Full to the Brum | A Birmingham based food and drinks blog
A Birmingham based food and cocktail blog. The aim of the blog is simple; to celebrate the food and drinks scene in the Birmingham-ish area. This blog also includes news; restaurant, bar and product reviews; and the odd recipe here and there.
I was talking yesterday with fellow blogger friends about what would be your most ‘off brand’ thing you love. And I was stumped, because I don’t really have off-brand; I’ve blogged about fast food chains and frankly lying means having to remember what fibs you’ve told and I can’t be doing with that mental gymnastics. Essentially I have one rule: it has to be food and/or drink related and be in Birmingham…ish. I’ll accept Sandwell, Coventry and the West Midlands at a push, but it’s also why I’ve not blogged about my Melbourne burger adventures.
So it’s entirely on ‘brand on’ me to tell you that not only did I have turkey dinosaurs for lunch today. Actually, let me be entirely honest with you: turkey dinosaurs are my comfort food. I have them when I’m feeling a bit sad and I just need a bit of child-like joy in my life; I had them once for Christmas dinner when my mum was flying out to see my sister and my housemate was a vegetarian. They’re not fancy, they’re probably not very nutritious and they’re never going to end up on a Michelin-starred meal [the fools], but I like them. Because sometimes what is good and what you like don’t have to be the same thing, and for me turkey dinosaurs are the latter. So hunting down and ordering turkey dinosaurs from the kids menu was something I did without one ounce of embarrassment. In fact, I had them as part of a two course ‘Dippy children’s menu’.
Turkey dinosaurs are not normally on the menu at the Edwardian Tea Rooms, as part of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which is bitterly disappointing to me because I would go there for lunch more often if they were. But they’re on a Dippy the dinosaur themed menu whilst the old lad is on an adventure having escaped the Natural History Museum. I love a good menu tie-in, and I wasn’t going to let it being a kids menu stand in my way. Turns out that the staff at the Edwardian Tea Rooms were completely unfazed by my ordering this for myself, which makes me think that maybe I’m not the first person over the age of eight to have done this.
So, two turkey dinosaurs (they tasted very much like the Bernard Matthew’s variety, of which I have consumed a fair number), chips and peas. And the turkey dinosaurs were as turkey dinosaurs always are, exactly the right amount of comfort food and two-fingers at a certain ‘Naked Chef’ (who I have not forgiven for the whole turkey twizzlers thing). But lets talk about the chips. My god they were good. Like proper classic chips with jagged edges that were crisp and golden in grease, without creating some sort of oily swimming pool for the dinos. They were proper chips and there are not nearly enough of their kind in the city.
The hot chocolate volcano with ice cream did not look particularly pretty, but it was gooey and chocolatey without being overly sickly. I was happy, my mum (who had appeared at this point) also helped me eat it.
And whilst it was a kids portion it was surprisingly filling, especially as it was two courses – you could request the second one at your leisure, and it all came to about the same price of an overly fancy salad from one of those places that sell overly fancy salads. And it was entirely more enjoyable that an overly fancy salad. To the point that my mother had wished she joined me for lunch than eating said salad.
The Natural History Museum’s famous Dippy the Diplodocus is in Birmingham from 26th May – 9th September. He’s going on tour to eight locations outside of his normal home, with the aim of 1.5 million people across the UK seeing Dippy in person. Tickets are free, but you’re encouraged to book. The Dippy children’s menu is available in the Edwardian Tea Room and they don’t care if you order it and are no longer considered a child. If you fancy something a bit more grown up, they’re doing Dine with Dippy venue hire (you’ve missed the shared dinners), but I possess neither the attire nor desire to dress up fancy.
And I leave you with the skeleton of a velociraptor, because they’ve been my favourite ever since I saw the first Jurassic Park (and yes I know they’re the wrong size in those films). And a request – go eat something you enjoy, not because someone told you it was technically ‘good’…
It’s no secret that I think the Studio on Cannon Street in the city centre is a pretty ace place. I’ve written about them a bunch of times (see here), and the time has rolled round for another seasonal menu tasting.
