The revolution reaches Codsall

The revolution reaches Codsall

In recent times the West midlands has started to go through something of a renaissance when it comes to food and you have to look no further than Birmingham to get a feel for what is really going on. The restaurants are starting to change and there are new and interesting places popping up on the high street like Rub smokehouse, Buffalo and Rye (review incoming) and grand centrals food court, but it’s on the side streets of the city that the real noise is being made. Just a 15 minute walk from New street station is the district of Digbeth, the birth place of the ever popular and ever growing Digbeth Dining Club which is a perfect representation of how peoples attitude towards food is evolving in the area.

No longer are people satisfied by the monthly chippy tea or rashly palming Justeat to get the nearest greasy pile of whatever thrown at you through your door, people want more. We as a country are starting to realise the power of street food and what it can do to elevate your meal times to a whole new level. We are no longer happy with what we would expect to see and that drives us to want to try new things like craft beers, foreign twists on traditional favourites and every possible level of edible ingenuity we can get our hands on. Digbeth Dining Club delivers all of these things and still leaves room to push on even further. Good job then that this food revolution has reached my doorstep in sleepy Staffordshire.

Codsall is very close to my heart as I had a family connection in the village during my childhood, going there is always an incredibly nostalgic event for me but today was not just a trip down memory lane. It was my first time at the dining club here as it has popped up several times this year already but upon walking over to the stalls, the atmosphere was as good as I imagine the first day was. There was a real buzz of anticipation around the place and I think it stands to reason it has done so well and been able to return so many times because people really do love this kind of thing now. We quickly scanned the stalls which included some mouth watering, internationally diverse food styles such as Philippine, Greek, American and Mexican.

As you can imagine making a decision and committing to something is always an issue at these kind of events but being recently initiated into the world of smoking meat I was drawn to the bright red stall of big daddies diner. Hot dogs that offer something for everybody whether that is a straight forward dog in the Slim Jim or something a little more ambitious such as the Edna. Naturally I ordered the Edna, two Slim Jim dogs on a soft white roll topped with Brewdog Hardcore IPA chili and topped with cheese and crispy onions. First off I will say the sausages themselves were really quite good, with a prominent smoked flavour and a sturdy skin that has just enough bite to make it last a little bit longer, as it’s very tempting to not savour any of it and just savage the whole thing. The chili that is smothered across the top of the sausages in all its velvety glory, is a smooth and subtly spiced beef chili that is mild enough to appeal to all but can be perked up with a touch of hot sauce. The chili would almost be a star if it was available on its own but paired with the smoke of the Slim Jim sausages it just creates such a cavalcade of complex flavours it would be sad to split them up. I don’t really feel the addition of the IPA stands out in any apparent way but it is a quirky selling point and I like it, it is a good chili and would stand up against the best of them. Big thumbs up from me and good value at £6.00.

 

Next up was The Flying Cows and their decadent selection of burgers. Anybody who even half knows me instantly makes the connection between me and a good burger, which is fine by me as the battle of the burgers was genuinely a huge achievement at the time and even helped me get the a job! It did spark a passion within me for burgers as a medium of culinary creativity, the opportunities are endless between the halves of a bun, but a good burger relies on the quality of its content and not the volume. Too many places think that a gourmet burger just means piling too many excessive,expensive or odd ingredients between a half arsed burger bun is acceptable, when really all you need is to think about the sum of its parts a little more carefully and keep it simple. It feels like The Flying Cows gets me when I ate their ‘Barry knows best’ option from their menu. I will walk you through levels here… A brioche bun, a scattering of red onions and crispy greens, a steak burger topped with melted blue cheese, a few thin slices of chorizo lashed with mayo and finished with the other half of the brioche. What an absolute champion of a burger this was. Everything just worked and you could tell these guys cared about the food that was being passed to the customers through the sheer quality of the burger itself. It was a firm and juicy patty that bordered on creamy in its texture and bonded so well with the toppings. The richness of the blue cheese paired up with the warm paprika hug of the chorizo make this a definitive burger experience. Possibly even the best one I have had this year to be fair and at £6 I can say it is great value for money. This would probably be north of £15 with sides and fries in a restaurant. Just awesome.

