Tucked away in leafy Edgbaston are three little restaurants that look like they should hardly get any footfall, and yet they stay open. They’re too near to drive, but I wouldn’t want to walk the 20 minutes home in the dark of midnight. The first is Simpson’s, one of Birmingham’s Michelin starred restaurants where Daniel and I celebrated our engagement and the Michelin star makes the trip worth it in a taxi. Next is the Highfield, Roz at TheFoodieCouple has reviewed it and it’s also lovely for a slightly special occasion, a true gastropub where we sometimes take the car to have a drink and a chat on weekday evenings. Finally is Nörjske, one of the strangest little bars there is in the city.
On Saturday, with the stress and emotion of the wedding six weeks behind us, life began again relatively stress-free, a normality that I haven’t had since last Summer. It was a sunny morning so we walked down to Nörjske for brunch. The whole place feels like it would be beautiful in the winter! Downstairs is a bright little rustic-style deli that’s perfect for the lunchtime take-away crowd, a big selection of British and Scandinavian themed sandwiches and paninis, with Scandinavian products for sale in woven baskets and wooden pallet shelves. An outdoor seating area is ready prepared with patio heating and blankets. Upstairs is very clean, floor to ceiling windows allow so much light in – the white wooden booths look so welcoming. Everywhere is white and bright, with faux-fur blankets and wintery woodland animal cushions.
The brunch menu is not altogether Scandinavian, we had an omelette and eggs benedict. My dish was two little halves of bread roll that were the perfect amount to mop up the two poached eggs, together with crumbled ham hock with a beautiful hollandaise sauce. The omelette was perfectly runny in the middle and looked enormous but tasted so light. It was an indulgence but with our wedding six weeks behind us we basked in the delight of knowing that we didn’t have to be anywhere or talk about anything specific, enjoying an hour and a half of delicious food, laid-back music and a lovely view over St George’s Church.
Among the busy streets of Birmingham, while men and women in power suits run from Colmore Row to New Street Station, and the rain comes down and umbrellas go up, rushing by without even noticing the All Greek Delicatessen that has sprung up from nowhere on Stephenson Street.
All Greek Delicatessen, hidden away on Stephenson Street
At the weekend we went for dinner at a friend’s house, and always wanting to be a bit unusual with our gifts, Daniel suggested we take a bottle of wine from this Greek place he’d seen. Blink and you’d miss it, this lovely little shop is at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade towards the road to the old back entrance to New Street Station. It has a very simple rustic feel to it, like a proper start-up business finding its feet before jumping in decorating and expanding its range.
It’s certainly well-stocked with olives, tzatziki and feta cheese, but also offers a range of things you might not have even thought were traditionally Greek. There are is honey, chocolate cookies, olive oil and noodles. I think the best thing is the stir-in sauces. And the shop doesn’t sell wine but that didn’t matter, we took some cookies, olives stuffed with chillies and a small box of carrot-flavour breadsticks. We didn’t realise until we were on the train though that the carrot sticks said “for diet” all over them! But the pricing is very reasonable for authentic imported products, we paid around £10.00 for that little package.
Their facebook feed offers competitions and information about the lines they stock, packed with photos of lovely Greek things! Since discovering it I’ve taken a small packet of square-shaped noodles, and a jar of the sauces, tomato, red pepper and grape, to try with a bit of pork. I’ll let you know how it goes!
My favourite view in Mexico
Two wonderful weeks in Mexico – travelling between Metepec and Tequila via el DF, Querétaro and Guadalajara – requires some forward thinking. Which of course with Christmas and a house-buy looming, I didn’t bother doing – didn’t take enough clothes, the right type of clothes, didn’t have time to get pesos in the UK, booked my travel insurance the night before, and so on. I did buy a new guidebook that actually turned out to be pretty useful when we couldn’t find our way to Coyoacan, and even suggested a walking itinerary around the bohemian La Condesa district that we did, discovering new bars and parks and lovely little chocolate shops. So here are some travel tips for the more laid-back visitor :
- Pack for the weather. Remember that Mexico doesn’t get much above 20º during Winter, so take more than just 9 sleeveless tops and dresses for the 16 days you’re going to be there. What the hell was I thinking? I think – I think, that brain was overloaded with moving-house-stress and the everlasting impression of that first year I went when it was boiling hot, all the time.
