22 September 2019

The Magical World of #TheWizardsBrunch - Birmingham Botanical Gardens (@NLi10)

What seems like a very long time ago my family spotted a themed meal that was quite local and looked like fun.  My mom bought some tickets and we put the date in the diary.

A long while later we were here at the Botanical Gardens, dressed as Wizards!  

It's very hard to see my official Slytherin Tie and pin badges here, but as the whole meal is very much not at a certain copyrighted wizard school I think I got away with it!  It's kind of an odd theme to go with though - as the evening meal is 18+ no one really is at school age.  I wondered if it would be better as a Wizards School Reunion which would give them a little more license to play around with the theme.

We were in House Brigit which wasn't the evil house, but also didn't seem to be the good house.  I think it's hard to establish identities in such a short space of time - maybe this needed to be done in the reception area.  Note my amazing wand that I picked up on a walk home from work. It's so magical.  We brought the Jelly Beans - obviously not the official ones which would have been 6 times as expensive by weight as these Jelly Belly ones - and as they are made by the same company that's just a little daft.

Anyway, the location was fabulous and had a lot of set dressing and giant spiders and floating candles and mood lighting.  The live entertainment and food started at about the same time, which was a little odd, but generally worked.

This is the Wizard Starter.  I think it was butternut squash soup and some good quality bread.  I enjoyed it - the portion was fine and the flavour was good.  

This is one of the entertainment wizards.  He was a mentalist (in the magical sense) and had some good tricks and patter.  Working in the round isn't great for an illusionist and we were slightly behind him so had a non-typical view.  He coped very well considering although was seemingly confused by the fact that it's hard to clap with cutlery in your hands!

There had been a lady with a snake in the reception area which was cool.  I had expected at least one live owl though which was disappointing.  On an unrelated note here is the main course, poor Hedwig.  As some guests too my left noted the balance was a little skewed towards the meat (chicken) and it felt like it wanted another veg, but the quality and flavour was again great.  I mean - I've been to lots of work catered meals and its hard to give 200+ people something that's satisfying and tasty.  This worked.  I think people (mom included) would have liked something a little more thematic, but the main is not the place to do that.  We had the idea of colouring either the table water or entry drinks with cordial linked to the house chosen.

The main meal entertainment was a sword swallower, which is essentially regurgitation while you are eating.  It's not the best fit (the guy was really good though and had all the entertaining bits you'd expect).

The other main meal entertainment was the best of the night - a juggler.  It's hard to get this sort of act over at the best of times, so turning it into a light show was a stroke of genius.  Contact, 3, hard 3, 4, 5, 6 ball and 4 & 5 rings were all covered - along with some kind of poi stick that had phased illuminations which made pictures appear in the air.  That last one got a lot of crowd response, which was ironic for essentially the easiest move, but it was just spectacular in the darkened room. If all of the acts had been of this standard then you could have probably done away with the food and I'd still have been happy.

The secret to a good buffet is to spend as much as you can on the pudding as it's the bit people remember the most. This sticky toffee pudding isn't much to look at (focus on the jelly beans box in the background) but it was good quality, and the vanilla custard was delightful.  Again, it's hard to wizard up the pudding without annoying the catering staff so this was fine.

Save filling the review with the settings this was an example of the kinds of things they had.  The spiders were cool, the books huge, and the indoor street lights a nice touch.  The gloomy mirrors are always in the venue (as are the plants in the first picture) so they certainly chose the right place.

There were a few little games and stalls to occupy the between courses time, although oddly the two clairvoyants were the most popular causing a queue as long as one of the tables in the great hall.  I didn't need to visit these as if they had been any good then they'd have known to bring a third to manage the wait time.

My mom, sister & I all had a great time (note the chop-stick wand in the middle!) and I think we got value for money.  I got the impression from overheard conversations that some people were disappointing that it just ended and that there wasn't a little disco or something afterwards, but I was fine with that.  I wasn't really sure what to expect but it was well run, and the wizards running it were very good at staying in character and keeping the crowd engaged (except for the terrible quiz!).

I think I'd scatter house coloured jelly beans on the tables to cover the initial wait for food, along with small bottles of coloured cordial to tint the table water with.  I'd then get a live wizard band (string quartet even) to play over the main course (you don't have to look at a band while eating) and move those two great acts to some of the dead-spots in the evening between courses so they could be better appreciated.