If you’re not aware, and I have rescued many confused looking people on Cherry St to suggest that not everyone knows about the place, The Studio is part of a group of venues around the country which offer conferencing spaces. They also do small meeting rooms too. I arrange a fair amount of events for work and The Studio is one of my favoured places, not least because of the seasonal menu changes, but also because the staff are really helpful, and having staff who have your back when you’re running an event is invaluable. Also, the afternoon cookies are a friggin delight.
Anyway, as per usual they invite down a bunch of people who have used their venue to check out and comment on the upcoming menu, to make sure it’s appealing to customers. Because some people get a bit uppity about these things, let me be clear, they’re not fussed that I’m Full the Brum, they always email my work account and I ask politely if I can bring my camera and take some photos, and that’s why this post is here. I was amongst 50-ish other guests and there is enough food to feed an army. Those of us who have been to more than one of these are now sharing our tactical knowledge of trying as many dishes as possible (small portions, pick up the desserts and save them on your table).
There were a lot of good options this time round, and The Studio emailed us all after to tell us the dishes which stood out for everyone; I was pleased to see that the dark chocolate torte with salted caramel & fresh raspberry, and kofta meatballs scored highly, because both were delicious. I’m not normally a fan of chocolate things, but even I was singing the praises of the chocolate torte. I’m trying to think of good reasons to book the Studio just so I can have another one. Anyone fancy an important meeting?
They’re also bringing in salads to be more of a thing. Salad is not my thing, I get bored before I’ve eaten enough and I rarely bother. But if anyone could convince me that salad is actually worth caring about, then the guys at the Studio are in strong running, and they seem to have done it by combining two things that on their own I’m a bit meh about. So, despite having two things I don’t like much (raw tomatoes and feta are two things which my digestive tract is not on board with), the watermelon, cherry tomato, rocket, basil and feta salad was a well deserved winner, and the veggie winner (that was actually vegan) of vegan harissa spiced lentils ratatouille with falafel cobbler was a good choice too.
So, back to that very important meeting we need to book…
You’ll find the Studio in Birmingham on Cannon Street in Birmingham city centre. Whilst they rudely do not have a restaurant that you can just visit, they do have nineteen different spaces available for meetings and conferences. For more info, visit the Studio’s website.
I couldn’t make it to the preview of Rebel Chicken because I was too busy eating Melbourne out of burgers visiting my sister and meeting my new niece. But I thought it looked cool and worth telling people about. So I figured I’d ask someone who I pretty much only know on Twitter but I knew would have good opinions being he’s the King of Digbeth, which we know is the epicentre of street food in Birmingham. He once called me out on something which I can’t remember, but I remember thinking if I ever decide to pick on people to help guest blog on here, Andy will be on the list. And because you usually get plus ones to these things, Andy brought his friend Tim who I do not know, but if Andy rates him, I’m willing to believe he knows his stuff too.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Rebel Chicken is a new chicken restaurant, cocktail bar and beer garden in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. They are, apparently, fanatical about chicken; we’re talking twice-marinated, spit-roasted, free range, locally sourced, and expertly prepared – they’ve even employed a charcoal sommelier. Which is a job title I bet no one’s careers teacher ever told them about.
You can choose between stuff like a quarter, half or whole chicken; wings, including buffalo hot wings; and then things like veggie bean burgers or Caesar salad sharer if you’re the sort of masochist who goes to a chicken restaurant but doesn’t eat chicken.
Anyway, enough of me, over to Andy to tell us about the food…
“The main menu is a mix of either rotisserie chicken or the wings. You can choose a quarter, half or full roast chicken (I’d suggest the full is a sharer – it was massive) or a selection of coated and battered wings.
