Asian

Rofuto, Birmingham

The view from Rofuto is still my favourite in Birmingham. I always like to be sat on the right of the restaurant, looking away from the bustle of the city centre and out towards the serenity of Edgbaston. Beyond there it’s home, Moseley, if you’re asking. There’s something comforting about being able to pick out your address, like coming in to land on a plane, even if you’re a few streets out from reality.



The view here doesn’t change, but the menu has been gently tweaked from an all Japanese affair to one that now encompasses a more pan-Asian feel. The trio of bao we try would never have existed in the old Rofuto and maybe that’s an argument for it staying under it’s old guise. They are the nights biggest let down, three claggy milk buns each over promising and under delivering. Chicken katsu needs more katsu, duck needs more contrast than just a sweet hoisin, the kimchi with the pork needs brighter acidity and high notes. All three are flatter than Norfolk and marginally less inbred. Prior to this are fat sticks of crispy pork skin with a dip of fermented yuzu. These are as good a crackling you will try, the yuzu sharp and funky enough to cut through the richness.



Our other starter has been on the menu since the opening and with good reason. Chicken Yakitori are marinated in soy and mirin, grilled so that the edges catch. The flurry of crispy leek on top offer a little vegetal respite from the richness. It’s a dish that is rooted in Japanese cuisine for good reason. They are wonderful.

Without that menu expansion we would  never have had Korean lamb chops, and for  that I’m glad it happened. They are charred and filthy on the outside, pink in the centre. They have fire and a trimmed bone that wants away the need for cutlery. We leave four bones and consider ordering another four more. We don’t because we have the duck egg rice and sweet potato fries to keep us going. The latter are dusted with a kimchi powder that adds a layer of heat. I am not a fan of sweet potato fries, though Claire is, and she declares these the best in the city.




Pork belly is in hindsight a kind of rehash of everything that came before it. The pork skin is back, as is the fermented yuzu, the crispy leeks and sweet potato. Central to this is pork belly, poached and then roasted. If I am being picky (and it’s my blog so I’ll do as I wish), I happen to prefer the cut pressed and roasted so that the layers of fat render down. This is a little too fatty for my western palate. Not that this stops us from scraping the plate clean.

It is the sweet courses that have seen the biggest improvement. A yuzu cheesecake is fresh and delicate, but the plaudits are saved for a chocolate fondant with cherries. It’s a dessert that I would never normally touch as I’m not the biggest of fondant fans and this not being 2003, so it’s a good job I’m in the company of someone young enough to not remember them first being put on menus. The fondant is perfectly made, oozing molten chocolate in the same way I do with sleaze. The whisky macerated cherry is a genius addition, but it is the cherry sorbet that takes it, all deep autumnal fruitiness. I even like the twee addition of cherry sherbet. It’s a stonking dessert that I wish I’d ordered for myself.

We’re in and out the front door in just over an hour, which feels rushed given that it’s difficult to leave here with a bill for two south of a ton. This is my fourth visit to Rofuto and the second time I’ve written about it. I think that after eighteen months we’re seeing a kitchen in control, even if those baos need binning. I like it, and although it hasn’t set the city alight in the way I initially thought it would, it still offers something different in a setting that has a wow factor. If ‘the view’ is your thing, which I know it is to some, you have a choice of here or Marco Pierre Shite, and for that there really is no choice at all.

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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

Chicken Tikka.  It’s really all I remember about the opening party at Zindiya.  Being a very short walk from my house I decided to attend for an hour despite being in a haze of tonsillitis and antibiotics.  I recall chatting to a nice man from a local newspaper when the food started coming out from the kitchen.  We both agreed that it was the best chicken tikka we had ever eaten.  Another man who has happened to win an award or two for street food came and joined us.  He commented on just how much it tasted of chicken, a rarity in the age of tasteless barn reared poultry, we all agreed.  Soon newspaper guy and I were raiding the kitchen pass directly, and I was being pushed out the door by my girlfriend with my coat pockets full of the stuff to eat at home.  It was a good night.

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I’ve waited two weeks for that bloody tikka, so apologies for my poor manners in ordering it before our drinks request was taken.  It’s every bit as good as I remember; the marinade has broken down the proteins, the tandoor catching the edges so that they are charred and slightly bitter; the meat sweet and tender.  They tasted even better with a lick of lemon juice and a dunk into the thick vivid green puree that is the mint sauce.  You can stop at this point if you like, close down the window and go purely to eat this.  That’s okay with me – I wouldn’t blame you.  Or you can read the rest and see if anything else takes your fancy.

