There are some evenings that you just know are going to stay with you for a long time, and on Thursday I was lucky enough to have one such night.
Having been invited by Brum Bloggers to enjoy dinner and a performance of Miss Saigon at The Hippodrome, to say I was excited was an understatement. From the creators of Les Misérables (my favourite musical of all time), Cameron Mackintosh’s multi award- winning production has been wowing visitors in Birmingham since July. It’s widely considered to be one of the most moving and extraordinary pieces of theatre across the world, and is based on Puccini’s opera: Madame Butterfly. I know this because my dad and step mum are huge fans of musicals, and have raved about this one over the years.
For reasons I can no longer remember (or justify) I had not seen Miss Saigon to appreciate their words, however now I feel I can reciprocate the joy.. and then some. Not only was the performance spectacular, the Vietnamese-inspired food provided by the theatre was also fabulous. So, let me talk you through my wonderful reintroduction to Birmingham Hippodrome and my first visit to Circle Restaurant. Be prepared for some seriously delicious images..
About the food
Our evening began with a welcome cocktail and canapés in The Atrium as guests arrived. It was lovely to see some familiar blogger faces (and meet some friendly new ones) not to mention take in the cool surroundings. I’d forgotten how big this venue actually is, especially having not been here to see a show in years. The bright cocktail, cutely named Sun and Moon, was a fruity little number made with peach liqueur and grenadine.
Once the team was fully assembled it was on to dinner service in the main restaurant upstairs. The Circle Restaurant is located just off the Middle Circle Foyer, and overlooks the main entrance and Hippodrome Square, giving guests excellent dining views. Spacious, bright and comfortable, there’s seating for any size party, and I discovered dinner guests are actually welcome to return to their table during the interval for dessert or drinks. I learned a new menu is devised for each major show that has a run at the Hippodrome – a fabulous touch one must say – with a set meal usually themed around the production. On this occasion, rather than a three course meal (usually £29.50), we were treated to small taster plates to try, to give us a wider feel for the menu available.
Our host revealed each taster dish had been inspired by the Miss Saigon summer menu currently being offered at the theatre, and I was delighted to discover this would include plates offering a taste of Vietnam. I associate food from this region with fresh, zingy flavours and bold, bright colours; I most definitely wasn’t disappointed. Pan Asian appetisers were delivered (by immaculately presented staff) and included Vietnamese Prawn Summer Rolls served with a spicy sweet chilli sauce, and Salt Beef Croquettes served with a mooli, shallot and caper salad.
As a firm fan of food from (and inspired by) Vietnam I was unsurprised but delighted to find summer rolls on the menu. Unlike the crispy fried spring rolls many associate with Pan Asian cuisine, these delicate rolls are soft to the touch and much healthier. The prawn summer rolls here were a delicious jumble of crunchy raw vegetables, aromatic herbs and cool, squidgy noodles, all stuffed and wrapped snugly with prawns into a featherlight rice wrapper; simple but well executed and delicious. The Salt beef croquettes offered more of a ‘comfort food’ vibe, and I enjoyed the combination of the richness of the tender meat with the freshness and salty tang of the accompanying crunchy salad. We also enjoyed Goats Cheese Mousse, and White Bean Soup.
Taster plates of the main courses available from the Miss Saigon summer menu soon arrived, and the aromas floating around the table were delicious. Dishes included Pan-Seared Fillet of Coley with rice noodles, samphire, ginger and spring onion broth, Honey-Brushed Confit of Duck Leg with celeriac purée, bok choy and star anise jus, and finally Yellow Curry Lentil Scotch Egg with asparagus and new potato salad – the latter choice actually being suitable for vegetarian diners as the traditional meat is subbed for curried lentils.
The rich duck meat melted in the mouth, and the delicate sweet note of the honey elevated the dish. The use of opposing textures, in the smooth earthy purée and crunchy bok leaf gave the dish additional depth. I would come back and eat this dish again every day of my life.
The warm, fragrant broth accompanying the lightly fried coley was delicious, and the addition of salty samphire (an underrated and underused gem of a vegetable in my opinion) was inspired. I’d never tried coley before – although was aware it’s a sustainable substitute for cod and is also known as coalfish (see, watching Saturday Kitchen does make you smarter!) – but having enjoyed my first sampling I’ll be sure to seek it out from a local fishmonger.
Each mouthwatering dish served was beautiful and balanced, with new levels of flavour emerging the more I ate. With the balance between herbs, meats and a selective use of spices to reach a fine taste, the Vietnamese-inspired dishes tasted vibrant and fresh. Special shout out goes to the Pork Tenderloin crusted in coriander that came with the most divine soy and sesame cabbage. I honestly didn’t know humble savoy cabbage could taste that good.
Following the meal (and the first half of the production) dessert and refreshments were offered in the Gowling Suite; a large, brightly decorated private room overlooking The Atrium. Between animatedly discussing the musical, most of us found time for pudding. A trio of mini Green tea panna cotta with sesame tuille, Bitter chocolate tart with lychee, strawberry and mint compote, and Poached peach & pistachio cake with vanilla set custard awaited us.
All of the desserts were colourful and very pleasing to the eye in terms of presentation, and the tart was satisfying, although I found the earthy green tea taste of the delicate panna cotta more interesting in terms of flavour. Something about the unique taste and texture combinations there for me, I think. The pistachio cake was light and a stunning colour, however, and the creamy set custard was subtly rich.
The hospitality staff that looked after us during the event were incredibly polite, accommodating and professional, and I could see this was a universal standard for all visitors to the restaurant. It was also an absolute pleasure to be given the opportunity to briefly meet Head Chef, Melissa Menns during the evening.
About the musical
Within 15 minutes of the curtain going up I was utterly transfixed in the magic unfolding on stage. At the heart of the show is the tragic tale of a doomed romance. Kim, a young Vietnamese woman, falls in love with marine guard Chris; their love is short lived when Saigon falls and the old city disappears under the regime of the Viet Cong. Chris, unaware that Kim is pregnant, is forced to retreat, eventually returning home and marrying someone else. However, a few years later he discovers he has a child and returns to find Kim, who is now determined to make Chris take their son back to the USA.
I don’t wish to spoil it for anyone seeing Saigon for the first time, but the helicopter scene showing the Saigon evacuation (with soldiers scrambling into the chopper and the Vietnamese fighting to climb aboard) will stay with me for a long time. Powerful visually and emotionally, I actually forgot I was in a theatre, let alone in Birmingham. The second act left me more speechless than the first (a feat considering I was close to tears before the interval) and praise must go to the two principle cast members, Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour who made me feel like I was a part of this epic love story. The production is remarkable and the speed and finesse with which the set is transformed, often ten times within one scene, is staggering.
The auditorium itself – built in 1899 – is impressive, seating 1,850 when the house is full. Due to its tiered seating nature, the whole theatre has fantastic sightlines, ensuring your experience will be fabulous regardless of where you’re sat.
About the experience
It was a thrilling, immersive and emotional experience in a great theatre; buy a ticket and get lost in the magic. You won’t regret it. The accompanying summer menu is running alongside the production, and if you’re planning on attending the show I’d highly recommend booking a table in the Circle Restaurant beforehand for dinner. If you ask for a window seat you can people watch and view the bustling street outside the entrance. The collective experience of world class threate and outstanding food made for an unforgettable evening in the city. Truly.
Miss Saigon runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until September 23rd.
Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst Street, Southside, Birmingham, B5 4TB
*Disclosure: I was kindly invited to attend this event by Brum Bloggers as a guest of Birmingham Hippodrome and dinner was complementary. All opinions and photos are my own, unless marked as PR images*