moment, but I believe there are plans to open many more. The cinema is in the Mailbox, which is currently undergoing a multi million pound redevelopment, and sits in a plot previously occupied by an indian restaurant (and maybe something else more recently?)

So, what was the verdict? A big thumbs up to both the cinema and the film. The cinema is very nicely done. Just 3 screens, a traditional bar, fresh flowers, lots of wood and old cinema posters.

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About as far from a multiplex as it’s possible to be (and all the better for it). We were in screen 3, down some stairs past this little fella!

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There’s another bar at the bottom where you can order food and drinks to be delivered to your seats. And the seats – well, they’re the star of the show. Big comfy sofas for two people, in purples and reds, with snuggly velour cushions. Wooden footrests and drinks rests give a real quality feel. And, when the film started, the sound was amazing and the darkness was very dark. Perfect film watching conditions.

The film was fab. Lots of special effects, a huge budget as you’d expect for a Hollywood blockbuster, all of the favourite characters and a great appearance by Jason Statham. Knowing that Paul Walker had passed away prior to the end of filming, and that the film makers used Paul’s brothers as stand ins on scenes that were yet to be completed, there was a worry that continuity might suffer as a result, but it was flawless. And the ending (no spoilers) was perfect. Just right. And yes I cried.

Paul Walker

I read this article yesterday, which gives a small insight into how the film was completed without Paul. It must have been tough for the rest of the cast.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Rouge, The Mailbox, Birmingham

It’s rare that I eat at chain restaurants. Not because of a sense of snobbery, just because there’s so much choice out there, and so much good cuisine, that it seems somewhat unimaginative. Of course there are times when it makes good sense to use my Tesco points combined with their clubcard boost offer to eat out for “free” because sometimes you still want that dining out experience, even when there’s too much month at the end of the money.

Last Tuesday was my Mom’s birthday. We had tickets for a 7.30 theatre performance so I suggested pre-show drinks and dinner. Now, my Mom isn’t a fussy eater as such, but she knows what she likes. Doesn’t eat Italian food (doesn’t like pasta – I mean, HOW???), doesn’t eat peppers or seafood and I was struggling to think of a place to go where we could park, drink and find a menu that would suit her tastes. Going down the steak train of thought (who doesn’t like a good steak) I settled on Café Rouge, so we could have drinks at the Marco Pierre White Bar at the top of the Cube and dinner overlooking the waterways (Mom isn’t familiar with that part of the City so it was something a bit different) before heading over the road to the theatre.

What can I say. Both the food and dining experience exceeded my expectations and then some. We got to the restaurant at around 5.30 and there were only a handful of other diners so we had our pick of seating. We sat near the window for a canalside view and, as the restaurant is on the third floor, we could see all around across to Brindley Place, Gas Street Basin and all of the city living apartments in the vicinity.

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The interior of the restaurant is decorated in a French bistro style, similarly to others in the chain (I’ve only eaten at a Café Rouge once before, in Nottingham many years ago). Red and cream colour palette, rattan chairs, checked table cloths, wooden floors and soft lighting with a large bar and big airy windows. Background music was perfect – loud enough to hear without being overpowering and a nice mix of mood lifting jazzy numbers.

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The menu is full of rustic and “cosy” food – meats, breads and cheeses with sauces and chutneys. We chose starters of “Champignons à l’ail” (mushrooms in a cèpe & garlic cream sauce on grilled rye & caraway bread) and “Pàté” (chicken liver, grilled rye & caraway bread and chutney). Both were delicious – really good size portions, fresh and tasty . The pate was served on a wooden board with plenty of bread and chutney (I hate it when a restaurant is stingy with accompaniments and you run out before the end of your meal – not the case here) and the mushrooms were plentiful in a rich and creamy sauce.

For main course we both ordered “Steak Frites” choosing the 7oz fillet and peppercorn sauce, with a greedy double carb side order of dauphinoise potatoes. The steak was as good as any I’ve ever eaten – even at 3 times the price – cooked exactly to our liking, juicy, and so so tender.

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I wouldn’t usually order steak in a pub or chain restaurant having been disappointed so many times before, but this was outstanding. I’m so glad I had a last minute change of heart – I was all set to go for the beef bourguignon but then got “The Fear” when my Mom ordered and feared I may be missing out if I didn’t order the same as her.

