Birmingham

Saint Kitchen 

It started with a tweet. 

I never intended to write this. It was supposed to be a nice Saturday morning breakfast with the better half in a place that we’ve frequently been to.  And even when it dissapointed, I was willing to just move on and accept it just wasn’t our day. But they had to rattle me, didn’t they.  So here is the reason I will never be visiting Saint Kitchen again. 

Claire orders eggs benedict with chorizo and black pudding, I have spiced eggs with chorizo. Claire quite likes hers, I really don’t like mine. In all of my visits to Saint Kitchen I was yet to have a dud dish and this was shite. A watery concoction of tomatoes, peas, and potatoes with two poached eggs and very good toast. It is flat on spice and under seasoned. I ask Claire for her opinion. “Shit” she says, “it tastes like a supermarket pasta sauce”. She’s right. I order additional toast. It arrives burnt. I give up on it less than halfway through. 


Now this is where the fun starts. I make the grave error of going to the till and telling them my opinion. Here I am greeted by Liam, a slender man with delicate features whose YouTube footage of him playing the piano have amassed a whopping 78 views. I’ve watched it; you shouldn’t bother, his piano playing is as average as his coffee skills. I’m not looking for a anything other than to share my view and I simply tell him that this is the worst breakfast I’ve eaten here, to which he replies “maybe it wasn’t to your taste”. It’s not the response I was expecting. 

Riled, I take to Twitter because I find the nonchalance of their response appalling. What follows is Liam and I exchanging insults in a very ungraceful manner. Liam, if you’re reading this in between those excellent piano sessions, I’m sorry for calling you a prick. He calls me a ‘self-entitled arsehole’ which is true, and ‘just a food blogger’ which is not. 

You see, I’m not just a food blogger, I’m a paying customer. I work hard to pay for these meals and that means I’m entitled to my opinion. Food is my passion and my blog is a hobby. My platform at the point of complaint is irrevelant. Whether if it was my first time or my seventh hundred, food blog or not, I should be allowed to speak up if didn’t reach expectations. They charge £8.50 for that breakfast and for that price I expect to be able to finish it. They message me on Twitter to say the next time is on them – like that will ever happen given the attitude of the staff. Liam, an argument won is a customer lost. Saint Kitchen will never see me again. 

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El Borracho De Oro, Edgbaston

As we’re waiting outside for our taxi to arrive to take us to El Borracho, it seems fitting that it is already starting to get dark at 7.15pm. Without wishing to get all Game of Thrones on yo’ ass, winter is coming and quickly, too. Soon it will be dark by the time you get home from the office, with the only salvation a duvet to hide underneath and a mug of hot tea to clasp. El B (as it is locally known and herewith referred to as) get this, changing up the menu to reflect needs of a wet and blustery day. Gone are some of the lighter dishes, in comes more wholesome stews and working muscles of animals that need time and love. This is a new take on Spanish food for me, one that you don’t see scattered around the coastal resorts us Brits hanker for in the summer months but one that reflects their cooler periods.


We order entirely from the new dishes with the exception of one. The tomato bread here is the perfect rendition of how it should be. Toasted bread with a mushy tomato mixture on top that is loaded with pungent garlic. It is a must order, the simplest of dishes with the biggest of flavour.


Almost all of the new menu shimmers with confidence. The one that falls short is due to proportions, not flavour. The scallops are accurately cooked, with a crown of crispy ham bits atop of the seared crust. These are sat on rich black pudding and a red pepper purée for which there is a little too much of both. The scallop is lost but this is easily fixable. I find no fault at all with a stuffed pepper with goats cheese and pine nuts that is all mellow sweetness and light touch, nor skewers of chicken that have been marinated in a piquant red mojo sauce. A drizzle of a garlic rich aioli is enough to provide contrast.



With our metaphorical hat and scarfs on, we embark on the properly winter dishes. There is a lamb stew which I’m sure sounds far sexier in Spanish. Everything has been cooked slowly with love so that it is denture friendly and is boldly seasoned. It is rustic in the best possible way. The same applies to a Fabada, which I now know to mean a butterbean stew. The depth of flavour is there with smoked black pudding that makes the tomato base taste almost like barbeque sauce. Fatty lardons and chunks of chorizo add a meatiness. We tip the bowl and chase the last of the juices out with the spoon.

