Burger

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.    

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Meat Shack, Birmingham

 

I have a lot to thank Meat Shack for.  They ended ‘The Carlo Great Burger Drought’, that ripped through the country between 2006 and 2013 when I decided that burgers were shite.  Looking back I was probably right, in Birmingham anyhow, when our casual dining scenes was as stale as the sesame seed bun that compresses the cows arsehole and eyelid together at McDonald’s.  We had very little to shout about other than a couple of Michelin starred places that the majority could not afford.  And then Digbeth Dining Club happened.  I remember eating the food of passionate traders who were producing far superior dishes to those in their own bricks and mortar, at a fraction of the price.  The Meatshack was one of those places, the first burger I had eaten for, I think, seven years.  I was coerced by a mate and never looked back – it was everything that I wanted a burger to be.  I remember talking about it sometime after to an equally epicurean pal, how those burgers, along with many other wonderful dishes at DDC, would eventually shape our future restaurants in Birmingham.  I was right.  I am always fucking right.

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The transition of street food to restaurant doesn’t happen overnight.  Products are to be tweaked.  Locations found.  Funds raised.  In the case of Meat Shack it’s taken five years to go from the little black and white tent to the bright and illustrated space upstairs in the new Thorp 17 building in China Town.  It’s caused local hysteria with those who love their food.  Expectations are high and for the most part they have nailed it.

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The slogan here is ‘dripping filthy goodness’, a phrase that they have presumably stolen from a swingers club, but actually relates to the process of cooking the beef patty so that it retains the juices.  It is exactly as I remember them being, if not as pink in the centre as they once were.  We try two different burgers, both of which are excellent.  Hell Shack is a brute, a relentless assault that has the Rib Man’s ‘Holy Fuck’ hot sauce at it’s core and a green chilli relish playing back-up when a back-up probably isn’t required.  Still, if you order anything with a hot sauce called ‘Holy Fuck’ you expect serious heat, and serious heat is what you get.  I fucking love it, and I can swear all I want here, because if they can say fuck on a menu, I can use it all I fucking want in my post.  Sorry, Mom.  If heaven existed I know you’d be pretty appalled with me right now.

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You can look again now because the next paragraph contains zero curse words.  The Dutch Piggy is at it’s purest form a bacon cheeseburger.  It has two cheeses; a classic American cheese that owes its existence to the invention of plastic as much as it does to milk (this is not an insult – American cheese is the best for burgers) and another, Edam, I think, that has melted in a far more conventional sense.  Together with the bacon it works to accentuate the beef flavour rather than wipe it off the face of the earth like the hot sauce does.  They are two burgers for very different customers.  Both are very good indeed.

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There are no fried pickles on today, leaving us with onion rings and fries topped with a spicy mayo.  The latter is the weak link here, unremarkable in texture with not enough of the mayo, which itself could do with more attitude.  The onion rings are the best I’ve tried, though at £3.50 for six they should be.  The batter cracks and then disappears in the mouth.  It makes me wish that the Frickles were on to try.

We’ve waited five years for this to become a reality.  Is it worth it?  Undoubtedly yes.  We eat within the first few hours of the first day they are open to the public and already the team have mastered the service and the cooking.  It’s slick and personable, maybe more than you ever expect a burger restaurant to ever to.  I never doubted their ability to make the jump, but I am seriously impressed with the professionalism and accuracy of it all.  Meat Shack is destined to be another Birmingham success story, and hopefully one that will inspire some of the other traders to do the same.

8/10

Bleecker Burger, London

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Bleecker Burger almost never happened.  It was the last entry on our itinerary for the weekend, after the three star and the trendy Thai place and shite patisserie, only making the cut because it was close to our hotel in Victoria and we needed somewhere to go for breakfast.  Which, yes, it does qualify as on account of it being some meat in a bun.

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And, despite its late inclusion, when we where sat on the train home discussing the three star and the trendy Thai and shite patisserie, we both agreed that the best thing we ate came the black fronted, yellow chaired, spot near Victoria station.  Where bits of aged beef mince are compacted and cooked to medium rare, held together by a bun that stays in working order.

