Scroll down to read reviews for:
The Butchers Social, Henley in Arden
The Star & Garter, Leamington
The Bull’s Head, Birmingham
Tom’s Kitchen, Birmingham
Bread & Pullet, Northampton
The Almanac, Kenilworth
Rose & Crown, Warwick
Ye Old Saracens Head, Balsall Common
Squisito Supper Club
Hotel du Vin, Birmingham
The Lost & Found, Birmingham.
The Butchers Social, Henley in Arden
It was three years ago when I first met the chef and owner of The Butchers Social Mike Bullard. He had picked up the keys to his new restaurant and was juggling a deep clean of the kitchen with overseeing building work and proudly showing people round what was to become his new home in Henley in Arden .
The restaurant is slap bang in the middle of the High Street and is surrounded by quaint black and white timber fronted pubs and restaurants. I was back on a wet and windy Saturday night, this time with my partner, to try the a la carte menu for April.
Inside the décor is far from old fashioned, with burnt orange and teal upholstery lit with copper lighting making the dining room a warm and welcoming space.
Their full length patio doors offer a tantalising glimpse of a verdant garden outside, so we made a mental note to come back on a sunny afternoon to try chicken wings al fresco.
But back to the main event. While we were choosing what to eat, pork lollipops in a crunchy breadcrumb coating on a dash of pureed cauliflower were served as an amuse bouche.
We then nibbled on a selection of warm homemade breads and the most moreish whipped roasted onion butter sprinkled with black salt in the run up to our starters.
I chose cod roe tortellini, seared scallop and sea lettuce in a dashi broth, which I could have happily slurped through another dish full such was its delightful fishiness.
My partner tucked into a full bowl of crispy lamb sweetbreads on a bed of frisse with cooked to perfection quails eggs.
Before I forget, I must mention the gorgeous speckled crockery, with saucer-like plates and jugs that held just the right amount of sauce.
Steaks are obviously a huge draw here, with a big choice from an 8 oz onglet to 35 day aged Chateaubriand to share at a whopping £75, but we both plumped for dishes from the land menu choices at circa £25 each.
Then the arguments started as to who had the best main course.
My Balti pie was a thing of beauty, with sublime pastry standing tall next to succulent chunks of masala chicken on a bed of puy lentils (with a hint of aniseed) roasted cauliflower and dots of pureed cauliflower.
I had also negotiated his portion of clotted cream mash – which was just as luxurious and silky as it sounds.
My partner felt mis-sold on the pig cheek pie as he likes a crust top and bottom, until he cut open the suet pudding casing to reveal layer upon layer of slow-cooked shredded pork in all its porcine glory.
When triple cooked chips, braised cabbage stuffed with wild garlic and cider and apple jus were added, you can see the care that Mike puts into pairing ingredients together.
We shouldn’t have had any room left, but the desserts on offer were too good to resist.
My photo doesn’t do any justice to the four scoops of deliciousness which were caramel milk chocolate mousse, caramel doughnut, chocolate brownie and tonka bean ice cream.
My partner’s Yorkshire rhubarb and custard pannacotta with a lemon curd meringue and apple ice cream had the right flavours of spring to give a burst of colour as well as zest to his plate.
After a couple of pints of local brew Lawless by Purity Brewing and a smooth bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc we left the restaurant very happily sated.
I like the big, bold flavours that show off the key ingredients and the obviously carefully sourcing for seasonality at Butchers Social. My only gripe is that the tables are a little too close together and when you have a 20 minute gap between courses you can find out a little too much about your neighbours.
Overall with the relaxed atmosphere of a gastro pub and Bib Gourmand quality of food Butchers Social is carving out a successful niche for itself.
The Butchers Social, 97 Stratford Road, Henley in Arden, B95 5AT 01564 792135 @butchers_social
Disclaimer: I was a guest of East Village PR and received two complimentary three course meals, but my opinions are my own.