We finish with two stunning dishes that leave no doubt that the finest Spanish food in Birmingham is to be found here. Pigs cheek are so tender we fight to get them to stick to the fork, with mashed potato that spreads like my waistline across the bowl thanks to the quantity of butter which is in it. All of this sits in a puddle of red wine sauce so rich it initially threatens to take over, before stepping aside and letting those porky flavours shine. Potato churro’s are a new idea that must rank in the top five things to eat for a fiver in Birmingham. They are salty and moreish and creamy, almost like the best duchess potatoes in a dippable form. We dunk into a blue cheese sauce that has been preciously tempered to let the potato flavour through.
 Two days later the quality of El B is driven home by a Spanish restaurant that is twice the price and half as good. It makes me hanker for long nights here, elbows on the deep wooden table, quaffing good wine and eating authentic Spanish food with friends. It’s the kind of neighbourhood restaurant that I wish I ate at far more frequently than I do. Outside the weather may be miserable and the nights dark, but inside of El Borracho is nothing but a joy. 

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Blake’s Restaurant, Hopwood

Blake’s Restaurant is housed within The Westmead, a hotel on the outskirts of the city I have not been to for over a year. The last time I was here it was for a wedding, a lovely occasion where they made the error of inviting me all day, resulting in my Saturday drinking start time being pushed back two hours to 11am. Unsurprisingly, I was a mess. The hotel has changed a lot since then, undergoing a massive refurbishment since the turn of the year – the bar has been extended, the entire area spruced. The biggest change has occurred within the restaurant area – now Blakes, a handsome dining room of petrol blues, pale greys and copper. If the devil really is in the detail, this room is pure evil. It is proud and cleverly lit, a dining space any food would be glad to grace.


On first glance the menu doesn’t smack of ambition, it looks to be a modest affair that saves the bravado for the plate. Dishes that don’t promise much transpire to be much more elaborate in composition. A crab and prawn pot has plenty of crustacean bound in an acidulated crème fraiche with pickled cucumber at the base. It is crowned with salmon roe that pops with salinity and a delicate squid ink tuile. We’re initially shocked at how pretty it is. On the side is an accurately cooked king prawn and a mini loaf; two very different things to pull apart with fingers and savour. At £7.50 it’s as expensive as the starters get, showing that the kitchen are not only downplaying their talent but the prices, too.


The mini loaf returns for potted pork, the braised and pulled meat hidden under a blanket of clarified butter. It all eats well but needs to tone down the acidity; it’s everywhere. The vinegar in the piccalilli is a little too sharp, and lemon juice is detectable in a winter ‘slaw. Even the pork has an underlying zing. I get the want to freshen everything up but this is a plate of food that would benefit from accepting that it is rich and fatty. It is very nearly there. We still finish the plate because nothing is going to come between me and pig with piccalilli.

They have a wood fired oven here that they use to make pizza and more snacky items, which appear to be doing a roaring trade in the two weeks they have been trading. From the former we take a pizza draped in good quality meat and add olives that have come straight out of a jar. Given the obvious the effort gone to sourcing here, the olives seem a small slip that I can overlook. The pizza is good; supple with a nice char on the crust, and plenty of tomato flavour on the base. It is extremely generous in size and serious value at under £10. Dough balls are generous sides at four quid, which would make a good snack with a pint propped up at the bar.


Pork steak is a grown-up riff on gammon and eggs. At the centre of the plate is a fat cut of tender pig, accurately cooked so that it blushes pink in the centre. A couple of poached eggs provide the rich sauce, whilst a pineapple salsa is a smartly judges mixture of sweetness, acidity, and heat. It doesn’t need the avocado purée, nor do I understand it’s place on the dish, but the chips are serious things that snap and comfort. It is downright delicious.

Our choices for desserts could not be more different. I love the simplicity of affogato, the idiot proof process of pouring shots of espresso and amaretto on to vanilla ice cream. And there’s not much to say about it other than it hit the mark was and keenly priced at £5.50, including the booze. Claire’s dessert on the other hand is on of those that is destined to pop up on Instagram feeds. A peanut butter and chocolate brownie is downright naughty, with a healthy crust and squidgy centre. On top there is a wave of tempered chocolate and a macaroon, both sprayed gold. Elsewhere on the plate are raspberries freeze dried and as gels, pistachio ice cream, fresh passion fruit and again as a gel, and honeycomb. This is a serious amount of pastry work, saving the best course for last. It’s hard to fault and very quickly finished.

