Month: February 2016

Baked in Brick at Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath

I don’t usually write about pop-ups, it seems a pointless task.  After all, what is the point of me sharing an opinion if you are unable to visit on your own accord?  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pop-up, as my girlfriend will testify (sorry, I was unable to turn down such blatant innuendo), but for the purposes of this blog I will always tend to stick to those inbedded in their own bricks and mortar.  One off events are great fun but of little use to anyone other than the ticket holder.

I will, however, try to justify these six hundred or so words.  Birmingham is the capital of street food, with the very best vendors now branching out to permanent premises all over the city after years of perfecting their craft.  The brilliance of Original Patty Men are soon to be joined to be at least two other street food vendors who fancy a crack at a full time restaurant.  Judging by the food I ate three weeks ago at the Hare & Hounds, it would be of little surprise if Baked in Brick was the next to join them.

Baked in Baked is the latest project of Lee Desanges, a chef who saw the opportunity to get in on the street food act, taking a shiny red mini cooper and sticking a grill under the bonnet and a pizza oven at the back.  He understands the importance of theatre from stints in some of the cities top kitchens, which works wonders at outside events where it is possible to view bit of scorched chicken tikka on the front of the car.  But here the mini is tucked firmly away in the pubs garage and I am sat in a gloomy back room lit with neon lights, awaiting three courses that I have paid twenty quid upfront for.

The food speaks of an experienced hand, classically trained and with an eye for big flavours.  A mini calzone starts, the dough with the heat prints only a properly hot oven provides.   The ragu inside is all comfort and warmth, with thick strands of long braised beef shin and teeny wild mushrooms.  Two more of these would make my perfect three course dinner.


Planks of wood are held aloft like sedans and are carried into the dining, each carrying a row of poussin, unrecognisable in their salt crusts.  The crusts are a clever way of introducing theatre back into what is essentially a roast dinner.  The baby chicken is tender, with delicate flavour.  There is creamy mash and green beans with bite, though it is the humble carrot which would steal the show.  The veg has been marinated and sous-vied, before being finished off on the grill at the front of the vehicle.  Lee would later tell me that it took three days to get the carrots to that level.  It was worth every second.  It is that intrinsic level of detail which takes supposed street food to an entirely different level.


Dessert is a baked apple with punchy calvados cream and honeycomb.  Its a dessert for adults who never wanted to grow-up.  I love it.  And with that we leave, all agreeing that the twenty quid was a bargain for what we ate.  The evening has served its point, to create interest and to show what he is capable of.  And all of this from the two ends of a mini; a grill and an oven.  So for once, no recommendations, no restaurant for you to visit and no score.  Just a solid piece of advice; hunt him down, try the food and keep a firm eye on him.  The man, the mini and the food are going places.


Nomad, Birmingham

A few years back, my mostly wonderful girlfriend took me to the sleepy village of Cartmel in the Lake District for a weekend. The sole reason for the trip was the cooking of Simon Rogan at L’Enclume – an old blacksmith’s turned temple of gastronomy.  Rogan had made a name for taking the bounty of nature on his doorstep and turning into something magical, which has now accumulated two Michelin stars and number one spot in the Good Food Guide.  Over four hours we dined on shrubbery and bits of animals that we never knew existed (pineappleweed, anyone?).   We left with a massive bill, an even bigger hangover and an admiration for what the beauty the seasons offer when imagination and talent align.  Not that you care, but it was L’Enclume which led me to start this blog.  It was too good to not share with people.  I’ve been fortunate enough to eat in many great restaurants where I may have had better meals, though none have left the same mark as that night.

In many ways Nomad reminded me of L’Enclume.  The ultra seasonal cooking.  The love of foraged bits of greenery.  The obsession with produce being at its very best (Rogan has several farms for freshness of vegetables, Nomad it’s own allotment.  Everyone has to start somewhere).  Mostly it was that the chef had the same Wonka style approach to food where ingredients would be contorted and twisted, yet still retain their integrity.  It’s a brave approach which pays off with aplomb on the opening cheddar brulee.  The familiar crack of the torched top gives way to something far more luscious and soothing.  The strong cheese flavour is cut through by pickled mushrooms which cleanse the mouth with every spoonful.  That use of acidity as a counterbalance would be present all evening.


Little cubes of pickled beetroot are tempered with teeny balls of mild mannered kohlrabi and then perked back up by dots of elderflower vinegar.  As a dish it masters texture perfectly.  I prefer it to folds of cured halibut which are too pure a taste of the sea for my liking.  Roasted red onion, all soft and caramelised, is served with a shard of chicken skin and a leaf of ramsons, which whispers the astringent flavour of garlic.  The three together are a delight; simultaneously salty and sweet, crisp and soft.  I close my eyes and I am back in the rolling landscape of the Lake District.  Except I am not.  I am in Birmingham city centre, two doors away from a sex shop.