The Star & Garter, Leamington Spa
Even though I had been to The Star & Garter in Leamington plenty of times before I had never had lunch there, so over the Bank Holiday weekend my partner and I took the opportunity to try the new Spring menu.
Taking over a comfy booth, we sought shade from the burning sun outside and settled down to ice cold beers and gin cocktails in an airy, relaxing dining area at the back of the pub.
On a Saturday lunchtime, the bar was buzzing and even with a private party upstairs to look after, the team were friendly, helpful and perfectly paced our meal. We didn’t go off menu, but when we made teeny tweaks to our choices we were happily and easily accommodated.
Purple, white or green, I love all types of asparagus, so my starter was an easy choice –asparagus with a poached egg and smoked salmon (£9.50). Everything was cooked to perfection, the egg yolk burst out onto asparagus that was neither rock hard or mushy (I so wish I could get this right when I do this at home!)
My partner chose crispy, golden croquets that were packed with shredded ham hock (£7.25). A side garnish of rocket and apple with mustard mayonnaise added texture and zest to his moreish mouthfuls. He said that he could have easily eaten another portion, but he was saving himself for a main course which he had spotted on the specials board.
The salt beef dish came with hash browns, pickled veg and charred corn, but he asked for the veg and corn to be left off and a fried egg to be added instead. He said that this generous slab of meat had everything– taste, texture and smell so he was very happy with his £17 choice.
Being a creature of habit I nearly always have fish for my main course. I wasn’t sold on the cider cream that came with the sea bream option, so instead went for a sea bass. Served whole, the silky fish was delightful alongside the saltiness of the samphire. I also liked the nutty, nobbly ratte potatoes that made a change from run of the mill new potatoes (£16).
He doesn’t have a sweet tooth, so I was surprised when my partner asked for the warm ginger sponge and custard for dessert. The generously spiced pud had a lovely warm after burn, that was so much nicer than the bland desserts that only have a glazed ginger topping, but might be a bit too spicy for some. His single dinky pot of custard was quickly emptied and replenished to be more of a man-sized portion.
I by-passed the chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake, as I had fallen for the raspberry and pistachio frangipane tart and swapped the clotted cream with raspberry sorbet. Cherry seeds had been baked into the short pastry base for added crunch, which was a great base for the succulent pistachio filing in this warm tart (£6).
After three courses each we had absolutely no room at all for any cheese, which I intend to rectify at one of the pub’s future wine and cheese nights. Like with the rest of the menu there are seasonal highlights and locally produced varieties to try, with the Wookey Hole Aged Cheddar in particular piquing my interest.
For me it’s the quality of ingredients that shine through at the Star & Garter. There is an obvious care of cooking and preparation, dishes are executed well, and sometimes with unexpected twists, making it a cut above your average gastro pub.
If you are after just a light bite, the fixed priced lunch menu is very good value. With four of five choices for each course, with a more substantial range of sandwiches and burgers along with tasty sides, you can enjoy two courses for £13.25 or three for £15.75.
Not your run of the mill choices either. The garlic and rosemary-studded camembert with rustic bread and spiced lamb koftas starter and mac n cheese with maple cured bacon lardons, stood out to us straight away as dishes to try on our next visit.
- I was invited to review the Star & Garter’s Spring menu and received a complimentary three course meal. My opinions are unbiased.
The Star & Garter, 4- 6 Warwick Street, Leamington Spa https://www.starandgarterleamington.co.uk/
The Bull’s Head, Birmingham
When you’re hungry on a Saturday lunch time, Broad Street isn’t the best place to be in Birmingham. Luckily for us my partner remembered that The Bull’s Head is tucked off a side street near Cineworld, so off we went for a pub lunch.
Owned by Davenports Brewery this is a pub steeped in history. Davenports began in 1829, and their range of revival cask beers harks back to some of the very original secret brews. Highgate Brewery was established in 1898 and is best known for its classic Midlands dark beers Mild and Old Ale. Dares, established in Birmingham in 1927, is a name the brewery has resurrected to brew a small batch craft beers.
