Month: July 2016

The Bell at Alderminister

It takes us all of ten minutes drive from Stratford upon Avon to Alderminister, where we have lunch booked at The Bell.  It feels like a lifetime away; the touristy bustle of Shakespeare’s home fades out to a lush greenery, with only cars and cows for company.  The air is clean here, the pace of a life a yard slower than the rushed city steps we are used to.  It makes me hanker for a simpler life.  One where I don’t have a choice of where to go for falafel, or which Pokémon Go player to mow down next.



Our arrival at The Bell only enhances these emotions, more so when we are seated in the garden to make the most of our four days of British Summertime.  Here the chairs may be harder on the back, but the view gets no better.  The hedges open up to sprawling fields that roll and promise to never end.  We look inside to the airy white dining room, ornate and filled with washed wood.  It looks a nice place to have dinner but today we will bask in the warm rays.  Its safe to say we will be back to sit in the room when the weather is less generous.





The menu is a list of things you want to eat, all a cut above normal pub grub.  We opt for the set menu – a bargain at £17.50 for three course – and order a pint or two of local beer to see us on our way.  A salad of pickled vegetables, tomato, parmesan and prosciutto is a simple thing, well executed.  It is a sum of parts, all of which are sourced and handled with respect.  The bite of the pickled veg releases just enough acidity to cut through the salty ham.


The best dish we ate all day would be pork and pepper meatballs, meaty and heavily seasoned, with a saffron risotto and confit chorizo.  Everything is accurately cooked but it is the risotto that makes it; as good as any I’ve eaten since Gauthier two years ago, light and rich with metallic saffron notes.  This is stellar cooking for a pub.  A vegetarian main sees a thick slice of aubergine grilled with a smoky tomato sauce and parmesan as a nod towards the northern Italian melanzane.  The side salad has bits of bulgur wheat clinging on to  fat cubes of feta. Dots of pomegranate give pops of sweetness and slivers of pickled red onion for a sharp tang.  All the flavour profiles are here.  Its a clever bit of vegetarian cooking.



Sweet courses are on familiar ground. Eton mess is a comforting blend of cream, strawberry and meringue, whilst a sticky toffee pudding is all sweetness and no respite.  Both are well made and constructed, the attention to detail there with the coloured and decorated meringue.  I should point out that the desserts on the a la carte look far more appealing.  Next time, eh.



And with that we say goodbye to our utterly charming waitress, pay our way and stroll out the back for a walk across the fields.  We came with no expectations other than a feed out in the sticks and left wishing that we lived closer.  The Bell at Alderminster is a great place which I know we will come back to time and time again.


The Bell at Alderminster is part of Shakespeare’s England.  For more information please see


Galvin at Windows, London

I have a love / hate relationship with restaurants which boast about their views.  When done well, like Rofuto back in Brum, the view becomes secondary; a bonus to the food which demands the attention of the plate, not the traffic levels below.  On the flip of it, like in MPW at the Cube, it can be a distraction to some pretty abysmal food, even if the booking was knowingly done so mostly for the view.  Or you could be sitting halfway up the Eiffel Tower, in Le Jules Verne, paying three hundred quid for a jellied beef soup and some cold veg.  I’ve done all three and I know all too well that a good view is not a guarantee of a good meal.



And then there is Galvin at Windows, a smart restaurant perched high upon the top of the Hilton Park Lane, with arguably the best view in London and a Michelin star to boot.  Its position in the heart of Mayfair has Hyde Park to one side and the city positioned far to the other.  It demands a picture, or several, in our case as we peer over St James Palace from our seat.  The room has an art deco feel which feels smart, the army of waiting staff gliding over the thick carpet, led by a certain Fred Sirieix of First Dates fame.  The impeccable service and glorious view would be nothing without good food, which it delivers in abundance.  The kitchen, headed up by Joo Won, is a tour of France, with our set lunch the flavours of Marseille – the southern port city where seafood is central to its cuisine.  At £55.00 for three courses and half a bottle of wine, it must be up there for one of London’s best value lunches.  The bread we munch on whilst perusing the menu is well made, in particular a pretty plait of warm white which more than compensates for the fridge cold butter.




I should learn to trust the kitchen more in these places – on paper none of the starters appealed, leaving braised lamb and salt cod as the most interesting sounding option.  It delights, the creamy flakes of opaque cod adding an additional seasoning to the softly braised belly.  There is a gentle heat from a garlic cream, pops of saltiness from capers and an underlying depth from the rich cooking liquor.  I chase the last dots of the sauce around the dish whilst mentally applauding the impeccable balance of it all.  On the other side of the table is a salad of young artichokes; the vegetal nuttiness held in to place by slices of peach and blobs of whipped curd.  It was mid July on a plate, the herby dressing and slithers of olives providing a nice counterbalance.




