Hidden Gems of Birmingham - Buffalo and Rye




Scratch beneath the surface of our city and you'll find some real hidden gems. So we have set out to explore the best-kept secrets and unsung heroes of Birmingham. This week, Kim ventures to Buffalo and Rye...



Buffalo and Rye is a kitschy little joint on Bennets Road, pulling inspirations from American culture and with a deep Chicago hip hop vibe it’s an easy eatery with friends on a warm weekday night.  The moment you walk into Buffalo and Rye you are greeted with a warm reception, a cool hipster looking chap with a beard approaches you to take your order and recommend a quirky cocktail or two.  




We took our seats at wooden benches with a 70’s mustard yellow stool and ordered our drinks, a Root Beer for the gentleman and a Mountain Dew Tom Collins for the lady.  James and I took in the ambience whilst we waited for the bar man to return with drinks.
But what matters is the food and the overall taste.   The first thing I dug into was the parmesan and truffle fries I had been dreaming about since I perused the menu on the car ride over – these babies were the shizz.  They were crisp on the outside whilst fluffy on the inside, the truffle oil was merely a hint whilst the parmesan did the talking.  They were incredible and are on my list for a guilty pleasure snack from this point forward whenever I’m in the city centre.  






The cheeseburger was equally as good, the pattys were thick and juicy on top of a toasted brioche bun.  One thing I hate about burgers at restaurant is how badly they can be put together so when you bite in it will fall apart – this one retained it’s structure and was a delight in my mouth!  Unfortunately this meant the expectations were high for the burnt ends, which didn’t meet what I was hoping.  The smoked barbeque sauce was overpowering and swamped the taste of the delicate brisket, which is a shame when compared to the triumphs of the mains.  


James made sounds akin to a cow in labour whil
st eating his food so I’m guessing that’s a good sign he enjoyed his brisket burger!

I ordered the pie (£4) which came with whipped cream, James ordered a knickerbocker brownie with salted caramel (£4).  The key lie pie didn’t live up to expectations, whilst I could tell this was homemade and not just some generic supermarket pie that the owner had picked up on his way to work, it simply wasn’t that great.  It was slightly burnt on the bottom and wasn’t tart enough for my personal taste.  James on the order hand enjoyed his, the ice cream was creamy and the caramel was rich in flavour… more animal like noises came out of his mouth.





Onto the mains, B&R’s Instagram boasts a burger that I won’t forget so, of course, that’s what I had to get. I ordered the house cheese burger (priced at £7.50) with a side of parmesan and truffle fries (£3) and a pot of burnt ends to share (£4.50). James is a very fussy eater, typically staying away from most dairy products and potato based meals (trust me, Sunday dinners are interesting) so when he forewarned the waiter he was going to be making a lot of amendments I was curious to see how the restaurant would cater for it.  We’ve been in restaurants before where we have received bad customer service or flat out refusal to amend an item before, Buffalo and Rye did neither of these things and simply took the changes with grace. James ordered a brisket burger, holding the cheese and sauces (priced at £8.50) and chilli fries without any cheese (£5.00).   




Whilst we waited for our meal we took in the surroundings, to simply put it – this place is cool. It’s hipster chic without being pretentious and could easily take it’s place in trendy areas of London such as Soho. The walls are lined with upcycled pallets and tiles, the showcase displays have various comic dolls and retro prints. The light fixtures and furniture have a seventies feel whilst feeling clean and simple.  Over the stereo plays hip hop and rap, giving it that modern feel – it feels cosy whilst being effortlessly on trend.  I could have spent all night drinking Tom Collins and cocktails listening to the music and taking in the ambience. 

Our waiter bought our meal over on trays, a simple sheet of grease proof paper and basic crockery that is common place with restaurants going for that ‘rustic’ feel these days.  Generally well presented but nothing to write home to mom about… 

Feeling content with our meals we were tempted by the dessert menu, which we never usually order from (I’m a savoury girl through and through) but the Floridian Key Lime Pie called to me…

We finished the night with a late Summer night stroll in Victoria Square to walk off our full bellies before heading home for a night cap.  All in all we really enjoyed Buffalo and Rye, it happens to sit opposite a fantastic pub (The Sun on the Hill) so would be a great eat before heading out for some live music and drinks literally across the road.  We’ll be back for a cheeseburger very soon!