“The roast chicken itself was my fave – I’m not good with wings (I’m crap with messy fingers), so was looking forward to this element. The chicken itself was moist and slightly salty with a good helping of delicious crispy skin on. I must admit, I thought the whole Cuban coal/sweet cherry wood thing was a gimmick, but if it was responsible for the flavour then it’s well worth the money they must be spending on it. Easily the tastiest chicken I’ve had in a long time.
“The wings were good though – once I’d dissected them with my cutlery! We had a selection of the BBQ and ‘hot’ wings – the BBQ sauce was tasty and not overly sweet or smoky, just about right. The ‘hot’ wings were good too – made with birds eye chillies so not overly hot (though I am known for my ability to do the dorset naga), I’d say just about right for all palates with a nice after-heat. The chef mentioned he was thinking of doing a hotter sauce too though.
“Then sauces for the chicken – aside from the hot sauce and BBQ, they had a really good chipotle sauce, a simple brown gravy (not mind-blowing but functional) and an aioli which I didn’t try.
“Running it past Tim though, a wing pro, I asked him to compare it to the wings at Bonehead, and he without hesitation said these wings were a thousand times better. And he enjoyed Bonehead’s wings!
“On an aside, in terms of comparing to Bonehead, I would say the two can co-exist nicely, since Rebel don’t offer any burgers and as a chicken burger lover, I could happily go to either – Bonehead’s burgers are insanely good.”
[I asked Andy about the sides and desserts too and it seems that the chips/fries and charred corn are both fine, but pretty standard but the hero of the dish (sorry, too much Australian masterchef) is the slaw.]
“the slaw was sensational. Was a simple red cabbage slaw with a delicious dressing, and if I’m right, a hint of coriander. I’d thoroughly recommend it and it went a treat with the roast chicken adding some much needed crunch.
“Dessert wise, we tried a really decent cheesecake – was a caramel one as I recall, and the home made waffles in a caramel sauce which were good. Though after all that chicken there wasn’t too much room – fortunately these puddings weren’t too heavy though.”
[I also wanted to know what the atmosphere and vibe was like, which is tricky to figure out on a preview night but it sounds good]
“Vibe was very good. The décor in the upstairs dining area was stripped back walls with a clean and airy vibe with big windows (it reminded me a bit of the old Comida 21 room) and the bar downstairs whilst a wee bit cramped was smart and there were some nice armchairs at the one end.
“The outdoor space is the one they’ll probably push as there was plenty of outdoors tables, and it’s a big big space to capitalise upon in the summer. Though conversely, how that will work in the winter remains to be seen.
“It is good informal or last minute dining, or as an alternative to the multitudes of street food events, with friendly (albeit very new to the game) waitresses and Tim and I both agreed we would revisit for a Saturday night pre-night out meal. Tim even said he would definitely use it for a first date as the food would impress, it wouldn’t be too showy or pricey and it would be a non-pressure environment.
“Would be good for families that were on a day out in the JQ visiting the touristy bits or shopping for rings and so on, and they’re dog friendly too so that’s always a plus in my eyes!“
People ask me about dog-friendly places a lot, which makes sense because they’re flippin adorable, so this is good to know. In fact I get asked so often that I decided to start a page to group them so I don’t have to keep trying to remember them. Anyway, over to Andy for the summary of if Rebel Chicken is any good…
“Overall, it was a very good first experience and I can imagine it’ll get better as it starts to come together and they gain more experience. I think they pretty much do what they say on the box and they’re not re-inventing the wheel or anything but in terms of simple but quality chicken, they’re going to be hard to beat and I wish them well.”
Sounds good to me. I’ll try and head down to check it out soon, once I’m over the sheer amount of burgers I ate in Melbourne.
Rebel Chicken can be found at 5, 19 Pitsford St, Birmingham B18 6LJ, and from next month they’ll be joined by their sister venue next door, a Desi pub called Rebel Desi. Their website is http://therebelchicken.co.uk/
Andy, who I roped into guest posting, is King of Digbeth, regularly eats burgers (which is probably why I follow him) and often posts pictures of dogs (that’ll definitely be the reason I follow him). He also takes cool pictures around Digbeth and other bits of Birmingham, especially of the graffiti and such. You should follow him on social media things like DJ Colatron on Twitter or Colatron on Instagram. I’ve no idea who Tim is, so if you want to follow him on stuff, ask Andy.