Lightly crushed potatoes are purple in colour and waxy in texture, with sweet braised red cabbage and a slow cooked hens yolk that bound the dish together with its not-quite-set consistency.  Its a dish that I would never have ordered given the option, though that choice is taken away here and we are all the more glad for it.  Cod is perfectly timed so that the flakes collapse upon themselves at the smallest suggestion.  It’s topped with puffs of fried potato and beer braised onions which are dotted around the plate.  Its fish’n’chips for the stylistic, with the whack of tartar replaced by a salsa verde at the base of the plate which owns everything that it comes in contact with.



A fillet of venison is a victory of cooking skill; seared and rested so that it is rare with a crust full of umami from the malliard reaction.  The baked artichoke and alexander puree with it again showing a purity of flavour and respect for ingriedients.  I’m not sure that anywhere else in the city does vegetables as well as here.


There are two desserts courses to finish, though dietary requirements dictate that we end up trying three between the two of us.  My white chocolate mousse may have been over gelatinous, but the pickled rose petals and walnut oil combination with it are nothing short of genius.  I much prefer it to my partners parsnip ice cream with grated stilton.  I recall having a cornetto filled with parsnip ice cream as a petit four at, yep, you’ve guessed it.  I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.  Fortunately we end on a high.   Apples compressed and in a flavoured set cream, with Italian meringues that have taken on a chewiness of their own after an afternoon in a dehydrator.  Sweetness, acidity, texture – it’s all here.  It’s a one star dessert.

I am perhaps a little late to this show.  Nomad may have only been in its permanent fixture since November, but the team have been honing their skills at various pop-ups for some time before this.  I cant help but feel like I’ve been missing out.  Its inventive cooking with their boots firmly on the ground that they harvest food upon.  The price of £50.00 for the multi-tasting course already feels far too cheap for the quality coming out of the kitchen.  Nomad is not by any means the finished article, but its impossible to leave without the feeling that something very special is happening.


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


Rub Smokehouse and Bar, Birmingham

If anything had put me off going to Rub’s, it was the word ‘Smokehouse’ in their title. 2015 saw the art of smoking food have it’s arse ripped out of it by the mainstream, who seem to think that anyone with a lump of meat, a bit of wood and a couple of hours to kill, can produce the sort of grub that southern Americans have been living on forever. If only it was that simple; smoking meat is an art-form, yet what we now have is nondescript mushes of meat sandwiched between buns in chain pubs all over the country. Or ASDA with their take on pulled pork. Even KFC are doing pulled chicken. Seriously, I shit you not. Pass me the gun. Its time that I pulled the trigger.


So for that alone I am glad that I went to Rub’s. It’s restored my faith in a cooking process that brings character to cheaper cuts of meat, with a little love and a lot of patience. There is an obsession here to do it the right way and not to cut corners. And I admire that. A lot.

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The menu is split between those meats in their unadulterated smoked states,  some with seriously hot sauce, or in mammoth, challenge sized, portions. We take a taster platter which veers from good to obscenely good. Pulled pork is still identifiable as pig, with texture to the meat and a nice gentle smokiness which doesn’t detour from the flavour. They are better than the ribs from the same animal, though the ribs are very good indeed. Beef brisket are fat slices of cow that has given its life for a worthy cause, the meat tender, yet still with the right amount of yield. For those who believe that this cut of meat should be eaten with a spoon, go elsewhere and have an amateur overcook your meat to nothingness. If you want to taste how it should be done, come and get your fill here.

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Best is the chicken with the pink tinge to the flesh that you get from it being cooked low and slow. That colour should not put you off – this is a chicken that tastes of a bird reared outside, with a rub that has gently penetrated the meat after a night in a smoker. Hand on heart, this maybe Birmingham’s best roast chicken. We have meaty burger sliders, deep fried hotdogs and properly jointed chicken wings. Its a serious amount of meat and only the beef hotdogs remain, as the batter is too heavy. Sides veer from decadent wedges of brioche draped in melted cheese, to mac’n’cheese which is not as good as the one I make at home.  That’s hardly a slur – I am yet to eat a better mac that is better than my own version.  I think there was crisp chips, though I was too face deep in meat to notice.  I ask to try some of the hot sauce which makes up the ‘insanity’ meals.  Its called Pyscho Juice and takes hot to a new level that I find uncomfortable in a macho way.

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Too full, we take our desserts home, along with a box of leftover meat that will be the following days lunch.  The desserts are a meal in themselves; a cream egg bound in brownie and chocolate and coated in digestive biscuit crumbs, and a caramel egg given the same treatment with pretzel coating.  They are chocolate crack, designed by someone with a mind of pure filth.  We love them but cant choose between them – asking to do so is like picking your favourite twin.  We want more, if only to make my GP shit himself at the thought.

Prior to this we got chatting to very affable chap who transpired to be one of the co-owners of Rub’s and was happy to show us around the kitchen.  Unsurprisingly, he had just returned from a trip over the Atlantic to the Deep South, for research and to further develop the food here.  Perhaps that the key to it all; that attention to detail is coming from really first-hand experience of how it is done properly, not swiped from All Bar One’s new pulled pork burger.  Its a winning route, with an end result a million miles away from what we have come to expect as acceptable due to market saturation.  It would have been easy for them to take shortcuts, instead they chosen to put their time into it.  Literally.


