Holiday Munchies: Café Rouge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham

Café Rouge is one of those popular chain restaurants that I’ve seen everywhere; at my local shopping centre, at pretty much every airport, and snuggled on many a high street corner. Despite the attractive red exteriors and wafting scents of French food, I had yet to sample what Café Rouge had to offer, and I was getting increasingly frustrated that our paths had yet to cross. When my husband whisked me away recently for a birthday weekend in Birmingham, it seemed an ideal opportunity to finally try out the oddly elusive yet everywhere Café Rouge. We booked a table for the Sunday evening of our trip.

Both Dan and I loved the atmosphere at Café Rouge; Parisian chic meets the comfort of a rural kitchen, with red leather booths and mirrored walls juxtaposed with overloaded cake stands and tea tables, pale wooden tables and a gentle hum of music filling the air. The spacious restaurant instantly felt relaxing and comfortable, with a kicked back vibe that was also inherently stylish – so far, so French.

As we were settled on a square table for two, with matching high backed dining chairs, next to the window, I ordered a large glass of Merlot and opened the brand new spring menu. After one glance I knew exactly what I wanted; the tarte flambee. With a flatbread base, this tart was topped with a generous layer of cream cheese, studded with sliced onion and cuboids of bacon. When it arrived, I tucked in heartily and certainly was not disappointed, as it was lovely. I’d even go so far as to say it was one of my favourite starters I have had out. I just really liked the pizza-style base paired with the light and creamy soft cheese topping. The cream cheese was also the perfect accompaniment to really let the match-made-in-heaven flavours of the pungent onion and the crispy, salty bacon sing. It was just really lovely and I polished it off very promptly while Dan tucked in to some prawns.

For main course, I opted to go classic French and choose the beef bourguignon. What could be more traditional than this slow-cooked beef stew steeped in a rich, thick red wine sauce? Among the tender chunks of falling-apart meat were button mushrooms, roasted carrots and juicy onions. A satisfying dome of herby, creamy, smooth mash peeked out from the lake of stew, with a wonderful coating of crispy, curly onions adding a final, crunchy flourish. A very well put together dish and totally tasty. The crispy onions was a really great addition and provided a great contrast in texture to the silky mash and hearty stew. The mash didn’t really taste herby, but that suited me as I’m not a huge herb fan so that was fine. At the end of the day, it’s a classic combination for a reason and that’s because these rural, home-grown flavours taste superb together, and done well, it’s a really satisfying and filling dish.

Because I’m greedy, we decided to order some extra sides too just so we could try more of the food. The spinach came in a lovely white boat-shaped dish, dressed very simply with some melted butter. It was really lovely. We also sampled some dauphinoise potatoes, another French classic with a soft underbelly of thinly sliced and sauce-covered white potatoes, topped with that lovely crispy shell that forms during baking. Always such a decadent side as it’s something we never have at home but truly tasty.

Despite being stuffed, I could hear the dessert menu calling me in a gentle undercurrent, whispering. I gave in quickly and ordered the Eton mess. What caught my eye with this dessert is that despite being a rather standard dessert item, Café Rouge had tarted it up a bit so to speak, by tossing in a few indulgent extras, such as vanilla ice cream and strawberry sorbet. It also featured the more traditional fresh raspberries and strawberries, as well as crushed meringue pieces and strawberry coulis.  When it arrived, I must confess I was very surprised at how small it was; it looked more like a kids portion to me, presented in a dinky fluted glass, a mint leaf balanced on top. It was more combined than an Eton mess usually is, with more of a smoothie feel and a creamier texture, the finely cut fruit and small pieces of meringue a bit more of a mission to find. Despite not being 100% as expected, it was refreshing and relatively light to eat so it earned points there, however it didn’t really tick my boxes in terms of what I look for in an Eton mess, so although nice, it wasn’t 100%.

To remedy this, I decided to treat myself to a final cocktail before closing in for the night. I decided to try the Le Bon Rouge, a retro little gin number that was served in a jam jar with a sliver of lemon and two raspberries bobbing on top. Containing gin, Chambord, raspberry jam and cranberry juice, I really loved this cocktail! It was full on fruity with the jam and liquor giving the drink an unusual depth of flavour for a cocktail, whilst it’s fruitiness still made it refreshing to drink, the darker berry fruits working well together.

I think we spent about £70 in all, for two starters, two mains, two sides, one dessert, one cocktail, a glass of wine and a soft drink, so price wise it is very reasonable, which is as you would expect from most chains nowadays. The service, although patchy at times, was on the whole good and the waiting staff were very pleasant and friendly. We both really enjoyed our meal here and Café Rouge is now a firm destination for future meals out.

