"Never meet your heroes," my brother says to me as we rendezvous in the Kings Norton car park of Lashford & Son, ready to meet sausage company owner, Darren Lashford. If it sounds tongue-in-cheek, that's because you haven't met my brother. This is the second interview he's tagged along for, the first being 24 years ago when we sat down with the manager of our beloved Nottingham Forest. I guarantee he's more excited about this.
Darren, 28, is the fifth generation heir to the sausage and faggot institution, A.W.Lashford & Sons, and he might be the nicest man that's ever graced the pages of ICB. Humble, kind; he seems to cut his answers short at times, as if concerned he's boring us. God, no. We're 100% in. The Brummie banger makers have operated through two world wars, 30 prime ministers and five monarchs, so when they talk, we listen.
The history of Lashfords is housed in one of those clear-sleeve folders with black and white photographs, newspaper clippings, awards and certificates spanning almost a century and a half. "That's the first 140 years," says Darren, handing it to us, the inference that there will be another 140 years lingering deliciously about his understated office. My brother looks at it like it's the Sports Almanac from Back To The Future and I can see the appeal. It's a jumbled compendium of the company's past, brilliantly Brummie in its execution. A letter from Clarence House, from the Queen Mother no less, thanking Darren's Dad (above) for the sausages he provided in 1981, sits opposite a mid-90s Birmingham Mail clipping of Zoe Ball posing awkwardly with a snag. There are letters from Downing Street and Buckingham Palace thanking the Lashfords for the sausages. This company has also, on and off, provided the Houses of Parliament with faggots throughout the years, but they see themselves, and always have, as Brummies.
"I couldn't be prouder to be a Birmingham brand," says Darren, the accent firming up his statement. "This is where we belong. It's our home." Having been farmers in the local area, the Lashfords set up their first butchery in 1889 when Albert and William Lashford (William being Darren's Great Great Grandfather) set up in Kings Heath (above), where Poplar Road meets the High Street. Back then it had its own slaughterhouse out the back, but these days it's an estate agents. So not dissimilar.
Albert and William knew exactly how good the local meat was and they wanted to share their skills and knowledge with the growing urban population. In 1916, Alfred Lashford (pictured, above right), Darren's Great Grandfather, joined the company to assist with increasing demand during the First World War. At this time, a pound of their finest only cost four pence. They even delivered food to your door (below); the original Ocado.
It was during the interwar years that AW Lashford ventured into making faggots. In 1939 John Lashford, Darren's Grandad, (the littlest on the horse — below) at only eight years of age worked with his mom, Grace, to create the secret family recipe still in operation today. "The recipe is locked in a briefcase, with a load of other recipes, somewhere at my Dad's place," says Darren, with a wry smile. I don't think he's joking.
In the post war years, John began to explore the sausage market, producing a wider and more experimental type of sausage, and moved from the birthplace of the business in Kings Heath to Knowle, in 1965. Darren's Dad, Stephen Lashford, the fourth generation of the family to join, started to push for awards. "In 1980 we entered our first competition," says Darren. "We finished first, second and fourth." You wonder if third place was awarded as a sympathy vote. Not long after, the company moved back to Brum, this time Kings Norton...
... Where Darren's sat in his office, surrounded by computers, printers and framed certificates. But he's in his butchers whites. Talking to us means his team, who hand make 80% of their sausages, are a man down — Darren insisting he remains part of the production line — but, at 10am, it's okay because most of them are almost done for the day. The first team member opens the shutters at 1am and starts making. The rest drift in at steady intervals, Darren himself coming in at 3am. Why? "We need to make sure the end user gets the maximum shelf life from the product. They go out as fresh as is humanly possible." It's the start of the day for most of Brum, but 28,000 sausages have already left Kings Norton and, brilliantly, plenty of them have already been served for breakfast at hotels across Warwickshire.
I ask Darren how he feels about mass produced supermarket sausages selling at blindingly cheap prices, expecting him to give them both barrels, but he's typically cordial. "That sort of sausage has its place, I'm sure, but what we do can't be compared. They are completely different products. For some, a Lashford sausage is a special treat — it's a little more expensive, it's a little more exclusive — and we want it that way. We care passionately about the product. I mean, everyone says that, don't they? But there's no cutting corners here. We use the right offcuts for quality, and we limit what we produce to ensure what goes out is top grade." Darren insists he doesn't want his products in Tesco, he doesn't want them in ASDA. "We're not set up to be a supermarket product. We don't sell enough to be able to be screwed down on price. We're not big enough to go toe-to-toe with them and dictate the terms. We're happy supplying locally, not outgrowing what we can do at our best. We won't cut back on quality and we would have to do that to get into supermarkets. There is such thing as earning enough. We're happy with farm shops, little cafes, local shops and butchers in the Midlands. We know our limits and if we spread ourselves thin, we'll regret it."