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We try two burgers.  A Blue Burger has the patty in a blue cheese sauce that whacks with umami.  Its good, very good even, but it pales in comparison to the Bacon Cheeseburger that allows the quality of the beef to shine with just a little American cheese, a rasher of crisp bacon and white onion.  It is stunning.  As much as I love Original Patty Man back home, this is as good, if not better.  Even with another lunch planned in less than three hours I am sent back inside for another for us to share.  Our later lunch is worth jeopardising for this.

The Angry Fries divide us, but this is my turf so let me tell you that the mixture of blue cheese and hot sauces is an inspired one, one cooling the other, full of umami and funk.  The other half thinks that they detract from the spud but she watches Keeping Up With The Kardashians, so read into her opinion as you want.

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And there you go, maybe the best twenty-six quid I have spent in a while, overshadowing some very serious food had throughout the rest of our weekend.  But it’s created a quandary of it’s own – my five or six trips to London a year are to eat new food, not return to the same places, yet it will be impossible to not have a Bleecker whenever we come back.  I thank the chef on our way out, telling her that it was probably the best burger I have eaten.  She smiles and thanks me in a way that makes me think she has answered to that on many an occasion before.  I can believe it. The burgers here are the real deal, as good as any you are ever likely to eat.

9/10
Bleecker St. Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Byron, Birmingham

Byron comes to Birmingham on the back of a big reputation down south, where they are dotted around the sprawling city for Londoners to get their fill. I always found the reputation bewildering; London is not short of good burger options in the same way that it is not short of superiority complexes – why would a high street burger chain be mentioned along with the likes of MeatLiquor or Patty & Bun? In my frequent visits to the capital I had never had one, because, in all honesty, there was always a more interesting option. Now it’s finally here after working its way around the country, in a prime spot on New St, and I have no get out clause. I heed my call.

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It turns out those pesky Londoners are right. It’s a proper burger, made from the right cuts of cow and cooked correctly. We try two on the second day they are open and both are impressive, mostly down to the patty, which is beefy and accurately cooked to the medium they tell us it comes to as standard.  A ‘Smokey’ has the patty on possibly the best bbq sauce I have tasted – smokey, full of umami, with just a little heat in the background.  Crisp onions for texture and smoked bacon to reinforce just why it is called what it is.  A ‘B-Rex’, the most expensive of the single patty options at £10.50, comes with more of that bbq sauce, a greaseless onion ring, jalapeno’s, American cheese, and pickles.  There is a lot going on, but its all balanced impeccably, the jalapeno and pickles elements with enough acidity to stop it all being too much.

We have a side of fries topped with a gooey cheese sauce and bacon that wasn’t crisp enough that we probably wont order again, and chicken nuggets that we certainly will.  The nuggets are lovely morsels of breast meat that work well with the bbq sauce it comes with and better with the chilli sauce they leave on the table.

And here’s the thing:  Honestly, I expected to hate it.  I thought it would be another Five Guys mess of overhyped crap.  I couldn’t be further from reality, it is miles ahead of that rubbish and the likes of GBK. whom you would consider to be its naturally competition.  It will clean up in Birmingham and rightly so.  My only issue is the price, which at around twenty quid a head for a burger, a side and a drink is more expensive than Original Patty Man, who happen to produce the best burger in the city (provided you are happy to queue for it of course).  But as far as burger chains go, well done Byron, you’ve just jumped to the front of the high street queue.

8/10

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

Chilli Dog Dogs via Deliveroo

I’ll stand by what I’ve said before; nobody does better hotdogs than Chilli Dog Dog’s.  I’ve been to the one in London that also sells fizz, the one in New York through the phone box with the bearded hipsters, and the one in London which name checks New York and now sells to the Birmingham restaurant which is a bit like Burger & Lobster.  Still with me? No, well neither am I.  I guess what I am trying to say is for all my travels, I always end up back in Moseley, queuing up for the tin shack in the back garden of the Prince of Wales.

But now I am cold and yet again hungover, with no desire to be judged by the length of my stubble or depth of the bags underneath my eyes.  I have a stomach to answer to and credit in my Deliveroo account thanks to a nifty referral system (get your ten pound code here roo.it/simonc3898).  We order and wait all of twenty eight minutes for a polite man to arrive with dinner.  He doesn’t judge me, dressing gown and all.

