Author: MeatandOneVegBlog

Rajdoot, Birmingham

We live in a society that isn’t kind to restaurants.  One that eats them up and spits them out.  One that is so fickle it could be a contestant on Love Island.  A staggering 90% of restaurants in this country fail within the first twelve months. Why? I don’t bloody know, I’m not a restauranteur; I’m an over opinionated twerp with a keyboard. But the ones that I have seen demise with my own eyes have been poorly judged concepts (lobsters), rotten locations (sea food restaurants above Café bloody Rouge) and just bad luck (Comida, you were brilliant and you’ll be back). It almost puts me off my dream of a little Italian restaurant of my own. Almost. The restaurant business is not a lottery, it’s a cleverly thought out line of ticked boxes and processes, as my good friend Barry Sherwin has pointed out to me on many an occasion. And he knows a thing or two about opening these places. So there.

IMG_9500

Once past that opening year it’s no guarantee that it’s an easy ride. Profitability and longevity are the two things that the industry craves, and to achieve this takes hard work and constant reflection. The machine chugs along, driven by trends and an ever changing customer focus. React or die, it’s as simple as that. Take a chameleon approach and you might see two, maybe five, even ten or twenty years if you’re really lucky. But fifty? There can’t be too many successful businesses that even dream of reaching half a century. Rajdoot have, which is a crazy number given that I would have been but a twinkle in the eye of the raging hormonal body of my fifteen year old pubescent father when they first opened in 1967. I struggle to comprehend pieces of furniture that are fifty years old, never mind places to dine at. How they have achieved this is too much for this pea brain to take in.

IMG_9496

Maybe a good starting place for an explanation would be the service. It’s old school slick, customer orientated and polished to a high sheen. We are seated in a plush waiting area and watered, given menus and then taken to a sultry dining room way bigger than it first appears, which is a talent they share with me.  Our corner table is adorned with thick white linen, preloaded with crisp poppadum’s and a spritely chopped onion salad.  A singular candle sits on one corner, more a romantic gesture than a lighting requirement.  At first I assumed they were going all out because they knew I was coming, though it would later transpire they had no clue at all about me.  I like that.  They go to this effort for everyone.  Which probably goes someway to explaining the buzzy dining room on a midweek night.

What also explains the mostly full room is the food, which, on our meal here puts it in the upper echelons of its type in the city.  Its wonderfully traditional, rich and decadent.  We share a platter to start that is probably too much food to successfully proportion our meal.  Like we care.  We each devour the mini fillet of chicken shaslik we have each been portioned to, and make light work of crisp samosa with the most fragrant of potato and pea filling.  We cloak batons of shish kebab with onion kulcha which, with the ingenious addition of mint yogurt, turns it into the most delicious lamb sandwich you could wish for.  Only the tandoori chicken lets the team down for being on the dry side.  It still gets eaten.

IMG_9502

We go for two of the chefs recommendations for main.  He clearly knows what he is talking about.  On paper the Murgh Kebab Masala looks like a tarted-up description of a chicken tikka masala.  Thankfully, it is nothing of the sort.  The kebab is a tightly packed mixture of minced chicken and herbs that have been skewered and blasted through the tandoor until the outside is charred and the centre is just cooked through.  The sauce is nutty and complex, heavy on the spices that trouble the nasal passages, not the other ones.  I just wish there was a little more of it.  I want to glaze the supple garlic naan with sauces this good, and whizz it the individual grains of pilau rice.  The other main was a lamb chilli bhuna that doesn’t disappoint.  It’s heady and spicy, littered with chilli and chunks of pepper.  The tender lamb is a testament to the virtues of patience.  We wipe the bowl clean with the last shreds of the naan.

IMG_9504

IMG_9503

They make both gulab jamun and kulfi in-house here, so we request a smaller portion of each to try both.  Indian desserts are often a massive disappoint, but these were lovely.  The gulab jamun was not over soaked in syrup, the kulfi delicate and sprinkled with crushed pistachios.  They work surprisingly well in the company of each other.  If you can find room for dessert, I suggest you harass them into doing the same for you.

