Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Eight-piece caps, also known as bakerboy or newsboy caps and various other names, are traditional headwear for the working classes in the yards and factories of the past century as well as the country cap of choice for the landed gentry. The other version is the typcal flatcap which is constructed differently. As the name suggests, the cap is made of eight separate pieces of cloth sewn together with a peak and a button on its apex. These caps have been popular throughout the years but have become even more popular with the beginning of the vintage movements.

The caps softness makes them easy to wear and store, unlike felt and hard hats, and can be worn with casual and informal dress.

There are many different places that sell these caps and in many different versions and cuts but one place which I have found to be one of the best is the Hat People of Oregon, USA.

Each of their caps are made-to-order and in a variety of cloths and cuts. In particular, the various cuts are better than what you would find in other places. For one, their extra full cut is almost similar to vintage proportions and is volumnious. It does not feel too tight when you wear the cap; a fault I find in many other caps when there isn’t enough cloth to create room for the head and you end up having to pull the cap down to stop it from slipping off.


I have one of their caps in this extra full cut. After wearing it in, it has more or less become my cap of choice as it is the easiest to wear and has a lot less hassle than my other caps which tend to fall off easily in the wind. They are made with an elastic in the sweatband which you can adjust for fit. The peak is of layered cloth rather than having an insert card so you could easily stuff it in your pocket. The crown is not attached to the peak like others with thread or poppers so you could pull the crown forward to cover most of the peak or slightly backwards, etc. This allows you to adjust for roominess so it won’t feel tight.

The cloths used are wools, cottons and linens. All are hand washable. They are lined in cotton.

The price is reasonable as well for a made-to-order cap and I doubt you could get any better elsewhere without having to pay a lot more for a bespoke cap.

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After I had a meal at Bank, I was given a loyalty card. I signed up and was then given a voucher for £10 for a meal at Bank or this place called Piccolino which is just a short walk away. I had to try it as I do not want to waste that tenner!

The surroundings were lighter than Bank given there were larger windows and it being small. Impressively, they had a cloakroom (all too missing in many restaurants these days!) After I sat down I was given a bowl of bread for me to chew on plus the tap water.

I would have probably prefered the oil to not be drizzled on the bread as that tends to create greasy fingers which I don’t like. The bread was chewy like I said. The oil and vinegar dip was nice.

I then decided to order and so had the Trofiette con pollo: chargrilled chicken, seasonal vegetables, parmesan cream & pine nuts.

For wine: Nero D’avola, Il Meridone. Italy, Sicily 2009.

The pasta was amazingly tasty. The chargrilled chicken complimented the plain yet seasoned pasta. The cheese sauce brought it and the vegetables all together. It was a joy to eat.

After that, I decided to have desert given that I had a bit more money to spend on. I went for the Tortino al cioccolato: warm chocolate fondant with minted mascarpone or vanilla ice cream.

Never had this before so had to try. It was simply gorgeous. The chocolate was rather bitter but the ice cream cancelled that out and turned it into something very pleasant.

Certainly, if there was no ice cream it wouldn’t have been nice.

The staff were pleasant and kind. Service good.

Total cost was £21.50 (with the voucher, I paid only £11.50 plus tip).

I would recommend this place indeed.

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Strada, Birmingham

I do like a bit of Italian food from time to time. I’ve been to Carculccio’s a number of times but haven’t been to Strada before. I decided to go in and try out their food.

Spacewise, the restaurant is rather dark and dingy which I didn’t like much (this was the one in the Mailbox) so sitting next to the window would not make a difference. In any case, I’m here for the food rather bright surroundings.

I had looked at the menu beforehand and so chose pasta and a small glass of red wine. I said small but they must have misheard me for they gave me a large glass!

The wine was il Padrino Rosso, Sicilia. Was good and not overpowering. Complimentary filtered water included.

I ordered the Rigatoni Speck which was Rigatoni in a cream sauce of traditionally Lombardian cheeses, gorgonzola & Grana Padano, finished with northern Italian smoked mountain ham and rocket.

