Jewellery Quarter

Rebel Chicken, Jewellery Quarter

Let’s talk spit roasts. No, not the ones of a decade ago you saucy minxes, but those that I have now I am a lardy greying thirty-something year old. I am talking a juicy impaled bird, moist, with burnished skin and succulent flavour. And if your mind took you anywhere then other than chicken, then shame on you. I am here only to arouse you with food talk. You disgust me.

Rebel Chicken is the place that started life as Fowl Play, a rather catchy name until someone up north caught wind of foul play and forced them to change it. It is a slogan that still adorns the black outside wall in gloss against the matt bricks. Back inside and the upstairs restaurant has walls almost as distressed as I feel queuing for the singular toilet with my legs crossed. The room is pale blue and whites, light pouring through the large industrial windows befitting the buildings of these parts of town. It’s cosy and nice. Back outside and they have one of the city’s largest beer gardens. This is where we sit, with the sun blazing down on our faces with a cold beer and a smirk.

Now let’s get to the chicken, which if you stick to the rotisserie is really very good. Brined, steamed, stuck in a marinade overnight, and then impaled with a great big skewer up its arse and turned over cherry wood until the skin is crispy. It is a serious bit of chicken, not dry at all, the white meat almost as good as the brown. And that’s the thing with chicken; once you’ve gone brown, you’ll never go back around. Or something like that. The point is that it has flavour, loads of it. The technique is there and it pays off; it is a mile away from the usual rotisserie birds we are used to. And stump for the sauces whilst you’re at it, tightwad. The gravy is all thickened cooking juices, whilst the aioli packs a serious garlic punch.

Six months ago I would have been waxing lyrical about the wings, though now they suffer from serious competition. We try a platter of them in various sauces, which all get eaten somewhat less enthusiastically than the rotisserie bird. This isn’t a slight on them; they have a good amount of meat and taste as they should. It’s just the skin isn’t as crisp as I’d like and the wings could be better butchered. With a little detail they could be up there. And then there is the sides. Skip the chips that taste like they have come from a bag, order the sweet, blistered corn on the cob instead. And absolutely have the coleslaw sharpened with apple juice that goes perfectly well with the main event.

Eating here happens to have the plus point of being very affordable. A meal for two with a whole chicken, sweetcorn, two dips, and a couple of drinks will just about hit £30 between you. And I mention that precise order because it is the best way to enjoy Rebel Chicken. I can’t vouch for the buttermilk chicken burger, the wrap, or even the veggie burger, but I can tell you that if you stick to my advice you’ll leave full and happy. I applaud Rebel Chicken for sticking to one meat only, if they can bring the rest of the menu up to the same standard as the rotisserie they’ll have a mighty fine restaurant. But for now that spit roasted bird itself is reason to go.

7/10

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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.

6/10

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Chien Lunatique at 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter

A new year, a new pop-up at the delightful 1000 Trades. It doesn’t take much to get me here – the promise of a cold pint and a hot plate of food usually does the trick – but the latest offering got me hotfooting over to the Jewellery Quarter within hours of them tweeting about it. Sausages. Three syllables of happiness. And not just any sausages. Lashford’s, Birmingham’s own multi award winners, something that I would one day like to emulate when I learn the correct of use of an apostrophe. Chien Lunatique turns these sausages into hotdogs. The January diet can go on hold for a day.

The result is one of the best pop-ups at 1000 Trades in a very long time. The dog’s skins snap with quality fillings and are pimped by toppings that add interest. A Churchill has black pudding in amongst the pork sausage mix, lardons scattered across the brow. It’s the very essence of pig; a fumble in a sty of happiness. The Balti sits on the opposing end of the spectrum, with the pork barely detectable due to a hefty whack of garam masala and cumin. It is properly delicious, topped this time with poppadoms and tzatziki that works in a similar fashion to raita. Both come in a brioche bun that defies physics and holds its shape throughout.

With this we have the kind of beans I want at home with my jacket potato – and that’s a compliment. Packed with chorizo and garlic and chilli and teenage angst, these are less of a side dish and more of a tourist attraction. And the chips. Sweet Mother of Mary, those chips. Skin on and fried to bronze, these may well be the best chips in Birmingham outside of George and Helen’s. And if that last reference means nothing, you and I are simply never going to cut it as mates.

