Street Food

Sear and Smoke, Birmingham

Meat. If that one word isn’t to your liking, then you may want to shut down this window and go back to your hummus and crudites. For the rest of you, prepare for sympathy sweats and burger envy, for lumps of protein and token pieces of carbohydrates. The latest addition to this cities fast expanding food scene is an ode to fire and beast, to feeding using only the finest animals in the most skilled of hands.

Being a collaboration from Original Patty Men and Digbeth Dining Club it was never going to be ambiguous in name. They settle for Sear and Smoke, which makes sense given that pretty much covers off the cooking processes involved. It’s home is Crane, a beautiful old factory too close to St Andrews to be desirable. The huge ceilings, bare brick and steel framework feels like its already integral to the city and I feel slightly at loss to have seen this for the first time in my mid thirties.

I head straight to Flying Cows because a burger for breakfast makes perfect sense. There I take The High Flyer because that’s the award winner and award winners should only ever eat award winners if you want to go Full Pillock. I do. The aged beef is pink throughout, with the sweetest of bacon and Swiss cheese that has the same gummy feel as it’s American counterpart, only with the added bonus of actually tasting of cheese. Whisper it, but Flying Cows remind me of Bleecker Burger at their finest. It’s the burger I would choose from anywhere right now if given the choice. I wash it down with a cocktail from the Birmingham Whisky Club. And lovely it is, too. Far better than the whisky I usually wash my breakfast down with.

There are a dozen or so food traders here on the day, the cream of the local talent and some from further afield. From a little place called London we have Wingman, a chicken wing specialist who came to my attention when they won best of the best at this year’s British Street Food finals. I have the winning dish (see previous Full Pillock comment) that has the sweet, sour and hot profiles of Thai cooking all over their chicken and all down my jacket. Properly lovely stuff and easily the best chicken wing I have ever eaten. Taking second place at those awards was Baked in Brick, today cooking a 45 day aged rump cap as a special alongside some of the more usual suspects. The beef is gloriously tender, with a chestnut mushroom sauce enriched with bone marrow that transformed some very ordinary fries underneath into something far more magical.

I’m outside for a talk by a man who knows a lot about street food and more whisky. The air is stained by smoke and the smell of rendered fat. Low’n’Slow are to blame. Throngs of people have gathered round to watch him smoke pork belly over a make shift pit on the floor before being finished over a barbecue by the very farmer who supplies the pigs. The meat is stunning; aged pork with thick ribbons of fat that only a fool would discard. It’s a proper plate of food, with potatoes cooked with bone marrow and a fiery burnt salsa and sharp ‘slaw. He is bringing the theatre of Meatopia to a warehouse in the backstreets of Birmingham. This is the future of Sear and Smoke.

Original Patty Men are here with a friend – Dom Clarke of Canneat, a little place in Stirchley that I have much love for. I try the special which has their usual patty with ox cheek, gruyere, and ‘French soup’ onions. It’s one of the days more technically minded dishes, aimed squarely at a mouthful of umami. The ox cheek has been braised in reduced Guiness, the onions cooked down to a meaty gelatinous mess. It’s seriously good, I just wish I’d left more room for it.

I wanted to try more, though without my usual partner in crime I was defeated. Three hours after the start and the place was starting to heave, my attempts over, dictated by a bulging waistline and the arrival of a coven of my ex’s friends. I depart for a well earned snooze, awaking to a social media frenzy at the event as the night draws in and the bands begin to play. It seems that I was not alone in my love for it. It was a bona fide success, proof that Birmingham can play with the big boys. It was a faultless stepping stone to a more ambitious event next year. The countdown to the next Sear and Smoke has already begun.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. For more information please see http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Advertisements

Digbeth Dining Club, Birmingham 

I remember the first time I went to Digbeth Dining Club. It was a dreary day, cold and overcast, when summer promised much and delivered very little. We sat on the few benches outside, shivering and exposed to the elements, supping on beer and wondering what the hype was about. I remember very little about the food, other than a Cambodian pork dish from Canoodle that was ordered at the counter and hand delivered to our bench by the chap who made it. That was great; vibrant, clean, and a reason in itself to return on a more cheery evening. If someone would have told me on that evening that Digbeth Dining Club would go on to shape the casual restaurant scene in Birmingham over the next five years I would have spat my pint out of that massive gob of mine.

And yet, it has. Without DDC (herewith known as) we would have no The Meat Shack, no Original Patty Men, and no Indian Streatery to visit. Imagine that. No, actually don’t, it will give you nightmares. And we wouldn’t as a city be able to lay claim to the Britain’s ‘best of the best’, it’s best burger, and now, more recently, Europe’s best. I’ve gone a lot recently because now feels as good a time as ever to tell you about a few of my favourite traders. In the effort of a full disclaimer, I should point out that I personally know both of the founders. James has got me a beer in the past and Jack hasn’t. Neither will give me a DDC Gold Card and both would never dream of giving me, El Blaggo, anything for free. Take this at face value all you want, but all of the dishes have come out of my own pocket.

Hot off the European victory, Baked in Brick seems a good place to start. In the last fourteen months Mr Brick has pretty much cleaned up; British Street Food Awards Best Main Dish 2016, with Best of the Best the same year. This year he came second overall in the same awards, getting him to Berlin where he won the big one. I’ve written about Baked in Brick at length before, but it’s safe to say that his food is about as good as street food gets, whether that be his chicken tikka wrap or beef shin calzone. If you happen to be there when the red mini is, eat the food – it will not disappoint.