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Holiday Munchies: Coast to Coast, Birmingham

P1050240The arrival of birthday month simply means one thing – I get to indulge in an array of deliciously decadent food, using getting another year older as an excuse to visit restaurants that have long been on my hit list. When my husband whisked me off to Birmingham to watch the Yonex All England Badminton Championships as my birthday present, not only was I eagerly awaiting being glued to my favourite sport all day, but I was also secretly excited to tuck into fancy dinners during our two night stay. Based near Broad Street, we were ideally located to hunt up some of central Birmingham’s tastiest venues, so for our first treat out we decided to check out American bar and grill Coast to Coast.

The Saturday night vibe was in full swing when we arrived on the Saturday night for our 8.15pm table. The music was slightly too loud for intimate conversation, however the upbeat retro classics soon had me singing along instead, with constant exclamations of ‘I haven’t heard this in ages!’ followed by enthusiastic head nods to the beat. Needless to say, the other half soon buried his head in the menu! Coast to Coast provides a unique cross over between a sports bar, an exclusive members club and a music lounge – decked out with dark wood, the tables are in the majority booth style seating, or the seats P1050245that utilise a sofa on one side. With deep forest green cushioning, each table had a great amount of privacy – our table was an intimate one for two, tucked near the bar. We had large armchair style dining seats with plush green cushioning, a retro styled golden wall lamp illuminating our table atmospherically. Although I loved the fact that us customers weren’t all sat on top of each other, I do feel that our out of the way table did mean the waiting staff ignored us too, and we ended up waiting an age to place any form of order. Waiting for drinks was also thirsty work. Despite this problem, I couldn’t help but be sucked in by the relaxed party mood of Coast to Coast. It was absolutely buzzing.

Flicking through the book of menu, I was very impressed with the range of dishes on offer. There were burgers, steaks, grills, classics, fish, salads, pizzas and calzones too however they weren’t just your bog standard offerings. Although there were options for the fussy eaters out there, the restaurant had also provided plenty of choice for those who wanted to mix up their meals and try their favourite dishes with a new spin or flavour combination. It all sounded delicious and I had real trouble narrowing down my top picks. I even had the same problem with the drinks menu, as I soon spied a cocktail menu, wonderfully broken down into an array of sections – a sure sign they mean business. I started off with a fruity number, selecting the French martini – raspberry vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice. Presented in a classic martini glass this was refreshing and zingy, reminding me slightly of a Cosmopolitan.

P1050242Dan chose starters, going for the sesame salted pretzels that we could share. Served in a small silver bucket on a rectangular plate, the pretzels were the wonderfully doughy bread variety that are so traditional across the pond. Tied in neat figure of eights and scattered with both poppy and sesame seeds, these were so soft and squidgy with a subtly buttery coating that added a note of luxury to the flavour. Dunked in a generous dip bowl of sour cream, these didn’t last long!

To go with my main course, I needed a refill on my cocktail. Sticking with my martini theme, I this time chose a Tiramisu version made with Kahlua, dark rum, coffee liqueur and chocolate. I love a creamy cocktail and this one really hit my spot, delicately decorated with cocoa powder yet hiding a seductively silky coffee creamy punch. Happy with my drinks choice, it was time to consider my food. Knowing my penchant for pizza, I had to go for a calzone, naturally the Meat Feast which was packed with pulled beef brisket, pulled pork, diced chorizo and red onion, all drenched in BBQ sauce and enclosed in a wonderfully soft pizza dough. Although the portion size came up rather a lot smaller than I was expecting, paired with a red cabbage and rocket based salad garnish / side, the actual flavours were divine. The pulled meats were so tender and had absorbed that gooey and sticky BBQ nuance perfectly. The chorizo added an P1050243element of spice to further tie together the flavours as well as provide a slightly different texture. The red onion gave a fresh and pungent slice to the taste. I am pleased to report that my calzone had plenty of filling and that it really was delicious, with lots of sauce too. The dough itself was soft and rip-able, providing a fantastic case to showcase the punchy flavours within. I really enjoyed this meal and would certainly recommend it. Dan went for his usual burger, however I am proud to say he went for a new taste combo, opting for the chilli cheese version. This basically was a beef burger paired with streaky bacon and a chilli cheese sauce, dished up with classic fries. Having a sneaky munch, the burger was gorgeous and I would very much be tempted by their triple decker version next time we were in town. Totally reckon I could down that.

