The Lost & Found
Birdcages and butterflies peep out from the foliage in The Lost & Found, a decadent drinking den in the heart of Birmingham’s business quarter. Housed in a former bank, the Grade II listed building retains its grand columns and high ceilings, which have been given a clever makeover courtesy of Hettie G Watson.
Hettie is a fictional Victorian botanist, whose collection of flora and fauna gives The Lost & Found a playful and whimsical aspect, warming up what used to be an impersonal space. The Victorians used to forage hedgerows for plants and flowers to follow the new craze of discovering botanicals, but at The Lost & Found your medicinal doses come in the form of three cocktail menus.
From the ‘Lost’ menu of tipples from the 19th century, we tried The Explorer’s Cup. A crystal tumbler of Kraken Black Spiced Rum, Lillet Rouge, The King’s Ginger liqueur, lemon juice, vanilla and ginger ale, garnished with a chunk of orange and sprig of fresh cranberries. This had both the warmth and seasonal ingredients that were perfect for a cold night.
In keeping with the bar’s theme Ms H.G.Watson is a muddle of Bombay Sapphire gin, blackberry puree, apple juice, lavender syrup, lemon juice and sugar syrup. This long drink is a sophisticated take on a Bramble. Also pictured is a Sunlit Cloud of Southern Comfort, Courvoisier VS, lemon juice, gingerbread liqueur with a creamy foam of pineapple (centre).
The Earl of Birmingham was a winner from the ‘Found’ menu of signature house cocktails. Earl grey infused Beefeater 24 gin, the Italian aperitif aperol, pink grapefruit soda and rhubarb bitters combined to a refreshing drink that our gin aficionado friend couldn’t fault.
The third section of the cocktail menu features sparkling cocktails with champagne and Prosecco. Power To My Flower mixes Hendrick’s gin, hibiscus syrup for the lovely pale pink tinge, lemon juice and Prosecco with a slice of cucumber garnish.
The Lost and Found has two raised dining areas, one with a banquette the other with booths with the Botanical Library of glass jars as a backdrop. The main wall opposite is adorned with a giant vertical garden, home to a projection of animated butterflies and en route to the lavatories you will find yourself immersed in an aviary of birds flying above your head.
I don’t normally photograph toilets for my reviews, but the attention to detail and integration of the design features even in the smallest room was too quaint to resist.
The best was yet to come though. We’d walked past what looked like a sheet of bookshelf printed wallpaper on the way in and thought nothing of it. On the invitation of the manager, we followed her to the wall where a door magically opened to reveal Sshhhh – a secret cocktail bar! When the door closed behind us, we were transported to a Victorian private members club.
As we reclined on the leather banquette we took in our surroundings. A beaten silver ceiling, vintage suitcases from Hettie’s travels, frameless pictures with bird feathers and wire frames outlining lightbulbs create a decadent salon. (I didn’t take any photos in here).
Mixologist Luke Pearson introduced himself and explained that he was there to be challenged to create an off the menu cocktail, or a drink using some of our favourite flavours or ingredients. After a quick conflab we came up with rum, midori and marmalade. Unfazed, Luke returned with our drinks which were exceptionally smooth and displayed his attention to detail with droplets of hand crafted ice.
Infusing food flavours into drinks fascinates Luke, so expect to see his dry martini distilled with olives and Campari sherbert soon. Port and fig cobbler is his signature drink, so if you’re lucky enough to be invited into Sshhhh you must try it!
With an inventive cocktail list, quirky decor and an appetising food menu you can easily lose track of time in this stylish bar. Cocktail prices range from £7.25 – £8.95, with non-alcoholic drinks at £5.50 each. From Monday to Friday, 5-8pm cocktails on the Found menu are all £5.
The Lost and Found
8 Bennetts Hill Birmingham B2 5RS
0121 643 9293
Fleet Street Kitchen, Birmingham
Designer Kelly Hoppen said that the kitchen is much more than a place to prepare food, “it can be an informal dining room, play room and even office space.” At Fleet Street Kitchen I can imagine all of this happening, in the loft-like space of Birmingham’s newest restaurant and bar.