Legally Blonde The Musical is coming to the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham this week, and I decided to compile a list of pink drinks in the city, in homage to Elle Woods.
For anyone not familiar with the musical, it’s based off the 2001 box-office smash movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a seemingly ditzy sorority girl who decides the best way to win her ex-boyfriend back is to follow him to law school. Sure, it’s formulaic and predictable, but that’s sort of why I watch it – and Reese Witherspoon is kinda brilliant in it. It’s also very, very pink.
And just like Elle Woods, pink drinks get stereotyped based on how they look, because lazy marketeers insist on gendering drinks, somehow suggesting that pink drinks are for girls. It’s 2018, get a grip, drinks don’t have genders and it’s not like bars require you to whip out your willy if you want to order a drink with blue Curacao in it.
Some of the best bars in Birmingham have cracking pink drinks on the menu, and with the help of them, I’ve compiled a list. This isn’t every great pink drink in Birmingham and I wouldn’t recommend trying them all in one night (drink responsibly folks) but as the theatre production is in Birmingham for a week – and these drinks aren’t going anywhere soon, you’ve got plenty of time…
It’s pink…Oh! And it’s scented! I think it gives it a little something extra, don’t you think?
The Edgbaston is the signature serve of the boutique hotel and bar which shares the drink’s name. It is elegant and decadent, serves long with floral and fizzy notes coming from the Tanqueray 10, Suze Aromatics, seasonal citrus, all topped off with Rose Champagne. And with the beautiful settings of The Edgbaston on Highfield Rd, it’s hard not to feel like royalty.
If you want to keep it simple and timeless, but also enjoy something with some fun, the Davenports run pub The Bulls Head on Bishopsgate St, up near Five Ways, serve Old Curiosity Lavender & Echinacea Gin, which turns from purple into a light shade of pink when you add tonic. As Elle might say “OMG you guys, it’s like magic”.
Avant-garde mischief makers (at least on twitter), The Wilderness have taken their approach to using British flavours and modernist technique to create a bittersweet, tongue-in-cheek variation on a classic. Their Nuclear Negroni uses Dry rhubarb gin from Yorkshire and London-made Rosehip bitters to soften and create a fruit-forward drink.
Champion Cobbler from 40 St Pauls
Just like the tall tales in the Brooke Windham case, the Champion Cobbler from 40 St Pauls is inspired by a completely made up story of an amateur footballer from Jerez who feel in love with a lass from Yorkshire, and the county itself. But thankfully this delicious drink of Slingsby Gin, rhubarb & rosehip cordial, Fino sherry, Yorkshire Tea, apple juice and lemon juice is very real, and very delightful. It’s also served in a trophy. How extra.
With possibly my favourite cocktail name on this list, Gas Street Social’s “Alright, Petal?” cocktail is a fruity, fresh drink which uses Havana Club 3 Year rum, lychee juice, Fraise de Bois and fresh lime, with a delicate rose garnish.
The Vanguard’s Vintage Candy Punch is inspired by the traditional British drink consumed in punch houses in the 18th century. Traditionally bowls of spirits mixed with fruit juice, spices, and other flavours, The Vanguard’s uses brandy, rum, citrus flavours, cinnamon and Assam Tea with a Vintage Sweet Cordial to give the drink it’s name. If Elle and her Delta Nu sorority sisters were looking for something spectaular to serve at one of their parties, this would be it.
The OG gin parlour of Birmingham, The Jekyll & Hyde on Steelhouse Lane has an array of sweet treats both upstairs and down, but it’s their Sweet Gin Music cocktail from the downstairs Mr Hyde’s Hostelry menu with Larios 12 gin, candy floss syrup & grapefruit bitters which will lift your spirits.
