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Heads Up! Sushi Passion Expands Into Great Western Arcade

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Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Promised I’d keep an eye on the place, didn’t I?

There was a very heartening post on the Facebook feed this afternoon. One of the best foodie destinations in Birmingham is expanding.

Sushi Passion has been a big hit since it set up a tiny bar among the fish mongers of the Bullring’s Indoor Market.

It was a plucky, bold move for Adam the owner, who as mentioned in previous posts, was always the best chef at Yo Sushi’s former Brindley Place location. Adam struck out on his own, making amazingly presented, high quality sushi with a true foodie sensibility.

He received Facebook flack for setting up in the market and answered back valiantly.  Were they kidding? This is the best place to be, surrounded by ingredients at their freshest. Half the fun of shopping at London’s Borough Market is visiting the food stalls inside.

Thankfully  lots of us saw that this was a good thing and Sushi Passion had regular lunch queues and loyal customers. Customers who are about to be very happy with the news that Sushi Passion is setting up shop in the Great Western Arcade.

From August, Unit 31 will be open for sushi galore. There will be the familiar bar up front as well as low traditional tables and instructions on how to eat and what to order from the staff.

Adam is a very inventive chef so expect lots of specials.

This is good news for the Great Western Arcade, situated in an area that unlike Grand Central or the Mailbox, is not seeing an influx of city investment.

But with Sushi Passion joining the ranks of the Loki Wine Tasting House,  the Whisky Shop, Anderson & Hill and The Bread Collection, the Arcade is fast becoming a viable foodie destination in Brum.

And best of all, Adam assures me that the Bullring sushi bar is going nowhere. Bonus foodie points.

Daniwah! 

 

 

 

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Lunch of the week.

lunch lost and found

What: A pulled-pork pitta, with baked apples and onion marmalade, served with a homemade slaw, mustard-dressed salad and a side order of truffle macaroni cheese. Really good-sized portion!

Where: Lost & Found on Bennett’s Hill

With: My brother on an emergency shopping trip. Yes, there is such a thing.

The Drink: A Smokey Joe cocktail made from Buffalo Trace bourbon, Hickory smoked Pepsi cola (!),  Black walnut bitters and Maple Syrup. Sounds like Beyonce’s pre-tour diet but was actually really complex and tasty.

Smokey Joe @ Lost & Found

Smokey Joe @ Lost & Found

The Cost: £15 pp

In Praise of Birmingham’s Markets

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Image

I’ve been spending every other weekend in London of late (the husband has moved there for work) and as a cash-strapped bucket-list, I’ve made it my mission to visit all of London’s most favorite market places, just to soak up the atmosphere, browse the wares and take colourful photos.

I’ve been to the trendy one (Spitalfields), the crowded one (Portobello), the gourmet one (Borough), the sneezy one (Columbia Road Flower Market), the spicy one (Brick Lane) and I intend to get round as many as I can – I’m even going to the stinky one (Billingsgate – by 5.30am most of the stock is gone leaving just the fruity language).

Trawling the London market stalls has got me thinking about Birmingham’s markets. I’ve always loved visiting the huge Bullring market complex that comprises the Indoor market, the Rag Market and the Open Fruit and Veg Market just outside.

Because of Brum’s rich cultural diversity, the market stalls contain items be they sari material, spices or fruit from all over the world. The home grown stuff is also fab and I particularly enjoy popping down to the Indoor Market whenever I’m in need of fish.

In other ways, I feel the markets could ‘tweak’ some aspects that would make them a destination in themselves and not just a delight to be discovered by those who live in town.

Things I Love About Brum Markets
The Banter – particularly at the fish stalls and the Open Market, the stall-holders will vie for your attentions and that means they are in the mood to haggle (hooray!).