Overall a great experience – the staff were friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and the early dining time meant the restaurant was nicely empty (from a selfish point of view!) With an outside seating terrace this will be a lovely location for summer afternoons. I was very pleasantly surprised, and I’ll definitely be back!

Tattoos in the workplace – all the world’s a stage

On Tuesday night I went to see a production of Saturday Night Fever at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. I was surprised to see that the chararcter playing Tony Manero had tattoos on his back during one of the scenes where he took his top off, and also that the (female) club singer character had a full sleeve and back tattoos.

Why was I suprised? Well, firstly, because it doesn’t fit in with the 70s timescale of the production – especially not for the female actor. I guess I’d have thought they would be covered with make up. Or, maybe the actors would have been overlooked for the part because of their tattoos not fitting the character they were auditioning to play. Which, quite frankly, I’m very annoyed with myself for even contemplating.

I have tattoos. They’re mainly covered up and I planned them that way. I have a wrist cuff that is generally on show and I don’t even think about it anymore as it’s been there for so long, although in the beginning I was very conscious of it. Occasionally I’ll catch someone looking at it when I meet them for the first time. Not judging. Just looking. I work in a stuffy corporate environment which is very male orientated and I’m aware that most of the people in my office would think differently about me if they knew the extent of my tattoos. Which is really unfair. Yet here I am doing the same about the actors from the show.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say here. I guess it just shows that tattoo acceptance is still a long way off. That appearance is still the very first thing we see and that we make a judgement – even if it’s not a negative one – without even realising. I certainly wasn’t upset that the actors had tattoos. Surprised, yes, and even impressed. I think it’s fantastic that the show producers didn’t try to cover them in spite of the fact there would be people in the audience who would see it as a negative and judge their appearance accordingly. It’s fabulous that they were up there performing based on talent. I’m conscious that I will cover my wrist for upcoming interviews. I wish I didn’t feel I had to, but if I were to miss out on a job role a little part of me would wonder if that was anything to do with it. Yet there are circumstances where I wear my tattoos with pride; where I will dress to show them off.

Society is still such a judgemental place, and we have to be so many things to so many people that we often can’t be 100% true to ourselves all of the time. Rare is the person who’s worklife mirrors their homelife mirrors their social life. Maybe it’s just part of being an adult. Or maybe it’s part of being an individual – refusing to comply just because we should. Sticking two fingers up to the norm, so that we can be our own norm when the time is right.

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Interestingly, when you search Google images for tattooed professionals in the workplace, there are barely any photographs of women.

By the way, the show was really good. Very talented crew – live musicianship on stage incorporated as part of the story gave it a different spin, stunning voices, and some really great dancing (as you’d expect). Considering they’ve been touring since December they were as fresh and sharp as if it were their first ever performance.  The Alex is a joy; still having that olde worlde intimate feel due it’s relatively small size.

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Isn’t this a cool pic? I was wondering what the actors see when they’re looking out at the audience looking at them.
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Out of curiosity I googled the female actor. Her name is Cici Howells and she plays numerous instruments including flute, clarinet, sax, oboe, guitar and trumpet. Her talent far far outweighs her physical appearance. Here’s a photograph of her in action in another production; playing classical music with her tattoos proudly on show. Brilliant.
Cici Howells

Her online casting profile mentions her tattoos and that they can be covered up easily. Making it even cooler that the producers of the show chose not to.

Restaurant Review – Shogun Sushi and Noodle Bar, Birmingham

On Sunday my husband and I went for food at Shogun Sushi and Noodle Bar. We’d purchased a Groupon voucher pre-Christmas and not got around to using it for one reason or another, and the fact that it expires today meant it was use it or lose it. The deal was salad appetiser; haromaki (japanese spring rolls) and yakitori (chicken skewers) to start followed by rice, vegetables, salmon, tiger prawns and teriyaki chicken. The restaurant is in the bottom of The Cube – the latest addition to Birmingham’s skyline and the popular Mailbox area of the city.

The Cube

I have mixed feelings about The Cube, mainly due to the awful colour of the exterior cladding, but it’s certainly adds a welcome extra dimension to Birmingham’s food and drink landscape.

The deal was valid pre-7pm and we arrived at round 6pm, expecting it to be pretty quiet, but it was surprisingly full (lots of people using up their vouchers, obvs). There were a number of people seated around the sushi bar, with the teppanyaki cooking plates situated towards the rear of the restaurant. We were seated alongside another couple who had just arrived and immediately served our starters which were fresh and tasty.

