Monday, 16 April 2018

Food Review: Comptoir Libanais, Grand Central

Admit it, you're not actually sure what Lebanese food is. If you're anything like me, you may have an idea of Lebanese food resembling Iranian or Middle Eastern food. I was certain there would be lots of meat involved and probably some kebabs, but that's pretty much as far as I got.

Comptoir Libanais opened three weeks ago at Grand Central, Birmingham. Located just above New Street station, things are changing very quickly around here with a new Fish and Chips restaurant just opened, and another two new restaurants on the way.

With a number of restaurants across the UK, most of these are clustered in London and the South East.

Promising to serve Lebanese and Middle Eastern food, I was invited along to try out the menu.

With a queue outside the door, it was clear to see that Birmingham has an appetite for new restaurants, and we're fast becoming a city of foodies. Seating was slow even though we had booked, but menus were available for the wait. The front of the restaurant is open and enticing, with a huge table of baklava and sweet treats to one side, and a wall of exotic goods such as tea and Turkish Delight on the other.

Taking a seat at the back of the restaurant, the market bazaar theme continued inside, with rows and rows of straw bags and silver trays for sale, set off with an array of colourful fez's which were sadly not for sale.

To drink, I decided I had to try a traditional lemonade, so went for the Vodka Roomana, a pomegranate and orange blossom lemonade (£7.95).  I'm fairly sure there's a tradition of drinking sugary fruit based drinks in the Middle East. This one was indeed sweet, and the orange blossom was an unexpected flavour.  Next time, I'll probably go for a mint tea as the flavours would be more subtle with a meal.  The most interesting drink on the menu was a Lebanese spiced hot chocolate made with halwa, cinnamon and tahini.

To start, I had to try the mezze platter, made gluten free for me which meant the tabbouleh, freekah salad and warm pitta bread were excluded. I did try the falafel, halloumi, hommos, pickles and baba ghanuj however. I would have liked to see a gluten free pitta bread on the menu to allow for some dipping, but appreciate this can't always be accommodated.  The mezze I did try was delicious, and my favourites were the falafel and halloumi. The flavours were near identical in these, the pickles and hommos as anything I have tried in Turkey.

My dining companion had the marinated jawaneh, chargrilled marinated chicken wings with garlic, lemon and pomegranate molasses. These were a good size, cooked well with just enough chargrilled flavour, finished off with the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses. To anyone who hasn't tried this sweet condiment, get yourself down to your nearest Waitrose and pick a bottle up! It adds instant flavour to any salad with very little effort.

For mains, I picked the mixed grill (£13.95), whilst my companion had the Lebanese lamb and halloumi burger (£9.45). I swapped the vermicelli rice for batata harra, spiced cubes of potatoes with red peppers, coriander, garlic and chilli.

My dish was a hearty one of lamb kofta, chicken kofta and chicken shish, that alongside the potatoes made for a filling dish for one or something smaller for two. The chicken kofta was my favourite; soft, tender and subtly spiced. The potatoes were nice but could have been crispier. I adored the salad and could have eaten a whole bowl of this, seasoned with sumac.

The lamb burger was again, very filling and dense, but the halloumi was a highlight.

As much as I should have resisted, there were two gluten free cakes on the menu and I couldn't resist. Saving the dark chocolate orange and cardamom tart for next time, I picked the orange and almond cake (both £4.95).

This cake was without doubt the highlight of my meal. Soft, moist and lightly flavoured, with a little bit of sticky glaze on top, I could eat this every day... but won't.

Based on what I ate, Lebanese food is extremely similar to Turkish food, so anyone who has ever holidayed there will be familiar with the style of cooking and flavours used. Baklava, houmous, halloumi, pickles and kebabs are all dishes that I've eaten and enjoyed in Turkey.

The dishes we ate were filling and flavoursome, perfect if you're not keen on spicy foods full of chilli and heat. Instead, the flavours are more subtle including onions, garlic and sumac.

The interior was an absolute delight, full of trinkets that you can't help but adore, whilst the Comptoir Souk was exactly that, a treasure trove of unusual Middle Eastern food treats that are great for yourself or as a gift.

Comptoir Libanais is well worth a visit. If you're gluten free, there's plenty to try, and the cakes especially are going to blow you away. Come with an appetite and you won't be disappointed.

*With thanks to Comptoir Libanais for the complimentary meal.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Food Review: Hotel Du Vin Spring Menu Launch

In an uncertain world, there's always Hotel Du Vin Birmingham. Restaurants come and go, but this place stays the same, offering up food, wine and hospitality by the bucket load.

Under the guidance of new General Manager, Barry Sherwin, we were invited to try the new menu at Hotel Du Vin Birmingham on what felt like one of the first days of Spring.

Starting off with a little taste of Gusbourne, an English Sparkling, along with some hearty nibbles, we enjoyed our welcome drinks and bar snacks in the Bubble Lounge before making our way to the main restaurant.