With the dogs costing between £6 – 7.50 this is not an expensive meal, but it is one that lingers in the memory. The chef behind this is Simon Masding, a man who has many concepts within that bearded head, though none as effective as this. Chien Lunatique might be his best ever work and we’ll be back again before the stint finishes at the end of Jan. It quite simply is excellent.

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Otto, Jewellery Quarter

At the far end of Otto is a blackboard whose scrawling catches my eye. It is titled ‘The Producers’, going into detail about the charcuterie, cheese, flour, tomatoes, and olive oil. It is a biological passport of provenance. A statement to sourcing. And all of this from a little place serving pizza and not much else. Prezzo this is not.

The menu is concise and cleverly put together. Eight pizzas, with starters (some flatbreads, and a couple of sharing boards) using up the same bread, meats, and vegetables as the pizzas. We order a couple of Negronis that are as well made as anywhere in the city.

The oven that our pizzas are in is ticking at 400 Celsius today, which cooks the dough to a blistered crust in under three minutes. The dough is good, up there with the best in the city though a little short of London’s pliable best, but it is the toppings that stand them miles apart. My order sees fennel sausage stand in for a lack of chorizo, with ‘nduja and honey. It is excellent; meaty and rich, the honey tempering the ‘nduja’s more aggressive qualities. We also add meat to an otherwise vegetarian choice of ricotta, aubergine, and artichoke. The meat, coppa ham on this occasion, sits in comfortably amongst the healthy stuff. The veg is brilliant, the oozy ricotta more so. In both instances we apply liberal amounts of a chilli infused oil that has heat without losing the peppery quality of the oil.

So two very good pizzas and Negroni’s for under £40 – drink more modestly and you could shave at least a tenner off that. I was impressed with Otto, they seem at ease with what they offer and that is reflected in a service that is both personable and efficient. This at present is the best pizza in Birmingham.

8/10

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Hen and Chickens, Jewellery Quarter

Claire has been banging on about the mixed grill at the Hen and Chickens since we met, which, if you’re either of our previous partners reading this, was seven lovely months ago and not a day before. We had come into the city centre with the intention of going to a vegan restaurant but sometimes tofu and quinoa just doesn’t cut it. Actually, never does tofu and quinoa cut it. We opt for the Hen and Chickens, beloved of my beloved on account of the mixed grill that is her benchmark for a mouthful of protein. And I’m happy with this. It’s a pub, I can drink beer and eat meat. I can pretend to pay attention to her whilst watching the football over her shoulder. Very happy indeed.

It’s hot in here. So hot Nelly wrote a song about it. The recent refit is a smart move towards bare brick walls, leather booths and dark wooden tables. It’s a close space and our table is initially a spill over area for those either side of us. We fallout over the size of the mixed grill, I want to spend the extra £4 on a large, whilst Claire wants a medium, which is not an analogy for our relationship. I win, which is an analogy for our relationship.

She was right, which is absolutely an analogy for our relationship. It’s massive, a group feed rather than just the two of us. It’s all good, some of it is spectacular. The green chicken is part of the latter; spicy with marinade seemingly full of chilli heat, it knocks spots off the more conventional chicken tikka and that is one of the city’s better versions. We love the chicken niblets, which are thigh drumsticks coated in a thick cornflour batter, and chunks of a firm white fish coated in a batter fragrant with garam masala. Sheekh kebab could maybe do with more heat, but chicken wings make up for it with aggressive spicing that penetrates throughout the meat. In short, it’s a monster feed for seventeen quid. The reason to come. If you’re not ordering this you’re simply missing out.

Stupidly, we order more food and it fails to hit the same dizzying heights of the mixed grill. Masala fries are as passable as frozen chips coated in garam masala will ever be. A chicken balti initially starts off as one dimensional until the spices slowly start to reveal layer-by-layer. By the time we finish we are chasing the last dots of sauce around the bowl with a very good garlic naan.

All this, a pint and a gin comes in at £36, and we leave with half the mixed grill in a bag which serves well for lunch the following day. The Hen and Chickens wasn’t one of the original desi pubs, but it did take the appeal of places like The Vine and stick them in a more convenient and appealing location. I liked it, it’s probably my favourite at this point in time. And that large mix grill is a reason to go in itself.