IMG_9509

I’d not eaten at the Rajdoot before this.  I guess that I’d been scared that a business open for that length must be old fashioned and reliant on the aging regulars for custom.  I couldn’t be any more wrong.  It’s done fifty years because they serve precise and comforting Indian food with the sort of service that shames many a Michelin starred restaurant.  It is rightly a stalwart of its kind in the city.  I already cannot wait to go back for more.

8/10

I was invited to dine at Rajdoot by Delicious PR

Rajdoot Tandoori Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Adil’s Balti, via Deliveroo

The Deliveroo menu for Adil’s is littered with warnings, instructions, and goading’s for us feeble Westerners. Are you the kind of fool that orders mango and lime at Nando’s? I pity you if so, but you can order the Maliah which is ‘suitable for Kurma eaters’ whilst hanging your head in shame. Those ‘feeling brave’ are instructed to order a Vindaloo, a statement that usually makes me as brave as I am stupid. And then there is the curries described as ‘not for the faint hearted’, a clever turn of words that appeals to idiots like me. I can’t turn that stuff down; it’s a red rag to a bull, a picture of Princess Diana to The Daily Mail. It’s the stuff I live for, the fuzzy wave of pure heat that pulsates through my veins and escapes via sweat on my brow. By telling me I that it is not for the faint hearted I have to order it, despite knowing all too well that my body will hate me for it. Which, 16 hours on, I can confirm that it does.

So, yeah, Adil’s Balti. Those not familiar should know that it is the original home of the Balti in Birmingham, maybe even the UK. It resides in the Balti Triangle, where nostalgic fiftysomethings go for a ‘real Balti’, armed with a six pack of Carling. All of this is fine. I go there, quite a bit actually. It’s dependable and consistent and they do chilli bhaji’s that might even trump the naan as the greatest thing to dunk into a curry.  I’ve written at length about it back in the early days of this blog.  If you were one of the two people that read it back then congratulations, if not, please let me tell you about the recent meal I had courtesy of those dandy people at Deliveroo.

Pani Puri is the first thing to enter our gigantic gobs.  The puffed up shells arrive intact as we crack open the top and pour in the spiced water to neck in one go.  They are delicious, all umami and spice.  Paneer tikka is charred on the heavy side and is all the better for it.  The bland cheese has taken on all the marinade, transforming it from a nothing to something extraordinary.  We fight over the last piece.

 

The Balti’s do not disappoint. A lamb Balti Jalfrazzi is the ideal bastardization of complex masala and spice. The bite of pepper is welcome with the softly braised meat and heat that grows on the palate. And then there is my curry, the Balti Chicken Chilli Masala that I have been teased in to ordering with the provocative wording. It as subtle as The Suns disdain for Corbyn, a punch in the mouth of chilli; as fiery as a hungry Jeromy Clarkson. It is relentless in the best possible sense, a full out attack on the body. I love it, even if the look on my face says otherwise. The meat is tender, the sauce pungent and vibrant. I use the pilau rice to coax the last of the sauce on to the fork because a yellow garlic naan, the colour of a radioactive warning sign, goes untouched.

I’ll end with the gushing bit, so if me sucking on the proverbial nipple of Deliveroo isn’t your bag, please close down the window now and resume your normal duties. It’s meals like this that make me love Deliveroo in the way that I do – restaurant quality food delivered to my front door in under half an hour. It allows me to be lazy, to watch TV and eat dinner in my pants without compromise. To treat myself to one of the better curries in this part of the city without leaving the door. It’s the most convenient of treats. When you can get somewhere the calibre of Adil’s I fail to see why you would ever consider another option.

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this meal.  For money off your first order, please see the following link roo.it/simonc3898

Pieminister, Birmingham

My history with Pieminister goes back some way.  I used to buy them so frequently from Waitrose that a former colleague of mine, a lady by the name of Penny Stubbs, wrote to them and got me a signed cookbook for my birthday.  I was the original groupie, a V.I.Pie whose purchase was always one Chicken of Aragon for me, and always a Heidi for the former vegetarian former partner (*shakes fist in jubilation/anger*).  The girls in Harborne Waitrose used to poke fun at my inflexibility.  I once ate six of their pies in four days at Isle of Wight festival.  Cut me back in those days and I bled pie.  I like pie.  More particularly, I like Pieminister.