The new menu is full of French classics including Moules, Parfait, Steak Tartare, Escargots and of course Steak.

Wanting to try out something different, I sidestepped the Chicken Liver Parfait and went for the Severn & Wye Smoked Salmon Classic to start. Far from your usual dish of smoked salmon, alongside the thick, moist slices of smoked salmon was an unusual garnish; egg. The garnish of chopped boiled egg was laid out around the circumference of the dish, mixed in with red onion, parsleys and cornichons. An unusual take on this simple dish, it added interest and colour. Lemon juice of course added some zing.

Onto the main course, I stuck to the fishy theme and opted for the Sole Meuniere, a lightly pan-fried dish of lemon sole. A tricky fish to eat thanks to it's spiky bones, it was nonetheless well cooked, although it could have benefitted from a little less oil for my tastes. Accompaniments included honey roast carrots, pommes puree, haricots vert and of course pommes frites.

Gluten free dessert options included ice cream and Creme Brulee, so I picked the latter as much as I was trying to resist. A delightful dish as always, it was the dessert wine that really stood out for me here. The Emiliana Late Harvest was a light dessert wine with honey hints that I thoroughly enjoyed.

We were also treated to an introduction to the Sommeliers Table, a corner of heaven where wines are available to try by the glass, along with some expert advice. A little known feature, try it out next time you're there and you may even discover something new.

The new menu at Hotel Du Vin is a love letter to French cuisine. Showing off favourite dishes beloved by Brits and Frenchmen alike, there's some hearty food and seriously good wine to be enjoyed. My advice? Pop by for a meal that's sure to leave you satisfied.

*With thanks to Hotel Du Vin for the complimentary meal

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Food Review: Indioz Indian, Moseley

Moseley is a great place for a night out, pub crawl or brunch; but is it known for its curry? Sure, there's Zindiya, but that's more popular for its street food bites than bowls of balti.

I headed to Indioz to try out the menu. Described as "well-crafted Indian food", we arrived on time and sat at the bar before heading to the table. Serving soft drinks only, the restaurant is unlicensed meaning it's a great affordable option for anyone who likes a tipple, whilst also avoiding those awkward "who drank what" conversations over the bill.

Promising to cater for allergens, the team was very knowledgable on what was and wasn't gluten free.

The first thing to arrive was a plate of poppadums and dips to go with it, before the starter of Samosa Chaat came out. Although this isn't gluten free, a portion was made up for me without the crispy topping so I could try this too. A mix of chickpeas and onions, this was a fairly spicy dish.

We also tried the Chilli Chicken which was again, fairly spicy, with some sweet flavours that are unusual for an Indian restaurant. The same goes for the main course dish of Zanzibar Chicken, which was an extremely mild coconut based chicken dish, best suited for anyone who would normally order Butter Chicken.

Next, we sampled Lamb Chops and Spiced Cod, both of which were good with plenty to chew on. The lamb chops in particular were meaty and tender, and the cod was also well cooked.

Onto the main courses proper, we were served two large sized Thali's, one vegetarian and one meat, alongside a very traditional Chicken Balti.

This was the highlight of the meal for me, with a fantastic variety of dishes included in the Thali, both of which were well flavoured, varied and filling. Both included naan, rice, raita and an onion chutney, whilst the meat version also included lamb and chicken curry, whilst the vegetarian version included saag, daal and aloo gobi.

The Chicken Balti was also as you would expect, hearty, medium spiced and with good sized chunks of chicken.

All of the main courses were gluten free and there was plenty of rice on offer to go alongside the curry dishes.

For dessert, the rest of the party sampled Halwa, although this is not gluten free. However, I unashamedly headed to the giant box of mint chocolates by the bar to finish off the meal with something sweet.

Indioz in Moseley is a great spot for a reasonably priced meal with friends and family. The more traditional dishes including the Balti and Thali were the most enjoyable dishes on the menu, and the hospitality and service were second to none. The atmosphere is family friendly and suitable for all. making it a great pit stop.

*With thanks to Indioz for the complimentary meal 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Food Review: Sabai Sabai Thai Birmingham City Centre

For a city as into it's food as Birmingham, there really aren't too many places to go for Thai. However, Sabai Sabai, the local chain that started off in Moseley before spreading to Harborne, Stratford and now Waterloo Street in the city centre, is now on hand to cater for all your Thai food and cocktail needs.

With a good sized bar offering diners or simply drinkers a place to perch, there is a great selection of cocktails on offer from classics to something different. We started off with the Bangkok Fizz (£8.25), a prosecco based cocktail with citrus flavours. This was a great way to kick off the night, where bloggers from the city and beyond had gathered to try out the new joint. 

At the table, we were treated to sharing portions that weren't really that. I'm pretty sure we all had more than one dish each, which meant that we could avoid the awkward "oh no, you take the last one" situation because there really was plenty to go around. The portion sizes themselves were also extremely generous.

