Harborne Kitchen, Harborne

Midway through our meal, somewhere between wine bottle two and three, Claire leaned towards me and slurred “Sighh, if I wur to ever work aza shhef, it would be ‘ere”. I think. She could have said anything. Luckily for the food industry her cooking is nowhere near good enough; the people of Harborne are safe for now. Unless tax evasion is your thing, in which case she’s coming for you hard. But I do get her point. There is an ease to service here, the front of house are smiling, they let you see the kitchen and, shock, horror, they are enjoying themselves. Chefs happy, who would have ever thought it? Owner Jamie Desogus even closed a very busy Sunday service so that his team had a better work/life balance. Hell, if I were a chef I would want to work here too.

But I’m not, I am just a rotund gobshite with a healthy appetite. And this, our third visit in ten months was easily the best to date. There has always been a confidence to the cooking here, and now it stands broad-chested on the plate for all to see. Those salmon skin crisps are still there to be seasoned with rosemary vinegar, though they are now joined by cubes of livery ox tongue and crackers topped with a cheese mousse and grape. A slice of bread still follows, with a new friend in maltloaf for company. Nibbles can often feel like an afterthought; not here. They are considered and, more importantly, an insight into the food over the next few hours.

It starts with a bang. Two opening courses as good as I can recall eating in sequence so early on in a meal. Chicken liver parfait arrives under the canopy of crispy skin, with dots of blood orange gel, white chocolate, and hazelnut. The chocolate is far more daring in word than reality; it provides another fatty layer to the dish and lets the other stuff stick around longer. It works. It is so big on flavour you wonder if anything else could surpass it. The celeriac does. Salt baked cubes on a broth so heavily reduced it’s almost treacle. A flurry of blue cheese mousse hides little pieces of pickled quince and I ask for a supplement of Perigord truffle because in my head it makes perfect sense. Praise Be to that massive head of mine. It’s a beautiful plate of food that is immaculately balanced; savoury, followed by earthiness and umami, sweet, and then washed away by light acidity. Shit, I’ve just morphed into Greg Wallace. Pass me the gun.

The course that follows is a riff on the flavours of Thai green curry, with a fat fillet of cod immersed in an aerated cloud of lemon grass, galangal, and probably several other nuanced flavours my primitive palate fails to detect. A grating of kaffir lime zest brings that lovely aroma and puffed rice is there just on the off-chance you were actually expecting a cod curry in a smart restaurant in Harborne. It nods brilliantly towards The East whilst still retaining its spot as the fish course in a tasting menu.

The beef main does very little for me on paper, mostly because its beef. The reality is the opposite; we get a brave bit of cooking that works because it is flush with acidity and then whack! a solid bit of cow. I’ve turned into Greg Wallace again. Sorry. The star is undoubtedly the slowly cooked Wagyu brisket which breaks down at the slightest nudge of a fork. For me, it doesn’t need the Longhorn fillet, because those lean, expensive cuts tend to get shown up for how little flavour they have when stuck next to a more fatty and unctuous bit of animal. The rest is a demonstration on how to get the best out of beef; crispy shallots and pickled onions, a grilled king oyster and dainty pickled mushrooms, the silkiest of mash potatoes, and a puddle of chive oil that adds zip to it all. We take the cheese course because it is Brillat-Savarin, Perigord truffle and grape. If that particular menage a trois doesn’t get you horny, you really need to see a doctor.

On my first write-up here I got a little excited by the desserts by pastry chef, Michael Topping, and I am going to stand by what I said then. The man is a talent, he gets balance and flavour, and the importance of dessert not being pancreatic exploding sweet. First up is rhubarb ice cream with nitrogen frozen rhubarb cut with stem ginger. Following this is chocolatey mousse and popcorn with a sorbet of maybe yogurt, maybe banana, that I remember to be rich and salty and damm right delicious. Apologies about the hazy detail, I was pissed by this point. With these we drank some lovely Tokaji. I know this because it’s on the bill and Claire has purchased some since.

