Adventures in Birmingham: Live music at Six Eight Kafé

Those of you who know me on Twitter will have noticed I’ve been to every single Live Music Friday evening at Urban Coffee Co but now I’m delighted there’s a second coffee house to embrace one of life’s pleasures.

I’ve loved live music in coffee shops ever since I first saw a man and a guitar at a late night coffee shop in NYC in 2000 and have been trying to recapture the experience ever since. Whilst popular in America, I used to go to listen to music every Sunday in New York, the first I’d seen in the UK (I’m sure there have been others) was at Urban‘s first location. It’s not just about having someone play but the right type of ‘coffee shop’ music.

Country, folk and jazz all lend themselves to the acoustic vibe that works best. Many of us loved the gypsy/jazz band (I don’t know the name, the band didn’t carry any cards!) we saw at Six Eight Kafe on their first birthday so we begged the management to run more candle-lit nights in their gorgeously dark basement.

Last Wednesday was the first of those nights when we were treated to more live music. The first band had an excellent acoustic set up and performed a mix of original material with covers and harmonious vocals. There is something special about going to events in a dimly lit room. Perhaps because it smacks of the illicitism of the prohibition era and so feels like we’ve been invited to an exclusive underground event.

This and the amazing coffee that the Six Eight coffee gods seem to produce every time makes it an essential addition to the Birmingham calendar.

Coffee & music, two of my favourite things; more please.

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Adventures in Birmingham: Afternoon Tea

After brunch, my favourite meal is Afternoon Tea. Not (Devon) cream tea, which is just scones with jam and cream and not ‘High Tea,’ a large meal with savoury and sweet delights which is served around 5-6pm, perhaps if you are going out for the evening – both of which I also love.

For someone who doesn’t drink tea and who thinks cake is an everyday essential, I still feel this refined British occasion between 3-5pm is a treat. In the last year, I have experienced the Afternoon Tea offerings of Hyatt Regency, Hotel Du Vin and most recently Mint Hotel. All have their good points, despite being very different in styles.

Hyatt Regency £19

I confess I have been here twice, firstly it was the second outing I ever organised for Out with the Girls (the first was a brunch) and then again for one of the girls’ birthdays. The first time was fantastic with the only imperfection they charged for every cup of tea (coffee) but they changed that when I asked; to pay for every little cup at Hyatt prices will mean more than double the cost of the meal. Secondly the price had gone up from what was on the website and what it was when I booked but again, they honoured the original price. That gives them a 9/10.

The Hyatt Regency, despite being extremely modern from the outside epitomises old school charm. The staff wouldn’t look out of place if they were frilly aprons and penguin suits and placed a bell for attention on each table. The food is exquisite in presentation and taste and now the coffee is bottomless, it’s as near perfect as you can get. Of course the sandwiches are sans crusts and cut in two bite portions as expected but the delightful mix of mini scones, bite size brownie cubes and creamy delights served on tiered cake trays is a slice of heaven arriving at your dreamy white linen draped table.

 Hotel Du Vin £11

I wondered if Du Vin could pull it out of the tea cosy for almost half what the Hyatt charge. It’s an awful tag ‘boutique hotel’ but really, Du Vin is more traditional charm than the name suggests. I’d never even had a drink in the hotel bar (just in the pub or the conservatoire) so that fact they serve a delightful tea in a separate room of the bar is a find. We sat at a low square table surrounded by comfy sofas and chairs and watched dish after dish, pot after pot bought to us. It felt like high society in a bygone time. Nothing was too much trouble and the food and drink – no matter which tea – were in plentiful and ready supply.

Du Vin also wins out as they actually offer the cucumber sandwiches and the scones are soft enhanced by the perfect snowy cream. All the cakes were bite size temptations and a rest was needed before contemplating. There is nothing between these two other than price. It’s lovely to sit at a civilised table but it’s also lovely to take it in the drawing room, as it were. 9½ /10

City Inn, at the Mint Hotel £15

Both of these are hard acts to follow and the Mint is still at the aspiring stage. It’s modern so not my taste and perhaps that’s why I didn’t sit right in there but the scones were dry, the sandwiches weren’t exactly full, the cakes were dull (mini Victoria sandwich – big deal) and I had to ask very strongly (beg) for a pot of coffee whereas the tea came in a pot! The coffee did go cold in all three places and I think the only way to go is for staff to come round with top ups or have 1 cup cafetiere  that can be replaced with a fresh hot one.