8/10

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Button Factory, Birmingham

I was late to our dinner reservation because I’d been singing Toto’s ‘Africa’ in a park with a group of strangers. Why, I’m not entirely sure, but I enjoyed it greatly even if my girlfriend moaned incessantly about the temperature throughout. Soon after we were cosied up within the bare-bricked confines of the Button Factory, me with a Smokey Old Fashioned and her wearing the disapproving look only a glass of diet coke induces. I’d go through many more of those before we end the evening and those looks would become more and more menacing. It turns out that standing in the cold watching your boyfriend channel his inner 80’s rock god and following it up with him getting wasted is not everyone’s ideal night out. You can’t please everyone, it seems.

Still, Claire ended the evening happy and replete. There is some genuinely good stuff going on at the Button Factory, like properly good in a way I honestly did not expect. From the small plates section comes some of the best hummus in the city. The key is the texture, smooth, with coarser chunks of chickpea mixed in for interest, and the dusting of nutty dukkah over the top. It never bores, and that is an achievement for a dish as universally bland as hummus. The same goes for battered calamari that are greaseless and cooked without any chewiness, and lamb kofta, smokey and delicately spiced that are lovely, moreish things. Only the ‘nduja croquettes fail to hit the spot, with not enough of the spicy sausage to penetrate the mashed potato.

The pork and chorizo burger has never left the menu here and I can sort of see why. The burger makes full use of the josper grill here, imparting a smokiness on the crust that works with the mixture. It fills a hole without ever becoming special in the same way other parts of the menu do, parts such as the flat iron chicken. That chicken, oh my, brined, cooked in the water bath and then blasted on the Josper, its salty and charred and as good as any chicken I’ve eaten in a very long time. For a minute or so we put everything else aside and concentrate on finishing the bird, only returning to the other plates once the task is completed.

Of the sides we select a take on kimchi with fennel that is a pungent thing which works so well with the chicken, and sweet potato dressed in a yogurt that soothes and occasionally pops with chilli heat. The latter is brilliant and laughably cheap at £3. We finish with an arctic roll, a dessert that I was eating when my girlfriend was minus six in age. It’s well made, with plenty of lemon sharpness, and the various raspberry elements all feel warranted. The dish was recommended to us with good reason.

The menu reads well and I had been wanting to eat here before, but holding me back was that nagging feeling that they would not be able to do justice to the Middle Eastern influence that runs through the menu. I was wrong. The use of spice is subtle, there to lift flavours and stop the smokiness from the Josper taking over. It’s all very accomplished. And in that chicken, I’ve found a go-to dish that I’ve already been back for.

8/10

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Cappadocia, Jewellery Quarter

Google tells me that Cappadocia is a geological oddity in a semi-arid location, with homes carved directly into rock faces by Bronze Age cave dwellers. It sounds just like Dudley. And just like the Black Country’s finest, I wasn’t overly enthralled by the thought of going. It was another night of eating out, and I had a job interview the following morning and blah blah blah you don’t care for my whining about going out too much and quite rightly so. I know that I should really be thanking that God who doesn’t exist for my life of excess, not moaning and bitching and choosing to ignore the pain that starts across my chest and travels down my arm. And so I have made it out, sat in a lovely new Turkish restaurant in the Jewellery Quarter with a waiter who has taken a real interest in my name. I’m going to enjoy it. Really, I am.

It turns out that not enjoying it is not an option; the place is a total joy, one of those meals where you look at one another and the eyes say it all. At some point whilst stuffing my face with kebab I think I called one of the best finds of 2017, which I’m sticking with on the proviso that you stick to my suggestions . Top billing goes to a plate of loose hummus topped with crispy bits of lamb, complete with cooking liquor the deep brown colour of unapplied fake tan. Someone realised that hummus would be better burnished with meat juices and they are right. Find this man and bring him to me for further interrogation immediately. It is up there with the very best ways to spend £8 in Birmingham. I want to be preserved in this when I kick the bucket.

Prior to this we try some cold starters with flatbreads that fold easier than a Philip Green owned BHS. We love the baba ghanoush with fat chunks of aubergine that is so smokey it should come with a public health warning. Less love for the strained yogurt and cucumber which I am reliably told reaches ‘peak dill’ by my companion, but really doesn’t taste of much at all, and we’re back in the good books with a spritely Russian salad, though I am unsure what provenience it has here. Perhaps holding an airbase in Turkey has given them the right. And they make their own chilli sauce, a smokey pungent blitz of burnt vegetables and lots of chilli. It goes well with the halloumi and spiced beef sausage starter that is exactly as it sounds.