The bill with a lot to eat and as much to drink hits just north of two ton. You could have three courses and a nice bottle of wine for well under half, which was our intention before we got there. I love Harborne Kitchen, not only because it makes my girlfriend happy, but because it’s genuinely a fantastic neighbourhood restaurant that is simply trying to be the very best it can be. And it seems we’re not alone; aside from it being full on the night it has also been shown interest by a certain tyre guide and rightly so. Without wishing to put pressure on a place not looking for accolades, everything we ate was consistently at one star level. Big things are going at Harborne Kitchen and it couldn’t happen to a nicer place.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here


Bonehead, Birmingham

Who would thought that a bit of fried chicken could cause such bother? KFC running out of chicken caused total pandemonium. Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham. I wonder to myself could life ever be sane again? Of course it could, its just chicken for fucksake, and not very good chicken at that. Still people properly lost their shit. Social media went into meltdown and 999 calls were made to report the closures, which is just ridiculous. Everyone knows if you are going to waste police time you do it when the carrot on the snowman is nicked.

Bonehead also do fried chicken, except they get their chicken from a nice little farm in the Cotswolds and not a secret underground laboratory where 12ft mutant chickens are crafted with 8 wings. And whilst no one sane is going to phone emergency services about them, they do some very good things for a little chicken shop just three days old on the date of our visit. It is deliberately low-key and dark on the inside. Walls are painted black and coated with flyers. Downstairs is the dive bar, upstairs is a basic dining room with basic seating and a hole in the wall to the kitchen. This is the beard and beanie of chicken joints, a little too hipster for its own good. I like it.

And so to the menu, which is made of chicken that you can have cooked anyway you like just as long as its fried. They do the important things right; good quality chicken, brined, with the wings jointed for even cooking. We end up with three trays of those wings, and should you find yourself less greedy than us and in need of choice, take the buffalo option. These are a showstopper, hot and sour from cayenne pepper and vinegar, that are as difficult to remove from the breath as from a shirt. I know, I’ve tried to do both. The blunt notes needing the blue cheese to soothe the finish. And we like the hothead wings which are more aromatic than spicy, though the original ones are floury and not particularly nice. Two outta three ain’t bad. Just ask Meatloaf.

And then there’s the burgers. We try both because those trousers aren’t quite tight enough after 24 wings. They eat a lot better than they photograph. There is crunch in the batter that protects the chicken thigh from the harsh heat. There is molten cheese and the tang of pickle lurking in the background. It’s very well balanced but asked to choose you should take the hot one which gently smoulders. And whatever you do add the potato waffles loaded with sauce and slaw. That slaw might just be the best thing about the entire meal. It’s crisp and clean with a slight Asian feel to it. Those waffles and some buffalo wings with a cold pint of craft lager might just be my go-to dinner for a while.

Prior to its opening I’d publicly played Bonehead down because the hype was making my little head explode. And if you are the type of person that orgasms over a picture of a dish you’ve never eaten then please go find a hobby. But is the hype justified? Kind of. It’s not Fuku, the best fried chicken I have ever eaten, not by a distance. But it is good. Cleverly conceived tasty food at a fair price. Birmingham needs places like this. Independents raising the standards is only a positive thing. If you haven’t been to Bonehead yet, you finger lickin’ should.


In the effort of full disclosure the kitchen sent out additional wings which were not ordered and did not appear on the bill.

Transport provided by A2B Radiocars. Download the app here

Lucky Duck, Jewellery Quarter

It didn’t take much. Just a image of an pretty blue and white bowl containing some soup and some noodles and a couple of slices of pink duck breast. Pants were pissed in excitement. Cries of RAMEN! like a beaten Rocky Balboa were heard around the city by people whose only reference point is the Bullring branch of Wagamama. Lucky Duck was coming, bringing bowls and buns. We got very excited. And then the opening weekend happened, chock-a-block with people genuinely excited by the prospect of bao and ramen hitting our city with gusto. The initial feedback wasn’t great; it’s not right the forthright people said. It’s awful said the expert who has never had the bollocks to put his money where his insidious mouth is. Concerned looks were everywhere. Lucky Duck has gone from flight to fallen in the space of three weeks.

