Curry

Rajdoot, Birmingham

We live in a society that isn’t kind to restaurants.  One that eats them up and spits them out.  One that is so fickle it could be a contestant on Love Island.  A staggering 90% of restaurants in this country fail within the first twelve months. Why? I don’t bloody know, I’m not a restauranteur; I’m an over opinionated twerp with a keyboard. But the ones that I have seen demise with my own eyes have been poorly judged concepts (lobsters), rotten locations (sea food restaurants above Café bloody Rouge) and just bad luck (Comida, you were brilliant and you’ll be back). It almost puts me off my dream of a little Italian restaurant of my own. Almost. The restaurant business is not a lottery, it’s a cleverly thought out line of ticked boxes and processes, as my good friend Barry Sherwin has pointed out to me on many an occasion. And he knows a thing or two about opening these places. So there.

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Once past that opening year it’s no guarantee that it’s an easy ride. Profitability and longevity are the two things that the industry craves, and to achieve this takes hard work and constant reflection. The machine chugs along, driven by trends and an ever changing customer focus. React or die, it’s as simple as that. Take a chameleon approach and you might see two, maybe five, even ten or twenty years if you’re really lucky. But fifty? There can’t be too many successful businesses that even dream of reaching half a century. Rajdoot have, which is a crazy number given that I would have been but a twinkle in the eye of the raging hormonal body of my fifteen year old pubescent father when they first opened in 1967. I struggle to comprehend pieces of furniture that are fifty years old, never mind places to dine at. How they have achieved this is too much for this pea brain to take in.

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Maybe a good starting place for an explanation would be the service. It’s old school slick, customer orientated and polished to a high sheen. We are seated in a plush waiting area and watered, given menus and then taken to a sultry dining room way bigger than it first appears, which is a talent they share with me.  Our corner table is adorned with thick white linen, preloaded with crisp poppadum’s and a spritely chopped onion salad.  A singular candle sits on one corner, more a romantic gesture than a lighting requirement.  At first I assumed they were going all out because they knew I was coming, though it would later transpire they had no clue at all about me.  I like that.  They go to this effort for everyone.  Which probably goes someway to explaining the buzzy dining room on a midweek night.

What also explains the mostly full room is the food, which, on our meal here puts it in the upper echelons of its type in the city.  Its wonderfully traditional, rich and decadent.  We share a platter to start that is probably too much food to successfully proportion our meal.  Like we care.  We each devour the mini fillet of chicken shaslik we have each been portioned to, and make light work of crisp samosa with the most fragrant of potato and pea filling.  We cloak batons of shish kebab with onion kulcha which, with the ingenious addition of mint yogurt, turns it into the most delicious lamb sandwich you could wish for.  Only the tandoori chicken lets the team down for being on the dry side.  It still gets eaten.

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We go for two of the chefs recommendations for main.  He clearly knows what he is talking about.  On paper the Murgh Kebab Masala looks like a tarted-up description of a chicken tikka masala.  Thankfully, it is nothing of the sort.  The kebab is a tightly packed mixture of minced chicken and herbs that have been skewered and blasted through the tandoor until the outside is charred and the centre is just cooked through.  The sauce is nutty and complex, heavy on the spices that trouble the nasal passages, not the other ones.  I just wish there was a little more of it.  I want to glaze the supple garlic naan with sauces this good, and whizz it the individual grains of pilau rice.  The other main was a lamb chilli bhuna that doesn’t disappoint.  It’s heady and spicy, littered with chilli and chunks of pepper.  The tender lamb is a testament to the virtues of patience.  We wipe the bowl clean with the last shreds of the naan.

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They make both gulab jamun and kulfi in-house here, so we request a smaller portion of each to try both.  Indian desserts are often a massive disappoint, but these were lovely.  The gulab jamun was not over soaked in syrup, the kulfi delicate and sprinkled with crushed pistachios.  They work surprisingly well in the company of each other.  If you can find room for dessert, I suggest you harass them into doing the same for you.