The pub was recently refurbished and has a touch of Victorian gothic within a comfortable, traditional pub interior.
We were only there for a quick bite so chose three dishes from the street food inspired menu. My partner dived straight into the Barons all day brunch and declared the 10 inch award winning Lashfords sausage ‘the bomb’. He had a full server of two rashers dry cured smoked bacon, mild spiced baked beans topped with a fried egg, served with toast and fries. He swapped the grilled tomato out for more toast (which was a bog standard sliced white bread) but still thought it was good quality for the £9 cost.
I tucked into a chicken burger, with a chicken breast marinated in honey and mustard. It came in a rustic brioche bun with fresh Asian slaw tossed in yogurt sauce, lettuce and tomato. I declined the crispy fried onions, but kept the skin on fries and mint and cucumber dip. I was happy to pay £8 for this filling meal. My only gripe was that the greaseproof paper stuck to my chicken and call me old fashioned but I do like my food to be served on plates!
As a side we also had one of the pub’s signature dishes – Cauliflower Pakora. Fresh, crispy bites with Asian slaw served in a poppadom with and choice of dip was a good choice. At £6 it was a hearty portion and provided more than enough for the two of us to share.
I wasn’t really sold on the dry heat of Asian slaw, but the Kati Rolls will be worth a return visit to try next, alongside the select but well thought out gin menu of premium brands and mixers.
*The pub did not know that I was reviewing our lunch and we paid for our meals.
The Bulls Head, 38 Bishopsgate Street, Birmingham https://www.facebook.com/thebullsheadbrum/
Tom’s Kitchen, Birmingham
Less than a month old, Tom’s Kitchen is the shiny, new, opening in Birmingham’s Mailbox and fifth UK restaurant for chef Tom Aikens.
I went along on a Friday lunchtime with my mum to review the new eaterie. From the warm welcome, as soon as our coats were checked we were presented with an invitingly long list of wines by the glass. Like us, the other two booths and stools around the bar were all occupied by couples who looked in no hurry to move, happily savouring craft beers and cocktails.
With an open seating area at the front of the restaurant, we were shown to a jumbo Chesterfield occupying the whole of the back wall of the interior dining area.
This was a comfortable table with great views of the kitchen and bar. Huge pendant lights, oak cabinets and verdinant green tiles soften the industrial exposed ceiling. A glass display case next to the open kitchen is also a useful reminder of the quality and provenance of the meat and game on the menu, with hanging hooks to age ingredients from pork to partridge.
Skipping starters Mum went for one of her favourite main courses – fish and chips (£15). She couldn’t fault the light, crispy batter and juicy, firm fish. A big tick also for the triple-cooked chips for the perfect blend of crispy outside and fluffy inside. Mini pots of crushed peas and tartare sauce were as expected, the only touch missing was half a lemon wrapped in muslin rather than just a wedge to squeeze over the fish.
Distracted by the specials board and Detox v Retox menu options I went back to the main lunch menu for a chicken schnitzel. The was a lot bigger that I expected, covering the plate with strips of crispy chicken pieces (£18). Less successful was the oversweet bed of caramelised onions and red peppers that the meat rested upon. I probably should have gone for mash and spring greens as sides but couldn’t resist the chips (£4).
We’d missed starters to save room for desserts, which was a tough choice from a good selection of panna cotta, plum bakewell tart and sticky toffee pudding (to share). I tried the blackberry cheesecake (£7). The cheesecake was whipped to a light mousse and top was studded with nuggets of honeycomb and blackberries, alongside a zesty berry sorbet which was fab.
Our waitress Nicky warned mum that her dish of chocolate and peanut butter fondant (£8) would be hot and as the blob of vanilla ice cream melted she was able to tuck in and declare her dessert was a ‘chocoholics dream’. I had to take her word for it as the moreish pudding was devoured before I had a chance to try it!