I admire the mains because they are intended to feed, not be photographed by idiots like me for Instagram. Both plates consist of bits of sheep and poultry, some rice and some bulgur wheat, and an attempt at salad. Everything we eat is a success, mostly because it tastes of what it is supposed to, which is animal, salt, and smoke. Best are the minced kebabs; the spiced lamb sheekh and chicken sibling which we tear apart with hands, douse with the chilli sauce and load on to the flatbread below that have soaked up the good bits.

If they do desserts I never saw them, though this is no bad thing. My suggestion is simple; book here and have the lamb and hummus for starters and follow it up with the minced kebabs combination. Throw in a medium sized glass of wine and your bill is under £25.00. Tip them. Thank them with all your heart for the meat sweats. Ask for some of that chilli sauce to take home and don’t look too disheartened when they say no. Go home and tweet me to say thanks for bringing it to your attention. I will probably ignore you. Do all of this and you will find a rather lovely Turkish restaurant. I can’t promise it will all be brilliant, but parts of Cappadocia are as good as it gets.

8/10

I was invited to dine at Cappadocia

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Masdings at 1000 Trades

Let’s talk battered pickled spicy pineapple rings. A hybrid of the fritters at your local Chinese takeaway and frickles, those battered fried pickles you’ve ordered at The Meat Shack. They are sweet and acidic and hot and more addictive than a Tetris session on Hillbilly Crack (not that I would know. Honest.). They are just one part of one burger at Masdings, providing a sharp astringency and some sweet, sweet love. And they are also available as a side. I tried one on the burger and then ordered more as a side. I expect you will do exactly the same.

That burger is called The Heizenberg and it is what you should be ordering when you get to 1000 Trades this December. At it’s core is an 8oz hockey puck of a beef patty, robust in flavour and cooked just a little past the medium rare they promise. It comes with bacon that has been cooked in Maple syrup and chipotle mayo. It is utter filth and a substantial feed for £8. With the lamb burger sold out on our visit, we order a Smokey Robinson that has a similar offering to The Heizenberg, only with the addition of smoked cheese and minus those battered pineapple rings. My heart may lay with the the former, but I’m happy to kept the latter as my dirty little secret.

A portion of chips with halloumi and chorizo is perhaps the closest we get to Masding’s other business, the Mediterranean influenced Kebabylon. These are brash and a hearty lunch by themselves at £4.50. Indeed, all of this feels like really value with the food elements coming in at £22 and the evening’s beers far more than that. I can find very little to dislike at Masdings other than that awful abuse of apostrophes which hurts to these chubby fingers to type. The residency is on until the 22nd of December and is well worth a visit.

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Lasan, St Pauls Square, Birmingham

It is impossible to mention the new Lasan without referring to the old. It is a restaurant that I am very familiar with, one widely regarded as the best of it’s kind in this city, thanks in part to it’s association with TV food mahatma, Aktar Islam. Aktar has now parted with the group and the restaurant has had a well needed spruce. Gone are the hard wooden lines and non-existent lighting, in comes a softer, more approachable look of pastels and patterns. It’s almost colonial in feel, like they play fine jazz to those awaiting food on the curved bar that sits adjacent to the dining room. And they do play jazz. I’m a massive fan of the refit.



Without wishing to play down the offering, you get the feel that the chase of a Michelin star has gone, replaced with a desire to feed with more traditional methods whilst still keeping to the refined style that has made it so popular. This is reflected with an ease to the service; staff are happy to chat, some dishes are rustic in their presentation. It’s less stuffy and more congenial – a place to return to time over rather than just special occasions. Accolades are excellent, but it’s paying customers that pay the bills.


It starts as it always has, with umami bombs of pani puri, filled to the brim with a pungent tamarind water and as good as they ever get. These come with greaseless poppadoms and dips to range from a familiar made from mango to a pineapple one that’s new to me. We try samosas made with the lightest of filo pastry, the filling of minced venison more than capable of standing up to the spicing.



Another starter of chicken is a solid piece of  workmanship. From the kebab made with coarsely ground mince, to the paté patty with the background funk of offal, and precisely trimmed drumstick, it sings with deft spices and well judged heat. Soft shell crab has the lightest of chilli batter that packs the biggest of flavour, with a crab cake packed with brown meat that reinforces the crustacean flavour. It’s hard to pick fault with any of the starters. Looking back, I can think of no fault at all. 