We trust our charming waiter and take the vegetable tart as one of the mains.  He is right; the veg that sits on top of the crisp base has been sourced with obvious care – it is a mile away from the tasteless stuff we have become accustomed to.  Crumbled Saint Felicien adds a delicate luxury, as does a gazpacho like sauce which is poured tableside.  It is received better than the braised feather blade with nicoise salad.  There is very little wrong with it; the elements of egg, olive, tomato and anchovies all working with the beef, but it is disjointed – the protein too large and heavy for its nimble salad.  I leave half the meat and have to explain myself to the waiter.  I think he understands.





Dessert restores order.  A take on clafoutis may have been refined to the point of a new identity but it takes great, so who cares.  The soft dough is full of almond flavour, the macerated fruit an obvious foil for the richness.  A basil ice cream is mercifully restrained and sits nicely amongst it all.  A lemon parfait is all balanced acidity with aerated lemon curd and wedges of softly caramelised apricots on top of a tuile base.  This is a kitchen that understands texture and flavour.



Nobody can claim that the cooking here is provocative or dangerous in any way.  On the contrary; it is classical and restrained, comfortable in its own skill and confident in its own ability.  None of what we ate was fireworks, though everything was considered and accurate in its delivery.  It would be easy to come here and admire the view and get Fred to pose for a photo.  We did.  But there is much more to enjoy about Galvin at Windows, with the classically French cooking worthy of a trip of its own.


Galvin at Windows - London Hilton on Park Lane Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ju Ju’s Cafe, Birmingham

The front of the menu at Ju Ju’s reads ‘Welcome to Ju Ju’s’ in large font.  Rarely has such a statement been so simple yet so accurate.  Its a place where the worst of people could go in and leave smiling.  I know this because I have been and I fall very much into that worst category.  It does not offer much to the culinary world other than a big hug and a kiss to the forehead, but that’s fine with me; comfort is underrated is modern cooking.  Flavour is too often sacrificed for finesse, heartiness lost to dainty dressing.  Not here.  At Ju Ju’s Julia is boss and her world is about feeding others.


We find Ju Ju’s tucked away in a canal basin stacked high with glossy residential apartments, five minutes walk away from Brindley Place.  Its not an easy place to find, though others seemingly have with ease and the place is thriving late into Saturday brunch.  From the three dishes we order (two from the mains, one from the breakfast for my girlfriend who is still to wake up) the trio of pies impresses least.  The Shepherds pie works well with its topping of crisped potato cubes and well balanced mince ragu, the cottage pie on similar ground with a less successful topping of under-seasoned mash.  The cheese and onion pie is the disappointment; good puff pastry opening up to a watery and salty interior that remained uneaten.


Fortunately everything else was far better.  The breakfast hash was a finely diced mix of the good stuff.  Bits of sausage meat, onion and potato, topped with a couple of fried eggs that gradually find their way into the nooks of the frying pan when released.   It feels value at £8.50, too, unless you opt to add grated cheese for a scandalous £2.50 extra.  The main courses finish with a burger filled to the brim with a tangle of ham hock and braised belly that’s been bound in a hollandaise the right side of sharp.  A mound of braised red cabbage at the base of the bun is the perfect foil for both the meat and hollandaise.  There is a dusting of bacon bits because there always should be.  Its all bloody delicious.  If you have one dish when you come here, make it this.



With portions this size it was of no surprise that there was no room for dessert, leaving us to pay the bill and head home.  Ju Ju’s isn’t rewriting any cookery books any time soon, but it will feed you for a fair price and leave you with a belly full of food and a smile on your face.  The constant table turning during our lunch is a testament that others feel the same way.  Sometimes you just need an honest feed and Ju Ju’s knows how to do that very well.


Ju Ju's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato



Modu, Birmingham

I’m going to do the crass thing here and bring up money straight from the off.  Its not something I would usually do, though this is exceptional in circumstance.  Fifteen English pounds.  It doesn’t buy you much. A nice pair of socks, a day riding London’s underground, or maybe the cat food for the week.  Three pints of beer or a decent bottle of wine.  In terms of food, some edible cardboard from Dominoes about covers the potential extent for misery for the amount.  In our bent at the knees and hunched over modern society, fifteen quid is simply not enough money to eat well.  Unless you happen to be at Modu, tucking into a four course Korean meal of crotch grabbing, up on the toes with one arm aloft brilliance.


To experience the food here you first have to find the place.  Good luck with that.  Aim for the bit of Hurst Street where the flamboyance ends and turn on Google maps – that’s as much as you are getting from me.  Once in, take place in the small dining room by the courtyard with its white washed bricks and let them deal with the magic.  First up are dumplings; a flat seafood one for my chum and two pert vegetable gyoza type things for me.  We wolf down both quickly without any real comment other than just how tasty they are.


Witchcraft was at play for our next course, either than or an expertise in fermentation and a gentle hand at cooking.  Sweet potato transformed into translucent noodles, woven with peppers and strips of beef and topped with sesame seeds.  For this dish we are given a side bowl of kimchi and told to mix it in.  We do as we are told.  She is right; the kimchi brings everything to life, the fermented cabbage adding a crunch and some fire to the polite noodle dish.  It is both elegant and macho; self-assured and authentic. It is at this point, two courses in, that we know we are in safe hands.