The Ivy Royale
Elle is taken to an expensive restaurant where she thinks she’s going to be proposed to. Sadly that’s not the case. But if Elle were taken to The Ivy on Temple Row, I could totally see her drowning her sorrows in something classy, like their twist on a Kir Royale. Their The Ivy Royale is made with Briottet rose liqueur, Sipsmith sloe gin & hibiscus, topped off with Champagne.
Tom’s Kitchen in the Mailbox has a delightfully named Belle en rose, made with strawberry-infused Beefeater Pink Gin, elderflower cordial, Chambord, lime juice, rose wine and topped with soda for a little sparkle.
Sugar and spice and all things nice isn’t just for girls; The Butterfly effect from Dirty Martini uses Hendrick’s Gin shaken with fresh raspberries, rose syrup, soursop juice, Sichuan pepper, fresh lime juice, and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Teapot Butters, served with a Silent Pool kaffir lime mist.
Revolución de Cuba’s Mariposa cocktail
I like to think Revolución de Cuba’s Mariposa cocktail might be the sort of sugary, tropical drink Elle enjoys whilst she’s lounging around by the pool at her parents house. With a Koko Kanu coconut rum based and Chambord black raspberry liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple, cranberry and lemon its certainly fruity.
We know Elle enjoys a good pampering, so she would almost certainly approve of The Alchemist’s Bubblebath cocktail, which uses Tanqueray gin, Aperol, Chambord, lemon, apple and fairy liquid.
So there you have it, a whole pile of pink drinks you can find in dear old Brum. And whilst this is a post that I did because it was fun, it would be remiss of me not to tell you Legally Blonde The Musical hits the Alexandra Theatre from 21 – 26 May. Tickets are available here.
I’ll leave the final words up to Elle…
Whoever said orange is the new pink was seriously disturbed.” – Elle Woods
So top marks to The Ruin, who have unveiled a massive big map on the side of their wall showcasing some of their great neighbours – and having the guts to effectively point out where the competition is.
The map, a 16ft by 10ft graffiti-style map, created by local artist as Andy Mills (also known as Title, apparently, because I am not cool enough to know these things) points out twelve of Digbeth’s best independent places to eat and drink. Commissioned by The Ruin’s owner, Richard Hughes, it’s an ode to Digbeth with its realism-meets-traditional graffiti-style embodying the industrial-past and cool, new future of one of Birmingham’s favourite suburbs. I mean, I like a lot of Birmingham suburbs but Digbeth is definitely in the list of one of the good ones. Even if it is severely lacking in cash-points.
The Digbeth Dozen title refers to twelve independent and unique neighbours, unsurprisingly in Digbeth, and includes The Anchor pub on Bradford Street; Ghetto Golf, The Mockingbird Cinema & Kitchen, Clink and Kanteen, all in the Custard Factory; new kid on the block Dig Brew Co’s brewery and taproom on River Street; Digbeth Dining Club, which everyone should really know about by now; Tucked away tapas joint Rico Libre; Birmingham’s oldest pub, The Old Crown; The Spotted Dog on Alcester Street; and Baked in Brick which is due to open in May – and of course, The Ruin itself. It’s an incredibly strong list of places, with pretty much something for everyone, and showing that whilst Digbeth might look a bit like it’s knocking around waiting for HS2, it’s actually a hive of activity, you just have to know where to look – which is where a map comes in pretty bloody handy. Someone really should make some nice postcards of this thing so we can put them in tourist information.
The Ruin’s owner, Richard Hughes has this to say about the map; “Since opening The Ruin, Digbeth in September 2017, its been exciting to get to know our neighbours in the area and to check out each unique spot to eat, drink or socialise in. From Spanish tapas with a Brummie twist to delicious vegetarian brunches, 18 holes of crazy golf to blockbuster and arthouse film screenings, and new craft beer spaces as well as traditional city boozers, the Digbeth Dozen offering really is as varied as it gets in this exciting and creative quarter. We wanted to mark the exciting new period in the area’s history – and what better way than with an exclusive mural-style map to help people find their way!?”
