(Issue 151)
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If you were involved in our Euro 2016 sweepstake (you weren't) you'll know how seriously the I Choose Birmingham team takes its gambling. Just the one murder this year and in fairness that's being downgraded to manslaughter. Collectively, this time, we're making a bold, bold bet that Cheal's of Henley-in-Arden will win the West Midlands' next Michelin star on October 3. And at just 30 minutes by train from Moor Street, you should get in there before half the world wants to. 
Solihull-born, Mat Cheal — who didn't look far beyond his surname when christening his restaurant — grew up in catering. "It was the camaraderie I fell for," he explains. "Love of food came later." Washing up at The Arden while at school, then heading to catering college at UCB, Mat secured a work placement at Simpsons. "Luke [Tipping, Chef Director], Glynn Purnell and Andy Waters were all in the kitchen. You could say it was a good calibre of chef", he says. Andreas Antona, owner of Simpsons and The Cross, offered Mat his first full time job. "Seventeen years later I left Simpsons to launch Cheal's." He fails to mention the competitions he won on the way — junior chef of the year, senior chef of the year, or time spent seconded to a two-star Michelin restaurant in France. A nicer man in the food business there is not.
As you step through the entrance to Cheal's stunning 438-year-old building there's a giant picture of Mat staring down on you. "That's kind of a joke," he says with a wry smile. "My parents ordered it. It was supposed to be A4-sized but arrived absolutely enormous. I hung it in the doorway to get a cheap laugh out of my dad, but he loved it so much that he's convinced me to keep it there." Logistically the building was a nightmare. Mat had to have a dumbwaiter installed to ferry food from their small upstairs kitchen. "Turns out that was the least of my problems. I'm quietly confident it's haunted." Mat didn't look for a venue in Birmingham, despite having created a name for himself in the city.  "There's a big market for a place like this out here, slap bang in the middle of Brum and Stratford."  
"It's fairly classical, with a modern interpretation", says Mat. "It's not English, it's not French, but it is European." The taster menu is a refreshingly reserved six courses. "I don't think you need to blow a customer's head off with wildly differing kinds of food and endless courses. I had a 40 course meal at Quique Dacosta, Denia. Don't get me wrong, it was incredible, but I can't remember three quarters of it." About 45% of customers order the taster menu but if you're going a la carte Mat recommends the rabbit and chicken terrine (pictured above), the brilliant invention of his Senior Chef de Partie. Suffice to say we loved it, but it was just about trumped by Mat's immaculate ox cheek ravioli.
He'll hate us for predicting a Michelin star, this time around. "I think after just 11 months it would be very soon to get one," he explains. "Don't get me wrong it would be a dream come true, and I'll be pushing hard until the day I do get one. But this year is a bit of a stretch."  They've been, though. Michelin have paid Cheal's two visits, the first one just three months after opening. And the restaurant has already been featured in the Good Food Guide as well as winning the coveted Louis Cippola award. "Word gets around when Michelin are in town, so we sort of knew who we were cooking for. But I didn't feel as nervous as when Michelin came to Simpsons. Retaining a star packs more pressure than winning one."  And if we're wrong about Michelin recognising Cheal's this year, then we'll double our stake next year.


It’s no secret that New Zealand is a pretty place (c. Lord of the Rings), and if you’ve ever been drinking in Wellington, you’ll know New Zealanders are a funny bunch. These twin strands come together in this charming dramedy from the director of the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows that dials down the deadpan and tugs at the heartstrings in an unusually welcome way. A big-boned tearaway arrives with his latest set of foster parents in the countryside; a series of misunderstandings lead to him and his cantankerous foster father going on the lam in the wilderness. Sam Neill is amazing as said foster dad, visibly enjoying bouncing off Julian Dennison as his young charge, and any film with a dog called Tupac is alright by us. Times & trailer


It's nearly October, which means it's pretty much nearly Oktoberfest. And the Birmingham variety kicks off on the 12th of the month, precisely 206 years after Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese, and began what is now the biggest festival in the world, held in Munich annually. Taking up its usual Cannon Hill Park residence for the somewhat svelter but no less perfectly formed Midlands edition, entry is free on Wednesday and peaks at £10 on Saturday. But if you're doing this thing properly — and by properly we do mean attending en-masse and in lederhosen — there are a perplexing number of packages, which essentially get you a seat reservation, plus varying quantities of food and the bubbly brown stuff. The prevalence of schlager music goes without saying.


Cards on the table time, this bag isn't going to change your life. It's not the answer to the global economic crisis and we're  almost 100% sure it can't keep Tim Lovejoy off your telly. It is, however, the delightful product of Brit-turned-Brazilian-turned-back-to-Brit, Simon Spink. The globally-fickle Moseleyite handmakes what he describes as urban outdoor bags, a wonderful blend of smart and casual. You can cycle to a meeting with it on your back and not feel like your the world's biggest loser when you take that same bag into the meeting room. So, in a way, it does save the planet. There's all sorts of nooks and crannies for tablets, laptops, phones and keys and from top to bottom it feels like a quality product. But then that's what Brum's best at. Check out the full range online or stop in at Provide during their open Fridays (every Friday, 10am to 5pm), to get up close and personal with Naski's bagskis.
Venue: Note Bar, Westside 2, 20 Suffolk Street, B1 1LW;  website
Choice: Takoyaki (or, octopus balls) (£5) Chooser: Chef, Philip Choi

The ever so superior Japanese equivalent of a bag of nuts, takoyaki is the bar snack of champions, consisting of little balls of octopussy joy, cradled in a light, super secret batter and cooked in a moulded pan. Having tried takoyaki at spots around Brum, Suffolk Street youngling, Note Bar, is the place to do it. Served with dried seaweed, bonito flakes and tonkatsu sauce — whether you favour the one or two bite approach, we'll leave to you. Offering the full compliment of izakaya-style munchies, the kitchen's fish is joyously fresh across the sashimi and sushi options we sampled, while the tempura is the right amount light and the right amount crispy. We were a bit confused by the layer of a substance which had the look and feel of American cheese, and appeared atop our otherwise delicious dragon roll, but the only significant draw back about Note Bar (which is as much a bar as it is a restaurant) was the lack of patrons. An issue of location, or perhaps marketing — it's not the food which is holding this place back. Menu (if you squint)
  • Connolly's' big winter tasting is a go. On Nov 11 from 5.30pm, anyone you could seek to spy will be at the library, supping on a selection of 120+ wines, Champagnes, spirits & beers. Tickets are £15
  • The Wilderness is cracking out its little book of sonnets and hosting a one-off Shakespearean banquet at The Balcony. On Sept 28, it's £75 for six courses, including edible words
  • Next Wave, the RBSA's exhibition of early career artists, opened yesterday. It's joined by a glittering collection of affordable crafts on Monday, which, taken together is demanding of a visit
  • Chris Ramsey is coming to Glee. March 22 is the relevant date, Glee the relevant venue. Tickets are £20
  • Rossopomodoro has closed (sad face). But the pizza oven Brum's been yearning for is nearly fired up and ready to feed you. Otto opens officially on Oct 7. You heard it here first
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WORDS: Tom CullenKaty Drohan, Andrew Lowry
IMAGES: Tom Bird (Cheal's)

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