All the best ideas happen at festivals. Heck, Michael Eavis only had the idea to put on Glastonbury while watching Led Zep at Bath Festival and the very last minute decision to make Woodstock a free event was a gift to humanity.
To a somewhat lesser extent Camp Bestival was the birthplace for the concept of The Bun & Barrel, Brum's newest burger bar which opens in Harborne next Friday. The idea came when Harborne Kitchen chef-owner, Jamie Desogus, mentioned it to former bandmate and hospitality veteran Rob Hennebry, who has run restaurants all over the world, from Beijing to Dublin. Three months after signing for the property — a speedy turnaround at the best of times let alone post-COVID and in the midst of a frankly bananas cost of living quandary — and they are ready to swing open the doors on the indy venue that's nestled down a side alley off Harborne's High Street, where Bangla Lounge once plied trade.
The Bun & Barrel specialises in smashed burgers. You probably know this but the trick to smashing a burger is to force the meat into an extremely thin patty to maximise surface area contact with the grill and to reap the flavoursome benefit of the Maillard reaction. So thin is each patty that just one between your demi-brioche bun won't cut mustard, so two 3oz patties — measured with an ice cream scoop, old school style — is the minimum serve. When I arrive Jamie is making miso caramelised Lyonnaise onions and the two of them are laughing like the old pals they clearly are. If the usual stresses of opening a new venue are bearing down on Jamie and Rob, you wouldn't know it.
It's odd, in one way, to see Jamie making burgers. This is the man who, having cut his teeth under Gordon Ramsay at Petrus, has steered one of the city's most beloved fine-dining restaurants to critical acclaim and a volley of awards since its 2016 opening. But here he is, a masterchef, sleeves rolled up and smashing burgers, grinning from ear-to-ear, the simple pleasure of cooking visibly flooding through him. "Jamie didn't just come to me with the idea of a burger bar," explains Rob, watching his pal at work. "He came to me with the idea of HOW to do a burger bar. Birmingham has excellent burger joints. Of course it does, so our point of difference... that's key. It's got to be, and it is, something new."
And judging by the menu, scrawled in black pen across the white walls of the kitchen, the point of difference comes in the elevation of the humble burger. At £9 the standard B&B burger is more than affordable — it needs to be — but if you're visiting for something with a splash of luxury, by Christ they have it. "I think what we're doing is sprinkling The Bun & Barrel with a little bit of Harborne Kitchen," says Jamie. "That little bit of excellence that raises our game." He's not kidding. As he bangs out burgers for research and development purposes Kristal, his pastry chef at HK, works alongside him making those killer buns. They're going for this full throttle — the most skilled hands to the pump. "From the bun inwards we are working everything to make sure the burger is the best it can be," says Rob. "Nothing goes without analysis. We're working every angle."
"At Harborne Kitchen it's all about layers of flavour," adds Jamie, pausing from his food prep. "We're applying exactly the same concept here."
The menu demonstrates what Jamie means. They're using Himalayan salt aged beef, infused with bone marrow. They're playing with pan fried duck liver, soft shelled crab tempura, sherry vinegar gastrique, confit pork belly, Granny Smith apples, lemon gels, kimchi chutney, scallops, mangos, pineapples, salsas. I want to order furikake fries without really knowing what they are. "We're using the same butcher and the same fishmonger as Harborne Kitchen," says Jamie. "Because the standard can't slip."
They're taking their hard-earned knowledge of fine-dining and applying it to burgers and if the price needs to rise with that as you scan up the menu, so be it. "Everyone can eat here," insists Rob. "If you want your big blowout meal of the month here with a Rossini-inspired seared duck liver burger and a load of cocktails, then you can, but if you want an £9 cheeseburger, a quiet pint and a game of pool, you can have that too."
Pool and a pint. There's as much emphasis put on these two as there is on the burgers. The Bun & Barrel boys could have jumped into bed — and saved a lot of fit-out cash — with international beer names like Beavertown or Molson Coors, but no. The only beers on tap will come from Stirchley's sensational Attic Brew Co, while Brum's Wine Freedom are on grape duty.
Speaking of the fit-out, it'll make you beam. Touches of Rock & Roll neon — nods to the pairs' musical backgrounds — sit alongside moments of wrought iron that call into mind Brum's industrial heritage. Jamie shows me his hands, battered and bruised from pitching in wholesale on the manual side of the redesign. Though it doesn't look like it, the pair have managed the fit-out on a shoestring, doing large portions of the backbreaking work themselves. Much of the lighting, for example, was bought cheap from John Lewis when they shut their flagship Grand Central venue.