P1050244No meal is complete with satisfying my sweet tooth, so this meant yet another cocktail also. For round three, I continued working my way down the martini menu, this time selecting the intriguing sounding Peanut Butter martini. This one contained vodka, smooth peanut butter, chocolate syrup and honey, for a sweet yet nutty taste. The vodka really laced the flavours together and gave it a firm kick too. What I loved most however was that instead of dusting the rim of the triangular glass with the typical sugar crystals, this drink used digestive biscuit crumbs instead to better match the drink. I loved how unique this cocktail was and I so pleased I got to try it.

As for dessert itself, I decided to pick something different, going for the Millionaires Waffle. With Dan choosing the same, we couldn’t wait to devour this impressive sounding treat. The waffle was made fresh, so we did have a little more of a wait here, but it was definitely worth it in my book. By far our biggest portion size, the waffle was huge, with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream plopped plum in the centre. Drizzles of dark chocolate and salted caramel sauce zig zagged across the plate energetically while a suggestive scatter of chocolate coated honeycomb pieces added an extra element of crunch to P1050247the dish. The waffle was beautiful, really soft and quite doughy but I liked this texture. Dan mentioned that he prefers his waffles with a more crisp crunch on the outside, so they didn’t really tick his boxes – clearly waffles are a more personal thing than I anticipated! At the end of the day however, you can’t go wrong with a chocolate and caramel based combo, so using these flavours on a traditional and popular dessert such as the waffle was always going to be a winner.

On the whole, I had a fantastic evening at Coast to Coast. I thought the atmosphere was brilliant and really enlivened that Saturday night feel of excitement. The choice on the menu was great and there was definitely plenty to pick from no matter was foods you like or dislike. The cocktail menu is quite simply a work of art, and priced at just under £7 per drink, it’s not completely out of reach either although I wish I had known about the earlier happy hour that I missed! Getting served and noticed was problematic and I had to hail down our waiter numerous times to try and get his attention – we waiting far too long just to place our first order of drinks. Despite the waiting time being excruciatingly long, the staff themselves were chatty and pleasant, so when they actually arrived, they were rather nice! I would return to Coast to Coast in a heartbeat – wink wink nudge nudge, birthday for next year hubby?

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Eating Around: Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Birmingham

The Camemburger

The Camemburger

On a recent weekend away to celebrate my birthday, the other half and I were scouring Birmingham for a suitable dinner venue – easier said than done. Wanting to keep spending money on the down low, yet find somewhere that had suitable swank factor for a birthday meal out is never an easy ask, especially if you don’t know all of the options available. The venue also had to be man friendly, which instantly eliminated the Italian restaurants that I usually like to haunt. We settled on popular burger chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a restaurant I had seen out a lot and heard about but one which I had never actually been to, so we decided to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.

Inside GBK

Inside GBK

GBK had a fantastically relaxed vibe whilst still holding strips of modern stylishness in its meaty fingertips as it mixed the dull grey metal table tops and chunky natural wooden flooring with quirky light bulb spot lights. The cashier and kitchen areas crossed the back of the restaurant, which was rather small in size, while booths and smaller tables scattered the circumference of the square room. Long bench style tables occupied the centre, with different parties all sitting together. Decorated in muted beiges, it was the actual furniture that gave GBK its cowboy-like style that seemed very organic and home grown, perhaps in a bid to reflect the menu. It also wasn’t like a typical restaurant with the fact that you had to make your order at the cashier station rather than via a waiter.

Chunky chips and skinny fries

Chunky chips and skinny fries

Dark grey metal buckets on each table held swatches of paper napkins and silver cutlery, while fun plastic tomatoes signalled that we also had ketchup within reach. A tall wooden display unit near the cashiers till uniquely held a large tub of monkey nuts, for you to just grab a random handful of if you wanted, again adding to the casual nonchalance of the place. You could also pick up carafes of still water and glasses or salt and pepper shakers, depending on what you needed to accompany your meal. We were ideally seated in a rounded circle corner booth, tucked nicely out of the way. It appeared to be designed for four people so we had plenty of space which was nice and we could also sit next to each other which I liked.

Blazing Sombrero

Blazing Sombrero

As the venue name suggests, we were here for only one thing – burgers (one of the hubby’s favourite foods). Although GBK also offered a couple of salads, I wouldn’t really go here if you wanted a wide variety of meals, starters or desserts – the menu is incredibly focused and narrow, giving its entire attention to the quality and creative burger business. You could choose between beef or chicken for the meat of your meal, although you could also have a veggie burger if you wanted. Once you had that narrowed down, the problems began as there were so many choices for what combination of fillings you wanted with your burger. With simplistic cheese and bacon partnerships for the less adventurous, or the beetroot and pineapple filled charity burger for those who wanted something more exotic, there really was something for every burger lover available.