Invited by PR Tessa Gee to a special preview, for family, friends and supporters of the restaurant before it opened, my partner and I went for Sunday lunch. For starters we had baby back ribs, with meat softly falling off the bone and a mini pot of the fruity house sauce, plus slivers of smoked salmon, dotted with capers and wafer thin lemon rice cakes.
The sharing platters are a great idea as you choose meat and cheese options, which are served with olives, herb butter, red onion marmalade, chutney and homemade breads. As I looked across the room, fellow food bloggers Ahmed and Sangeeta were tucking into one of these.
The star attraction at Fleet Street Kitchen is the UK’s only barbacoa grill. Housed in a neat alcove alongside the main kitchen, the lumpwood charcoal smell doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the dining area, just flavours the 28 day aged Herefordshire or 35 day dry aged Dexter beef.
Poring over the rump, ribeye, sirloin, fillet on the bone dexter chop and tbone menu options my partner chose the 10oz sirloin (£17.95). As he likes steak well done he was served his cooked meat on a mini griddle. By turning the heat up or down for as long as he wanted, he added the finishing touch to his perfect steak. An unusual and effective personal touch.
A sprig of vine roasted tomatoes, mushroom garnish and cone of chips accompanied his steak, to which he also added a pot of peppercorn sauce. My main dish reminded me of the chicken at Tramshed – half a corn fed rotisserie chicken, golden crunchy chips and house ‘slaw’ of red cabbage in a creamy dressing (£12.95). The range of seven different sauces, vegetables, chips, mash and salads side orders for £3 each, quickly make an expensive way of building your meal though.
A bright white space, softened with splashes of dove grey, the social trestle tables, banquettes and marble topped tables for two are bright and congenial.
When I come back with girlfriends, I know that they will like the Cowshed toiletries in the bathroom as well as the vegetarian choices. Stilton and walnut flan, minted pea risotto, oven roasted vegetable orzo. Hilbeh hash rosti and berlotti bean boulangerès (potatoes traditionally slow cooked by the French in bread ovens). They won’t want to miss the daily specials or classic English puds either.
The mix of relaxed dining with partying is a trademark of the owners, who also run Après and Mechu. Perched on the edge of the business district and Jewellery Quarter, Fleet Street Kitchen is also handy for the ICC.
I just wish that it had been open when I lived in Birmingham.
Restaurant 23 Leamington
Restaurant 23 has been on my ‘must visit’ list for a while and last week I finally got the chance to experience Peter Knibb’s modern European cooking in the six course tasting menu.
Since opening in May 2006, Restaurant 23 has earned a reputation for fine dining in a neighbourhood restaurant. Head chef and owner Peter Knibb’s menus showcase the finest seasonal and local produce in classic and innovative dishes, honed from working at Claridge’s Hotel, Chez Nico and for the Gucci family on their private yacht.
Peter’s restaurant is an elegant, converted townhouse in Leamington Spa that reveals three different dining rooms on one floor. To the left of the entrance is an inky blue panelled room that seats eight. With its fireplace and bookshelf it has the feel of a private dining room. Straight ahead is the main airy dining room which seats 40, with muted green leather banquette and signature oversized pendant lights. My partner and I were seated in the dining room which has four tables in it and views over both Holly Walk and the patio. Even though Restaurant 23 is on a busy road the traffic noise is non-existent, so you can focus on your dining experience.
An appetiser shot of creamy artichoke soup was a welcome injection of warmth, accompanied by a mini sweet and savoury bread basket. We read our lunch menu building anticipation of the dishes to follow and chose our wine. The wine list is selected by Peter’s partner Antje and has a strong European focus. We chose a bottle of Macon Pierreclos Domaine Jambon 2011 Burgundy and before we knew it our first course was served.
A diver caught seared scallop with a carrot bhaji, curried coconut and coriander cream was the first time that I could appreciate Peter’s skill in pairing harmonious ingredients.