I went for that duck last night. I sat in the well-lit room on the wooden chairs in the window seat. I used the ornate chopsticks to work the noodles out of the soup and into my massive gob. I quite enjoyed it, the breast meat a virginal pink, the soup with good flavour, a perfect soft boiled egg, and accurate seasoning. The best bits were the jewels of brown meat hidden at the base like sunken treasure. It could be better though, some optional seasoning like bottles of soy and chilli oil, maybe a flurry of herbs, or some Nori flotsam. Little bits of make-up to turn it from bit-part to Oscar winner.

Make-up isn’t going to save those buns, they need a complete re-haul of design. We try one of each, and the positives are in the cooking of the main ingredient. Pork belly braised until the fat turns ivory jelly and cod with brittle batter – just like the duck it is obvious the man knows how to handle protein. But the bao is too dense and the fillings not good enough. The pork belly comes with nothing but a smear of apple sauce, the cod just mayo and a few sorry slices of cucumber. It needs more; crushed peanuts, a mooli salad, some chilli sauce, a squeeze of lime, or herbs. Just about anything to give it character. The eureka moment comes when we order one more and ask them to do the pork belly with the accompaniments of the aubergine. The addition of peanut and chilli gives it life. It deserves this more than apple sauce.

Dessert is roast pineapple, pecans and coconut cream that could have been my breakfast, though it serves a purpose of providing a fresh way to finish up. The bill for all this is £33, a small enough sum to try them again soon. And I will; despite this meal being too average to recommend to anyone, I believe that they could eventually be on to something here. Everything is fixable, nothing terminal. The issue is that the hysteria the concept has caused means that they have an entire city expecting them to run whilst they are still taking baby steps, and that needs to change. The improvements need to come quick if they are going to fulfil the potential. A rethink of those bun fillings seem an obvious place to start.


Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here;

Bistro du Vin, February 2018

The customer is always right, right?! Nonsense. The customer is rarely right. We moan about wine being cold, and wine being too warm. Order cuts of good animal to be cooked until cremation and then say it’s too tough. I’ve personally witnessed someone send back a chicken dish because they were unaware that a supreme had a bone protruding from it and heaven forbid that a once living creature was built upon a skeleton. And don’t even start me on complaints about bread being cold. It’s tough. As front of house you can lose your temper and have it end up on TripAdvisor, or you can nod politely and take the disdain back to the kitchen. The customer may not always be right, but we want to feel like we are. And that is a key component to good service.

The recent spate of restaurant closures in Birmingham has had me thinking a lot about service. There have been horror stories from some of those now gone including screws in lamb and non-existent service. Either these places gave up early in anticipation of closure, or they lost sight of the customer. This industry embodies a ride or die philosophy – mess up once and its unlikely you’ll see us again. Bistro du Vin have taken heed of the customer. They found that from previous menus the more traditional French dishes were being ordered over ceviche and other worldly preparations. They’ve listened and now the new menu is a trip around the classics of France. There are snails and steak tartare. Veal and bouillabaisse. It’s French and proud, all baguettes in bicycle baskets and haw-he-haw-he-haw. There is hardly a sniff of other cultures; just how the upturned nostrils of the Frenchies like it to be.

This cuisine is difficult to pull off, it leans heavily on quality ingredients and sturdy technique. They have nailed it, delivering a meal with more consistency than you are realistically likely to experience in the faux tourist traps of Paris. Snails arrive in the casket of their shell, the parsley and garlic butter used to the stuff the crevice still bubbling away in the ceramic pot. As with so much of French food, part of the theatre is the eating; the breaking of the yolk garnish on the tartare, a mariniere that stains the fingers. Here it is working the meat out of the shell with the corner of a fork. The effort is worth it. I could romanticise cooking like this all day long.

Mushrooms on toast are just that, though the fungi is carefully cooked and the Madeira cream sauce well judged. French onion soup, all brooding beef stock and tangled allium, is topped with a thick slice of gruyere that seals in the aroma until it is released into the soup. The portion is a meal in itself which I don’t even come close to finishing. I’ll be back to give it another go when there is less food and wine to contend with.

