Birmingham

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.

IMG_0207

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.

img_0208.jpg

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.

IMG_0212

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.

IMG_0213

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

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.

IMG_9741

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.

IMG_9744

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.

IMG_9742

IMG_9743

IMG_9747

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.  

Simpson’s, Eureka Kitchen

Cookery schools are one of those things I’ve always fancied but never done. A lot like the waitress in my local pub, if I think about it. I can’t pinpoint why, other than a deep ingrained fear that you pay all that money for a morning drinking tea with ageing ladies, whilst watching someone highly trained demonstrating something that you’ll never be able to achieve. But then I would say that, because I am a pig headed fool that feeds off stereotype until I know otherwise. Which I now do. I can now tell you that with all honesty I had one of the best days I have had in many years at Simpsons cookery school.

First, let me be upfront with the truth. Nosh and I were invited to the friends and family day at Eureka, the new cookery school, which is even more astonishing given that we fall into neither category.  The cookery school launches this weekend in an upstairs section of the restaurant that has been given the full makeover.  It’s an impressive space that looks like it cost a lot of money.  After donning an apron that I looked way too good in, we move onto banks of tables facing the gleaming new kitchen headed up by Nathan Eades, the Head Chef here.

This isn’t going to be like a normal post, because the food I’m eating is what we made, and therefore I’m less likely to be a judgemental prick.  On the menu is salmon, roast chicken, finishing with an apricot and frangipane tart.  I wont bore you with the finer details other than we had a hands-on teaching of some important techniques.  We cured salmon, butchered a poussin, made pastry, pickled veg, and plated up food.  We made gnocchi, which Claire would love me tell you that hers were the best.  She’s quite proud of that and has pictures to prove it.  It’s all I’ve heard all week.  She’s shit at rolling pastry though, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

The skill to this school is the approach.  We learnt things at our time, not once rushed, and always assisted when required.  The result is a morning that is as varied as it is interesting.  After the bulk of the cookery is done we take a glass of champagne in the garden whilst the table settings are changed from school to chefs table.  From here we work in groups at serving courses to the standard of a Michelin starred level, pouring wine and eating the food we all prepared.  It’s perfect.  A way to meet new friends over a shared love of eating.

Lunch concludes with a question and answer session with the main man himself, before us two drunkards take the last of wine back into the sprawling garden sunshine.  A day at Eureka will cost you north of a ton, but that to us seems value that we’re willing to return to very soon.  We’re still talking about it five days on, trying to weave the techniques into the stuff we do at home, thinking about who would appreciate the experience as a present, and who to make that bloody gnocchi for.  My love for Simpsons as a restaurant has always been there; it’s just now added another facet, one that will improve me as a cook and feed me at the same time.

I was invited to try the Eureka at Simpsons.  For details please see here; http://www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk/eureka-kitchen

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Indioz, Moseley

I clearly remember the time when Indioz opened; the grumblings of middle class Boho’s too polite to raise their voice from condescending to snooty.  Moseley does not need another curry house, they would say, it needs more places where Columbian coffee workers are paid a fair wage to hand harvest the beans in my mug, because this economic tilt towards the lowest paid in South America will help keep the cost of cocaine down.  And that’s the thing about us Moseleyites; we’re as socially reckless as we are conscious.

The reality is that Moseley probably doesn’t need another curry house.  We have several on St Mary’s row not fit to grace the B13 postcode, another on the Alcester Rd, the one where the Jug of Ale used to be that may or may not have given me food poisoning, and Kabbabish, the stalwart of Woodbridge Rd.  The truth is that another is fine if it raises the bar.  Keep the better stuff coming I say, it makes the bad ones dissapear and the good ones try harder.  And in that respect, Indioz works because they do the humble curry better than anyone else close by, all from a plush dining room of softened blues and creams.  Of arched ornate mirrors and thick carpeting.

IMG_9726

I’m not mad on the poppadum’s arriving smashed up in a bowl, but I quickly forget this given the quality of everything else.  A tandoori mixed grill is absurd value at £4.45 given that this buys you a sheekh kebab, lamb chop, chicken drumstick and tandoori chicken breast.  The tandoori chicken is a revelation; as accurately cooked as anywhere else in the city, the meat of a higher quality than expected given the cost.  The rest settles for just merely very good, the pick being the lamb chop that disappeared quickly due to charred outer and tender pink centre.  Our other starter was a greaseless fried bread filled with a heavily spiced mixture of potato and chickpea.  I love veggie food as relentless as this, it takes me back to India where I never cared for meat at all.  Here, in suburban Moseley, this will cost you less than four quid.