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I’d not eaten at the Rajdoot before this.  I guess that I’d been scared that a business open for that length must be old fashioned and reliant on the aging regulars for custom.  I couldn’t be any more wrong.  It’s done fifty years because they serve precise and comforting Indian food with the sort of service that shames many a Michelin starred restaurant.  It is rightly a stalwart of its kind in the city.  I already cannot wait to go back for more.

8/10

I was invited to dine at Rajdoot by Delicious PR

Rajdoot Tandoori Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Adil’s Balti, via Deliveroo

The Deliveroo menu for Adil’s is littered with warnings, instructions, and goading’s for us feeble Westerners. Are you the kind of fool that orders mango and lime at Nando’s? I pity you if so, but you can order the Maliah which is ‘suitable for Kurma eaters’ whilst hanging your head in shame. Those ‘feeling brave’ are instructed to order a Vindaloo, a statement that usually makes me as brave as I am stupid. And then there is the curries described as ‘not for the faint hearted’, a clever turn of words that appeals to idiots like me. I can’t turn that stuff down; it’s a red rag to a bull, a picture of Princess Diana to The Daily Mail. It’s the stuff I live for, the fuzzy wave of pure heat that pulsates through my veins and escapes via sweat on my brow. By telling me I that it is not for the faint hearted I have to order it, despite knowing all too well that my body will hate me for it. Which, 16 hours on, I can confirm that it does.

So, yeah, Adil’s Balti. Those not familiar should know that it is the original home of the Balti in Birmingham, maybe even the UK. It resides in the Balti Triangle, where nostalgic fiftysomethings go for a ‘real Balti’, armed with a six pack of Carling. All of this is fine. I go there, quite a bit actually. It’s dependable and consistent and they do chilli bhaji’s that might even trump the naan as the greatest thing to dunk into a curry.  I’ve written at length about it back in the early days of this blog.  If you were one of the two people that read it back then congratulations, if not, please let me tell you about the recent meal I had courtesy of those dandy people at Deliveroo.

Pani Puri is the first thing to enter our gigantic gobs.  The puffed up shells arrive intact as we crack open the top and pour in the spiced water to neck in one go.  They are delicious, all umami and spice.  Paneer tikka is charred on the heavy side and is all the better for it.  The bland cheese has taken on all the marinade, transforming it from a nothing to something extraordinary.  We fight over the last piece.

 

The Balti’s do not disappoint. A lamb Balti Jalfrazzi is the ideal bastardization of complex masala and spice. The bite of pepper is welcome with the softly braised meat and heat that grows on the palate. And then there is my curry, the Balti Chicken Chilli Masala that I have been teased in to ordering with the provocative wording. It as subtle as The Suns disdain for Corbyn, a punch in the mouth of chilli; as fiery as a hungry Jeromy Clarkson. It is relentless in the best possible sense, a full out attack on the body. I love it, even if the look on my face says otherwise. The meat is tender, the sauce pungent and vibrant. I use the pilau rice to coax the last of the sauce on to the fork because a yellow garlic naan, the colour of a radioactive warning sign, goes untouched.

I’ll end with the gushing bit, so if me sucking on the proverbial nipple of Deliveroo isn’t your bag, please close down the window now and resume your normal duties. It’s meals like this that make me love Deliveroo in the way that I do – restaurant quality food delivered to my front door in under half an hour. It allows me to be lazy, to watch TV and eat dinner in my pants without compromise. To treat myself to one of the better curries in this part of the city without leaving the door. It’s the most convenient of treats. When you can get somewhere the calibre of Adil’s I fail to see why you would ever consider another option.

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this meal.  For money off your first order, please see the following link roo.it/simonc3898

Indico Indian Street Kitchen, Shirley

Tonight I find myself in Shirley, a statement I haven’t said too often in the last decade or so. I have nothing against the place; on the contrary, actually – it’s very congenial. If I cast my mind towards Shirley it has several large supermarkets, a good wine shop, an equally good chippy, and a lovely hotel marred by the fact I had to spend an evening at ‘celebrating’ the wedding of some idiot from the office who I happen to detest. I don’t go as for years though its been a culinary graveyard. Locals rejoiced when they got a Beefeater and practically orgasmed when Miller & Carter set-up shop. Neither of those are going to draw me out to this suburb, for the simple reasons that I am a man of taste and I like my steak to rested in the kitchen, not on my plate. I like to eat at places that excite; restaurants that offer something different, and not afraid to show a little ambition. So now here I am, sat down at Indico Street Kitchen, pleased that I made the trip.