Shogun Teppanyaki starter

While we were eating a member of the team came out and cleaned the cooking griddle area with steaming water. After our starters had been finished and cleared away, our chef came to the cooking area and again cleaned the area thoroughly. Then the show began! He was incredibly friendly and enthusiastic, and looked like he was genuinely enjoying his job. He did some fancy showboating with his cooking tools, juggling and banging them like drums – much to our delight! His hands were so fast, it was hard to get an in focus picture!

 

 

He began by frying fresh garlic which was then pushed to one side to be used in future dishes; then added a pile of white rice and vegetables, followed by 6 eggs which were cooked into an omelette roll (after he’d juggled with them). The speed and presentation were brilliant, and he engaged with the diners by throwing bits of omelette in the air for us to catch with our mouths. The rice was served which we began to eat while he then moved onto cooking the salmon and prawns, followed by the teriyaki chicken. Everything was so fresh and tasty, beautifully cooked and delicious – right in front of our eyes, from raw.

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I can imagine that this dining experience would be a whole lot of fun with a group of people. We were the only 4 people on our teppanyaki table so it was over more quickly than we would have liked. The theatrical side of it for a large number of people would really be quite something, especially with the nature of our exuberant chef.

Definitely one to consider for a future group night out.

Restaurant review: Cucina Rustica, Birmingham

Cucina Rustica is an italian restaurant in Birmingham, just outside of the city centre near the Jewellery Quarter. I hadn’t heard of it until my Dad mentioned it last week, and last night he took us there for dinner.

The outside is deceptive in terms of size – it looks quite small but opens up inside to a large dining space. Dad had requested a table in the window which is housed in one of 2 booths and was perfect for the two of us, my husband and Dad’s wife. The front area of the restaurant has a more cosy rustic feel, while the larger rear dining area is more modern and stylised.

The menu is extensive and, as usual in a restaurant environment, I turned into Mrs Indecisive for fear of making the wrong choice (I’m always worried that I’ll prefer the look of everyone else’s food and spend the meal regretting my own decision – food is that important). I think I get this from my Dad, who was still deciding on his main course when the waitress was taking our order!

To start, I ordered “Capesante” – gratinated king scallops, parmesan, parsley, garlic butter & shrimps. The presentation was stunning and the flavours were perfectly balanced; I was so excited that I only managed to get a photograph once I’d finished!

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For main course I ordered veal. I know it’s still viewed as a controversial meat by some, but its so rare to see it on a menu that I couldn’t possibly have ordered anything else once it caught my eye. “Involtini di vitello”, to give it proper credit, was veal, parma ham, asparagus, mozzarella, marsala wine. The ham, asparagus and mozzarella was wrapped inside the veal, with a generous helping of deliciously rich sauce. It could have benefitted from a little more cheese for extra gooeyness, but the flavours were great and the side order of saute potatoes I decided on were the perfect accompaniment (and great for making the most of the marsala wine sauce). No picture, I was too intent on getting it in my tum!

The restaurant itself is finished to a very high standard, and our waitress was incredibly friendly, helpful and patient (we spent too much chatting and not enough time perusing the menu when we first arrived). We were served complimentary bread and olives as an appetiser, and drank rose wine by the bottle.

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I rarely go to Italian restaurants, mainly because I always think Italian cuisine is easy to recreate at home (which is pretty dumb and insulting to Italian chefs) and I wouldn’t think of ordering  pasta dish for the same reason. But I’ll definitely dine at Custina Rustica again, and will be keen to try “Fagottini al cinghiale” (wild boar filled pasta with light cream porcini sauce) – how delish does that sound?

Reviewing my reviews!

I’m a big fan of TripAdvisor. I always check it when booking hotels – it has a big impact on my travel plans. Of course some reviews are just ridiculous (marking a Spanish hotel down because they don’t serve chips, for example), but it’s usually a good indication of whether a place is going to meet your travel needs. Sometimes you want luxury, sometimes just a place to sleep. Things like location are usually key points I pick up on from reviews, plus breakfast quality of course!

I also love the feedback you get from TripAdvisor on your own reviews! Almost 30,000 readers. Wow!Tripadvisor