 

These were my two major highlights but it goes without saying that you can only eat and drink so much in a single visit and it is clear that every single vendor that had turned up was bringing their ‘A’ game and that they really cared about their produce. Honourable mentions have the go to ‘Shake that ting’ for a decent banana milkshake and ‘Street Souvlaki’ for making the place smell incredible with their Greek BBQ, although the Greek platter looked great with it’s mixture of pork, chicken and halloumi, I would say it maybe didnt look the best value of the day at £8 but there were a lot of moving parts to the dish and I was told it was super tasty and my friend did enjoy it. Broughs brewery from Wolverhampton had two cask ales available on their bar but we only tried the golden ale. It was quite a generic ale in terms of its flavour profile but it would have been easy to drink in the warm weather had I been in it for the long haul. I just hope next time I can get round a little bit more and try some of the other delights that are delivered to the village in such exciting fashion.

To close out I have to give a huge nod to the organisers of this and Digbeth Dining Club for bringing something different to our local area, making amazing street food something we can get almost at will rather than it only being something we experience at borough market. Up until recently street food in the West Midlands started and finished at a jacket potato covered in tinned beans or a boiled hot dog in a 30p white roll. Thanks to these wonderful people I can honestly say the axis of gastronomic monotony has officially been broken. Settle for Greggs no more my friends. Go to Codsall Dining Club and join the revolution!

 

 

 

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The ale report: Einstock white ale

It seems like it has been a while since I wrote anything on here as I have just had so much on recently blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat. This down time has given me an opportunity to think about what I want to do with the site going forward and it has really helped me get my ducks in a row as it were, so I have decided to add another string to the blogs bow.

In today’s society food plays a vital role in social interaction and personal expression, meaning everybody has their own way of utilising food to convey a message, express their feelings or passions and be truly creative. This type of attitude is becoming increasingly noticable in the production of beer in the UK. Craft beer is on the rise and the demand for beer’s to pair with different types of food is through the roof as people of my generation realise the complexity that a bottle of wonderfully crafted IPA or porter can hold. It’s only right that the blog helps promote that attitude.

I will admit I work for Marston’s beer company so I make a point of living and breathing the beer industry and our brands. I adore my job and I really have invested greatly into the ethos of the company, meaning I adamantly believe in great beer and I am thoroughly passionate about our products. We genuinely don’t make a beer that I don’t enjoy but with this in mind, I will avoid reviewing our own products unless it is a new one as I am quite well versed and a little biased in all of our permanent beers. I will however be reviewing as many other distinct craft beers as I can get my hands on!

The first entry in this new category on the blog is the Einstok White Ale, a product of Iceland emblazoned with a blue Viking that appears to mean serious business. First impressions are that the bottle looks awesome. It is a very simplistic design with a plain white label and the formerly mentioned viking in the middle, leading to a similar neck label and a cap that has two crossed battle axes on it. Love it. I bought it based on it’s design rather than the contents of the bottle if I am 100% honest.


Taste wise it is a real fresh, crisp ale with flavours such as the orange peel it is brewed with and a honeyed sweetness that follows, but I didn’t pick up much of the coriander that is also billed quite prominently on the label. No lingering bitterness and not as ‘Wheat’ strong as I assumed it would be, which all comes together to make a dangerously drinkable beer at 5.2% I could crack on with it all evening! Very nice. I would recommend this one with spicey food which will utilise it’s cooling, refreshing nature or a hearty poultry dish as it won’t overpower any delicate flavours you are enjoying with the meal.

 

Good beer. 4.5 out of 5.

 

Chatsworth country fair 2015

Deep within the Derbyshire Dales sits a house of great stature and architectural beauty. It sits yards from the banks of the river Derwent that runs through the grounds and is situated within one thousand acres of sloping grassland that acts as home to hundreds of deer and sheep, completing the backdrop of quintessential British countryside that lends itself so well to this historic building. The house in question is considered as a real jewel in the crown of tourism in the East midlands and has been voted as the UK’s favourite country house several times in its history. It is of course Chatsworth house that I speak of and it stands as a totem of country life in the UK in the most beautiful of settings and has done for literally hundreds of years.

What better place to hold an annual country fair that showcases local produce, country sports, clothing and a celebration of rural British family values than the grounds of Chatsworth? Being my second year attending I can think of no better place to organise such a festival of British country life. My fiance and her family have been attending the show for over 30 years and I have now been absorbed into the tradition, almost like a little bank holiday designated just for us at the tail end of the summer that we use to wave farewell to the warm weather and summery produce and welcome the Autumnal turning of the leaves and the bountiful harvest to come, it really is something special to us. For example the little things like leaving extremely early to try and catch the hot air balloons rising into the air (weather permitting) in the morning and eating breakfast outside the car while waiting for the gates to open in the nipping early September breeze, just becomes part and parcel of a lovely little family tradition that has been almost ever present for my new extended family and many more families that have made this show their annual haunt.

