So given a night without all three of our kids, what did we do? Did we grab a takeaway, a DVD and an early night in our own, very comfortable king sized bed? Did we hell. We decided to make like teenagers and go on an adventure. Only adventures these days come really rather well prepared. I consulted Twitter and Facebook for recommendations for Birmingham (I thank you and I love you all for being so forthcoming in telling me the great and the good of your home city) and this is what happened.
We stayed at the Bloc hotel in The Jewellery Quarter. Now, I booked this pretty much based on the fact it was under £50 and didn’t look like the kind of place where I might catch bed bugs. Oh and our room didn’t have a window (though did have a blind pretending to cover a make believe window) which for me is a big plus. I HATE being woken by light. I have been known to unplug hotel alarm clocks as the red numbers pollute my inky space. I know this is strange, but I need to mention it.
Basically if you’re even a little claustrophobic then do not stay at The Bloc hotel. The rooms are tiny. Clean, well designed, aesthetically pleasing and all the jazz, but nevertheless teeny. It bothered me not a jot. In fact I rather liked its cocoon like envelopment. But each to their own. Oh and if you are staying with a pal or a new partner then beware the loo door is partly see through. And not, ahem, noise proof. The shower is out of this world though. All in all I think it was great value for money. I would have liked a kettle for a crap cup of instant in the morning, but given how tiny the rooms are I’d likely have caused 3rd degree burns with the steam so I’ll forgive them.
What was very annoying about our stay were the girls staying in the room next door who drunkenly woke us not one, not two, but three times after midnight. Every time drunkenly searching for crisps. Now I’ve been that drunk girl who needs crisps and all I can say is, girls, you need to get yourselves organised. No self respecting twenty something goes on a jolly and forgets to plan for booze induced munchies. Come on!
The hotel was right next to St Paul’s square which is just gorgeous. It being Good Friday, we happened upon a group of Christians, singing and strumming their guitars outside the church, singing ‘I still believe’ which was really quite enchanting. I wanted to listen in and watch but Mr Bell was less keen.
Lunch was at The Lost & Found. Now this was a recommendation and I don’t want to come over all ungrateful (which I am not) but I do feel the need to be honest. Mainly in case anyone reads this and tries it. So I loved the interior.
It has interesting bulbs in the light fittings and interesting horticultural bulbs hanging upside down, threatening to spray flowers and soil at you. It was bright and airy and the place appeared to be an old bank.
With stunning doors, high vaulted ceilings, pillars and a general feeling of a place where once joy and misery collided. The table was pretty (though it was a little grubby with stray salt and bits of bread hanging about in the crevices). Good use of luggage tags and preserving jars.
By this time we’d pretty much realised we were in a chain pub. We were okay with that. We eat in chains. We do mainly eat in independents, mainly ’cause I’m a big fan of supporting people who are literally living my dream. Anyone who has the guts to open an eating establishment is a slight god in my eyes.
We liked the look of the sharing platters. For two only children sometimes we surprise even ourselves.
So we ordered a plate of pork with carrots and some bread on the side. To even out the pork, obviously. We were feeling rather smug about our choices until the nice lady very apologetically told us they’d just sold ‘the last pork platter’. We took to the menu and decided we’d just go simple. Melted cheese.
The bacon jam would make up for the porky disappointment. But then, horror struck! No bacon jam. A relish instead. By this time we were hungry and a bit grumpy that no one seemed to know what they did and didn’t have until folks ordered, so we went with it. The cocktail menu was fun to peruse whilst we waited.
We both thought this chart was genius. But then after #porkgate we were looking for joy. The plates were delightful. (Yes, I took a picture of the plates).
The food arrived (we changed the sides to broccoli and olives).
And I have to admit I was basically a bit upset. The cheese wasn’t huge. The amount of bread simply not enough, and the olives were hard. I asked for more bread, which was brought with a smile (and not added to the bill) but we just felt a little disappointed that such a beautiful building hadn’t lived up to our food expectations. The beer was good though (I am assured. I don’t really go in for beer much). Here’s another shot of the cheese. Which was delicious. If small.