It succeeds in claiming attention from the second you walk through the door. The décor is colourful, kitsch, and charming. Painted murals of Bollywood style imagery line the walls, a myriad of umbrellas canopy the ceiling space. At one end is the view into the kitchen with the surrounding wall creating the aesthetic of a street food van (a concept that fits in with the menu here). There is interest to be found from both levels, wherever you look, and wherever in the restaurant you may be sat down for dinner.

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From the menu that deceptively looks like a newspaper, we look past the small section of curry house staples and on to the less common options. There is a large selection of street food options, some familiar from the starter sections of other Indian restaurants, others only from brief travels in India.  All, with the exception of two chicken dishes, are vegetarian. There are fat samosa’s, stained on the underside by softly braised chickpeas in a soured tomato sauce, and spongey paneer tikka, dusted in spices and roasted to the point that edges become charred. Neither dishes are particularly new to me, though both are well executed and seemingly more authentic than the spice-by-numbers, perfunctory cooking found in many establishments offering this cuisine.

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And then things start to get interesting. Bhel puri is a riot of textures that run from sweet, through to savoury, somehow crossing spicy at the same time. The puffed rice, sev, and veg mixture is lightly bound by tamarind and dotted with nuts and pomegranates.  It’s addictive and we continually return back to pile it from tray to plate.  I’d seen, but never tried, Pav Bhaji before.  I’m sure I could get shot for such a flippant generalisation, but it tasted to me much like a thickened vegetable curry, served with bread.  Curry and bread, what’s not to like about that.  It was spicy – so spicy that my poor girlfriend was reaching for anything to cool her head down – but I liked it in a primal way.  The raw onions on top a rustic way of getting the necessary acidity in to the dish.

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The only real slip of the night was a Vanda Pav – a deep fried patty of potato in a bread bun.  The best ones punch with plenty of heat, whereas this tasted of little other than the stodge of mashed potato and mustard seed. As much as that could have been ramped up a gear there was nowhere for our only meat option to go.  A lamb sheekh kebab roll, picked from the kathi section, as big and brash as Jeremy Clarkson though far more likeable.  The meat needed the flatbread roll to hold its shape, and was pungent with aromatics and fiery with chilli.  I loved it. This would serve me happily for lunch on its own one winters day.

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They have desserts, though our greed left us far too full to even consider them – a shame given that these looked the part and would have been a fitting way to finish a distinctly Indian meal washed down with Indian beer and cider.  They do Indian wine, too, which I will reserve judgement on until I try it.  The best thing for me about this place happens to be my partners gripe; its authentic to the point of no compromise.  The spicing was as it would be in Indian; great for me, less so for the delicate taste buds of my girlfriend.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  As we exit out past the Wetherspoon’s, the one owned by the dreadful Lounge group, and the identikit Prezzo and Pizza Expresses, it became clear:  At last Shirley has somewhere genuinely good to eat.  I hope that it prospers.

7/10

I was invited to eat at Indico Indian Street Kitchen.

Umami Indian Kitchen, Harborne

I used to live in Harborne.  Lovely place, polite and well mannered, with the whiff of affluence in the air.  It’s middle-class and proud; gents wear polo shirts with upturned collars all year round, occasionally pulling over a John Smedley knitwear when the wind outside Waitrose turns chilly.  Ladies sport designer handbags, often with designer pups perched inside.  Its a great place to live – home to the best pub in Birmingham, The Plough, and with far greater eating options than Moseley, its slightly rougher sibling which I now call home.  I miss it there.  What I don’t miss is the Indian food.  I love a curry and honestly, Harborne does the food of the subcontinent as well as it does parking.  We lived across the road from one that tried to kill me twice, with others not fairing much better.  So with the recent revelation that Harborne now has a restaurant that does Indian cooking as well, no one was more shocked than I.