My partner ate a delicate fan of spiced carpaccio of Balmoral venison, with truffle celeriac and cubes of beetroot before I had a chance to take a photograph! So you’ll just have to imagine how delicious this dish was.
Both of us savoured the next course of roasted partridge, pancetta, Brussels sprouts, chestnut stuffing, roasted cocotte potato and roasting jus, that evoked the smells and tastes of Christmas dinner.
I always look forward to the fish course and wasn’t disappointed by the pan fried sea bass cauliflower, capers, shrimps and parsley butter. As with the scallop starter, the Indian seasoning twist added unexpected pleasure without overshadowing the succulent fish.
A citrus cleansing dish of pineapple pieces with passion fruit mousse was our pre-dessert.
I was expecting a simple crouton with our Vacherin Mont d’or cheese with port reduction, but loved the filigree wafer of nutty walnut, rye and carroway seed. Readers forgive me but I dropped my table manners temporarily and used the wafer to scoop bite sizes of creamy cheese.
With the dessert we were given not just flavour combinations but a trio of textures as well. A base of soft vanilla cream was topped with crisp filo pastry, which was dotted with a scoop of ricotta sorbet, blackberries and popcorn.
The timing of service between courses is exceptionally good and unobtrusive, which made us feel relaxed. We were comfortably sated by our lunch, but still chose the pork belly ravioli, poached wild brill and pear and rosemary tarte tartin with salted caramel ice cream from the a la carte menu for our next visit. At 3pm when we were leaving Morgan’s Bar upstairs was opening, but we decided to return another evening so that we could also try their fantastic cocktails.
Restaurant 23 www.restaurant23.co.uk 01926 422422
Invited by Lois Burley PR, Fumo’s soft weekend launch was a chance for local business people, media, personalities and foodies to sample the new concept of Italian style tapas. I was joined by my Italian girlfriend Amanda, who in all her years of eating her mother’s cooking hadn’t tried ciccchetti before.
We were initially seated at the horseshoe bar that sweeps around the restaurant. Here we could take in the interior’s subtle cream and gold palette whilst sipping an Aperol Prosecco. This orange Iiqueur is a blend of spirit, rhubarb and herbs, which when it is mixed with the Prosecco makes a zesty aperitif.
Appetisers of bruschetta included pancetta ricotta and parmesan, green beans pesto and pine nuts, creamy cod sprinkled with caviar and cherry tomatoes as toppings, were presented to us on a rustic wooden block.
The restaurant is staffed by male Italian waiters in immaculate suits, who guided us to our table. The concept of chiccetti was explained to us and we were shown the full, main menu where customers could choose their dishes which would be served in tapas sized portions. For the soft launch though, a special menu of nineteen different dishes had been prepared.
We took a deep breath and began. Antipasti of Arancini golden filled rice balls, Fried Baccala, honey smoked salmon and smoked carpaccio della Valtelina quickly filled up both our table and the one next to it. Amongst the classics, there were dishes that I hadn’t tried before. A thin, unleavened pancake of chickpea flour Farinata and calamari strips that were dressed in olive oil rather than being deep fried, with a crunch of nuts and bacon, were twists on traditional dishes that I enjoyed. My favourite would have to be the Ravioli di Branzino though, with the giant pasta pockets stuffed with sea bass.
Much to the amusement of two local businessmen seated next to us, the dishes kept on coming. They leaned in to hear our waiter describe each dish and gave appreciative sighs. As existing fans of San Carlo restaurant, they were already planning a return visit to sample more of Fumo’s menu.
Then along came some of the mains. Ham and cheese oozed from the Pizza Fritta. A giant skewer of tender chicken breast, Spieino di Pollo with tomatoes, peppers and onions sprinkled with capers and pomegranate seeds, was a fragrant and succulent dish with Moroccan influences.