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Zindiya isn’t the first of its kind to focus on ‘street food’ but it is easily Birmingham’s finest of this type.  Obvious care has been taken with every detail to ensure this is the case.  Beer is from Purity, wine from local merchants Connolly’s, and a stellar cocktail list curated by drinks legend Rob Wood.  The interior is a flash of colour with wall murals depicting the food markets of India.  The menu is mostly familiar and we order widely across it.  Fish Amritsari are morsels of firm white fish (pollock, I think) in a batter vibrant with cumin and ginger.  Chilli paneer see’s the pale cheese purely as a vessel for the pungent sauce – a good thing when the main ingredients best quality is it’s ability to take on other flavours.  The Papri Chaat here is probably the best I have tried anywhere.  Think of it as a wedge salad for the interesting.  The dough wafers are intact so that they can lifted from bowl to mouth with minimum fuss – get them loaded with both sauces, the red onion, and plenty of herbs and wait for the magic to happen.  It’s lighter and fresher than the Indian food we have come to know in this country, and is all the better for it.

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Back to the tandoor we go for  charred lamb chops, still wearing the thick marinade like a winter jacket.  The meat is well judged to just beyond medium, the flavour good, if not perhaps the best example to be found in the city.  Personally, I thought it could have been a little more bolder with the spicing.  No such problems with the pani puri, which are as textbook as you like.  The shells are properly assembled and hold their own when sunk into the murky tamarind water.  Pani puri are the ultimate amouse bouche; a mouthful of everything that is good about Indian street food – how to take cheap staple carbohydrate’s like potato and chickpea and fuse them together with spices into something utterly bewildering.  The last dish to arrive is the chicken dosa, taking a break from tradition with a presentation more akin to tacos.  The filling is light and aromatic, with chunks of chicken in a coconut milk marinade that ties in nicely with a coarse chutney from the same fruit.  Throw in a sambhar that contains all of the flavour of lentils without the chalkiness and what you have is one of the better ways to spend £6.50 in the city.

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I was being treated to dinner by a friend with an expense account, so we get stuck in to the cocktail list.  Put simply, it’s brilliant – an excursion through India’s different states, each pinned to the vast countries larder.  The pick is the vodka with the lime pickle cordial, worthy of a trip to try on it’s own, with the bourbon and masala bitters a close second.  Bravo, Mr Wood.  Bravo.  All of this combined makes for a rather wonderful experience.  I’ve often bemoaned the quality of food in Moseley at all levels below Carters, but Zindiya now joins Cheval Blanc in places I can grab a good bite to eat without breaking the bank.  This place is a class act in every respect.

9/10

A very nice man from Deliveroo paid for my dinner, so I’ll give them a little shout-out as thanks.  Zindiya are not on Deliveroo yet, though when they are grab some chicken tikka from them here; http://www.deliveroo.co.uk

 

 

The Blue Piano, Edgbaston

They do a dish at the Blue Piano for which all other dishes should be judged.  It’s a carrot cake in type, though in reality a steamed radish cake; an even less palatable name for the everyday unadventurous natives of our fine country.  You can see why they stuck with carrot.  The cubes of steamed radish and rice flour are pale throughout, spare the edges, which have been lightly browned in a pan with scrambled egg that coats and adds an unctuous layer.  They are spongy in texture, with only a little bite from a fine julienne of spring onion and chilli that adds a warming heat.  It could easily be the best breakfast you have ever had, though here it is a starter, beguiling and delicious in equal parts.  It must make the top ten, no, top five dishes in Birmingham.

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Situated in a smart Victorian property in leafy Edgbaston, the food here focuses on South East Asia; the carrot cake from Singapore, others from Malaysia through to Cambodia.  Its an intriguing mix that never hits the heights of the glorious starter.  Another of pork puffs (their name, not mine) was light on meat and heavy on the doughy pastry, saved by a chilli jam that could rescue just about anything.  A similar story with rolls of minced pork and prawns battered in to the corner by a heavy hand of five spice.

