Monthly Archives: April 2012

Restaurant Review: Aalto Restaurant, Hotel La Tour, Birmingham

On Tuesday it was Stuart’s birthday and as a special treat, we were lucky enough to be invited to visit the new Aalto Restaurant in Hotel La Tour, Birmingham. We arrived a few minutes before our scheduled reservation time and we were warmly greeted by the staff and were taken up to the second floor to the modern and very spacious restaurant and bar. We sat in the bar and had a drink before our dinner. We perused the wine list (on an ipad!)  and settled down and enjoyed the atmosphere. By chance, we saw James of Eat The Midlands while we were there and had a catch up with him before taking our seats in the restaurant.

Once taken into the restaurant, we were impressed by the chef’s table with views into Head Chef Alex Penhaligon’s kitchen and excitedly awaited the menu which has been inspired by advisor and Michelin starred chef, Marcus Wareing.   To start, we decided on Charred sourdough, olive oil, roasted garlic, followed by Leek and Potato Soup and Shrimp ‘cocktail’, Marie Rose, baby gem, brown bread. The bread and garlic was absolutely amazing. I could of eaten it all night. The garlic and olive oil was full on flavour but not overpowering. My soup was one of the lightest leek and potato soups I have ever tasted however it was let down slightly by the chunks of only just cooked through potato in it. I know they are there to give a textual difference to the soup but I thought they were not needed as the soup was amazing on its own. To clear our palette in time for the main course, we were treated to The 1889, a in house invented cocktail made with Bombay Sapphire, apple, elderflower, ginger, and lime. It was very refreshing and zingy on the tongue.

For mains, I had Great Garnetts Farm pork belly slow baked, apple sauce, kale and Stuart had Hereford beef rib eye steak, red wine sauce, horseradish, chips. My pork belly was fantastic. Very well cooked and it was complimented beautifully by the apple sauce which was the sweetest and the most intense apple sauce I have ever tasted. I could of eaten bucket loads of it.  Stuart’s steak was perfectly cooked to medium and was very tender. The horseradish was sharp and was the perfect choice for dipping the chips into.

In between our mains and my pudding, we were treated to a glass of a dessert wine and the name of it now escapes me as we were having a very good time by this point! For pudding, I had Jaffa cake pudding, warm chocolate, orange cake crumb, cream. I was very impressed by the pudding and thought the flavours were amazing. It was the freshest and most yummiest jaffa cake I have ever had. One of small let down with the pudding was that it was served with cream. I think it would be better if it was served with ice cream as it is a very heavy pudding with everything combined and I think ice cream would cut through this a little bit.

We finished the night with a well needed latte and headed home with very full bellies and a big smile on our faces. Overall, we were very impressed with the Aalto Restaurant and would happily eat there again. I have only one request: Can we stay the night next time and get to sample the breakfast too! :-)

Many thanks to Sue and the team for a fantastic evening. We were invited for complimentary meal that was well timed with Stuart’s birthday however all opinions and views on the experience are my own. 

Discover Ireland with Selfridge’s

From the 10th-29th April, you can discover more about Ireland and its food at Selfridges Birmingham. This week I was lucky enough to be invited to try it and I was certainly not disappointed. They have a wide range of Irish produce available to purchase in the food hall and they even have a special menu to celebrate in the fourth floor Gallery restaurant.

I went to the Gallery Restaurant early on a Monday evening when the restaurant was quiet. It was lovely to see into the Bullring below and see people shopping/getting on with their day. I was greeted warmly by the staff and given their Discover Ireland menu to peruse. As I was with my partner we were able to try both starters and main courses on the menu.

To start, my partner had potato and thyme soup served with soda bread and I had a ham hock terrine, served with white pudding and an Irish Whiskey Jus. The soup was light and creamy with a lovely background note of thyme. The ham hock terrine was rich and sticky. It was complimented beautifully by the velvety white pudding and crisp salad leaves.

Our mains were Guinness Braised Beef Brisket served with Colcannon and Sausage and Potato Pie served with cabbage and bacon. Both portions were very generous. The brisket was rich and full of the flavour of the Guinness.  The pie was topped with crispy pastry and filled with large chunks of sausages and lots of lovely vegetables. One minor flaw in both dishes was the over seasoned cabbage. It was a disappointment for both of us as the cabbage would have been an excellent accompaniment otherwise.