Agnello al Fieno e Mirto is a star dish. Lamb cutlets are oven baked on a bed of hay. Sealed in a bag, our waiter cut this open at our table to let the aroma escape, then carved the lamb cutlets and added a sprig of fresh rosemary before serving. Amanda prefers meat to fish, so she consumed this plus the two slices of moist boneless pork roast Porchetta and the generous portion of Halibut and Samphire was all mine. These were accompanied by two lightly battered vegetarian side dishes, the cauliflower florets and crispy zuchinni threads were like French fries but without the guilt.
We finished our lunch with Dolci Cicchetti. A mini selection of fruit and cream desserts, One bite strawberry cheesecake, lemon tart and crème anglais puff rounded off our meal perfectly.
With the attentive service, our leisurely lunch was a lovely way to discover a new style of dining. In a prime spot in the heart of the business quarter, it is easy to see Fumo becoming a popular haunt for business diners, but I’ll be back with girlfriends for a stylish evening of drinks and authentic Italian cuisine.
Fumo, 1 Waterloo Street, Birmingham B2 5PG
On a Friday night, my partner and I went to Edmunds to try the three course A La carte menu. We were expecting a mainly business crowd, but the restaurant had a good mix of families, couples and friends all enjoying dinner.
The restaurant is a single room, with sixteen well spaced tables, softly lit by drop pendant lighting and two walls of windows. Single yellow gerbers on the tables added a pop of vibrant colour, to the organic soft palette of gold and taupe. Definitely a grown-up and comfortable dining room.
We chose a bottle of Armidale unoaked Viognier while we read the menu. Edmunds has a concise menu and straightforward pricing options. The De Jour Menu (for lunch and pre-theatre) has two course for £19.50 or three for £24.50. The lunch and evening A La Carte features two courses for £39.50 or three for £44.50. There is also a blowout Surprise Tasting Menu for £69.
Our amuse bouche was a lightly bread-crumbed langoustine, with white asparagus and soft egg. Two of my favourite ingredients already before we’d even ordered were an auspicious start.
I chose the new season green and white asparagus, with soft poached egg and smoked olive oil sauce for my starter. The white asparagus is French, with the green and purple varieties from the Wyre Valley in Worcester.
My partner had an inviting plate of morel mushrooms, broad beans, peas and golden sticks of toasted brioche.
With beautiful presentation, my main course of Turbot, white asparagus, ratte potato, broad beans and razor clams were a light and delicious combination. The light coating of Tahitian vanilla foam on the razor clams was a variation that I hadn’t tried before and really enjoyed.
It was a difficult choice between the lamb and pigeon for my partner, who likes both. He went for the Loire Squab with Perigord duck liver, spinach, morel mushroom, shallot purée and pigeon jus. He confirmed that the moorish, intense flavours all complimented each other very well, but from his enviously glances at other diners plates I know he will choose the lamb next time.
A pre dessert of pineapple compote and coconut bridged the gap while we looked forward to our desserts. They didn’t disappoint.
Our waiter pierced the top of my partner’s hot toffee soufflé to push in a spoonful of chocolate ice cream, which melted in the gooey depths of the dessert.
My dessert – Le Chocolat consisted of three miniature dishes of hot, cold, milk and dark chocolate. Cherries soaked in Kirsch in a warm chocolate sauce, a deep, dark chocolate cake slice and soft milk chocolate ice cream were the trio of a chocoholic’s dreams.
It is obvious that the dishes are created with great care and precision. The menu is a triumph of blending seasonal ingredients with classic French cuisine and every flavour can be savoured.
The team of five staff in the restaurant were warm, friendly, informative and attentive without being obtrusive. Edmunds reputation for fine dining is essentially safe in Didier’s hands and I for one am anticipating even more great things from them.
Six Brindleyplace Birmingham B1 2JB
0121 633 4944
Although I had enjoyed breakfast and mid afternoon coffee there before, last Friday was the first time that I had dined there in the evening. Three of my girlfriends were more than willing to help me see if the classic menu and contemporary setting would become a regular dining spot for us.
