Author: MeatandOneVegBlog

Gateway to India, Birmingham


I remember the days when I used to come to Regency Wharf for drinks at Living Room and Zinc.  When the anticipation of the area was high and the proximity to Brindley Place offered a new oasis of class to an end of Birmingham desperately needing it.  It was a short lived love affair.  Unfortunatley, the bustle of Broad Street is the dominant gene here, with those units now home to the tacky bluster of Rub’s Smokehouse and, even worse, Jimmy Spices buffet.  No one dares come Broad Street for class.  They come on the promise of bad booze, bad music, and, dependent on how successful the evening has been, a shag, a brawl, or a chicken Balti to finish.  The Holy Trinity is all three of those in the same night.


So please forgive my disdain for all that’s on this kebab stained hell hole on earth, because there is some good stuff happening if you scratch deep enough.  I’d mentally tarnished Gateway to India before I’d arrived as just another curry house fulfilling the needs of drunks.  The reality is that it could end up shovelling out an endless stream of Balti dishes to pissed-up idiots at 11pm to make a living, if we don’t make the most of what they do well.  And the bits they do well are as good an example as any I’ve tried.  My preconceptions were miles off and I have no problem admitting that.


We ate most of the street food dishes and almost all were excellent.  Samosa chaat have a heat that builds gradually from the curry outside the samosa, with the potato and pea filling aromatic with masala and cumin.  Pani puri are properly delicate, the choice of two spiced waters unique (he says) to this city.  Have the tamarind one.  Bhel puri is light with plenty of spiced sev on top of what can only be described as Bombay mix.  It’s a dish of textures first, flavours second.




It’s hard to eat aloo tikki chaat and not compare it to the majestic version at Zindiya.  This not quite as good, though still holds up on its own thanks to a thick green mint sauce that makes the potato patty and chickpea curry bounce off one another.  If we’re staying with that same comparasion against that place in the Moseley, the dosa here wipes the floor with it.  It’s as good an example as I’ve eaten – India included.  The thin pancake-like casing is the size of my forearm, a carrier for a rich potato filling that pops with mustard seed and cumin.  It’s served with a tomato chutney, coconut chutney and a thin vegetable curry.  It is outstanding and will cost you just a fiver.  If you work close by and choose a generic sandwich shop over this for lunch, you and I will never be friends.



The chickpea curry makes a return with Chloe Bature, a deceptively simple dish that requires tearing up a whoopi cushion of  fried bread and filling with carbydates.  It is my kind of dish.  Likewise a Pav Bhaji that that is a buttered bun to be dunked into a thick vegetable curry that has a healthy kick of chilli.  I used to get called weird for a dinner of buttered white bread and a madras curry sauce, now it turns it that it’s ‘a thing’.  Who’s weird now.



Let’s pause for one second.  Stop the writing here and you have a solid 8, maybe 9 out of ten.  It is that good. These dishes are what they do best, and glance your eyes back and you’ll notice no meat.  Vegetarian food is rarely seen as sexy, especially so close to the bravado of Broad St, yet this is knockout flavours delivered for a pittance: The most expensive of the above dishes is £6.50, the majority sit at a fiver.  Come here and eat from the street food menu; I will bet my house that you wont regret it.

But plough on we must, there is food to eat. A Viceroy mixed grill is generous in size for fifteen pound and would comfortably feed three.  We like the fat cubes of chicken tikka that are pale from hung yogurt, not red from dye, less so the chicken wings and sheekh kebab that could both be ramped up a notch on the flavour level.  Best are the lamb chops that have been packed with marinade and left until the meat begs to be cooked.  These are as tender as you get, a prime example of how best to treat this cut of lamb.


Full to the point of bursting, curries arrive.  A lamb saag is all metallic notes of spinach and not much else, even if the meat is cooked to point that knives become redundant.  Chicken Jalfrezi lacks heat but makes up for it with some deft spicing.  Best is the dhal that is smokey and rich with butter that I take home and finish off the following day.



There is a final swansong in a lobster, meat removed and mixed with garlic, tamarind, and clarified butter, before going back into the crustacean.  The meat is delicate, the tamarind match a new one for me that works in a sweet and sour sauce kind of way.  At £22.00 it’s not cheap but shows better value to me than the twelve pound curry offerings.


