We were back in Birmingham today so we paid a visit to Woktastic, which we go to occasionally when we're in the city centre. We always have the all you can eat sushi and every now and then they introduce different types of sushi.
The change this time was the introduction of deep fried sushi. I don't know how long they have been serving this since it's been a while since we were last there. Part of me thinks that deep fried sushi is such a bad idea and goes against the simple and healthy image of sushi. Another part of me thinks that if a food is worth eating, it is worth deep frying.
We continued yesterday's theme of visiting somewhere new, this time we drove west to the Black Country Living Museum. This is similar to Blists Hill at Ironbridge with a similar range of displays and shops.
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We went to the Good Food Show at the NEC today. The ticket included entry to the Saturday Kitchen, a live version of the BBC TV show hosted by James Martin. It featured a lot of the usual items from TV, including the Omelette Challenge (with guest chef Lawrence Keogh) and wine tips from Olly Smith. The celebrity guest today was 80s singer Paul Young (who has started to look a lot like Gary Glitter as he's got older). The chefs cooked a spiced breaded chicken for him (a bit like home-made KFC).
Back to the show, we noticed garlic and chillies seemed to feature prominently. There were a few stalls selling garlic bulbs, including some Elephant Garlic where the individual cloves were bigger then normal garlic bulbs. We tried quite a lot of chilli based foods, including chilli sauces, cheeses, chilli vodkas and liqueurs.
Each year I normally manage to eat something new and different. This year it was a scorpion. One of the vodka stalls had a jar filled with scorpions and the bloke there dared me to try one. It tasted of vodka but it wasn't a very pleasant experience. I had to chew it a lot before I could summon the courage to swallow. The texture wasn't very nice and I'm sure I could feel all the legs as I chewed.
I also 'ate' some gold flakes, but that was much more pleasant. The first bit of gold was from an sample of Goldschlager. I'd never tried it before - I first heard of it several years ago in Wetherspoons. Someone in the queue ahead of me tried to order it and the bartender mis-heard and thought they wanted a Grolsch Lager. The second bit of gold was a sample of a sparkling wine which contained gold flakes.
Every time we go to the Good Food Show, we try the St Germain elderflower liqueur. We like it but for some reason we never actually buy any. This year we finally decided to buy a bottle. They gave us a book of cocktail recipes so at least we will know what to do with it.
I was going to say that the Birmingham Back to Back houses were more interesting that I expected, but I didn't really know what to expect. The guided tour takes about an hour and you go through 4 different houses and one shop, decorated from different periods from the early 19th century through to the 1970s.
Walking from New Street station, we got to the houses much quicker than I was expecting. I recognised the stretch of Hurst Street but I didn't remember seeing the houses there before. I must have walked past them a dozen times without noticing them.
They were built when the surrounding area was still fields. None of the houses had running water - all the water had to come from the nearby 'Lady Well'. It isn't easy to imagine what the city was like back then but the short tour gave some interesting insights into the growth of the city.
Our only regret was that we missed out on visiting the sweet shop on the corner. It hadn't opened when we arrived, and was closed for lunch when we left.
The 'Woktastic Noodle and Sushi Bar' in Birmingham does an all you can eat sushi bar at certain times of the day, including all day at weekends. We've had sushi a few times before but I'd never been to a place where you pick it from the conveyor belt before. It was also the first time I had eaten so much raw fish.
(To build up an appetite first we went round the Sea Life centre to look at the fish. There was also a 3D 'Spongebob' film being shown, which was a bit of fun.)
The range of sushi is impressive - a wide variety of the different rolls and nigri. Noodles and vegetables were also available. The spices soy beans were very soft and tender. The pods were a bit tough but I soon realised you weren't supposed to eat them.
For £12.99 it is definitely good value. Since most of the bowls contain 2 of each type of sushi, we usually shared so that we could try a bit of everything. We managed to try most types before we got to full and had to stop. Next time we're in Birmingham we might return and see if we can try what we missed this time around.
This morning I found a small card which had been left under the windscreen wiper of our car. It was advertising the services of someone in Birmingham who could remove evil spell and bad luck. It seemed to be for some kind of local witch doctor, claiming to help with home and business issues and advertising powerful spell to reunite with a loved one.
He also claimed to be able to cure people who use alcohol or tobacco. Right now, I'm writing this while drinking a glass of sparkling wine. I don't feel like I'm using alcohol or that I need curing of it. I don't think I'll be phoning to make an appointment.
The summer Good Food Show included entry into the Gardeners World show but we were more interested in the food so we only had a brief look round the garden side. We talked to people at a few of the stands as we wandered through but most of our time was spent at the far end where the Food Show was being held.
We were impressed by the amount of free food available. We ate numerous samples of cereal, yoghurt and ice cream. We also tried a lot of different wine and spirit samples, buying bottles of any which impressed us.
Before we left, we went outside to look around the rest of the garden show. The BBC were giving away free packets of vegetable seeds. Most of the seeds should have been planted earlier in the year but there was still time to plant carrot and beetroot. We don't actually like beetroot and don't eat many carrots but I sowed some of each in the garden to see if they grow.
