Grana Padano Lunch at San Carlo, Birmingham

I bloody love cheese. Hard, soft, stinky, mild, cow or goat – I don’t discriminate. And now that winter has officially rolled in, I have no shame calling out for cheese in every meal. Luckily San Carlo have my back, rolling out a special menu dedicated to cheese – Grana Padano in particular – which will run throughout the whole of November.

The new menu kicked off with an afternoon of cheese and wine, where we were joined by a Grana Padano expert (how can I get this job, please?) to sample the cheese and dishes that San Carlo have created to showcase it.

First order of the day – after prosecco, of course – is a tasting of the cheese in it’s pure, unadulterated form. Three hearty chunks of Grana Padano, ranging from a spritely 11 month old vintage with a mild, creamy flavour, through the nuttier 16 month vintage, to the robust 20 month ‘Reserva’ vintage which smacks of umami and has a lovely crystalline texture. It’s a versatile cheese, the various vintages able to suit different dishes and palates.

Good stuff, but there’s one surefire way to make any cheese taste better; add carbs. And San Carlo are on it. Our first dish is Gnocco Croccante; essentially large gnocchi with a crisp coating, atop a smooth Grana Padano sauce and accompanied by fresh truffle. It’s rich, cheesy and all kinds of delicious, with the crunch of the coating giving texture to a dish which would otherwise be soft enough for my great grandma to enjoy. A crisp Pinot Grigio does a great job of cutting through the richness of the dish.

Next up is a mushroom risotto, served in (wait for it) a WHEEL OF CHEESE. This is the stuff of dreams, people. It’s a good risotto, hearty and warming with lots of mushroom, but the rice could have done with a fraction longer in the pan and a touch more salt. It’s paired with a glass of rosé. Yes, I thought they were crazy too, but it really worked. San Carlo know their wines; I should never have doubted them.

Finally there is more gnocchi, this time in a Grana Padano basket with a Gorgonzola sauce. A glass of red is essential here, standing up to the big, cheesy flavours on the plate.

We leave, taking with us a distinct odour of cheese. Perhaps three in a row is a bit too much, but as standalone specials these dishes are a perfect way to get your cheese fix. They’re available at San Carlo until the end of November, which by my calculations means you have exactly 506.5 hours to get your hands on them. Godspeed!

I was invited to the press event, but was not asked to write about it. Find San Carlo at 4 Temple Street, Birmingham, B2 5BN

San Carlo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Electro Brunch at Gaucho, Birmingham

Daytime drinking is a dangerous pastime. Daytime drinking in the low lit underground Gaucho even more so. You see, despite being bottle fed on gravy and real ale, I’m more Southern Softy that Notorious Northerner when it comes to booze. Give me three drinks and I’m giddy, four and you’ll find me fast asleep in the corner spooning a dog. The latter is not a metaphor for my relationship, my boyfriend would like to point out. The idea of bottomless brunch appeals to me, even more so when it’s the glorious Gaucho offering a two hour spree of unlimited dishes and drinks, but it’s also slightly terrifying.

As it turns out I did find myself tucked up in bed by 2pm sleeping off the Aperol Sptritz, but not before I had a pretty brilliant start to the day at brunch. They really know what they are doing here, with a menu packed with things I want to eat and a team of polished waiting staff happy to replace my empty glass at a seconds notice. Go on, fill me up again please.

Little croissant style pastries greet us at the table, along with an peanut butter dulce de leche which is about as addictive as crack and slightly more calorific. These disappear in seconds. From here it is a free-for-all of food with one rule; finish your plate before ordering the next one. I am ravenous. This is easy work for a pro like me.

Shocker; I eat almost everything, taking in a drinks flight that amounts to an Aperol spritz with every course. Steak and eggs are unsurprisingly brilliant, this being a rather brilliant steak house. The meat blushes pink, the egg oozes with rich yolk. I’m tempted to say I could have eaten twenty of these but I could have if I wanted and I never. I only managed two. Pathetic.