The second part of Tom’s Kitchen is the Deli. This is a daytime café offering sandwiches, soups, hotpots and salads in the central seating on Level 2 i.e. ‘The Urban Room’ of The Mailbox.
With drinks and two courses each, it is easy to rack up a bill of £60 for the generous portions of gastropub style dishes at Tom’s Kitchen. I like the simple, bold flavours that show off the key ingredients and quality sourcing. I’m going back to see how the atmosphere differs in the evening and try the poached monkfish and the chocolate and peanut butter fondant which I can’t stop thinking about.
Tom’s Kitchen 53/57 Wharfside Street, The Mailbox, Birmingham B1 1RE
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Sauce Communications and received a complimentary meal at Tom’s Kitchen, however the views expressed are my own.
British tapas in Northampton
As the votes are counted tonight (Thursday 3 November) one venue in particular will be waiting for baited breath when the Restaurant of the Year is announced at the Carlsberg Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2016.
Despite only being open for a year, Chef Adam Church and his team have quietly created a great little place serving British tapas called Bread & Pullet.
In amongst the patchwork of barber shops, pubs, fast food outlets and restaurants of every cuisine you can think of, you will find this charming rustic restaurant on the Wellingborough Road.
The urban setting is the base for a foodies larder of meats, breads, cheese, oils, sauces, beers and gin sourced locally from independent suppliers and producers. Some like the table bottle of Bite Me sauces and Warner Edwards gin at the bar are more obvious than others to identify.
The careful selection and provenance of ingredients is a credit to Adam and shines through in all of the dishes. Deep-fried whitebait had a perfect crispness and juicy fish, while beetroot sourdough just the right level of garlic.
My mac ‘n’ cheese was dotted with crayfish to break through the moreish melted cheese. As they were on the small plates section, my partner was surprised (and secretly pleased) when not one but two domes of Yorkshire Puddings arrived. For my partner gravy is a deal breaker. He smothered one crispy dome in the ‘proper onion and Saxby cider gravy’ before requesting another jug which he received without any fuss. This to us was another sign of the genuinely friendly and efficient service which flows seamlessly.
The hash brown and mussels on the specials board caught our attention, but we were getting full so we ear-marked those for a future visit.
The best advice that I can give you is to forget any ideas of Spanish and Italian tapas dishes, order as you go, have a drink, have a nibble and do be swayed by what other tables are enjoying and you won’t regret it. At these very reasonable prices you can afford to try a range of dishes.
We shared four small plates and two large ones (but only had one drink each as we were driving) and the bill came to £45 which we thought was great value for the quality of the food.
After our supper I went up to the open kitchen to say hello to Adam. He loves it when diners explore the menu and keep returning to keep enjoying new dishes. With a brunch and afternoon tea on offer as well as a main dinner menu this is very easy to do.
My only gripe – the high backed chairs have a low shallow seat, so aren’t hugely comfortable after an hour!
The restaurant didn’t know that I am a food blogger, or that I wanted to review the evening and we paid for our own meal.
Value for money: 4/5
Bread and Pullet, 176 Wellingborough Road, Northampton 01604 638520 http://www.breadandpullet.co.uk
For #MeatFreeMonday I’ve returned to the vegetarian bistro 1847 Birmingham in the Great Western Arcade for a new lunch review.
A lot has happened since my last visit – chef Alex Claridge has left to host his own creative pop-ups (featuring wood ants!) and the restaurant owners are gradually expanding their veggie empire to other cities including Brighton and Bristol.
A busy Saturday lunchtime, as a pitstop between shopping with a girlfriend, seemed as good a time as any to perk up our tastebuds. Even though it was 2pm when we arrived, the ground floor of the restaurant was full, with many customers taking advantage of the £10 meal and a drink deal.
You will have eaten pretty much everything on this menu, but perhaps not in these combinations and that to me is the beauty of 1847. You think that you know how things will taste then you try them and are very pleasantly surprised at how light and flavoursome they are together. Each dish packs a punch with only a few, select, ingredients.