The gates open to the public at around 8:30AM and you will find yourself wandering around as some vendors are still setting up their stalls so it can take a while to get your bearings in terms of what you want to see and what is going on if like me, you refuse to use the program for fear of it taking up valuable swag space… Although I feel it is possibly a touch of the same part of my psyche that doesn’t allow me to use instruction manuals that come with flat packed furniture. There were two main horseshoe shaped food courts this year in addition to a large food orientated tent that was located around a hundred yards away. Like any food festival or show this little outdoor food village housed many different options to please any palete including the usual offerings of cheese, meats, beer, spirits, chocolate and cakes.

Foody pics of the litter

Firstly a pair of vendors stood out for me and to be honest they are the guys that always stand out for me at these kind of events and they were The Cheshire cheese company and Supreme sausages. Cheshire cheese company seem to make an effort to have a presence at most food festivals and shows of late and offer an incredible array of cheeses from the strong mature Black Bob to the superb yet bizarre sticky toffee cheese that I tried at one of the BBC good food shows. They always do well out of me at these sorts of things however I restrained myself from purchasing any as I will be seeing them at the food show in November so I figured it would be best to wait and stock up closer to Christmas, although their range is as diverse as ever and their quality still unquestionably great. Thanks for the samples!

Supreme sausages make my favourite sausage. I am not even remotely hesitant in writing such a bold statement as their Toulouse is literally the best I have ever had and I have eaten a lot of sausages in my time! They make a great range of sausages that include wild boar and apple, pork with venison and mushroom, pork with honey and mushroom (recommended) and the good old Cumberland to name a few. They have around 20 years experience in sausage making and it certainly shows in their stellar produce, some of which did come home with me in the form of a few packs of Toulouse and some of the wild boar and apple. These two food festival veterans aside there were more sights for the culinarily inclined to see at the show but listing them all would take forever to be honest, so I will give you two of my favourite new discoveries that I feel really deserve a light shining on what they are doing.

Super cakes and blooming breads

Upon exploring the inner food tent I discovered more vendors selling cheese, fudge, ciders and a few other stalls selling gadgets and utensils. One that really caught my eye was a stand near the middle of the outer side of the tent pretty much submerged in pastries and cake, and that is genuinely not an understatement as the picture below shows. They were selling brownies as thick as a dictionary and tear and share breads that you could serve an actual meal on. I think they were called something like ‘The Foccacia company’ but do not hold me to that, they made some really incredible stuff so I am disappointed in myself that I didn’t make a proper note of it. Whoever they were they deserve all the plaudits in the world for their extraordinary creations, including the halloumi wrap which was rammed with the salty Greek goodness and was absolutely superb for the £5 we paid.

Never ending baked goods

Never ending baked goods

Hops and a half wheel

My final stall of note was the Staffordshire brewery who was actually my last stall of the entire day before returning the the car for our dinner. They produce some great beers that range from their ‘Gold beer’ that runs at 3.8% ABV and answers the current high demand for golden/light ales to the severe looking Black grouse that’s peaks at 4.5% ABV and will satisfy the stout lovers among us. Funnily enough though they have combined two of my favourite things in their business plan… beer and cheese! they produce cheese under a sister company called ‘Staffordshire cheese Co’ so the chap that was running the stall offered us three 500ml bottles of beer and a wedge of the remaining cheese to take home with us. Frankly it would have been rude not to take him up on his most kind offer of beer and cheese for such a generous price, especially when my Fiance was insisting on paying. Double win.

I went for the award winning Gold beer, Double sunset amber ale and the Black grouse stout complimented with a wedge of their Cheddleton cheese that was blended with whole and split mustard seeds. A great offer with some great produce that I could take away with me and enjoy at home, good job Staffordshire beer/ cheese! The gold beer offers an unsurprisingly golden colour with a light citrus fruit, hoppy palate, citrus notes in the scent and a nice lingering bitterness with a reasonable ABV that completes the experience and rounds off a very honest, good local beer. The cheese I haven’t actually tried yet but the taster they had available on their stall was the self titled ‘Staffordshire cheese’, very much like a good debut album it made an impression that invoked a need for more. The creamy taste and crumbly texture means it is certainly destined to be a vital part of many a Christmas cheese board as this cheese is a strong contender for best discovery of my day at Chatsworth.

