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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.






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

Breakfast in Brum

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Audrey makes do at Tiffany & Co. I think we can do better.

I know it seems hard to fathom how this would happen to any self-respecting girly-girl, but until the age of 18, I had no idea that Tiffany & Co wasn’t a restaurant or a greasy spoon.

The very concept of not being able to have breakfast there scrambled my brain. All was made clear when I actually watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s just prior to my first trip to New York, and I duly went to Tiffany’s (what a snotty staff they have but what lovely, lovely things), bought my first piece and started a collection of lovely, lovely things. I still wish you could actually have a fry-up there though!

Because Brum, with its plethora of nightlife demands a good hangover breakfast. The foggy-headed and unwashed need sustenance on a Saturday/ Sunday morning, just as the healthy need their granola and the ladies who brunch need a suitable venue. In London, I’ve noticed they have this well and truly covered in every neighbourhood. Not that it is perfect – for every Purple Cow in Streatham there is a Tooting-based VERY greasy spoon covered in black mould. Yet Birmingham doesn’t have obvious choices in the city centre (kudos to suburbs like Selly Oak and Moseley for having the requisite greasy-spoon coverage). And what lies there is not necessarily up to snuff.

So in the spirit of adventure, the husband and I have suited up our delicate stomachs every Saturday morn for the past two months to find the best brekkie in the city centre.

The Criteria for our search:

Each venue has to be within a 10 minute walk from our home. Otherwise you are starving and angry. And that wouldn’t do, would it?

The Brasshouse, Broad Street

Pretty forgettable fry-up here (you know the sort, plastic sausages, watery bacon, sachets of brown sauce) mostly ruined by the loud music which was obviously left on the same volume from the night before. The Brasshouse is a strange place; it looks and feels like Witherspoons/ Whitbread/ hotel restaurant, has no discernible character yet seems to think it is a destination pub and enforces a ridiculous dress policy (no trainers, no hats etc) from ridiculous o’clock in the afternoon. You are a restaurant that serves generic beer. Understand that and treat your customers better.

Coffee Lounge

Not having a photo of Coffee Lounge to hand, you’ll just have to imagine it resembles this beautiful 1903 pic of the Flatiron building in New York.

This place is situated in a Flatiron-style Building on the corner of Stephenson Street and Navigation, making it a bit of an unnecessary trek for us BUT if you are taking a morning train journey, it is handily situated by the Victoria Sq entrance to New St station and if you show your ticket, breakfast is 10% cheaper! The breakfast is fine (they even deliver if you’re in the city centre) as is the coffee, the staff are friendly and there is a big screen TV showing the news or sport. Downstairs in the basement, there is a Tardis-like eating space. The loo is a bit weird though; unisex but not very clean and with a strange door that gives the illusion someone could walk in at any moment. Overall, pretty good.

JuJus, Canal Sq, Browning Street

Had high-hopes for this little place as it has come top of the Trip Advisor poll in Brum. It is quite off the beaten track (unless you have a penthouse on Sherbourne Wharf) but easily accessible by water bus. The modern canalside location means there is a light, airy feel which is lovely the morning-after. The restaurant seems immaculate and there are all manner of breakfast dishes. My breakfast hash came served in a frying pan (nice touch) but alas it contained a blond hair (obviously not one of ours) and the eggs weren’t fully cooked. The husband (who was in an especially grumpy mood that day) didn’t like the coffee and had to ask for the very loud music to be turned down. Despite there being hardly anyone in the place (maybe it’s more of a lunch/evening destination), the cheerful service took a rather long time and we left with an underwhelmed feeling. We weren’t sure if they were just resting on their laurels but having so much potential, Ju-Ju’s could do better.

The Figure of Eight, Broad Street

The Figure of Eight’s beer garden.

Yes it’s a Witherspoons pub but that means you get a lot of food for not very much money. We’ve been back here a few times (it’s the closest breakfast joint to our house) and had a full English along with some of their brunch offerings. The food always arrives piping hot, the staff don’t mind if you specify what eggs you would like (even though the menu doesn’t give a choice) and the throngs of hungover party animals that turn up from 11am onwards are very grateful and slowly come back to life before your eyes. Music is not turned on. Coffee is OK. Stick to the English breakfast dishes – I was disappointed by their attempt at Eggs Benedict.

The Floating Coffee Company, Brindley Place

Tried this one last week. The breakfast here is all day (hooray) and there is FILTER COFFEE (hurrah). The food is hot and as my husband pointed out, there’s a lot on the plate, plus toast (yay). The sausages aren’t too bad either. The only things that go against this place are the lack of toilet facilities (you have to go to the ICC across the bridge) and the constant motion, especially when the water bus goes past. It could be an uncomfortable experience after a night out with no bathroom to escape to should it all prove too much. Yet I do like this place. The tiny interior is charming and clean and there is a sense of camaraderie among the diners.

The Canalside Cafe, Gas St Basin

The Canalside is a lovely place to stop in on a walk along the basin. It does cute, hearty veggie dishes and has a retro bistro feel. However, our breakfasts here have been lukewarm and sparse. The bangers are quite ‘plasticky’ and the cafe noticeably cold (it was in the winter), which is a shame because it’s close-by and and a place that does so well on basic, good grub. Hope they can remedy this.

