Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Brum Fun

I think I've had what writer's call 'block'. I ate and I ate, then I ate some more, but still the words wouldn't form (I did get a touch of indigestion, though). Slowly, as the idea of posting became more onerous, I begun to stop taking pictures of my lunch and went back to the same places to eat, so I wouldn't have to blog about them later. Was Pies and Fries finally stale and soggy?

Ultimately though, while it was nice to just sit back and smell the coffee (without trying to snap an arty picture) I kinda missed it; So grab the Rennies and let's get stuck in.

This particular adventure take us back to the Second City, or more precisely Snow Hill, the terminus of the Chiltern line. Strangely, in the fifteen or so years I've been coming to Brum, I'd never alighted here until earlier this year; now I've visited three times since March. While it misses the architectural majesty and convenience of Moor Street, it's in a much more interesting part of town. But more of that later.

First stop after ditching our bags was Brewdog, where, when faced with the comprehensive menu board above, I followed their sound recommendation and ordered a beer flight. After all, why have one beer when you can have four (not cheap though, a flight for both of us weighing in at twenty-two of your English pounds).

Pick of the bunch was Hymir, a brett fermented pale from Worcestershire's Urban Huntsman; the Ballast Point Dorado, a resinous imperial IPA; and the Dog D, a imperial stout with coffee and naga chillies from Brewdog. Whilst the latter two were belters ABV wise and we probably could have done with a breather, neither the Ewing or I could face the third of Brewdog's alcohol free Nanny State. Sometime's more is more.

Sufficiently lubricated we made our way to the inaugural Food Feast-ival at the, ominous-sounding, Coffin Works in the Jewellery Quarter. Just like it says on the tin, this was previously the site of the Newman Brothers 'producers of some of the world’s finest coffin furniture, including the fittings for the funerals of Joseph Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother'.

Whilst they've recreated the ambiance of the firm's 60s heyday - complete with restored machinery and costumed guided tours - we were here for the food and drinks, all served up in the picturesque cobbled courtyard.

The disadvantage of being in such an enclosed space, as beautiful as it was, was that the smoke from the oven - mounted in an old Mini Cooper - at the Baked in Brick pizza stand meant that I ended up smelling like a teenager's kit bag after sitting around the campfire at Reading Festival (my mother would attest, that's not a good thing).

Things looked up when we actually swapped some dough for some dough, opting to share a calzone stuffed with beef shin ragu and mozzarella. All very tasty if a little pallid on top for my tastes. Any chance of getting bored waiting for our pizza to cook was also dispelled when we (for 'we' read my darling wife), befriended Tina and Rich, two very friendly locals who regaled us with stories of sewing clubs, library cuts and the local birds (of the ornithological variety), that can be spotted in the Jewellery Quarter.

Refreshments came in the form of a couple of poky cocktails from the the Little Gin Company - a Cotswold Dry with pink grapefruit for me and Monkey 47 Gin with tonic and orange for the Ewing. Gin and grapefruit's a very good thing and the measures were pleasingly generous making the 80's soul records they were spinning even more welcome.

Most mortals may have called it a night after the second cocktail, especially seeing as we were just around the corner from our hotel. But who can resist Birmingham's small, but perfectly formed, Chinatown; especially when pissed.

This time we headed for Peach Garden, an insalubrious little gaff with endearingly gruff service tucked off Ladywell Walk, where the main deal is the roast meat that you can see hanging in the steamy front window. Here it's served three ways; roast duck, char sui and roast pork (and a fourth on a Monday and Tuesday, when they crack out the suckling pig).

A plate of crispy, fatty, salty roast meat on a bed of fluffy white rice and a few chinese cabbage leaves thrown in to prevent scurvy, is one of my favourite things to eat. Add a good dose of fiery chilli oil and endless cups of jasmine tea (here served in smoked glass beakers, from a giant metal pot) and there is no better way to soak up a surfeit of gin.

The Ewing equally relished her bowl of won ton soup, a lagoon of porky parcels swimming in a rich meat stock augmented with Chinese veg and egg noodles. We also shared a side dish of crunchy water chestnut slices and crisp bamboo shoots, scooped up with obligatory handfuls of prawn crackers that, eaten in my usual haste, left me with those little scratches at the corner of my mouth the following morning that mean I always vow to give up prawn crackers, or to improve my table manners, but alas I do neither (that's a shame there would be more for me - TE)

Breakfast was a peerless selection of cheap cereal (who could resist faux Coco Pops with lashings of cold milk (me-TE)), watered down orange juice, endless cups of strong tea and piles of hot toast with butter and strawberry jam. It was glorious. Truly.

There was also a pretty decent view across the chimney tops from the breakfast room, just a shame most of it had been enveloped by a thick fog, leaving even the sparkly new Birmingham Library as merely a gentle golden glow. 'Oh the rain falls hard on a humdrum town, this town has dragged you down', as Steven Patrick might say.

Wet weather meant the perfect chance to visit Six Eight Kafe, sit back with a book (or, as as the modern way, stare at your smart phone screen for a bit) and watch the world wade down a sodden Temple Row. A Chemex for two, brewed with bright Costa Rican beans, and a slice of freshly baked chocolate mocha cake also hit the spot.

Next was a dose of (well-read) anarchy when we joined in briefly, with the Friends of Birmingham protest march in Victoria Square, followed by a dose of culture at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. There's a very good Pre-Raphaelite gallery if, like my wife, you're into that thing. And there's a very good gift shop if, like me, you're not. We also got to see the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, Brum's first lady. 

Final stop was a full circle to the Hen and Chickens, an unprepossessing pub in Hockley, just down the road from Snow Hill Station. Sky Sports, check. Pool table, check. Pints of fizzy piss, check. Loos with fag burns on the cistern, no loo roll and no locks, check. Best Indian food I've eaten for a long while, check....

Let's be honest, you're not going to come here for the ambiance, but get a cold Cobra in your hand and order a mixed grill (this is the 'small'), a piping hot dish piled high with crisp smoky kofte kebabs, chicken and fish pakora served on a bed of charred onions, and you can see why people make the trek.

The curries were equally strong; we sampled a sag paneer that was earthy and fragrant and a summery pumpkin curry with onion and tomato that was fresh and light. Hot rounds of peshwari and garlic naans proved the perfect way to scoop them from plate to mouth.

They'll even box up your leftovers (and you will have leftovers) that made me very happy when I saw them in the fridge the next morning. For our fellow commuters on the train home, possibly less so.

And so back to Snow Hill to begin our journey back South. Aptly, there's a statue of a bowler hatted commuter, brolly and briefcase in hand, to wave us off as we depart for another week at the grindstone. 

As the sun goes down on a broken town
And the fingers bleed in the factories
Come on out tonight, come and see the side
Of the ones you love and the ones in love
And you

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