At Columbia Road a couple of weeks ago I heard this gem: ‘Do you know where you’ll be in an hour? I’ll be at Heathrow getting on a plane and I don’t wanna take all these lover-ly flowers. So quick, buy em!’ While another seller just yodelled like Tarzan…

Fresh Produce – There’s nothing like getting up early and getting down to the market. The earlier the better (as I learnt living in Florence, the flies sleep in a bit). Also, the fish will be properly gutted, even filleted for you if you like and at a waaaaay better cost than you’ll find at the supermarket.
Fish Stall
As we’re having a bit of a heat wave, wouldn’t these bad boys look good boiling away in a broth on the barbecue?
shell fish
Cheap as Chips – I used to come here if I had to dress up for one of those dreaded themed bar-crawls. And it didn’t disappoint. There are loads of cheap materials for budget-conscious dress makers, cheap make-up (a British market staple), and a fabulous haberdashers Pete’s Sew Good which I’ve often used.

Pete's Sew Good: thank God for haberdashers in these times of make do and mend.

Pete’s Sew Good: thank God for haberdashers in these times of make do and mend.

Also the market helps no end on my wedding anniversary because we do themed gifts each year with a £10 budget. This year was leather (no sniggering please) and I found some leather shoe insoles for £2 (yup, romance is definitely not dead) at the always surprising hardware stall – something which every market worth its salt should have btw.

If you've never had to buy a plunger you're not as independent as you think you are.

If you’ve never had to buy a plunger you’re not as independent as you think you are.

Diversity

Scallions next to mooli - this sums up the role of the veg market.

Scallions next to mooli – this sums up the role of the veg market.

No not the dance troupe (honestly)… Markets should always pair the familiar with the exotic and Birmingham does a great job with this. Otherwise, how would we find out about new things? But you can still find all the comforting staples of traditional British cooking such as root veggies:

All you need for a good stew: leeks, parsnips and swedes.

All you need for a good stew: leeks, parsnips and swedes.

and er, tripe…

Although it's THE street food in Tuscany, I dare Glynn Purnell to come up with a way to make tripe appetising.

Although it’s THE street food in Tuscany, I dare Glynn Purnell to come up with a way to make tripe appetising.

The Relationship between chef and produce – the area around Borough Market in London is a foodie paradise. The ingredients travel straight from the stall to the kitchen in next to no time. One person who understands this is Adam from Sushi Passion which stands in the Indoor Market. I remember Adam from his time at Yo Sushi in Brindley Place and he was always busy and industrious. His efforts going solo seem to be paying off as there are always customers queuing for his beautifully presented sushi, especially on Saturdays.

Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Recently on Facebook, Adam said he had received criticism for setting up in the market but I actually think this is a wonderful place for a food stand – it’s a hard-core foodie move, like including a ‘chef’s table’ and customers will certainly feel the connection between what is on the plate and where it comes from. I for one, would welcome more restaurants inside the market.

Things I Wish Brum Markets Would Do
A Weekly Gormet Market – We get some good periodic food festivals here in Brum, although in recent years there hasn’t been a sure-footed direction in terms of what should be celebrated – which in turn has led to less food fests.
Why not sort this out buy using the Open Market on Sunday and Monday when the regular stall-holders have their days off? Sunday markets are a London tradition which has continued from the days of Jewish immigrants to the present (think Brick Lane and Columbia Road which both occur on Sundays).

Let the bi-monthly Farmer’s Markets become a weekly event and centre it here. Let some of the fab Birmingham delis such as Lewis’ and Nima out in Moseley bring some of their offerings to the centre. Likewise, we have wonderful bakers such as Lucky 13 Bakehouse and Frost & Snow (who I know do stands), not to mention the baked goods on display at the Brum Uni farmers market. Borough Market attracts huge Saturday morning crowds for this very reason.

Dairy and bakes at the Indoor market

Dairy and bakes at the Indoor market

A Weekly Street Food Market – street food has become a British success story in recent years. Birmingham has some brilliant permanent stands itself such as Chilacas in Brindley Place (would we have seen street food take up a high profile restaurant spot even 5 years ago?) and our curries are internationally celebrated.

The Digbeth Dining Club operates a small but thriving street food market on Friday night under the railway arches in Digbeth, but they currently have to rotate the stalls (I’m not sure if this to prevent the club stagnating or if they just don’t have the space) but why not expand it and bring it to the city centre? As visitor figures for the German Christmas Market have shown, there is an appetite for this type of event.