Cafe Gusto, The Mailbox

This place reminds me of being closest to a London breakfast joint. There are papers laid our to read, coffee to go (not FILTER mind), and a myriad of breakfast options. There is allegedly free broadband but this has been on the blink the past few times I’ve been there. Breakfast is OK (the curse of plastic bangers again) and I often leave over-stuffed. Music is low and there is not much chance of being bothered by hungover clubbers which is a good thing. A place to go and read or blog over your breakfast.

Overall, we are still not sure we’ve found our breakfast place yet. Whilst Brum can (just about) manage a decent fry-up, there is precious little in the way of brunch choices (although I’m investigating that this weekend). Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the American diners and pancake houses I’ve been to which take brunch and even the basic fry-up to an art-form. And whilst some places realize that prompt service and not poking sleeping bears (i.e. the hungover) is the key to giving good breakfast, many of the cafes around Broad St need to understand that breakfast does not demand the atmosphere of a thumping nightclub (witness the demise of Miss Latte). Listen to your customers’ needs.

Miss Latte – Birmingham’s indie breakfast joints aren’t cutting the mustard and the chains are sopping up the leftovers.

The View from the Top: drinks at The Cube

Hey look mum, I can see my house from here: braving the vertigo to look through the Tetris blocks.

Call me slow but I finally made it up to the bar at the top of The Cube on Saturday night.

My friend has just scored a new job (and a pay rise – you go girl!) and feels on top of the world right now so we thought this would be a suitable venue for a celebration.

We really just went for the view. Another friend who has just moved into The Cube, says the building is rumbling discontentedly about the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse (the bar is part of this restaurant and attached to the Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar on the 25th floor). Rumours of problems with staff and management seem to be reflected in the decidedly mixed Trip Advisor reviews that point towards an establishment with much potential but many unresolved issues.

The Good:

After getting in the wrong lift (and being followed by a gaggle of similarly clueless bar seekers) we took the express up to the 25th floor. The elevator door opened on to throngs of Brum-glamazons, heading to and from the bar. The surprisingly narrow opening to the main room led out onto a large curving sun terrace.

The feted view stretched out before me, through the Tetris-like façade of the building on to the canals and Broad Street below. It stretched out as far as the horizon. For a moment I was Blake Lively in that perfume ad, staring in awe at the thousands of twinkling lights and the potential of the metropolis, while Midnight City thumps in the background. Then the record screeched off as the husband pointed out ‘ugh, look at the burned-out car and that derelict warehouse – what a view!’

I chose to look beyond this aesthetic bump in the vista. The city is its flaws surviving alongside its gems, after all. We took our seats at a table on the furthest edge of the terrace. I gingerly looked over the edge and my vertigo eased slightly as I discovered a small ledge on the floor below. There would be no tipsy toppling tonight!

And just then, the sky burst into colour. A firework display to mark the end of Arts Fest was beginning over in Centenary Square and we undoubtedly had the best view. The explosions were reflecting perfectly on the mirrored walls of The Cube and the whole terrace burst into applause at the end. It was unexpected and magical.

It was also bloody cold up there.  To make the most of the terrace, a few discreet but well-placed halogen lamps wouldn’t go amiss.

Another plus was the behaviour of everyone on the terrace. If this building was on Broad Street, there would no doubt have been a drunken tragedy by now. But here, everyone was polite, courteous and, well, refreshingly un-Brum-night-outish. It’s good for the city to possess a variety of nightlife and for its entertainment to extend beyond the predictability of Broad Street.

The Bad: Firstly, the bar needs more staff. A long wait to be served is expected on a Saturday night but when the bar area is permanently five-deep, something has to be changed. Is it really worth the expensive prices when the drinks are being made by inexperienced bartenders? I was told I could not order a B52 (one of the easiest cocktails I know) because no one had enough experience to mix it. Not good enough Marco.

The bar knows it has the best location in town. Why not make the rest of its features as special? Bring in some showy mixologists who can also train up the rest of the bar staff. Get in a pianist or a smoking- hot house jazz-band. Some of our group also thought that the bar and restaurant were too brightly lit for the evening. This bar could be seductive, grown-up and glittering with candles  to let the city lights speak for themselves but the over-reliance on indoor halogens means the atmosphere loses the dangerous allure of a truly great bar.

Drinking a martini, having a Blake Lively moment.

The Ugly:  The terrace was pretty well-behaved as I mentioned but over in the bar area there was some big-game hunting going on and we quite enjoyed the people-watching safari. On the way down, we realised why the lift area was so crowded. Gaggles of tactically undressed girls were scoping out who was in the lifts. Was it anyone worth flicking their hair for i.e. a footballer? There was a slightly mercenary quality about these wannabe wags. It can’t have done much for the self-esteem of the majority of male customers.

It wasn’t just the girls who exhibited questionable ‘animal kingdom’ manners. During a marathon wait at the bar,one of our group was surreptitiously felt up by the obligatory Saturday night ‘bar perv’, although this happens everywhere doesn’t it and just one is quite low for a bar in terms of bar-perv statistics.

So all in all it was a good night, but not great. We went up for the view but could have more drinks in better surroundings for a fraction of the cost. Yet I haven’t given up hope that this place will iron out some of the kinks and develop into a must-go venue in a year or two.

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