Here’s the bill in case you want to know the damage.
Now Mr B and I are both wallowers when it comes to bad dining experiences. So we had to really pick ourselves up, give ourselves a good talking to and put our best feet forwards. We decided to hot foot it to the new Birmingham library. The building was stunning.
Alas. It was closed. There were lots of people heard to be having arguments about not having checked the place was open before walking there in the rain. We laughed and walked on. And found a fab square (Brindley Place I believe) full of foodie vans.
The aroma coming from these little vans was distressing. I sooo wished I hadn’t asked for that extra bread to eat with my disappointing cheese. Maybe that’s karma. Maybe I’m just a glutton. Anyway, we walked on and found the Ikon Gallery.
Mr Bell voted we try out the cafe which was a very good call. The place was busy with young and old. Table service standard, from a deeply efficient team who clearly love their jobs.
We ordered coffees and a scone.
Now the scone was more like a shortcake. In fact it may well have been (Mr B ordered after going to inspect what was on offer so I have no idea what it was named). Whatever it was, it was delicious. More crumbly than a traditional scone, kind of cakey but in a good way. The clotted cream was exactly as you would expect clotted cream to be, unctuous and artery clogging and smothering. The jam was abundant and genuinely fruit filled. (One shouldn’t need to mention this, but many the jam seems to have only waved at a strawberry). We gobbled the scone up silently. We liked the place mats and the chairs.
We weren’t so big on the art.
I got excited in the loos thinking that there were modern art installations in every cubicle. Look at this one promising the meaning of life!
If you can’t read it, it basically promises all manner of things and then the writing disappears into the door frame. I thought that was the arty bit. I checked out the loo next door thinking there’s be something similar in there. There wasn’t. Turns out my loo just had bog standard graffiti. And now I’m a woman who photographs graffiti in loos. We walked back to the hotel in the rain, looking forward to a disco nap.
FOUR hours later we awoke (yes, that’s how tired we were. Or could it be the blackout room we booked? Who knows…) and got ready in a record 7 minutes before walking down to Loki Wine in the Great Western Arcade.
The place was heaving. Full of folk who smiled and made eye contact. And that was just the punters. We were talked through the ropes by a nice smiley chap who worked there. Basically you give the gentleman your debit card, he gives you in return a ‘wine card’ that slots into the wine vending machines. Yes, you did read that correctly.
You choose your wine, pop a card in and take a glass.
You then choose a little tiny taster, a half glass or a full glass.
And when you’ve finished you swill your glass out with the water on the tables and then start again. Here I am very much enjoying myself. I managed to try a tiny taster of a £95 bottle of red for about £4.
And then if you love the wine you can buy a whole bottle. Or you could just grab another glass, sit back and order the cheese platter.
Me being a nosy type, got chatting to Phil Innes who is the owner of Loki Wine. He’s young, smiley (like everyone in Loki Wine) and just enthusiastically infectious. He saunters off on lots of wine buying trips all over the place, selflessly seeking out interesting wines so that parents of three small kids can enjoy something a bit more exciting than whatever’s on offer that week. He had a data capture business at university (he’s one of those guys with so much energy he started a business at uni as well as probably finishing with a first) and saw the wine vending idea in Italy where staff were simply using it to dispense wine from behind the bar. He had a bingo moment and realised this would absolutely work in the UK. And work it does. The energy in this place is drug like. I want a Loki Wine in my neighbourhood.
We left after an hour, having tried about 8 wines each and barely having drunk a glass. If you’re in Birmingham do go. (Phil was also a fountain of knowledge regarding other great indie places. He said Pure Bar & Kitchen, a collaboration between Simpsons and some home brewers served not only interesting and award winning beers, but also homemade, hot from the fryer scotch eggs. He also recommended Andersons for the best steak in Birmingham. High praise; we’ll be trying it next time. Basically Phil, we salute you, a man who knows his wine and is a kind of personal Trip Advisor). Sadly we had to leave as we had a booking for dinner at Itihaas.
