Issue 495
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INSIDE TOCA SOCIAL  

There was a well-meaning but short-lived Brum Twitter parody account that gently ribbed the ever increasing and over-reaching concept bars, many of which have appeared (and often disappeared) in Digbeth. "Swim in gravy at Bisto Baths" it joked. "Brännboll Bar Coming to the Custard Factory" it advertised. It's point was that not every enjoyable past-time has to be coerced into a food and drink setting. And it was a fair point.   
But, when done well, activity bars can be brilliant. It's somewhat perplexing then that football, and I mean playing not just watching, has never really been given the social sports treatment. Step forward TOCA Social, for my money the single best example of an activity bar ever created — and Birmingham is the setting for only their second venue, their first outside London. 
TOCA Social's entrance is situated in a section of the Bullring you may not know existed. The main entrance is at 11 St Martin's Walk beneath the Link Street overpass, the pedestrian walkway that connects Grand Central with Bullring. From there you'll take an elevator to the third floor, through a feature lit corridor (expect Instagram posts a plenty here) into what was the top floor of the former Debenhams. There you'll find an expansive footy nirvana. 
By that I don't mean Broad Street-style wall-to-wall screens, football fans cheek-by-jowl and an atmosphere that could boil over. They will be showing big games, absolutely, on enormous screens, but the entire venue is geared towards enjoyment and comfort, hospitality and security. The activity is football, but everything else is five star fun.  
Here's how it works. You and your pals will book one of 23 interactive football boxes, each of which can accomodate up to 12, with prices starting at £12 per person. For the duration of your booking you'll take it in turns to blast a football at a big 'ol screen (above). Clatter zombies or hit targets of decreasing size, eliminate mates on a game of Eliminator and win prizes as you go. It's insanely moreish and stylishly executed.
Bear in mind this is the world’s first and only immersive football dining experience, and it's massive. Here, size is a strength. You're not on show, you have your own section just for you and your mates. The Brum venue has become one of the city’s largest competitive socialising experiences with a 360-degree bar taking centre stage, as well as a karaoke booth, an additional bar, and a collection of premium private spots to hire.

TOCA Social will be open seven days a week and times will vary. Each of the five games available have been designed for all ages, abilities, and football interests, so that everyone can have a go. During school holidays, in the daytime, and at early hours at the weekend, it'll be teeming with youngsters and in the later hours the grown ups, as many women as men when I visited, will step in.
TOCA Social bridges the physical and digital worlds in a way never-before-seen, by combining innovative ball delivery with tracking tech. One suspects we've not seen anything quite like this because the technology simply hasn't been there to do it justice. Well here it is, fiendishly fun and wildly addictive, delivered with panache. And the genius is that you don't need to love or even be good at football. In many ways it's the ultimate leveller, some professionals even struggling to prove themselves as such under the gaming-format setting.   
And the food. Zoinks! In these sorts of places the kitchen tends to be an after-thought, right? Not here. Setting their serious stall out, TOCA have teamed up with London-based fried chicken gods Chick'N'Sours for sections of the menu. Birmingham-inspired ‘Gunpowder Wings’ is one such creation (above) which is a nod to the city’s curry culture. But the menu standout might be the Katsu Curry Bao or the Birria Chipotle Beef Tacos.

Other menu items include Cajun Prawns, Double Smashed Patty Burgers, Colombian Beef Empanadas, Steamed Gyoza, Crispy Duck Pancakes, Vegan New York Hot Dog, Shredded Mushroom Tacos and Korean Fried Cauliflower. The house cocktail is the Wred Card (Wray & Nephew Rum, Raspberry, Grapefruit, Lime) and it's a serious bit of kit.
Kicking off the first month with a bang, TOCA is celebrating EURO 2024 with a German twist; “Junetoberfest'' will bring steins, bratwurst, and football together. All televised games will be shown, with guests invited to soak up the atmosphere in one of the main bars, or in one of the boxes, with a range of package options available.

What we have in TOCA Social is a prime example of style meeting substance, and both working their arses off. It's years of tweaking and tampering with tech coming to fruition and picking Brum as it's second home. Rally the squad. Check it out. It'll floor you with fun.  

TOCA Social bookings can be made here

BECOMING NANCY: UK PREMIERE 


With Pride month well underway Birmingham Rep has released tickets for the UK premiere of Becoming Nancy, a new musical about first love, coming out and finding your voice.

It’s 1979 and David Starr is unquestionably one of the smartest, most talented sixth formers in East Dulwich – he’s got a wild imagination, a vocal range to die for and a bedroom plastered with posters of his beloved pop idols: Blondie, Sting and Kate Bush.  

But being clever, having talent and great taste in music may not be enough to get him through secondary school where, to his great surprise, he’s just been given the female lead in the school play, Oliver. The unconventional casting sends shockwaves to everyone around him – including his parents, his aunt, and his classmates.  

Before long, it seems like everybody has an opinion on whether David should go on with the show, inspiring him to turn to his no-nonsense best friend Frances and his unlikely co-star Maxie, the enigmatic captain of the football team.  Becoming Nancy is the huge-hearted new musical that weaves a story of family bonds, first loves, and the courage it takes to find your own spotlight.