So, what we have is a meal where the street dishes were excellent and everything afterwards merely good in comparasion.  Which, in a self righteous kind of way takes me back to the start of the post.  This restaurant does something as good as anywhere in the city, and that is vegetarian street food dishes.  That dosa, that samosa chaat, that bhel phoori, they need people to eat them.  Failure to do so will result in the pissed brigade taking over and this place just turning into yet another generic curry house in order to stay alive.  It’s better than that.  Regency Wharf once again has a restaurant worthy of our attention, I can only hope that diners reward this with a visit.

7/10  

I dined in the company of Delicious PR and did not see a bill for the meal 

Gemmayzeh Nights at Lewis’s, Moseley

I send loads of people to Lewis’s.  In an era of my life where I am still genuinely shocked that people request my opinion, the question of the city’s best breakfast is always met with the corner spot on Saint Mary’s Row.  It’s not because I can practically see what they have chosen from my flat window (though this is a perk), it is because it is the best breakfast.  No fanciful plating, just the finest of ingredients cooked carefully and treated with respect.  And the people who I send seem to agree.  I know this because they are often arse-deep in one of the chairs whilst I am waiting in line for a table.

Now, no more breakfast talk.  I’ve covered it before if you can be bothered to search for it, and my view hasn’t changed.  We’re here for Gemmayzeh Nights, the Lebanese evenings held every Thursday and Friday.  I have to say when I first heard about this I thought it was a curious move given that Lewis’s faces Damascena, with the latter doing the food of the Middle East very well seven days a week.  Still my girlfriend wanted to try it and I have learnt to do as I am told.


We order a very nice bottle of red from an all Lebanese list and order from a menu split into smaller plates and shawarma boards.  Food arrives as and when it’s ready, the first dish being a grilled halloumi dusted with spice and chopped mint that lifts the bland cheese.  Skewers of chicken have zatar, that woody and zingy aromatic, to thank for lifting them well above the norm.  The quality of the meat is superb – it is this ability to source produce that separates them from all else.  


A trio of the more coventional dips arrives with flat bread.  I think that the labneh, strained yogurt to the unwise, has the whiff of Philidelphia cream cheese about it, a notion I am told is ridiculous.  It does.  We both agree that the hummus has a great texture to it – not overly blended to a wallpaper paste as often is the case – and a rich flavour with plenty of tahini and lemon juice.  And we also agree that the baba ganoush could do with more garlic heat against the smokey aubergine.  All three bowls are quickly shammied clean with the flat breads.  We finish up the small plates with fine slices of asparagus, freekah and labneh.  The entire plate is dressed in a bright acidity that lifts all it touches.  It’s a simple thing executed well.  




Given the quality before, the shawarma is frankly a disappointment.  Forget that the crispy potatoes are good, the pickles perfectly made, or the salad well dressed, this dish lives and dies on how good the meat is, making this Death by Lamb.  The meat has little in the way of taste, and has dried out a little due to overcooking.  At £12.50 this is the most expensive dish on the menu and the one I’d probably recommend least.  

This being Moseley village, expect to pay for the experience.  Our bill of £70 includes a £30 bottle of wine, leaving a figure for the food that pushes the top limits of what it’s worth.  It’s a nice night and I admire what they are doing, but if I’m being really honest I’ll be saving the return visits for lazy weekend breakfasts.  

7/10

Gemmazyeh Nights at Lewis’s are every Thursday and Friday 

Saba, via Deliveroo

Saba has been on my radar for some time, though probably not for the reason you might assume.  You see I have a younger brother who’s nickname is the same as of the restaurant.  Please don’t ask me why, I really have no idea, but it is how everyone knows him.  My family, his friends, the local police – we all call him Saba.  Every time I look at the slightly tattered building in Balsall Heath it makes me think of him looking at strangers and saying “do you have a problem, mate?”, or the time the helicopters hovered over the house looking for him.  Brilliant lad is my little Bro.  I love him dearly.  

But the reason I haven’t visited, wait for it, ShitAdvisor’s 13th top ranked Birmingham restaurant, is a simple one.  No booze on the premises.  This is a problem for me.  I can barely eat breakfast without a glug of wine, so it’s never going to happen at dinner.  I’m sure they offer a tantalising selection of non-alcoholic drinks, but when it comes to tails I’m all cock and no mock.  I order via Deliveroo, crack open the vino, and put on the least amount of clothing possible to scare the rider without him pressing charges.

