Thursday, 8 October 2009

We're Jammin'

"YOU were weaned on cauliflower cheese," my mum always tells me, when I wrinkle my nose up at the old choufleur.
Think it must have been a cauliflower overload, cos I can't stand the stuff now.
So, it will be as big of a surprise to my mother, as it was to me, that I order cauliflower soup at the start of a meal at Birmingham's Jam House last night.
I think it was the magic word 'cumin' that sold it to me. It's currently my favourite spice girl, after Posh and Ginger.
Lovely soup, it was too, creamy and smooth, although I was disappointed that the cauliflower pakora served on top was burnt so tasted bitter.
My dining companions seemed happy with their food choices, although one remarked his pate looked like brains, and was upset that the dish featured no Cumberland sausage, although it turned out he'd misread the menu, and it was Cumberland sauce.
My main course was less of a triumph. The confit fillet of seabass was a bit flabby, and the warm tartare sauce lacked punch. An accompanying quinelle of saffron mash tasted antiseptic. I was glad I ordered a side salad of watercress, rocket and Parmesan, which added much-needed crunch and texture.
My pal whopped down her salmon, which she said was perfectly cooked, and the two gents enjoyed their steaks topped with cafe de Paris butter, and served with super chips. The chips were so good in fact, we ordered another bowl to share.
Extra chips meant sorbet for pud, although it was luscious peach. I barely noticed as my pals tucked into blackberry creme brulee, chocolate brownie with rum and raisin icecream, and an assiette of desserts for two (eaten by one). Barely.
Food is well presented but pricey (£28 for three courses) and although on this particular night we were treated to a performance from Mica Paris.
I feel they'd be better to focus on simpler fare, cut the prices a little and trade on the venue's fantastic atmosphere.
For more details go to

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

All You Need is Love (s)

'ALL you need is love', sang the Beatles.
None a truer word spoken. Especially on your birthday.
And while I was lucky enough to be lavished with love on my birthday, I was also treated to a meal at Loves, Birmingham's newest fine dining restaurant - and that was rather good too.
The boy and I visited when the restaurant, situated on Canal Square, was just ten days old, but with slick service there was little evidence (apart from maitre d' Claire Love's sheer excitement) of its infancy.
An amouse bouche of butternut squash and goat's cheese foam was exemplary, as was the fresh bread.
I opted for the starter of tuna sashimi and beetroot, although i was informed early on that the tuna had been replaced by crayfish. I was happy either way, and the flavours were as sublime as the presentation.
The boy adored his Jerusalem artichoke risotto which was light but still unctuous and creamy.
A smooth and fruity Riesling accompanied our starters well, but also proved complimentary to our mains; mine of tender venison, and his of halibut with langoustine.
A cute copper-bottomed saucepan of creamy mashed potato was a welcome addition to the table, seeing as the portions are fairly dinky.
As I was the birthday girl, a chocolate dessert was the order of the day which - once again - tasted superb. Meanwhile, the boy failed to share his poached pineapple and coconut, a sure sign of his delight.
Perfect handmade petit fours and good decaf coffee rounded off a perfect evening.
Loves opened too late to gain entry into the Michelin, or Good Food guides.
However, Claire told us that she and husband chef Steve were glad of their timing because it would give them time to settle in before the next round of inspector's visits.
If Loves fails to get a Michelin star next year, I'll eat my hat.
To book a table go to or call 0121 454 5151

Monday, 14 September 2009

Everyone's a Winner

LUDLOW food festival, and the annual excuse to binge-eat on morsels of the best food Shropshire and the surrounding counties have to offer.
This year was no different, except the festival's growing reputation, with the addition of sunshine to rival the Costa Del Sol, meant that fellow foodies turned out in their tens of thousands to do the same.
So, it was time for the elbows to make a guest appearance in order to muscle my way to foodie heaven.
No one else stood a chance.
After a day of a style of cramming I haven't done since I sat my GCSEs (13 years ago...) I have decided to hand out the following fun awards....