Review written by SWOOPE content partner Kim Chanlter. Check out more from Kim on her blog: www.callmekim.net

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Hidden Gems of Birmingham - Everyman Cinema




Scratch beneath the surface of our city and you'll find some real hidden gems. So we have set out to explore the best-kept secrets and unsung heroes of Birmingham. This week, Jenna ventures to Everyman Cinema...



Tucked away in a corner of The Mailbox, Everyman Cinema  is unassuming from the outside. It’s design screams ‘vintage cinema’ but it’s only when you step inside that you become aware just how quirky and cool this place is. This is far from any ordinary cinema…

As you first step into the bar area (yes, I said bar!), you are quite simply spoilt for choice: with a huge range of plush sofas to sit on, music playing, a whole range of alcoholic drinks to sample (including a host of yummy cocktails) and an amazing food menu. In fact, you’d hardly think it was a cinema at all; were it not for the fact you are asked for your seat and screen number upon ordering.





So, let’s start with the food (always my favorite place to begin!) Gone are the days of choosing between a reheated hotdog or stale popcorn. Everyman offers an extensive food menu that rivals the many nearby restaurants. It’s known in particular,  for it’s legendary burgers (which are truly massive so come on an empty stomach) and pizza. Refreshingly for this gluten free writer, they also offer a decent range of gluten free and vegan options: I tucked into hand-cut fries, gluten free flatbread and hummus; while my (non gluten-free) husband wrestled with an impressive beef burger and fries. We washed it down with 2 fruit ciders, and I followed up with a peppermint tea. Where else in brum can you get all of that while watching the latest blockbuster?

On ordering your food, you do have the choice of eating in the bar area or having a waitress bringing it over to  your cinema seat. We opted to have ours while we watched and our waiters brought it over to our sofa (more on that in a second)  while the trailers were on. You’d think eating a whole meal while watching a movie would be a recipe for disaster; but each sofa comes with two side tables which are perfect for keeping your food on.





Each screen consists of two seater (and the occasional three seater) sofas. These sofas are seriously comfortable; the kind where you just sink in and don’t ever want to leave! The legroom is fantastic too: in other words Everyman has improved everything that drives you mad about regular cinemas: no having to stand up whenever someone on your aisle needs the loo; no getting a bad back after sitting in the uncomfortable seating; no struggling to find a way to put your arm around your significant other without elbowing them in the face. And if you do find yourself nipping to the toilet in the middle of the film? Well even that’s a glamorous experience! I even stopped to snap the gorgeous emerald green bathroom tiles and gold taps!































Because of this, everything about the experience is far more relaxing than your local Odeon or Cineworld. It tends to be an adult only audience (since it’s located in the trendy Mailbox it’s a firm favourite with the after-work crowd) and this-along with the fact staff are always available- means there’s no noise disruption at all. There are only a few showings a day (it has 3 screens; rather than the double figures of many multiplexes)  meaning it’s more intimate and much quieter. Despite it’s size, there is usually a good range of show times and while there are only a few films showing per day- they tend to be mainstream blockbusters which are popular choices.

Everyman is easily to reach from all across the city. Drivers can park at the Mailbox car park (although there are cheaper options located towards the Bull Ring Area) and there’s also good public transport links. It is only just over a 5 minute walk to the bustle of New Street Station and around 10 minutes to Birmingham Moor Street. Its ticket prices are slightly more expensive than average (£13 a person) but given its superior seating, relaxing environment and impressive food menu it’s well worth the extra few quid.

All in all, if you are looking to turn an ordinary cinema trip into a proper night-out (especially if you’re trying to impress a special someone) then Everyman is the place to be!


Review written by SWOOPE content partner Jenna Farmer. Check out more of her work on her blog: http://www.abalancedbelly.co.uk/

Download the SWOOPE app now to order, pay and access exclusive deals all over Birmingham: http://www.swoope.co.uk

Hidden Gems of Birmingham - The Mockingbird




Scratch beneath the surface of our city and you'll find some real hidden gems. So we have set out to explore the best-kept secrets and unsung heroes of Birmingham. This week, Natasha ventures to The Mockingbird...


Tucked away in the heart of Birmingham's Custard Factory, The Mockingbird theatre and bar is a social venue whose main focus is independent entertainment whilst offering specially selected food and drink for customers. Well served with pay and display parking, various bus services and located only a ten minute walk from Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre this eclectic venue is very easy to find in the Scott Lake section of the Custard Factory whether you're on foot, on public transport or driving. 

