This little e-magazine turned nine years old last week. I would have missed it completely but I went through the archives to see how long it had taken before I walked into a restaurant and was left speechless. Speechless, except for the light expletive that slipped through jaws agape. Orelle, the new 24th floor dining spot at the summit of 103 Colmore Row is a thing of such beauty it could punch the wind out of you.
The view, yes, that's incredible. I mean, of course it is, it towers above anything else the city has to offer, your ears likely to pop a little as the lift departs at Orelle’s 38-cover ground floor café and doesn't stop rising until it reaches their double height restaurant.
But this is much more than a meal with a view — we already have that. This is a destination. A celebration. A special occasion. The owners have gone all in matching every metre of altitude with investment in both design, furniture and, most importantly, people. The best of Birmingham's best have been bought onboard and, where they've not managed to find what they were looking for in Brum, they've looked further afield. Like with head chef Chris Emery, who joins following positions at The Alice in Oxford and Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred restaurants, Pollen Street Social in London and The Clocktower in New York...
"What we're doing is modern French cuisine," says Emery. "But I couldn't be prouder of British produce so we're doing it with ingredients sourced as close to Birmingham as possible. A few things come from France because they have to, but the majority come from here. Our cooking technique is classical French but with those home-grown ingredients that sing. We want to support local farmers, particularly after what's happened of late — and it's not just because the ingredients are world class but for sustainability too. Less air miles, less land miles, fresher food. Our fish comes right off the coast of Cornwall on the morning that it ends up on your plate.
"What two dishes should you order? It's all great, of course, but the crab is an incredible way to start — served with rainbow radish, green apple, buttermilk and almond. Simple, light but the flavours together are unusual in the best possible way. Then, for mains, it would be the game Wellington. It's in season right now and it's a sharer between two which makes it a lot of fun, carved at the table in front of you. All the layers and the meat — the rich venison — and the theatre of it, it's spectacular."
Also joining Orelle as bar manager is Tiago Bastos who, in two years living in Brum, has served extraordinary cocktails at both The Edgbaston and The Grand. "It's taken us two months to get the cocktail menu right," says Bastos. "Tinkering and tweaking. But it has taken a lot longer to get the front of house team in place. The key was to hire people on their soft skills. Of course they need to be able to make a good drink, but we can teach that. What's harder to teach is warmth, and we knew we needed a warm welcome. We may have white tablecloths and pristine interiors but that's where the formality ends. Friendliness is the goal — balancing elegance and fun."
"In keeping with the food, the cocktails lean towards the French side, but we're also playing brave and bringing in quite a lot of umami flavours. For example, we have a cocktail called Banana Parfait (Havana 3, Havana 7, banana, white miso, salted caramel, macadamia, lime) which is a twist on a Mai Tai, but the miso brings in a really unexpected flavour. It's a fantastic dessert cocktail.
"If you're looking for something to go with mains, the Gold 75 works wonderfully with the fish — we have turbot and cabillaud on mains, but it also works with the crab starter. It's Tanqueray 10, Choya Yuzu, fresh lemon and Taittinger. It's a twist on the French 75 served with gold leaf. A real showstopper.
"Another star of the menu is our Faultless Martini. It takes up the middle ground between a dry and dirty Martini, but with a hit of Mediterranean flavours. We use a technique called fat washing, which is penetrating a spirit with a flavoured fat — in this case olive oil into Belvedere vodka. Then we use a concentrated tincture of oregano and green olive and it brings it to life. On the nose it's very citrusy. It's a wonderful aperitif."
"We've pushed ourselves to make sure guests won't be waiting long for their cocktails, too. That doesn't mean they'll be in any way lacking in quality. Far from it. The hard yards have been done long before you arrive. This isn't about show bar-tending, rattling ice in shakers and guests waiting for 15 minutes for their first drink. It's all about quality, but when you want it. Making sure the best views in the city are matched by outstanding food and drink."
Summertime and the livin was easy. Remember it? Medals as far as the eye could see, balmy temperatures from dawn until dusk and a buzz in Brum unlike anything we have ever experienced before. A togetherness. And just when we thought that the return of Kong would be the memorable moment of the season, out came a colossal Raging Bull at the Opening Ceremony.