If you’re not familiar, The Ruin is situated on the corner of Floodgate Street and Little Ann Street in Digbeth. Some readers may be familiar with this Grade II listed building formerly known as The Eagle, Horan’s Tavern and The Floodgate Tavern. Offering local ales, coffee roasted in nearby Shropshire, and a heart European menu using regional ingredients, The Ruin also has a packed listings of events including live music, DJ sets and open mic. It’s basically what you want in a modern pub – and pretty spot on for Digbeth.
Look, I’m not about to tell you that food will cure you, but after two weeks of having the flu and still feeling pants, I decided that my diet of hot cross buns and more tea than I thought humanly possible could probably do with some help. So I decided to make this medicinal soup, and bonus points it’s vegan too.
Without descending into too much woo, this has a bunch of stuff that supposedly has some health benefits: onions have been used for centuries to reduce inflammation, coconut is apparently helpful to balance gut bacteria, and limes are full of vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant and stops you getting scurvy. Although if you’re worried about that, I recommend drinking daiquiris.
I have no idea if it’d cured me, but it tasted good so I figured I’d share. I stuck with it as it is in the recipe below because I didn’t want to challenge my stomach any more than I was already, but the punchy lime, sunny colours and slight heat meant that next time I’ll be adding shredded chicken or pork, some beans, maybe a pinch of cumin and upping the chilli slightly to make it a more filling soup. But as it is, it’s a pretty nice medicinal soup, although pretty citrusy (some people might want to tone that down, I quite like it). It’s also vegan if you use right kind of vegetable stock; I used Marigold Swiss vegetable vegan bouillon powder in this recipe. I also mentioned garlic and ginger pastes because I have them both in my fridge and was too poorly to be faffing about grating ginger.
1 lime, juice and zest - you may want to reduce this if you don't like things too citrusy
In a large pan, fry the onions in a little oil until soft and golden
Then add the lentils, turmeric, ginger, garlic and pour in the stock.
Cover the pan and simmer until the lentils have softened, this should take around 15 minutes
You might want to season with some salt now, depending on how salty your stock is
Pour in the coconut milk, give everything a good stir and simmer for another 15 minutes or so
Add the spinach, and cook it until it wilts.
Stir in the lime juice and zest, and serve.
Disclosure: Brought to you by the flu and the realisation that after two weeks I was starting to get bored of bread, which is more painful than the flu itself. Also, if you’re really sick, go see a doctor and get actual medicine. But only have antibiotics if you *really* need them.
Part-play, part-tribute act This is Elvis is showing at the New Alexandra Theatre for the next few days and it made me think, if The King of Rock and Roll really were in town, where would he eat.
Charting Presley’s monumental return to performing live for the first time in seven years via his ’68 Comeback Special’ and residency in Las Vegas, This is Elvis is a hell of a lot of fun, and I say that as someone who is probably more familiar with cover-versions of the King’s songs. Award-winning tribute artist and actor Steve Michaels, who plays Elvis, looks the part but more importantly performs with such energy it’s infectious.
I wrote a more in-depth review of the show over on my other blog, but as Elvis’ diet and weakness for food was mentioned in the performance, I thought it might be quite fun to come up with a list of places in Birmingham Elvis might’ve liked…
Some claim that Elvis was found dead with half a cheeseburger in his hand, which is almost certainly not true, but his love of cheeseburgers throughout his lifetime is well documented. If the King were after a proper cheeseburger in Birmingham then his best bet would be either Original Patty Men or The Meatshack. Or maybe both.
The Elvis Presley Milkshake
Rightfully so, nowhere in Birmingham is made enough to make this calorie-laden monstrosity of smoked bacon, bananas, ice cream, bourbon, and peanut butter. But if shakes are what you’re after then try the rather charming sister venue in the San Carlo group in Selfridges, Gran Cafe, where you can get an indulgent cake shake, but with a much coherent flavour combination.