It works at a sustainability level, too. Lashfords try to use local farms as much as possible, producing only within their means and, of course, using offcuts. No waste. If you're a meateater they definitely fall into the more responsible bracket of that trade. Plus, they're made to order — another reason for the 1am start — so there's almost never a surplus. "In the last four years," says Darren, "as consumers have become more aware of what they're eating, our sales have shot up." Spend a bit more. Care a bit more. Do a bit more.
The traditional breakfast sausage is their biggest seller and a good place to start if you're going to give Lashfords a go, while Darren suggests the 'spring onion and ginger' or 'honey and mustard' are the unsung heroes of their short product list. As the Jubilee approaches, Darren says demand is steadily increasing for their 9inch Royal, produced for the wedding of Charles and Di in 1981, and accepted as a Wedding Gift by the Royals. It has a high meat content, of which 30% is smoked bacon. It's the only sausage used by street food hot dog gods Fat Snags (above) who you'll find at Himley Hall this Saturday and at Digbeth Dining Club's Sunday pop-up in Stafford.
It's interesting, I think, that there are Birmingham names that are tattooed to our psyches, synonymous with our city, that have either come and gone or have drifted from their roots: cars, condiments, custard, cocoa. And yet here's a company that's outlived them all as a true Birmingham product — stuck closer, more loyal, to their home city — flying quietly, under the radar. And in the most Brummie of ways, truly happy at that altitude.
Speaking as someone who has worked closely with designers for 22 years, I can assure you that the Venn Diagram for designers and people with positive energy is a perfect circle. Proof can be found in the wave of passion and colour that came in the entries to last year's Birmingham Design Festival, which illuminated the city (and the Bullring) top to bottom. Brum's annual celebration of all things beau-tay-ful returns for 2022, June 9 to 11, and the theme is typically upbeat: freedom. The Festival includes three days of talks, workshops and exhibitions spanning design, architecture, illustration, and more, but you don't need to be deeply into any of the above to tag along and enjoy it. That's what's so Birmingham about it and most of it's free, 10,000 of the 11,000 tickets being completely complimentary. All events have been curated into four design districts: Graphic, Digital, Product and Illustration. Each District will have its own ‘hub’ venue, which will be host to five free talks per day, pop-up stalls, workshops, and information points. The Graphic District will cover everything from experimental typography to eye-popping collage, world-leading copywriting to boundary-pushing advertising. From New York to Birmingham, BDF will be welcoming, among many, Morag Myerscough (pictured), who recently judged the Sky Arts Series, The Big Design Challenge. Morag's work is characterised by an engaging boldness, strong use of colour and high levels of positive energy — so bang on for this fest. More
Speakers also include Instagram hit, Mr. Bingo, whose work regularly goes viral (or vi-vi as someone called it yesterday — awful) and is known particularly for profanity-peppered prints and a provocative approach. Meanwhile Gaika — a multi-disciplinary artist, experimental rapper, producer and writer will be bringing some ‘ghetto-futurism’ with him — looking at racial, economic, and social inequalities in the UK and overseas. Jay Blades (above), best known for TV show The Repair Shop, is a modern furniture restorer and an eco designer devoted to sustainability, social enterprise and inclusion, and he'll also be making his Brum Design Fest debut in a packed rostrum. Tickets
BHX ✈ TRINIDAD
The barnstorming Brummies at Birmingham Rep have sneaked us in for a first look at their upcoming new musical, Playboy of the West Indies, which receives its world premiere at Brum's only major producing theatre this June. Rehearsals began this week in London and will continue in the Rep's two rehearsal rooms, while work has started in the theatre's huge scenic workshop, where the sets are made from scratch — we've seen the palm trees and they are totally tropical. The Rep also has a paint shop to paint the sets in-house and departments for costumes, wigs and makeup — everything is made right here in Brum. What a place! Leads of the show, Nicole Sawyerr and Durone Stokes, came together for the first time to record a sneak peek at one of the tracks, I’ll be thinking of you on The Rep stage, and on the basis of this video it'll be a honey-voiced beauty of a show, transporting us from Brum to Trinidad via Centenary Square. To book tickets (from £21.50) head here, call 0121 236 4455 or visit the box office. Playboy of the West Indies is presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival, a six month celebration of creativity in the West Midlands, surrounding the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
