2017 – a year in food

Empty plate

I dread to think how many plates of food have been consumed this year in writing this blog, but it is with a big smile and full stomach that I review 2017 – a year in food.

The best thing I ate this year is a close tie between pollock, with loveage and seaweed at Restaurant 23 or the fish and chips by The English Indian at Digbeth Dining Club. The worst was a below par pasta dish at Lorenzo’s in Rugby which was bland and flabby.

Hats off to the friendliest staff at Salt in Stratford upon Avon (named Best New Entry in The Good Food Guide 2017) and the nicest chef award goes to Brad Carter for genuinely caring about his suppliers.

As I try and wean myself off gin, Seedlip was a welcome discovery as were the halloumi fries at Pharmacea and Becki’s Brownies salted caramel spread, that mysteriously finds its way into my bag at every food festival.

The only problem I faced this year was trying to get to all of the new openings in Birmingham, which  were well into double figures again. Street food chefs found permanent homes, London based operators expanded into the city, shops were transformed into cafes and new life breathed into refurbished pubs.

Independent craft beer bar Thorp17 and Digbeth Dining Club regular Meat Shack took over the former Stageside Bar and Restaurant building opposite Birmingham Hippodrome.  Birmingham’s first all vegan café Natural Healthy Foods opened in March and I have still to try their brunch.

After India, Argentina and the USA, Lasan Group looked to Italy for their latest dining concept and opened Izza! to serve sourdough pizzas, antipasti, cured meats and salads in the Selfridges Food Hall. The retailer also welcomed two new eateries from Italian San Carlo group, with a swanky new restaurant and patisserie.

The Mailbox welcomed Tom’s Kitchen by Tom Aikens, Kanteen opened in the Custard Factory and after a successful run of pop-ups, Ben Tesh opened his first restaurant Folium in the Jewellery Quarter.

Old venues were also given a new lease of life. Jewellery Quarter coffee house Brewsmiths was transformed into an Indian street food cafe The Indian Brewery with a bar selling craft beer as well.

Davenports Brewery bought The City Tavern in Bishopsgate Street and reopened it as The Bulls Head, with Indian street food snacks on the menu, which I reviewed back in October. The former Lisa Shepherd hairdresser in Temple Row became the second outpost of Turkish café Damascena.

Gin fans rejoiced as The Distillery was created from the former Fiddler and Bone pub, serving various gins, spirits and craft beers in a canal side setting.

Worcester had a flurry of new eateries open too. With good news for meat lovers as Friar Street Kitchen claimed to have the best steaks in town and Burger Shop and Carl Sampson at The Conservatory served up gourmet burgers. Also new this year is The Old Pheasant and after investing £500K into the makeover, the Shaker Group opened The Orangery Restaurant and cocktail bar with outside seating and private dining areas in Redditch.

We also were given plenty of choice for places to drink too. The gorgeous looking Bower House opened in Shipston upon Stour, Warwick welcomed Rigsby’s Cellar Bar, drinkers in Stone enjoyed the sunny weather on Edison’s roof terrace, craft beer drinkers flocked to Alsager’s micro-pub Kraftworks, inspired by Hungarian bars The Ruin opened in Digbeth  and in Leamington the secret Ape Hangers bar opened underneath Procaffeinate.

It wasn’t all good news though, in Birmingham we also sadly said goodbye to seafood restaurants Lobster Peninusular and Le Monde, French restaurant Annexe, tapas COMiDA@21 only six months after moving, Thai Edge, Meating and Two Cats Kitchen (despite rave reviews).  Over in Leamington Meatcure and Restaurant 23 closed, leaving the town without a gourmet burger café and one less fine dining restaurant.

What about our favourite chefs?  Aktar Islam announce that he was leaving Lasan and the group of restaurants he had built up with business partner Jabbar Khan to pursue new, solo projects.  Nathan Eades plated his last dish for Simpsons as he moved on to Cotswold’s pub The Wild Rabbit.  Chef de partie Louisa Ellis from The Wilderness wowed the judges to make it to the final three competitors in Masterchef the Professionals 2017.

Liam Dillon was awarded an AA rosette for The Boat Inn in Lichfield just six months after opening, Chris Monk moved from Le Champignon Sauvage to the Crown Inn pub Hallow Wild Shropshire chef James Sherwin hosted a demo at the first Ginger & Spice Festival in Market Drayton.

This year was all about food festivals for me. I enjoyed a day talking to producers and shopping at Stone Food and Drink Festival and even compered the second day at Ragley Hall’s  Food Festival. Next year I am also adding the Hereford Indie Food Festival to my diary.

Before we say goodbye to 2017, I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU! to the fantastic people who have grown, cooked and served all the amazing dishes I have eaten this year. As another tasty year comes to an end, I am definitely looking forward to an even more appetising 2018!