And what man can resist a perfect cassoulet? Not I. Huge chunks of salted pork and garlicy Toulouse sausage, with a confit duck leg sitting central for good measure. In lesser hands the long stewing can turn the white beans to mush; not here, when each still retains bite and purpose. It is one of those dishes that requires patience to let the components court one another, and here they are, more familiar than the gene pool in Norwich. It is superb.

Now the nature of today’s lunch means that some serious wines come out to play. Perhaps the most unique of these being a Rasteau Rouge 1998, a red dessert wine that has port on the nose and a lovely sweet finish. It’s not the ideal match to my ile fonttante but frankly who cares? I’m enjoying myself too much. The meringue is poached to a fluffy cloud and dusted with finely chopped pink praline, the custard it sits on full of rich vanilla. I love this dessert and this was as good as a Michelin starred version I had in Paris. We finish with cheese from the trolley, immaculate in condition. And more port. There is always room for more port.

So they’ve listened to the customer and delivered what they have been asked of. A menu unlike anywhere else in the city; one of Gaelic romanticism and dishes built on the very foundation of getting the very best from the produce. Its a crowd pleaser – a menu that will not tire anytime soon. It tastes exactly how you imagine the food of France to taste, full of bluster and garlic notes and sturdiness. From top to bottom its brilliant. Merci, Bistro du Vin.

I was invited to a preview lunch of the new menu

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here;

Chaiiwala, Sparkhill

I lost a good friend last week. He’s not dead, not physically at least. We just metaphorically waved goodbye to one another for good as I ran to a taxi unannounced and he looked on with a bemused look on his face. I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew it was done; we were sat in the pub post local derby, beers, and food. I should have been elated given the result, instead I had the harsh realisation that a fifteen year friendship had grown mould and additional ears. There is no escaping that he is tied to past bindings, that good ship Past Relationship which set sail a year back from which I am free and he is confined to the middle passages awaiting a lifetime of ruling in pastures new. I’ll miss him, I think. He’s a good bloke that is not allowed to be happy for me. I’m happy for him to be free from that, it makes both of our lives easier.

Heaven knows I’m miserable now. Not because of him, but because I have just been subjected to a heinous culinary crime. I am sat on the Ladypool Rd, once an equilateral side of the Balti triangle and now home to the countries quota of dessert bars. A light bulb above my head has gone on – dozens of them that make up the interior – and my mind wonders to why anyone would eat this that wasn’t a necessity to stay alive.

On paper a butter chicken looks value at £2 until the pencil dick is unwrapped and lifted flopping from the paper. The first mouthful is bearable, the rest a mush of protein that could frankly be anything. Masala chips are fries drenched in some cloying sweet and sour sauce that leaves them clinging to one another like avalanche victims on a mountainside. I’d rather be on the mountain than here eating this. They’ve taken something with texture and turned it into children’s food. They’ve ruined the humble chip. I’m raging.

Dainty Samosas manage to look like raw pastry despite being cooked. They are as colourless as Casper and with less substance. Flavour-wise they are the best thing I eat, resembling at least the vegetarian snack. The same cannot be said about little cubes of paneer, barely touched with heat and dressed in a sauce that refuses to play nicely. It is bitter and acrid, a brutal assault on the taste buds. It is hands down the worst way I ever spent three pound, and I once purchased The Mail on Sunday. Yes, eating here is cheap, but that’s a worthless quality if the food is inedible.

And now the positives. The chai itself was deliciously fragrant and the front of house is brilliant – those serving are being done an injustice by what is coming out of the kitchen. But that is it. I have no problem telling you that it is awful, because realistically we are not the target market. On the evening I dine the place fills up with young Asian ladies eating and gossiping with friends. The food is the least important detail in their social scenario, which is the only time that it becomes acceptable to be here. If food is your thing then take your pick of any of the remaining restaurants in the area, anywhere is better than here.


Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here;

Raja Monkey, Hall Green

I’ll keep this post nice and short, just like Paul, my dining companion on this evening. Just last week, Michelin starred chef and fellow Moseleyite, Brad Carter, was interviewed by the Good Food Guide about his favourite places to eat in Birmingham, whereupon he stated that Raja Monkey was his ‘best place for dinner’. I’m going to stop there and call it quits. Brad has the palate of a fine artist, making mine look like etch-a-sketch in comparison. I’ll be honest, given the choice of Brad’s recommendation or reading my badly put together, slightly angry, and marginally tainted opinion, you should 100% switch off this crap, Google the piece I’m talking about and take his word about going. Do as he says. The End. It was a pleasure knowing you.

Still there? WHY?! Can you not take instruction? You are worse than my hamster. Should you want my opinion, I am going to echo that of Mr Moseley Michelin Man. Raja Monkey is a brilliant little place in a spot worth travelling to, occupying a little crevice in the Indian dining scene quite unlike anywhere else. They do curries and dosa, and all encompassing thali. It’s the spirit of roadside India, those cheap dinner stop-off joints filled with locals and stale, humid air. Here we are in Hall Green, opposite Waitrose, sat in deep leather booths whilst others wait for spaces to come available in a packed dining room. I’d much rather be here, if only for the air conditioning.

I was in love from the first mouthful. It was the lime pickle which got me, blood red and aggressive. It has acidity at the front, lingering heat at the back. It takes considerable effort and skill to make pickle this good, not buy it in a jar like ever other Indian restaurant in the city. The mango chutney, too, with a back note of clove and onion seed, was impressive. I use this to spoon into a dosa filled with potato, mustard seed and curry leaf. The savoury pancake is delicate, the filling generous. I really like the punchy tomato chutney, less so the coconut one. It is as good a dosa as I have eaten anywhere, India included. Opposite me Paul is destroying a mixed fish starter. I don’t try it so we’ll have to take his past career as Birmingham Mail’s food critic as word that it is good. If you’ve read his previous work I’ll leave that decision up to you.

I do get to try his Chicken Bhuna and when I say ‘try’ I really mean finish off the third that he has left and work the last of the sauce out of the crevices with a roti. The curry is drier in style than I expect, fragrant with garam masala, and rich with the base of onions took well past the point of colouring. It is special but nothing compared to my thali. Thali, for those who have fell upon this blog by mistake and still order chicken tikka masala, is a complete meal on a tray. The components within the little pots is changeable, but this has paratha for bread, rice, an onion and tomato salad that zings with light pickling liquor, a dhal, vegetable dish, and curry. My curry is a chicken korma, a dish that Brits have destroyed by labelling it as the not spicy option in the post-pub curry houses. This is how it should be; a gravy base not destroyed by coconut, comforting and perfumed by cardamom. The meat has taken on the curry flavour, a hard boiled egg adding further richness. I like it, but it is the vegetable dish that amazes me. Whoever can take red kidney beans and elevate them to a rich, smoky dish is a magician. I bet they have beanstalks in their back garden. I’d gladly sell my cow to get my hands on them.

We skip dessert because there is no room at the inn for any more. Paul picks up the bill and we finish off our beers and idle gossip. My dining companion is clearly a huge fan, but let’s be real about it, he has skin in the game. Me, I owe it nothing other than more frequent visits to eat all of the menu. And I will. Raja Monkey is but three miles from our home, conveniently over the road from where we like to shop. It’s too good to ignore, a true taste of the no-frills dining in India. It shakes its thang better than any of its kind in Birmingham. That bloke from Carters is right, but then I did tell you that right at the beginning.


I did not see the bill on this occasion.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here;

Pho, Grand Central, Birmingham

For a country that gets as hot as Vietnam does, Pho really is a curious national dish for them to have. It is, when you strip it back, a stock soup and noodles. Yes you can add chillies to give it fire, finish it with the sour crash of lime juice, or freshen it up with numerous herbs, but what lies at the heart is a dish as consoling as Jewish chicken soup with matzo, and as comforting as Heinz cream of tomato soup with crusty bread. Eating Pho in Vietnam is visceral, a cheap affair that usually involves tiny plastic chairs at roadside. The humidity and air pollution pushes the sweat out though the pores of the skin, the hydration replacement a cheap bottle of Saigon beer. You want nourishing; need it even. The environment demands it.