Display Food like a Renaissance Painting –
This is how mushrooms are displayed at Borough market:photo (46)
and this is how veggies are displayed at one stall in the Open Market:
photoNot quite the same effect, is it? I like fruit and veg to tumble in abundance (oo-er, getting a bit Nigella food-porny here). It begs you to reach out and touch the produce (which is good market practice to check for ripeness).
Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham’s markets are doing just peachy without making any of these changes. It’s just my fantasy market, that’s all.

But who knows, maybe they could increase Brum’s fortunes…
fortune teller

Brum Legends #1: The Chocolate Guinness Cake at the 6/8 Kafe.

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Beyond Fabulous: A freshly baked chocolate Guinness cake as photographed by the baker himself. Courtesy of Gavin Page.

Beyond Fabulous: A freshly baked chocolate Guinness cake as photographed by the baker himself. Courtesy of Gavin Page.

It is without a doubt, one of the best desserts I have ever tasted. And if you’ve ever ventured into the 6/8 Kafe near Temple Row, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The perfect blend of dense and moist yet strangely light chocolate sponge, with the out-of-this-world cream-cheese topping. It almost looks like a short, squat pint of Guinness. But you can eat it and make nom nom sounds in the process. With Guinness, you can only gargle.

Did you ever watch that old TV show Twin Peaks? I love Agent Cooper’s obsession with the cherry pie at the RR Diner and his quote: ‘This must be where pies go when they die’.

Well this is the cake equivalent.

It haunts my dreams sometimes.

I confess, I became quite obsessed with it last summer, just before I became ill (don’t worry, it didn’t contribute).  My sister in law visited from Detroit and we polished off at least three slices between us in one sitting.

Then I bought the entire sample tray at 6/8’s stand at the Taste of Birmingham event and served it at a dinner party. And the legend spread further. ‘What is this morsel of heaven?’ asked my guests.

It’s not just me who has noticed this cake either. It has spawned much discussion on Birmingham forums, and even been featured on a baking documentary.   Enquiring minds really want to know about the cake that is fast gaining legendary coffee-shop status in these parts.

So I determined to find out who makes the chocolate Guinness cake and what makes it so special.

Gavin Page, the creator, runs his business, Tobizzy2bake (FUN FACT: the  name comes from his kids Toby and Izi – aw, sweet) from his home up in Shenstone and gets up every day at 5am to make ciabatta for Anderson & Hill and Brewsmiths, both in Brum. That stuff is awesome too btw.

‘I’m sorry if this is a little ‘dull’, but I’m quite normal, apart from being a middle aged male home baker,’ Gavin tells me, obviously perplexed that some mad woman wants to know all about him and his marvellous creation.

Ah, so modest.

There’s no big secret to the cake (that he’s willing to divulge) and he cooks all his bread and cakes in a standard domestic oven. So no Agas, Wolfs or fairy dust then. Good to know.

Gavin has been making this particular cake for years. It was only after he was made redundant after a 20 year career in motor insurance that he decided to share his talent with the wider world.

Well I for one am glad for Gavin’s career change. I’m always heartened to read stories of people making lemonade from lemons. (Brum lemonade anyone?)

As the legend spreads, so does Gavin’s list of appreciative coffee shops. Indeed, the cake can now be found in Moseley at Cafephilia which opened earlier this month on the Alcester Road.

Long may this fabulous cake continue to be found in our fair city.

Birmingham Bun Fight – Brum’s Best Bakeries

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My birthday cup cakes from Selfridges (thank you Ms J. Cutter ;)

My birthday cup cakes from Selfridges (thank you Ms J. Cutter ;))

Ooooooooohhhh, I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for a long time guys, a long time.

Research has involved painstakingly trying out all manner of treats at bakeries across the second city. I’ve been very diligent. I did some pre-research in America where I first developed my love affair with bakeries as an indispensable part of the community.