 

 

 

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Table Talk – Friday 8th December

Chefs

Bit of a chef’s special in this week’s Table Talk, as we look to Birmingham and Worcester for the latest moves and news.

After two years as head chef, Nathan Eades is leaving Michelin-starred Simpsons this weekend. Nathan is off from Birmingham to a lead the brigade at The Wild Rabbit Inn, a pub in the Cotswolds.

Congratulations to Louisa Ellis for securing a place in Masterchef: The Professionals 2017 semi finals. At only 22 Louisa is the only female chef in this stage of the competition. By day Louisa is the senior chef de partie at The Wilderness in Birmingham.

The Crown Inn in Worcester has appointed Chris Monk as the pub’s new head chef. Formerly of Le Champignon Sauvage, Chris has introduced a new seasonal a la carte menu that Birmingham blogger Meat and One Veg rated highly.

 

 

 

Jump into June’s events

June 2017 events

This is a good month to see your favourite chefs in action, with cookery demos at festivals all across the West Midlands in June.

Catch Jean-Christophe Novelli in Coventry,  Simpson’s Nathan Eades  at Foodies Festival in Birmingham, Brad Carter at Ragley Hall’s Fabulous Food Festival and Chris Burt at Shrewsbury Food & Drink Festival.

Specialist dinners this month include a forage walk and inspired menu in Hereford at Madam & Adam, celebrating asparagus at The Cross in Kenilworth and three of Colmore Row’s best eateries in an evening tour.

Look out for National Beer Day themed events in Staffordshire too, with a supper club and beer tasting.

Birmingham chefs take centre stage

There are some familiar faces and a cross section of city venues taking part in the Foodies Festival this weekend.

Foodies Festival Chefs Theatre

 

To see the guys in action, here is the timetable for the Chefs Theatre.

Friday 15th May

12.00 Dhruv Baker – MasterChef Winner 2010

13.00 Nathan Eades – St Andrews Town Hotel

14.00 Ryan Swift – The Edgbaston

15.00 Robert Grzesik – The Warehouse Cafe

16.00 Nathan Eades – St Andrews Town Hotel

17.00 William Noblett – Ju Ju’s Cafe

Saturday 16th May

12.00 Dhruv Baker – MasterChef Winner 2010

13.00 Nathan Eades – St Andrews Town Hotel

14.00 Glynn Purnell – Purnells

15.00 James Wong – Chung Ying

16.00 Jackie Kearney – The Hungry Gecko

17.00 Nick Turner – Hotel De Vin

Sunday 17th May

12.00 Katy B – ‘Little Miss Meat Free’ Great Vegan Bake Off Winner 2014

13.00 Rachel Green – Top TV Chef

14.00 Aktar Islam – Lasan Group

15.00 Dhruv Baker – MasterChef Winner 2010

16.00 Matt Cheal – Simpsons

Entry to the Chefs Theatre is included in the ticket price. Tickets are released at the festival on the day and are available on a first come, first served basis and entry is limited – register for free entry at the Registration Point opposite the main entrance.

(Photo credits: Birmingham Mail and Birmingham Living)

Epi Restaurant pop-ups in Birmingham

After an extended break I’ve finally emptied my inbox, which contained some exciting news for 2014. There will be a new street food collective launching in Birmingham, Glynn Purnell is publishing his first cookbook and there are a couple new food festivals planned for Warwickshire in the Summer. I’ll let you know more details as soon as I have them.

One event that I can tell you about now, is a new pop-up from chefs Nathan Eades and Grant Hill.

Nathan Eades and Grant Hill Epi Restaurant pop-up

After a successful few months running their Epi pop-up restaurant in Bromsgrove, the Ludlow trained duo are making their way over to Birmingham for three dates this month.

Nathan and Grant will be serving modern British cuisine with French technique and influence.  They will be using local artisan suppliers and both have a keen interest in foraging and wild foods.  Nathan says: “We’re both trained in classical French cookery, that’s what we love doing and feel comfortable doing, but we’re going to use local ingredients as much as possible.”

epi-at-the-courtyard

Here is what diners can expect from some of the dishes at the Kitchen Garden Café on Monday 13, 20 and 27 January – goat with spiced quinoa and fennel, salmon with cauliflower and chicory and pork with broccoli and almonds.

kitchen-garden-cafe

This isn’t the first time that the Kitchen Garden Café has played host to successful pop-ups, as happy diners from masterchef the professionals finalist Claire Hutchings can testify. The venue is a mix of a licensed cafe, organic Fairtrade deli and garden centre, that transforms itself into an a la carte restaurant for weekend evenings. http://www.kitchengardencafe.co.uk

Epi pop-up tickets are £32.50 and available via  www.epi-KGC.eventbrite.co.uk.  For more information visit their Facebook page www.Facebook.com/epirestaurant or follow them on twitter @RestaurantEpi.