First, let me address the name.  Umami is a term Japanese in nature, the so-called fifth taste sensation of savoury that they claim to have discovered in recent times.  The reality is that savoury has been a recognised flavour profile for hundreds of years, Escoffier noting a couple of hundred years back that it if it is brown it will taste good.  I digress, but still, naming an Indian restaurant after a Japanese term for a flavour not prominently found in the food of the sub-continent is curious at best.

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And then the food happens.  Three fat scallops, seared to medium rare, in a thick puddle of a tomato gravy flavoured with black peppercorns. It was reminiscent of a dish I had in Goa, though this has more depth and clarity to the sauce without losing the essence of the shellfish.  At £7 its hard to see where the restaurants profit margins are, but we care little as we chase the last of the sauce around the plate.  Shekh Kebabs and Somasa are on more familiar territory, though each are a delight.  The lamb kebabs are fragrant with cinnamon which needs the salad for respite, and the somosa transcended by a warm chutney underneath full of garlic and chilli heat.

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Mains are split in to more traditional curries and the chefs signature dishes, seemingly more expensive for bearing his expertise.  We try two curries, both with chicken of obvious quality.  We could smell the chettinad with it’s unmistakable aroma of coriander seeds as it made its way through the narrow dining room to our table, the multifaceted sauce rich with curry leaf and fiery heat.  Much calmer was their take on tikka masala, equally big on flavour with the smooth gravy, tempered and thickened by yogurt.  The chunks of chicken meat as tender as you could wish for.

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A  monkfish main from the chef’s signature dishes may seem steep at £18.00 but it wins the night hands down.  The fish is dusted in a rich spice blend and cooked just through so it avoids any chewiness.  The medallions sit on a sauce of chilli and garlic that demands you sit up and pay attention.  Like me, its refined in appearance and extremely naughty in nature.  Two seabass fillets are nestled on a spiced mushroom ragu, dotted with peas and bound with a tomato chutney full of warming freshness.  If they have one dish that truly captures the savoury of umami, this is it.  We share supple naan breads and rice that has been cooked so that each grain is distinct.  Not a scrap is left as they clear up our table.

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seabass Look, its not perfect.  They like cress as a decoration a little too much and there are as many managers as there are waiters, with more of the latter possibly rectifying the wait between dishes on the same courses.  Drinks take a while to arrive and when they do the cocktails require work, veering between overly sweet and too boozy.  But if I want cocktails I’ll go to a cocktail bar and the food, Oh My, the food is so Good.  A bill, amended to remove a glass of champagne that arrived late, hits just over forty pound a head with a couple of drinks each.  A cheaper meal could be had on much of Harborne High St, indeed at most of the cities Indian restaurants, but this is food of ambition and quality.  I have done the spectrum of Indian food in Birmingham, from the cheap to the costliest, but if you ask me which one is best I’d be hard pushed to suggest anywhere other than Umami.

9/10

 

 

 

Kababish, Moseley, Via Deliveroo

I need no reason to eat curry. I would, if my doctor would allow me, feast on the stuff every night.  Cut me open and I bleed ghee, ask me what my aftershave I’m wearing and the answer will be eau de garam masala.  For me, the food of the Indian subcontinent is simply the best.  A go to cuisine whenever my body needs a lift; whether that be I am ill or hungover or emotionally down or overexposed to back-to-back episodes of TOWIE.  It is a special kind of food that lends itself as equally well to dinner for two as it does to a post-pub feed or the simply takeaway.

Where I am from (Moseley, if you are planning on stalking me), the long standing king of the curry is Kababish.  With a reign of over 30 years, they have seen the suburb go from its arts of crafts roots into the national hotspot which it is now.  My future mother-in-law recalls queuing for Kababish when she were a student, and she is officially ancient.

I have eaten here many times, though tonight I am kicking back and letting those boys at Deliveroo sort my dinner whilst I watch another British team fail miserably in the Champions League.  I order, crack a beer open and meet the driver at the door before the bottle is finished.  Its piping hot, which is a marked improvement on the first time I had a delivery from here some time back.