As I’m not a fan of the safe brown and cream colour palette of most restaurants, the interior of Café Gnosh is a welcome and stylish change from the norm. Blue and grey velvet backed chairs are dotted around the 60 cover ground floor restaurant and there is subtle blue lighting at the bar that lifts the eye-catching black, sparkly floor.
On the recommendation of front of house manager James, we chose a bottle of rosé from Bearley Vineyard in Stratford upon Avon. This is their first English wine on their wine list and they will soon be selling all four Bearley varieties. We are fans of English wines and this bottle, with its bright strawberry and raspberry flavours and a hint of cherry, was a fruity companion to the Prosecco we were also drinking.
The bar area is a comfortable place to browse the drinks list.This has a great mix of more than 40 hand picked wines, champagnes, spirits, beers and cocktails.
Complimentary bread and olive oil were brought to the table while we chose our meals. With one vegetarian, two carnivores and one pescatarian we were prepared to do the menu justice by all sampling different dishes.
My starter of honey roast beetroot and goats cheese with warm vine tomato salad, blended the tangy goats cheese with sweeter, mellow, beetroot perfectly.
Another great combination was the poached pear in red wine with Warwickshire truckle, pickled walnuts and mixed salad that Carol chose. Poached pears are often accompanied by a strong blue cheese like Stilton, so the milder cheddar was a less jarring pairing by Head Chef Paul Tingay.
Amanda’s salmon and dill fishcake which had just the right balance of fish and potato. Served with wilted spinach it proved to be reasonable value for £5.95. (Jackie skipped a starter to keep room for a dessert.)
Onto the mains. My mushroom and onion suet pudding with herb mash, seasonal vegetables with tarragon cream was tasty and filling without being heavy or stodgy. I enjoyed the sweetness of the mushrooms and onions together and the suet casing just melted in the mouth.
Amanda’s main course of slow roasted shoulder of lamb with creamy mash potatoes, curly kale and mint and caper sauce was deemed a hit. Only a boat dish for more sauce would have made her even happier.
Jackie’s main course of duck confit leg on a bed of puy lentils was cooked to perfection with moist duck meat and plumped up lentils, without the two main ingredients fighting each other for prominence. Duck Confit is a very traditional French method of preserving duck, where the legs are salted then poached gently in duck fat for several hours before cooking. Duck confit isn’t typically sauced, as it is so rich and salty on its own, so the dishes of complimentary seasonal vegetables provided the additional moisture for this dish.
Carol’s vegetarian option was a favourite combination of baked aubergine stuffed with chargrilled vegetables, red pepper crumb, spiced couscous and a pepper coulis. Sweetness, spice and variety of vegetables show that the chef can cater for vegetarians.
The special for the evening was a rump steak, but if my partner had been with us he would have homed in on Chef’s signature dish. A 32 oz Dorchester rib-eye steak served with homemade chips, mixed salad and roasted vine tomatoes, weighs in as the restaurant’s most expensive option at £34.95. This prime beef cut is marbled with fat, which gives the steak flavour and tenderness.
The quality of ingredients is a passion for Chef Tingay, who buys his meat from the acclaimed butcher Aubrey Allen. Paul has been in Warwickshire for a number of years and has honed his skills by working at Coombe Abbey and Vermillion, before leading the kitchen team at Café Gnosh.
Although we all claimed to be full, we had to try Jackie’s double- decker dessert of Berry Pavlova with Chantilly cream and berry coulis as it was too pretty to resist.
Our bill topped just over £100 for a meal and drinks for the four of us, that we all enjoyed. With a full restaurant, a hen party, team of work colleagues and various groups of friends all shared a pleasant, buzzy atmosphere. James and his team provided spot-on friendly and efficient service all night .
Café Gnosh makes a seamless transition from daytime café to evening bar and restaurant, by adding more sophisticated dishes onto the menu. It is attracting customers who want good value food in a stylish environment. Their customers really like the relaxed, informal dining offered and look at it as a starting point for their night out.
Live music and burlesque performances are planned - which will fulfil be a much-needed gap in entertainment for Rugby. With the development of the new Cathedral Quarter, that promises a new hotel, park and independent shops, Café Gnosh is ideally located to be at the heart of a good night out in Rugby.