THE PLAY THAT DOES RIGHT BY GOING WRONG
The Play That Goes Wrong, the Olivier Award-winning box office hit that continues to entertain audiences on a mega scale, has returned to its touring roots and embarked on its fifth UK circuit. The Alexandra Theatre will welcome it from May 16 to May 21, the show’s success a testament to the hard work and determination of a group of drama school graduates who became friends, set up a company under the name ‘Mischief’ and created an extraordinary body of work. The Play That Goes Wrongshows no signs of slowing down since its first performance at a London fringe venue, with only four paying customers. Since then, it has played to an audience of over two million and now has productions in over 30 countries. The play features the fictional Cornley Drama Society, who are putting on a 1920s murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong… sure does. Last time it was in Brum the Fawlty Towers-esque visual gags and overacting had the audience belly laughing as one and on their feet by the curtain, and this one promises to follow suit. No spoilers for just how it all falls apart, but you’ll be leaving the Alex to Duran Duran – what better end to a 1920s murder mystery? Tickets
WIN BOTTOMLESS BRUNCH FOR FOUR AT LULU WILD
Being British can be pretty tough at times. First there's the whole historically quite tyrannical thing, but a pretty close second is feeling awkward about asking for top-ups at bottomless brunches. Not at Lulu Wild, no siree, where my glass and the glass of everyone around me was always full with sparkling rosé. What a joy to not once have to apologise for wanting to make the most of the bottomless promise. I don't want to say I was counting, but with roughly (exactly) seven glasses of the good stuff and a £34.50 price tag, it was value. On top of that the crispy chicken wings and duck spring rolls were absolute gems, as was the 90s throwback music, which included Chaka Demus & Pliers cracker, Murder She Wrote, and a joyful atmosphere. There's something lovely about daytime bubbles that brings out the big smiles; strangers chatting across tables and whatnot. Head this way if you fancy booking in and, on Instagram, we're giving away a sparkling brunch for four.
WARHOL ORIGINAL IN BIRMINGHAM
That's John Lennon that is, and the artist is Andy Warhol, whose iconic painting of Marilyn Monroe was, this week, auctioned for £158 million, making it the most expensive piece of 20th Century art ever sold. And although Colmore Row's Colley Ison Gallery probably won't be fetching squillions for this original Warhol silkscreen on paper, it could go for a cool quarter mil. The piece was created for the jacket of the 1980 book, The Beatles (clever name), published by Rolling Stone Press Books. Produced the year before Lennon died, there's a good chance the man himself signed off on it. Warhol was a hoarder and this work was found in his factory after his death. It was never planned for sale but, with the help of the Warhol Foundation, here it is, up for grabs. Colley Ison, and I say this every time, is a super-welcoming gallery, so even if you're not about to drop £225k on the piece, they're keen for Brummies to come and have a look. So keen, in fact, you're only getting this teaser pic.
Venue: Cheal's, 64 High St, Henley-in-Arden B95 5BX; website Choice: Six course tasting menu (£85 per person) Chooser: My brain
Went to Cheal's fully intending on going for their incredible value £40 lunch menu, but they got me, didn't they? They didn't have to do much — just hand me a menu — and suddenly 2 x £85 six course tasters are on the way. And well done, my pathetic willpower, because it was an outstanding decision for once. Simpsons alum, Matt Cheal, has been in Henley-in-Arden for seven years now, quietly serving some of the West Midlands' most homely fine-dining. If you like your high-end gastronomic experiences splashed with almost pub-like moments of warmth, it doesn't get better. Think Tom Kerridge's Hand of Flowers, only considerably closer and considerably cheaper. A cloud-like leek and potato espuma comes with potato air bags — actual name — and slips down rich and velvety, despite the lightness, teeing up a 24-hour gin cured salmon that apparently requires a chef shuffling every four hours, because it's needier than a new Talk TV host. The salmon came with a wasabi mayo and picture perfect candy beetroot; the whole ensemble countering and balancing and lifting one another. The next two dishes, though, were so good they punched the breath out of me. A crispy duck yolk with smoked ham hock, Jersey Royals, hollandaise and oak leaf lettuce (pictured) arrives with a light snow of aged pecorino. The yolk, I'm told by restaurant manager, Liam (who, with his young Front of House team, was wonderful throughout), is blanched in boiling water, shocked in ice water, left for 20 minutes to solidify, then floured and breadcrumbed. Come service