For Tara’s lunch, her starter of three falafels on a bed of quinoa, with burnt baba ghanoush, yoghurt and watercress was a good choice. I normally avoid falafels as I always seem to get dry, crumbly ones but these were bound together perfectly.
My starter, even for fromage fans was a bit overkill on the cheese. Mille feuille of two wafers of flaky pastry sandwiched together with a huge dollop of creamy ricotta cheese that even though I like I just couldn’t finish. The cold slices of courgette and two cherry tomatoes forlornly plonked onto a blob of tapenade would have benefited from being hot.
Tara moved on to Mac ‘n’ cheese which was just on the right side of moreish with a golden brown crumb topping (she will kill me for saying this but she could have quite happily put her face into the plate it was that good.)
For my main course I had the tried and tested deep fried halloumi with chips. The three golden balls overshadowed the five chips considerably and rightly so, all with a fabulous pea puree and a drop of lemon curd as well. This is a signature dish that 1847 have absolutely nailed.
Tara had left enough room to enjoy a brownie, with the seasonal pears replaced by raspberries which was a tangy cut through the triple chocolate. I’d already seen two other diners share the deep pink Earl Grey cake, so intrigued by the beetroot jam that was my dessert choice. It didn’t need ice cream, sorbet, cream or anything else with this lovely, moist cake.
Two mocktails later and we tripped lightly out to House of Fraser, feeling almost virtuous but definitely refreshed, after a tasty lunch of imaginative and delicious food.
When you can spend £20 in a coffee shop, £19 for two courses and £25 for three at 1847 Birmingham is very good value in a relaxed city centre venue. If my lunch review has piqued your interest, then discover more in the five or seven course tasting menus in the evenings.
The new Autumn menu is on its way, so you won’t have to wait too long to see what seasonal treats Head Chef Tony Cridland has in store for diners, who says that his last meal would be: “Confit cauliflower, wild rice, black truffle and crispy egg”.
Value for money 4/5
847 Birmingham 26 Great Western Arcade Birmingham
Monday – Saturday 12 – 3 & 5 – 10pm. Sunday 12 – 8pm.
*Thank you to Vicky Osgood and Damien Davenport for both the invitation to revisit 1847 and kind hospitality.
The Almanac Kenilworth
On a sunny Saturday afternoon my partner and I went over to Kenilworth for lunch at The Almanack. My partner was slightly put off by the restaurant’s location being on the ground floor of a small block of flats, with an all glass exterior looking out onto a main road, but once inside the newly refurbished interior had more of the country chic style you associate with Peach Pubs.
With Head Chef Rob Hartwell coming over from the Rose & Crown in Warwick, I couldn’t wait to see the new menu, but my partner was side tracked at the bar by a sausage roll (of Aubrey Allen’s Warwickshire Whizzer sausage) and dollop of piccalili (£2.75).
He then honed into the Brunch Menu for his starter of corned beef hash and a fried free-range egg (£7). While I admired the bright pink colour he raved about the quality and quantity of shredded meat, with only a hint of potato – just the way he likes it.
For my starter, dressed Brixham crab, spring onion and tomato salad, with a preserved lemon dressing (£8) was essentially lettuce leaves smothered in creamy crab, but a very tasty appetiser none the less, with just the right balance of sweetness and citrus.
The Loch Duart salmon steak, with fennel and lemon rub (£16.50) was grilled to perfection and I added a serving of buttered courgettes, peas and beans to it (£3.50).
My partner’s eyes lit up when he saw the Cornish Lamb shank with wilted garlic spinach and jus on the specials board (£16). As you’d expect from meat that had been slow-roasted overnight it melted away from the bone and he loved it. He was too polite to ask for bread to mop up the jus but I knew that he was tempted!