IMG_9728

IMG_9727

The curries we tried set them apart from the local competition by some way.  A Gosth Banjar was tender pieces of mutton in a dark gravy littered with chilli.  It’s dark and deep with an underlying note of star anise.  A Chicken Mirchi has the faint acidity of pickling liquor running through its veins that control the frequent blasts of garlic cloves and chilli.  It’s this sauce that makes the dish, though that shouldn’t detract from the large lumps of chicken breast that are evenly cooked and absorbed the best of the bowl.  With these we pile in aromatic basmati rice and scoop back out with lightest of naans that shit all over the competition of any within at least four miles.

IMG_9730

IMG_9729

They are unlicensed, and are happy for folk to bring in their own booze without corkage, so we make light work with a dinner that fails to hit thirty quid for the two of us.  It’s almost laughably cheap given just how good it is.  I love the food of the sub continent, anyone that reads this regularly will know that, and when its as bold and big on flavour as Indioz I would gladly eat it everyday.  Indioz have stolen the march on the local competition for the humble curry and at a price so cheap its nigh on impossible to not try.

8/10

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

Damascena, Moseley

So, that award that I’ve been begging people to vote for me on.  I won it.  Officially Best Food Blog in the Midlands for 2017, two years after starting this little old heap of rubbish as a bit of fun.  I happen to love writing this blog; it’s a diary of my hobby, a chance to vent and also to give praise to those that deserve it.  It’s given me headaches, arguably broken up a long term relationship and definitely given me a new partner who shares the same love that I do for edible bits on a plate.  For that alone it is worth it.  It’s opened more doors than it’s shut, introduced me to new friends I’d have never met, and given me a few new enemies.  I’m chuffed to bits that I won.  If you voted for me then I sincerely Thank You.  Honestly, the support I received was genuinely overwhelming and far more than I deserved.

Now enough of the humbleness – that shit doesn’t suit me one bit.  Let’s get back on to the food.  I won this award on Monday night, an evening that cascaded badly into the very early hours of Tuesday with a collection of people that should know better, but rarely do.  When we finally awake the girlfriend decides to treat me to a celebratory lunch a very short stroll away at Damascena.  She does this for two reasons; 1) It is the closest option and she has tiny little legs, and 2) she has impeccable taste.  Of course she does, she’s with me.

Damascena used to be Moseley’s worst kept secret.  We’d whisper it’s name and flock there together for mint tea.  I once sat in there during the depths of winter and watched a man in shorts tell his first date about his troubled relationship with meat.  It’s that kind of place.  I love it, but so does everybody else:  The place is always full, even when they recently opened a second branch in the city centre.  It’s why I used to stick to ordering it on Deliveroo instead of fighting the crowds.

We order way too much food that still fails to hit £25.00 for the two of us.  I insist on the M’sakhan because I always do.  The long marinated brown bits of chicken thigh have tang and pepperiness from sumac and olive oil which seeps on to the flatbread underneath.   Roll it up and chomp away.  Another flatbread is smeared with a course mixture of spiced minced lamb.  It’s pungent and aggressive and possibly the best £3.15 you will ever spend.

IMG_9702

IMG_9700

I’ve never had a savoury pastry here before and I know now why.  Its a weak link on the strongest of chains, the cheese and dried mint mixture too bland to threaten anything.  A comment is passed that it tastes like the cheese stuffed pizza crusts which is too accurate and observant to ever come from my mouth.  The proper treatment for bland cheese follows; halloumi marinated and charred, so that the middle only offers relief from flavour.  The pops of pomegranate from the sweet and sharp salad it comes with are a lovely contrast.

IMG_9701

IMG_9698

A mezze defeats us and we ask for it to be packaged to take home.  Later on we take the folds of supple flatbread to the best hummus in the city.  We fight over roasted potatoes turned amber by hot spices before dredging them through creamy m’tabal.  Baba Ghanuuj is another home for the flatbread, the aubergine deftly spiked with garlic and showered with lemon acidity.  There are peppers and tomatoes roasted until the texture has merged into one, heavily seasoned and softly spiced.  It’s a lot to take in and we almost forget to pick at the lightly dressed olives.  £7.95 will buy you all of this.

IMG_9697

It’s taken me a long time to properly write about this place, partially down to laziness, though mostly because I shared that same dreadful opinion that us Moseley folk should keep it to ourselves.  It’s a frankly ridiculous notion; food this good should be embraced and shared across the city.  Damascena get flavour as good as anywhere.  Now get in the queue and try it yourself.

9/10