This year’s other victor is Flying Cows, winner of Best Burger at the UK street food finals. The burger here is a virtue to farming; the Dexter beef coming direct from his father’s farm. It’s loosely packed and ferociously seared so that the aged cow is the star, whichever burger is ordered. In a city that has made demigods out of burger traders who started off at DDC, Flying Cows is destined to be the next patty shaped success story.

I have mad love for Bourneville Waffle Company in a way that could invoke a restraining order. The warm waffles could be topped with brownie pieces, or addictive bits of fudge made with biscuit paste. It all works. Newer to me is Street Chef, who makes chips out of halloumi. I am fan of anyone that can combine chips and cheese without resorting to poutine. What really makes him stand out is the mushroom ketchup it is served with that brims with heat and attitude. I would like a bottle, please.

The folk of Birmingham would lynch me if I never mentioned Low’n’Slow, so here we are. Andy is a true maestro of flames and frankly shits all over any of the city’s permanent fixtures that serve smoked meat. His chilli brisket burger is a good place to start, which has layer-upon-layer of flavour sandwiched between buns. More recently I had a plate of pork off him that I took to Twitter to say was world class. World. Class. Working muscles end up as tangles of sweet meat and more expensive cuts fired to an accurate medium rare. Low’n’Slow is revered across the city for a singular reason; the man can really cook.

Buddha Belly has a former Masterchef contestant at the helm, firing off the kind of authentic food that gives Siamais nightmares about them opening a restaurant of their own. Have the yellow curry with chicken. Eat the yellow curry with chicken. Order another and Thank me afterwards. And Canoodle is still going strong, all those years after that pork dish stole my attention. We recently had Korean fried chicken and, more impressively, their signature beef rendang that melted to a sweet nothing.


There are others, some I’ve tried and some I haven’t yet. You see I went to the last DDC with the intention of having a Libertine Burger and ended up with tacos from Low’n’Slow. This happens all the time. I’m not so much a creature of habit, but a creature that hates disappointment. If I know it’s good I’ll return time again. I’ll get to Libertine eventually.

The point is that DDC feels more important than ever. They are attracting the very best week on week, providing the foundations for these vendors to expand or look to permanent fixtures of their own. It’s inevitable that the next crop of success stories will come from some of the above, and all deserve it. To the DDC class of 2017 keep up the good work. I salute everyone of you.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

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

http://www.birminghamawards.co.uk/voting/

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.  

Baked in Brick @ Quarter Horse Coffee

I’ve been a fan of Baked in Brick since the very first events. If you had took heed of my words during his first pop-up (when I suggested that you keep a firm eye on the man and the mini) you’ll know that the fifteen months since that pop-up have been eventful for Mr BIB himself, Lee Desanges, as he took the title of the country’s Best Street Food last September. Not wanting to miss out on his cooking, I popped along to Quarter Horse to check out the latest of his pop-up evenings, where he was showcasing the oven and grill on that red Mini of his to maximum effect.

IMG_9025

The amouse we are served is a direct nod to that Street Food Finals victory. The winning beef shin calzone is represented as a tangle of the meat on a little disc of sourdough, all topped with a little stilton. It’s decadent and deep. It’s also very obvious why it took first place. Sharing the plate was a little chicken tikka and mango chutney; another nod to the wrap that was entered into the Best Dish category. I happen to think the wrap is as good as the calzone and judging by the reaction on the table I was not alone.

IMG_9023

Wild mushrooms on sourdough toast is an exercise in the virtues of simplicity. The muddle of mushrooms are rich and earthy, enlivened with the aniseed whack of tarragon and a smattering of rarebit for comfort.  The sourdough is well sourced from a bakery in Codsall and has a little chew. A slow cooked quails yolk is all the sauce it needs. It’s absolutely glorious. I will get him to make me breakfast one day (possibly post-coital. Probably not) and this is what I will insist on.

IMG_9024

Shit. Jesusfuckingchrist. Not my words, but that of a fellow diner I had not met before as she bit into the steak sandwich. Her reaction was not overstated, the spider steak was rare but still had a little chew. The flavour deeply bovine. It was nestled on a cushion of dauphinoise potatoes with a little Iberico bacon and a splodge of béarnaise sauce.  It is the ultimate steak sandwich, a clear warning shot to the steak houses of the city that he means business should he ever wish to find a permanent venue.  A heritage tomato salad with a little burrata and dehydrated olive is all the respite we require.  Seconds of the beef are offered with more béarnaise.  Everyone in the room takes them.

IMG_9027

I’ll forgo the menu description of the dessert for copyright infringement, though you may know it as the French term ‘doissant’ – a hybrid of the donut and croissant.  Here it is given the full twist, piped with a vanilla crème patisserie, rolled in light brown sugar and brulee’d with the blowtorch.  It’s filth.  Total utter filth.  I didn’t know whether to make love to it or eat it.  That’s a lie.  I knew exactly what to do.  Seconds are offered.  Everyone in the room takes them.

If you are not inclined to listen to my opinion, let me tell you about the dining room for this pop-up.  Chef’s of serious pedigree, restaurateurs, major industry players, all paying to eat food cooked on the front of a mini.  It’s astounding when you put that into perspective.  They all know what I know, which is Lee’s cooking is up there with the best – he just happens to be doing it on the move, not from a permanent residence.  The man I once said was going places has truly arrived.  And only an idiot would miss out on it.

And now the plug; I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards, where Baked in Brick is up for Best Street Food.  Please give us both a vote here http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/