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The dog is a relatively new one, from a menu seemingly aimed at food intended to threaten fingers and chins as much as mouths.  Its messy in the best possible sense, a lashford sausage drowned in a mixture of chopped mango, spicy sriracha sauce, pickled carrots and toasted peanuts, all of which hint at warmer climes than B13.  The sausage is rightly the star, robust and piggy in texture and flavour.

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Don’t let the name kid you, he does burgers as well.  Aged patties from a proper piece of cattle and a butcher who knows his trade.  The one we order is loosely packed, big on the taste of bovine and topped with a generous amount of macaroni cheese and bits of crispy bacon.  Its familiar burgers flavours reinvented for those with a dirty mind.  And boy do I have a dirty mind.

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We take two sides when one would have been plenty.  The chips are better than the nacho’s, though the latter have a beef ragu sauce that would improve anything, desserts included.  Next time it will be the chips topped with the silky cheese sauce and the beef.  Just thinking about it makes me want that next time to be now.  I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re lucky to have the likes of Chilli Dog’s on our doorstep, and they seem happy enough braving the elements in a pub back garden so I can get my feed from the comfort of my living room.  And that relationship works perfectly fine for me.

As well as The Prince of Wales and Deliveroo, you can also catch Chilli Dog Dogs frequently at 1000 Trades.  I thought I should point that out, too.

 

<a href="https://www.zomato.com/birmingham/prince-wales-moseley&quot; title="View Menu, Reviews, Photos & Information about Prince of Wales, Moseley and other Restaurants in Birmingham"

Meating, Birmingham

I first went to Meating not long after it opened in The Arcadian centre. I wrote the meal off in the ‘okay’ bracket, taking the stance that a write-up of a rather one dimensional protein-fest of burgers and steaks was neither of interest to read, or fair on a new business with the bollocks to start up in a part of town not known for its weekday footfall.  Since then I’ve crossed paths with it a couple of times, most notably at a Yelp burger battle when it wiped the floor with some of the cities finer bits of compound beef.  It was an entirely different offering; sharper in seasoning, more exact in its delivery.  It won the burger battle not because it hosted the event, but because it rightly deserved to.  I made instant plans to go back, which, with the help of a two month boxing training camp, coincided almost perfectly with the launch of a new menu.

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I go with an Italian friend of mine with a cultured palate and an Irish friend whose palate is anything but.  No, this isn’t the start of a marginally racist joke.  They both like the interior with its corrugated metal, vividly painted duct pipes and cow wall illustrations.  Its a functional space that isn’t going to win design awards anytime soon. From the starters are two pairs of taco’s; one chicken, the other lamb.  Its the lamb that wins hands-down, crispy pieces of meat pinned down with sharp cabbage and piquant chilli sauce.  The chicken looks ordinary in its presence with a guacamole sharp with lime taking over as the star between folded tortilla.  Thick nachos come with brisket beef cooked so slowly they threaten to dissolve in the mouth. As good as the meat is (and it is seriously good) it is the other elements that show how far it has progressed from my first visit.  The pico de gallo is bright in flavour, the cheese sauce both luscious and moreish.  We all stare at the last shard and offer it to our fellow dining companions whilst secretly wanting it for ourselves.

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The mains see a return of that lamb, this time piled high on to a large flatbread, supple on the outside and gloriously soaked in the centre with the sticky molasses that the meat has been coated in. There is a clarity to it all that impresses; the salty notes of feta, the sweet pops of pomegranate, the calming influence of the raita-like yogurt.  The high and the low notes all playing back-up to the lamb.  Yes, its a kebab, but what a kebab it is.  It’s also enough for two people to share and not leave hungry.  Bijou portions have seemingly not made it to this corner of Birmingham yet.

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Given how much the burger impressed the last time it would have taken a far more body conscious man to resist their greasy charms.  I am not that body conscious man, I know this because my mirror tells me so on a daily basis.  We order a ‘Porky Blinder’ from the new menu which delivers in spades.  The patty is a loosely packed mixture of aged beef still blushing pink in the centre, with crisp bacon and braised pork belly atop.  Add melted cheese of the strong cheddar variety and some mischievous ‘baconaise’ which reinforces the sweet / savoury interplay and you have a burger that is up there with a certain Krispy Kreme donut that held my heart for the first half of 2016.  They bring us a pot of bone marrow gravy to dunk the last chunks in to and suddenly all is good in the world.  We order a portion of sweet potato fries that are well made but totally unwarranted given the amount of food consumed.

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Dessert was never going to happen, not with all that meat, and we polish off the last of our beer and pay the bill.  And here, Ladies and Gents is the money shot; we dined on a Monday night when they happen to offer 50% off the food bill, leaving us with a bill of under fifteen quid a head.  Fifteen quid each.  If you don’t believe me, look at the bill yourself.  I felt almost dirty paying so little for so much that was so good.  Go on another day and you could probably add another tenner to that bill.  And so you should.  Go have that burger, go somewhere else for a few pints and some chatter and come back for that kebab.  I know, you’re welcome.  And you’ll probably see me there, because right now Meating may just be my favourite place in town for a casual bite to eat.

8/10

 

 

Cau, Birmingham

Today it’s a whistle-stop visit at Cau, a new South American style steakhouse in Brindley Place. Inside the monochrome interior is broken up by lucid green wallpaper that echoes grass, whilst clouds dangle from the high ceiling. Its an odd space, seemingly kitsch and intent on dividing opinion. With little time to wonder around the menu, we plunge straight in to the beef for mains. The cow, or cau as they would have it, would prove to be very good, maybe even surprisingly so, full of deep bovine flavour from an animal properly sauced and hung. The sirloin appeared central to the plate with no accompaniments – a ballsy move that lives or dies on the quality and cooking of the meat. It was cooked rare as requested, and correctly rested so that the meat juices had remained where they should be and not on the plate. The seasoning was exact and the flavour of the cow good. It was hard not to be impressed and impossible not to love. On the side came chips the size of a fat mans thumb, which were crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. At fifteen quid it was a serious bargain.

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A burger also impressed.  Stacked high, the patty came pink as requested, with an onion ring, American cheese and piquant ketchup.  What made it was the addition of sticky bits of braised short rib, that reinforced the bovine flavour and added a subtle fattiness.  It wasn’t easy to eat, but then the best things never are.  More of those fat chips and another fifteen quid left us replete and pleased with the afternoons work.

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We never took desserts, though the website shows some interesting options.  Perhaps next time, eh, when I can also explore a seemingly well crafted list of Malbecs.  Cau impressed for having a product that far exceeds the mid price range it promotes.  And they deliver via those efficient scooter boys over at Deliveroo, which makes that steak / burger dinner at home all the more luxurious.   I normally insist on several dishes before I can give a score,though in this instance I can confidently say that if you’re looking for a lump of Cau, you’ve come to the right place.

8/10

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original Patty Men, Digbeth

I’m all for competition. It breeds an environment where the best product and most savvy of businesses survive.  Its vital for the food industry in keeping profit margins at an acceptable level for the customer and for keeping the owners on their toes.  Rivalry breeds respect and results.  Though occasionally competition is futile.  Every now and then a leader emerges that is unbeatable, rendering everyone else to fight to for second or third place. Federer at tennis a decade ago, Google for search engines, America at obesity.  Now I’ve tried the burgers at the permanent home of Original Patty Men you can add them to that list.  Everyone else should turn off the gas on the grill, go home, and work on that pulled pork recipe.  Or whatever horrid trend is next in line to dominate 2016.

I’ve had the burgers before.  I’ve queued with the rest of them at Digbeth Dining Club and Seasonal Markets for my fill.  Street food is everywhere in Birmingham; we do it better than anywhere else, with OPM (as it will herewith be referred to) topping the bill alongside my other favourites Bournville Waffle Company and Baked in Brick .  Its just I like the queues as much as I trust the English weather.  Which is why I was a tad excited to park my fat arse on a chair in their new gaff under the arches in a Digbeth passage near Moor Street station car park.

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I could go on at length about the make-up of the burgers.  How the aged meat is coarsely ground and tightly packed.  How the high heat sears a crust full of umami and retains a blushing pink centre.  Its a thing of beauty that almost leaves me to be able to communicate only in profanities.  Oh, fuck it.  They are fucking amazing.  We try one in a glazed Krispy Kreme with maple glazed bacon where the potential over-sweetness is held at ground level by the savor of bovine hung for a good period of time.  Another sees the components of a cheese burger with a spiced mayo and crushed pork scratchings.  It sounds more outlandish than the reality; the pork rinds are there to provide an additional layer of seasoning and texture.  Its all very clever and extremely moreish.