Camemburger cut open

Camemburger cut open

I decided to have the Camemburger to satisfy my love of camembert and brie as this bad boy contained gooey and oozingly melted camembert over my 100% West Country beef burger. Also atop my medium cooked pattie was a crunchy hash brown with delicious potato chunks, while in the sauce stakes, I was rocking an onion chutney and a truffle mayo as well as the typical relish, all housed in a shiny brioche bun. Scorning skinny fries as purely inadequate, I opted instead to have my burger with the new chunky skin on fries – I love a thick chip and it is something I don’t treat myself to often.
My partner Dan also went for an adventurous option, selecting the special Blazing Sombrero – again a beef burger in a brioche bun, although he had his cooked well done, smothered in smoked cheddar cheese, chorizo relish and tortilla chips for added bite. He also wanted chips for his side, but he selected the skinny fries that just looked pitifully small and puny in my opinion, although he enjoyed them.

Our table

Our table

You can’t dispute the quality of the meat – the burger was beautiful to eat, so tender and juicy and a great base to the stack of flavours that came with our menu choices. But I must say I am in two minds about the meal. Although this is probably going to make me sound incredibly greedy, I honestly don’t think the burger was big enough, or maybe we made the mistake of only ordering one side each, as the sides also came up small in white bowls. Although the flavours were great, I couldn’t help but feel it was lacking in that final pow factor. My cheese had really melted down, so much so that it was next to nothing on the actual burger, and I could only really taste it when I munched along the outer edges of my bun as here it had collected nicely. I really loved the onion chutney as it was sticky and sweet and goes so well with meat, however I couldn’t decipher the truffle mayo anywhere so it must have been a super thin layer. The relish I think probably got combined with the chutney which I don’t really mind so much. The hash brown with the burger was wonderful, I really loved that imaginative combination as the outer crunch of the hash brown was so tasty with the soft meat and the fluffy inner potato was lovely, especially again with the chutney. I also really liked the brioche bun as it offered something different from the usual rolls and baps you can pick up in the supermarket. It had a glossy, high shine sheen yet was soft and squidgy so that really hit the spot for me.

Grab what you need

Grab what you need

The chips were yummy as well and were cooked perfectly, with an ideal amount of crisp bite on the skin, yet still soft and light instead. Needless to say, the bowl didn’t last long! I had a glass of white wine with my meal, a sauvignon blanc that was really fruity and soft, so that was delicious although the stem-less glass it arrived in completely baffled me for the majority of the meal! It just felt wrong!

Ice cream

Ice cream

Having a serious sweet tooth, and also because of the small portion sizes, I definitely wanted dessert although I would say that GBK don’t really do afters. There is a choice of three ice creams that come in ready-made individual tubs, a bit like the ones that you get in theatres and definitely something you could easily buy in the supermarket – even the waitress seemed surprised when we asked about dessert, as if it wasn’t really the done thing. I choose a Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream to try which was really light, refreshing and tasty, but again, not really enough of it. If I go out for a meal, I want to indulge and to really get stuck in to my food and I’m not entirely certain I was able to do this at GBK because of the portion sizes.

Me and the freaky stem-less wine glass!

Me and the freaky stem-less wine glass!

The prices were reasonable and the food was tasty so in that respect I have no complaints. I liked the mix of flavours and combinations that were on offer and I definitely struggled to make my final burger selection, as well as my side choice as I was also tempted by the sweet potato fries. The meat was obviously good quality and oozed flavour and I thoroughly enjoyed the burger despite not being able to fully taste all of the components as I expected to. I think my main bugbear was the portion sizes and I think if I were to go again, I would definitely get another side or two which we could have then shared – but then this of course all tallies up on your bill. A tasty meal out, but also one that left me umming and ahhing about returning.

Cake!

Cake!

I didn’t neglect my sweet spot however as I spied Italian restaurant Carluccio’s patisserie window, the cakes quite simply calling my name in their nectar sweet voices. I soon guiltily splurged on a large chocolate dusted meringue and an apricot tart which I devoured once we returned to our hotel room. The meringue was divine with the hard outer shell encasing a soft, chewy, marshmallow like centre that paired with the powdery bite of the outside was pure heaven to eat. The apricot tart was equally delicious with a flexible shortcrust style base and custardy cake like middle holding caramel tasting apricot halves like victory trophies atop the tart. A fabulous finish!