From telling us about the raised strawberry beds to the cheese makers, our server James was super friendly and knowledgeable, leaving just the right amount of time between courses to refresh drinks and see how we were getting on.
We did the classic ‘we’re a bit full, but will have a look at the dessert menu anyway’ which didn’t fool anyone. My partner went for the lime cheesecake straight away. Normally I’m not a fan of cheesecake but the whipped centre in contrast to the blueberry glaze topping won me over.
The star of the dessert menu though is without a doubt the ‘Dip your own’ succulent strawberries, with individual pots of dark dipped Valrhona chocolate and whipped cream, with just a hint of vanilla. Fabulous both in presentation and in content.
I genuinely wished that I hadn’t eaten so much as there is also a great selection of carefully selected cheeses, which are so often overlooked on a menu.
The quality of the food here is fantastic and the plush new furniture and décor have lifted what used to be an uninspiring space. With a well chosen menu of breakfast, brunch, lunch, sharing platters and dinner options, you can definitely have a convivial meal all day long at The Almanack in Kenilworth.
The Almanack, Abbey End North, Kenilworth CV8 1QJ
*We were guests of Peach Pubs and the restaurant knew that I was writing a review on them when we visited
Rose & Crown Warwick
On Wednesday I was in Warwick with an old school friend for a preview of the new Winter tasting menu at the Rose & Crown.
The first opening in the Peach Pub group, the Rose & Crown has been serving great food in the heart of Warwick town for more than a decade and has recently had a bit of a makeover.
Brightening up the foggy evening with a glass of fizz, manager Suzie Ayling greeted us and the six other guests with an update on the pub’s swanky new look.
“As well as a fresh look on the outside, we’ve made the interior more comfortable with new seating, lighting and some lovely pieces like stained glass and artwork, which bring out the interesting features of the pub.
“The eatery has an elegant new look and we’ve also added an extra 20 casual dining covers by turning a space behind the pub into The Yard, a new spot with its name in lights, white-washed brick walls and comfy booth seating.
“We’ve completely transformed the private dining room as well to create The Wood Shed, a really great new place for a bit of a do. It’s got rustic chic mixed up with some quirky antique pieces and plenty of space to sit back and have a special lunch, dinner or a meeting.”
The Wood Shed was our venue to meet Head chef Rob Hartwell, who has been with the Peach Pubs company since he was 19. Now leading the kitchen with four young chefs, the former Masterchef quarter finalist has brought travels and work experience from Australia, Japan and Asia to the table.
Our starters of crab cakes were encased in honey panko rather than traditional breadcrumbs. These gave a smoother texture and bound the crab meat to the pesto dressing.
One of my favourite fishes, pan-fried sea bass, was cleverly paired with Bombay potatoes an onion bhaji and cardamom yoghurt. As we were discovering the taster menu, our portion sizes were almost half of what they would be normally, as everyone was clamouring for more of the cardamom yoghurt dressing!
The chicken in the Coq au vin had been marinated for 24 hours, so the succulent meat just fell off the bone and was served with creamy mash, whole shallots and chestnut mushrooms.
Some diners opted for the vegetarian dishes, with parsnip croquets and gruyere and herb pancakes. Other new arrivals include dishes like mulled Cornish lamb casserole as well as smoked haddock and king prawn pie with parsley crust with winter greens.
There was a moment of hush as the platters of three desserts were brought to the table. A white chocolate cheesecake with Bailey’s cream, a pecan and pumpkin pie with a deliciously short buttery pastry and a deluxe Valrhona chocolate brownie that had the crispy top and molten centre.
Comfortably full after our feast, but still curious to try more, the table decided that they would share a cheeseboard of English produced cheeses, served at room temperature with quince and toasted almond and fruit thins. As Rob encouraged us to roll a nugget of cheese between our fingers to release the aroma and enhance the flavour, we eased back onto our sheepskin throws and savoured the quality of carefully sourced ingredients that we had enjoyed.