The Eggs Benedict, served with salt beef, is a triumph; the salty meat perfectly balanced against the creamy sauce and crisp muffin. Apologies for the Ainsley Herriot style innuendos. But it really was good. Next is a breaded chunk of gooey Provoleta cheese, with a caramelised onion chutney to cut through the richness. Cheese for breakfast should definitely be more of a thing.

A chorizo sausage sandwich with chimichurri is not that chorizo-y, but I’ll forgive that because it’s delicious. The beans on toast with chorizo is, for me, the only disappointing dish. There’s not enough chorizo and I make a much better version at home.

I’m stuffed by this point, but it would be rude not to try the dessert (and another Aperol Spritz). Banana pancakes don’t quite reach the highs of the ones I devoured daily in Indonesia, but that’s probably not a fair comparison. These did come with another hit of that peanut butter dulce de leche crack though, so let’s call it a draw.

We emerge, blinking, into the sunlight from the dark mouth of Gaucho. I have an exam four days later so it’s home for a nap I go; for others, it’s the perfect start to an all day drinking session. I can’t pretend I’m not jealous.

At £45, the brunch is certainly not cheap, but definitely worth it for a special occasion. The food is brilliant, the drinks free flowing and the service polished. Go hungry and thirsty – preferably with no exams scheduled – and worry about the waistline later.

I was invited to the Gaucho Electro brunch as a guest of Red Kite PR (thank you!). Gaucho‘s Birmingham branch is at 55 Colmore Row, B3 2AA.

Bar + Block, Birmingham

I was a weird child. Still am. Amongst the many childhood tales my mother has recounted to me, the first word I chose to utter is one of my favourites. It wasn’t mama, or dada. Not hello, bye-bye, yes or no. It was moo.

My boyfriend might point to this as an early warning sign of my infamous moods, but I prefer to think of it as a first declaration of my love of steak.

You see, a properly cooked steak is a thing of beauty. I personally like mine dry aged, charred on the outside and so rare that it could be returned to life with a defibrillator. Properly rested so that the juices disperse across the protein, not the plate. But this beef nirvana is rarely achieved; far too often my rare steak is overcooked, or the meat has been cooked on too low a heat so that the exterior is a sweaty, muddy grey. Cooking a bit of cow shouldn’t be that difficult yet it so often misses the mark. Luckily, my visit to Bar + Block proved they know how to handle a piece of meat (whey).

I know I’m in the minority, but I have a real issue with meat flavoured crisps. It’s just. not. right. I won’t pretend, then, that the arrival of beef popcorn to start the meal filled me with joy. Fortunately, in this case I was wrong; these little pops of meatiness would make even the cheapest of Cineworld seats bearable, and had completely disappeared by the time our wine arrived.

We choose three small plates from the menu to start us off. A gammon and pineapple scotch egg gets a mixed response; I like the nostalgic flavours of ham surrounding the egg, studded with sweet pineapple and the occasional tingle of chilli, but my dining partner brands it a complete bastardisation of a classic. I reckon I’m right.

Mac and cheese bites do exactly what they say on the tin; deep fried bits of molten cheese and pasta. They’re good, but better eaten with burnt ends; smokey, sweet and crispy bits of slow cooked brisket, with a hint of heat lurking in the background.

I’ll gloss over my boyfriend’s odd decision to order a chicken burger in a steakhouse, because it was a decent burger, but if you’re here it should be about the cow. And it was for me; a hunk of 10oz fillet, exactly how I asked for it. The exterior had a nice crust, the centre still gently moo’ing, with a tangle of samphire bringing welcome saltiness. I like it a lot, and it’s a bargain for it’s size at £22.95.

Dessert is definitely not needed, but we order it anyway. The sundae comes piled with churros, honeycomb, brownies and other things your dentist warns you about. It’s mammoth and would defeat the hugest of appetites for only six English pounds. The baked cheesecake with cherry is the only real disappointment of the meal. The texture is all wrong, a mass of bland, dense sweetness that tastes like it’s been defrosted. I should have ended on the steak. Serves me right for being greedy.

