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Sketch, afternoon tea in the Gallery, London

I first tried to eat at Sketch three and a half years ago when I impeccably timed my reservation at their two star restaurant with being mowed down by a car outside my home. I recall the doctor visiting in my pen, me in a temporary cast up past my knee, to inform me I had broken nine bones and would be spending more time than I would have liked at hospital. I asked if in his opinion I would be fine to travel to London in less than two weeks to eat at a restaurant. He laughed in my face. Still undeterred, I contact Sketch and ask their opinion.  “Sir”, a heavily French accented lady would answer, “we have no lifts but our staff can assist you up the staircase to the restaurant”. I decide against it and instead book another restaurant in Birmingham where pain would cause me to pass out at the table mid-starter. In hindsight cancelling Sketch was probably the correct thing to do.


Since then I’ve visited on numerous occasions for very expensive cocktails, but never to eat. Until this time, when finally, after three years of waiting, I bypass the coloured stairs that take you up to the two stair restaurant and turn right into the gallery for afternoon tea. That’s me, a thirty-five year heterosexual male, having afternoon tea in a room that is decorated entirely in baby pink. Where has my life gone wrong, please, someone tell me. I wasn’t going to write about it, but when said afternoon tea comes in at £85 per head once service has been applied, I’m going to tell you all about it.


First the ambience, which Micky Flannigan was entirely correct in saying is a French word for a room too stuffy for poor people to afford. The room rammed with ladies of the world whose figures would dictate that they prioritise being seen over being fed, each with foreign accents and expensive handbags. I love it here. Champagne is poured from a great height and we are told that tea will be served in four courses. Little porcelain egg shells hold a comte mousse and confit quail egg yolk. It’s rich with plenty of cheese flavour. On the side is a little mother of pearl spoon filled with salty caviar because we are in Mayfair, Darhlin’. It’s as decadent a start as one could wish for.


We get tea – of course we do, silly – the pots fighting for room on an already bulging table. Then the main event arrives; a stack of plates; sandwiches at the bottom, sweet stuff above. From the sandwiches I swerve the smoked salmon because the stuff makes me gag, instead throwing myself into a rich duck egg mayonnaise and watercress, topped with a fried quails egg. There is pumpernickel bread with tomato and lettuce and the best coronation chicken I have ever eaten. I joke that I could eat another plate of these. Another plate appears. They get eaten. The sweets are all works of precision, from which we like the blueberry cheesecake least and a bubble-gum marshmallow that disappears all too quickly. A delicate plum tart has the kind of short pastry that Mary Berry would approve of, whilst a square of chocolate and caramel is ethereally light and addictive. Top billing is saved for a glorious choux bun with a generous measure of redcurrant cream, as good as pastry I have tried.


This being afternoon tea we got scones and jam and not enough clotted cream, all of which I neglect for more coronation chicken. I sit, shirt bulging, with the top button of my trousers loosened, stating that I couldn’t possibly eat a thing more when we are offered a fat slice of Victoria sponge. It’s delicious but too much.


So what is apparent is that £85 buys you a lot of afternoon tea. So much so that we struggle to move those arses of ours down the road to The Blind Pig for more cocktails. Looking back now it’s clear that I enjoyed it, partly because the company I kept was great and partly because it’s a polished affair with nice food. But would I do it again? Probably not. I just don’t think I’m an afternoon tea kinda guy and I’d much rather take that sum of cash elsewhere for a more serious bit of cooking. Like upstairs. Yes, next time I visit Sketch I’ll finally get up those stairs and into that two star restaurant. Unbroken and unassisted.

7/10

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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. 

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. 

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

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

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download their cashless app at http://www.a2bradiocars.com

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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El Gato Negro, Manchester


The Michelin guide in Manchester reads like an night-time astronomical report for their persistently dreary and overcast weather: No stars. It has a handful of recommendations for the city centre, though without us wishing to splash over a ton a head at Manchester House, we’re desperately short on options for a pre-gig Saturday lunch. We settle on El Gato Negro, a very popular Spanish restaurant housed in a townhouse on the nicer part of town.  We are placed on to a corner table on the 1st floor, squeezing past the wine guzzling bigot who is happy to squeeze the staff a little too much and likes to share a view on Nazi Germany that would appeal to Trump fans. He singlehandedly ruined lunch until the food arrived and took over the baton.

The dishes we ate are much like the long list of my ex girlfriends; pretty but ultimately underwhelming. It is food that has had a boob job when a heart operation was required. Baby monkfish fillets look the part on a lipstick red salsa and caper dressing, but tastes of very little. Even the quenelle of tapenade on top is flat. We reach for the salt grinder – a move that we would become familiar with over a two hour lunch.