Upon arrival you can feel the creativity being exuded from the venue with its modern and interesting decor including beer kegs fashioned into seats. I particularly enjoyed the industrial yet fashionable mix of wood and metal furniture which gave the venue a casual and relaxed feel while keeping it current. Visiting just after the lunch time rush on a Wednesday, the venue was quiet with a handful of customers scattered within the venue and outside where outdoor seating is provided. We opted to grab a seat inside and skimmed through the food and drinks menus which were no fuss and easy to read and understand. After a few minutes looking through we went up to the bar to order and also find out a little more about what the venue had to offer.




Specialising in american style cuisine as well as having a great selection of bespoke beers, tasty cocktails and fine spirits; there was definitely something to whet everyone's taste buds. My friend and I both went for Old Mount ciders and ordered a few small plate dishes from the food menu to go along with them. I went for the Cajun prawns (which were my second choice as the venue had run out of wings), the mac and cheese and some Cajun fries while my friend opted for the house salad and the mac and cheese.




The food came out in good time and we were pleasantly surprised by the portion sizes and the taste. The prawns had a great spicy flavour and were encased in a crispy batter while the mac and cheese was also very impressive and had enough moisture and cheese so that it was not dry and claggy. The Cajun fries were definitely my highlight and were brilliantly seasoned. They had a nice and crispy outside but were nice and soft on the inside just as I like them. The salad I must say was lack lustre and was just some rocket leaves chucked on a plate with some sliced plum tomatoes and red onion. Other than that one dish everything was tasty and all our plates were cleared. 

We paid a total of about £24 for our meal including drinks which I think was pretty reasonable. I intend on visiting again on an evening to try out a dish from the main menu and maybe some of their cocktails.





After speaking to the staff at the venue we also found that The Mockingbird was not just the perfect place for a lunch time visit but also a great space for evening drinks and creative entertainment alike. A quirky and creative space whose concept is focused around the screening of cult classics and independent entertainment, The Mockingbird is perfect for film and entertainment lovers and whether you're looking to watch a classic film like The Breakfast Club or simply want to watch a comedy show with your peers, this is definitely the place for you. 

Unfortunately nothing was showing when we visited but the manager kindly allowed us into the theatre to have a look around and get a feel of what to expect during one of their screenings. Seating up to a 100 people the auditorium is a decent size and is the perfect intimate space for private hire for special events and screenings which The Mockingbird offers as a service.




We truly enjoyed our afternoon visit to the Mockingbird theatre. We intend to return on an evening to watch one of their screenings and enjoy the night time atmosphere in order to get a complete picture of the venue. I definitely recommend going along to The Mockingbird theatre and bar if you're ever in the Custard Factory for a solo lunch, an evening date or even a group outing. It is truly one of Birmingham's hidden gems complete with good food, good drinks and the most friendly and helpful staff. For more information on events and screenings at the Mockingbird theatre, check out their website: mockingbirdtheatre.com



Review written by SWOOPE content partner 
Natasha Kafumukache. Check out more of her work on her blog: http://www.tashpantz.com/ 

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Hidden Gems of Birmingham - The Electric





Scratch beneath the surface of our city and you'll find some real hidden gems. So we have set out to explore the best-kept secrets and unsung heroes of Birmingham. This week, Ana ventures to The Electric...

I rode the 126 bus to university every day for a whole year without realising the hidden treasure I was oblivious to every time I passed Station Street. Until one day, when my boyfriend, who has lived in Birmingham all his life, casually points out that “The Electric”, a building that looks more like a club than a movie theatre, is actually the UK’s oldest working cinema.

So I did the only rational thing you can do after finding out such news: I forced him to go on a date with me.

Because I enjoy surprises and I didn’t know what to expect of out this place since I knew so little about it, I decided to simply not do any research beforehand and even let him pick the movie. So, as I approached the cinema my expectations were quite low.




The building stands out only by the logo on top and seems to be hidden on the most random street of Birmingham. It is not the type of place that will stir your curiosity if you walked by. Maybe that is why it is such a gem!

But the first thing I noticed while approaching it was the old fashioned entrance: a few stairs that lead up to a massive double door, two posters on each side of a movie that is currently showing and a small board on top with the name of the cinema and another movie title, all written in the classic theatre font.