For pudding, I had Apple and Raspberry Crumble served with Buttermilk Ice Cream. The crumble had lots of texture in it and the fruit was not too sweet. The ice cream was creamy and delicious too. Overall we had a good meal at the Gallery Restaurant and look forward to return there soon to try their normal menu.

Many thanks to Emma at the Bullring and Selfridge’s for a lovely meal. It is much appreciated :-)

River Cottage Rocks! #3: Veggie Heaven

The theme for River Cottage Rocks #3 is simply called ‘Veggie Heaven!’. You can make whatever you want with this spring’s best produce. The only rule is that vegetables must be the main part of the dish. You can have meat etc as part of the dish but it must be secondary to the vegetables. The closing date for this challenge is Monday 14th May 2012.

  1. You cook any recipe you like related to the theme from any River Cottage book, TV programme or from Hugh’s weekly column in the Guardian.
  2. You must not copy the recipes word for word onto your blog posts. Quite a few of the recipes are already online so please link to them if they exist or put the book and the page number on your blog post so other people can find the recipe.
  3. If you make a couple or more adaptations to the recipe then please put the new version of the recipe on your blog if you want to, but always link to the original recipe in the same way as described in 2.
  4. You can submit the recipe to other blogging challenges as long as the other challenge allows it. 
  5. Please link to the post announcing this month’s theme in your blog post or to the ‘River Cottage Rocks’ page on this blog if someone else is hosting the challenge.
  6. If you are on Twitter, please tweet about your post using the hashtag #rivercottagerocks and include @Jos_Kitchen in the tweet. I will retweet any that I see.
  7. Please email a picture and a link to your post to joskitchen@hotmail.co.uk by the closing date to have your post included in the monthly round up. 
  8. Please add your posts to the River Cottage Rocks group on Facebook too and we can get a bit of community spirit going.

I am looking for someone to host the next challenge on their blog so if you are interested please let me know :-)

River Cottage Rocks! #2: Sunday Lunch The Round Up

Thanks to everyone who took part in this challenge and massive apologies for the delay in getting this post up. Here is what everyone created:

Farmersgirl Kitchen

No Love Sincerer

Veghotpot

Me

I am also linking to Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary who I know has done an entry but not had chance to blog it yet :-)

Behind The Scenes at The Birmingham Malmaison

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have an experience of a lifetime – be in a restaurant kitchen during a Saturday evening service. It was not just any restaurant kitchen either, it was the kitchen of the Birmingham Malmaison. How did this come about I hear you ask? Well, a month or so ago I went to the Tuscan Wine Evening at the Birmingham Malmaison and got talking to their Regional Manager, Stephen. He wanted to know more about blogging and how we can write about restaurant food without really knowing about the effort that went into creating it. I pointed out that I am a cook not a chef and would not criticise a dish that I have no idea how to make myself. I then said, after one or three glasses of wine too many, that I would love to see a restaurant kitchen during service and Stephen replied ‘how about you come and see the kitchen here?’. Of course, I answered ‘yes’ straight away and at 3pm a few weeks later, I was being taken into the kitchen, ready to work my first shift.

I was greeted by Mark Walsh, Senior Sous Chef and in charge of the kitchen as Head Chef Brian Neath was on holiday and given some chef’s whites. I was then introduced to the other chefs and given a tour of the kitchen. The kitchen works nearly none stop from 5am-11pm as it has to deal with breakfast, lunch and dinner services, room service throughout the day and special events. The most important special event while I was there was cooking for Newcastle Utd Football Club who were staying at the hotel the night before their game with West Bromwich Albion Football Club. Others events included a dinner in one of their private dining rooms, a hen party and an afternoon tea.

I was completed amazed and enthralled by the whole experience. I loved seeing all the preparation and time taken to make each dish. I enjoyed seeing how a table’s food came together at the same time on the pass. I liked seeing all the techniques and gadgets they used to make sure everything was perfect every single time. I enjoyed the heat, the smells, the taste and the sheer adrenaline you get from being in a kitchen during service. I was very tired by the end of the night and I was only observing. About halfway through service, I even began understanding what calls Mark was making to other chefs and I understood exactly what  he wanted them to do. I can see why people want to be chefs- they want to make people happy and make them good food. This was evident from everyone I spoke to in the kitchen. After this experience, I would still very much call myself a cook and I will never be any more than that, but I wouldn’t mind going into a kitchen again, just to see the magic happening again.