Bar + Block is never going to be my favourite restaurant, the place that I rave about to everyone who’ll listen and take all my friends to when they visit. But it does what it sets out to do extremely well; it serves up tasty, well cooked food at an extremely reasonable price. And for that I can’t fault it.

Bar + Block is at 6 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5PG.

Food was complimentary for review purposes.

Gateway to India, Regency Wharf

The last time I visited the Gateway to India was in Mumbai; it was a little different there.  Perched on benches we ate cheap and tasty food, and watched men wearing little clothing pass by with bedazzled cows, whereas here, just off Broad Street…Okay, I take it back. Thinking about it, Mumbai really isn’t that different to Broad Street at all; give or take a few pitchers of Sex on the Beach, a visit to either will guarantee colourful characters, a riot of noise and hordes of taxis.

Gateway to India, then, is a fairly apt name for this newcomer. Could this possibly be the inspiration behind the name? We may never know.*

What I do know is that Gateway to India are serving up some seriously impressive street food, with a menu inspired by favourites from Mumbai and beyond. And when I say seriously impressive, I mean dishes that are up there with the best in the city. Look beyond the traditional interior and you’ll discover a menu more akin to the Zindiyas and Indian Streaterys of the city than your standard curry house.

I was there a couple of weeks back and I’ve been thinking non-stop about some of the dishes I ate.  Chole Bhature is everything that I love about Indian street food; take one puffed up piece of fried bread, tear, and fill with a chickpea curry that has the right balance of zing and heat.  It’s that visceral, hands-on type of eating that I love, a far cry from the well mannered world of cutlery that we survive in.  It’s the same with pani puri. Delightfully light, crisp, puffs are drizzled with tamarind and a punchy mint and coriander sauce. Fill them and then pop in the gob in one piece to release a world of goodness.

My Northern tendency to put anything and everything between buttered bread is satisfied by the Pav Bhaji; a vegetable curry accompanied by a buttered bun to spread or dunk as you choose. It’s bloody brilliant.  Aloo Tikki are deep fried mashed potato patties, a concept that could easily have originated from Glasgow (the home of haggis pakora). These are delicious, fragrant with spice and served with the same chickpea curry that formed the Chole Bhature.  It’s at this point I should tell you I am madly in love with the vivid green mint and coriander sauce; I would gladly elope with it had it not been frowned upon to do so with a liquid.

And there’s more – I’ve saved my favourite dishes for last. Bhel Puri is an addictive combination of crispy rice and noodles, dusted with spices and finished with onion, tamarind and yogurt. Samosa chaat is the best rendering of the dish I’ve tried to date; a pungent and warming mixture of that chickpea curry and torn samosa that demands your immediate attention. Best of all is the dosa, a wrapping paper-esque tube filled with the most addictive potato spiced with mustard seed and cumin.  It is this that I have been dreaming of recently, all seventeen foot (a possible exaggeration) of it with the loose vegetable curry and tomato chutney.  At just a fiver for the vegetarian one it is the obvious lunch of choice, even when your work is twenty minutes walk away like mine is. Trust me, it’s worth it.

We tried other dishes – curries, grills and a brilliant lobster dish – but it is the above street food menu that for me really stands out. With ever more Indian streetfood joints popping up in Birmingham, I can truly say that this is one deserving of your time.

*It’s true, we may never know, but I’m 99.99% sure this is not the case.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Anita at Delicious PR for the invite. The meal was complimentary, my opinions are honest as always (ask my boyfriend – I haven’t shut up about the dosa since!).

The Meat Shack, Southside

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”; a phrase much loved by classic Western movies and American rock band Sparks alike.