Southern Fried Chicken
On the menu at his 1967 wedding to Priscilla, but if you’re after fried chicken in Birmingham then new-kid-on-the-block, Boneheadis definitely the place to try. And bonus points are that it’s just round the corner from the Alex Theatre too.
In James Gregory’s 1960 biography of Presley, there’s a note for anyone interested in dating Elvis, it reads: “Note for his future wife: Elvis loves enormous breakfasts complete with sausage, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, home-baked rolls, and coffee. He has a tremendous appetite at breakfast. His wife should never develop elegant or expensive tastes.”
For a proper hearty breakfast Cherry Reds on John Bright Street orGas Street Social in the Mailbox will do a good fry up, minus the airs and graces. But if you’re after something bottomless but refined, then try the Electro Brunch atGaucho on Church Street.
The show is at the New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until 24 March before it continues its national tour. For tickets, visit atgtickets.com/Birmingham.
This was a press event. Photographs were taken by Pamela Raith.
Finally – we have a fried chicken place in Birmingham that looks like it’s going to be great!
I popped into a preview night for Bonehead, the new fried chicken place just off John Bright Street in the city centre. It’s a pretty simple concept or fried chicken and craft beer, with Beavertown on tap / in cans and a takeover planned.
Lap-Fai Lee has been behind some of the most delicious fried chicken pop-ups in the city, and he’s chef consultant for Bonehead, as well as the man in the kitchen on preview night. If that’s not the sign of good things, then I don’t know what is. And the wings I tried lived up to expectations – I’m looking forward to returning and trying the burgers and waffle fries.
With a seated area upstairs with 32 covers and no reservations, this is going to be popular, but if the preview night is anything to go by it’s going to be well worth a visit.
Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is closing. It hasn’t closed yet, but it is closing. That’s the essence of this blog post and I want you to remember that it’s as simple as that. A whole pile of things have closed or are threatened with closure and there are rumours swirling about, much like the current weather. But with Kings Heath’s Cherry Reds, it’s a lot simpler.
Jen, the owner of Cherry Reds, asked to have a chat with me about this and honestly I thought it was going to be a therapy session because I bloody love Cherry Reds. I love the Kings Heath Cherry Reds even though it took over the greasy spoon cafe I had an affinity towards because it served me sausage and bacon sandwiches when I first moved to Kings Heath.
“People asked how I got started, and the simple answer is with experience and savings from running pubs for M&B, as well as help from friends and family” says Jen. And this comes through, Cherry Reds is the sort of low-key place that caters for a multitude of dietary requirements without having fifty-thousand menus to certify this; vegan cake sits alongside cake with lashings of buttercream and you can order a vegan full English just as easily as you can a meaty one. No one judges you for ordering tea and cake on a Friday night, and there’s a great selection of beers without being all holier-than-thou about its craft beer credentials. The staff are consistently lovely, from letting your pregnant friend queue-jump a sudden influx of people because you were saving the table, through to explaining the ins and outs of Pokemon Go.
It might well be their Twitter handle, but it’s true. I do love Cherry Reds. But more importantly, so does Jen; “A few years back I was having a mini-meltdown, probably about some unconstructive negative review online, and one of the team tried to comfort me by saying that I take these things too personally. It occurred to me that she was right, I do take it personally.”
So why is Cherry Reds in Kings Heath closing? Rumours have been going around for a while that it was going to turn into this, that and the other. Or with seemingly a new coffee shop opening in Kings Heath daily, has Jen had enough? Nope, it’s a lot simpler than that…it’s about putting down roots and making the painful decision to let something you love go, so it can become better. “Last year while still trying to find the money for a deposit on a house, I asked myself whether I had the energy and funds to invest in Kings Heath too, which seven years on needs a new lease of life. I feel a new owner could do it better and allow me to move on to other projects.”