If it wasn’t so clean, it would have looked like one of those abandoned cinemas in horror movies. But the only shock I suffered was a positive one. Shocked how modern it all is, shocked how friendly the staff is, and shocked that I waited until now to visit it. You walk in and it instantly feels like you've been transported back in time 50 years with the light and unique decor and little cardboard ticket stubs. I fell in love!

We were sold the tickets (which are surprisingly affordable) through one of those glass windows that leaves enough room just for a quick cash-for-ticket exchange, just like in the old times. The lobby at the entrance is simple and cosy. First the registry, right next to it is the bar and just before the door that leads through the actual cinema room, another small lobby that leads to the restrooms.




The cinema room is quite small and intimate and because the place attracts only a specific type of clientele, the atmosphere is relaxed and quiet. So enjoying yourself comes naturally. When we found out that for only a slight difference in price we could update for one of the sofas we did not hesitate. So there we were, at the back of the theatre, with a perfect view to the screen, in a comfortable couch for two and with a menu full of goodies to choose from.  Man, I felt spoiled! For extra leg room you can always opt for the first row’s lounging chairs that come with a footstool. 

The best part was the modern twist to such a classic place. The quality of the screen was excellent, the audio was spot on, the bar is fully licenced to serve alcoholic beverages (everything from beer to absinthe) and to order all you had to do is text the number on the menu, and everything is brought to you. Paradise of the lazy. But I couldn’t think of a better place to spend your Sunday night right before another mundane Monday.

The only negative thing about this cinema, and a big flaw in my eyes, is the fact that they do not serve popcorn. But their Poptail Cocktail is a brilliant option and it will soon make you forget the disappointment you felt when you couldn’t indulge in popcorn during (or mostly before) the movie.





If you really dying to see older classics on the big screen, this is the place to go. Because while they do not miss the most recent cinematic updates, they also offer a unique selection of old movies that are a must watch.

“What an absolute jewel” reads a Trip Advisor review and I couldn’t agree more. The oldest electric cinema in the UK, The Electric was recently restored to its original art deco interior. It has two screens: the larger 35mm screen on the Ground Floor (Screen 1), and a newly-opened fully digital screen on the First Floor (Screen 2 that provides 4K jaw dropping picture quality).

The movie we watched reflected the allure of the cinema perfectly. My boyfriend, big fan of the original Ghostbusters movie opted to see the latest version of it. Not only was he impressed by the amazing visual effects and overall quality of the cinematographic piece, but he was ecstatic to see original characters come back to life. A modern spin that honours its roots; The Electric Cinema.  

Review written by SWOOPE content partner 
Ana Savuica


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Hidden Gems of Birmingham - Ikon Gallery


Scratch beneath the surface of our city and you'll find some real hidden gems. So we have set out to explore the best-kept secrets and unsung heroes of Birmingham. This week, Oseyi ventures to The Ikon Gallery...

Being a general lover of the arts (fine, applied and the in-betweens), I would jump at any opportunity to interact with one art form or the other but sadly, as a result of ‘life’ and it’s realities, these days I hardly find the time to enjoy these finer things so, good or bad, the Ikon Gallery experience was a welcome event.

Before my visit to the gallery located at number 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace in Birmingham, I had no prior knowledge of its existence so, I was quite eager to explore. Being the Curious George (or in my case Curious Georgina) that I am, before committing to the event, I had to know more! I asked people about the location; if they had visited before and what they thought and also went online to look at reviews. Although the feedback I received was mixed, most people who knew about the gallery agreed that the building structure and very unique lifts were reason enough to visit the gallery.




After visiting the easy to navigate and very informative website of the Ikon Gallery – www.ikon-gallery.org - I decided to attend the free fifteen minute spotlight tour and spend another fifteen minutes viewing the exhibits. Although I wanted to cycle to the gallery, I was afraid I would not find a secure location to park my bike.

I was expecting to walk into a very old building complete with creaking floorboards and archaic lights, spend thirty minutes looking at boring exhibits while stifling the urge to yawn and then ride in a unique old-fashioned lift that was probably wooden with gold finishing. What I got however was a totally different experience. I was so engrossed in the place that when I checked the time, I had been at the gallery for almost two hours! Within that period, I had experienced a wide range of emotions, interacted with visitors of varied age ranges and felt a connection with the historic past of the building. While I would appreciate more slots for spotlight tours in the future, the gallery gave the impression of being a place for education, entertainment and learning.