The first dish to arrive was the Meat Sharing Platter (£12.95 each), a mix of lamb chops, spare ribs, chicken wings and crispy duck rolls. The lamb chops were served pink, which is how I like them, and were very, very meaty. The chicken wings were again, thick and meaty and seasoned with chilli and salt. I was also treated to a warm bowl of Tom Yam Goong, Spicy and Sour Prawn Soup to cater to my gluten free dining requirements.

Next, we moved onto the main event, where the table was laid out with Monkfish Thai Green Curry (£17.95), Short Rib Beef Massaman, Papaya Salad (£9.95), Weeping Tiger Steak (£16.95), Pad Thai (£10.95), Tenderstem broccoli and Garlic Rice. 

A veritable feast, and something I would heartily recommend to anyone dining in a large group, please do order as we did and get stuck into a variety of dishes; it really is the most fun way to dine!

The stand out dishes here were the Massaman Beef, a delicious, thick nutty curry sauce poured over the softest piece of short rib beef you'll ever try paired with the garlic rice, with nutty flavour hints that complemented the sauce.

For fresher flavours, it was the Papaya Salad and Pad Thai that worked well together. Pad Thai was exactly as you'd expect it to be, a consistently good dish that never fails to deliver just the right balance of sweet, nutty and sour. The Papaya Salad was something little different, with shredded papaya and veg brought together by some big, crunchy peanuts and a touch of sour and sweet from the lime, chilli and palm sugar. 

For dessert, we opted for the prettiest Espresso Martini, just because food bloggers don't do Dry January. Cheers!

*With thanks to Sabai Sabai for the complimentary meal

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Food review: Fressh Food Birmingham

Happy New Year folks!! Welcome to my first post of 2018. Excuse the delay, but sometimes it's good to take a break :)

Back to food. Fressh opened up last year in a prime location, close to Corporation Street in the City Arcade (also home to Tilt Coffee).

Hailed as a vegan cafe, it seemed fitting to talk about Fressh in January, also known as Veganuary, the movement that's taken the country by storm whereby followers opt to adopt a plant-based diet for the month.

In keeping with the name, Fressh adopts a colour scheme of mainly white with touches of green, making it look instantly calm and zen.

Walking in, the first thing you'll notice is the fresh salad bar area as well as the seating, which is varied between small tables, larger communal tables and benches; always good for when you're dining solo.

After receiving a very warm welcome from the manager, who went through the concept, menu and how to order, I picked out a few dishes to try.

First of all, I had to get the Taco Bowl (£4.75) if only to try Walnut Taco. This can be served as either a salad or a wrap; I opted for a salad. I then pontificated between the What the Guac? and Son of a Bun burger, finally opting for Son of a Bun (£5.95) because it's less spicy.

A word on gluten free options. The team were well versed in the gluten free options on the menu, which always makes me happy. What's also great is that the main menu is helpfully annotated with GF and GFO to make it really easy for us Gluten Free folk when picking from the menu. For example, the burgers are both GFO because the bun can be switched out for a gluten free bun for an extra £1, whilst the salads can be made gluten free by being served as a salad and not a wrap and by removing items such as croutons.

There are plenty of gluten free choices on the menu, from the burgers and salads to the butternut squash curry. Breakfast also affords much choice, with the porridge and smoothies also being gluten free.

Back to my order, I also picked the Turmeric Latte (£3.25), which can be served with soya, coconut, oat or almond milk, as well as a bottle of Organic Kombucha (£2.95).

My food was freshly made to order and arrived served on a tray and artfully arranged (I get the feeling they're used to being Instagrammed).

First of all I tried my Turmeric Latte. Although I'm not one for milky drinks, I really anted to try out turmeric as it's such a hot topic right now, with health benefits such as its antioxidant and inflammatory properties. For me, I just wanted to see if I could stomach the stuff, and thankfully the answer is yes! Smooth and warm, this tasted like a cup of warm golden sunshine. Now, I just need to figure out how to get it into my diet.

I really enjoyed the kombucha too, and I'd definitely try it again. I'm quite fascinated by it as it's actually a living thing, don't ask, just look it up.

Onto the food, both items were hearty portions, and the salad in particular is plenty big enough to fill you up at lunch time.

They were great at being able to customise your items too so don't be afraid to ask for the team to hold the onions for example.

My Son of a Bun burger was a big, thick, "meaty" burger, piled up high with a black bean and sweet potato patty, onion, gherkins, vegan cheese and a Fressh sauce. The patty itself was very thick and the rice content made it especially filling. The gluten free bun was also tasty, and the sauces added just enough flavour without being overpowering.

The Taco Bowl salad had a really unusual taste, almost cheesy but I can't be sure. The salad itself was huge and varied, and I loved the sweetcorn to keep it from being too bland.

Overall, Fressh offered great service, a great environment and a great menu. The prices are really affordable, which is good to see as so often healthy food can come at a high price. There was plenty of choice and everything is easy to swap around and customise. Would I come back? For a midweek lunch yes! My top tip? Grab a burger and go!

*With thanks to Fressh for the complimentary meal