For each course Rob discussed the ingredients, where he found his inspiration and gave us cooking tips along with his culinary anecdotes. This for me made the evening. The Wood Shed is free to hire and has the winning combination of delicious seasonal menu, in a private dining room that has that easy country house chic that Peach Pubs do so well.
*Thank you to Sarah Pracey PR and Peach Pubs for the kind invitation to this evening. All the views expressed in this post are my own and I was not paid to publish this post.
Ye Olde Saracens Head, Balsall Common
En route to the Godiva Festival in Coventry, my partner and I wanted to make the most of a clement summer evening, so went to Ye Olde Saracens Head in Balsall Common for an early supper.
The wire framed sheep ‘grazing’ on the lawn outside the 16th century building are an indication that you have left the city behind. This is reiterated under the twisted arch guarded by ducks to the back door of the pub and the ‘countrified’ interior.
Bending your head down to avoid the low beams, when you look around you realise just how many different seating areas and cosy nooks there are to sit in and dine. From the choice of squishy leather chairs, chunky wooden tables and the privacy of The Den, we chose a sunny table by the patio doors.
Instead of a starter each we shared the meze and were presented with a platter full of appetising treats. We homed in our favourites, with my partner hovering up the four skinny lamb koftas while I made short work of the olives and dolmade. The carrot and orange and beetroot and walnut hummus were colourful and tasty out of the norm flavours that we both enjoyed. The falafel were flat discs instead of balls and the other nice surprise were the hot flatbread straight from the wood-fired pizza oven. All for £15.95.
After a good start we eagerly awaited our mains. My partner’s 35 day aged 8oz sirloin steak was cooked to his request of very well done and came with the usual onion rings, chips and peppercorn sauce for £23.95. Some greens, mushrooms or even a grilled tomato would have been nice to add some colour and moisture to the dish, but these are charged as additional sides for £2.95 each or £1.50 for a small jug of sauce.
I chose my dish of swordfish with sweet potato fries and a Greek salad from the daily specials menu. The fish was succulent, the fries were chunky and crispy and the salad was light and refreshing. A definite hit.
The sun was still shining so we took our desserts to eat outside in the garden, where we watched a constant stream of people coming in for their wood fired pizzas to take away.
I’d already chosen then rhubarb and custard ‘bocker glory’ for dessert, so I was disappointed to be told that this was off the menu. As it is summer Eton Mess, ice creams and sorbets would have been good options, but the menu offered us apple and butterscotch crumble and a white chocolate cookie stack with raspberries and cream. Both were dry, flavourless and uninspiring which was a shame as we had enjoyed the rest of our meal.
If you live in Coventry or the suburbs of Solihull then Ye Olde Saracens Head is worth a visit for the relaxed ambience, friendly service and hearty portions of competent pub food in a countryside setting.
Balsall Street, Balsall Common, Coventry CV7 7AS 01676 533 862
The Italian Job
My partner and I were guests of Alex and Sara Chambers, the Italophile couple in Warwickshire behind Squisito deli for their first pop-up in Birmingham. After a cocktail in The Jekyll and Hyde bar we moved upstairs to the Gin Palace, where the Italian Job was silently playing.
A friendly crowd were looking forward to the Squisito supper club. 34 people in the room made it sociable but a bit of a squash – especially for my 6ft 4 boyfriend, whose arms and legs looked giant sized in the dinky Victoriana chairs. Our fellow diners included some Jekyll & Hyde regulars, foodies who had enjoyed Alex’s sausages at local farmers markets and one lady who had heard Squisito mentioned on Radio 4’s Food programme!
As we were seated, two long thin wooden boards were placed at the centre of the table and slices of salumi and prosciuttio were placed. On hand were Lucky 13 Bakehouse dinner rolls, with Calabrian olive oil and Puglian green olives. Nobody could name them, but the moreish peppery biscuit-like snacks also rapidly disappeared.