Ever since I laid eyes on the Astoria Pastry Shop in Royal Oak, Metro Detroit and, more recently Crust in Fenton, I’ve been waiting for Brum’s bakeries to shine. And I really feel now is their time. We have some established favorites and some hot new contenders snapping at their heels. This can only mean good things for Birmingham’s hungry masses. Surely there’s room for everyone?

To give all these establishments their due, it’s important to celebrate what they do well so I’ll run down the bakeries according to what you fancy. I haven’t included wholesalers on this list as I’m just concentrating on what’s available publicly. But wholesalers, you will have you day here too…

The Bread Collection: It's a collection of bread, does what it says on the sign really.

The Bread Collection: It’s a collection of bread, does what it says on the sign really.

This outlet for the Knowle-based artisan bakers is nothing if not bijou. A sign saying only 2 customers are allowed in at any one time (takes me back to school days at frightened newsagents’) means that there can be a little queue on Saturday mornings. The lady who often works there can also be quite surly (I find that if I act surly too then she lightens up a bit). This all adds to the air of exclusivity this place has cultivated.

Patisserie wow: the French influence works it's charm at The Bread Collection. Just so you know, I nabbed that bad boy macaroon on the bottom left. You're welcome!

Patisserie wow: the French influence works it’s charm at The Bread Collection. Just so you know, I nabbed that bad boy macaroon on the bottom left. You’re welcome!

But I persevere because the bread here is aces. In fact The Times (no less) has listed it as one of the 10 best small bakeries in the whole of Britain (hooray for Brum  – these lists are usually London saturated ). FUN FACT:  the baker here, Gilles Zidane, is the cousin of French footballing legend Zinedine Zidane and this would explain the certain je ne sais quoi  this boutique bakery possesses.  And their ability to make macaroons properly.

This is for those days when you want to surprise a loved one with breakfast in bed (specifically bacon sarnies) and walk around on a Saturday morning wearing a trench coat and jaunty scarf whilst toting a baguette, see here for inspiration.

Pretty + awesome = pretty awesome. Frost & Snow's cupcakes.

Pretty + awesome = pretty awesome. Frost & Snow’s cupcakes.

I’m a long time fan of Frost & Snow, both for the quality of their cakes and their charitable ethos (they help homeless locals get back on their feet by giving them a career and marketable skill). You have to trek a little way out to get to them these days (why oh why did their city centre stall in the Bullring pack up? – their website doesn’t say). The best explanation I can think of is that they wanted us to walk off the cupcake calories to make their treats further guilt-free. NB: If you can’t be bothered to walk they are online and supply the Urban Coffee Co and the Hippodrome.

I sill think their cupcakes are the prettiest in the city and their Earl Grey and lemon offering is one of the tastiest morsels I’ve come across (and believe me, I look).

BUT they do have some great local rivals, particularly Fallen Angel in Harborne (and Solihull) which specifically aims to tap into the American style of bakery.  I love the way they use fresh fruit to decorate their cuppies. It’s all very yummy mummy (and why not). Selfridges also does a marvellous selection now too (see top picture).

Come in my pretties: the sweet jade and pink exterior is like a siren to passing girly girls.

Come in my pretties: the sweet jade and pink exterior is like a siren to passing girly girls.

I had a particularly successful party last summer (before I inevitably got ill for months on end and started this blog). I can’t help feeling that getting up early and buying boxes of cream cakes from this fab bakery in the Chinese Quarter helped with the happy mood. It is a girly paradise with it’s jade green palette, Marie Antoinette furnishings (didn’t she allegedly say ‘let them eat cake?’), colourful bubble teas, and Carmen Miranda-like gateaux.

Taken pretty late in the day at Caffe Chino but it gives you an idea of the fabulous gateaux on offer.

Taken pretty late in the day at Caffe Chino but it gives you an idea of the fabulous gateaux on offer.

In fact Caffe Chino operates as a sort of girly deli, as you can buy exotic candy, pork buns and all sorts there as well as all manner of celebration cakes for order. This may be because they are affiliated with the Wing Wah group of restaurants. Personally I think it’s best to stick to the cakes here as their macaroons are not the best but it’s always busy and friendly here.