Luckily for The Meat Shack, it’s one that doesn’t apply to burger joints. In a move which will inevitably draw comparisons with Original Patty Men, Meat Shack have gone from stalwarts of the Birmingham street food scene to setting up shop in the city centre.

But let’s make like proud parents and halt the comparisons. Even though you’ll inevitably have a favourite (in my family it’s obviously me), you should still have room in your heart for both. We desperately need more good burger places in Birmingham, and The Meat Shack has just upped our total by one.

The burgers, then. The Dutch Piggy is a beast of a burger, packed with both Dutch and American cheese (perhaps to honour their shared liberal views towards marijuana consumption – who knows?), streaky bacon, iceberg red onion, pickle, ketchup and chipayo. The patty is excellent – a densely packed hunk of quality beef which, although less pink than I prefer, is full of juice and flavour. It more than lives up to The Meat Shack’s “filthy dripping goodness” slogan, and combined with the toppings offers a perfect balance of flavour and texture. It’s essentially a pimped-up bacon cheeseburger, and a damn good one at that.

The Hell Shack is a burger for those braver than I, topped with green chilli relish and Holy F**k hot sauce. It gets a good review from my partner-in-crime but I prefer to retain my tastebuds, so don’t try it.

We desperately want to try the fried pickles but they are out for the day, so we opt for onion rings and chipayo fries. The onion rings are exceptionally good but at £3 a little steep for the quantity; after all, they are just bits of onion and batter. The fries are nice enough, but overall offer further evidence to my boyfriend’s theory that when the burgers are exceptional you should just sack off the fries and order two burgers.

Sides aside, the burgers are the headline act here and they are brilliant. The Meat Shack have honed their craft throughout their formative street food years in the city; they are now using that experience to bring something very special to Southside. Go, eat, support.

Find The Meat Shack at their new permanent home on 17 Thorp Street, Birmingham, B5 4AT.

Tom’s Kitchen, Mailbox

The instructions from Dad were clear; somewhere warm, not too noisy, ideally with table clothes. Nothing mentioned about the food funnily enough, the importance of which clearly diminishes with age. I send a shortlist over to him – all places I have wanted to dine at – including Tom’s Kitchen, where I neglect to mention the lack of table clothes. I’ve been looking forward to eating here since it launched in January. Dad, I’m sorry, you’re going to have to live without linen for the evening.

The restaurant is in a curious location on the first floor of the Mailbox, tucked away by the escalators, well away from the mediocre chains that dominate the waterside bars and restaurants out back. Like me, the interior is classy and well groomed, all dark wood and oversized mustard leather sofas. It could be improved with white table clothes. Ha! Not really. I’m shitting you.

The menu is mostly bistro classics given the Tom Aikens treatment. And fermented carrots. I have to mention these because my Dad thinks the notion of them is hilarious in only the way a man in his mid-sixties from Macclesfield can. He insists that we have them for the table. The fine slithers have a little bite and the hint of spice. The fermentation process has imparted an almost curry-like flavour. They are the future. I know, I’ve tasted them.

I’m not adult enough to be able to resist burrata, but I’m not convinced that the orange dressing and linaseed cracker are the best accompanent for the cream rich cheese. I quickly enforce a hostile takeover of my boyfriend’s rabbit rillettes on account of him looking far too happy. His loss is my gain, as I scoop the mild meat and crunchy piccalilli on to the thinnest of toast. It makes me want to eat rabbit more often.

My main of duck is delicious; the meat is cooked to medium, the skin crisp. The mushroom risotto is all parts delicious, accurately timed and deep with umami. A broth sits around the edge of the bowl that packs a mighty hit of mushroom flavour. At £24 it’s not cheap but it’s well worth every penny of Daddy’s money.