With the budget and capacity that they have catered for I think they did an admirable job of providing a great evening out.  I'm not sure it's something you'd do again though - maybe next year will have a completely different theme.

21 September 2019

Sakura Beer (DiscoverBrew) By @SpectreUK

I may have misread the name of this beer. I thought it was named after a favourite singer of mine. Admittedly I'm not that fussed about her music, although always cheerful. However, I'll just say that her hips definitely don't lie! ;-)

The crazy looking woman on the front of this Sakura beer can, isn't Sakura, rather the Japanese ornamental cherry blossom tree behind her. Produced by Hopfully Brewing in Dublin, this 5.4% volume beer has been brewed with Sorachi Ace hops. Originating in Japan, I don't think I've ever tasted a beer with Sorachi Ace hops before, so I'm looking forward to this first experience.

On opening the can this Sakura beer was one of those cans that irritatingly explodes everywhere. I even got some on my laptop's monitor before I unceremoniously shoved the can opening in my mouth. As an ex-barman I pride myself on pouring beer well for a good head. Sakura had an impossible head which just wouldn't quit. It's been sat in my beer fridge for some time and unless Cinabar cheekily shook the can up before handing it me, I can't understand why it's so excitable.

This murky golden beer has an almost yeasty lager aroma to it behind the sweet barley malt. Sorachi Ace hops are supposed to have a buttery off flavour, and I could smell their presence. On taste, once it had calmed down, Sakura has a lovely and slightly obscure flavour. I don't think it would be an acquired taste, where some people like it and some people don't.

The initial sweet barley malt taste cover the usual expected beer flavours perfectly, and then that almost creamy slightly bitter buttery off flavour of the Sorachi Ace hops jumped excitedly all over my tastebuds making it difficult to put down. It makes me wonder why brewers don't use Sorachi Ace hops more regularly. This is a very moreish beer that I found unputdownable once poured. It made me want to reach for another excitable can!

20 September 2019

McVities Unicorn Rainbow Crystal Cake Bars (Asda) By @Cinabar

Okay, another product that is on the mythical creature band wagon. I don’t mind the association with unicorns and mermaids, they are all on trend and cool, but I do kind of hope that any product that goes down this route has something special about it too. These new McVities Unicorn Rainbow Crystal Cake Bars promise rainbow crystals, so that at least sounds a bit different.
The sponge inside though is vanilla, and the creme on top of the sponge is vanilla and nothing says exciting like vanilla does it. The coating is the regular milk chocolate one around it, so basically all hopes are pinned on the rainbow crystals.

I took the outer wrapper off and found nicely individually packaged cake bars, they are the kind of thing that would make a kid smile if they found it in their lunch box. The packaging is cute and pink and very much up to the theme.
I cut the cake bar in half ready to witness the rainbow crystals spectacular.

I looked hard, there was a pale orange crystal, and maybe a pale pink one just visible in the filling. It was not much of a rainbow, and it wasn’t very exciting. Further bites revealed the same, not much to see here. The crystals did add a crunch when you are eating them, but the flavours are all vanilla so that was nice enough but again not really what I’d expect from something which is supposed to be a magical unicorn like experience. Oh well, these McVities Unicorn Rainbow Crystal Cake Bars will get eaten but frankly I want more novelty in my novelty items.

19 September 2019

DOX - Prague, Art & VIGO Kombucha (@Nli10)

A short trip out of town on the underground, DOX is an absolutely lovely art place.  It took me three attempts to find the front door though, but I think that was the heat and my heady bag messing with me.

To say the Cafe is well stocked would be an understatement!

It's safe to say that had I been staying close I'd have tried all of these - heck if it wasn't for the fact I was going to the airport after this I'd have stocked up on glassware!

I'd never seen Vigo Kombucha before - so I chose the ACAI flavour and discovered that they have decided to go with the health angle.

Some of these claims are very vague guys!  As someone with an overactive immune system do I want to consult a doctor before I drink this? Of course not! It's water and fermented tea - while I don't doubt that it helps fuel my 'friendly bacteria' I think that the fact you put a load of vitamins in it is the main way it'd help someone (but only if they are deficient in those things already!)

Thing is - it tasted great and has the pleasant tingly sensation that I love.  I'd drink more of these given the chance - and luckily the flights to Prague are quite cheap (the tax was more than the flights) so maybe I'll be back one day.