Glutinous maximus: more goodies on offer at Caffe Chino, these are, I suspect, moshi (but don't quote me on that).

Glutinous maximus: more goodies on offer at Caffe Chino. These are, I suspect, moshi (but don’t quote me on that).

Caffe Chino’s nearest rival is straight across from them. Like the Joan Collins and Linda Evans of the Chinese bakery world, Caffe Chino vs Wah Kee is an ongoing battle. If Caffe Chino is Joan Collins (all designer clothes and immaculate red lipstick) then Wah Kee is Linda Evans (softer, less showy but more natural). Did I really just use Dynasty as an analogy for West Midlands Chinese bakeries? – meh, it happens.

Bun fight: the Wah Kee Bakery sits opposite Caffe Chino in the Arcadian Centre.

Bun fight: the Wah Kee Bakery sits opposite Caffe Chino in the Arcadian Centre.

The Wah Kee is a different yet no less enticing place. Less upscale, more basic, it covers all the bases as far as Chinese baking is concerned. The cakes, the pork buns the green tea Swiss rolls, they’re all here.  And they’re usually a bit cheaper.

Chinese staple: both the Wah Kee and Caffe Chino are fans of green tea Swiss rolls.

Chinese staple: both the Wah Kee and Caffe Chino are fans of green tea Swiss rolls.

They’re also a little less trendy, like the cakes your nan would buy rather than the sort your yummy mummy would try to impress with, but that is no bad thing. Going here feels a bit like getting something authentic in a New York neighbouhood. In this way, it’s a little gem really.

Spring chickens: Easter offerings at the Wah Kee

Spring chickens: Easter offerings at the Wah Kee

  • Best for Doughnuts: I guess the biggest contender here has to be Krispy Kreme in the Bullring.
Hot 'Nuts: when the sign flickers on the hordes come a runnin'

Hot ‘Nuts: when the sign flickers on, the hordes come a runnin’

My husband is always amused by the way Krispy Kreme has taken off over here. He says as far as American doughnuts go, KK (no, not the KKK – horrid people) isn’t considered that remarkable. But over here, the opening of a new Krispy Kreme shop causes traffic jams (this year in Edinburgh) and in the Bullring, the ‘HOT NOW’ sign being switched on regularly results in a queue of 50 or more ravenous shoppers.

The only real rival it has is the Frankfurt Christmas Market with its After Eight flavoured ‘nuts. And even then some of my German friends say they wouldn’t dream of buying the things and can’t understand why we love them so much. Lots of hot, sugared thingies are on offer at all these pretzel stores that are springing up though, so maybe the super-doughnut’s monopoly will shortly be challenged.

I guess when it comes to doughnuts, we Brits love the novelty. Our traditional sugared doughnuts are usually soggy affairs with rubbish jam whereas KK offers warm, glazed, dry rays of hope in a frequently rain-soaked existence.

  • Best for French Macaroons: Selfridges in the Bullring
By popular demand: Selfridges has been on the macaroon bandwagon for a while now and has a decent selection of flavours.

By popular demand: Selfridges has been on the macaroon bandwagon for a while now and has a decent selection of flavours.

Call me a snot but I get very wary when I look for macaroons outside London or Paris. You see, they are my favorite thing (apart from my husband). And even then, I’ve had some bad experiences in London. I know how hard they are to make, having tried and failed miserably a few times.

A few places in Brum have made valiant efforts. Caffe Chino as I described earlier does them too cakey. The Bread Collection does them well (but usually only supplies one lone macaroon once in a blue moon). So I’ll plump for Selfridges which does quite a few flavours now. They are supplied by the English Rose Bakery and they’re pretty good but maybe on the crisp side.  Manchester-based Emma Brown, the baker is, like me, a huge Laduree fan and I hope she keeps up her admirable efforts.