IMG_9314

So this is a difficult one for me, because by all accounts my relationship with Pieminister should have led to it being the greatest opening in Birmingham since my mothers legs parted and I popped out back in ’82.  The reality is that it left me yearning for my own pie, with my own accessories, in my own home.

We cut straight to the chase and dive in with the main event.  My dining companion likes her Moo pie, which is generous in beef filling.  She does not like the mash which is oddly floury and bland, or the beef and port gravy that is bitter and gloopy.

IMG_9315

I try one I have not eaten from the supermarket.  A green Thai chicken curry pie that is oddly muted in flavour.  It needs more punch of seasoning, more kick of chilli, an elbow to the head of vibrancy.  It basically needs a Thai boxing lesson.  I take fries at a supplement with chilli seasoning that are the best thing on the plate.  A jug of chicken gravy should never have been there (it was supposed to come with tzatziki which eventually arrived when I asked), and I wish it hadn’t.  It was acrid and destroyed anything it came in contact with.  Jalapeños are ordered as an addition that I don’t require in hindsight.

IMG_9316

We skip dessert and finish off the cocktails that are good value if you catch them at the 2-4-1 period like we did.  I leave a little jaded.  Like the moment I have dreamt of for the last six years ends with this.  The fact is I still love a Pieminister – they are easily the best pie in any supermarket.  I will just stick to eating them at home with my overly buttery mash and thick caramelised onion gravy.  I have safety there, where I know that the salt pot is easily within reach and I have two firm hands on my potato ricer.  That’s where the good stuff happens.  But for now the dream is over.  Only a shut supermarket and a craving would see me go back.

5/10

Pieminister sent me a voucher to cover a proportion of the bill

And now the plug. I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards. If you are reading this before the 4th June please give me a vote here http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/

Harborne Kitchen, Harborne

It was on a whim that my new girlfriend and I decided to have lunch at Harborne Kitchen. We’ve both had it rough of recent, both slightly hungover and tired, in need of a stomach lining fill and a top-up of alcohol levels. We initially looked to the greasier end of the spectrum in the city centre, before deciding that The Plough in Harborne would be a good option to while away the day after lunch. So, Harborne Kitchen it was. It would turn out to be one of the better decisions that the indecisive shit has made this year. The girl done good.  It’s stuff like this that got her the gig.

IMG_9221

We arrive on very wet Saturday afternoon, when the restaurant space is peppered by the dark grey sky looming through the skylight. It is a lovely dining room, arguably one of the cities more charismatic, all royal blue and white, the centre dominated by the open kitchen and stooled seating around the beech wood counter. A flurry of nibbles start us off. Cod skin arrives looking like a gilded pork puff, the salty whack of the sea ramped up by a spritz of rosemary vinegar.  These are excellent, as are the cauliflower cheese pastries they share a space with.  Lightly pickled carrots with a little of the liquor and buttermilk feel like work in progress, a little too refined and clever for its own good.  We end the procession with a gorgonzola donut that erupts through the brioche casing in the mouth.  It’s bites like this that make me go out for dinner.  It was as corrupt as a Tory MP, only far more appealing.

The first course might just have been my favourite.  Just cooked jersey royals, soured, no, sorry, cultured cream, with a wild garlic veloute poured tableside.  The veloute is bold and intense, as good as any I can recall eating.  Also lurking in the bowl is caviar that gives pops of salinity and toasted rice for bite.  We race for the last piece of sourdough to wipe the bowl clean.  It’s good enough to make me want to punctuate this sentence with swear words.  Absolutely nailed on one star cooking.

The duck liver dish that follows is all about the texture.  The combination of duck and cherry is one that harks back to Escoffier, the fruit having enough tartness to cut through the rich liver.  Sandwiching the parfait are two shards; one like a ginger melba toast, the other some wafer thin chicken skin.  It’s complex and intriguing.  Every mouthful is unique.

IMG_9212

I ask for a replacement to a salmon dish and get a salad of heritage tomatoes, a baked bean fondue, basil, and a tomato essence poured tableside.  It’s light and fresh, a beguiling mix of temperatures.