It was very good. Pasta could do with an extra minute in the water. Ham was nice. The cheese sauce could do with a bit more richness to taste more in the mouth. It was very filling.

Overall, the cost was £9.95 for the pasta and £5.35 for the wine.

The service was very good, the chap who served me was rather delicious himself…

Worth a try.

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Ever since Hudson’s went belly up (see previous post/s on this), in my quest for independent tea/coffee shops, I came across a café opposite the Mailbox in Birmingham. It’s name is Café Blend. I frequented it in unison with The 90 Day Café (I’ve promised to write a eulogy on its demise which I would do in die course). CB is rather a rather pleasant place to go to. Very modern, leather seats, whitewash walls, etc.

As per usual when trying out cafés and tea houses, I ordered tea and a Victoria Sandwich (where available) to test out the place. Unfortunately, I did not like the tea (which happens to be Teapigs brand and if you call your tea pigs then that does not bode well…) and the Sandwich was rather unsatisfactory.

However, CB’s main forte is, obviously, not in its tea and cakes, it is in its massive and wide range of blends of coffees (hence its name) which really would impress you. Boasting 150 or more blends, there is the traditional coffees and there are the special ones blended with all manner of flavours and liqueurs.

One of my favourites is the Turtle Mocha Frappe (don’t worry, no reptilia were harmed in the making of it) which consisted of white mocha with caramel, espresso, steamed milk blended with ice then topped with whipped cream, caramel syrup and crushed biscuit.

Now if that doesn’t make your mouth salivate I don’t know what does. And yes, they make blended frappes and they are very smooth and not lumpy. This includes a coffee frappe:

For the hot type, there’s That’s Amore which consists of blended espresso, cinnamon, raspberry and chocolate topped with whipped cream.

Hot chocolate can be had plain or blended with almond or other syrups to taste.

They also do what is called ‘red esspresso’ which is tea rather than coffee based.

There is, of course, a lot more that I haven’t shown here and I’ve only tried around 10 or 12 of the total drinks that are on offer. It would certainly be worth it to go and try some yourself. Ignore the normal mochas and cappas, go and be daring and have some of the unique blends. They even do coffee based Martinis…

The service is good, though a bit slow sometimes. The facilities, as far as the gentlemen’s is concerned, could do with some attention (the broken tap that was promised to be fixed hasn’t yet been done and the toilet seat has/had broken off!)

Prices are reasonable: basic blends are around £2.85-3.10, more if you add alcohol.

They also have some special event nights from time to time, sometimes with live music, etc. The crowd I would say is rather hip.

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Some of you may know of the famous Italian chef, Antonio Carluccio. Well, he has opened a chain of restaurants last year and one of these happened to be at Brindleyplace in Birmingham. I paid several visit there but have yet to write a review of the food so here goes.

The surroundings were rather good. It’s all modern fittings and it doesn’t pretend to be hip or pretentious with the decor. It is slightly dark inside so it is best to sit near the window. There is also a mini-shop inside with all manner of special ingredients which are tempting to buy. There is also a place set aside for a café.

I tend to order single dishes but I decided to go for the fixed price menu. This comes at £9.95 for two courses; add £2.75 for an extra course and/or £3.50 for a large glass of Sicilian Sicani wine.

I decided to order the Penne alla luganica: tubes of pasta with a rich and spicy Italian sausage sauce and a glass of white (NB: I was reprimanded by one of my peers for not ordering red afterwards!)

The penne was seasoned with parmesan and black pepper as usual.

The taste was wondeful and the pasta was just the right consistency: not too soft yet not undercooked and floury. The spicy sausage sauce went well with the plain egg pasta and the seasoning tied the whole thing together. It is fresh yet wholesome.

I had the tiramisu for dessert.

You can’t argue with that. The sponge was soft and wasn’t overkilled with the alcohol. The balance was just right. The only thing I could fault it on was that it was a tad too small! I could easily engulf double that amount. But I suppose if you ordered a starter, this would be just the right size (just).