Most Generous Supplier of Free Samples....
WINNER: Artisan baker Richard C Swift
VERDICT: A lot of dough before you part with your dough

Least Palatable Sample....
WINNER: Muesli by Pimhill Farm Organic
VERDICT: Cute packaging, but dry muesli tastes like sawdust

Stall Most Likely to Turn You Veggie
WINNER: Mandy and Alan's Fab Foods
VERDICT: Go nuts for their nut roasts and crackers for their cheesecakes

Perfect Pocket Money Purchase
WINNER: September Organic mini cones of icecream (50p)
VERDICT: Too small for Cone-an the Barbarian

Most Creative Chutney in a Sea on Red Onion Marmalades
WINNER: Thai peach with Lemongrass and Ginger by Farmhouse Pantry
VERDICT: Fruitier than a Bangkok lady boy

Did you go? Let me know what your favourite/least favourite stalls were and why....

Read more about my Ludlow adventure, and see more pictures, at

Friday, 11 September 2009

Let them eat cake

IF YOU really need an excuse to enjoy a slice of cake and a brew, then Friday, September 25 should be it.
Macmillan Cancer Support is holding its annual Biggest Coffee Morning in the World event and one of Brum's newest coffee shops it getting in on the act.
Miss Latte, at 245 Broad Street, which has taken the old Del Villaggio deli premises, is hosting an all day coffee morning in aid of the cause.
I'll definitely be popping along because, along with the bonus of helping a very worthwhile, it's an opportunity to nose around this new addition to Brum's cafe culture scene (and eat cake guilt-free).
Miss Latte spokeswoman Anita Champaneri says: "Please come with a smile and make a small donation to Macmillan Cancer Support."
For more details on the charity, or to find your nearest event click here.
Are you attending one of the charity's fundraising coffee mornings? Or maybe hosting your own? Let me know....

Sunday, 6 September 2009

All roads lead to...

THEY say all roads lead to Rome.
Well, I say that all roads lead to Birmingham. Because no matter where I am in the world, from Norwich to New York, I am guaranteed to bump into someone from Brum.
And a recent meal at Napa restaurant at the Chiswick Moran Hotel in west London proved no exception.
On introduction, it transpired that Napa's restaurant manager - an Italian named Mark - had arrived in Chiswick from Perry Barr, Birmingham, via a stint at the Watford Gap services. Small world, eh?
While swapping second city tales, Mark helped the boy and I select a wine to accompany our meal, recommending a light Cotes de Provence rose to compliment my cod and the boy's steak.
Rose seemed the fitting wine too, as Napa's interior has a funky '70s feel, which is also reflected in the menu with dishes such as 'open' beef Wellington and steak Diane.
I opted for a 'classic' Napa starter of crayfish and prawn cocktail, which had it been served in a frilly-edged glass goblet, would have been right out of a Fanny Craddock cookbook.
Served instead in lettuce leaf shells, the seafood was succulent and Marie Rose dressing nicely spiced. Accompanying homemade breads were excellent, with a lovely open texture.
The boy's tian of white Dorset crab with avocado and tomato dressing 'tasted a lot better than it looked'. He also commented on the freshness of the seafood.
He was equally impressed by the 'medium' cooking of his steak, although his hand-cut chips were undercooked.
My fillet of cod on saffron-crushed potatoes with mussels and tomato beurre blanc exceeded expectations, while some accompanying green beans still had good crunch.
The boy's Eton mess was packed with fruit and deliciously creamy, while my passion fruit sorbet a good palate cleanser.
Sadly, prices aren't based in the '70s, with main course dishes averaging about £15, but Napa is worth a try if you are in this neck of the woods.
Napa is currently offering 50 per cent off your food bill until September 30. Click here to download the voucher.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Kai, Mayfair