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I’m a simple soul when it comes to the menu here, every time ordering the lamb kebab followed by the Dhesi Karai Murgh with a peshwari naan on the side.  The kebab is shaped into roundels and is deftly spiced with cumin and green chilli.  It has tenderness to the mince meat that could only be achieved by a lengthy marinade and a gentle touch in the tandoor.

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The Dhesi Karai Murgh is the star turn.  A Balti for the brave, fragrant with spice and with a healthy kick in the finish.  The cubes of poultry collapse into loose strands when pressured and have to fight for attention, which they just about manage.  The peshwari naans sweetness is a natural foil to the heat and mops up the last of the thick juices.  I have converted many to this curry over the years.  Give it a go and you wont be the last.

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I meant to post this last week to coincide with National Curry Week, though I am useless.  It matters not; curry may as well be our national dish, its ingrained in our culture and should be eaten often and with pride.  And those who do indulge could do far worse than doing so at Kababish.

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this meal.  Use the link roo.it/simonc3898 for £10 credit

 

The Blue Piano, Edgbaston

They do a dish at the Blue Piano for which all other dishes should be judged.  It’s a carrot cake in type, though in reality a steamed radish cake; an even less palatable name for the everyday unadventurous natives of our fine country.  You can see why they stuck with carrot.  The cubes of steamed radish and rice flour are pale throughout, spare the edges, which have been lightly browned in a pan with scrambled egg that coats and adds an unctuous layer.  They are spongy in texture, with only a little bite from a fine julienne of spring onion and chilli that adds a warming heat.  It could easily be the best breakfast you have ever had, though here it is a starter, beguiling and delicious in equal parts.  It must make the top ten, no, top five dishes in Birmingham.

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Situated in a smart Victorian property in leafy Edgbaston, the food here focuses on South East Asia; the carrot cake from Singapore, others from Malaysia through to Cambodia.  Its an intriguing mix that never hits the heights of the glorious starter.  Another of pork puffs (their name, not mine) was light on meat and heavy on the doughy pastry, saved by a chilli jam that could rescue just about anything.  A similar story with rolls of minced pork and prawns battered in to the corner by a heavy hand of five spice.

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Curries of vegetable green and duck red feature sauces with the depth of someone who has been doing this a while.  Each were fresh with lime acidity and seasoned with fish sauce, but invariably could have had more chilli kick in both.  The duck in the red curry had dried out, though the jackfruit was a nice addition, cutting through the meat and giving a cleaner feel to the dish.  Heavier and more substantial was the beef rendang nasi lamak, national dish of Malaysia and loosener of belt buckles.  Long braised cubes of beef in a visually unappealing curry fragrant with coconut milk, with peanuts, dried anchovies, half a boiled egg, cucumber, coconut rice, and prawn crackers.  The best bits happen when its all combined and piled high on to prawn crackers for a smack around the chops of texture and taste which only gets better when additional chillies arrive at the table.

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We debate how acceptable it would be to order the carrot cake for dessert, and after viewing the sweet menu decide it is probably the wisest option.  We don’t, only for the reason that the portions here are enough to fill even the greediest of gluttons, instead paying the bill that stays below thirty pound a head and retire to the nearby Edgbaston for further imbibing.  The place was busy on a Friday evening and it’s obvious popular with the well heeled cliental, though I personally prefer their sister venue in Kings Heath, Blue Ginger, where the cooking feels more consistent in it’s smaller dining room.  Still, it’s enjoyable and refreshing different from the Asian cuisine more readily available within the city.  And they do a pretty amazing starter, if you haven’t already heard.

7/10

Blue Piano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Zen Metro, Birmingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

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

I was invited to eat at Zen Metro

 

 

 

Five Rivers, Walsall

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When it comes to champagne my will is weak. I may have started this restaurant blog with ideals and a sound moral compass, but these have withered occasionally. I’m not proud of it, though I am also not stupid. When I receive an invitation to an evening hosted by Laurent Perrier at an award winning Indian restaurant, of course I was going to accept it: It’s curry and fizz, two of my favourite things in the world.