  •   Best for Baklava: Cranberry in the Bullring
Nutty naughtiness: Selection of baklava from Cranberry in the Bull Ring

Nutty naughtiness: Selection of baklava from Cranberry in the Bull Ring

Cranberry is just one of those Julian Graves type ‘grazing’ stands you get in all major shopping centres. You know what I mean; the nuts, the dried apricots, the yohurt-covered raisins. But it also has a pretty decent selection of everyone’s favorite Mediterranean after-dinner treat. They’re good for presents too. I’ll also mention that Bader Restaurant, a Lebanese place in Small Heath also does good baklava (and in way more diet-friendly portions).

Just desserts: cream cakes at Selfridges.

Just desserts: cream cakes at Selfridges.

I love it when a restaurant lets you pack up dessert to take home – a really good idea if you want to get lucky on a date! Or better yet, when you can have dessert already waiting back at your place (and I don’t mean yourself in just your tea-stained Y-fronts). Luckily, a few places around here can help you out with that.

I really like Carluccios (because they know the way to an Italian man’s heart – or Italian-American in my case) who have lovely tarts, biscotti and meringues.  Selfridges has some show-stopping examples of patisserie. Further out, Nima Deli in Moseley does some fab Sicilian pastries.

I’m so glad Britain is cottoning on to the importance of delis in helping to market local produce and introduce us to the best of the rest. Brum is a big place and I must have left off loads of delis here but feel free to share your faves in the comments box below!

Best for On The Run: Anderson & Hill, Great Western Arcade

Old Greggs: fast and convenient but there are at least four branches in a very small area so let's help the little guy shall we?

Old Greggs: fast and convenient but there are at least four branches in a very small area so let’s help the little guy shall we?

While Greggs has the monopoly on the sausage roll around here (and there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time) there are some truly wonderful snacks to be had out there. The sandwiches at Anderson and Hill for example are quick, simple and show off this deli’s carefully selected range of artisan foods.

While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Church St’s Home deli as a breakfast venue, it is a great place for lunch and sandwiches. The salt beef and brie are great  and they do some weird but fun experiments with pastry too (I’ve tried a strange looking horn with vivid green icing here). I also hear great things about Lewis’ Deli on St Mary’s Row in Moseley.  And if you’re after Middle Eastern pastries, Al Barakha on Mary Street in Balsall Heath is well loved.

Further Out: I always get into trouble here for being too city-centre focused but hey, lay off  – I’m a city centre girl! My blog is about surviving in the city centre where it’s harder to find all the cute things you lot in the suburbs have. Blame Birmingham’s extortionate commercial rents (£10,000 a month apparently).

Having said that, I do know that there are some fab places a little further out that definitely deserve to be called Brum’s Best. For example Birmingham mini-chain Maison Mayci (in Moseley and King’s Heath) does wonderful things with french influenced patisserie and in particular their bread shaped into creatures (take a look on their website and prepare to be astonished).  And for a quaint, easy-going bakery experience, the Bournville Bread Basket on the green takes some beating.  

If I’ve missed out something glaringly obvious and you are desperate to tell everyone about your favorite bakery, please leave a comment – I love visiting bakeries so you’ll always have at least one new customer!

Great work, bakers of Brum -we salute you! 

Are these the best cupcakes in the world? Quite possibly!

(clockwise from left) lemon & Earl Grey, Chocolate and vanilla, red velvet, double chocolate, strawberry and vanilla bean.

Ok, ok, I couldn’t resist. I have to get through the next few days before the move. And in order to do this and not go mad, treats and goals seem like a good idea.

So I forwent the delights of the Brum Christmas Market, yesterday and instead invested in these 6 glorious cuppies from my favorite Frost & Snow. Since I’m leaving the city next week, I thought I’d big them up one last time as they do such a wonderful job creating lovely lovely things and also helping the homeless get back on their feet and find a skill.

The thing that first drew me to these particular cupcakes was the exquisite icing in the shape of a rose. And talking to the man at the stand in the Bull Ring this afternoon, I heard that the bakery are now offering icing workshops. I know a few talented amateur bakers in the city who would love this as a Christmas present. It might also be a great idea for a classier hen do than Broad Street currently offers.