The reality is that the restaurant is nothing like my brother.  It punches with little strength and is far too polite.  The starter promises wheat sauce, walnut and garlic, but if it’s there it’s swamped by aubergine and tomato.  Likewise a Karahi that is all tender chicken and tomato paste.  Where is the spice? More importantly where is the portion?  It takes up a quarter of the tray and is smaller than the starter.  We’re sixteen quids worth of food down and I’m still starving.  



Here’s the stuff they do well; naans and chilli sauce.  The former is supple and light, the latter fruity and backlit with heat.  Two thirds of the kebabs also impress, one of lamb, another of chicken, both tender and wholesome.  The sheekh kebab is dry and lacking any flavour at all.  These three kebabs will cost you £14 and you will find them under the specials section, an exaggeration at best. 


For those not able to read between the lines, this is not an endorsement of Saba the restaurant.  Delivered to the front door and lubricated with alcohol it is tolerable, but that is about it.  It’s overpriced and surprisingly short on flavour.  If I want some Saba action in future I’ll be picking up the phone to my brother to go for a pint.  

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this.  By all means give Saba a go, but if I were you I’d be in The Wellington ordering a Tortilla burrito via them instead. 

Caneat Cafe, Stirchley


On the day we go for brunch at Caneat Café the ever-changing menu has an item listed as ‘green eggs and ham’. It sounds like something my Mother would have turned out for dinner by accident, along with ‘southern fried chicken and black chips’ and ‘beige sausages with beige mash’.  It is, of course, a nod to Dr. Suess and his beginners books, but then you knew that already.  What you don’t know is that this may be the best brunch dish I have ever eaten, certainly since this blog started.  Two softly boiled and halved eggs lounge on thick sheets of ham and sourdough.  It’s the green bit that makes it, a phrase I haven’t used since describing a boil I once had.  It’s zingy and bright and full of herby notes of coriander and parsley.  It has a depth that goes way beyond a little place in a tired row of shops in Stirchley.  It manages to take ham and eggs on toast and rocket them skywards after a quick detour via every taste bud.  If you go, which you absolutely should, and this is on the menu then you absolutely should order it.  It’s not on the menu, then my life is automatically better than yours.  But then we knew that already.

And so to the rest of this short post on Caneat Cafe, a pale wooded, plant heavy, square room on a high street that is fast becoming the place for independent’s on this side of the city.  We take the stroll from Moseley and arrive late morning to a full house, ordering the green eggs and two other dishes.  Of those three the banana bread is the most conventional, smeared with peanut butter, and topped with both sliced banana, blueberries and pumpkin seeds.  There is a drizzle of something sweet and lemony.  It is a well put together bit of breakfast.

Look deeper and there is a nutty professor at work.  Roast peaches on brioche are hardly ground breaking, but the miso caramel that lurks underneath is.  It has a deep umami flavour that makes it a salted caramel for adults.  There is yogurt and more of that lemony stuff.  The result is a deeply satisfying plate of sweet things.

They do sweet things and quiches that we turn down, despite some glowing references on both.  And it’s cheap, with these three dishes and two drinks failing to hit £25 for the two of us.  What I love about this place is the focus is on the eating, not about pretty plates that look far better than they taste.  All three dishes had flavour in abundance; quirky little turns that enhanced the taste of the main event.  The chef is a man of obvious talent; dare I say maybe too much talent for the location it is in.  Stirchley needs places like this if it is going to fulfil its potential.  I hope the people of it reward it by filling it on a daily basis.  Caneat?  I will eat.  And frequently, too.

8/10

Ox and Origin at 1000 Trades

This potentially could have been even more pointless than my usual crap.  A piece on a two week residency which I eat and subsequently post just as they finish, and no place I can direct you to in which to eat the food you are about to view.  It’s the ultimate middle finger; here, look at this wonderful food.  Too bad you can’t eat it.  I almost never bothered because of that very reason.  Except you can.  Well, kind of.  Stick with me on this and like all of my personal misdemeanours, it will slowly come out in the wash.  