It’s hard not to admire what they are doing here, it would be so easy for a hotel like this to sit back and make a living from weddings every weekend, yet they are pitching themselves above that, providing food that looks and tastes the part. It’s not perfect yet, but I wouldn’t expect it to be after two weeks, and we really enjoyed our meal. The kitchen have already landed on their feet and with the smallest of tweaks will be running in no time at all time. I won’t be holding out for the next wedding invite to arrive before I return to The Westmead, Blake’s restaurant is one that I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

7/10

I was invited to Blake’s by Birmingham PR agency, Delicious PR http://www.deliciouspr.co.uk

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Tamatanga, Birmingham

Another week, another opening of somewhere hyperactive on colour offering Indian street food. We’ve a lot of these in Birmingham now, with even more to come. Latest addition to the chaat show is Tamatanga, a bright and loud space that has blasted down the M42 from Nottingham. It’s a try hard kind of place, where lights dangle from the ceilings and illuminated slogans fight for space on walls. They have cocktails with chillies in and things they call ‘Eating Kits’ – cutlery to you and I – a phrase that makes me want to remove the pointy one of the three and stab myself repeatedly in the eye. I personally don’t like the room, it’s too busy and my mind cannot settle. But what for me is a migraine in waiting will be to others their ideal dining room, even if that audience is half my age and twice as optimistic.



Before I go on the type of bashing spree not seen since Negan started waving Lucile around on Walking Dead, let me tell you about the positives. The staff are brilliant; warm and well trained, they are a credit to the business. And the paneer was as good as any I have ever eaten anywhere. Large cubes of the bland cheese marinated and blasted with heat, these are well balanced in flavour and texture thanks to petals of pepper that still have bite and substance. I would say that I would order these again and again, but that would be a lie as I have no intention of ever going back.


The rest of it can be imagined in your heads if you take a Turtle Bay and replace their mediocre take on Caribbean food with equally mediocre Indian. It’s food without complexity, all one-level blasts of flavour. A garlic and chilli curry has plenty of moist pieces of chicken thigh but the sauce is nothing but tomato and chilli flakes. It feels half-arsed. It is served with two peshwari naans which is two too many, being heavy and sickly sweet. The menu tells me that the Tamatanga fries are ‘legendary’.  This is a lie. They are about as legendary as I am marriage material.



When done properly, I love thali. Meaning that on this occasion I have fallen out of love with thali. It’s a fifteen pound tray of pots with very little to admire. Once again we’re back on the familiar ground a chicken curry with good meat and an unremarkable sauce, only this time its joined by a lamb curry with not very good meat and an unremarkable sauce. Throw in to this tragically overcooked green beans, a tasteless vegetable curry and a dhal even thinner than my hair. It’s a post-Brexit dinner; deflated, with an air of disappointment. Lovely poppadums, though.

We finish with a sugar concoction that shut down my pancreatic gland which you may know as a cheesecake. It’s a dessert that will appeal to their target market; sweet base, sweet cheese mixture, sweet topping.  I am twenty years too old to be put through this. We take one between the two of us and manage a spoonful each. Stick to the chai which is a milky kiss of warming spices.

I hate comparisons but there is a direct one that I feel is necessary to mention here. For me, Zindiya is the present leader of this type of restaurant in our city. I understand that they are looking to expand and roll-out to other cities, which was never in their initial plans, but one that has happened organically based on the success of the business. Tamatanga gave the impression that has been designed to be rolled-out from the start. It’s brash and heavily marketed – the Indian Turtle Bay that I mentioned earlier on. It’s just not very good, and I hate to break this to them, but that should be the starting block for anything. Others will no doubt lap it up, but it is never going to be for me.

5/10

I was the guest of someone invited and therefore did not see a bill.

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Nosh & Quaff, Birmingham

Way before I started eating and writing about the nicer places around Birmingham, I used to read about them and not eat at them. I would buy the Birmingham (then Evening) Mail on a Friday only, moving just past halfway to Paul Fulford’s weekly piece. There you would have found a small picture of his small and shiny head in the upper left and two hundred words or so of Paul’s concise writing below. His occasionally acerbic, always honest writing style was an early favourite of mine, more so on the occasions he slipped in a subtle knob innuendo. He’s my neighbour now, which I still find bizarre, and occasionally I get to spend time over dinner with him, taking in his stories and counting the wrinkles on his face.  A couple of nights back I met him at 7pm sharp at Nosh & Quaff where in the deep red leather booths you would have found the unlikely combination of a Birmingham food legend and Paul Fulford, the ex restaurant critic for the Birmingham Mail.