A city-wide "BLOOOOODY HELL" was heard as far away as Rugeley. Pretty soon the pair became more photographed than Brangelina with major duelling experts speculating which beastly titan would win were it to come to fisticuffs. Daft, daft days. To mark a summer we will always remember and two new city icons, I Choose Birmingham has teamed up with Birmingham Design Festival crew — you can probably guess how we've split the workload — to produce two limited run badges.
They're selling for £8 each or a special combo offer of both for £13. Postage costs £2 but you can avoid that by popping down to the lovely new Birmingham Design shop in the JQ and buying in person. Buy them for you, buy them for that guy over there, or get yourself weirdly prepped for Christmas with these perfect stocking fillers. And if you feel like in the recesses of your memory you could swear I said I would never get back into the badge-making business, you'd be absolutely right. But these needed to see the light of day. I don't make the rules, the badge gods do. Buy
BALLET'S BACK, BABY!
There is no time to discipline you if you didn't attend Birmingham Royal Ballet’s critically acclaimed season of Carlos Acosta’s new Don Quixote earlier this year — but you can make amends as the Company returns to Birmingham Hippodrome October 21 and 22 with triple bill, Into The Music.
The programme showcases neo-classical and contemporary ballets, celebrated international choreographers rarely seen in the UK, BRB’s orchestra the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and the fresh direction Carlos Acosta is setting for Birmingham Royal Ballet. In short, it's a very good time to plan a visit and at £16 one helluva price.
The triple header opens with Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land which illustrates why Kylián is one of the most revered choreographers of the 20th century, with a gripping journey into memory and loss set to Benjamin Britten’s magnificent Sinfonia da Requiem. Britten grew up in East Anglia surrounded by the sea so Kylián has used the idea of the everlasting presence of the ocean as a life-giving and life-taking force, as a main theme. As the kids of today say, "this one goes hard".
Next, choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple and composer Mikael Karlsson team up for the world premiere of Hotel offering a surreal journey into the secrets and lies that live behind closed doors. It sounds proper fascinating — Morgann creating an interactive, multimedia live performance using pre-recorded and live camera work projected onto the scenery. The performers will interact with the on-stage cameras which allow audiences behind the doors of the Hotel and into the secret lives of the occupants.
And to close, a work by the late and prolific German choreographer Uwe Scholz. Scholz choreographed more than 100 choreographic works for major companies and venues before his untimely death in 2004. He worked regularly with classical repertoire – and never more dramatically than in his setting of Beethoven’s vibrant The Seventh Symphony (pictured), famously described by some fella called Wagner as ‘the apotheosis (pinnacle) of the dance’. So probably rather good then. More
READY PLAYER ONE?
Stick with this one because it's brilliant. A virtual game that draws inspiration from Digbeth will showcase new Birmingham music and art across the world. Called Kultura Sessions: Birmingham it's an online event featuring a Birmingham-inspired world in the metaverse.
Commissioned by Birmingham Museums Trust, it premieres for free at 8pm on Tuesday (October 11), in a livestream by high-profile Twitch influencers BlueandQueenie (fear not, you don't need to know who they are). It'll bring together music, spoken word and art into Occupy White Walls (OWW), the massive multiplayer online video game where people build galleries and curate exhibitions. Still with me?
Thousands of game players from all over the world will be able to experience a Digbeth inspired world, as energetic and creative as the suburb itself. Six West Midlands performers will have their music, poetry and art beamed globally – musician Ace Ambrose, moving image artist De’Anne Crooks, musician Dorcha, poet Jasmine Gardosi, new media artist Antonio Roberts and mixed-media poet Samiir Saunders.
Included in the reimagined Digbo will be a cyber reinterpretation of Gibb Street and the Custard Factory littered with colourful art installations and popular works from Birmingham Museums Trust’s collections. Perhaps they'll even be able to magic away the roadworks.
Following its Twitch premiere gamers across the world can then re-visit the music performances and immerse themselves in the Kultura Sessions: Birmingham through the Occupy White Walls game, available via download platform Steam. OK, I'm getting a bit lost too now. Essentially watch this fabulous video and tune into Twitch right here at 8pm, October 11. We can take it step-by-step from there. More
SPLASH OF COLOUR
The Edgbaston Village Artisan Market returns to Greenfield Crescent this Saturday with what is fast becoming Brum's best selection of stalls and traders. As the cooler months close in pie specialists, Rourke's, will be on-hand with their meaty and vegan hits of homeliness while artist, Maz Leyden, will be brightening the place with her gorgeous floral work. The digi-illustrator specialises in turning her artworks into eco-friendly products like prints, notebooks, greetings cards, mugs, tote bags and more. They're just two of the dozens of traders from 10am to 3pm.
WANG IN THERE
Comedian Phil Wang's star is rising, fast. In the last year alone he became the first UK comedian to tape and release a Netflix Original stand-up comedy special during the pandemic with Philly Philly Wang Wang and the only non-US comedian spotlighted on That’s My Time With David Letterman. Truth be known, though, you might still know him best as the genius behind this viral send-up of Tom Hiddlestone's bizarre Chinese advert for vitamin supplements, back in 2019. His new tour 'Wang In There, Baby!" will play at Town Hall on May 4 and is priced at £25.50.
SURGE FORWARD, CELTS ARE BACK
You could easily assume the multisyllabic Sidist Utopian Revolutionary Groove Ensemble became known as just Surge simply for ease. Nah, it’s cleverer than that. It’s also an indication of the momentum through which they embody the Birmingham motto: forward. Surge Forward champions and develops music from all genres, encouraging intercultural music-making that produces some stunning results. With their own celtic origins, their next showcase is Celtic Surge, at Symphony Hall on Sunday October 23, with performances celebrating folk, roots and groove music from across Scotland, Wales and Ireland, including brand new music commissioned especially for the event.
First up, there’s Burum, serving a clash of modern jazz and Welsh traditional music, and also, inexplicably, deep groove. They throw in a few extra curveballs – bagpipes! – merging the celtic roots still further.
From the Hebridean island of Uist, Eabhal (pictured, looking a bit nippy) perform self-penned and traditional Scottish music, and their most recent album shows off new arrangements sung in both Gaelic and English. Pipped as "one of the most talked-about young bands to emerge in the last year" by The National (the paper, not the band), for the price of a tenner you’re getting two crackers before you’ve even reached the finale.
Surge Forward’s main musical output is a large-scale contemporary, jazz, roots and folk ensemble, redefining the Orchestra for the 21st century, with interchangeable players numbering more than 25 and a raucous display of uplifting, chaotic music. Surge Orchestra will see out the afternoon, with high energy and tunes from their recent Beyond Borders project, drawing on traditional Irish folk music.
Surge was formed in 2003 by composer-musician Sid Peacock with a commission from Brum legend, Paul Murphy, to mark Birmingham’s St Patricks’ Day. Growing to the multi-faceted organisation nurturing talent, the madcap musical commissions have produced pieces about afternoon disco biscuits, glue sniffing punks, and heavenly visions. Utter, utter chaos, which you must be part of. Tickets just a tenner.
BIMM Birmingham are hosting open days from now until New Year for prospective students interested in a career in music. —
Kings Heath pizza professors, Poli, continue their incredible Tuesday night collabs, welcoming Buddha Belly on October 11 — did someone say spicy Thai sausage pizza? Yes they did. If you work in hospitality you can get 20% off the bill. More —
'Come Dine with Me: The Professionals' winners Rodrigo and Shamil of The Coconut Tree will be taking their winning menu to eight of their sites across the country. including Brum, November 24. Details —
Barber Concerts at the University of Birmingham begin their autumn 2022 season this week, with a host of events for music lovers including the return of free Barber Lunchtime Concerts. More —
Discover the Black Tudors, enjoy a taste of Handsworth’s fascinating food history and visit a Birmingham exhibition which tells a unique story about the fight against racism — all part of Birmingham Museums' Black History Month. More —
Birmingham Comedy Festival starts tomorrow (October 7) and runs to October 16. Full brochure — Birmingham Vegan Festival arrives at Edgbaston Stadium Saturday, October 15, tickets from £15 —
Seasonal Markets' seventh Oktoberfest lands in Digbeth tomorrow and Saturday. £15
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