they are taken back to room temp and deep fried for 45 seconds. The culinary conjury, when it's paired with the spuds and that smoky hock, is — and I don't use this word lightly — awesome. To have that connection to a pub menu item, but to be done with boggling finesse, this dish sits wholly and rightly in the relaxed but talented Cheal's environs. Next, a crowd-pleasing turbot does what you'd want it to do, but again Cheal comes in with the naughty spin: picked down confit crispy chicken wings and a chicken jus. Those sweet wings are something else altogether. Maybe not pubby this time, but almost a flourish of Americana; a splash of sports bar in a sleepy English village. I look around and the average age is maybe 38. Maybe 40. Seven years ago, the last time I came, the average age was probably 60. What's he up to here and is it intentional? The final savoury was a Cornish lamb cut, with some lamb shoulder. Both were completely upstaged by the accompanying lamb faggot, with lamb liver, lamb mince and pork mince for fat content, all bound with a chicken mousse, mint, parsley and shallot. I don't know where to start on walking you through this, I don't think my palate is up to it, but suffice to say I would have caressed the thing like a hamster if it wanted. Kissed it and called it Biscuit. Dessert and cheese (which we doggy bagged) were good, but by now you know these final stages of a meal aren't where my heart lies. I was happy long before a banana soufflé surfaced. If you don't fancy the £65 wine pairing — and I didn't, because I spent hundreds on two nights at the Ardencote, a hotel I would nooot recommend — then the £40 Gruner Veltliner works with absolutely everything. You don't need a hotel, by the way, Cheal's is four minutes' walk from Henley Station, which is 25 minutes from Moor Street. NB: the menu has changed since my visit.
50% OFF FOOD AT THE CUBAN EMBASSY
You're subscribed to I Choose Birmingham, presumably, which means you're well on the way to 50% off food at Moseley's Cuban Embassy. To celebrate the arrival of Mexican street food outfit, OSO as resident chefs, they're offering a blanket 50% off all food in May and June. Having eaten OSO's wares at Zumhof, you should really take them up on this. To be eligible you simply need to be subscribed to the ICB email (you can do that here, if you're not already) and follow both The Cuban Embassy and OSO on Instagram. That's your lot, but you will be asked to show proof. Just show them any ICB email on your phone when you're there (a 'new subscriber' confirmation email is fine if you're only just subscribing) and show them that both Instagram accounts have your backing. The menu includes all OSO's greatest Mexican hits, including *that* beef rib taco, quesadillas, platters and, fittingly, Cubano sandwiches, including the classic mojo pork. I don't want to state the bleeding obvious but three top quality tacos for £4.25 is mental value for money. They've also got excellent veggie options. This is likely to be very popular, but walk-ins are welcome and no reservations are needed. Jackpot! If you do wish to make a reservation, however, you can book online here. Offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and does not include drinks. Available Tuesday to Sunday and please mention the offer before you order.
Students from the UoB's College of Arts and Law are ripping open the pages of the student Redbrick newspapers of the 60s/70s, exploring the gig culture on campus, and curating a public exhibition featuring unearthed posters, snaps, and archive material. The Human League, The Cure, Simon Le Bon, Black Sabbath and Joy Division all feature. Free —
Increasingly more 'dad band' The Kings Of Leon have released a load more tickets for their June 13 gig at Resorts World Arena (which is the NEC one) while the NIA one (Utilita Arena) put pre-sale Arcade Fire tickets on sale at 10am, today. —
Brillo Great Western Arcade cafe and lunch bar, Morridge, will henceforth be open for boozy drinks, Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays, while Hong Kong street food outfit Blowater have Kings Heath bricks and mortar. —
Solihull Taste Collective has a great street food line-up tonight and throughout the weekend, including Melting Wheel Pasta, who do that fancy, erm, melting wheel pasta. You know the stuff? This stuff. Details —
The Hippodrome and Bullring & Grand Central have announced the programme for B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival, taking place June 11 to 19. —
Jerry Sadowitz plays the Glee in November and at £27.50 it ain't bad value at all. —
If you fancy weeing into a snake skin and drinking it, there's some half decent deals at the Bear Grylls Adventure. Or just stick to the high ropes. —
Free popcorn and a screening of Grease at the British Oak, June 5? Electrifying. —
If you like music and maths then ordinarily I'd have nothing for you, but this week is different.
WORDS: Tom Cullen
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