Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Second City Scenes

After nearly a decade of starting my week on a Tuesday, I now have to prepare myself to face the greatest horror of the working man – Monday mornings. A few weeks to go before the start of my new job I was determined not to waste any remaining vestiges of Monday freedom and so decided on an impromptu visit to the Second City for beer and pork pies.

I have a strange attachment to Birmingham, it being the scene of many rendezvous with Stealth when she was at uni, and a frequent stopping point (for gigs at the Glee club and post-booze food at the, sadly now defunct, Urban Pie) on trips to see Pavematt’s family in Wolverhampton.

In all my many visits I have never alighted at Birmingham Snow Hill, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and ride right to the end of the line, lured by the prospect of the recently opened York Espresso Bar directly in front of the station’s exit.

Well, it would have been if I had taken the same exit as everyone else. As it was I quickly became hopelessly lost, although whilst huddling under the cold and wet railway arches trying to right myself I did get to see some pretty cool pasted paper graffiti on the side of an old building down by the canal.

Finding the younger sibling to the original Yorks Cafe proved worth the effort, and I was soon ensconced in a window seat enjoying a Caravan pour over and a compost cookie whilst watching the commuters hurry past in the rain.

They area also the first place in the UK to serve cold brew coffee on tap. Here it is dispensed with nitrogen from a beer style ‘kegorator’ on the bar. Apparently many US offices now have one of these dispensing liquid caffeinated joy next to the water cooler; sadly I’m still making do with PG Tips in a cracked mug (well it got smashed this morning, so you won't have to put up with that any longer - TE).

Fully caffeinated and with the sun over the yardarm, I moved on to Pure Bar and Kitchen - an ever so trendy, and slightly odd sounding, mash-up between Birmingham's Michelin Starred Simpsons and Purity Brewing Co, based in near by Warwickshire.

Inside the incongruity continued; unsure whether to wait to be seated at the 'posher' tables to the rear, or to go and order straight from the bar (already looking retro with its exposed pipes, concrete and bare wood), I opted to head straight for the beer pumps and retreated across to the communal bench area with my drink and bar snacks. 

The last time I was in Brum I had enjoyed a pint of Purity's Pure Ubu, a traditional amber ale. This time I tried a pint of the new Longhorn IPA, their attempt to emulate the footsteps of the 'craft' keg pack leaders. An unfiltered golden ale that's triple hopped with big pine, peach and tropical fruit flavours, Longhorn is a big tasting, and very enjoyable, beer at a small 5% ABV. My accompanying pork pie, served with home made piccalilli, was even better. The very best of the West Mids.

Pure Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon
After enduring the horrors of the Bull Ring shopping centre, I retreated to Five Guys for a well deserved treat. This rapidly expanding Stateside burger chain has become known for their impossibly huge portions of peanut oil fried cajun fries and fancy drinks machines that churn out literally hundred of different flavour combos of soda or milkshakes (melon and grape Coke or malted bacon shakes anyone?). 

Following my simple burger rule (either salad with mayo, or pickles with ketchup) I chose the cheeseburger with raw onion, extra pickles, jalapenos, ketchup and mustard. As a fast food burger I've got some time for Five Guys. Yes, it's pretty greasy and the patties are more on the grey side than pink, but the beef always seems nicely charred and well seasoned, the cheesy suitably cheap and gluey and they don't skimp on the fillings.

The one criticism that is often levelled at FG is the price. Eight quid just for the cheeseburger isn't cheap, no matter how many handfuls of fried potatoes they throw in the bag to distract you; and it's hard - if you're in the Big Smoke at any rate - not to think of P&B, Shake Shack MEATliquor et al at a similar price point. But, although contributors to the Guardian comments section may disagree, there is life outside London, and often Five Guys may well be your best provincial beef-based option.

Five Guys on Urbanspoon
With the sun finally putting his hat on, I had to take one of my last busman's holidays to the magnificent Library of Birmingham, where I thought of local lad and sci-fi author John Wyndham's words “And we danced, on the brink of an unknown future, to an echo from a vanished past.” 

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