2 Eastfield Place, Rugby CV21 3AT
The tiny medieval buildings on Spon Street have been transformed into an unusual combination of a teddy bear shop, a gym, fast food outlets, pubs and three restaurants. We were there on Saturday night, trudging through the snow, towards the twinkly fairy lights of Blue Bistro as a challenge to discover a good restaurant in Coventry city centre.
Owner Peter Dunkley and team took over the 1450 Cafe Bar in September last year, with the intention of creating a great restaurant. Inspired by the building and special location Blue sets itself the challenge of becoming one of the best restaurants in the West Midlands.
Initial impressions of the restaurant are good, with the picturesque original beams and rustic hewn wooden chairs and tables, that can seat up to 70 people on two levels. There was a hum of conversation from the other diners that had also braved the cold, against a sonic backdrop of classic Etta James.
Described as modern British with a Mediterranean twist, Blue’s menu isn’t extensive, but has clever ingredient combinations that demonstrate the restaurant’s considered sourcing policy and allows the chefs a greater freedom to be creative with seasonal ingredients. Frogs legs as a starter leapt out of the menu straight away and Peter confirmed that this is one of their most popular options.
Usually I hone in on a restaurant’s fish options, but as the monkfish had run out I opted for a vegetarian choice instead. Gorgonzola spinach and walnut risotto gave a satisfying melted cheese moorishness and a tangy crunch to well seasoned rice.
My partner likes his steak well done, so was pleased that his 8 oz Hereford cross ribeye was cooked to perfection. Accompanied by garlic prawns, hand-cut chips, vine roasted tomatoes and watercress that added zingy colour and texture to the meal. His hand cut chips disappeared before I had a chance to try them, but he gallantly let me demolish the garlic prawns – which are a favourite of mine.
A small dessert menu included Liquorice Brule, Queen of Puddings and a special triple chocolate and cherry gateaux, together with a well stocked cheeseboard, providing interesting after dinner options. Cheese lovers can also enjoy a tasting with wine for £7.95 or a cheeseboard for two with a bottle of house wine for £17.95.
Chatting to owner Peter Dunkley, it became clear how committed he is to an ethical sourcing policy that benefits both the restaurant and customers. He said: “ We are trying to be as local as possible with our suppliers – and there are some great local suppliers that make this an easy option. Our meat comes from the Earlsdon Butchers, who only supply free range meat, and our fish comes mainly from Clive Miller, an award winning fishmonger based in Coventry Market, which is walking distance from Blue.” Peter also told us that the chefs go on butchery courses and visit local suppliers and farms, to fully appreciate the traceability and provenance behind their ingredients.
We enjoyed a bottle of Welcombe Hills Hollow Meadow white wine from a local vineyard in Stratford with our meal. This blend spends a month in French oak barrels, which balances the crisp, floral aromatic Sancerre like gooseberry undertones. Bearley Wines, also from Stratford ,feature in the red, white and rosé selections.
Recently a diner, who had been at the NEC for a trade show, was delighted to discover her local beer from Estonia in Blue’s well stocked bar. The lady had lived opposite the brewery for years but had not tried the beer as it was only for export. Her trip to the UK sated a long-held desire to try her local brew!
The team at the Blue are a mix of youthful enthusiasm, creativity and experience. They all have passion for the restaurant and believe that Blue should be a great restaurant for their customers and a fun place to work.
Having young staff, who are completely engaged in Blue’s success, also generates non-traditional ideas for events and marketing. A recent Alice in Wonderland themed night had drama students from Coventry University in costumes from the nearby Belgrade Theatre, which will be followed by a Titantic themed menu on 12th April.
Blue Bistro is definitely a hidden gem, being so close to Coventry Cathedral and the Belgrade Theatre, and deserves to be well patronised by Warwickshire diners who enjoy good food in a convivial atmosphere.
21 Spon Street Coventry CV1 3BA
024 7622 9274