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Curries of vegetable green and duck red feature sauces with the depth of someone who has been doing this a while.  Each were fresh with lime acidity and seasoned with fish sauce, but invariably could have had more chilli kick in both.  The duck in the red curry had dried out, though the jackfruit was a nice addition, cutting through the meat and giving a cleaner feel to the dish.  Heavier and more substantial was the beef rendang nasi lamak, national dish of Malaysia and loosener of belt buckles.  Long braised cubes of beef in a visually unappealing curry fragrant with coconut milk, with peanuts, dried anchovies, half a boiled egg, cucumber, coconut rice, and prawn crackers.  The best bits happen when its all combined and piled high on to prawn crackers for a smack around the chops of texture and taste which only gets better when additional chillies arrive at the table.

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We debate how acceptable it would be to order the carrot cake for dessert, and after viewing the sweet menu decide it is probably the wisest option.  We don’t, only for the reason that the portions here are enough to fill even the greediest of gluttons, instead paying the bill that stays below thirty pound a head and retire to the nearby Edgbaston for further imbibing.  The place was busy on a Friday evening and it’s obvious popular with the well heeled cliental, though I personally prefer their sister venue in Kings Heath, Blue Ginger, where the cooking feels more consistent in it’s smaller dining room.  Still, it’s enjoyable and refreshing different from the Asian cuisine more readily available within the city.  And they do a pretty amazing starter, if you haven’t already heard.

7/10

Blue Piano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Tonkotsu, Birmingham

Tonkotsu comes to this city on the back of high praise, beloved of paid food critics and those pesky bloggers alike, throughout the six locations across London.  The groups first steps outside the capital is a curious one; being the food hall of Selfridges, where shoppers presumably show what taste they lack by going between Yo Sushi and Krispy Kreme.  We go three days into the launch and already the fifteen or so counter chairs are almost full.  Either Birmingham has a very knowing food crowd or I have underestimated just how hungry shopping for a Michael Kors handbag makes you.

 

The name Tonkotsu apparently translates as “pork bone”, which makes up a large portion of the menu – a long simmered stock of piggy bits that would normally be discarded as waste.  The result of this process is the backbone for this type of ramen; a stock soup with noodles and a few added bits and bobs that the Japanese have been chowing and slurping on for decades.  Ramen verdict later, we start with pork gyoza and chicken kara-age.  The gyoza’s are a disappointment, watery and flat on seasoning, only springing to life when dredged through the soy sauce.  Much better are the kara-age, crisp bits of deep fried chicken thighs, with a batter that snaps like fortune cookies when tore apart by hand.  They do a burger here with this chicken which on this form will be the sole reason for my return.

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The Tonkotsu arrives in branded bowls.  The signature bowl is a murky off-white colour of pork stock, creamy in texture with thin bouncy noodles that they are rightly proud to say they make in-house.  There are thin slices of pork belly, half a boiled egg that has discoloured in the stock, spring onions and bean sprouts.  The first slurp is comforting, thereafter it is too salty.  I persist in the name of gluttony and awake the following day so dehydrated I feel hungover, despite sticking only to the yuzu lemonade that evening.  Another bowl with a pork and chicken broth is cleaner in taste and vibrant with a homemade chilli oil that first smacks the mouth and then the lips.  The chicken portion is meagre and we find it difficult to get excited about.  It reminds me of a similar dish at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York which punched well above its weight.  This version was only just treading water.

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We play it safe and go for dessert elsewhere, not before being passed an incorrect bill which requires amending.  I welcome London’s finest coming to our city, though it needs to be done with the same quality.  No doubt others will love it, but crispy chicken aside, Tonkotsu left me underwhelmed.

5/10

Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York

The queue at Momofuku Noodle Bar reminded me of home.  Person after person, all lumberjack shirts, beards and beanies, waiting in line for a bowl of soup with bits in.  How very British.  I know people back in UK that would have joined the back of it for fun.  Me, I hate queuing.  Its wasted time that I could be spending doing more important things.  Like drinking.  Or being obnoxious.  But the original offering from the Momofuku group was high on the NYC hit list, partially due to it being a block away from our accommodation, though mostly down to it being a David Chang restaurant.  I like what I read about Chang; in every printed interview he embodies the ‘fuck ’em’ attitude that I love about his adopted city.  He is a sweary, belligerent man, with an apparent dislike for vegetarians and food bloggers alike.  Two dislikes which I happily share in the majority.