Our antipasti selection was a burst of vibrant colour and flavours – courgette carpacccio, rocket and pecorino cheese, tomato and basil on pane carasau (that looked like a poppadom) chicken liver crostini, ricotta drizzled with chestnut honey and Alex’s salsiccia.
Even with a menu, there was still a sense of excitement as to what was coming next and the convivial sharing and passing plates of food around the table made it feel like a family feast, rather than a group of strangers in a restaurant.
Half an hour between the antipasti and the primi courses perturbed some people, but it was worth the wait for the pappardelle pasta with black truffle butter, chives and Grana Padano cheese. As a recent convert to truffle oil, I wasn’t surprised when my boyfriend accepted seconds from Fee’s giant saucepan that was ladled out at the table.
The basil and lemon salmoriglio gave a playful zing to the chunk of rolled Fosse Meadow chicken. With marrow, chard and rosemary roast potatoes I liked being able to taste all of the summery ingredients without the meat being drowned in sauce.
My favourite course formaggi was coming up and the boards were back out for us to try slivers of gorgonzola, taleggio and Sardinian pecorino with pink peppercorns and Worcestershire honey. One of the cheeses had an almost black rind with a smokey flavour that I forgot to ask what it was called.
Due to the train timetable we unfortunately missed the Plymouth gin and tonic sorbet, raspberry gin and Autumn bliss, raspberry semifreddo and dark chocolate studded with toasted almonds. I hope that photo gives you an idea of how light and refreshing the closing course was.
During the night Alex served and chatted to guests while Sarah was upstairs in the kitchen, so we didn’t get a chance to see (and thank) her for a lovely meal until the end of the evening.
On the back of Alex’s t-shirt is the phrase ‘Provenance is knowing the person who made your dinner by first name’. By the end of the evening my boyfriend had paraphrased it as ‘Provenance is knowing who made your tummy happy’ ©Ross Martin 2013.
Details of their November and December supper clubs are on their website
Hotel du Vin’s Al Fresco Summer lunch menu
Normally when I meet Sally from the Gastro Card we are at an event or launch, where we spend so much time talking we don’t have enough time to savour our food. Last week was different though, as we had a leisurely two hours to try the new Summer menu at Hotel du Vin*.
On a hot summer day the golden- hued Hotel du Vin bistro was a quiet and calm dining venue. We were joined by two other tables of local businessmen and a trio of friends who were tasting the fresh, seasonal menu.
With three to four choices for each course of £7.50 starters, £14.50 main courses and desserts at £6.95, you’d expect high quality ingredients and this menu does not disappoint.
With the exception of beetroot, I prefer my strips of melt in the mouth Gravalax not to be marinated. Hotel du Vin served their salmon plain with a cool cucumber salad, which was ideal and didn’t really need the heat of a mini pot of mustard sauce.
Sally’s Treul Serrano ham and grilled nectarines glistened with a shallot and sherry vinaigrette sheen.
For our mains Sally chose a classic poached Scottish salmon with hot buttered potatoes, watercress and hollandaise sauce, with a lemon wrapped in muslin as a neat way of adding zest without fishing pips out of your meal.
Our waiter told us that the free range chicken was sourced from Gloucester and had been given a Gallic twist of creamy Longueville cider sauce, served on a rustic board with pommes frittes.
The dessert menu had a tasty selection of light, fruity sweets. A pretty strawberry vacherin, with layered strawberries, meringue and vanilla cream was like a neater Eton Mess. We both agreed that my dessert was the star of the meal. A whole roasted, sliced, nectarine fanned out onto flaky pastry, with a scoop of crème frâiche and sprinkle of pistachio nuts was delicious.
The friendly and professional service ensures that you feel at ease. As it was a midweek lunch we weren’t able to take full advantage of the wine list, which this boutique hotel is known for, so we’re looking forward to a return evening visit.
*Thank you to Kirsty Lee at Hotel du Vin for the invitation to review the Al Fresco Summer Menu. www.hotelduvin.com/Birmingham
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