I am sent here by The Pope.  No, not the Nazi in Rome, but one far wiser, richer, and  more sadistic from Sutton Coldfield.  When he says something is good, it’s good.  And the food served by Ox and Origin here isn’t just good, it’s argubly the most accomplished residency to have come to 1000 Trades thus far.  

It’s small plates here; a hotchpotch of styles that is somehow glued together by a kitchen that understands how to layer flavour without overcomplicating.  We take a punt on a sweet corn dish because at £3 it’s worth the risk.  It has been roasted on the cob, basted in a little Siracha hot sauce and littered with flecks of toasted coconut.  What I expect to jar and fight for attention, is in reality a simple progression of heat, salt, and sweetness.  It’s a very clever bit of snackery.  


Other dishes are far easier to geographically pinpoint.  A ragu of ox cheek is all northern Italy with classic French technique.  The meat is spoonable, with two pillows of vivid green gnocchi, and a deeply flavoured sauce made from a reduction of the braising liquor.  Salsa verde completes it all.  We both agree it’s the best thing we eat all night.  This is closely followed by rump cap of beef, served rare with smoked walnuts and more of that salsa verde.  Three ingredients that each know their place on the plate.  



My date, whose images I have stolen in case you had noticed the improvement, is less convinced by the composition of the pork dish.  The belly cut is excellent; softly rendered to that gelatanious mix of meat and fat.  It appears with a spring roll of lightly spiced vegetables and a peanut sauce that is a more luxurious relative to satay.  There is saltiness, acidity, and heat in every mouthful.  I love it.  Much simpler is a tomato and burrata dish with tomato consommé and a little basil.  It’s too quaint in the company of its peers.  A dish that’s still wearing it’s bow tie at midnight, whilst the others are unbuttoned to the naval and sharing a toilet cubicle.  


Dessert feels like a bit of an afterthought.  Strawberries in various guises with piped droplets of white chocolate, blobs of pistachio creme, and a yogurt sorbet.  It eats well enough but there’s little excitement to be had here.  

The food hits £38, and we drink a bottle of wine in the mid-twenties, leaving a bill of thirty quid per head, or just over sixty quid if you happen to also live my girlfriend.  My usual advice would be to go immediatley and thank me afterwards, except they are on to Saturday 12th, with Twitter pointing towards an almost fully booked ending to their residency.  But alas, it doesn’t end there.  We get speaking to one of the chefs who tells us that the day time job is one of a private chef, where a similar menu can be had from as little as £30 per head.  They’ll even do the washing up afterwards – it’s almost worth it for that alone in our house.  So there you go; either go the brilliant 1000 Trades for a pint and pray for a table, or treat yourself to a rather wonderful meal in the comfort of your own home.  I think I’ll do both.  Sod it, I’m worth it.  

I have no affiliation at all with them, but they were nice enough to stop and talk to us about the food, so I’ll return the favour with a link.  For affordable private chefs with marigolds go to https://www.ox-and-origin.com/

Meat Shack, Birmingham

 

I have a lot to thank Meat Shack for.  They ended ‘The Carlo Great Burger Drought’, that ripped through the country between 2006 and 2013 when I decided that burgers were shite.  Looking back I was probably right, in Birmingham anyhow, when our casual dining scenes was as stale as the sesame seed bun that compresses the cows arsehole and eyelid together at McDonald’s.  We had very little to shout about other than a couple of Michelin starred places that the majority could not afford.  And then Digbeth Dining Club happened.  I remember eating the food of passionate traders who were producing far superior dishes to those in their own bricks and mortar, at a fraction of the price.  The Meatshack was one of those places, the first burger I had eaten for, I think, seven years.  I was coerced by a mate and never looked back – it was everything that I wanted a burger to be.  I remember talking about it sometime after to an equally epicurean pal, how those burgers, along with many other wonderful dishes at DDC, would eventually shape our future restaurants in Birmingham.  I was right.  I am always fucking right.

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The transition of street food to restaurant doesn’t happen overnight.  Products are to be tweaked.  Locations found.  Funds raised.  In the case of Meat Shack it’s taken five years to go from the little black and white tent to the bright and illustrated space upstairs in the new Thorp 17 building in China Town.  It’s caused local hysteria with those who love their food.  Expectations are high and for the most part they have nailed it.