Rub Smokehouse and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Epicurean, Edgbaston

The Epicurean takes over the site that was previously Waters on the Square – a restaurant which I have previously written about.  Its a difficult site, tucked away in a small shopping parade in Edgbaston, close to a affluent residential area not known for its younger personal.  Its a tasteful and bijou space, with expensive contemporary wallpaper and heavy wooden tables.  It is an improvement on the staid décor of the previous residence.


The food is simply described on the menus and leans more heavily on the cuisine of Spain than the rest of its Mediterranean compatriots’. There are big flavours with some equally large errors, which is a shame, as they detract from cooking which is punchy and mostly enjoyable. A starter see’s plump scallops, accurately cooked, with a silky puree of potatoes. There is a poached egg which has been pre-cooked but not brought back up to temperature correctly – its as cold as the plate it arrives on. What could have been a luscious starter is sadly some shellfish and mash coated in cold egg yolk. Not my idea of fun. It would sadly be a constant over the lunch we had.


There is a soup poured tableside into a bowl with julienned vegetables. It is supposedly butternut squash, but all I can taste is an overdose of vinegar. Better is a cannelloni of long braised oxtail. The pasta may be overcooked but the meat has a strong bovine flavour and the toasted pine nuts provide a much needed additional texture. The puddle of cooking liqueur has been slightly sharpened and is a delight.



Tenderloin of pork is correctly pink and benefits from a well judged apple puree and glazed baby onions which cuts through a meaty sauce. Poussin has been roasted on the bone and then doused in more of that meaty sauce, this time with a dice of sweet potato and bacon which offers little respite from the protein. And then we are back to the same temperature issues. A perfectly cooked tranche of cod, on cold hummus, a tepid chorizo sauce and a unheated plate. We send it back. It arrives slightly better than before, though now the cod has lost heat. I am starting to feel sorry for them; the schoolboy errors are getting in the way of some decent cooking. Unforgivable they are all the same.





Dessert thankfully arrives on cold plates. It is an aerated catalan mousse hiding some boozy soaked sultanas at the bottom. Its a simple, yet effective way to finish a meal. Light, but big on flavour and carefully handled. I only wish I could say the same about the rest of the meal. Twenty pound a head for three courses would be a bargain if the food was executed to the standard it deserves. The Epicurean should have been a local restaurant that I would return to time and time again. Sadly it left me feeling as cold as the plates some of the dishes arrived on.


Field, Prague

Lets start right at the beginning.  I find Field whilst researching food options for Prague.  It’s highly regarded despite being relatively new, with a lunch option at an astonishing £11 for three courses, which I will revert back to before the end of this paragraph.  We book a table for five, including a vegetarian, for our first proper meal of a long celebratory weekend.  We are greeted and sat in the modern room, with large light wooden tables and hues of pale greys and off whites on the walls.  Menu’s are handed out.  I have to ask for the lunch menu and then ask again what they can do to accommodate the dietary requirements.  They can cater for them, just not on this menu.  No meat is fine just as you are happy to pay full whack.  I shake my head in disbelief; the man in a suit shrugs his shoulders.  Field is not a place for compromise.

Still with me?  Good.  Because look past the frosty start and what you have is a kitchen brimming with potential.  I see past the twee presentation of the bread in spun hay, for the bread itself is very good.  I have had similar chicken butters to the one offered, though this has an identity of its own, layered with notes of luscious fat and roasted skin.


First course is game consommé, dark and heady, like a double strength Oxo stock cube.  It is poured on to a julienne of vegetables, a slow cooked yolk, and a quail leg.  We like the deep umami flavours of the consommé with the blobs of broken yolk, though the leg has been sous-vied and is lacking the flavour direct heat brings.  From the full price menu comes a light curd mousse hiding cubes of beetroot, with shards of the candied veg peering out of the bowl.  What makes the dish is the liberal use of cherry brandy and a smoked parsley powder to separate the two big flavours into their own camps.  The overall effect is light yet mighty in flavour.  Yes, the dish was as much as three courses on the lunch menu, but this is serious cooking, worth every penny.

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Pork is a staple protein across Central Europe and here it features as cubes of braised belly.   The piggy bits are unctuous, with an almost bruleed skin.  There is a silky celeriac puree and tart cabbage, spun with cranberries.  Its all very harmonious.  Back over on the a la carte menu, the vegetarian was quickly working through ravioli filled with aubergine and chard, topped with a hard cheese similar to parmesan.  The pasta was too thick, though aside from that it was more accomplished cooking.




Such are the portions that only two of the five make it to dessert.  We have a well made walnut cake with a silky creme caramel ice cream that takes it one notch higher.  A couple of coffees, a bottle of wine and we are off with a bill that fails to reach twenty quid per head – I’ve spent that amount on a starter at a Michelin starred restaurant.  Talking of that famous guide, the food here was at one star standard, its just waiting for the slow moving Michelin to acknowledge that.  Field is a bargain that should be high on anybodies list when in Prague, though how much of a bargain is dependent on how flexible with your diet you are prepared to be.