IMG_9213

Our main was a mammoth of a dish.  Lamb, as rolled shoulder, neck fillet, and tongue, with (wait for it), lovage, potato puree, radish, black olive puree, curd, spiced aubergine, and lamb jus.  There was a lot going on, with some parts better than others.  The rolled shoulder was glorious, as was the livery profile of the tongue.  Both were more than enough to stand up to the big flavours of the tapenade-like olive puree and aubergine.  The neck fillet was a little lost, as was the lovage.  We finished it because it was delicious, but both agreed it would have had more clarity with a couple of items stripped away.

IMG_9216

Desserts were frankly brilliant – there is obvious talent in the pastry department.  A yogurt ice cream is the perfect foil for orange segments frozen with liquid nitrogen in front of us.  There is a sharp curd that sits underneath that ties it all together.  It is exceptional.  Even better is the final dessert of honey parfait with milk ice cream, honeycomb, dehydrated milk shards, and honey.  It is good enough to induce tears of joy – balanced with ballerina-like poise.  It has character, texture, and flavour.  Another nailed on one star course.

IMG_9218

IMG_9219

The price for the above lunch?  Thirty five English pounds.  Yes, you have read that correct.  I was on the beer (don’t judge), the other half on the G&T and we fail to hit £90 between us.  And they don’t charge a service charge, despite a slick operation that will have a certain guide going weak at the knees.  Evening visits and wine will ramp up the bill, but even so, this place is worth it.  It’s clever cooking, with a focus on big flavours and complexity.  Book up and go before word reaches the rest of the city in the same way it did with Carters.  It stops raining as we finish eating and light pours through the skylight and on to our table.  It feels like a sign.  Harborne Kitchen is a very special place that can bring sunshine to the darkest of days.

9/10

And now the plug; I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards, where Harborne Kitchen is also nominated in the Best Fine Dining.  Please give us both a vote here http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/

 

Hotel du Vin, Birmingham

I first stayed in Birmingham’s Hotel du Vin on the day of my 21st, a decade and a bit ago, when an ex-girlfriend treated me ahead of what has gone down as one of the cities wankiest ever birthday parties. If memory serves me correct, I wore a white suit and vest, the only colour emanating from me being a deep orange fake tan that Trump would have been envious of. I got drunk, wasted the rooms intentions and woke up to the sound of her boffing into a bin in the morning. She was a class act, was Mel. Fast forward six months and she is driving out of Bristol’s Hotel du Vin alone, whilst I am in the bath unaware of the messages she has found on my phone. This would turn out to be a reoccurring theme in my adult life. I’ll never learn.

So, I guess that when I think about it I have always had a good relationship with the group. I’ve stayed in their hotels, I’ve drank their whisky, I’ve eaten their food. I’ve actually always been a fan of the grub here, it’s classic Gaelic stuff that goes so well with wine and big comfy beds. I’ve eaten wobbly terrines with pockets of jellified fat in between soft meat, coq-au-vin’s with the richest of wine sauces, and marbled steaks crusted by heat on the outside and blue in the centre. This is all from a panelled dining room rich with art, that feels like the home of somebody far wealthier than I will ever be. It is a very romantic place to eat dinner.

Tonight I am here in the company of other blaggers bloggers, including my new girlfriend, who will inevitably also go through my phone one day and depart quickly into the sunset. All of us are here to try the new Summer menu and to drink lots of wine. It was not a difficult invite to accept. The new menu sticks to what they do best, with a few surprises here and there. A charcuterie board is hard to get excited over, though the meat is of obvious quality and balanced well with the astringency of the lightly pickled veg. Much better is a scallop ceviche, generous in portion with three of the shellfish sliced thinly and returned back to their shells. I happen to love raw scallops like this, dressed in a little lime juice to break down the proteins, salt and sugar, with pops of sweet pomegranate seeds and the occasional tingle of chilli. It’s light and refined. I shoot the juices direct from the shell because it demands so.

IMG_9169

IMG_9168

I order porchetta because I am a man of taste. It transpires to be an inspired choice, a fat roundel of roast pig with a quenelle of apple sauce and a stick of crackling that my dental plan would not approve of.  The best bit is the sticky glaze of reduced onions and stock around the edge that adds funk and definition.  It is rustic in the best possible sense; a dish built around bold seasoning and big flavours. At £16 it is a bargain.

IMG_9170

A lamb main was far more refined, which, at £27, it bloody should be.  The French trimmed rack cooked to an accurate medium, with a salad of feta, charred baby gem, green beans and peas.  There is punchy seasoning and everything is cooked well, but how keen you think the price is I will leave to your discretion.

IMG_9172

Desserts saw theatre produced to a level that very few can accomplish in the city.  Crepe Suzette is a staple of The Ritz with good reason, it has interaction and flames and is damn right bloody delicious.  Here it is almost identical; pancakes, orange juice and zest, butter, and brandy flambéed as you watch tableside.  Just order it and thank me afterwards.  It makes the apple tart look ordinary.  Spoiler alert:  It is not.  The pastry is delicate, the apples treated with respect and just cooked through.  It is classic French patisserie work crafted in a hotel kitchen in Birmingham.

With this dinner we have lots of wine, which, this summer, is a celebration of Pinot, a grape I happen to have a lot of love for.  Unsurprisingly, it is an extremely will curated list.  Somewhat more surprisingly, it happens to be very affordable. Experience tells me that a meal here is going to creep over three figures, and if you want my opinion, I would tell you that is money well spent.  Hotel du Vin isn’t going to rewrite the culinary recipe book, but it is going to feed you honest French inspired food for a fair price.  And that happens to be perfectly fine with me.

I was invited to the launch of the summer menu at Hotel du Vin by Delicious PR

Bistro Du Vin - Hotel Du Vin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gaucho, Birmingham

Gaucho arrives in Birmingham on a tsunami of hype, being the first to open from the group for seven years and choosing little old Brum for the honour.   I’m going to stick my neck out and speak for the city; we’re delighted about this. Good steak in Birmingham is a rarity, and even then it’s a decent walk from the centre to get a fix. The principles of a steakhouse are not difficult – source cow, age cow, cook cow, rest cow, eat cow – yet the realities are often a disappointment. I’ve stopped eating steak out because of it.  It defies the very reason I eat out, which is to have an experience better than I can create at home.  I know an excellent butcher and I cook it better than the majority of places.

So let me thank Gaucho one more time for delivering the best piece of cow I have eaten in this city, in the sexiest dining room I have eaten in quite some time. It is a sultry space of plush purple seating and low lighting.  There are abstract trees in the centre of the room and leaf murals lining the walls.  It’s a place to impress, whether that be the partner, the affair, or the colleague.

IMG_9057

I am here on a night to showcase the beef, and boy, what beef it is.  Argentine prime cattle, wet aged for longevity.  After some nibbles of raw bits and some slow cooked bits, we sit down and tuck into a scotch egg with coarsely chopped cow replacing the pig.  It’s bold and funky, almost reminiscent  of tartare when the yolk is released.  A chipotle ketchup swings us back over to South America.  It is the ultimate pub snack, twenty times more masculine than any pork scratching.  I like it a lot.

Our main event is a fillet cooked to a perfect rare.  It is, as I reference above, the best piece of beef I have eaten in this city.  It’s not a cut I would usually order – I far prefer a bit of chew and more flavour – but it’s one I will go back to again.  Buttery in texture, full of flavour and aggressively seasoned.  It is wonderful.  A decadent truffle compote has the underlying earthiness of mushroom, with a carrot and parsnip dauphinoise that I will try and fail to recreate at home. If this is on the menu order it.  If it’s not stamp your feet and insist that they make it for you.

IMG_9061

There was dessert, but if I’m honest I’d make too many trips to the Malbec tasting room and by now all I wanted to do was go and meet a girl.  I was extremely tipsy and don’t recall that much about it other than the panna cotta was well set and I cleaned the bowl, which means it must have been good.

IMG_9062

The sticking point for some will be the price – it’s not cheap.  Order three courses, including the fillet and a couple of glasses of wine from the bottom of the list, and you’re looking at a spend of £70 a head.  For that price you expect fireworks, and, if steak is your thing, you can expect it here.  It is obvious the level of effort that has gone into making the newest Gaucho a success, and it has paid off with aplomb.  Gaucho has the making of a Birmingham classic, and I for one cannot wait to keep on going back.

I was invited to the launch event at Gaucho

And now the plug; I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards. Please be kind and vote for me here http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/

Ryder Grill, The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield

I was going to start this piece waxing on about The Belfry’s history, building up the grandeur of the golf course before gradually moving on to food. But what is the point? We all know about the course and its history, and I genuinely believe that there is a more pressing issue which I want to straight dive into. What I want to talk about is captive audiences. If you’re at The Belfry it’s likely that you are either a member, or you are there in some form of corporate capacity, and in both instances money, whether that be yours or the businesses, is not going to be an issue. I’ve been to places like this up and down the country, I know that too often the temptation is there to trouser the money of those whose money it is not. They are always remote in location. It nearly always features expensive mediocre food and an overpriced wine list. They take the money because they can. So it impresses me greatly when these places do show ambition and a desire to feed those as they should. And more so when it’s a price point that doesn’t alienate those paying from their own pockets.

So let’s start this piece properly. The Belfry have launched a tasting menu that veers from good to very good, and they are charging the ludicrously cheap amount of £40 for 6 courses for it. £65 if you take the matching wine flight. I can sleep comfortably telling you that pound-for-pound it’s the best value tasting menu I have tried on these shores. We start with pig cheek croquettes, dense and meaty, with a burnt apple puree. It’s a combination I’ve eaten three times in the last two months and whilst they don’t pack the same pronounced flavour as the version at Simpsons, they are very moreish. Bread follows with chicken fat butter, before we arrive at the first proper course. Asparagus is served cold, with duck yolk hollandaise, burnt onion powder, brioche crumb and a little lemon dressing. It works, like properly works. Technically sound, balanced and complex, that still shows off the asparagus as the star of the show.

IMG_8970

The liver parfait may not win any awards for the presentation, but the offal flavour is strong.  The accompaniments of savoury granola and sweet pineapple are unconventional but work in unison.  I stray off menu and get stone bass because I don’t like big and pink things with fins.  The fish is well timed with crisp skin, nestling on a courgette puree that has been seasoned strongly.  Only a beurre blanc detracts from the green elements of broad beans, purslane, and more courgette.  It’s a fresh dish, breezy with the whiff of coastal air.

IMG_8971

IMG_8972

Lamb would be the weakest course of the evening, the only one not technically competent and a little overthought.  The ribbon of fat on the rack had been correctly rendered down, the meat cooked to an accurate medium.  The charred baby gem lettuce was lovely, as was an artichoke hummus, and punchy crumbling’s of feta.  But the rack needed more resting, the caramel was bitter, and it really doesn’t need the pressed shoulder.  If it sounds overcritical, you’re probably correct, but when you eat a meal that is comfortably two AA rosette standard and this is the one dish that sits at its present level of one rosette, it is worth pointing out.

IMG_8973

Desserts would transpire to be a highlight.  A little brulee’d flan was a playful ode to strawberries and cream that disappeared before those around me had finished taking photos.  It is up there with the better desserts I have eaten thus far this year.  We finish with a passion fruit tart under a spiral of torched meringue.  It’s bloody lovely, even more so when taken with a mango puree and bitter chocolate.  They should lose the coconut sorbet or ramp its flavour up.

IMG_8974

IMG_8976

The wines were well matched and plentiful, served by a team not afraid to show personality.  It all made for a rather lovely evening in a pretty dining overlooking the course.  Based on this meal it would be impossible not to recommend The Belfry as somewhere to go for dinner – a sentence I genuinely never thought I would write in my life.  It’s worth forty pounds of anyone’s money for ambitious cooking way too affordable for its location and price point.

I was invited to try the tasting menu

Baked in Brick @ Quarter Horse Coffee

I’ve been a fan of Baked in Brick since the very first events. If you had took heed of my words during his first pop-up (when I suggested that you keep a firm eye on the man and the mini) you’ll know that the fifteen months since that pop-up have been eventful for Mr BIB himself, Lee Desanges, as he took the title of the country’s Best Street Food last September. Not wanting to miss out on his cooking, I popped along to Quarter Horse to check out the latest of his pop-up evenings, where he was showcasing the oven and grill on that red Mini of his to maximum effect.

IMG_9025

The amouse we are served is a direct nod to that Street Food Finals victory. The winning beef shin calzone is represented as a tangle of the meat on a little disc of sourdough, all topped with a little stilton. It’s decadent and deep. It’s also very obvious why it took first place. Sharing the plate was a little chicken tikka and mango chutney; another nod to the wrap that was entered into the Best Dish category. I happen to think the wrap is as good as the calzone and judging by the reaction on the table I was not alone.

IMG_9023

Wild mushrooms on sourdough toast is an exercise in the virtues of simplicity. The muddle of mushrooms are rich and earthy, enlivened with the aniseed whack of tarragon and a smattering of rarebit for comfort.  The sourdough is well sourced from a bakery in Codsall and has a little chew. A slow cooked quails yolk is all the sauce it needs. It’s absolutely glorious. I will get him to make me breakfast one day (possibly post-coital. Probably not) and this is what I will insist on.

IMG_9024

Shit. Jesusfuckingchrist. Not my words, but that of a fellow diner I had not met before as she bit into the steak sandwich. Her reaction was not overstated, the spider steak was rare but still had a little chew. The flavour deeply bovine. It was nestled on a cushion of dauphinoise potatoes with a little Iberico bacon and a splodge of béarnaise sauce.  It is the ultimate steak sandwich, a clear warning shot to the steak houses of the city that he means business should he ever wish to find a permanent venue.  A heritage tomato salad with a little burrata and dehydrated olive is all the respite we require.  Seconds of the beef are offered with more béarnaise.  Everyone in the room takes them.

IMG_9027

I’ll forgo the menu description of the dessert for copyright infringement, though you may know it as the French term ‘doissant’ – a hybrid of the donut and croissant.  Here it is given the full twist, piped with a vanilla crème patisserie, rolled in light brown sugar and brulee’d with the blowtorch.  It’s filth.  Total utter filth.  I didn’t know whether to make love to it or eat it.  That’s a lie.  I knew exactly what to do.  Seconds are offered.  Everyone in the room takes them.

If you are not inclined to listen to my opinion, let me tell you about the dining room for this pop-up.  Chef’s of serious pedigree, restaurateurs, major industry players, all paying to eat food cooked on the front of a mini.  It’s astounding when you put that into perspective.  They all know what I know, which is Lee’s cooking is up there with the best – he just happens to be doing it on the move, not from a permanent residence.  The man I once said was going places has truly arrived.  And only an idiot would miss out on it.

And now the plug; I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards, where Baked in Brick is up for Best Street Food.  Please give us both a vote here http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/

Cheval Blanc, Spring Menu Launch

Anyone that knows me, whether that be personally or via my potty-mouthed Twitter account, will know that I spend a lot of time in Cheval Blanc. I live 192 steps away and have the added bonus of not having to cross a road (something which if you also know me has proved problematic in the past). There are other options in Moseley – lots of them, in fact – but for me Cheval Blanc is the best bar in Birmingham. It is the wine bar of your dreams. Knowledgeable, affordable, with a casual air to it. A space where people go to imbibe in a relaxed environment. It is knobhead free. Apart from the occasions when I’m perched at the bar, when there is a singular knobhead with an ego problem.  Do not approach him.  He will break your heart.

And they do food. Very good food as it turns out.  Food that keeps on getting better and better. Cyd the chef may look he could be a bad guy in Ratatouille, but he has adapted his style to fit the small kitchen out back, turning out dishes that are rooted in classic French training. Over the last 9 months the cooking has become more at ease, more an expression of Cyd’s style. It is food driven by the seasons that punches with distinct flavours.

IMG_8913

The spring menu was launched two weeks back. It is easily their best work yet. The first course of Earl Grey cured salmon with remoulade and grain mustard dressing that danced with acidity.  There were subtle notes of tea in the fish and brightness from the addition of apple in the remoulade.  We get a South African Sauvignon Blanc called Two Dogs, A Peacock and a Horse with this.  I laugh at the name because I am an imbecile.  Wine this good is not to be laughed at.

IMG_8915

Smoked mutton leg is everything you hoped it would be.  The thin slices of cold meat are rich and slightly gamey, the rustic salad of rocket dressed sharp with shallots and Jerez vinegar.  It is the perfect food for its surroundings, more so if you take it with the suggested complex Amontillado sherry.  I’ve waxed on about Abigail’s ability to match food to wine before, but if any pairing shows off those badges she’s earned, it’s this.

IMG_8916

If Cyd really was the bad guy in Ratatouille, he’s learned how to make a mean one.  The veg that the red mullet is on has been roasted to a sweet pulp, with just a hint of vinegar acidity.  It’s a classic combination that works with the well timed fish. But its the crab Arancini that steals the show.  Packed full of crab meat and robustly seasoned, this could sit on the menu on it’s own.  The wine pairing this time was a classy unoaked Chardonnay that more than held its own.

IMG_8917

By now night was settling in and I was enjoying the evenings company a little too much.  So much so that my memory of this particular wine eludes me.  What doesn’t allude me is the depth of the morel and cognac sauce that coats the chicken leg.  Divine stuff, straight up my alleyway.  This was my favourite course and one that I will be returning to eat regularly.

IMG_8919

We finish the night with a rhubarb and blossom tart.  It’s everything you need after all this food; light and refreshing, the pastry short and baked through.  A German Riesling full of sweetness and acidity is remarkable and worth hunting out by itself.

IMG_8921

And with that I saunter stumble my way back up the 192 steps and fall into a happy place.  A happy place where the staff know the names of its locals.   Where wine is expertly sourced, great cocktails are to be had, and food is way too affordable to be that good.  Cheval Blanc is that place.  And the good news for everyone is that it keeps on getting better and better.

Right, plug time.  I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards and Abigail is up for Best Sommelier.  Please give us both a vote here  http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/

Byron Burgers / The Wellington / Deliveroo

One of the things I love about Deliveroo (and I do love you, Deliveroo. I love you very, very much) is the ability to make a complex evening significantly easier. I have talked in the past about slipping past overpriced set menu’s on Valentine’s Day, and I’ve mentioned avoiding the crowds in Moseley’s beloved Damascena. But what about when you’re in the city centre, and you’ve had two, no three, maybe four too many beers and the place you had intended to go is rammed to the point of queues? Step forward The Wellington. Step forward Deliveroo. I have been rescued once again.

IMG_8842

I’ll keep this one short-ish as I’ve already written about my opinion of Byron Burger. I think it’s the second best burger in the city, and that is high praise when you know who the first one is. They do proper patties from aged beef, served pink, in buns that don’t fall apart in the hands. We order a Byron burger that succeeds in showcasing the quality of the patty, a Smokey which is fast becoming a favourite of mine with the slightly hot bbq sauce, and the Kimcheese.  Let me tell you about that Kimcheese.  It’s apparently a special, though if they ever remove it I will riot.  That I promise.  On to the beef goes an addictive mess of fiery Gouchuchang sauce,  a nutty mayonnaise (seasame oil??), crispy onions, cheese, and fermented cucumber.  It is unbelievably good.  It’s also still down a shirt of mine, though that is another story.

Sides come in the way of macaroni cheese with the gooiest of sauces, fries, and ribbons of lightly battered courgette.  All were lovely.  Yes, I know, the pictures are rubbish.  Deal with it.  We were starving, it was dark, and if I’d held on to the food a second longer I was in risk of a public lynching.

The food arrived in under twenty five minutes, which I can tell you is quicker than I have been served inside Byron on occasion.  A nice man phoned me to tell me he was outside the pub, I stopped playing darts and went and collected it.  Eat food, drink beer.  Finish food, resume darts.  And all in one of the best pubs in Birmingham.  With The Wellingtons open policy for bringing food inside their premises, I can see this option for dinner being used time and time again.

Deliveroo supplied some of the credit for this meal.  I paid for the rest because I’m good like that.