After traversing between the two floors of the building that housed the gallery, a shop and a café, at the end of my visit, I left the gallery feeling good, well fed with a satisfied grin on my face. 




Based my experience, here are 5 reasons I think anyone should visit the Ikon Gallery:

Ease of Access

The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday and although admission is Free, donations are welcome and appreciated (there is a really big transparent donation box in the middle of the reception).

Getting there: While it is slightly tricky to find initially, I have learned that there are available resources at the Ikon website and the gallery which provide easy to follow directions on how to get there for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists.

The building is hidden off Broad Street and sits regally amidst modern structures and multi-storey buildings daring you to question its existence. I might have walked past it if I did not refer to the directions from the Google Map App on my phone. I generated this earlier in the day by putting in the gallery’s postcode and requesting for directions.There are hubs for bicycle parking in a corner opposite the building and wheelchair access into the gallery. 

As a bonus, there’s something about a partnership with a hotel that makes it possible for visitors of the gallery to get local accommodation at a discounted rate!

Amenities

With materials made from wood, metal and glass, the building has a mixed old and modern structure. There are high chairs at the café for the plus-ones that are not far from one plus, separate male and female toilets and a changing station for babies.

Connections to all floors can be made using the stairs or the lifts – yes the lift was unique. It was definitely not a paternoster and the uniqueness was far from what I expected. This pleasantly surprised me.

Attractions

The exhibits on display caused me to laugh, feel anxious, feel safe and often times got me to stop and reflect. I had an opportunity to interact with one of the exhibits by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to feel.

While my impression of Jesse Bruton’s pieces was that the artist was depicting body movements and changing emotions and Kan Xuan got me thinking about the passage of time and the value of security especial after viewing the single channel video “Looking, looking, looking for…” that featured a spider crawling over naked bodies in rhythm with the tunes of a humorous soundtrack. Patrick Killoran’s piece was the one that got my adrenaline pumping with the “Observation Deck” which involved lying on a horizontal platform pushing myself out of my comfort zone while battling with my instincts which screamed “don’t go!” after the adrenaline rush, viewing “Central Turkey” a landscape print by Pamela Scott Wilkie had a calming effect by influencing a sense of peace and serenity.

Aside from having a Resource Room where visitors can pick up free materials to learn about upcoming or present events, the Ikon gallery has creative workshops and youth programs that aim to engage members of the public of different age groups.

There was a room with interesting and often beautiful displays. I learned that the materials there were created by children based on their impressions from previous exhibitions at the gallery.

Visiting the tiny gift shop on the ground floor is a must for anyone seeking to buy a rare and different type of souvenir or gift.

Service

Navigating the building at first was initially confusing but thanks to the brightly coloured signs and subtle notices, I could find my way around in no time.

From the moment I entered the gallery, all through my tour and even when I sat for brunch, I was greeted with a warm smile and promptly attended to. The staffs at Ikon are friendly, knowledgeable and possibly intuitive; although I noticed someone dressed in black at almost every corner I turned, they had a way of blending into the background. This allowed me to enjoy my space without feeling the intrusion. However, when I had a question to ask or needed more information on a piece, they seemed to know I needed them and were always right there!

Atmosphere

Considering my initial plan to spend 30 minutes at the gallery, I would say the slow paced atmosphere had an influence on my extended stay.



It was casual and pleasant with appropriately lit rooms and spaces. The café was clean and iconic with a menu that serves children and vegetarian meals at competitive prices.
The soft music playing in the background while I ate was welcome and unobtrusive.

Will I be visiting the gallery again? Yes!

The Ikon Gallery has something for everyone. It’s a place you could go to alone, with a group of friends, with screaming toddlers (okay, it might be a good idea to calm them down a bit first though) or even on a date. The atmosphere is relaxed and no one will stare you down for being a little naughty for holding up the lift by going up and down several times.
I enjoyed my visit to the gallery and do believe the Ikon Gallery it is a truly precious gem; hidden in plain sight for not just art lovers but Birmingham locals, students and tourists.


Review written by SWOOPE content partner 
Oseyi OkohDownload the SWOOPE app now to order, pay and access exclusive deals all over Birmingham: http://www.swoope.co.uk/