The husband and I have already demolished 3 in the same way we demolish french macarons (straight down the middle). I’m a big fan of the Lemon & Earl Grey (though it doesn’t do me any good health-wise) but he went into a food coma over the strawberry because it goes against the normal cupcake practice of vanilla sponge paired with dodgy fake strawberry icing. Instead there are strawberries in the sponge and the icing is a soft vanilla. Yum bloody yum.

I think it will be hard to usurp the macaron from it’s pole position in my mind’s Dessert Hall of Fame but Frost & Snow are definitely giving it their best shot.

Sweet satisfaction on a Halloween Hike

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My completed Halloween stash – the bears aren’t drunk yet.

Once upon a time, Halloween in England was quite uneventful. Trick or Treaters (3 maximum) would turn up at your door in their tracksuits and unimpressed by the array of sweets on offer, would just demand drug money instead.

Then the economy boomed and all manner of cheap tat was marketed for October 31st. Many big food companies still take this track, just changing their packaging to orange for one month of the year, mentioning no names in particular Mr Kipling. Kids started to expect more from their Halloween night and although we’ll never celebrate Halloween on the same scale as the Yanks (although the UK is just more spooky is general – all those half-timbered houses and old, old graveyards) we are very slowly getting more inventive.

For example, last year TK Maxx had the most astonishing array of elaborate Halloween decorations, many obviously imported from the US. I really should have stocked up because this year, there is nothing. Maybe in this wonderful utterly crap economy there was no point in selling niche products that won’t all get shifted but I find it peculiarly depressing.

Walking around today I was simply searching for gummy bears (which I intend to get drunk on gin and serve up as Bombay Bad Bears) for my horror movie marathon but ended up being so unimpressed with the selection of Halloween goodies on offer that it turned into a ‘Halloween Hike’ around Birmingham city centre to assess the current state of Halloween products.

By the way, before all that happened, I had purchased this little beauty from Frost & Snow:

Elderflower and Blueberry cupcake from Frost & Snow bakery – gorgeous.

Not bad considering I was walking around for hours in a sweet-seeking frenzy – and it tasted divine.

Selfridges had a small Halloween candy display but much of it (reassuringly expensive) was just ordinary chocolate with a punchy name eg ‘Death by Hot Chocolate.’ They have though, stepped up their game as far as cupcakes are concerned. Take a look at these lovelies:

Selfridges Cupcakes

The cupcake is the tulip of the 21st century – pretty, momentary and a ridiculously competitive market. But I’m enjoying the war (num num).

I was hoping for good things from Cyber Candy on Bull Street because their window display was so promising:

Cyber Candy: the place where sugar-coma dreams are made.

Alas, for all the pumpkins on the outside, the Halloween selection seemed limited to Pumpkin Spiced Hershey’s Kisses and Pumpkin Spiced Reece’s Pieces for £8 a pop! I ended up plumping for the Kisses because I know I can use them at Thanksgiving next month but I know they could be waaaaay cheaper.

I walked over to The Oasis in search of a black candle or two. None to be found, not even in the city’s alternative indoor market of choice. I did see a blast from my past in the form of these Living Dead Dolls though:

Aw, ickle Living Dead Dolls – so disturbingly cute.

I always wanted Sadie. She’s so delightfully evocative of the gothic side of the 1960s. I shall have to consign her to the dank vault of fantasy Christmas presents past. If I have a little girl one day, I’m not sure how it would go down having Sadie in the house. But she might make a good Halloween gift in the future.

Sadie, my LDD of choice.

In the end I gave up walking around. And that’s when I concluded that good old Poundland and the 99p Store are the unlikely saviours of Halloween. Brimming with all sorts of cheap, additive-laden spooky candy and polystyrene ghouls, I was able to decorate my black Halloween tree and sort out party nibbles for under a tenner. Hurrah!

I guess no one should think Halloween can just be bought. The joy of it is in being inventive. I just wish the stores over here could sell us the basics for both Tricks and Treats. Stay tuned to see how this year’s H’ween decs turn out…

Take me to your dealer: It’s hard to find a mammoth-sized pumpkin head lollipop in Birmingham these days.

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