There is a valid reason for us being here.  Back when I first wrote about Nosh & Quaff the menu was even shorter than Paul; lobster, burgers, some ribs.  I liked it, others less so, finding the options too limiting and the pricing aggressive.  Two years and a little introspection later, we have a full page of options and a considerable decrease in the pricing.  I think it needs it.  Downstairs is still a beautiful space of marble and deep red leather with ceilings high enough to fit my ego without the need to crouch, it just now has the kind of pricing and options to fill it more frequently.  There is a large industrial room  of bare brick and wood upstairs that they should turn into the city centre location of Fiesta Del Asado, a stablemate of the same group.


The hotdog is one of those items that has fallen in price.  Impeccably sourced from the Big Apple Hotdog company it is now half the price of the fifteen quid it used to be, with only fries losing their tray gig.  It showcases what N&Q is all about; quality produce, generous portions, and an underlying guilt that you probably will need to run your dinner off the following morning. It is worth the run. The dog snaps, the bun is sturdy enough to hold everything else in place. Order this and ask for a bib to come with it.  


From the newer items are rib tips that really transpire to be precise cubes of unctuous pork, slowly cooked and glazed in a funky BBQ sauce.  This is a lot of pig for £4.50.  Chick Norris may be a dreadful name for a burger but is a hefty bit of dinner.  Two hulks of free range thigh meat in one of those thick American buttermilk batters with bacon and processed cheese. Heat lurks in the background with enough tang in the ‘slaw to cut through the richness of it all. As far as the composition of a burger goes this has it all.



American portions mean only real Americans will have room for desserts.  For the rest of us it’s a small dent in the wallet and a lie down.  I still really like Nosh & Quaff, they’re not pushing boundaries but they are taking a familiar cuisine and applying quality ingredients with precise cooking.  It’s managed to improve what it previously was, now with a menu with enough scope to warrant repeat visits.  And all in the company of a man who definitely makes the list of my top 172 food writers.  Life really doesn’t get much better. 

Mr Fulford picked up the bill, I got the Uber home.  I guess that makes us quits.    

Indian Streatery, Birmingham

I hadn’t been in the building that now homes The Indian Streatery since Adam’s first launched in Birmingham. I remember that building well. Back before Michelin bestowed them with a star and they had their shiny home on Waterloo Street, it was here that Adam Stokes initially set-up; a small rectangular room on Bennetts Hill with a black and white screen acting as the gap between dining room and galley kitchen. I like that the building is now in the hands of this family, the transition feels appropriate. When Adam’s came the city was still getting used to fine dining, whereas we have now become accustomed to our many Michelin stars. Five or so years on we look to a new breed in the city, one that looks for it’s own home after owning and honing street food.  Indian Streatery makes more sense as a name when you understand that they used to be a regular at Digbeth Dining Club as Indian Rasoi.  When others have made the jump in far quieter spots with far cheaper rent, these lot have jumped into a central Brum location that used to house a Michelin star.  And that takes balls.  Massive balls.


The dining room is well lit and has attention to detail at every glance.  The wooden street cart that forms the bar area at the back of the room will take the plaudits, but for me the ceiling mural of India is what takes the eye.  Plush seating in gold makes up the soft furnishings, dark wood fills the rest of the space.  Credit must go to whoever managed to make somewhere so small seem so inviting.



The ambition of the location and makeover is matched by the menu.  They are going all out here; a section purely for chaat, another of more traditional dishes from the Punjab, and a section of less than conventional dishes such as Indian Hot Dog and Pakora Fried Chicken (they missed a trick there not calling it PFC).  Dishes arrive as and when they are ready because this is 2017 and we have been taught to do as we are told.  Bhartha is the first to arrive, ordered on the basis that it is new to me.  It is a dish that could easily be middle eastern in design, a base of smoked aubergine weaved with garlic, ginger and tomatoes, that we lap up in seconds.


We try two types of chaat when perhaps just the one would of been fine.  Of the two it is the samosa chaat that stands out, the torn bits of samosa are perky in spice and have enough to stand out from the chaat chickpea curry.  A chicken chaat is interesting for the chicken that has a nice savoury funk from a tamarind coating.  A word on the chaat itself and I know I’m in danger of slipping into twat territory here:  I’ve eaten a lot of chaat recently – I’m the king of chaat.  Michael Parkinson with additional drunks and weirdos on my sofa.  This chaat is slightly different to the others you’ll find dotted around the city; the chickpeas are cooked less and have more texture than usual, the curry itself is more perfumed and not as aggressive in heat.  It is topped with less of that crunchy sev.  This is a more sophisticated chaat that speaks in quieter tones rather than shouting.



