Monday, 5 July 2010

Weekend Wanderings....

Despite the previous idea to venture out in celebration of ‘Wedding Anniversary Part II’ I actually wasn't expecting to leave my flat at all last weekend for anything more than a quick reccy for more food and wine; I ended up eating out twice.

The first outing coincided with a midnight release of a well known immortal romance movie. I would love to tell you that I was reluctantly dragged there by an overexcited/lovesick 14 yr old niece and that I sat through the entire installment listing the sexist symbolism like any decent, forward thinking 21st Century gal should, but that would be classed as lying. My husband and I 'dragged' OURSELVES there after spending most of Friday daytime giddy with excitement…..we have each other, at least.

I often make it my business to take (and give) the most pleasure from a social event such as a dinner party or meal out by considering all manner of details relative to the occasion. For example, when cooking a Middle Eastern feast I simply must waft spiced incence sticks around the dining room and the lighting must be solely provided by candles sticking out of heavily bejeweled holders dramatically dotted anywhere and may be cliche and could well be absurdly inaccurate to the food's origins but it sure helps everyone get into the swing of things!

To this 'rule' a Friday night trip to the movies is no exception; I become an unashamed American-girl-on-a-date wannabe and simply must go for a burger and a 'shake followed by a gargantuan popcorn with DIET coke all of which are, more often than not, forced down my throat before the first line of the movie has even been uttered!

With this in mind….first stop, The Handmade Burger Co. in Solihull’s Touchwood shopping centre.

The menu had a small column entirely dedicated to a selection of imaginative handmade veggie burgers to suit different tastes from the onion bhaji 'burger' with yogurt and mango chutney to cheese patties all sandwiched between good quality seeded buns with some crisp salad leaves. Sides are ordered separately and I can confidently recommend the handmade uber crispy chips double fried with bits of the skin left on to make them crisper still; their fluffy insides benefiting from a dunk in some ketchup (kept in glass bottles on the table…like all good burger joints). The coleslaw is also a fine choice, again, handmade with carrot, cabbage and red peppers encased in a light dressing.

On this occasion I opted for the lentil and spinach burger and my other half enjoyed the mushroom, mozzarella and pesto burger. My burger, formed into a patty and sealed on the grill, was toothsome and well seasoned, a far cry from the coated wallpaper paste offered at other restaurants in the past. My husbands consisted of alternate slices of portobello mushroom, melting mounds of mozzarella and flavoursome pesto; he gave it the thumbs up between chomps. Both burgers and sides were quickly devoured and washed down with bottled beer and wine…saving room for popcorn and ice cream.

The bill for the two of us was around £30 (service not included) comprising a large glass of wine, bottle of beer, two burgers and 3 sides so it’s a little more than your average late night burger van but what you lack in money at the end you’ll gain in many other ways (no disrespect to the burger van man at all….honest).

Oh and, yes, they do serve milkshakes; and, yes, they are in tall ridged glasses like a proper diner complete with bendy straw! The décor, however, is more funky British eatery with floral wallpaper and witty quips on the walls but they do a decent burger, the staff are genuine and it's spitting distance from the cinema meaning I could be gently rolled to my seat once I’d had my fill…

The second outing of the weekend, again, happened by accident…
My husband, my folks and I gathered in Birmingham's Brindley Place to cheer my sister and her partner on as they completed a half marathon in under 2 hours. Whooping, picture taking and sweaty hugs over with we were all in need of nourishment so we decided to take a seat in All Bar One.
Both the inside and outside areas of the restaurant were alive with happy faces out to enjoy the Saturday sun and , like us, cheer on the runners. The large oak tables surrounded with cubed stools and wooden benches made it easy to please a crowd of people looking to engage in lively conversation with each other across a table crammed with food and glasses of wine, cider and cold beer; the large glass doors had been flung open to let in the warm breeze reminding all Brits that we are actually having a Summer….I wont say anymore, though, in case I scare it away!

The menu, available on sheets of paper at each table and also on massive blackboards at either end of the restaurant (very gastro-pub), held a pleasing amount of choice for vegetarian and non-veggies alike and drink pairings were offered with a selection of the dishes listed.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the impressive sounding dukka crusted goats cheese with mango and watercress salad, then to the falafal burger and then over to the duo of hummus with flatbreads…I could go on.

After some toing and froing I committed myself to the mushroom, red pepper and aubergine wrap with mozzarella and Asian style pesto mayonnaise accompanied with a side order of fries. However, I could have just as easily sunk my teeth into a mushroom quesadilla with red pepper and chilli salsa or maybe the asparagus, spring onion and pea risotto…ok, I’ll stop now.

The wrap itself was toasted and flavoursome and not at all doughy or chewy as I had feared it may have been. The filling was generous and well cooked with a decent ratio of bread to vegetables and cheese, however, there was a distinct lack of seasoning, even for my salt crazed palate and found myself having to sprinkle a little salt on the filling before each bite. Aubergine and mozzarella are both beautifully bland making them the perfect carriers for spices, seasonings or a spritz of lemon and I have to admit that a bit of extra oomph wouldn’t have gone amiss here.

The whole experience, however, from the hardworking, nothing’s-too-much-trouble waiter to the chic, stylish city-bar surroundings made the lunch a feel like a welcome weekend treat and the fact that the wrap and fries came in under a tenner left room in the budget for a glass or two of something fruity...

Speaking of which, how could I forget the Pinot Grigio rose, flowing as if from a tap, and gloriously described as an 'elegant bone dry stunner'?! Should they ever decide to pair a wine with a person instead of plate of food I’d jump at the chance to accompany this one….the words ‘modesty’ and ‘virtue’ should now come screaming to mind!

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