“I never really intended to do Cherrys on a bigger scale, but the momentum kicked in and when thing started clicking into place and I thought I’d see how much I could borrow. John Bright St opened in September 2014, again things were tight, a few months in a row I was late paying people which was definitely the lowest point, but they stuck by me, which I’ll never forget” admits Jen. “I may have done it the hard way, but the whole point was to be my own boss, make my own mistakes and trust my own long game, so an investor was out of the question for me.”
“Growth for the sake of growth, take more money, spend less every year. Kudos to those people who have built big businesses from nothing, but it’s not a road I think ends well for staff or customer experience.” And whilst so many other places might bang on about customer experience, people are at the heart of Cherry Reds – both the customers and the staff. Jen is thankful for both; “I have been fortunate enough to work with and serve some awesome humans over the last seven years, as well as working alongside great businesses made up of more great humans. I thank them all for truly caring, helping me build my little business and making the tough times worth getting through.”
Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is closing because Jen wants it to become more, to flourish. And we’re not losing Cherry Reds entirely; “John Bright St Cherrys will continue to bring a little bit of the Kings Heath spirit into the city centre.” Jen tells me. And for that I’m thankful, because in a sea of chain coffee shops, pre-ripped wallpaper and overly complicated menus, there still sits a corner of the city where Cherry Reds stands out as the kind of place which welcomes everyone, without any fuss. And there’s nothing more Brummie than that.
Cherry Reds in Kings Heath is currently up for sale and will close when a new buyer is found – which means you still have time to go. I’ll keep you updated.
Crikey, it’s been a bit quiet on here recently hasn’t it? On the off chance there’s anyone still looking here, then let me explain.
There’s a line in a Piebald song that has stayed with me for years: “If you’re bored, then you must be boring too.” And dear lord, I’ve been bored. This is partly my own fault because I’d stopped exploring, weighed down by a pressure about all these new places. But how excited can you get over yet another Indian street food venue opening, when you’ve been eating thali and dosa for years? And if I wasn’t feeling much love for what it is I’m supposed to be writing here, then I didn’t want to go around boring anyone left who might be reading the blog.
So I just kinda stopped.
And the break has done me the world of good. It gave me the opportunity to do other stuff, like cycling and reading and less procrastinating because I was avoiding writing the blog when it felt like a chore. I still did a lot of the types of things you do when you’re procrastinating, but it wasn’t layered with guilt.
So where does that leave Full to the Brum?
Honestly, I was playing around with shutting the whole thing down. But I still took photos of food, I still enjoyed hearing about people’s dinners, and I still liked the surprise of finding somewhere new to me. But the food scene felt pretty unwelcoming and the more I felt like this, the more I just thought maybe it’s time to call it a day. I did what I set out to do, I got people sitting up and taking notice of the Birmingham food scene on a national stage.
But then a few seemingly unconnected things happened: I started reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, I read this tweet by Ruby Tandoh about needing different voices in food writing, and I had a few conversations about straight white men cliques in the Birmingham food scene. And my delightfully screwy brain clicked in all together, my stubbornness kicked in and I realised I’m not quite done, but it’s time for a change.
Full to the Brum has allowed me to do some pretty cool things, from being on telly to writing for national magazines. But being female, fat and not earning enough to be able to afford big fancy meals are an excuse some people use to try to discredit what I do. But that piece I did for International Women’s Day was far more popular than I expected; I want to do more of it. And whilst Full to the Brum isn’t going to become some overly political blog, I am going to actively start encouraging and lending my platform to other people whose voices are traditionally ignored – if this is you and you fancy writing something, let me know.
I’m also tentatively playing around with the idea of starting a podcast, which is something I’ve been thinking about for months. I love that people give me recommendations, tell me stories about food…if you forgive the cliche, I hunger for it. And I figure that it might be kinda cool to try and do something with this. I have no idea where I’m going to start or from a technical point of view how I’m going to do it, but it’s an idea I’m playing around with and if you’d be willing to let me interview you, let me know.
So, Full to the Brum is coming out of hibernation. For the meantime it might look like it always did, but I’ll be trying to make a change. It’ll still be about food and drink in and around Birmingham. It’ll just be better.