And the balloons start to fly…

Feeling rather pleased with the days exploration and the discoveries that we made while traversing the rows of stalls, we spoke about the other things we had seen during the day on the way back to the car. So much had happened outside of the ‘food village’ that it was hard to keep track of really, so much so that it would take forever to write about every little detail of the show therefore I have limited this to the consumable highlights. To properly get a feel for the show I encourage you to make an effort to visit in 2016 and see for yourself, load the family into the car with a picnic and your wellies and have yourself a fantastic great day out. Everything was happening throughout the day from falconry displays, aircraft displays, craft stalls, celebrity book signings, shooting competitions, the opportunity to ride a Harley Davidson on a rolling road (which I totally took advantage of) and of course the great food and drink on offer all culminated in us agreeing that Chatsworth 2015 was a roaring success. To make things even better we closed out the day sitting as a family as the light started to slowly dissolve into evening, enjoying a homemade chicken cacciatore while we watched the hot air balloons rise above the tree line and over into the Derbyshire countryside, a great and fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Thank you Chatsworth, we will see you next year.

Meeting Brewdogs Black Russian

Flavour matching food with beer is something that is certainly on trend at the moment and for good reason. Beer is not just something to be taken in with salty snacks and pub grub, there is a beer for every meal or occasion be it sitting at home with a steak, eating seafood with friends or even when enjoying a luxurious, rich dessert.

I would quite like to focus on the dessert aspect for this post as there is a lot to be said for a beer with your after dinner treat as I have started to appreciate recently. If I was to ask you to think of ways to describe a dessert I’m sure words like rich, thick, luxurious, sweet and decadent would possibly pop into your mind, which is pretty much what you need from a sweet. The reason that those words relate themselves so easily to the final course of a meal is, I would safely assume, that you have had some pretty damn good desserts that fit the profile. So its only natural that you need a beer of considerable quality that also fits this description itself to go with it right? well you’re in luck, as Brewdog have got you covered.

Last week I tried their Cocoa psycho: Russian imperial stout for the first time in their Birmingham bar and my god was I impressed. I have not been a stout or porter drinker up until this point in my life, as I am usually drawn to lighter ales such as their ‘Dead pony club pale ale’ (Which by the way kicks some serious ass too as far as sessionable ale goes) Hobgoblin gold, Ringwood Boondoggle and that sort of thing, so I ordered this particular drink out of pure intrigue. I had had a little look at the bars ‘Menu’ of currently available beers prior to arrival to try and plan what I wanted and at a mean 10% this Cocoa psycho fella seemed like the only option that not only challenged my usual choices but also tested the outer limits of my threshold for alcohol!

Brewdog- going Coco!

Upon ordering from the bar I started to pour the stout into the awesome glassware they hand out for each respective drink and was met with a mysterious, thick, delightfully black drink that meant business from the beginning. A decent little head initially graced the glass before slowly dissipating into the moody abyss, leaving behind a scent that gave notes of oak, a little vanilla, coffee, and offered some subtle chocolatey highlights.

First taste opens up a world of tongue led exploration that wont get you in trouble with the wife, giving you a lot to think about without overwhelming you. Waves of dark chocolate and coffee dominate this stout while only a subtle bitter note nips through. Malty, vanilla afters linger with a twinge of its 10% ABV appearing only when it starts to warm a little.

In summary: This beer would be a brilliant accompaniment to a Tiramisu or dark chocolate fondant, finishing off your evening with this would be advisable as you feel incredibly satisfied, spoiled and a little disappointed when you have finished your glass. Decadence is provided in droves as promised by Brewdogs description of the product on their website, all of which is spot on. While not being particularly sessionable due to its high ABV and maybe being a little too rich for some peoples blood it is a must buy for any discerning beer drinker who either wants to try something new or just enjoys a really great, well made drink. Good job Brewdog!

9.5/10

http://www.brewdog.com

Moyaux than meets the eye…

Travel broadens the mind. Travel provides us with the opportunity to see, hear and most importantly eat things that we wouldn’t be able to experience at home, making it as far as I’m concerned a very important part of life. So why is it then that I have not been abroad since I was 12? The simple answer being I am terrified of flying and cannot bare the thought of getting on one of those tubular winged terror machines.

