Thai

Kiln, London

Kiln is not for the faint hearted.  It is a restaurant with fire at it’s core.  Heat blazes from the clay kiln pots that are used to cook with here, and pop up from the dishes studded with chilli.  From the raised seating around the food counter it whacks you direct to face like the first steps off the plane on a summer holiday abroad.  It is the remover of clothing, the bead of sweat inducing exhilarating reason that we love obsess over fire.  A meal here is not only an insight into the food of North Thailand, it is a celebration of heat and the results it brings with control and skill.

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To see it in action is part of the theatre.  With electricity reserved only for lighting and refrigeration, all the graft is done by the small team over smouldering bits of clay.  We are handed a menu from which we choose something from every section.  We like the smaller dishes most, the pick being a coarsely ground sausage that packed the biggest of chilli hits.  Chunks of aged lamb are skewered and fused only by the melted ribbons of fat.  These are delicious, as are the chicken thigh glazed in soy in cooked gently through.  It is the most solid of starts.

From the fish section comes langoustines, cured in lime and hardly cooked so that the flesh is still semi-translucent.  It never loses the essence of the shellfish despite the big flavours of holy basil and chilli with every mouthful.  It’s delicate yet punchy, and one of the very best langoustine dishes I have ever eaten.

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We are told that the baked noodle dishes are something of a signature here, so we order them off the back of that.  They prove to be the lunches weak point, the crab lost amongst the sour dressing that you work into the dish yourself, the pig unctuous but equally unremarkable.  It’s nice enough, but for me not up to the same standard as everything else we eat.  We finish up with a beef cheek curry, the texture of the cut of meat similar to how I’ve eaten it in the far east, which is a much quicker cook and firmer texture than the long braising treatment we often give it on these shores.  It divides us; I really like the depth of flavour, complex with anise, galangal, and clove, my dining companion less so.  I finish the bowl off happily, teasing the last of the sauce out with wild rice that still has a little bit to it.

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The bill for all of this with a cocktail and glass of wine comes in at a shade over seventy quid, good value, we both agree.  Kiln is simply a one-off; a sneaky peek into the cuisine for a part of a country not associated with voyeurism like it’s southern half.  It’s a thrilling experience, equally for the punchy style of cooking and theatre.  It’s vibrant and in your face, and worthy of anyone building a sweat up for.

8/10

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

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Siamais, Birmingham

Siamais replaces Thai Edge, an stalwart of Brindley that had long outrun itself. What we now have is a sister venue to the Mailbox’s Aluna Bar, serving up a similar menu to the old place, albeit with a glossy interior and fanciful cocktails. The new place looks great, tastefully flashy, with lanterns dangling low and murals of ladies faces. We get sat on a long table lit a stark white which extends up the walls. They are impressive to look at but hardly conducive to food images. Those with epilepsy may want to look away.

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We start with a platter that tops out with a lovely chicken satay that really packs a punch.  There are crisp spring rolls, delicate prawn rolls, and nuggets of chicken that are fragrant from the pandanus leaves they are wrapped in.  Only the fish cakes need work, being a little short on seasoning and flavour.

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I take chicken for the main, stir fried in a red chilli paste full of heat.  Its the kind of food I enjoy eating – vibrant and full of attitude.  If it says chilli on the menu I want heat and here it was plentiful.  The veg was crunchy, the chicken moreish.  A good wholesome plate of food.

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I miss ordering dessert on account of enjoying the company and the cocktails a little too much.  Is this the best Thai cooking in Birmingham?  Not in my opinion.  But the cocktails, that is where this place comes alive.  They are surprisingly good, served by a knowledgeable team that know how to blend spirits.  For that reason I see this place being a roaring success, a little similar to the original Chaophraya in Liverpool that has made a solid reputation out of cocktails and Thai food in a glamorous setting.  The location in Brindley Place is a perfect one, readily set for the more elegant of Broad Street to have a drink and a bite to eat.  And the crucial part is that Siamais is significantly better than Thai Edge.  Progress is everything.

Thanks to Delicious PR for the launch party invite.

Sabai Sabai via Deliveroo

Given the shortage of good Thai restaurants in Birmingham, Sabai Sabai is the kind of place that I should be going to more often. Except I can’t. Because I may have upset someone affiliated with the restaurant by being a self-entitled arse on Facebook, and now I may be too embarrassed / pig headed to show my face in the little restaurant down the road from where I live. Will I ever learn? Of course not, being an arrogant arse is ingrained in my DNA.  But my stupidity is Deliveroo’s gain. When I am feeling flush it is my takeaway of choice. And sometimes its rescued me, like on last valentine’s day when it saved me paying for an overpriced set menu and allowed us to fake romance from the comfort of our own home.

It’s nearly always the same order; sweetcorn cakes, almost bhaji-like in texture and devoid of grease, to start, along with their crackers which are thick and crisp. We always order the Pad Thai noodles, silky and moreish, with perfectly judged acidity from the lime. We scatter it generously with both peanuts and chilli flakes and entwine the chicken with the noodles.  It captures the very essence of Thai food.