- The flight is long, but lovely KLM give you a schedule of what films will be showing, and luckily as I fly there in December, and back in January I get a good variety for both ways. Check out the list before you go, and plan, because 12 hours in a plane is really boring unless you’ve got some good telly. I normally start off with a comedy TV, then a film and then TV again and so on until dinner-time.
- Be really British and carry your brolly. When it rains it really rains. We took a road trip to Guadalajara, four and a half of the five hours driving were in the rain. Then when we got there it was like a ghost town with very few people in the streets, unfortunately left the city centre very grey and industrial looking, with few restaurants open.
- Take cash with you. I tried nearly every cash machine I passed, but only two (out of about twenty) gave me any money. Make sure the bank know when you’re going away, mine did – but I still had to call a very nice lady at my bank who said it was to do with the chip. Unless you want to march into Banamex and have a go at the cashier.
- It’s all about the breakfast. Or rather, brunch. Eggs cooked al gusto, with chilli, bacon, ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, chorizo, then sweet breads, papaya, chilaquiles, frijoles, sopes, pineapple, tamales, potatoes, melon and tacos. Get up at 08h00, and prepare yourself for the biggest breakfast of your life, every day.
- Driving in Mexico City is mad. Absolutely mad. But I never feel unsafe with Daniel driving, there’s a strange logic to it. Make sure you check the traffic before crossing the road because bikes and carts sometimes nip across on red.
- Govenment protests happen. EPN spouting bollocks about how privatising the oil industry will be a good thing for Mexico sparked this one, cue “Peña, Mancera, la misma chingadera!”
Privatising Pemex, NO!!
- Mariachi is basically the happiest job in the world. See Mariachi, they’re normally hawking round Reforma actually, and they always pose for the camera, even if they’re mid-song!
- Learn the two basics, “Soy guëra, pero no soy gringa” (I’m blonde but I’m not American). And the “excuse me” rule, Excuse me 1 : To get someone’s attention = Disculpe. Excuse me 2 : To squeeze past someone = Con Permiso. Excuse me 3 : To say sorry = Perdón.
- Valet Parking is amazing! You can drive straight up to the city centre restaurant, throw your keys at the guy, drink for the next six hours and and still drive home. Luckily the night we drank for six hours was really close to the house so we actually walked there. On the same note, three jagerbombs, six bottles of Corona and a whiskey and orange are actually a really good cure for jet-lag.
- Everything is spicy. If a Mexican says it’s not, don’t believe them. “You put green chilli, then molé, then this other spice, but it’s not very spicy in the end”. Erm, yes it is, I’m not eating that.
- Carry a few extra pesos with you. The cute factor is everywhere, children selling sweets, children doing acrobatics at the traffic lights, children just asking for money straight out in their torn jeans and dirty shoes.
- Remember that the politics here is corrupt. A driving license costs you 250 pesos no questions asked. The national football team won the Olympic gold medal, but the Mexican FA won’t invest in player development, so games are left full of advertising and no substance. Then the last thing the government privatised was the railways, and all that’s left of that is three tourist trains, all the rest of the money left Mexico, or went straight into the politicians pockets.
- Love the country and its people. The country has so much to be proud of, such a progressive and tolerant nation in some ways, but so humble in others. Yes the divide between rich and poor is very noticeable, but buy the little girl an ice cream, and give the little acrobatic boy at the traffic lights your 10 pesos, it’s 11pm and he should be at home in bed in the warm. But love every bit of this puebla, meet people and enjoy this rich, warm-hearted nation.
I heart MEX
Cheesecake Factory Birmingham, AL
So, completely off topic, I was talking to my friend the other day, the question was : What would you do if they built a Cheesecake Factory in Birmingham?
The answer is probably not repeatable here, it basically involved giggling, shouting and having to go there every day. Where would you build one in Birmingham? Going by US standards you’d build it at Star City, Merry Hill or some other out-of-town entertainment centre. But I think it really would make a killing in on the canals, or on the top floor at Selfridges. It’s too yummy to think about!
You see these things on TV, but never think you really will come face-to-face with a slice of cake that’s bigger than your head! The drink we could have shared and the cheesecake itself we were still eating the next morning…
Here’s my reaction to it all in Macy’s rooftop Cheesecake Factory restaurant in San Francisco. Displaying the classic “oh-my-god-what-have-i-done” face.