Chicken wings next.  Not just any chicken wings, but the greatest wings in all of Chickdom.  Wings so good that Paul McCartney named a band after them.  You may have guessed that we liked the wings.  Six jointed and rolled bad boys of the poultry world, coated in soy and honey and sixteen other ingredients (I know this.  We asked.), before being cooked to a crisp exterior.  These are the best chicken wings in Birmingham.  My dining companion, Jim, commenting that should sell them by the bag load.  And Jim is right, they really should.


We finish off the four course bonanza with a stir fry type thing which was two parts hot and one part delicious.   It was all there; the meat and veg correctly cooked, little side bowls of more fermented stuff to add in to it, but it never quite hits the heights of before.  There is only so much joy you can take from a stir fry and rice, after all.  The chef comes out and presents some homemade chilli sauce that she really should bottle up and sell with the chicken wings.



The owner talks to us of a love for traditional Korean food and a want to feed people well.  If that’s her intention then she has pretty much nailed it on the head.  It was an often enthralling lunch where a steady hand in the kitchen was matched with fermentation and curing that when combined creates something truly special.  Nothing feels faux, everything is there for a reason.  And the bill, twenty quid with a bottle of Korean beer is extraordinary value.  Modu is special kind of place, destined to be a cult hero in Birmingham.


El Borracho De Oro, Edgbaston

I used to work in an office at Five Ways.  Back then it was a depressing place to be; the trashy Broad St in one direction, Edgbaston’s elitist housing to the other.  Lunch time was equally lack lustre.  You would, if you were lucky, get to see a riddled prostitute on the way to picking up a jacket potato from a man in a van who wished he’d stayed on at school.  Or even worse, a Boots sandwich meal deal.  But that was then, and Birmingham is a changed place after those many years, with few areas more transformed than this meeting point of Edgbaston and the city centre.  Many of the office blocks still remain but the area has become a culinary corner with Rofuto peering down over The Highfield, Simpsons and Blue Piano.  Its become one of my favourite places in the city to be.

To this list of great places to eat please add El Borracho De Oro, found directly opposite Blue Piano on Harborne Road.  I’d known about the place for some time; my girlfriend had been on a couple of occasions and had raved about the tapas here, to which I had promised to take her and never got round to.  Its my loss.  The dining room feels like a pintxos bar in San Sebastian, albeit with food tucked safely away in the kitchen, decorated with splashes of colours on the wall and patterned tiles across the floor and bar front. Hard wooden tables take up the main seating area whilst seating gets gradually more comfortable the closer to the rooms peripherals you get. The menu is a list of things that you want to eat; the land, sea, and vegetables all equally represented along with cured meats and eggs.


We order widely from the options and are impressed from the off.  A plate of cured meats are the very essence of a Spanish pintxos, from top quality lomo and chorizo to dried beef the colour of a bruise.  Best are wafer thin slices of jamon with ribbons of fat that dissolve on the tongue and leave a memory of flavour in the mouth.  Crisp croquettes give way to a creamy béchamel full of ham which are as good as I can recall ever eating.  A fried egg with soft chorizo and crisp potato becomes self saucing when the yolk is let loose.  Its at these moments that I remember why Spanish food is one of my favourites when done properly.




Pan con Tomato is correctly served with the mushed tomato on top of lightly charred bread rubbed with just enough garlic to create interest.  I often hanker for this style of cooking without ever finding success (yes, I’m looking at you, Tapas Revolution. Best Spanish restaurant my arse).  Here it feeds the soul.  Padron peppers are also they should be; blistered and well salted to create that bitter, savoury and slightly fiery taste.  Give me these two dishes and a glass of sherry and I am yours.  Please don’t give me the tortilla which was not loose enough in the centre to have me ordering it again.




But then we move up a gear.  Octopus, dusted with paprika and served with slithers of potato, is cooked to retain a little bite with none of the chewiness that you would usually associate with this cephalopod.  We finish the savoury courses with the ox cheek, a dish that could easily be served with just a dessert spoon.  The slow cooked meat collapsing upon itself easier than a post Brexit Tory government, served simply with the onions and cooking liqueur it has been braised with.  Its a stunning plate of food, deserving alone of regular revisits.



For desserts we take churro’s with a dark chocolate sauce and a crème brulee made with Tonka beans.  The churro’s are good freshly piped lengths of deep fried choux, though the brulee wins for being lusciously addictive.  Tonka can easily overpower other ingredient’s, though here it benefits from standing alone centre stage.



Service was knowledgeable and efficient, with a well constructed wine list that hardly ever peeks above the twenties for a bottle.  El Borracho is as unashamedly a Spanish experience as you will find in the city, and for that I thank them.  Its the kind of place I expect I will gladly return to time and time again.


El Borracho de Oro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My meal here was complimentary