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The restaurant in question is Five Rivers, a smart space not far from Walsall town centre, where wooden beams arch across the vaulted ceiling and elbows and arses are greeted by thick linen and deep, plush seating alike.  We start the meal with a sweet potato cake, heavy on chilli and cumin, with the spicing offset by the sweet funk of fig.  What I like most is the disregard for the etiquette that too often exists in Indian restaurants at the higher end, where smart presentation often means the spicing is turned down.  I want heat; lots of it.  I get it here and the dish is all the better for it.

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If the opening course nodded politely at classic Indian street food, the next course was pure theatre.  Warm lobster broth was poured tableside into a bowl containing morsels of the crustacean and a tiny dice of carrot and courgette.  Plumes of dry ice smoke encompass the table, with wows intermittently interrupted by people looking for their mobile phones.  I like it, less so because of the drama and more because of the flavour, rich with more heat and cut through with lemon acidity.

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Monkfish, charred with from the extreme tandoor heat, is cooked for a few seconds longer than I prefer.  A sweet puree of mango the natural foil to the fish.  Also from the tandoor came duck, boldly flavoured with garlic and ginger.  It was a stellar piece of cooking, the meat dense and vibrant with more of the chilli kick.   A lemon and lime sorbet appears after this point, but like I care.

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By now the fizzy stuff had kicked in and with it the rest of the evening became a glorious blur.  I just about remember a chicken dish, stuffed with spinach and topped with a sauce that I wished there were more of.  And there were desserts, which I can be sure of because they were on my camera and suit jacket.  I recall little of a mango sundae type thingy and a little more of a deep fried ice cream that whacked of cinnamon.  I think I recall being pleased with them, which says a lot, as Indian desserts are too often all sugar and no substance.

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And with that there was more champagne (of course there was) and a taxi home to sleep off a serious amount of booze.  Its hard to properly score a restaurant when the experience is far from the norm, but I woke up the following day telling everyone just how good the food was.  Maybe the fizz and the jubilant atmosphere swayed it, but more than likely not.   Either way I’ll be heading back to Walsall under my own steam to find out.  Five Rivers is admirable for having lofty ambitions away from the big cities and for executing it with aplomb.  I, for one, had a great time in their company.

9/10

The meal at Five Rivers was part of a celebration dinner with Laurent Perrier for which there was no charge.  Opinions, hazy memories and hangovers all remain my own

 

 

 

 

Wrapchic, Merryhill Shopping Centre

I remember the first time that I received an email informing me about Wrapchic. How I laughed aloud. Or LOL’d, as the youth of today would have it. The idea of putting curry in a burrito was hilarious; a bastardization of two of my favourite things, amalgamated for no apparent reason. The world had gone bonkers. ‘Fusion’ food (don’t get me started) was running amok. And then I gave the concept some considered thought. It’s really not as bonkers as I first thought; both Indian and Mexican cuisines are heavy on the spice, with both using rice as their main source of carbohydrate. Okay, we wont mention the potential inclusion of grated cheese on curry, but it could work.  Maybe.

We visit the one in Merryhill shopping centre because my long suffering girlfriend has long suffered with lunch options at her nearby work.  Personally, I find shopping centre food halls a depressing site of often mediocre food for a captive audience.  I’m an eternal optimist like that.

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And here’s the thing; it works.  The transition from Indian to Central American is tastefully handled and considered.  It helps that the proteins are cooked well and married to sauces that sit with each other.  I have a burrito with a Chettinad style chicken that has heat and a nice acidity.  Its very good but next time it will be better. I can not blame anything other than my eagerness to throw every offered ingredient in amongst the mix. I make mental notes of what works and what doesn’t for my next visit.  More soured cream and lime, less jalapenos.  No cheese.  The choice of curry can stay.