They've fought to make this happen. You can see the love on the walls and around the corners of this passion project, you can see it on their hands and in their smiles. I can't help but want this to work for them. I can't help but be convinced it will. It can be your local if you want it to be, it can be your post-school stop off with the kids if you like and it can be your Saturday night hot spot too. It can be all of those things. I know because it already feels like it is and the first burger hasn't even left the kitchen.
Perhaps, if successful, what The Bun & Barrel also offers Jamie, that perhaps Harborne Kitchen doesn't, is scalability. "You can tell by the signage," says Rob "that we've rather boldly called this The Bun & Barrel Harborne. That obviously leaves the door open for other Birmingham venues should things go as we think they will. But let's not get ahead of ourselves," he adds. "The door isn't even open here yet." It will be on January 20. Walk-ins only.
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on March 4th, 1877, and critics absolutely hated it. They called the production indistinctive and forgettable, they disliked the set and the choreography, they thought the orchestra and dancers were subpar and said that Tchaikovsky’s score was overly complicated. Plus, I'd wager, Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre didn't serve a single portion of beef Massaman that night. A total disaster.
Fast forward 146 years and thanks to more than a little tinkering through the decades, Swan Lake is considered a masterpiece. In February, though, it's a masterpiece you can experience while finally digging into Thai food, just as Tchaikovsky, I reckon, had always intended. Following hot on the heels of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's regular 2022 slots at Hockley Social Club — nights that, by the way, critics ABSOLUTELY BLOODY LOVED — comes a Birmingham Royal Ballet performance at Brum's street food nerve centre.
The full show graces the Hippodrome from February 15 to 25, but BRB will perform three snippets (Dying Swan, Cygnets & Act 2Pas de Deux) on February 9 at Hockley Social Club. What you're not signing up to is two and half hours of nonstop ballet but rather a troupe of six ballet dancers accompanied by five members of BRB's orchestra, giving you a taster of the wider show, while some of Brum's best street food traders fill tums and one of city's loooongest bars helps us all kiss goodbye to dry January.
Buddha Belly are on Thai delights (including Massaman, phew!) while West Midlands Jerk Centre are bringing a taste of the Caribbean and Bad Boy Wings are on chicken duty. If the CBSO nights are anything to go by then tickets (£15) which go on sale tonight at 6.30pm here, will sell like the absolute clappers. Book early, this one is going to drop jaws.
LAUGH OUT LLOYD
Comedian, choirboy and (still) aspiring goalkeeper, Lloyd Griffith hit the big time in 2019, fronting Can You Beat The Bookies?, co-hosting Netflix series Flinch and appearing on all and any of the 8 Out 10 thingymabobs you can shake a conductor's baton at.
But the highlight, surely, was when he sang the national anthem at the Birmingham Mayoral opening of Joe Lycett's kitchen extension, in Kings Heath. In more recent years Grimsbo-nian Lloyd's been in Ted Lasso, co-hosted Soccer AM, tore the roof off Comedy Central at The Comedy Store, Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club and Roast Battle plus he's almost upstaged Jack Whitehall as the comedy behemoth's arena tour support. Having landed himself a style of comedy unlike anything else on the circuit, Lloyd's likability is chart-topping and tickets for his latest tour are hot property.
Landing at Town Hall on February 25 (£23) One Tonne Of Fun is Lloyd’s biggest show, and he is pumped/really needs you to come. Expect a unique bag of stand up, dubious impressions, and obviously a sprinkling of his singing.
If that's not sold you, how about this? Lloyd will soon be appearing in Nolly, an ITV drama about the famous Birmingham soap opera, Crossroads, playing the part of the Paul Henry – the actor who portrayed Brummie par excellence, Benny. Starring Helena Bonham Carter, the mini-series is written by Russell T Davies, no less. Tickets
"MOSELEY IS CHARCOAL, DIGBETH IS BLUE AND YELLOW, COTTERIDGE IS BURGUNDY"
"I actually wasn’t allowed to do art or graphic design at school because I was so awful," says Izzy Jenkins who, suffice to say, is an extraordinary talent. "Oh god, the imposter syndrome is creeping back! I lived alone for some of the lockdowns, and it was like something came over me, you know? I started knitting, rug making, lino printing, line drawing, cross stitching — some things stuck better than others." Drawing buildings. Yeah. That stuck.
"The first building I drew was a pub in North West London, where my partner and I had our first date. I did a digital line drawing, then spent my evenings turning it into a lino print for an anniversary. It was, shall we say, not great, but I think the sentimentality of it distracted from the wonkiness!"