We were on the train to Birmingham International and we got talking to an elderly couple. They claimed that last year you had to pay for a lot of the food and drink samples. Mercifully that wasn't the case today.
Most of the food and drink producers were giving away small free samples. If we bought some of everything we liked, it would cost a fortune and we wouldn't be able to carry it home. We had to be fairly selective but still came away with a heavy load of wine, cider and spirits.
On the food side, the most impressive free sample was something called Chipstix. These were spiral cut potatoes which were deep fried then sprinkled with seasoning. The stall was promoting the franchise rather than trying to sell the food directly to the public. It made good novelty food and would be a fun alternative to chips, possibly as a side-dish in a pub or cafe.
It was foggy this morning as we drove to the hamster show. Along the M6, we knew Birmingham was out there but couldn't see any sign of it.
The Christmas hamster shows are always a bit special compared to the normal meetings. The hamster club puts on a buffet which always goes down well. There is usually a good turn-out which means more competition which usually means our hamsters don't do as well as normal. We only won the one trophy, for our Winter White hamsters.
We had one of our rare trips to Birmingham today. It's been nearly a year since I last went.
Leaving New Street Station via the Palisades shopping centre, we stopped at the Pretzel shop. We bought two: a cinnamon and a hundreds-and-thousands coated one. They were a bit messy to eat but worth getting. Next time I think I'll get a couple of plain ones. One to eat there and the other to bring home and eat with cream cheese.
We visited the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, which was bigger than we were expecting. We went in by one door and came out of a different door in a different building. We didn't notice when we crossed the bridge between buildings.
At the Bullring, we got to Selfridges while the Krispy Kreme doughnut light was on, meaning that free doughnuts were being offered to customers. Which was nice.
There were also some cheeses on special offer in Selfridges. We bought a creamy but mature one called Old Amsterdam and a really nice ewe's milk cheese, but I can't remember what that one was called.
Update: Found the receipt for the cheese - it was called Brinata.
I had thought about going to Urban Pie (outside the Bullring) back when I worked in Birmingham, but never actually got around to it. As we happened to be in Birmingham this afternoon, we decided to eat there.
Fortunately they had a half-price offer after 5pm so we had a pie and a beer each without breaking the bank. My Aberdeen Angus pie was pretty good and Emma liked her Chicken and Asparagus pie. Both pies were well filled, with tasty pastry. Much better than your usual supermarket pie.
We went to Birmingham by train. The website for the Think Tank science museum suggested taking the 'Station Link' bus service, so that's what we did. It wasn't terribly easy finding the bus. There was nothing in New Street Station itself (which was no surprise really, New Street is one of the worst railway stations in the country. The planned multi-million pound replacement can't come soon enough) but there was a sign outside pointing to the bus stop.
The bus took a fairly roundabout route towards Millennium Point, taking us within sight of the building a couple of times before it finally got to the actual bus stop. We were still quite a way from the building itself, so it wasn't that handy a stop.
Things didn't get much easier when we got into the building. The huge atrium didn't make it immediately clear where the way in was. We wandered further in and only noticed the big sign when we turned round.
The museum itself was a fairly typical science museum. There was a mixture of exhibits aimed at kids (literally - many were too low for adults to use) and more serious industrial history. There was a Planetarium on the top floor. The show we attended was about the possibility of alien life and was fairly interesting.
The museum covers similar ground to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry but with the disadvantage of charging an admission fee. Both cover the past and present of industry, with Think Tank having a floor devoted to the future. Of course both also have sections emphasising local contributions to science and industry.
The £8.50 entrance fee was a little steep. For only a few pounds more, you could take the train up to Manchester and visit a better museum with free entry.
The Birmingham German Winefest started today, in Victoria Square. There are stalls selling German food and drink, with wines from most parts of the country. Unlike the rubbish sold in most supermarkets, most of this isn't sweet Liebfraumilch but proper stuff, with a wide range of whites (dry to sweet), reds, rose and sparkling wine.
I've never tried a german sparkling wine before so I bought a bottle of medium-dry sparkling reisling. It was sweeter than I am used to (mainly the excellent but very dry Lindaur) but it was impressive stuff. It's a mystery why supermarkets can't sell stuff like this. It was better than most Cava wines.
Due to a Security Alert, this train will not be stopping at Birmingham International
No explanation was given. Our train had stopped just short of the station before the announcement was made. When we got to New Street, I noticed that the next train to International had been cancelled. There was also an announcement saying that the next train to London Euston (which normally stops at International) would not be stopping there.
I don't know what happened there - I hope it was nothing serious, just something like accidentally unattended luggage.
The National Rail Enquiries web site has the following announcement: Train services on all routes via Birmingham International are being disrupted due to a security alert. Birmingham International is currently evacuated and train services are currently unable to call at this station
BIRMINGHAM International train station has been evacuated this morning following reports of a suspect package.
British Transport Police ordered the station's operator Virgin Trains to close the building at 8.48am.
No trains are stopping at the station, although they are still able to pass through.
A spokesperson for British Transport Police said: "We can confirm that Birmingham International railway station is currently evacuated.
"Officers are at the scene following reports of a suspicious item and a person is helping us with our enquiries.
"Trains are continuing to operate through the station."
There was also news about this on the BBC website.