This coming of age tale, which runs from October 2 to November 2, is based on the moving novel by Terry Ronald, and is directed and choreographed by the Tony Award-winning Jerry Mitchell. Mitchell has directed three Olivier Award-winning musicals in the West End — Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde and Hairspray.  He was returning to New York from the UK in 2013 and came across the book Becoming Nancy at Heathrow Airport and by the time he reached the US he knew he had to make the story into a musical. Book

"GO GET THE SITAR"


Every now and then a press release lands on my desk (and by that I mean digitally appears in my inbox) that makes me ever-so proud to be a Brummie. This week it comes courtesy of Sampad, the Brum charity that's on a mission to connect people with South Asian and British Asian Arts and Heritage.

Teaming up with The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and set against the backdrop of the longest day of the year, immerse yourself in Late Night Mantra and the captivating melodies of internationally acclaimed sitar player Akash Parekar.

Hosted at Eastside Jazz Club, find yourself transported to realms of serenity and transcendence, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of Junaid Ali on tabla. The intimate setting will be ideal for the 10pm to 11.30pm Summer Solstice event during which you can indulge in a soul-stirring experience that celebrates the harmony between nature and music. Check out Akash's music here and book here.

NOSY NEIGHBOURS


Is it just me or does new West Midlands Mayor, Richard Parker, look like Paul Whitehouse's Nosy Neighbour (Michael Paine) from Harry Enfield & Chums? Makes me chuckle every time he's on telly.

Either way we're all nosy neighbours from time-to-time and for one day only it gets fully legit. Moseley in Bloom: Open Gardens returns on Sunday, June 30 (11am to 5pm) and a load of residents at Brum's most showy-offy suburb will allow you to have a snoop at their backyards, raising money for green initiatives and projects in the process.

Early bird tickets are £8.50 and until June 10 when prices rise to a tenner. Some 18 gardens will be open across the area, including six that are taking part for the very first time.

You can buy via the online shop (to be collected on the day), at the Farmers Market on June 29, or at Moseley Exchange during normal working hours. 

THE ULTIMATE TATTU ORDER


I've cracked it. By jingo I've worked out the ultimate (affordable) Tattu order.

Here's what you need to do. You're going A La Carte only, here, and ordering char siu pork two ways with nashi pear and crackling (£32, pictured), black pepper beef fillet with wok fried pepper and shallots (£36), Singapore shiitake noodles (£14) and pak choi with ginger (£5).

That's it. That's £87 of unbelievable food, a smidgen over £43.50 a head and it will fill you right up!      
The char siu, new to the menu, is the standout. I've never known pork so tender — the juiciest pieces of savoury pig giving umami, a bit of zest from the pear and that sweetness from honey and brown sugar. Utterly brilliant. While its sweet and sour plate-mate brings a satiating texture and chew. 

The beef fillet, another menu newbie, was my mum's favourite — I barely got a look in — with its depth and subtle warmth, while the noodles (pictured) with a little quail egg, make sure nobody leaves hungry.

Do order that pak choi, though. It brings its own somethin'-somethin'. Book

KRUMP AND WAACKING


B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival is back for its ninth year, running from today (June 6) to Sunday at Hippodrome, Southside and Bullring & Grand Central.

Produced by the Hippodrome with Break Mission, Queer-Side, Afroflux, and High Vis Festival, this year’s event celebrates 40 years of Hip-Hop in Brum with highlights including dance battles, an exhibition by Rob Bailey, Hands up for Handsworth, and the premiere of a new film directed by Juice Aleem telling the story of how Hip-Hop started in Brum.

With dance workshops, a block party, graffiti jam, basketball and dance battles, the weekend culminates in Break Mission Worldwide and Queer-Side Dance Championships, a chance to see breakers, some of whom are preparing for the Paris 2024 Olympics, as well as other dance styles, Hip-Hop, Krump and Waacking. Details

BOOK NOW: THE BOOK OF MORMON


The New York Times calls it ‘The best musical of this century.’ The Washington Post says, ‘It's the kind of evening that restores your faith in musicals.’ I Choose Birmingham says: "I once took a date to The Book of Mormon and never heard from her again."

The hand-on-heart hilarious exploration and satire of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the chaps behind South Park, lands at The Alex, December 2 to 28 and this is your nudge to make your booking.

One note of caution: if you're unaware of the South Park phenomenon, you may want to check what you're letting yourself into. I saw at least one couple leaving the theatre during one of the more erm, adult, songs.

Tickets and more
Three breweries with the same name from three countries have combined to create a hazy IPA, appropriately named 'Trifecta'. Attic Brew Co. from Stirchley, Attik Brewing from Malaga, and Attic Brewing Company from Philadelphia, came together in Brum to brew the jointly designed beer. The launch will is today (June 6) at Attic Brew's taproom. More 

A host of 90’s Britpoppers will join forces at Symphony Hall on Saturday, June 8, performing their hits and more iconic songs with a full live orchestra. Join Simon Fowler (Ocean Colour Scene), John Power (Cast / The La’s), Mark Chadwick (Levellers), Mark Morriss (The Bluetones), and Saffron (Republica) for the symphonic celebration. Details

A season of Sherlock Holmes-themed events and walks are taking place in Birmingham this summer, inspired by the stories and methods of the world's greatest detective. More

One half of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Punt & Dennis, play Town Hall on Wednesday (June 12) with tickets at £33.50. More 
WORDS: Tom Cullen

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Don't tell those coming in the final result of that fantastic match, but let's have another look at Italy's winning goal




A classic David Coleman "Colemanballs"


 
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