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The small but perfectly formed menu has a few sides from which we try smokey home baked beans and chips topped with slaw and more of that spiced mayo.  The chips are good, taken up another level by the toppings which offer crunch and a little heat.  Better are the beans with bacon and a steal at two quid a pot.  They have no sweet courses on offer today, due to the local bakery that supplies them being too busy.  I consider requesting a Krispy Kreme for dessert.  Only grilled.  And with bacon and a lump of charred cow.

 

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We settle a bill which fails to reach thirty quid including a couple of drinks and look to the doors where a queue of waiting people are already starting to form.  That queue is only going to get bigger and bigger -Its inevitable with a product this good.  Forget Goodman’s, Byron, or the one at Burger and Lobster that costs £20.  Forget Dirty Burger or Meat Liquor or anywhere else that the capital has to offer.  OPM’s are the best burgers that I have ever eaten.  Digbeth, long home to the countries best street food, now has a resting place for one of the jewels in its crown.  I for one, could not be happier.

9/10

 

 

 

Deliveroo; Chilli Dog Dog’s / Heavenly Desserts

If you are one of the dozens of people that follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I am partial to food from Chilli Dog Dog’s. I occasionally post pictures of their food, which, if you are not familiar with their back catalogue, mostly amounts to buns containing protein and other stuff that tastes nice. These food porn images have led to a bit of an on-line bromance with Simon, the cordial chap that slaves behind a grill in the backyard of The Prince of Wales so that I can get fatter. He humours me, which is an achievement in itself. Outside of Twitter our relationship extends to me being a drunk and him working in a beer garden that I often drink in. I am a big fan of his cooking, so when those nice fellows at Deliveroo suggested that I have a dinner on them, there was only one place I was going to fill my boots at.

I keep on returning to Chilli Dog because the standard is consistently high. In a market saturated with burgers and hotdogs he takes prime ingredients’ and doesn’t mess with them – a concept that I wish would catch on. Given the nature of this blog I should be out trying others and probably wishing that I hadn’t, but I don’t because I am fastidious and difficult with the food that I eat. I am also intrinsically lazy, so praise to Deliveroo for saving me the hassle of changing out of my pj’s and getting my dinner to me within forty minutes. Even if the man on the scooter had to handle over the goods to a rotund ageing man in a dressing gown.

The food which arrived may have had the precision knocked out of it a little by the short ride up the road, but it was hot and packed with all the flavour that I have come to expect. A cheese and bacon burger was the star; the texture tightly packed, the beef flavour massive from the coarse meat of an animal that had been properly aged since its offing. Thick, cured bacon gave smokey notes which were eventually wiped away by the pickles. Everything served a purpose. It wipes the floor with any other burger locally and you’ll be hard pushed to find a better one in the city. A Mexicana Dog has toppings of guacamole, cheese sauce, sour cream and jalapenos. It’s not conventional, though it works because the sausage is of extraordinary quality from Lashford’s. The pork flavour inside the crisp skin is ramped up enough to handle enough to handle everything that is thrown at it. It’s messy, but then the best things in life are.

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Side dishes from here are usually bypassed in my attempts for a quick nosh between beers, though this time we try a variety to turn it into a main meal. Out of the additional carb’s we order only nacho’s disappoint by being far too salty, even for my taste buds. Chips have crispy exterior and fluffy centres thanks to several cooking processes, whilst a mac and cheese has pasta with just enough bite. What holds them all together is molten nacho sauce, thick like custard and cheesier than four bar stools containing the members of Westlife, for which I would love the recipe for.