It is only when you take it out of natural habitat that you see it in all its glory. Pho is the Lego of stock soups; you can build it as you please. In Vietnam I added everything, whereas now I tailor it to the seasons. Always herbs and beansprouts, more lime and fish sauce the hotter it gets, more chilli sauce and oil to clear the cold from my bones. As a dish it is more versatile than Gareth Barry; it’s just a question of playing it in the right position from game-to-game. I think I’ve nailed it.

My point of call is always its namesake. There are other places, but they tend to deploy the Asian route of cooking the protein until the point it becomes a bushtucker trial, as opposed to dinner. Here the only thing that is anglicised is the meat, which is decent in quality and spared of boiling point. Today my airways call for a regional variation from the Imperial city of Hue. It has chicken stock that tastes of chicken (a rarity of late), with delicately cooked chicken, and noodles that have bounce and bite. The dish is stained red with large quantities of chilli oil that sends it scuttling northwards into the Sichuan region of China. It is a bloody good dinner. As good as stock and noodles and meat gets in this city, a statement that will upset those who believe that chains can never be as good as independents. Rubbish. Good and bad exist in both sectors of the restaurant industry, and Pho is firmly in the former category.

Now prior to this we had greaseless spring rolls that with pork and veg, and gobstopper sized deep fried balls of pork and lemongrass that are just about gummy enough to remind me of Hoi An. How I miss you, Hoi An. And then, whilst I am elbow deep in the pho, my lovely girlfriend is smashing through fried noodles with chicken and prawns. It tastes authentic. I could almost be in Vietnam if it wasn’t for the train announcements happening on the level below. And the cold wind howling through the door. Very nearly Vietnam.

Before I get to dessert, a word on my alcoholic tendencies. Being a day of the week, I get stuck into the booze. The pick is the martini/Vietnamese coffee hybrid cocktail that has me all weak in the knees, though its lovely to have Saigon beer and Beer Lao so readily available. Dessert is banana fritters with honey and ginger ice cream. The batter is sturdy so that the fruit inside has a chance to cook through, the ice cream rich and sweet. It is a great way to finish a meal.

Now my adoration to the country of origin means I eat Pho more than the next man, and I come here a lot. I come because the service is sharp and the food consistent. It allows me to dip in and out of my favourite country in the world. It’s not perfect, but then neither is Vietnam. Pho as a chain get it; they take the memories of Vietnam and put them in one spot; the noodle soups and the wok dishes, the Vietnamese coffee thickened with condensed milk, those crisp beers that work so well under the sun. I’m a fan. They have a product that very clearly works.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here

The Horseshoe, Hall Green

The plate on which I portioned my half of the starter now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting; a drunken blend of vivid mint yogurt and a crimson chilli sauce that has the background funk of molasses and tamarind. The platter, once sizzling, is now a luke warm graveyard of bones. We have left nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The waitress, a young and affable lady in her early twenties, asks how it was, to which I respond with a simple and concise ‘excellent’. She is pleased, like she had cooked it herself, and goes on to tell us how the new menu for the refit centred around creating this mixed grill to be as good as it can be. She goes into details about the different marinades they trialled for the three types of tikka, and how the lamb chops cooking time was constantly tweaked. It is a level of attention that I was not expecting, yet alone to hear of in such detail from the staff. Frankly, I am impressed. Welcome to The Horseshoe version 2.0.

It is still The Horseshoe, I just added to the version 2.0 bit on the end to make it sound like a Hollywood movie. They’ve sharpened up the lines of the old interior. They’ve tweaked the menu to give it a more Desi pub feel. And they still offer a European menu which is sent back as soon as it is offered on account of the kitchen team looking more Mumbai than Milan. I blame the local community for this who clearly cannot accept that a pub which used to do pub food badly can now exist in the same bricks and mortar under a different cuisine. Would you ever go into a Fish and Chip shop and ask for Nasi Goreng? Exactly. If you come here and complain about the state of your carbonara, you’re an idiot and you only have yourself to blame.