IN my experience really great meals fall into two categories.
There are those which at the time were sublime, but afterwards evaporate into the darkest confines of your memory, only to be revisited in a moment of reminiscence.
Then there are those - relatively few - dining experiences where the tastes are so incredible that they will linger on your lips forever and, no matter where you are in the world, you will hanker after a return visit.
While I know there are a million more food experiences to be had, I will always lust after one more taste of what can only be described as a crispy onion pancake that we ate in House of Nanking in San Francisco.
Food memories like that don't discriminate; they can take place in roadside shacks or prince's palaces.
It just so happens however, that my most recent such experience took place in the very stylish Kai in Mayfair.
Kai is one of only three Michelin star Chinese restaurants in London. So good is the food that I fear every other Chinese meal I now eat will pale into insignificance.
Unlike many such celebrated establishments, there is no stuffiness and diners seemed to delight in being able to tuck into communal dishes.
We started with Kai's signature starter of Wasabi Prawns, which our waiter assured us was 'not too spicy, as it was a special recipe devised by the chef'.
He also told us that during Kai's recent participation in Taste of London festival, they traded more than 1,000 portions of this dish.
It's easy to see why. The jumbo prawns were delicately cooked and coated in just the right amount of creamy, 'not too spicy' wasabi dressing, as well a tiny flecks of chopped fresh ginger. The boy and I agreed it was a taste revelation.
We also tucked into canapes of prawn toasts and aromatic crispy duck - both excellent examples of classic Chinese fare, while enjoying a bottle of Dr Loosen Riesling recommended by our sommelier.
However, the food really came into its own for our main courses of chicken and cashew nuts and aubergines stuffed with minced prawns.
The sauce coating the chicken was deep, dark and rich with a good kick from the sundried chillis - a million miles from the MSG-laden gloop you'd find in your bog standard Oriental sauce.
And the prawn-stuffed aubergines was a superbly inventive dish, combining the smokiness of the vegetable and sweetness of prime seafood in a pulse-rich black bean sauce.
Even our waiter admitted he was dubious about the dish until he tried it.
Ginger and sesame oil, and coriander fragranced rice, were subtle yet stunningly delicious side dishes.
Puddings were zingy pineapple carpaccio with lime, lychees and lemongrass syrup, and another Kai signature dish of pumpkin cream with purple rice and coconut icecream - an intelligent dessert deconstructing the elements of a pumpkin soup and turning it into a divine velvety dessert.
Some of the prices on the Kai menu may leave you breathless, but the quality of ingredients, intelligence of the cooking and -most unusually - the generosity of the portions, make them justifiable.
This is what food memories are made of.
For more details go to

Monday, 24 August 2009

Festival Feasting

THE beauty of music festivals isn't just the fact that they attract a melting pot of people and a mix of top bands - but that during a three-day event, you can pretty much eat your way around the world.
Gone are the days when the only food you can get to soak up the ale is a greasy burger; and the nearest you get to a taste of the exotic is a box of oily, lukewarm noodles.
Now festival-goers need not face those Portaloos with tummies in turmoil, thanks to a plethora of food traders descending on music events to cash in on the demand for better quality grub.
We spent Sunday at the V Festival at Weston Park, Staffordshire, meeting up with friends who had camped there - and managed to sample some of the tasty fare on offer.
I am guessing there were more than 50 stalls dotted across the site selling every nationality of food from Thai beef curries to cheesy Mexican burritos.
My friends and I found a window to dine in between sets by The Noisettes and Dizzee Rascal.
Choosing what to tuck into proved tough and I almost admitted defeat to a chargrilled goat's cheese and aubergine burger, but instead held out for a delicious wholemeal pitta bread, stuffed with falafels, salad with tahini-dressed salad, topped in hummus.
Using the logic that it was the Sabbath, the Boy opted for bangers in a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with mash and gravy - figuring that it was the closest thing he could find to a Sunday roast.
One of his pals chose sweet and sour chicken with noodles and a spring roll, while another opted for an interesting (no doubt hangover-induced) combintaion of chicken chow mein with lashings of curry sauce.
However, had our palates been after something a little more refined, there was a seafood tent selling fresh langoustines, oysters and mussels, and plenty of others trading organic burgers such as Aberdeen Angus, buffalo and minted lamb. Organic chocolate brownies, carrot cake and apricot slice were available in the 'V Healthy' arena, along with smoothies, soups and dhals.
What's you favourite festival fare? Let me know...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Take a Chance

THOSE lovely people over at Gekko are offering readers of this blog the chance to live it up in London with a one night stay at the newly refurbished Langham Hotel.
The historic five star Regents Street hotel has just undergone an £80million transformation, and boasts facilities including a fine dining restaurant The Landau, and luxury health suite.
It's perfectly situated for all the big smoke's famous sites, restaurants and shopping destinations.
The winner, and their travel companion, get to stay in one of the luxurious Grand Rooms, with a sumptuous breakfast included.
All you have to do is register with Gekko before the end of August for your chance to win.
So, what are you waiting for?? Go to now!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

