Pining for a break from the ever fast moving carousel that is London life I hopped on a train to visit a friend and explore the delights of in and around Birmingham.
I have always found longish train journeys fairly agreeable. Good childhood memories of 4 hour plus trips to places like Cornwall which seemed to fly by fuelled only by treats of chicken and oxtail ‘buffet lounge’ soups and fascination of the landscape rolling by.
Image London Marylebone train to Birmingham. Joshua Brown via Flickr.
And so the couple of hours train journey from Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street was relaxing with no commuter hassle and Chiltern’s modern looking clean trains with seat tables and plenty of room for books, newspapers and laptop if you so wished – free WiFi being an added bonus.
On arrival we headed straight for the city centre and the BrewDog bar for some well needed refreshments. BrewDog has been a pretty impressive and successful venture for Scottish duo James Watt and Martin Dickie who started off their craft beer business in 2007.
Back then the budding entrepreneurs brewed tiny batches, filled bottles by hand and sold their beers at local markets and out of the back of their beat up old van. Fast forward and today BrewDog has bars all around the world including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Camden, Shepherd’s Bush, Nottingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Stockholm, São Paulo, Florence, Barcelona and Helsinki.
Image Brewdog Birmingham. Yelp Inc. Via Flickr
Micro breweries and craft beers have been around in London for a while now but typically although some of the locations have usually been smart and a bit different I can’t say I noticed the beer being a cut above the mass produced industry standard range of cooking beers. But a couple of small glasses of BrewDog’s Dead Pony Pale Ale went down really well, maybe I have a pallette for this craft beer trend after all.
Next stop and perfectly placed opposite BrewDog was the Caribbean themed restaurant chain, Turtle Bay, that has been popping up all over the UK. The place has a lively buzz to it and friendly and efficient staff. No sooner had our drinks quickly arrived than our starters and mains rapidly followed what seemed like seconds later.
First thing that was apparent was that the food is very hot and spicy. I have no trouble with the curried goat at the Notting Hill Carnival but here it knocked my socks off. When we visited the place the following evening I made a point of asking if there was anything just a tad less hot and spicy than the curried goat. The answer and result was me having to stare down a piece of simply grilled chicken breast with a sauce on the side so I could judge the amount to dip into at my own peril.
The chicken was perfectly fine but seemed a bit of a travesty option seeing as the menu was packed with jerked up and spiced dishes of all types from old favourites like jerk chicken to jerk ribs and humongous looking steaks which you could see sizzle and cook on hot grills if up at the bar. The sweetcorn fritters were a good starter. Plus if you like creamy cocktails then the koko colada, consisting of Koko Kanu white rum, pineapple, coconut & cream and grated nutmeg was suitably lush.
Image Arco Lounge Harborne.
A few miles outside of Birmingham City Centre is Harborne, a suburb with a villagey feel and a few places well worth checking out. Of course the award winning Boston Tea Party was excellent on a couple of visits but as a result always seems to be pretty busy for breakfast, brunch and lunches.
Image Boston Tea Party Harborne. Via Facebook page.
I really liked the Arco Lounge, a laid back retro chic environment. Stopping to speculatively ask a waitress if they knew anything about the interesting old photos dotted around was impressed by the explanation of some of the history of the place which happens to be part of a chain. Finding out that Arco is part of a chain surprised me as it has a unique, one-off feel about it.
Old, well-worn elegance and charm, homely and comfortable it really utilises the old converted building society premises to good effect. Any time I find a Milanese on the menu I am usually happy. Although I prefer a veal version the pork Milanese was very decent at Arco. A breaded meat escalope with spaghetti and tomato sauce and parmesan is typically a winner for me. I have to say that the poached eggs were better at Arco than those served up at the Boston Tea Party too due to the nicer tasting bechamel sauce.
Image Beer Garden The PLough Harborne. Via Facebook page.
Pubs wise The Plough is a nice boozer with friendly staff and a largish beer garden. The area down by the canals (Birmingham has more canals than Venice) is meant to be a good spot in the summer but as the UK was currently experiencing its typical schizophrenic weather we decided to leave it for another more suitable day.
Then there is also The Junction that seems to be a place popular with all ages and types. But then that’s one of the things that struck me was just how friendly and unpretentious this part of the West Midlands seems to be.
Not an evident demarcation between hipster type haunts and those trying their hardest to avoid hipster like haunts or places favoured by younger or older crowds. It was all very refreshing to see which meant that I really enjoyed my few days away in Birmingham and as a result a thumbs up to a slice of Brummie life.