I cannot find any more words to sum up the amazing experience I had so I will leave you with some pictures that hopefully will tell you more. Thanks to Mark and his team of chefs, Zara and Stephen for this absolutely amazing experience. I hope to repeat it again one day! :-)

Winner of The Natural Selection Hamper

I am pleased to announce that the winner of the Natural Selection Hamper is comment no 3, Amanda Carter. Congratulations on winning Amanda! An email is on its way to you asking for your contact details. Please reply as soon as possible and I will ensure that the hamper gets sent out straight away. Thank you to everyone for taking part. There will be another giveaway on here soon! ;-)

Product Review: Hotel Chocolat Rocky Road To Caramel Extra Thick Easter Egg

I have been very lucky (again!) and received a lovely Easter Egg from Hotel Chocolat to review. This time I received the Rocky Road To Caramel Extra Thick Easter Egg. I love Rocky Road and quite often make my own so I was interested to see how it would compare.

I loved the presentation of the egg in a big hat box type thing with a black ribbon wrapped around the top. Inside there are two halves of the egg both made with 40% milk chocolate.  One half is studded with crispy puffed rice, cookies and chocolate chunks. The other half-shell with a layer of caramel chocolate over a base of milk chocolate and inside there are a variety of chocolates including rabbits and chicks in milk chocolate, praline and truffle. This is my most favourite Hotel Chocolat thing so far. It is right up my street. The milk chocolate, the caramel and all the different textures make it the perfect Easter egg. It is beyond the normal and makes an exciting gift for a chocolate lover. The only downside is the price which is £26. This is quite expensive for an Easter egg but it is big enough to share (if you want to that is!)

Many thanks to Beth at Jam and Cream PR and Hotel Chocolat for sending me the egg to review :-)

Giveaway: Natural Selection Hamper

Another week, another giveaway! How lucky are you lovely lot! This week I am pleased to let you know that I have hamper from Natural Selection to send to one lucky reader. In the hamper there are:

  • 3 x packs of Chopped Apricots
  • 3 x packs of Dried Cranberries
  • 3 x packs of 5 Fruit Mix
  • 3 x packs of Crystallised Ginger
  • 3 x packs of Cinnamon Cranberries
  • 3 x packs Chopped Dates
  • 2 x packs of Crimson Raisins
  • 1 x Natural Selection branded apron
  • 1 x rolling pin
  • 1 x Great British Bake Off: How to Bake: The Perfect Victoria Sponge and Other Baking Secrets

If you need some inspiration as to what you could do with all this dried fruit if you win it, please see Holly’s (Finalist from The Great British Bake Off) blog for some ideas :-)

Also if you like Natural Selection on Facebook, you can download a coupon from their Facebook page and get a £1 off their dried fruit bags in Asda or Sainsbury’s.

To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment on the post below telling me your favourite Easter dish that you like to prepare at this time of year. Its that easy!

If you would like another chance to win a Natural Selection hamper please see the giveaway over on Fuss Free Flavours

This competition has now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered. The winner will be announced asap

Terms and Conditions

  1. Only 1 entry per person
  2. The competition will close at 5pm on Monday 9th April  2012 BST
  3. The winner will be chosen by Random.org and will be contacted via email as soon as possible after the competition has closed.
  4. The competition is open to UK residents only
  5. The prize will be delivered by Natural Selection Foods once the winner’s contact details are confirmed.
  6. Any questions or queries, please email joskitchen@hotmail.co.uk

Winner of The CrockPot Cook & Carry

I am pleased to announce that the winner of the CrockPot Cook & Carry is comment no 4, Lynn Savage. Congratulations Lynn, I have sent you an email. If you can send me your address details as soon as possible, I will arrange to get the Crockpot sent out to you. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Many thanks to Natural Selection for providing the hamper to giveaway and for sending me some fruit to try myself :-)

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