That mixed grill starts and pretty much finishes us off. It’s gargantuan in size and only a starter to the optimistic or American amongst us. Three types of chicken tikka; one a conventional marinade, another sharp with the acidity of pickle, and one fiery with green chilli. Two types of mince kebab; one lamb, the other chicken. Both with personality, the latter packed with the hot stuff. Lamb chops that have the funk of a James Brown record only without the domestic violence. Chicken drumsticks. I think I’m done. No, sorry, I forgot the quarter of tandoori chicken, all communist in colour and scorched on the fringes. It’s all good; some, such as the chicken tikka, minced chicken kebab and tandoori chicken, are knock out brilliant. It is, right now as a collection, the best mixed grill in Birmingham. And I say that with the confidence of a man who has eaten many of recent in those considered as the premium.

We take a couple of curries and a dhal, because we are greedy and promiscuous with our choices. The tarka dhal gets ordered again, as does the methi chicken whose fenugreek flavour slowly reveals like a burlesque dancer. The punchy achari gosht is a little more one dimensional – we get heat and tomato and not much else with the tender cubes of lamb. From a bread basket is a good naan and roti, with a stellar paratha that’s all buttery wafer.

What we don’t finish they are happy to box up, and the following day we load the last of the lamb curry onto the leftover roti, with some yogurt which they correctly guess we would need. And there in a leftover box is all you need to know about The Horseshoe – they have their finger on the pulse and a firm eye on giving the customer what they want. And if you go looking for a mixed grill you really can’t do much better in Birmingham. Just go hungry.


The meal was complimentary and arranged by Delicious PR

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here;

Leo’s Modern Greek Food Night, Pure Bar, Birmingham

If you’ve been watching Masterchef the Professionals you’ll probably recognise Leo Kattou of Simpsons restaurant. The softly spoken and impeccably mannered Greek-Cypriot from Coventry has a distinctive look that would be described as a Bear in some circles. A man bun, big beard and bigger smile about sums up that large, rotund head of his. Now before I proceed and the observant of my Twitter feed protest, I will disclose that I know Leo; I have feed him my beef ragu at 4am and he has beaten me at pool, so I was personally super chuffed to watch him reach the Semi-finals of Masterchef. He’s one of the good guys of the local scene and deserves all the success it brings.

Part of that increased public exposure is tonight’s sell-out pop-up for which we’ve shelled out £55 each for in advance for five courses with matching beers. The first course is familiar to anyone who has dined at Simpsons. Tapioca crackers dyed with squid ink and a splodge of the creamiest of Taramasalata to dredge through. Bread and butter is served at the same time. The crust is taut, the crumb loose. It’s a simple, yet effective start to the meal.

This wouldn’t be a homage to Greek food without halloumi. We have a Jenga stack of them fried to a Midas crisp, with a crown of olive tapenade, smoked aubergine purée and the nights only mis-step, a fat slice of tomato that tastes of very little. The rest is a composed collection of stuff that transports us from a rainy evening in Birmingham to far sunnier climes.

The fish course is a nod to his parents owning a chippy in Coventry of their own. It’s simple enough; panfried cod with tartar sauce and ‘chips’. The chips are really puffed potato pieces seasoned with salt and vinegar powder, the tartar closer to a bearnaise with chopped caper and fresh peas running through it. You could argue whether or not the peas needed to be there, which we did and I lost, but it’s a clever bit of cooking. Obvious enough to be a direct reference point, yet light enough to sit within a five course meal.

I know all is going to be well with the lamb kleftico main the second I slide the bone clean out of the shank. Ooh, Matron. The meat breaks down at the nudge of a fork, it’s inherent fatty qualities tempered by some smartly dressed bulgar wheat and kale. An anchovy emulsion seasons it all and is textbook in delivery. It’s hard to believe that this has come from the same man who messed up a lovage emulsion so badly on national telly. But he did, and it makes great viewing on iPlayer if you need a laugh.