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It was a different proposition for the second Deliveroo of the evening.  I was aware of Heavenly Desserts in the sense that I had seen the constant queue of people that I was never going to wait in:  I simply don’t like sweet things enough to stand around and wait in line with strangers for them.  What arrived twenty minutes from order on my doorstep would be my first experience of them; quality was generally high, though everything was very sweet.  A chocolate cheesecake was intense on the cocoa flavour and light in texture, the accompanying Belgian chocolate ice cream equally indulgent.  It’s a chocoholics dream (which I hasten to add, that I am not) and a relative steal at £4.90.  For the same price a waffle, a wheel trim in size and appearance, felt less value.  The sweet batter was a little heavy, the sugar levels in the white chocolate sauce relentless, even more so with the addition of whipped cream that was packaged separate.

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The highlight of the Heavenly Dessert order was a special that was a play on Ferrero Rocher.  Chunks of waffle, intermingled with crisp chocolate pieces and chopped hazelnuts, nutella and cream, topped with a massive scoop of hazelnut ice cream.  If the waffle was one-dimensional this was a riot of texture and temperatures, with familiar flavours cleverly pronounced.

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A final quick word on Deliveroo, because they covered my dinner and therefore deserve it.  The on-line ordering is simple, the delivery process efficient and hassle-free.  It is never going to replace my obsession with dining out, but it does continue to give me options of eating at great places on the nights when I want the comfort of my own home.  In instances such as Heavenly Desserts its a no-brainer:  Why queue for thirty minutes in a store when you can have your sugar rush delivered to your front door in twenty?  And with Chilli Dog Dog’s, well you should regardless, because its bloody brilliant.  Go on, treat yourself.  You deserve it.

Chilli Dog Dog’s 9/10

Heavenly Desserts 7/10

Deliveroo picked up the bill on this occasion, though I’ve since ordered (again) on my own accord.  Mostly because I appreciate nice food and so do they.  Go check them out at http://www.deliveroo.co.uk

Alfie Birds, Birmingham

I think I may have shed a tear when The Medicine Bar closed. Back in the days when I was skinny and I had a full head of hair, I used to hop on the bus to Digbeth and in to the red brick walls of The Custard Factory. We crammed in with our backs against the walls to watch breakdancers battle in small spaces, queued for discounted drinks on Tuesdays student nights, and on one occasion saw a skateboarder split his head in half against the emptied pool edging. Those were the good old days. And then it closed. The Custard Factory continued with its resurgence of creative types and independent businesses, albeit without a place to unwind after work.

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And now, thanks to a couple of bright young guns, there is a place to grab a pint. And watch a band. And eat. The space that was once the sparse Medicine Bar is now a mass of colour and comfort over three floors and a separate music venue. Alfie Birds specialise in what they call “Gourmet Eats and Beats”.  I’ll be the judge of that. Downstairs a man is playing Northern Soul, some are listening, others are too busy with the cocktail list to notice.  We order cocktails from our wooden benches on the mezzanine which are well made and boozy, before deciding to embrace a couple of pizzas, a burger and a side.

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For the most part the food is a success.  A burger comes pink and juicy enough to worry it could end up on my shirt.  The meat is of good quality and deftly seasoned, more than enough to stand up to a chorizo jam full of smokiness and heat.  The silent nod speaks for itself; I like it, a lot. It shits all over the burger we had at Five Guys a few months back.  Batons of courgette are deep fried in a tempura batter that is light and avoids greasiness.  It was a liberal smattering of sea salt away from being very good.

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Pizza’s are ultra-thin and crisp with good thought behind the toppings.  There was one with roast squash, goats cheese and spinach which played it safe in a way that vegetarians will appreciate.  Stick a load of ingredients which work together on a pizza; it makes for good reasoning and is fine with me. Another saw pulled pork given the Dirty South treatment.  The unctuous meat benefited from the shark pickles, heat from roquito peppers and a deep bbq sauce full of funk.  I wish I’d ordered the larger size.  Its name – Peter Pipers Picked Pickled and Pulled Pork Pizza – should not be attempted when pissed, which we were steadily approaching after a second round of cocktails.

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The dessert options are an ode to its surroundings; three choices, each containing custard.  We go leftfield and opt on a potent custard martini, which made perfect sense at a time when the bar was beginning to fill and the music volume was rising.  Alfie Birds is an ambitious quest to bring the good times back to a building that has long been a centre point of Digbeth.  The gigs and club nights will be bring a passing trade, though that alone would be an injustice.  The grub on offer at Alfie’s is enough to merit a visit on its own.

8/10

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