Jewellery Quarter

Rajdoot, Birmingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

I was invited to dine at Rajdoot by Delicious PR

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

Little Borracho at 1000 Trades

A quick post on the latest wonder to reach 1000 Trades. Little Borracho is an offshoot of El Borracho de Oro, the much loved Spanish restaurant near Five Ways. Now the term offshoot may be a tad unfair given that the owner, Emma, is working the galley kitchen herself, giving a clear insight to how she intends the dishes to be.

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Put simply, the food is brilliant. Emma can really cook, I told her this, and I say that in the least condescending way possible. I am used to seeing her work the dining room with that personable charm she possesses, but it so happens that her ability in the kitchen is as good, if not better. Slices of aubergine are fried to a crisp without a hint of grease, finished with honey that clings the sesame seeds and chilli to its surface. It’s vibrant Barcelona in the industrially Jewellery Quarter. Chicken skewers have accurately cooked morsels of breast meat with petals of onion and pepper that still retain a little bite. The last dish is a new one to me, Calandracas, being a beer battered croquette of ham and cheese, with a little chorizo in the middle.  Those three little bad boys of oozy fun are my new favourite snack in town.

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And behold, my lateness / laziness brings good tidings!  Hot off the press is the news that Emma has extended her stay at 1000 Trades until the end of May, leaving absolutely no doubt that you should drag that arse of yours down to try it.  1000 Trades is a great place doing great things and with Little Borracho in the kitchen, there is no better area than the Jewellery Quarter to go for a nosh.

Little Borracho is the 1000 Trades residence until the end of May

HowNowBrownCow at The Brown Lion, Jewellery Quarter

Anyone familiar with the Jewellery Quarter will know that the Brown Lion has changed hands many times over recent years. Be it for whatever reason, it’s a space that has struggled to fulfil its potential, seemingly whilst the rest of the area flourishes. Now, under new ownership, it looks great; part English boozer, part New York loft apartment. Neutral colours, bare brick walls, and reclaimed wooden tables. Its unfussy and efficient. Thankfully low on pretention.

The food here comes by the curious name of HowNowBrownCow, a conceptual kitchen mostly formed from burgers and burritos, with the option of gravy to dunk ones food into. I’m sold. Tell me one thing that cannot be improved by dipping it in gravy? Exactly, you can’t. Cheese? Check. Chips? Check. My future mother-in-law? Quite obviously, check. It’s an idea that is seldom seen outside of London, and one that I’m chuffed is finally here.

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We get straight to the point and order stuff to be dunked.  A Twisted New Yorker has fat folds of pastrami over a coleslaw piquant with French mustard.  There is melted cheese and a fried egg whose yolk is slowly working its way on to everything else.  As far as things between a bun go, this is up there with very best in the city; OPM, Byron, and The Lord Clifden.  Actually, I take that back.  Fuck The Lord Clifden.  We try a caramelised onion burger, deep with the beefy kick of a properly aged bit of cow that comes alive when plunged into the meaty gravy.  Its an assured bit of cooking, comfortable in keeping it simple and letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

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The burritos here are rice-less.  I know, it took me a few days of looking at the menu to come to terms with it as well.  Turns out that I know nothing about this, and that this is perfectly acceptable.  We take the advice and order the jerk chicken one, which transpires to be far less out there than my brain initially tells me.  The chicken is boldly spiced with allspice and chilli heat, the mixture of peppers and onions all glued together by molten cheddar.  Its the perfect bastardization of culinary cross-pollination, moving seamlessly from one style of cooking to another.  The same applies the falafel burrito; you eat it and then wonder why you’ve never had it before.

They do chips that have gone through several processes to become both crunchy and fluffy, which I hope to see available as poutine the next time I return.  And return I will.  Time and time and bloody time again.  Its the perfect comfort food in comfortable surroundings at comfortable prices.  Its exactly what the Jewellery Quarter needs.  No, sod it.  Its what Birmingham needs.  In a city now obsessed with fine dining and how many Michelin stars we can beat Manchester by (to which I include myself), its a culinary intravenous feed hooked up directly to the soul.  Now pass me that gravy, I’m going for a swim.

9/10

How Now etc etc at The Brown Lion is no more.  The pub lives on to fight another day.

The Brown Lion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kebabylon at 1000 Trades, Birmingham

1000 Trades is one of the newer additions to the increasingly burgeoning Jewellery Quarter, located discretely in a listed building on Frederick Street, a few doors down from the equally new The Button Factory. It’s a New York dive bar style space of bare brick and square wooden tables, with an emphasis on craft beers and wine.  I like it there.  The service is warm and the bar well chosen.  There is an attention to detail in every tap and in every box of wine.  And they are proud to be a part of Birmingham, wearing its talent and history proudly on its walls.  It deserves to be a success as much as anywhere in the city.

They also have an interesting concept for food, with a gallery kitchen at the back of the bar hosting residencies for the cities up and coming talent. In their short life thus far they have had spells from the excellent Chilli Dog Dogs and another from the Chef patron of Two Cats Kitchen.  They have others lined up and it is my intention to give a quick post on each, depending on how much time I have and how little they have insulted me on Twitter.  First up is Kebabylon, brain child of Simon Masding, a young gent with an eye for a pun as well as a gap in the market.

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Kebabylon is a simple concept:  Take the grease-laden, vomit inducing bits of air blown carcass meat that we digest at 2.30am when our will is weak and make up it something far more elegant and digestible.   In short he’s nailed it; taking the meat / salad / flatbread combination and making it something new whilst still retaining the appeal.  We try two of the them, the first being tender bits of chicken with tomato, olives, feta, and properly made guacamole and salsa.  Its called ‘Med in Brum’ which makes me like him even more.  The second has more of that chicken with salad, jalapenos and a ‘slaw made with scotch-bonnet.  It could have been spicier, but I left thinking just how much I would crave one after a few pints, which I guess is the point entirely.

With this we have some killer sweet potato fries, one topped with lemon hummus, another with the salsa, chunky cut and with loads of lime.  Both work because the fries are crisp and the toppings fresh with citrus acidity.

The bill totalled under thirty quid with a pint of the good stuff and a glass of a dry Italian white, which itself was a bargain.  Kebabylon is on until the weekend – go check it out if you can and get a few beers in whilst you’re there, though it has the legs to run beyond here and become a staple of Birmingham.  1000 Trades will then continue with its next instalment for which I will be back in a few weeks.