Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Event: Birmingham Whisky Club Tasting - New Releases with Pernod Ricard

Whisky is sometimes considered to be an acquired taste. Not for all, the golden dram is not for everyone. And yet, how many of us can truly say that we've tried and tasted some of the finest whiskies, enough to give an informed opinion?

I've always been pretty impartial to whisky, enjoying a taste when it's around but never actively seeking it.

However, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued when I was invited to attend the Birmingham Whisky Club's event, New Releases by Pernod Ricard.

Hosted in the upstairs room at The Wellington pub, I joined a mixed group of men and women, from different backgrounds and ages, to taste five whiskies; Scapa Glansa ABV 40%, Chivas Regal Extra ABV 40%, Chivas Regal Ultis Blended Malt ABV 40%, Longmorn 16 ABV 48% and The Glenlivet Peated Cask ABV 61.5%.

Presented by Lauren Mustard, the Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador, she talked us through the history of the brand, how each whisky was made, what kind of barrels were used in the process and also the characteristics of each whisky.

By no means a connoisseur, I learnt a lot from the whisky tasting. I also really enjoyed the pace, which was slow enough to allow everyone to taste, appreciate and also discuss each whisky whilst still keeping our interest.

The first whisky we tried, the Scapa Glansa, is matured in American barrels and available only in specialist retailers. From the Speyside area, this area is known as a centre for distilleries because whisky was easy to hide in the valley! Known as the smooth flowing one, this was fruity, floral and sweet.

Second along was the Chivas Regal Extra, a blended scotch of single malt and grain led whisky. This process was started by an American, Robert Stein, and refined by an Irishman, making it not too Scottish at all! The grain whisky is considered to be a canvas on which to paint the malt. This whisky is smooth, rich and harmonious, which is considered to be the house style of Chivas Regal.

Here, we learnt a lot about whisky barrels, about how casks can be used for up to 90 years after which all the oak colours and flavours will have been drawn out. Over time, a spirit line appears and this is how to tell how much longer the barrel is good for. Often, barrels are repurposed too and made into different shapes to hold different spirits.

Thirdly, we tried the Chivas Regal Ultis, another blended malt released in October 2016. This used five single malts, and Ultis means strength in Latin. With a floral element and a spicy element too, the blend honours five master blenders and uses five single malts from five Speyside distilleries. The names of the master blenders are even featured on the box, along with the Chivas Regal symbol which represents friendship and included Scottish symbols such as the lance.

The penultimate whisky we tried was the Longmorn, a single malt from Elgin created in 1893 by John Duff, a Victorian whisky personality. Matured for a minimum of three years, this was characterised by mellow caramel and toffee flavours which made it easy to drink. This was by far my favourite tipple of the evening. A helpful whisky connoisseur recommended I try the Glendronach 8 or 12 year old since I enjoyed this so much.

Lastly, the Glenlivet is a cask strength single malt, which is finished off in a peated cask. Typically, peated whiskies come from the islands, but not in this case.

Two hours later and I could safely say that I'm a little wiser on the ways of whisky, but by no means an expert! It was fascinating to learn a little more about the history and the making of whisky, as well as tasting the differences between each kind. What's the prescription? Another dram of whisky for me, there's still plenty to learn!

*With thanks to The Birmingham Whisky Club for the invitation

Monday, 10 April 2017

Event: Siamais Thai Restaurant and Bar Launch, Brindleyplace

Siamais restaurant has just opened in Brindleyplace, Birmingham, and I was lucky enough to attend the launch event and also sit down for a three course meal on the night.

Located on the corner of Oozells Street by the IKON Gallery, Siamais sits on the site of Thai Edge. Offering Thai food and cocktails, the restaurant takes it's name from the word Siamese to reflect the dual experience on offer to customers.

At the entrance is a gorgeous gothic cocktail bar, decorated with lamps and skulls to create an exotic, stylish area for serious cocktail drinking.

Beyond here is the main restaurant, where diners can sit and eat in a space that's quite separate from the bar area.

At the launch, we were treated to a VIP night of smoking cocktails, music and Thai treats.

Following a champagne reception, we were able to choose from two cocktails at the bar. I opted for this smoking teapot cocktail:

This was prime selfie time and you can see I got to spend time with the very lovely Denise Morris and Claire from Nosh and Breks.

After the cocktails, we were seated and presented with a menu that included dishes such as satay chicken, prawn rolls, stir fried chicken beef or lamb and pad thai.

As a gluten free diner, the team were great at navigating me through the menu and instead of a starter platter, I was able to try the Tom Yum soup instead of the House Platter of prawn rolls, fish cakes, spring rolls, satay chicken and chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves. There was also an option to try the Vegetable Platter which included spring rolls, deep fried tofu, sweetcorn cakes, deep fried vegetables and samosas.

My Tom Yum was exactly as I'd want it to be, and edged enough to the side of sour to make me believe that this is a pretty authentic rendering of the dish.

I also tried the chicken satay and chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves, and was again pleased with how well these had been cooked and how delicious and tender they were.

Onto the main course, there was a choice of chicken or vegetable Thai Green Curry, vegetable or seafood Pad Thai or a spicier option of stir fried chicken, beef or lamb.

I opted for the Thai Green Chicken Curry and was again, pleased to find that there is finally a new player in the fight for the title of 'Best Thai in Birmingham'. Again, this was exactly as I'd want it to be, creamy without being overpowering, with large tender chunks of chicken and vegetables that made this a dish I can't wait to try again.

