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While the people of Stirchley sleep, a troop of expert bakers are mixing, kneading and dusting themselves into a yeast-filled frenzy to keep up with South Birmingham’s insatiable demand for real bread. And if you want to know their secrets, you need look no further than Loaf’s Cookery School, where we went back to basics and turned some unassuming bags of not very much into every bread we’ve ever heard of and a couple that we’re pretty sure the team blithely made up.  
Meet Tom Baker. Yes, that really is his name. From an informal weekly bake for his neighbours, care of the wood-fired oven in his garden, Loaf was born. Tom initially held baking classes in his kitchen, with lessons on how to build your very own outdoor oven quickly following. Five years later and working as part of a social enterprise and co-operative of six, the team’s cookery classes get booked up months in advance and its blow-your-mind-bakery sells out fast.  
From flatbread to fougasse we scraped and poked and shaped and even made our own lunch, and while we were pretty taken with the results (pictured, above) it turns out we knew even less about baking bread than we had previously thought. When working with basic bread dough: 1. Flour your hands, the counter-top or your rolling pin at your peril - a dry dough leads to a dense loaf. 2. Avoid adding warm water to your mixture - opt for a cooler temperature to slow down the development of the dough leading to a stretchier more dexterous ball; and 3. Get your hands on fresh yeast wherever possible. If you ask at any large supermarket, the man in the hair net will likely give you enough off the big block he is working from for free.  
If observing is what you had in mind, it’s probably best to try a different cookery school. Throughout the kneading and shaping process, our fingers, forearms and - despite the apron - large parts our jeans - were caked in dough. But don’t think there isn’t time to relax. One of the beauties of bread is that it has to rise and Loaf keeps you topped up with proper coffee, baked stuff and insider tips on the very best suppliers, while it does. Talking of which, you’ll be unsurprised to hear Loaf likes to keep things local. With all of its stoneground flour coming from the eighteenth century surrounds of Sarehole Mill, the team encourages you to visit its Hall Green neighbour, take a tour of one of Birmingham’s last remaining working water mills and maybe even buy a bag of flour while you're there. Though Loaf does stock everything you need to ensure that real bread follows you all the way back to your own kitchen. Not literally. That would be creepy.
If all this talk of baking has put you on the wrong side of hungry, there is an option other than waiting for Loaf's next baking class. Raid the adjoining Pershore Road store for daily changing lunches or to secure straight from the oven tin loaves, French sticks, focaccias and all of the granary options you'd expect. Follow Loaf with unwavering attention to be in the know when it comes to its daily specials. We can't get enough of the spent grain and molasses maslin sourdough - while it won't keep its springy, fresh texture for more than a day, cut it up and make some room in the freezer - this stuff toasts supremely. For any and all cheese-based moments, the fig and walnut bread is the answer. This is a loaf at the very top of its game with mature cheddar and a punchy chutney. (Bread: Back to Basics, £110)

RAJA MONKEY (£150, Tel: 0121 777 9090)
Limited to a maximum of two students, you receive hands-on experience with the chef on up to five Indian dishes and you can suggest what meals you would like to learn. Plus you take home a cookbook and spices. Website
SIMPSONS (£135, details)
Get into the kitchen with the very best Brum has to offer, at Simpsons. Fine-dining will be the order of the day at a restaurant boasting the city's longest held Michelin star. Enjoy champers, a three-course lunch and a sommelier led wine-tasting by means of reward.
CHAOPHRAYA (£60, lynsey.milner@chaophraya.co.uk)
Being able to cook a passable Thai meal from scratch is good, being able to cook a cracker is jaw-dropping. Dishes are changed every month, but you'll be taken through starter, main and dessert at their Bullring restaurant
SUSHI PASSION (£55, Facebook)
Market stall success story Sushi Passion moved into their brilliant first restaurant, last year, and are now making a foray into sushi rolling school. Classes are rare, but keep tabs on their Facebook page for the very latest announcements.
LA BANCA (£50, details)
Make pasta from scratch together with a selection of sauces at La Banca’s purpose built teaching facility. Learn how to use a pasta machine and roll out dough by hand, minutes from Kings Norton’s train station, next to a family-run neighbourhood favourite.
BAR OPUS (£25, Tel: 0121 289 3939)
Two cookery classes take place at Opus's third venue, Bar Opus, at One Snowhill on February 7 and 21. The class is led by head chef Gareth Wayt and chef director David Colcombe and they focus on how to make Brixham Bay bouillabaisse. Lunch included.


The moment some comedians leave stage, they stop being funny. Turns out it was all an act (a very polished act, but an act all the same). That’s not the case with Seann Walsh – funny just falls off him. Given his carefree demeanour, ability to riff at will and flowing locks and beard, Walsh is the closest we’ve got to early Billy Connolly. And, like the Big Yin in his pomp, you simply have to see Walsh live to do him full justice. There are times where the Stand Up For The Week star seems to be enjoying his act almost as much as the crowd, which is always utterly endearing. His current show, 28, is arguably his finest, as Walsh reflects on the thought of maturing and settling down. He's added a date to his Brum diary (February 20, £14) and it will sell out.  


Newsflash: Advertising sometimes lies to you. A Most Violent Year is being marketed as a slam-bang shoot-em-up, but if you go in expecting a New York remake of The Raid, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, it’s a slow-burn, meditative gangster drama that’s about one man’s struggle not to be a gangster – and in the ostensibly low-stakes world of New York’s suburban heating oil market. Fireworks are few and far between, then, but leads Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain between them provide more than enough showmanship – Chastain excels as a tough moll-in-waiting, and Isaac takes yet another step on his way to legend status with a controlled, simmering take on a man genuinely trying to improve himself. There are rich pickings here – just don’t expect much action. 

There’s been plenty of morbid discussion about knocking things down, in 2015. And when construction of the BT Tower commenced over half a century a go, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that the project attracted some design doubters. But fifty years on, the concrete leviathan claims the right to be named the primary orientating feature of the JQ’s skyline and the clever folk at Hidden Spaces have sourced a selection of archival gems, one of which is pictured above and the rest can be found, right here. Follow, like or get uncomfortably familiar with the Mailbox-based architectural team behind this ongoing project. And be sure to check out Hidden Spaces’ latest reveals - think underground tunnels and derelict spaces - as well as the talks, tours and exhibitions which will be popping up in some rather unfamiliar urban locations later in the year. (Image credit: BT Archives) 
Venue: Bodega Cantina, 12 Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham, B2 5RS; bodegacantina.co.uk
Choice: Red wine glazed chorizo (£5.25) Chooser: Neil, star waiter and all round good egg

Flagrant risk takers. That’s the only way to describe people that intend to eat at Bodega but fail to book a table. And we’re happy to confirm, there’s a reason why this circumstance inures - Brum’s cantina numero uno is back at the top of its game. We rampaged our way through five fresh and comparatively light street food dishes, which, though best enjoyed together, did produce a leading light. Slithers of red wine glazed chorizo are sautéed with red onion, peppers, and chilli, then topped off with a smattering of fresh coriander. And the results are rich, tangy and moreish. So much so that as the meal progressed we found ourselves pouring the gooey chorizo jus over increasing numbers of the accompanying dishes. Then mopping up the remnants. Bodega will never be the best restaurant in Brum, but it is the best in its class and a lot of fun.
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"How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?" - Julia Child
WORDS: Katy Drohan, James GillAndrew LowryTom Cullen
ADDRESS: I CHOOSE Birmingham, Office 211, 43 Temple Row, Birmingham, B2 5LS

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