Now I can only apologise for the poor quality of the images. The lighting was a bit yellow. Anyway. My husband booked Itihaas on the recommendation of Michel Roux Jr. Now it’s not like they’re buddies who play poker or squash together. Michel was apparently talking about Itihaas on a TV show. So, like little sheep, we booked.
When we arrived two of the windows were boarded up with wood chip style board. We don’t let something like that put us off! Oh no. We often eat in the red light district of Leicester. We’ll happily pursue good food at (almost) any cost. We were greeted swiftly and moved to our table. The menus appeared; vast but in fact, mostly full of historical data, meaning there weren’t too many dishes to decide from. I find huge menus a little off putting, being naturally indecisive.
We started with some poppadoms and relishes, so far so typical of pretty much any curry house we’d eaten in. Then we moved onto chat patti ghol gapa (little pastry shells filled with chickpeas, onions and yohurt and topped with tamarind water) which you basically shoved whole into your mouth. It’s obvious to say they’re flavoursome, so I will focus on the texture which was both crunchy, soft, wet and dry all at the same time. Good stuff.
And dehli paapri chaat, discs of pastry topped with tangy yoghurt, chickpeas, potatoes and of course lots of pomegranate seeds (which seem to be breeding on menus of late). This was my favourite starter by far. I love a pomegranate seed me.
This starter did look a bit of a dogs dinner but I’ll forgive it for being so delicious. I tried to only eat half but I didn’t manage. My main was very green and almost healthy tasting: ayurved jhinga (prawns in a herby dill, mint, coriander and lemongrass sauce) which looks more brown in this picture.
With cumin rice.
And laacha parantha, a buttery layered bread that pulls apart and sticks magically to your hips. Worth it though.
Mr Bell ordered what can only be described as a spiced and smothered lamby scotch egg. (Hard boiled eggs wrapped in lamb mince and covered in tomato sauce).
So, the food was delicious. About that there is no doubt. However there were two little issues. One was the service. It was brusque. Efficient and speedy, so really no complaints on that front, but very impersonal. Service is a really big deal for me. I have been a waitress in chains and in independents so I get that it’s back breaking work, that it’s poorly paid, that it’s often the last thing you want to be doing when all your friends are out having fun. But, but, but that’s the name of the game and there’s a wonderful smoke and mirrors to waiting tables. It’s acting. You put on your best smile and you engage with the people who have kindly decided to spend their money in the restaurant you work in. There are harder jobs. Let us not be martyrs.
Impersonal would be almost alright if this were a cheap and cheerful option. Well not alright, but more acceptable. But the mains were about £17. The food was very good, but to be frank I have had similar for less. I’ve had better for less. Would we go again? No. Are we glad we tried it? Yes. So all in all a success, of sorts.
After a night of black out sleep and crisp dreams (see above) we took a stroll to Yorks for breakfast.
I had high hopes. They were justified. The place was busy already at 10.15am on a bank holiday weekend.
It’s all exposed piping, bare light bulbs, industrial chic with black grouted tiles. It’s fabulous. I want one. Instead I had a cup of their (decaff) coffee.
I liked my coffee. Mr Bell didn’t. I am telling you this in the interests of honesty. The staff were bustling about in a speedy, efficient manner carrying great platters of divine looking food. This was very clearly a place for serious breakfast goers. Not a bowl of cereal or an egg white omelette in sight. I ordered their feta and avocado smash on sourdough with chilli, lemon and mint for a fiver.
It made me very happy. This is how happy (please ignore eye bags and my top being on back to front)
I will leave you with dreams of these buttery Arabian eggs ordered by Mr Bell. They were worth swapping a mouthful of my green smash for. Just.
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