At the table, we were also able to try another cocktail, this time the Oriental Orchid. I picked this as my tastebuds do tend to edge towards the sweet scale. A blend of vodka and peach, served in something that looks like it came out the laboratory was light, but sweeter than I expected. However, the presentation was excellent, hot on the heels of our favourite trend for chemistry inspired concoctions.

Finally, we were able to finish off with a little bit of something sweet, the mango and coconut Thai sticky rice. A small but perfectly formed portion, I adored this dessert for being sweet enough to satiate a craving, but light enough to not overpower the meal. I'd take this over an Alabama Fudge Cake any day.

Siamais offers cocktails and Thai dining without compromise. Whether you're happy to stay at the bar and work your way through the extensive cocktail menu or prefer a quieter night at the main restaurant, you'd be happy with your evening either way. The cocktails on offer were varied, thoughtful presented and well executed, whilst the food was to an exceedingly high standard and fills the gap for Thai food, something which is under-represented in Birmingham. Personally, I can't wait to come back again soon.

*With thanks to Siamais and Delicious PR for the invitation.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Food Review: 1580 Restaurant, Sutton Coldfield

What's significant about the year 1580? 1580 is in fact the year that Sir Francis Drake set off to circumnavigate the globe, becoming the first Englishman to do so.  On his travels, he discovered gold and silver as well as more significantly, spices.

Back to Sutton Coldfield. 1580 restaurant opened its doors a few weeks ago. Located on the Chester Road, the restaurant offers up a contemporary Indian dining in a perfectly formed restaurant adorned with images of boats and sails.

I was recently invited to sample the dishes on offer at a blogger night, where we were treated to a wide selection of dishes.

First up, appetisers. We were able to choose between meat and vegetarian options, and my table opted for meat. Before the Murgh Tikka, Lamb Chops, Kochi Kekraa and Zaffrani Bada Jingha Tikka was served up, we were first of all treated to a delicious and unusual plate of Masala Cone Poppadums (£1.95). These spicy cone shaped poppadums were served with plenty of condiments.

Our appetisers were soon with us, and we were soon tucking into dishes such as soft shell crab (£8.45), chicken tikka (£7.95), grilled jumbo tiger prawns (£11.45) and lamb chops (£9.95).

The chicken tikka pieces were large and tender, and the lamb chops were a standout for me thanks to the generous helping of warm spices applied generously.

For our main course, we again chose a meat option that included Bater Curry (£9.95), Murgh Tikka Masala (£8.45) and Pot Pepper Lamb Curry (£8.95), as well as two vegetarian options, Paneer Tikka Masala and Dal Makhani.

The Bater Curry was something very unusual; a quail dish. A tiny bird served whole and on the bone, this was a tasty, tender meat that had been carefully marinated in lime and spices.

All of the meat dishes were well cooked and included plenty of sauce, and my favourites were the vegetarian options.

Finally, there was also Gulab Jamun for dessert, which I skipped, but did of course photograph, served sundae style in a glass.

As well as excellent, attentive service, what marks out 1580 from other Indian restaurants is the more unusual dishes available. For example, the quail and the pork madras, a meat that is rarely seen on most Indian restaurant menu's, is what makes this restaurant different. This, alongside the fact there are plenty of family and group friendly platters available are what makes this a great choice for local, casual dining.

*With thanks to 1580 for the complimentary meal

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Event: Pizza Making at Bardolino Birmingham with a Gluten-Free twist

If you're gluten-free or gluten-reducing, you'll know that pizza eating isn't always as simple as dialling up the nearest pizza place and picking your favourite topping. Instead, it's a carefully considered decision based around strategically identifying the nearest or best gluten free pizza provider and hoping your dining companions will agree to go along with your decision.

However, Bardolino Birmingham has come to the rescue, and as well as being popular for it's standard pizza's, is also offering gluten-free pizza for all you gluten-free girls!

I was invited along to a pizza making class at the canalside restaurant recently, where we were able to roll, toss and sprinkle our way to pizza joy.

When we arrived at Bardolino, we were able to prepare for our pizza making session and really get in the mood by donning chef's hats and some very classy navy and white striped aprons to keep our togs flour free.

In the middle of the room, the table was laid and laden with all manner of pizza toppings including mushrooms, spinach, salami and bresola as well as cheese and passata of course.

The team were really accommodating, and explained that although I was welcome to roll and throw my own normal pizza along with the rest of the group, when it came to eating, the chefs would prepare my gluten-free base in the kitchen to ensure there was no cross contamination.

Once we had taken our places at our stations, each place had a fresh ball of pizza dough ready to be kneaded. Our teacher showed us exactly how to mould out the dough, tease it out into a round pizza shape and finally, throw it! I only managed a very small throw for fear of it ending up on the floor!

Step 1 - Dough ball

Step 2 - Tease out the dough into a circle

Step 3 - Throw it!

Step 4 - Add passata

Step 5 - Add cheese

Step 6 - The final product (nearly)

Now onto the toppings, we were like children in a candy store! With so many fresh toppings to choose from, it was tough to decide exactly what to put on my pizza. In the end, I decided to go for symmetry and added spinach, tomato and prosciutto.

This one was just for show however, and my pizza was expertly made in the kitchen and featured spinach, mushroom, bresola beef and an egg in the middle.

Finally, after all that hard work, we were able to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labour; don't worry, the pizza I made did not go to waste! My gluten-free pizza was delicious, very crispy, light and the ingredients were delicious and high quality.

I had a great time making pizza with the Birmingham bloggers and would definitely come back again.

*With thanks to Bardolino.