In Mint Condition

I HAD the privilege of eating at Mint last night, which reopens its doors to the public tonight.
The Sutton Coldfield restaurant was forced to shut after being flooded but, after a bit of a revamp, it's ready to feed the chic set once again.
I was one of the select few to sample some of the new dishes on the menu in a seven-course tasting extravaganza.
It's an attractive little restaurant - both inside and out; the interior wouldn't look out of place in a boutique hotel and it's menu aspires to match its stylish, modern decor.
Seared scallops with a salt cod brandade with lemon puree provided a punchy start to our meal. Personally I found that the lemon slightly overpowered the delicate scallop, although the petite brandade was flavoursome and delightfully crisp.
A portion of wonderfully succulent pigeon, served with pomegranates and cabbage followed, and proved the best course of the evening. The meat was juicy and perfectly cooked
However, the delight at this course was overshadowed by the disappointment of the next. A deconstructed tuna Nicoise was a nice idea but just didn't work.
The flavour of the tuna carpaccio (which had been coated in a layer of star anise) was lost beneath a quinelle of salty tapenade, an anchovy, a quail's egg topped in spicy cayenne, while the barely cooked cubes of potatoes added nothing.
Similarly undercooked vegetables were served with the cannon of lamb; while I like al dente, the baby onions were unpleasantly hard, as were the veggies in the ratatouille. However, the perfectly pink lamb was tender, but unnecessarily wrapped in a layer of chicken and herb mousse.
A pre-dessert of elderflower jelly trifle was subtle, while the main event - a treacle tart with vanilla icecream - was a little too tart for my tastebuds, although I appreciated the good, short pastry.
Due to the nature of the evening, and all tables arriving at the same time, service was a little slow, however this was more than compensated by friendly and helpful staff.
Mint has commendably high aspirations, which are often met - a few tweaks and it'll be right on the money!
For more details in Mint go to

Monday, 17 August 2009

What's Yours is Mine....

I AM a firm believer in sharing.
I think that pudding - ordered by him - should always come with two spoons, drinks with a pair of straws, and a bag of chips should always have room for my grubby little fingers to prize out a few hot tatties.
I can't say I always reciprocate the generosity, especially when it comes to Diet Coke, or 'my Diet Coke' as it's usually known - after all, what's yours is mine, and what's mine is..... well, mine.
Thankfully the boy was in sharing mode on Saturday and because of his goodwill I was able to try a trio of goodies that I would have otherwise missed.
At lunch we ventured to Eat, in the Bullring, one of our most frequented venues - a firm favourite for it's fast, fresh and healthy foods. I opted for the Gujarati red lentil dhal soup, which as I know from past experience, is filling and delicious.
But the boy boldly opted for one of the new Vietnamese pho soups.
Lifting the lid of the big white tub revealed thin strips of beef and vegetables with noodles and plenty of fragrant ginger. At the counter, staff cover it in hot broth, which heats the ingredients and releases further delicious aromas. Eaten with chopsticks, it was a revelation!
'This is what I call lunch,' he exclaimed!
Such a virtuous lunch warranted a sweet treat so we headed to the nearby Wah-Kee Chinese bakery, in the Arcadian Centre, where the boy more than happily shared his choice of coconut and caster sugar bun.
Another delight, this feather-like pastry was sweet and flaky with good crunch, and chew, from the sugar and dessicated coconut topping.
I'd like to say our sweet tooth was sated and it probably would have been if a new ice cream parlour hadn't just opened in Paradise Forum.
Mediterranean in style (it wouldn't look out of place on a Turkish seafront) and sparsely furnished, Entice is serving up a selection of creatively-flavoured gelato from white chocolate and coconut to mango, pineapple and passionfruit. There are even a few sorbets, and yogurt-based ices for the slimmers, plus fresh pancakes and waffles for those with elasticated waistbands.
Forever a sucker for icecream the boy ordered a scoop each of apple pie, and Turkish delight flavours.
'Did you get two spoons?' he questioned as I presented his order.
This was unprecedented. I tucked in, trying both flavours and was pleased by the natural flavour of the Turkish delight icecream, but adored the creamy cinnamon taste of the apple flavour.
The boy said it wasn't quite creamy enough for his liking, although I'm not sure whether this was psychological because there was a display board stating the 'healthier' nature of their icecream.
I didn't notice any difference. I shouldn't have pointed it out... serves me right for sharing information! Ignorance is bliss, eh?
Is sharing food more fun? What foods won't you share? Let me know.....