Considering nine dishes are ordered, the pace is awkward. Everything comes in ones, with large gaps between some. Morcilla scotch eggs come as three pert bosoms, nipples and all, straight out of Total Recall. The quails eggs are runny, the blood pudding mixture smooth but bland. The mushroom duxelle base tastes of nothing, as do dots of apple puree. It is a dish conceived on appearance, not flavour. Tomato bread suffers from being ordered two days after eating a brilliant one back home. It simply pales in comparison.



They do best when stripped back and unrefined. Padron peppers are occasionally fiery and always delicious because of (hurrah!) a liberal hand of sea salt. Same goes to a whole rack of pork ribs, slowly cooked and glazed in a sticky sherry glaze. We carve and gnaw to the bone. At thirteen pound it is the only time it feels like value. Onglet beef is in a puddle of a dark and heady sauce that we love but feels like a fifteen quid jaw workout thanks to some distinctly chewy meat.




Three vegetarian dishes highlight just how inconsistent lunch has been. Sweet potato is a victory of coherency, dressed in a mango and chilli yogurt dressing that simultaneously sharpens and soothes the root veg. The sauce with the patatas bravos is allegadly spiced, which may be the case if sugar were a spice, but were at least edible. Horror dish of the day is the one that I insist on because I liked the sound of it. In principal carrots, manchego, pesto and aubergine sound delicious together, had the latters purée not been watery and the carrots boiled to the point they are falling apart. They go unfinished.





Pricing here is keen with the bill hitting over £120 for the three of us and the portions on the small side. Afterwards we put my girlfriend’s mother on a train and watch The National play a perfect set of intelligent indie. It more than makes up for an incredibly lacklustre lunch. The food of Spain is one of vibrancy, colour and boldness – here it tries too hard to be stylish with very little reward. Not that my opinion counts for anything of course; on the afternoon we dine they are turning away customers. Obviously the people of Manchester see a very different restaurant to the one that I did.

5/10

Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham


Expectations are higher than usual before our lunch at Le Champignon Sauvage, because having eaten here before, I’ve set them there. When I sit down and think about the food I’ve been fortunate enough to eat, few places stand out as much as the first time I dined here.  It was dinner full of twists and slight of hand, of punchy flavours that evolve in the mouth.  It was technically perfect, confident and brave. I’m anxious when we book again because I want it to sparkle like it did before, and because I’ve backed myself enough to tell Claire the food is up there with the very best I’ve had. She’s a fussy one, that girl.


Fortunately, it’s everything I remember and more. The cooking of David Everiit-Matthias still continues to push boundaries with the subtlest of gestures. Canapés on arrival see an exquisite walnut and blue cheese cookie, with the lunches only misstep; a creamed cods roe on a spongey squid ink cracker that leaves us hankering for water.  From there it’s back to the ethereal bacon and shallot bread that we smear thick with salted butter and instantly request seconds of.  I remember the little ceramic pots that the amouse’s come in fondly, this one with a courgette and lovage set cream at the base, dots of parmesan cream and a crumb of black olive and flax seed.  What on paper reads like a random list of ingredients is coaxed into dish that evolves from an almost curried vegetal start into one that finishes with a long savoury depth.  It’s a brilliant pre-starter that pulls you in and refuses to let go.




I always feel guilty when I order soup in a restaurant, especially so in one bestowed with two Michelin stars. It’s always the most beige of options, the decision to make when the ability to make decisions alludes you. The cauliflower and cumin soup may have been beige in colour but the flavour is there in abundance – a blast of earthiness and warning spice.  Texture comes in the way of a crunchy Bombay spice mixture that takes it up a notch by adding interest and definition. We dredge the last of it from the base of the bowl with more of that bacon bread.


We dip into the a la carte menu for pigeon. The breast is very rare, with a pastilla of spiced leg meat and pistachio.  It needs the sweet acidity of the cherry to cut through it all and it’s here in puree’s and gels and most cleverly, as a glazed dome in a pate de fruit style that had the appearance of a cherry, stalk and all. It’s a brilliant bit of cooking; light and packed with flavour whilst always offering contrast.  This alone is better than anything we ate at the three star Ducasse two months back.

There was also so much to admire about a rabbit main.  The leg is beautifully moist, stuffed with offal and roasted, as was a teeny boudin sausage that had the faint tang of working organs.  We love the thick baton of slow roasted carrot and dots of the same pureed vegetable which I swear had been enlivened with a squeeze of orange juice.  Top billing goes to the croquette of confit shoulder that manages to make the usually delicate flavour of the meat more forceful.  The entire dish is complex in technique yet gloriously simple in taste.