After the lockdowns Izzy and her partner moved to Stirchley, her partner being from Hall Green originally. "I knew nothing about Stirchley, but was immediately obsessed with the area. I think the co-operative history, the independents, and community feel has been a bit of an inspiration to me. My Stirchley print [below] is my most popular because, I reckon, people are proud to live there, feel such a connection to the businesses and the people behind them.
"I’m really guilty of over romanticising, and making out it’s such a quaint, village-y life," she laughs. "Which is ridiculous when we’re 15 minutes away from town, and live just off such a busy road. It’s just unlike anywhere I’d lived before, I guess, and I mean that in the best of ways.
"I like a really intricate tile," says Izzy when I ask what catches her eye before she draws. "I like the texture of bricks, I love a good window. I’m probably a nightmare to go on a walk with because I’m always pointing these things out. Taking the time to draw a building, I really get to know those features, the patterns and symmetry.
"I really like the colour palette of an area," she adds. "Which is usually something I notice towards the end of my drawing process and then can’t unsee. Moseley is charcoal, Digbeth is blues and yellows, Cotteridge is burgundy.
"The rest of it is all sentimental and soppy — that’s what started this whole thing. I love the connection people feel with the places I draw. Doing markets in the run up to Christmas really emphasised that for me. People buying prints of the place they got married at, or where their kid has just bought their first home. It makes me want to weep!"
"Someone recently described my prints as 'place-based time capsules', which I thought was so lovely, and exactly right. Places change so fast, don't you think? Now, more than ever, our independents matter and need our support; our high streets are always changing and that’s not always a bad thing, but we might lose some real gems. Maybe one day I’ll do something dedicated to the Costas and Superdrugs of Birmingham, but even I might not be capable of romanticising those.
"In the meantime Harborne, Bearwood and the JQ are the next three areas I’m working on."
One of the biggest Andy Warhol exhibitions outside of London opens in Brum on Saturday (January 14 to February 11). More than 25 pieces of the pop art crackerjack's work, spanning his whole career, will be up at the Colley Ison Gallery, Colmore Row. The exhibition includes some pieces coming directly from the Warhol Foundation, along with some which have never been exhibited before. Work on display will comprise of his early lithograph ‘Tattooed Woman Holding a Rose’, his portrait of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger with the piece signed by both the artist and the Stone (£150,000 if you're asking); and a very unique work of The Beatles which has rarely been seen. Director Timothy Ison said “Warhol is one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th century and our access is testament to our positioning within the art world and how important Birmingham is becoming as a centre for vital works.” Walk ins are allowed and don't feel you can only attend if you're a buyer — Colley Ison really isn't like that. More
Birmingham Cathedral’s stained-glass windows are being lit up in wild colour this week as part of an immersive light and sound experience in honour of your boi Edward Burne-Jones. World-renowned light and sound projection company Luxmuralis will be giving the Pre-Raphaelite don's work the immersive treatment while also telling the story of the Victorian stained-glass in a way, they hope, will engage a new audiences. Divine Beauty at Night will be a series of special one-off events that sees imagery from the stained-glass windows projected, floor to ceiling on the inside of the Pigeon Park-based Cathedral. For three evenings from tonight to Saturday (January 14), visitors will be welcomed into a world of vivid colour, to not only gaze on the beauty of the windows but also to learn more about these treasures in the heart of our city. Tickets are being sold at 15 minute intervals from 5pm onwards. They cost just £4 and should be purchased in advance as there will only be a very limited number of walk-up tickets available. More Image: Stacey Barnfield
The first athletics event in Birmingham since this summer’s Commonwealth Games, the UK Athletics Indoor Championships, will take place on the weekend of February 18 and 19 at the Utililililililita Arena. They'll also host the British Basketball Cup Finals on January 29. —
Snoop Dogg will play Resorts World Arena, March 28, fo shizzle. —
The Cheese Fest is coming back to the newly renovated The Bond, Digbeth, March 25. —
Purecraft Bar & Kitchen is flipping dry January the bird by hosting four of Brum's best breweries under one roof, January 25. —
Open afternoons are back at Birmingham Museum Collections Centre — the mother of all Brum hidden gems. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance here. —
'Friday The 13th' will play on Friday 13 at The Electric. Book —
Steve Lamacq and BBC Radio 6 Music will celebrate 10 years of Independent Venue Week with a UK tour that will take in the Hare & Hounds on January 31. More —
Stirchley's Attic Brew are hosting the Super Bowl, Feb 12, £5. Not the actual event, mind.
WORDS: Tom Cullen
We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.
I was performing my show at the fringe and about 25 minutes in a group of lads at the back left. I asked if they were all together. One guy replied that they were a five-a-side football team. I commented on the fact that there are more than five people leaving, to which the same guy shouted: 'Aye, the subs don’t find you funny, either.'