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.


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Caneat Cafe, Stirchley

On the day we go for brunch at Caneat Café the ever-changing menu has an item listed as ‘green eggs and ham’. It sounds like something my Mother would have turned out for dinner by accident, along with ‘southern fried chicken and black chips’ and ‘beige sausages with beige mash’.  It is, of course, a nod to Dr. Suess and his beginners books, but then you knew that already.  What you don’t know is that this may be the best brunch dish I have ever eaten, certainly since this blog started.  Two softly boiled and halved eggs lounge on thick sheets of ham and sourdough.  It’s the green bit that makes it, a phrase I haven’t used since describing a boil I once had.  It’s zingy and bright and full of herby notes of coriander and parsley.  It has a depth that goes way beyond a little place in a tired row of shops in Stirchley.  It manages to take ham and eggs on toast and rocket them skywards after a quick detour via every taste bud.  If you go, which you absolutely should, and this is on the menu then you absolutely should order it.  It’s not on the menu, then my life is automatically better than yours.  But then we knew that already.

And so to the rest of this short post on Caneat Cafe, a pale wooded, plant heavy, square room on a high street that is fast becoming the place for independent’s on this side of the city.  We take the stroll from Moseley and arrive late morning to a full house, ordering the green eggs and two other dishes.  Of those three the banana bread is the most conventional, smeared with peanut butter, and topped with both sliced banana, blueberries and pumpkin seeds.  There is a drizzle of something sweet and lemony.  It is a well put together bit of breakfast.

Look deeper and there is a nutty professor at work.  Roast peaches on brioche are hardly ground breaking, but the miso caramel that lurks underneath is.  It has a deep umami flavour that makes it a salted caramel for adults.  There is yogurt and more of that lemony stuff.  The result is a deeply satisfying plate of sweet things.

They do sweet things and quiches that we turn down, despite some glowing references on both.  And it’s cheap, with these three dishes and two drinks failing to hit £25 for the two of us.  What I love about this place is the focus is on the eating, not about pretty plates that look far better than they taste.  All three dishes had flavour in abundance; quirky little turns that enhanced the taste of the main event.  The chef is a man of obvious talent; dare I say maybe too much talent for the location it is in.  Stirchley needs places like this if it is going to fulfil its potential.  I hope the people of it reward it by filling it on a daily basis.  Caneat?  I will eat.  And frequently, too.


Lewis’s, Moseley

Two weeks ago Moseley Village was voted the number one place to live in the country, just nine months after I made the switch from Harborne. A coincidence? Unlikely. It is, as the judges rightly point out, a great place. Without wishing to turn this post into a episode of Location, Location, Location, it is a youthful, vibrant and genuinely exciting place to live. It’s slightly rough around the edges in a nice, unpretentious way. I am pretty sure I could amble down to the local pub in my dressing gown and no one would bat an eyelid – something that warrant an ASBO back in Harborne. And yet, despite my obvious love affair, it falls short where my previous residence came up trumps. Moseley is seriously lacking in places to get good, casual food. It has pubs that try to emulate The Plough which fall tragically short of doing so. It has Italian restaurants that dream of being anywhere near as nice as Bounissimo. Yes, it has the brilliant Carters, though a trip there requires prior planning and a spare ton in the bank. I would be lying if I haven’t been frustrated with the quality of food within walking distance of my home.

All of this makes the following admission all the more difficult. There is great food to be had in Moseley, though by sharing it I have further reduced the odds of being able to put my fat arse on one of their fifteen or so chairs.  Surprisingly its in the shop, well, delicatessen to be exact, that I buy my filled pasta from.

Lewis’s is hardly a secret locally.  Visit on a weekend morning and be prepared to wait for a table, for here is probably the best breakfast in the city.  Homemade baked beans see pulses long simmered in a tomato sauce spiked with hot paprika and dotted with brindisa chorizo that laughs in the face of its cheaper versions.  Underneath toasted sour dough soaks up the good bits, whilst a poached egg adds further luxury.  I could eat this everyday and not get bored.  I may actually try.  By the way you can buy the chorizo whilst you wait.  And so you should, its a cracker.


A brunch dish had another poached egg atop of griddled halloumi, spinach, and tomato.  This time toasted bread was present not to soak up the juices but to give texture.  It was a phallic shaped pepper grinder away from transporting me back to the Mediterranean last summer, where they share the ethos of a few ingredients of high quality sitting on a plate together and making perfect sense.  More of this approach was present in a salad of roasted beets, sweet potato and goats cheese.  Pumpkin seeds add crunch, rocket gives gentle pepper notes.  Its earthy, fresh and seasonal



A special saw eggs benedict given a shake-up, with serano ham and a truffled hollandaise in place of the usual suspects.  I am not usually a fan of anyone messing with classics, though here it made sense, making it equally lighter and more luxurious.  Espresso from Monmouth Coffee Company is predictably brilliant and more than makes up for the lack of booze.


The tragedy of all of this is that I seldom get to eat it whenever I want.  Being a deli its opening times never stray deep enough into the day for me to grab my dinner.  I suppose this means I have something to look forward to come Saturday morning and believe me, Lewis’s is well worth the wait.


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