As far as the other stuff I had tried there previously, I would recommend the Tortelloni di cervo: Handmade fresh tortelloni filled with wine braised venison. It is simply delcious.

The staff and service was friendly and good.

I would definitely recommend this place. Afterall, its creator is passionate about Italian food and it shows and tastes so.

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This review was prepared for submission to the Ethnomusicology Forum journal in April but was never submitted as some my colleagues in the qin word felt I was inaccurately criticising Lieberman’s book translation the Mei’an Qinpu (that it didn’t include the jianzipu for the melodies which makes it rather ‘insufficient’ as a beginners teaching manual given that means the beginner must first learn to read staff notation to be able to play the melodies in the book (which in itself requires skill and understanding of how to play the qin in the first place in order to work out the fingering rather than simply guessing haphazardly) rather than learn the notation already described in the book to play the melodies (as is the case in traditional and modern qinpu)). In any case, it was a very minor criticism in the whole scheme of things but alas, I’m yet again threatened with ‘excommunication’ if I publish it formally in a peer reviewed journal regardless of freedom of speech or whether my criticisms are valid or not and all that. I could, of course, not mentioned that but then that would remove the context and in turn I must also ignore any other relevant peoples’ works in the process, which is renders the review weak and that is why I didn’t bother submitting it afterwards.

I did, however, in Dec 2018 submit a new review of it based on the fourth edition, adding some extra material and updates and submitted it to the EF. However, they rejected it because a) it was unsolicited, b) it had already been published here and c) it is basically a technical manual and not the sort of book that would gloss such a journal.

I’m posting it (the updated version) here for you to make your own judgement…


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There is a rather large restaurant in Brindleyplace, Birmingham which I often walk past. The front is rather imposing and I never thought of visiting until now.

Inside, the decor was rather dark and dreary. The kitchen was smack bang in the middle (mostly covered). The bar was in the front whilst the restaurant proper was right at the back. Even though the restaurant backed onto the canal it is rather dark still save for a little corner of light through the windows. I decided that this was the best place to sit (I at least want to see what I was eating).

I decided to go for the fixed price menu which was £12.50 for 2 courses or £15 for 3 which was reasonable. This was with a complimentary glass of house wine (I chose a red) if ordered Mon-Fri 12-3pm so I was able to take advantage of this! I also requested for the obligatory tap water to wash it all down.

I was then served with two bannocks of bread and butter on a wooden bowl. Examining it, the bread seems most likely baked on site. After trying it I found it to me most delicious and the salted butter made it even more so.

The starter I ordered was a ham hock and parsley terrine with mustard drizzle. The dish was nice and the meat just right though I couldn’t taste much of the parsley. The mustard went well with it.

The main was the highlight. I had a grilled salmon fillet with sauteed potatoes and bacon bits. The salmon was cooked to perfection and was a joy to eat. Some of the potatoes, however, could do with a bit more sauteeing (I like my potatoes soft and fluffy and some of them were a teeny bit hard). The bacon added some saltiness to the dish. Overall it was brilliant.

For dessert I had the vanilla pannacotta with raspberry sauce and hazelnut biscuits. Again, you can’t say anything bad about such a dessert. It was superb. However, I’d prefer it if the sweet was served in a more appropriate and dignified vessel rather than a airtight glass pot as it makes it difficult to scrape clean with the spoon (which could have been smaller as I like to put the whole spoon in my mouth).

The red wine (a Shiraz) was good and not overpowering (I prefer not to feel sick and hungover after a meal).

The service was good (though I was left standing at the door for sometime whilst I waited for someone to come and seat me). The lavatories were clean and tidy (though one of the toilet seats was partially unscrewed). Overall spend was £16.88 (inc. ‘service charge’; they also cheekily forgot to give me 2p when it came to the change but I’ll see that as an oversight at this point).

I would indeed recommend a trip here.


Subsequent visit

I paid another visit on the 20th October and had the following:

Penne with butternut squash and Eton mess.

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