A burger is one of the cheaper mains on the menu at £17, but for that money it needs to be a bloody good burger – especially given it would buy two at OPM and leave change. It is very good – a fat puck of properly aged cow that blushes pink in the centre. I have a little issue with the brioche bun, the bottom half of which quickly breaks down to a nothing with the wet elements. The chips are delicious. I try a bit of Dad’s trout and get why he is so enthused. The skin is crisp, the flesh moist. The parsley and lettuce sauce is vivid in colour and flavour. It is simple and so tasty. The trout, that is, not my Father. That would be weird.

Only one dessert is ordered which divides opinion. I like it, which is all that matters. It is listed as a rum baba, a description that sends the other half into a fit of anger when it arrives. It’s not a baba blah blah blah he says. It’s just noise. The cylindrical sponge has the faint kick of booze and splodges of chantilly cream. Strawberries are present in freeze dried, ice cream, and fresh form. I don’t care how authentic it is, because it’s very, very nice.

I don’t see the bill, but fifty quid a head with wine is probably about right. I think that’s fair for what was a really excellent meal. Everything we ate was executed with skill and precision; as far as bistro style food goes for me it ticks all the boxes. Apart from table clothes, that is. But that’s another story all together.

Find Tom’s Kitchen in The Mailbox, Birmingham, B1 1RS.

Tom’s Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

T2, Birmingham

I'm attempting to cut down on the drinking at the moment. It may not be going entirely to plan – I spent Friday evening drinking wine and necking shots of Limoncello with my family – but I am at least making a token effort.

Clearly this has left a gaping hole in my life, so when T2 invited me to a masterclass I decided to see if I could drown my sorrows with tea rather than booze. I already love tea – my friend and I took a 4 month supply of Yorkshire Gold teabags with us when we were travelling (because tea is an essential) – but I have to admit I'm pretty lazy when it comes to seeking out new varieties.

T2 is an Australian brand which has recently begun opening stores in the UK. Their Birmingham store opened around 4 months ago, but I'd previously heard of them from my above-mentioned friend who raves about their London store. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for good packaging so even before I tried any tea I was a little bit in love with their branding. To be honest, they could put almost anything in those boxes and I'd be tempted to buy it.

During the masterclass, I was shown how to use their signature Teamaker to brew various teas & iced teas. T2 have around 200 varieties of tea to choose from, so the chances you'll find one you're into are pretty high. My personal recommendations are the Spi Chai – a blend of all the spices that go into standard chai tea, but without the black tea – and the Packs a Peach, a Lipton's Iced Tea-esque blend of peach, papaya, apple and chicory which was served iced. I took a box of the Spi Chai home and it even managed to convert my non-tea-drinking boyfriend.

I also had my first taste of Matcha tea, which is a powder made of the entire tea leaf. Matcha seems to be everywhere at the moment, hailed as the next saviour of our planet, healer of diseases, instant youth restorer etc etc. All this marketing hype has had the entirely opposite effect as intended for me – I have avoided it like the plague. Hipster health trends just ain't my thing. My first taste of the Matcha, made with 80 degree water, didn't do much to change my mind. Let's just say that it definitely tasted like it was good for you.

All was not lost though; next we used the cinnamon matcha to make a matcha latte. After whisking the matcha in a tiny bit of water, we whisked with soya milk until frothy and add a little bit of honey. This was a game changer; consider me a matcha convert. Next time you see me, I may have transformed into a 6 foot supermodel with zero wrinkles. That, or I'll just be sipping a matcha latte. At £24 a tin, it's not cheap, but I loved it so much I couldn't help myself. I now have a tin of matcha in my cupboard; WHO AM I?!

Throughout the tea masterclass, the staff were incredible enthusiastic and knowledgeable. They passed on lots of information such as perfect brew times for different teas and facts about how the different teas were made. Even if you're not booked in for a masterclass, you can pop into the store and they'll be on hand to answer questions and make you up a sample if there's any flavours you want to try. I'll definitely be back at T2 very soon – I've got a kitchen cupboard crying out to be filled with little orange boxes!

Thanks to T2 for inviting me to take part in their complimentary masterclass. Their Birmingham store can be found in Upper Mall West, Bullring.