Luckily France is not too far away and a ferry can get me there in no more than a few hours dependent on which port you arrive at. Huzzah! And I must say that driving off the ferry and onto the somewhat alien road system was an interesting experience but one that now seems like easy work after staying there for just shy of two weeks. We stayed in a small town called Moyaux, not too far from Lisieux in Normandy, on a a site called Le Colombier which was situated on an old apple orchard. The French countryside provides a really lovely base of operations for an exploration of the north western part of the country and Normandy provides a brilliant source of local produce to explore. Moyaux is a small town or even a village that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in it but provides a true look into how French people really live, as opposed to a place that is hopped up and bloated to keep up with a bloated feeling tourism demand that pushes it’s inherent “Frenchness” onto the back burner to conform to what people want to see. It represents quintessential Normandy life and is a place build around its Church where everything closes from around 12pm until at least 2pm. For help with the mental image see the village in the film ‘Chocolat’ but without the pouting, pony tailed and guitar brandishing Johnny Depp and replaced with a fairly average looking food blogger in a Vauxhall Astra.

There were a few things that really stood out to me that seemed to represent the produce of the area that included but were not limited to; apples, which they used to create tarts, ciders and a distilled cider brandy called Calvados.  The local cheese’s and dairy produce such as the thick and rich creme fraiche, camembert which is said to have originated in Normandy in 1791, Pont-l’Eveque which is very much like a squared brie which I find slightly firmer and Neufchâtel which boasts a smooth, creamy texture with a flavour that lands somewhere between a young and fairly well aged taste. It is certainly a region worth visiting for the cheese-o-philes among us, great with fresh bread and a selection of cured meats that are not so good for the waistline but extraordinarily super for the soul!

Lisieux offers a market on a Saturday that really doesn’t seem to hold anything that special when walking into it from the side of the Basilique where we parked, as it seemed to just be full of clothing and cheap watches which tend to not really interest me if I am really honest. However when you turn the corner just to the left of the library you see just what you need to see in France. Wall to wall food. Vegetables, fruit, seafood (Not a cloudy fish eye in sight) including some lovely Moule/mussels that we enjoyed that night in a paella, fresh crepes, bread, some awesome fresh, cured and very living meats, preserves and pretty much anything you could think of that you would want to see in France when looking for a feed.

I wandered around for a few hours in awe of just how good it was and feeling very lucky to be able to see it frankly as at the time we visited the farmers of France were on strike in relation to the price of meat and milk being paid to them by the large supermarket chains. I had heard about the French supermarkets as something to behold in comparison to what we have in the UK and unfortunately it took a few days for us to get to the closest one due to the roads being closed due to farmers parking their tractors all around the hypermarket. We got around to it somehow one day before the strike moved on to Le Havre and found burning piles of cow feces, agricultural waste strewn all over the place and angry farm workers waving us off the exits which led to the store. An interesting experience to be in but if I am honest I totally support their cause and wish them luck in their endeavor’s, farms work damn hard to keep up with supply in countries all over the world and they deserve to be fairly reimbursed for their incredible amount of hard work.

Drink. Something that you need to cover when giving a run down of Normandy it seems as they are famous for their production of Calvados brandy, which is a really smooth drink for even me who is not in any way shape or form a Brandy drinker. It is actually very good when added to fried onions and put on top of a heftily loaded burger, however that is an expensive and wasteful practice to a true connoisseur! I basically lived off Grimbergen while I stayed there which seems to be a staple beer in France, It is available in some really tasty varieties such as poire/pear, kriek/berry, ruby, blonde and white to name a few that I can remember.

In summary, France offered some incredible experiences and I can’t wait to go back again. While there we visited the Bayaux tapestry, the landing beaches, Monet’s garden and the camp site was a wonderful place to relax offering a lovely little creperie just past the pool that offered take away food which I have to be honest, wasn’t perfect but it certainly filled a void if needed (heres to you Croque monsieur). Normandy is somewhere that I would recommend visiting to any person who loves food, drink and culture to visit as it has all three categories covered in droves, just don’t be scared to run off the beaten track and go somewhere other than the hypermarkets as Normandy in particular has so much to offer to reward your exploration. So if travel really does broaden the mind, consider my mind broadened.