The last time I was here I waxed lyrically over a pork dish that I then described as one of the finest I have ever eaten. I still stand by that. This is another stellar piece of porkery, a slender rectangle of belly, pressed and roasted to perfection with a glass-like piece of crackling lining one side.  What makes this dish so special is the juxtaposition between the sweet and the acidic: The latter is everywhere, from the lightest of pickles used on baby onions and walnuts, to salad onions and gossamer thin slices of pear.  The former is a deep brown sauce of cooking liquor reduction that has been thickened to an almost treacle like quality. It is beautiful. The man is a genius.

Claire fancied two of the desserts so I am told to order an apple cheesecake even when there is a cheese trolley with my name written all over it.  The cheesecake is good, maybe a little too subtle for my liking, but it works so well with a vivid blackcurrant sorbet that tastes purely of the dark fruit.  Solid pastry work is at hand with a pistachio and raspberry tart with pistachio ice-cream. Sandwiched between the shortest of pastry is a pistachio frangipane and the smoothest of raspberry jams.  It’s a Bakewell tart for grownups. Adventure can be found elsewhere on the plate with candied pistachios and glazed raspberries.  Like the cheesecake it’s just two ingredients, each perfectly aligned with one another.  We finish with petit fours which veer from a divisive chocolate flavoured with star anise to a mini rum baba that neither of us want to share.



With lunch an absolute bargain at £34 for three courses and wines starting at £22, we could have done this for under a ton had we not had a bottle of fizz and something indulgent from Paulliac.  But hey, who cares, it’s places like this that are worth saving for. Afterwards we saunter around the corner to John Gordon for another glass of red and get the train before it starts to get a little blurry. On said train we discuss the lunch; she loved it. Of course she would, it’s brilliant. Two years on from my last visit this little hobby of mine has taken me to some very serious restaurants, yet this little place in Cheltenham firmly remains one of my absolute favourites.  Le Champignon Sauvage is vital. You must give it a go.

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.    

Electro Brunch at Gaucho, Birmingham

It’s 11am on a chilly Saturday morning and I’m drinking a Bloody Mary in the chic dining room at Gaucho.  This is my kind of brunch, a booze propelled two hour blast of unlimited food and drink from booths that are more comfortable than my bed.  There is a DJ playing the kind of music I expect would make an Ibiza chill out compilation album whilst the floor buzzes with staff.  One comes to our table and asks what we want to order. I say it’s time to swap the drink to an Aperol Spritz. He meant food. Still it’s 11.05am and I have my priorities in order.


Over the two hours we eat and drink as if this were a challenge, pausing only to take in the occasional gasp of air. Steak and eggs seem the obvious place to start in a steakhouse.  The meat is of high quality, briefly shown heat to still retain a pinkness inside, with a fried egg because this is still breakfast, after all.  It’s simple and delicious. Likewise a eggs Benedict that has the traditional ham replaced with salt beef.  It’s bordering on genius in concept, not a million miles away from steak with bearnaise sauce.  We would go later back for seconds and then thirds.



The humble sausage sandwich is given the upgrade with chorizo and chimichurri  between charred ciabatta that we resist the temptation to smear inch thick with brown sauce. Beans on toast is pimped with chunks of chorizo in an almost indentical vein to what I do at home, only with a lot less butter. Fried provoleta cheese is rich and guey with onions that have been cooked down to a jam-like consistency. One of our group have this and suddenly we all ordering it in envy. It’s that kind of dish.




Fuelled by more spritz’s we gravitate towards a sweeter finish to the meal.  French toast comes with an addictive peanut butter dulce de luche that is all nutty caramel and sweetness.  We insist that it makes a return on pancakes with banana and maple syrup, half joking that we’d like to purchase a jar of the stuff. It’s no joke. I really want a jar.



All of this comes at the price of £45 per head.  To put it into perspective it is the most expensive brunch in Birmingham, but arguably the best value.  To the best of mine and Googles knowledge, all of the others offer one dish with the unlimited drinks.  This is as much a dining experience as a drinking one, decadent and comfortable, as much as you can fit in.  They really know what they are doing here.  As far as two hours go, it’s pretty much the ideal start to a weekend, leaving us with the choice of more booze or an afternoon snooze.  We choose the former.  Of course we do.  Way too much fun was had to have it any other way.

I was a guest of Gaucho at the brunch and did not pay

 

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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