I’d written about the holy basil stir fry before, so I’ll spare you the finer details again.  It’s my favourite thing on the menu here – spicy enough to hold interested, with enough veg to nourish.  It gets even better with the addition of egg fried rice that soaks up the salty sauce and ensures the plate enters the kitchen clean.

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We both agreed that this was up their with the best we’d ever had from Sabai Sabai – proof that food can travel and still be as good.  The only thing stopping us from having it every week is the cost; both mains are about a tenner, starters around a fiver, rice £3.55,  and crackers a hefty £2.25.  Add that up and it doesn’t come cheap.  My opinion?  Treat it as a meal out – order it and crack open a decent wine.  Make a night of it. It’s worth it.

Deliveroo kindly provided the credit for this meal.  Sabai Sabai can be found in Moseley, Harborne, and Stratford-Upon-Avon.  For free credit on your first order please see use the code roo.it/simonc3898

Zen Metro, Birmingham

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The central point of the dining room at Zen Metro is a faux cherry blossom tree lit naturally by the domed skylight it resides under.  Its a beautiful thing, as significantly ceremonial to the South East Asian cuisine here as aesthetically pleasing.  Curiously, there is a lone table for two adjacent to it.  I’d hate to be sat at that table, for sitting there means you are likely to feature on a strangers Instagram timeline.  Its a picture that will be taken time over, the clay coloured walls adorned with Buddhist imagery, the white lined splayed across the wooden tops and the navy blue booths, all with that tree central to the shot.  And it deserves to, for this is the cities prettiest dining room.  Tell me otherwise and I wont believe you.

They do Thai food here, reasonably priced and authentic.  It holds its own against the rooms character, more so at times when the whack of chilli fire hits the back of the throat and sends a bead of sweat down the forehead.  Its unrelenting in the way that South East Asian food should be, but seldom is.  We know this from the start with the prawn crackers that we work through whilst perusing the menu.  The crackers have a decent flavour and nice snap, though it is the dips that impress.  A nuoc cham has the deep flavour of fermented fish, a sriracha chilli sauce of pure heat and a sweet chilli sauce which is more fire than the sweetness we are used to from the supermarket jars.  All of these punch with masses of flavour.

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From here we eat some of the most authentic Thai food that I have tried in this country.   Som Tum takes me back to roadside stalls of the stuff packed in to plastic bags and sold for pennies – the green papaya dressed boldly with more nuoc cham, palm sugar and chillies.  It is, as all good Thai food should be, a vibrant mix of hot, sour, salty, sweet and bitter.  Duck comes thinly sliced, rare and properly rested, the cucumber and celery a calming measure for more of the sriracha sauce.  Tom Yum is pho’s naughtier sibling, a stock soup finished with a ferocious chilli oil.  It’s addictive, even if the minced chicken balls are a fraction overcooked.

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It’s not all heat.  Butterflied prawns are grilled to a gentle smokiness and dressed in a garlic oil which enhances but never overpowers their subtle flavour, whereas deep fried morsels of chicken have a crunchy exterior that gives way to tender poultry.  Pad thai with tofu is a potentially dull dish that springs to life with a tamarind dressing that enlivens it all with distinct sweet and sour notes.  Sea bass is accurately steamed and finished with soy and ginger.  To take these delicate flavours and transform them into dishes such as these shows an underlying respect for ingredients that others could learn from.

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It takes a lot for me to like salmon and they almost achieve it with a teriyaki sauce full of funk and sweetness.  I struggle with the oily fish as I always do and find myself devouring the underneath noodles coated in the same moreish sauce.  We finish the savoury courses with two curries that hit the five flavours of Thai food with pin point precision.  A green curry with chicken which would be a star on most tables was overshadowed by a lamb massaman that sings with aromatics.  Its a stunning dish that sees me mop up the last of the thickened sauce with fried rice studded with scraps of scrambled egg.

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Replete, I tackle a banana fritter for dessert in the name of gluttony.  The stodgy batter needs a little refinement, which cannot be said for a silky coconut ice cream that adds a welcome luxury to the plate.  Its a finish not quite worthy of the excellence before it.  The savoury courses here are a notch above any other Thai restaurant in the city, the issue for me is maintaining the very essence of what makes it so.  At present it is unflinching and bold; not holding back on the big flavours when needed, which is why it is as authentic as it is.  But what happens when our tame English palate finds it too much?  It potentially only needs two idiots on TripAdvisor to complain that it is too hot or too salty before questions are asked of the kitchen.  Lets hope it doesn’t get to that, or, if it does, they politely tell them where to go in search of a blander experience.  For now I suggest you get in quick, order the dishes with the fire and feel the enjoyment of Thai food cooked just how it should be.