Dessert is, to quote a food critic often found on Masterchef, a bunch of creamy things with some crispy things on top. But what creamy and crispy things they are. Layers of aerated honey and yogurt hide a sticky reduction of cherry juice, whilst shards of crisp filo stick out like Leo on a police line-up. This man understands that if the menu says cherry then we want physical cherries and they are here, boozily macerated in Kirsch and obscured under those creamy bits. A word now on the beer pairings from the manager Matt. Properly clever and well considered, these varied from using the less-than-obvious citrus back notes of an unfiltered lager, to the cherry beer that went with this course. Truly excellent work from top to bottom.

Now back to Leo. A few things were very obvious from the dinner. Firstly, his tenure at Simpsons has grounded him within their principles – respect for ingredients was obvious, in most cases simplicity was key. Somewhat more importantly for Leo it showed his true potential; a chef capable of taking the classic technique associated with the French and apply it to a more rustic Greek cuisine. He has shown a wit and playfulness, delivering plate after plate of well conceived and precisely cooked plates of food. He’s young and hungry. His role of senior sous at Simpsons is the perfect job for him at present, but every one of the packed-out dining room earmarked Leo Kattou as a star of the future.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here;

Kanteen, Digbeth

The area in and around The Custard Factory is one that seems to drift in and out of cultural importance in Birmingham. My Dad remembers when it really was a Custard Factory, worked in by his friends, when they would meet in The Old Crown for a pint and whatever lads in the 60’s did back then. My first introduction was thirty years afterwards, during the dingy hip hop nights at The Medicine Bar, and then again some years afterwards at the ill-fated Alfie Birds. Now, it feels rejuvenated and ready to take on the city again. Old Crown withstanding, Digbeth Dining Club started it, Ghetto Golf, Clink, and others have followed. Once again the area has a purpose. The Custard Factory is thriving.

It is at this point I pull back the curtains and reveal Kanteen in all it’s glory. And, believe me, it is glorious. It has purpose and a desire to feed the community at prices that work out to be no more than a Pret sandwich. The glass fronted space has depth on the inside. It is cosy and smart: almost homely. They do stuff on bread and stuff with eggs in the morning, then later on turn to hot stuff in boxes and cold stuff in boxes. There is a quiet emphasis on feeding all forms of diets and keeping it healthy. Please erase that last sentence from your mind. The food here has flavour in abundance and that is all that matters.

I come with Hubbie-to-be Greg, who arrives in a ravenous mood having recently only been surviving on Slimming World meals, whatever they may be. We order widely; two from the eggs section and three from the bread, which I can now confirm is three too many dishes for two people. I’ll get the disappointing dish out of the way first: A mass of kale on toast with torn bits of burrata and gremolata. Tearing apart the burrata into small pieces has lost the cheeses integrity – the oozy cream quality that is buried like treasure in the centre has disappeared on to the chopping board and the toast below. It’s nice, and the gremolata is impeccably made, but they should cut costs and move towards a mozzarella.

But everything else is bloody brilliant. Black pudding from Clonakilty has more earthy depths because of chopped hazlenuts, then quickly pulled back up by slices apple. Its an inspired bit of topping for wedge of sourdough toast. It has light and shade. It eats like a dream. Likewise the chorizo, red pepper and goats curd on toast. There is a reason this combination is everywhere; it works. This has poise and balance, with high quality chunks of chorizo. And it’s under a fiver. I told you it was great value.

Both of the dishes ordered from the egg section have them poached so that the whites have just set and the yolk becomes self-saucing. On one the egg sits on folds of Serrano ham with broken potatoes and tomato. Lemon aioli gives it an almost Benedicts edge. The other has merguez, the spiced lamb sausage native to Northern Africa, braised in a cassoulet style tomato sauce, with that gremolata returning to stop it all getting a bit rich. I can’t pick between the two, so have one for breakfast and the other for lunch. It’s brunch. You’re allowed to.

Replete, we take a peanut butter brownie home that Greg assures me was delicious, though could well still be hidden with his PS3 and porn stash in his forbidden items drawer. Walking back we discuss the merits of Kanteen for which there are many. What may read on paper as a collection of healthy things piled onto one another is in reality a finely tuned wholesome feed that just happens to also be good for you. Kanteen is something different to the current offering and something very good indeed.


Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here