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The slogan here is ‘dripping filthy goodness’, a phrase that they have presumably stolen from a swingers club, but actually relates to the process of cooking the beef patty so that it retains the juices.  It is exactly as I remember them being, if not as pink in the centre as they once were.  We try two different burgers, both of which are excellent.  Hell Shack is a brute, a relentless assault that has the Rib Man’s ‘Holy Fuck’ hot sauce at it’s core and a green chilli relish playing back-up when a back-up probably isn’t required.  Still, if you order anything with a hot sauce called ‘Holy Fuck’ you expect serious heat, and serious heat is what you get.  I fucking love it, and I can swear all I want here, because if they can say fuck on a menu, I can use it all I fucking want in my post.  Sorry, Mom.  If heaven existed I know you’d be pretty appalled with me right now.

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You can look again now because the next paragraph contains zero curse words.  The Dutch Piggy is at it’s purest form a bacon cheeseburger.  It has two cheeses; a classic American cheese that owes its existence to the invention of plastic as much as it does to milk (this is not an insult – American cheese is the best for burgers) and another, Edam, I think, that has melted in a far more conventional sense.  Together with the bacon it works to accentuate the beef flavour rather than wipe it off the face of the earth like the hot sauce does.  They are two burgers for very different customers.  Both are very good indeed.

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There are no fried pickles on today, leaving us with onion rings and fries topped with a spicy mayo.  The latter is the weak link here, unremarkable in texture with not enough of the mayo, which itself could do with more attitude.  The onion rings are the best I’ve tried, though at £3.50 for six they should be.  The batter cracks and then disappears in the mouth.  It makes me wish that the Frickles were on to try.

We’ve waited five years for this to become a reality.  Is it worth it?  Undoubtedly yes.  We eat within the first few hours of the first day they are open to the public and already the team have mastered the service and the cooking.  It’s slick and personable, maybe more than you ever expect a burger restaurant to ever to.  I never doubted their ability to make the jump, but I am seriously impressed with the professionalism and accuracy of it all.  Meat Shack is destined to be another Birmingham success story, and hopefully one that will inspire some of the other traders to do the same.

8/10

Lord Clyde, Bollington, Cheshire

I find myself in Macclesfield for the weekend, secretly shitting myself that I will make an idiot of myself in front of my prospective future in-laws.  I am on my best behaviour, something that I never knew existed, curbing my foul mouth, opening doors, and cooking meals badly.  It’s nice here, far nicer than others would have me believe.  It’s not even raining.  I know, I can’t believe it either.  We go for long walks in the Peak District that remind me of the beauty of the Lake District, only without the, err, lakes.  In the evening we are to dine at a pub in a nearby village where I will be grilled, possibly both in conversation and over flames should my answers not be correct.

The pub in question is the Lord Clyde, a quaint low ceilinged space in the village of Bollington, where the white washed walls jostle for attention with the darken wooden beams.  This week, and completely unbeknownst to us at the time, it reached the lofty heights of the 63rd best restaurant outside of London, which I believe makes it the 63rd best restaurant in the country without a God complex.  The menu is concise and well-formed, with starters topping out at eight quid, mains typically around mid teens.  It takes us some time to decide what to order.

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Whilst waiting for the starters to arrive we get a nibble of chicken liver parfait on a potato crisp, radish and a little dandelion.  The parfait is textbook; deep and full of offal flavour.  The rest works to play support to this, though the potato base is a little greasy and flimsy, as if the wet ingredients had been on it for too long at the pass.

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Three of the five starters are ordered.  We like the simplicity of the pork loin most, with it’s battered shallot rings, spinach, and black pudding puree that completes the dish once we have added a little more salt to it.  Asparagus with duck egg and hollandaise is a classic.  The sauce is correctly sharp, the addition of radish a clever one, but I would have personally have taken the woody stems of the asparagus a little higher.  Ham hock croquettes are properly crisp, with tussles of the pork lightly dressed in grain mustard.  Pickled red onion has enough inherent acidity to cut through it all, with a creamy aioli full of buttery garlic notes.  It’s rustic cooking in the best possible sense.

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I never order steak at a restaurant because I feel like I have a duty to write about more interesting stuff, but tonight I am that man.  I order it because the rib eye is aged for 50 days, a period of hanging that should only be reserved for bits of cow and all of Piers Morgan.  It’s accurately cooked to the medium rare I request, the thick pockets of milky white fat only just starting to melt.  It’s a very good bit of beef, a fraction under seasoned, but still deep in bovine flavour.  The peppercorn sauce is expertly made, as are the Jenga pile of chips that crack and fluff.

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The other two mains are a mixed bag.  The duck is genuinely lovely, crisp skin with a consistent baby pink meat.  There is another stellar sauce (sauces are an obvious high point here) with salty nuggets of pancetta that lift the seasoning across the plate.  Claire thinks that the gnocchi are not as good as the ones she made at Simpsons, but then she would say that.  I tried them and they were good.  It’s a very good plate of food.  The trout is more timid.  The lentils, samphire, and mussels are all coheshive, but it needs something else to get the dish going.

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Portions here are on the Northern side of generous and we debate whether to order dessert at all.  In the end we order one portion of sticky toffee pudding with four spoons, using only two of them.  The pudding is lighter than it looks, the additions of honeycomb and a very good vanilla ice cream more than welcome.  What lifts it is the salt content in the sauce that gives further depth to the sweeter elements.  It is a technically accomplished and well thought out way to end the meal.

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The bill hits fifty quid a head between four with a two bottles of wine listed without vintage.  We all enjoyed Lord Clyde, which delivered attractive plates of food cooked without skill.  That said, it was not without fault, namely some erratic seasoning issues that need addressing.  It’s a handy place to stop for food and with the trips up North looking likely to increase, is a place that I can see myself giving frequent returns to.

7/10 

Lord Clyde Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kiln, London

Kiln is not for the faint hearted.  It is a restaurant with fire at it’s core.  Heat blazes from the clay kiln pots that are used to cook with here, and pop up from the dishes studded with chilli.  From the raised seating around the food counter it whacks you direct to face like the first steps off the plane on a summer holiday abroad.  It is the remover of clothing, the bead of sweat inducing exhilarating reason that we love obsess over fire.  A meal here is not only an insight into the food of North Thailand, it is a celebration of heat and the results it brings with control and skill.

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To see it in action is part of the theatre.  With electricity reserved only for lighting and refrigeration, all the graft is done by the small team over smouldering bits of clay.  We are handed a menu from which we choose something from every section.  We like the smaller dishes most, the pick being a coarsely ground sausage that packed the biggest of chilli hits.  Chunks of aged lamb are skewered and fused only by the melted ribbons of fat.  These are delicious, as are the chicken thigh glazed in soy in cooked gently through.  It is the most solid of starts.

From the fish section comes langoustines, cured in lime and hardly cooked so that the flesh is still semi-translucent.  It never loses the essence of the shellfish despite the big flavours of holy basil and chilli with every mouthful.  It’s delicate yet punchy, and one of the very best langoustine dishes I have ever eaten.

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We are told that the baked noodle dishes are something of a signature here, so we order them off the back of that.  They prove to be the lunches weak point, the crab lost amongst the sour dressing that you work into the dish yourself, the pig unctuous but equally unremarkable.  It’s nice enough, but for me not up to the same standard as everything else we eat.  We finish up with a beef cheek curry, the texture of the cut of meat similar to how I’ve eaten it in the far east, which is a much quicker cook and firmer texture than the long braising treatment we often give it on these shores.  It divides us; I really like the depth of flavour, complex with anise, galangal, and clove, my dining companion less so.  I finish the bowl off happily, teasing the last of the sauce out with wild rice that still has a little bit to it.

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The bill for all of this with a cocktail and glass of wine comes in at a shade over seventy quid, good value, we both agree.  Kiln is simply a one-off; a sneaky peek into the cuisine for a part of a country not associated with voyeurism like it’s southern half.  It’s a thrilling experience, equally for the punchy style of cooking and theatre.  It’s vibrant and in your face, and worthy of anyone building a sweat up for.