My India obsessed other half insists on palak paneer, a glorious blend of spinach and paneer with strands of ginger and garlic that is too refined to ever consider came from a street food begining.  Likewise a methi chicken deep with fenugreek flavour that we take basmati rice to in order to work the last of the sauce out of the silver bowl.  They both show a gentle touch of taking robust flavours and making them harmonious.


I really like Indian Streetery, more so for the less than conventional dishes on the menu.  I often bemoan the identikit menus that haunt the city, so credit must be due for putting stuff out there that you cant get elsewhere, and doing at a price too fair for the location.  All of the above, with rice and a couple of soft drinks, fails to touch £40 between the two us.  It’s this price point that will allow us to return frequently and try more of that menu.  Which we will.  Indian Streatery is not perfect but it is ambitious, characteristics I can relate to all too well.  It looks like that little room on Bennetts Hill will continue to shape the dining scene in this mighty fine city.  

8/10

And now the plug.  I’m up for Best Blogger in the Birmingham Awards.  Please vote for me in category 16 on the below link

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Indian Brewery, Birmingham

My opinions on the rise of Indian grill pubs and restaurants are well known; I think they are brilliant.  They breathe life into tired buildings, with often excellent food at almost always affordable prices.  But we now are starting to reach a point of saturation.  They are everywhere.  I can walk to three within thirty minutes of my home, other areas have far more.  And they are always the places I get recommended, meaning they are nearly always the places I ignore.  I hate being told where to eat in the same way I hate being told when to shower and what politician not to pelt with eggs.


Except some people I do listen to.  If Jay Rayner weekly piece says go, I go, same with a few fatty friends and a less than fatty girlfriend.  Those few are all united with taste.  So when the girlfriend messages me from Indian Brewery saying that I have to come and order the fat naan, I listen, even if I thought that a fat naan was only available on the menu of brothels frequented by Wayne Rooney.  I mean, they brew their own beer and they serve it with grill food.  What could possibly go wrong?  Quite a lot, actually.

From a small menu we order a mixed grill, masala fries, an additional garlic naan and one of those fat things.  It’s an almost colossal failure from the off.  The mixed grill is competitively priced at £15 and big enough to feed two, had we not left most of it on the tray.  Green chicken tikka has a nice piquant marinade but is let down by the same dry meat that haunts the more standard dyed red version.  Better are chicken niblets that have the tang of barbecue sauce that penetrate the darker meat.  I am passed sheekh kebab and told that I won’t like it.  She’s right.  The mince is tepid in colour and has gristle lurking amongst it.  It’s a bonafide disaster.  There are two types of chicken wing; one that has nicely charred edges that have caramelised the spices, and another that has a pink batter the colour of a seven year old girl’s bedroom.  Do not approach the latter.  The batter is flaccid, the overall texture cloying and demanding of water to ease it down the esophagus.  Lamb chops are dry but at least the marinade has life and we like the cod bites, even if they are straight out of my local chippy.  We leave one chop, a pink wing, a sheekh kebab, and a niblet.  No one questions this as they take the food away.  


That fat naan is a lifeline, albeit one agressively priced at £7.50.  The naan is good, the meat chopped smaller and seemingly more tender than that from the grill.  The sev topping, a sweet pink mango sauce (why? Oh why?), another of tamarind  and one of mint all combine to add interest.  I’m told it’s not as good as it normally is, a phrase I’ve heard before when she lights up a cigarette in bed.  Chips, probably frozen variety, are okay when dusted with masala. The garlic naan is my favourite bit of the meal, though I don’t tend to choose dinner based on the quality of the bread.


It’s all a bit depressing and frankly a massive let down given what I’d previously heard.  Maybe they are better than today.  Maybe a Monday lunch is the worst time to eat here.  It’s just not my problem to fix.  I pay the money for food and I expect a certain level of quality.  On this experience I could point you a couple of dozen places that do this kind of food far better than here.  

5/10 

And now the plug.  I’ve been shortlisted in the Blogger of the Year catergory at the forthcoming Birmingham Awards.  Please spare a minute to scroll to catergory 16 and give me a vote.  Thanks.

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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.