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The same process is followed with my girlfriend’s wrap, though as always, her choices are better.  She takes a tikka style chicken curry, forgoes the rice and goes heavy on the coleslaw.  Its full of crunch and vibrancy; the spices given the space to take centre stage and sing.  She points out that as far as lunch options go, this is the clear winner.  The concept works less well on nacho’s.  Whatever way you look at it, its curry on Dorrito’s with cheese.  And that is just wrong.  The sauce has nowhere to penetrate.  Perhaps it would have been different had we had the paneer that we asked for, but they had sold out, so we will never know.  Mutton makes an appearance in a ‘wraposa’ – a hybrid of a samosa and toasted sandwich.  It’s a killer concept and a total steal for less than a couple of quid, helped by thick shreds of meat which dissolve in the mouth.

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The pictures don’t do it justice:  After all these are a collection of things accumulated in a tortilla, or pressed together in a sandwich toaster.  But it works, its affordable, and its seriously better than the tosh you normally find near a H&M.  My opinion here is somewhat irreverent, the only time I go to Merryhill is when I am summoned to; its neither close to me in distance, nor my idea of a fun day out.  My girlfriend on the other hand is there all the time, shopping and eating and doing what whatever women do on their lunch breaks.  Despite sharing the same initial scepticism as me, she has already been back for that wrap.  Its her new lunch of choice.  And for a women that knows what she likes as much as her, that is high praise indeed.

7/10

 

The Keg and Grill, Birmingham

I have been quiet of recent; I know this and I apologise. I had taken a couple of weeks to go on one of those silly diets that permits pork scratching’s, cheese and not much else. I have become an eggspert (apologies) at omelettes and being boring, forgoing alcohol and my sense of humour to halt the waistband creeping up towards 36 inches. Diets aren’t fun – anyone that tells you otherwise needs to invest in a life instead of the latest juicer – they suck the life out of mealtimes and make it impossible to eat out. Midway through my descent into hell I was put in the usual position of being tasked with finding us somewhere to eat: I had nothing, not through lack of good options, but for my singular restrictions of what I could put in to my system without committing carbicide. For that reason the suggestion of The Keg and Grill is owed to the personal trainer at my local gym, who, in-between scolding my crash dieting plans, almost shed a tear when telling me about the mixed grill there.

Fortunately, I saw sense on the day and decided that I had a life to live and curry to eat.  We keep the booking in place because I have a good idea of what to expect.  The owner here used to run The Hen & Chickens, a pub that features high up Tripadvisor’s  list of Birmingham thanks to its Indian grill kitchen.  I’m a big fan of these places; they breath life into public houses that would probably close otherwise, providing a style of food that far exceeds the soggy cheese sandwich’s which once frequented the counter.  Inside it’s a cosy pub, fully functioning with locals perched at the bar.  A lick of bright orange paint about covers the extent of the refurbishment.

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About eighty percent of all dishes we saw leaving the kitchen were mixed grills, so that seems the obvious place to start.  For a tenner, its a beast, where you can fill your boots with whatever meat you like just as long as it is chicken.  I lie:  There is also lamb seekh keebab’s, though the skewered dry meat is instantly forgettable.  Going back to the bird, we have accurately butchered morsels coated with honey & mustard and tandoori drumsticks that are both piquant with heat and soothing with yoghurt.  Breast meat is represented two ways; as a traditional tikka with a similar marinade to the drumsticks and as a chilli tikka, unlike anything I had tried before.  This is their bright green calling card, all balanced heat and mellow bitterness.

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We try curries because it would be rude not.  Both, despite traditionally being from the tamer end of the menu, are firmly set to “Hot”.  A rich butter chicken cannot escape from the big whack of chilli, as neither can the tikki masala, despite being heavy on the cream.  They are unrefined, but then we are on a backstreet in a part of the city centre where refinement is low on the list of priorities.  Fluffy naans and rice perked with the umami whack of mushrooms complete the order.

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With no desserts on offer we pay the bill and consider our next move.  Its remarkably cheap, with only the large grill over a tenner, and that will feed three people comfortably.  I’ve been to enough of these grill pubs to say the cooking is honest, if maybe not up some of its competition on the outskirts of the city.  Would I rush back especially to eat the food?  Probably not.  But as a one-stop-shop of meat, beer, and Sky Sports; The Keg and Grill has that in the bag for its locations.  That’s where places like these come into a league of their own.

6/10

The Keg and Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato