Issue 216
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'Natural' is a word that's appearing on increasing numbers of wine lists at restaurants we have a-lorra-lorra love for. Thinking there must be something in its rise, we're committing to a wine fair dedicated to helping you get to know the stuff. Next stop: Michelin-starred Hampton Manor. Cilla not included.
If there's a person this side of the vinosphere that's more into natural wine than Sam Olive, we're yet to meet them. Forget any mumbo jumbo you may previously have heard, for Sam the rise of natural is all about harvests produced in a sensitive way, with nothing added and nothing taken away. Simple as that. Wine Freedom is his wine company of a baby, and is on bottle selection at the upcoming fair.
Debates rage in terms of the difference between "natural", "biodynamic" and "organic", but what all three have in common is a focus on the health of the soil and the dynamism of the surroundings in which the grapes grow. No chemicals, no additives. And the why you should care bit? The theory goes that better soil results in better grapes, which results in better harvests, which results in better wine.
But don't go taking Sam's word for it. Try over 40 natural wines in Hampton's good looking atrium — The Courtyard. Tickets include all your samplings, as well as a hot dog from the legendary Big Green Egg BBQs — choose from four, including guac-covered The Mexican, and The Mighty Meat with pulled pork topper. All served with fries and two salads.
These aren't the sorts of wines you'll find at other tastings in the city. When we asked Sam to pick out his top drops to try on the day, he came back with a British Columbian orange wine from the darned coolest looking vineyard we've seen, and a Swartland white called Smiley which Sam describes as "one of the craziest and most complex wines I've tasted". Think citrus notes of lemon pith and apricot, with nutty hints of macadamia and pistachio.
A little birdie (so, Sam again) has also let us know that points will actually win prizes at this particular wine fair. Solve an interactive wine challenge to get the keys to a final room's worth of tastings. Taken from the "Adventurous" section of the wine list at Peel's, Hampton's handsome restaurant, the ultimate samples have at times been described by Sam as "forward-thinking" and at times "bonkers". 
Coming out of the main tasting venue, you'll find your hot dogs, and the fire pits of Hampton's twinkly terrace at your disposal. A canter round the other-worldly grounds is also actively encouraged. And if this is somehow your first time at Hampton, it's a three-minute walk from the station, and here are your travel plans: the 15.14 departs Birmingham New Street from Platform 5, getting you to Hampton-in-Arden 14 minutes later. Done, did, done.
Hampton Manor's Natural Wine Fair is on Sunday 11 February, from 3pm until 7pm. Tickets are £35.


Macbeth's had a makeover. And we're not talking lip gloss and a new do — the big-thinking Mark Bruce Company has developed a dance-theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic descent into the darkest sides of ourselves. And if you've left your Key Notes GCSE guide to the 17th Century text back at your Mom's, Macbeth could be summed up as dramatising the damaging effects of political ambition on those who seek power for power's sake — kind of a biggie right now you might think. Marking the launch of DanceXchange's new season, the production realises a striking, beautiful, harrowing vision of the destruction caused by the self-centred pursuit of power. Catch it at 8pm on Feb 8 and 9 at the small but perfectly formed Patrick Centre. Entrance opposite The Meat Shack. Tickets are usually £16, but enter "ICHOOSEMAC" in the promo code box at the top of this page before January 24 to get your ticket for £14.


In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh here delivers a course correction after the wobbly Seven Psychopaths, restoring the blend of dark comedy and ethical seriousness his reputation is founded on. Frances McDormand, in an award-magnet of a performance, erects three billboards outside her small town calling attention to sheriff Woody Harrelson’s failure to find the man who raped and murdered her daughter. The cast are uniformly terrific and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is both lighter and deeper than that premise probably suggests. McDonagh’s clumsy handling of race aside, this is a film to savour, not least because of its unlikely emergence as an Oscar front-runner. Times & trailer


Not content with putting on the most thought-provoking exhibition we can remember at Gas Hall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery have arranged oodles of events to support Coming Out, which explores gender and sexuality. Our pick is Drag and Draw (Feb 17) — an afternoon of life-drawing with drag queen, Naz. In a specially commissioned gown, she'll be breaking from posing to perform and react to her audience. Bring your sketchpad or just come and say hi. Also coming up is an adult soap carving sesh (Jan 20) inspired by Hadrian Pigott's Boy, ?, Girl, which features in Coming Out.  This event is free but booking is essential. And if you're yet to make it to the exhibition at all, how's about a curated tour? At lunchtime on Jan 26, it's £5.
Venue: Alicia's Micro Bakehouse, 1377 Pershore Road, B30 2JR; Website
Choice: Boscaiolo (£11) Chooser: Chef & owner

Talking to anyone who owns a house in Stirchley right now is insufferable, so smug are they about its rise. A rise that includes pocket-size pizzeria —
Alicia's Micro Bakehouse — which, after a time operating out of a garage, now has a permanent home on the high street. More welcoming than a well-stoked log-burner, the Chilean family-run spot trades exclusively in pizza, with buzzy long tables at the front, and date-night twosies toward the wood-fired oven. We opted for the simple yet effective rucola (£8.50) — mozzarella, parmesan and rocket on a charred, light sourdough base. And a super satisfying entry point this was, but the out-and-out victor of these napoletana style givers of joy was the Boscaiolo, a variation on a classic, with the use of cured black forest ham. Combined with red peppers, garlicky mushrooms and a taste of gorgonzola this is a pizza that did everything right, avoiding the temptation to overload the base. Would do again, in fact, already have. Two years ago, we were still going to Pizza Express. But between Laghi's, Otto and Alicia's the pizza scene in Birmingham is finally getting to where it deserves to be. Open Tuesday to Saturday; fully licensed; do book at weekends. Menu
From Cheval Blanc's Moseley-flavoured ashes will rise a new gaff by the head chef at pan-Asian restaurant, Cen, near Newport. March is the target date.
And as for Bonehead, that'll be opening up next to Cherry Red's on John Bright Street — craft beer, fried chicken and dive bar is where it's at.
Digbeth Dining Club's starting early with Thursday street fooding from 25 January (so a week today for those diaries).
Also back on the same date, Chef Norman Musa's Malaysian supper club at Urban Church Street. Attending both might be excessive.
Get a vegan main at wagagama for absolutely nothing. Across the three Brum locations, it's first come, first served, up to a limit of 75 dishes. T&C
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Andrew Lowry
PICTURES: Nicole Guarino (Macbeth) 

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