9/10

Metro Bar And Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I was invited to eat at Zen Metro

 

 

 

Sabai Sabai, Moseley

I have a soft spot for Sabai Sabai. Its a place that I have rekindled a gentle love again for with frequent revisits at a period in my life where I seldom eat at the same place twice. I can walk there, eat well for a modest amount and stumble back home.  And I often do. The location in Moseley is small and comforting, with a waiting team who permanently look happy to be working there.  They must be fed a lot of the food.  Its serious cooking with its heart in the right part of the world and an eye on affordability.  There are other places to find Thai food in Birmingham.  None are as good Sabai Sabai.

I was invited to eat there to celebrate Loy Krathong, a festival that I am ignorant enough to know nothing about, which coincided with eating the planned Christmas menu, a festival I know a little too much of.  I have previously written about the virtues of the cooking here, so I will spare you the minute details and say that once again every dish served sparkled with the core principals of Thai cuisine.  A mixed platter started it off with the most handsome of chicken satay and unctuous pork spare ribs.  There were crab cakes, spiked with heat and tasting of crustacean instead of mashed potato, which reminded me that that in the right hands they can be a killer starter.  Best of all were perfectly timed scallops with garlic and peppers that had me emptying the last of the shells juices on to a prawn cracker.

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Seabass is served in a similar sauce to the scallops and is just as remarkable.  The delicate flakes of fish fold away from each other and more than hold there own against the gentle aromatics and more punchy hits of garlic and chilli.  Its about as good as Thai food gets.  Curls of monkfish hide green beans wrapped in aubergine.  Its the yellow curry sauce that lifts the dish with high notes of ginger and the comfort of coconut milk.

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I’m a sucker for duck meat.  Show me crispy skin and I am yours.  Honestly, you just try it.  Here is no different, with sweet meat and skin that cracks on impact.  Fried shallots and pak choi are there to provide both ends of the textural scale, with a tamarind sauce adding more sweet and sour interplay.  006

There was dessert, but I was too busy dreaming of the duck to take pictures or notes.  No usual score out of ten this time, as I only gave them the major thumbs up five months ago.  This time it just a major endorsement of what they have to offer.  The Christmas menu is £25 for three courses, which is incredible value for what is a far more interesting prospect than some overcooked turkey in a chain pub.  At this price it is not a question of if you should go, but when.  I’m already booked up to go in December, and so should you.

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

I was invited on this occasion and did not see a bill

Sabai Sabai, Moseley

It is, by my own admission, my fault that I have not been to Sabai Sabai in a long time. Some time ago, a friend of mine booked a large table there for his birthday. If my memory serves me correct it was unusually hot on the day, with the lure of a daytime beer proving too tempting. It is never one beer, not when the sun is out, and I may have turned up a little worse-for-wear. What a great guest I am. I approached the meal with the numbskull mentality of a drunk man, which is by ordering as little food and as many cocktails as possible. I don’t recall the food being memorable, but then again I seem to think that I was particularly humorous on that evening, so read in to that as you wish.

We chose the hottest day of the year thus far to return to Sabai Sabai. It’s not a building suited to these conditions. The slim dining room is dimly lit, mostly by candles that adorn the ornate tables dressed with thick black and gold decorative cloth. The heavy wooden chairs have a regal feel that serves to heighten the notion of tranquillity just yards from the main row of shops that are central to Moseley Village. We start with chicken satay, a dish too often relegated to the Just Eat default starter.  Thick chunks of thigh meat, marinated and impaled on three skewers, full of flavour and gentle aromatics that seamlessly blend with a satay sauce, rich with peanut and coconut milk.  By comparison it made the duck roll seem average, which it wasn’t.  The roll, deep fried to a crisp, holding tender pieces of meat and the occasional shard of crispy skin.  It needed the sharp side salad to offset the deep funk of the bbq sauce which was to be a close relation to hoisin.

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We chose the same birds for main course, because we are ill-prepared and hungry.  A red curry is a joyous thing full that successfully balances out the sweet and the sour, the heat and the salty.  There is the background of kaffir lime and pungent notes of fish sauce.  It speaks of the work of an experienced hand in the kitchen.  The duck inside is well cooked, though it plays second fiddle to the sauce which dances around it.  Pad Pik Khing has more of the chicken thigh meat with krachai and green beans.  Its sauce is all acidity and unadulterated heat – a good thing; no, a great thing – which has little care for the western taste buds.  We both mop up the last of the sauces with sticky rice that is the right side of claggy.

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We opt to take liquid desserts in the pub around the corner, pay the bill and leave for the last of the evenings sun.  Whilst putting the world to rights over a pint or three, we agree that Sabai Sabai exceeded expectations for the both of us.  Its bold and authentic Thai food has been refined just enough to justify a price which sits just above similar restaurants.  Regardless of whether or not you are familiar with the cuisine, I urge you to give it a go.  Just do it sober.  Food this good needs to be remembered

8/10

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