The biriyani that follows has cubes of goat at the base, braised so that they collapse under the interagation of the fork, with a dry curry that packs real power and crowned with a flurry of rice, crisp shallots, and herbs. I wish that the dish arrived wearing a pastry cap so that the aromas are released tableside, but this is a small detail given the quality of it all. We scoop on to excellent garlic naan, and, even better, roomali roti that is so thin it could be parchment paper. It’s great to see this bread, the most tricky to make, being properly showcased.



A steel tray comes bearing a shank of lamb, coated in marinade and slowly cooked. It’s an accurate bit of cooking; the meat coming away from the bone with ease. Pickled onions have enough astringency to cut through the chilli heat, with pots of raita and dhal for light and shade. That dhal returns in a larger pot – it has to, it’s glorious. As good as any dhal I’ve eaten anywhere. The lentils slow cooked and as smokey as a jazz club. 


Dessert course defeats us, and I sense a dissapointment from the waitress that we are really missing out on something. It’s okay, we’ll be back. Soon. This was my most consistent meal here to date, wholesome and confident in it’s new identity on the plate and in it’s space. I have no doubt at all that Lasan is currently the best Indian we have in Birmingham. 

9/10

I was invited to dine at Lasan

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Ox and Origin at 1000 Trades

This potentially could have been even more pointless than my usual crap.  A piece on a two week residency which I eat and subsequently post just as they finish, and no place I can direct you to in which to eat the food you are about to view.  It’s the ultimate middle finger; here, look at this wonderful food.  Too bad you can’t eat it.  I almost never bothered because of that very reason.  Except you can.  Well, kind of.  Stick with me on this and like all of my personal misdemeanours, it will slowly come out in the wash.  

I am sent here by The Pope.  No, not the Nazi in Rome, but one far wiser, richer, and  more sadistic from Sutton Coldfield.  When he says something is good, it’s good.  And the food served by Ox and Origin here isn’t just good, it’s argubly the most accomplished residency to have come to 1000 Trades thus far.  

It’s small plates here; a hotchpotch of styles that is somehow glued together by a kitchen that understands how to layer flavour without overcomplicating.  We take a punt on a sweet corn dish because at £3 it’s worth the risk.  It has been roasted on the cob, basted in a little Siracha hot sauce and littered with flecks of toasted coconut.  What I expect to jar and fight for attention, is in reality a simple progression of heat, salt, and sweetness.  It’s a very clever bit of snackery.  


Other dishes are far easier to geographically pinpoint.  A ragu of ox cheek is all northern Italy with classic French technique.  The meat is spoonable, with two pillows of vivid green gnocchi, and a deeply flavoured sauce made from a reduction of the braising liquor.  Salsa verde completes it all.  We both agree it’s the best thing we eat all night.  This is closely followed by rump cap of beef, served rare with smoked walnuts and more of that salsa verde.  Three ingredients that each know their place on the plate.  



My date, whose images I have stolen in case you had noticed the improvement, is less convinced by the composition of the pork dish.  The belly cut is excellent; softly rendered to that gelatanious mix of meat and fat.  It appears with a spring roll of lightly spiced vegetables and a peanut sauce that is a more luxurious relative to satay.  There is saltiness, acidity, and heat in every mouthful.  I love it.  Much simpler is a tomato and burrata dish with tomato consommé and a little basil.  It’s too quaint in the company of its peers.  A dish that’s still wearing it’s bow tie at midnight, whilst the others are unbuttoned to the naval and sharing a toilet cubicle.  


Dessert feels like a bit of an afterthought.  Strawberries in various guises with piped droplets of white chocolate, blobs of pistachio creme, and a yogurt sorbet.  It eats well enough but there’s little excitement to be had here.  

The food hits £38, and we drink a bottle of wine in the mid-twenties, leaving a bill of thirty quid per head, or just over sixty quid if you happen to also live my girlfriend.  My usual advice would be to go immediatley and thank me afterwards, except they are on to Saturday 12th, with Twitter pointing towards an almost fully booked ending to their residency.  But alas, it doesn’t end there.  We get speaking to one of the chefs who tells us that the day time job is one of a private chef, where a similar menu can be had from as little as £30 per head.  They’ll even do the washing up afterwards – it’s almost worth it for that alone in our house.  So there you go; either go the brilliant 1000 Trades for a pint and pray for a table, or treat yourself to a rather wonderful meal in the comfort of your own home.  I think I’ll do both.  Sod it, I’m worth it.  

I have no affiliation at all with them, but they were nice enough to stop and talk to us about the food, so I’ll return the favour with a link.  For affordable private chefs with marigolds go to https://www.ox-and-origin.com/