8/10

Kiln Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Zindiya, Moseley

I started my last piece on Zindiya with the words ‘Chicken Tikka’. Well I would, wouldn’t I? I’m so bloody predictable at times. A fully committed carnivore whose eyes wonder to the grill section of the menu, even when, as the case is at Zindiya, the majority of the menu is vegetables and other lovely stuff that leave a far smaller, morally larger, footprint on the planet.  Despite that bolshie, macho attitude I like to display I actually really love vegetarian food – about half the meals I cook at home are – and none appeals to this side of me more than Indian vegetarian cooking.  I hardly touched meat in India because I never needed to.  The ability to turn vegetables into a meal of their own is something that the Indians specialise in – they have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world.

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I’m in Zindiya with someone who has never been here before, and when it comes to India, well, she’s been there, done that, bought the tea set.  We never meant to order a (mostly) vegetarian meal, it just kind of happened.  A lot like our relationship.  I insist on some dishes because I know they will be good, she insists on okra because she is a sadist.  The lady fingers are the first to arrive.  They have crunch and are a million miles from the gloop that I associate them with.  She did okay with this choice.  She can stay another week.

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What follows is a masterclass in vibrant and light Indian street food dishes.  No one, and I mean no one, does this as well in Birmingham as the team here.  The Aloo Tikki Chaat is a prime example of this, the potato cakes being delicately spiced, the surrounding chickpeas more aggressive in heat.  It’s topped with soothing yogurt and the most vibrant of mint sauce.  It sings.  The green pucks that are the Hara Bhara Kebabs are new to me.  The potato and spinach patties are denser than Aloo Tikki and need the mint sauce to revive them.  No such problem with the kati roll filled with cubes of paneer and coarsely chopped raw vegetables.  I’ve eaten this dish a lot because it’s wholesome and complete.  It’s a meal in itself and a bargain to boot at £6.50.

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Papri Chaat is my highlight of the night. Pops of crispy dough wafers nestle amongst chickpeas, potatoes, yoghurt and tamarind chutney, giving a perfect contrast of texture. The spicing is beautiful – all depth rather than heat – giving the dish a complex flavour that demands another mouthful. It’s absolute heaven in a dish, and a bargain at only £4.  If you thought that paragraph was too good to be mine, it’s because it is – I’ve nicked it from my girlfriend’s blog because she says it better than I ever could.  Take a look at http://www.noshandbreks.com and see how much better her pictures are of the meal.  It’s not even funny how superior she is.  Anyway, back on my (award winning, had you not heard) blog,  I’m not crazy about the taco-like presentation of the dosa, but the flavour is there in spades.  The potato filling is spiked with mustard seed and turmeric, all neatly folded into the rice batter pancake that probably doesn’t need to be so neat.  The sambhar and coconut chutney it comes with could make anything taste better.  Maybe even tofu.  Those two dishes showcase what Zindiya does at it’s best; deft spicing and vibrant cooking that wont leave you sagging with a heavy tummy for the rest of your evening.  The lightness of touch here is astounding considering the bold flavourings.  We get Chicken Tikka because Claire has never tried it.  It is still the best version of it’s kind I have ever tried.

IMG_9745IMG_9746IMG_9748There was a dessert, but I was too busy working through the cocktail list to tell you what it’s like.  What I can say is that everything has improved since it opened.  The service is sharper, the food on a constant incline.  It is ready to be rolled out across the country and embraced by those far and wide.  Tonight they served up the best vegetarian meal I’ve eaten in the city, despite not being a vegetarian restaurant.  Just don’t forget the chicken tikka.  See, I’ve gone there again.  I’m so bloody predictable.  

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London

The promenade of The Dorchester hotel is full of those having afternoon tea.  It is a curious mix of ladies who lunch, those celebrating, and hotel guests.  The class and the crass, if you like.  There are pearls and gowns beside velour tracksuits.  Cut glass English accents are interspersed by shouty American ones.  It is a lovely space where new money meets old money with a shared interest in the most luxurious of hotels.

We walk through that promenade and turn left into the dining room of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester.  It is bigger than I expected, with washed grey walls, immaculate white linen, deep chairs, and an army of staff.  The latter are everywhere, an orchestra of tailored suits and foreign accents who are trained into pouring wine simultaneously and expertly covering up stains with smaller sheets of linen.  Each are aware of their individual roles in us leaving replete and suitably poorer than when we left.