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We eventually sit on a communal table in the brightly lit but narrow, canteen-esque space of pale wood.  We would have liked to have sat at the long counter and watch the open kitchen in action, though this is the kind of place where you don’t ask questions and take what you are given.  The menu is concise; some stuff in buns, other stuff in bowls.  There is a smattering of other stuff from which we order a moreish soft boiled egg, marinated in soy sauce and topped with crisp onions and chives.  We cannot resist going back for seconds whilst waiting for the hot stuff to arrive.

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It was the steamed buns which started the hysteria here many years ago.  Today we take the beef brisket that requires minimal jaw work, sandwiched between a thin spread of horseradish and pickled onions which still retain some bite.  The buns themselves are a delight; little pillows of rice flour which offer a beguiling textural contrast from the braised meat.

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From ‘bowls’ we order two riffs on ramen.  A pork one has tangles of shoulder meat and a wedge of gelatinous belly, the comforting stock which is central to the dish owed to a long simmering of discarded piggy bits.  The triumphant noodles, full of bounce and restraint, are even better when the runny egg yolk finally reaches them.  Another with morsels of smoked chicken thigh meat has a stock enriched with miso.  Its an addictive mix of umami, salt, and heat.  As far as ramen goes its about as authentic as a drag queen in a kimono, but Oh does it taste good.

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Incredibly, a glass of wine here costs the same price as a main dish, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if the food is excellent value or the booze overpriced.  For me, Momofuku Noodle Bar takes the best of the flavours and textures from Asia and transports them to the western palate.  I just wish that we had somewhere in the UK with similar panache and without the piss-taking prices we are so used to.  Earlier, whilst stood in the warm autumnal evening waiting in line, I ask generic bearded bloke in front if the queues were always so bad.  His response; “yeah, its fucking good”.  David Chang couldn’t have worded it better his sweary, belligerent self.

8/10

Momofuku Noodle Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

MinMin Noodle Bar, Birmingham

Soon I am off to Vietnam for a well earned holiday. For three weeks we plan to do a whistle-stop tour of Hanoi down to Phu Quoc, with stops in all of the usual places and a seventeen hour train ride thrown in for good measure, just because her-indoors knows how much I despise train journeys. With any luck I will return bronzed ready for our one week of Summer, with a cheap suit barely holding its shape and two stone lighter due to the inevitable food poisoning. I will throw myself into the local cuisine and let it do its worst. Onwards and upwards. Inward then probably quickly outward.

And yet, despite the holiday rapidly approaching, I am still to try authentic Vietnamese food. I read up the staples and familiarised myself with a few recipes online: Pho mostly, which is in the most basic form noodles in a broth made from pork stock. I appealed on social media for a good Pho; one friend offered his mothers services whilst another suggested MinMin, a lucid coloured cafe at the back of Birmingham’s Arcadian. If you’ve read this from the top you will know which option I took; after all the post isn’t titled The Home of Trung’s Mother.

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MinMin is a canteen-esque expanse of lime green and white glossy plastic. It is deceptively simple, which is more than can be said of the menu; a vast bounty of dishes with pictures for the more usual offerings and just words for the less enticing pigs ears and chickens feet. We started with chicken spring rolls that avoided both greasiness and any real flavour. It was a subdued start that needed the sticky chilli dipping sauce to some add punch and heat. Mixed skewers came coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried, the pick being a large juicy prawn, opaque in the centre. There was another of a white fish that neither we nor the waitress could recognise and some veg that included a clumpy slice of red onion.

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Crispy squid was well executed with the batter offering a little yield and the cephalopod still tender, the dish benefitting from the extra seasoning from the noodles dressed lightly in soy. A giant bowl of spicy broth was filled with noodles, pork belly and roast duck. The broth was key; the lingering heat eventually giving way to a delicate meatiness which found its way onto every strand of noodle. The cubes of pork belly were tender with crispy shards of skin; a treat, which is more than can be said about the duck.  I feel bad for leaving any animal unconsumed, especially duck, but I am not going to put my dental plan at risk by chowing down on a mixture of gristle and bone.

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Twenty minutes into the soupy noodles I gave in, leaving enough in the bowl for at least another person and meaning that dessert was well out of the question.  In my pre-conceived mind I wanted to love MinMin; it came recommended by people I trust to offer a style of food I am not massively au-fait with.  Shamefully I have used Wagamama as a reference point, with the food here being no better than there. Let’s hope that Vietnam fares a lot better.

6/10

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