We are also kept waiting despite being there on the dot; the people that came in after us got shown their table first and it would have been nice to have  a cosy table for two rather than be on the end of a long empty row. The meal needs work and I’m sure, knowing the staff there, they are striving to improve. 7/10

So where shall I go next?

Hyatt Regency

Mint Hotel

Hotel Du Vin

Birthday Celebrations

Michelin star food vs. good food

Urban flowers

On my actual birthday, I had the lovely treat of eating in the Tower Restaurant, whilst staying in the Tower Hotel, Lincoln. I’ve already reported the meal was amazing, one of the best I’ve had.

So when it comes to going to Purnells, with all its Michelin star glory, for my official birthday celebration, expectations are high. I’d already been there for my birthday last year and even when I booked it 8 weeks in advance, I had second thoughts as I that it could never eclipse the first experience.

It didn’t. In fact it didn’t match it. There’s nothing wrong with the food or the service this year but somehow it isn’t quite there. There are mutterings of certain foods being not quite perfect around the table, the service seems a touch arrogant compared to last year, I’m not sure if the fact that we were in the private room last year made a difference as we were treated like royalty then. Worst of all though, they didn’t explain that there was a set price for 3 courses so those of us who knew we couldn’t manage 3, opted for 2 but paid the same. I thought that was very presumptuous of them, given the ample opportunities to explain this to us during the ordering process. Why would anyone in their right mind only have 2 courses when they are paying for three – at Michelin star prices?

It’s a lovely meal, with even better company but both The Tower and Edmunds three weeks later easily eclipse Purnells.

Guinness cake, coffee made with love & flowers; the Urban birthday experience

Conversely, the next day is my Birthday Tea (coffee) in my regular Urban Coffee Co although last year was in the original Church Street, this year the newer Jewellery Quarter branch won out.

Urban, could not do enough; I walk in to see my ‘table’ laden with little pots of flowers, my favourite Guinness ‘birthday’ cake is on offer (not an Urban staple so bought in especially)  and there are already welcoming friends there. Quite an overwhelming but delightful afternoon.

The most thoughtful, handmade present

Enjoying good cake, coffee & company


Adventures in Birmingham: OxJam

Last year, OxJam was not only one of my best Birmingham discoveries but one of my favourite days of the year. Last year we caught a few soloists like Neil Ward but the highlight was city favourite Tom Peel at arguably the best venue, The Victoria.

So I am very much looking forward to this year although there are less ‘live music venues’ and more coffee shops. As you know, I love music in coffee shops but feel that should be an addition; we should still have premier venues such the Victoria. Having said that, compared to last year, I got to see a lot in the Yardbird this year; the much talked about Musgraves at the Yardbird were as good as I imagined – they sound so familiar in fact that I feel I have seen them before after all.

The Scholars were as good as I remember them from a This Burning Age gig after which, the schedule was thrown out because Free School had problems setting up their laptops (not rocknroll as we know it). When they were ready to perform, they put on masks which from where we were sitting spooked us out. Furthermore, the impact would have been greater had they come on wearing said masks rather than slipping them on on-stage in full view, but erm, interesting.

The planned highlight of my day is The Young Runaways. I’ve seen both their acoustic and regular sets before and feel it’s a treat to see both on the same day. The late afternoon set at Café Blend was excellent and the Yardbird set to launch the EP was equally good. Then they performed a hateful Beyonce number and I couldn’t see a hint of irony. They played another track after that but unfortunately I already had a bad taste in my mouth (and not from my first ever Ostrich burger from the hut outside which was actually OK).

All in all, OxJam is a fantastic idea and if I’m still in Birmingham, I hope the organisers book early and we get the Victoria back on the menu in 2012.

Kiss Me Cupcakes – Halloween special

Birmingham favourites, Kiss Me Cupcakes have done it again with their stunning Halloween cakes!

MintChoc graveyard

We also had the chocolate orange cake in the shape of a ghost! (see main photo). I’m not a big chocolate cake fan so this is possibly the first chocolate cake I’ve had from KMCC! Although I like orange and not mint, this one wonthe vote. It may have been that the ‘cross in the graveyard’ reminded us of Ozzy Osbourne!

Coconut

Coconut is in my top three favourite flavours and these seems to have coconut flakes in every bite including the delightfully minimal topping.

Ginger & Lime

Ginger is my top five flavours so to put it with lovely lime sounds divine! 

Adventures in Birmingham – Entertainment Heritage Walk

Entertainment Heritage Walk

I’ve lost count of how many ‘heritage walks’ I’ve now completed with the knowledgeable and witty Mr Ian Braisby but all have been enlightening and entertaining. The latest, on a sunny Sunday afternoon is to learn about Birmingham’s entertainment heritage.

Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Slade seemed to have played everywhere but we discover the old home of Snackerie. This is where bands in the 60s bands consumed  their pre and post gig unhealthy snacks and generally gossiped about evil promoters I suspect. Evidently a good place to pick up extra last minute gig bookings too!

I learn about Edward Fewtrell, ‘Mr Clubland’ from my earliest memories of my first time in Birmingham. I certainly recall a visit or two to Edwards bar around that time and the reputation Mr Fewtrell had. It’s interesting to hear of the story about an early Texas gig when they played at an Edwards club with a backdrop of a water leak! More so, I didn’t realise Edwards venues went back as far as the 1970s and that where Gala bingo behind New Street station is, was an upmarket cabaret style venue that hosted Tom Jones. Apparently it didn’t work in the early 1970s but with Ronnie Scott’s long gone, I’d love something like that in the city now.

On the theatre side Birmingham’s Theatre Royal on New Street (where Boots is now) is long gone but the gorgeous Hippodrome is flourishing and we learn of Laurence Olivier’s earliest performances at the still standing (old) Birmingham Rep.

We all know the history of the scrumptious once again, Electric being the oldest working cinema in the UK but did you know that the Cannon, formerly the Futurist around the corner was the first to have ‘talkies’? And that where Piccadilly Arcade is now was the Picture House and there was also the ABC cinema on New Street?

Crossroads is well known to have been filmed in Birmingham and we learn there was a famous wedding scene filmed at Birmingham cathedral that not only stopped traffic but received 22 million viewers – beat that x-Craptor! Later, TisWas was filmed in Birmingham launching the mainstream careers of Chris Tarrant (but why does he have a Broad Street star?!) and the eternally brilliant Lenny Henry. I learn my favourite building in Birmingham, the Alpha Tower at the edge of Broad Street was built for ATV, before it became Central Television. Nowadays all TV talk is of the Hustle being filmed on my doorstep whilst pretending it’s in London.

Discovering Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show came to New Street is indeed mind blowing but it’s two hours and towards the end of the tour when we get to Duran Duran, the reason for my coming to Brum in the first place. They are mentioned of course when we get to Broad Street, home of the Rum Runner Club where they first rehearsed and were subsequently managed by the owners.

Incidentally, the same place also hosted Dexy’s Midnight Runners and UB40 in the early years.

Who knew? There is so much more, book in on a tour here

For more information  www.midlandsdiscoverytours.co.uk  or chat on Twitter @ianbraisby or follow @MidsDiscovery

Adventures in Birmingham – Hornton Grange

Who knew this is hidden away on the grounds of the University of Birmingham?

As part of Venue Birmingham Hornton Grange is an impressive Edwardian building tucked away in leafy Edgbaston Park Road. The various venues have meeting rooms, conference and exhibition facilities as well as catering for weddings and celebrations but I only have one interest today; food. More specifically one of my favourite meals, Sunday lunch.

It may help that it is indeed a dazzling sunny afternoon with the proverbial clear blue sky (cue: ELO) but for starters, the setting is just perfect; two miles out of the big city and I could have been in any of the shires.  For starters, the staff are entirely courteous from the minute we walk in and in the main, the menu is more varied than most but offers exactly what it should, a traditional Sunday roast.

The drinks and starters are bought to us but I am left to my own devises at the carvery: BIG MISTAKE. The second mistake, the plates are HUGE. I try to limit my intake seeing as I know I eat half as much as normal people (but twice as often) but it looks so good and I’m a sucker for huge Yorkshire puddings. And stuffing.

The perfect-for-a-sunny-day Zinfandel Rose probably helps in some strange way but there is miraculously room for dessert; carrot cake with fresh creams, beautifully presented and served with a knowing smile, as in, ‘I know you won’t finish it but here you go.’

Couldn’t stand up afterwards but a fabulous Sunday lunch.

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