After turning down the attention of a champagne trolley we are presented with a generous pyramid of gougeres – those lovely savoury choux buns flavoured with cheese.  These are nice, a little light on the emmental cheese flavour, and not as good as those at Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road (an obvious comparison given it is London’s only other 3*).  The less said about the amouse bouche the better – a curious blend of cured John Dory, lime and peanut that was never going to work.  If 2017 serves up a more ill-conceived dish I shall be very unfortunate.

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We tried much of the bread to mostly great success.  A farmhouse bun was as light as a pillow and delicate with the back note of pork lard, whereas a black olive was a little muted on flavour.  Best was a bacon fogasse that had us going back for seconds, thirds, and, in my case, fourths.  Who said not to overfill on the bread course has never eaten this.  It’s the ultimate breakfast of knotted bread and cubes of fatty bacon.  We smear it inch thick with a lovely salted butter that has been shaped into an onion, whilst sneering at the aerated cream cheese option that looks and tastes like hair mousse.

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Our first course hit the mark.  A crumbed egg gave way to the brightest of yolks that served as a sauce for the smoked corn, chicken oysters and onion stuffed with chicken mousseline.  A corn tuile was a superfluous addition that the dish did not need, but the rest was indulgent and cohesive.

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And then, well, it all slumped for a while during mains.  A lamb rump was perfectly cooked, seasoned, and rested, with chickpeas, a hummus like puree and pickled onions.  It was nice.  In the same way that Songs of Praise is nice, or making daisy chains.  Impossible to fault, but equally hard to get excited over.  The thrill of dining here is lost amongst the fear of being anything other than perfect, as if the weight of Michelin hangs more heavily here than anywhere else I have dined at it in the country.  There are no risks being taken.  A word on the sauce though, it was an incredible thing that only a classic French approach can result in.

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The other main was a technically astute squid stuffed pasta, with various preparations of octopus hidden under a canopy of leaves.  The overriding flavour is one of citrus that lifts and occasional dominates all it coats.  The octopus was tender, the pasta silky, but three stars?  Really?  It’s all far too safe.

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You get the mignardises here before dessert, why I simply could not tell you.  What I can tell you is that they are all delicious, with some of the best macaroons I have eaten, cocoa coated almonds, nougat, and chocolates.  A lot of work goes into these and it pays off, with a salted caramel toffee disappearing to a nothing on the tongue.  Really lovely stuff.

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Desserts were true three star calibre.  An almond sponge has the lightest of textures, with poached apricot’s and almond granita.  Like the savoury courses there is nothing to fault but this has character; it stands up and demands attention.  Before I move onto my dessert, we were given an additional course because we were celebrating.  Its strawberries and cream for the child at heart, one perfect quenelle of milk ice cream, another of strawberry.  Little meringues of raspberry provide texture, with a singular fruit crowning it all.  The depth of the ice creams are truly staggering.  There is obvious skill in this part of the kitchen.

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The best course of the lunch deserves a post of it’s own, but I have a liver to kill and only  limited time to do so, so you’ll have to make do with this paragraph.  Chocolate and passion fruit.  It sounds simple enough.  Wrong.  Two tempered chocolate domes, one filled with a white chocolate mousse, the other a passion fruit mousse and topped with passion fruit seeds so that it resembles a halved fruit.  Have a look for yourself.  I couldn’t believe it as I cracked into it and I was 30cm away.  More chocolate as a creme, tuile, and crispy covered puffed rice.  Central to this was a vivid passion fruit ice cream that perfectly balanced it all out.  I’m not a dessert man because they are too often an afterthought, but this is up there with the very best sweet courses I have ever had.

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We finish with coffee and a tea trolley where you choose your own plant for an infusion.  It’s a lovely concept, typical of a place where every thought has been considered for the consumer.  Apart from the food that is. See, my biggest problem with Ducasse is a simple one:  Exactly one week one after dining here I have to refer to notes to remember much of what we ate.  I remember the splendid company and wonderful service.  I remember how charming the restaurant manager was.  I remember that the desserts were unquestionably three star level.  But the savoury stuff was mostly forgettable safe cooking, hovering around the two star level if they were lucky.  It’s nice.  But then nice just doesn’t cut it when this sort of money and reputation is involved.

7/10

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato