Month: May 2016

Yakinori, Selly Oak

Yakinori sits on a section of the Bristol Road not noted for its culinary excellence. It’s student central; a stone’s throw from Birmingham University, where cheap beer and average Indian restaurants walk hand-in-hand together, whilst pissed-up students cavort or do whatever pissed-up students do these days.  I like this part of Brum because I can come with low expectation and not go home disappointed or broke.  But good food?  No, that’s a myth.  Or at least it was until Yakinori arrived.


We visit on a Saturday afternoon when the place is thriving.  We take the last remaining seats at the counter overlooking the open kitchen and look to the parts of the menu we find familiarity  at.  Its as authentic a Japenese as you could wish to find in Birmingham, from the lucid cartoon décor, to the menu that broadly strokes the length of the cuisine with varying takes on sushi, noodles and curries.

We start with duck gyoza, five fat dumplings steamed and then shown a little direct heat.  The filling of minced meat is well seasoned, the thick plum sauce both sweet and savoury.  These were a fiver.  And here is me stating the obvious before it becomes apparent shortly; Yakinori is outstanding value.


A bento box is a meal in itself, with everything (bar one mishap which I will get on to) spot on.  The beef in black bean sauce was meltingly tender, the sauce full of deep umami notes.  We love the little pumpkin croquettes that give way to a sweet mush and the pickles that are full of zing.  The fish sushi is clean tasting with the rice served correctly at room temperature. Its just the chicken katsu sushi that is a poorly concieved idea, but this matters little as all of this cost under £15.00.  Served with this was a miso soup, which was alright, if a tad on the thin side. Chicken Katsu curry is a monster portion for a tenner.  Its a dish that lives or dies on the quality of the sauce and this was stellar stuff, all vibrant and spice and depth.  I started off thinking that I was never going to finish it, and quickly found myself staring at an empty plate.



And that was it for that particular lunch – a bill at under twenty quid each and a genuine surprise at just how good it was.  We’ve been back since where we had the fish bento box that had beautiful chunks of salmon and vegetable tempura with the lightest of batter.  And we may have driven there to pick up the katsu curry as a takeaway.  I hope you get the idea.  We like it.  A lot.  It single handily destroys the notion that food can’t be quick, cheap and good.  And its in Selly Oak of all places.  Yakinori has quickly become one of my favourite places in the city for quick, affordable and tasty food


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

The Wine House, Lichfield

The Wine House stands on the site of what was Joe Delucci’s, an horrific sounding place where, I am told, barbaric things happened to cows that should be punishable with a lengthy sentence in one of Her Majesty’s hotels.  I never went to Delucci’s, but I hear that grey steaks and frozen chips were the norm.  It sounds like hell.  Or Beefeater.  Either way, its not for my taste, or, it appears, that of the locals.  Its gone.  And good riddance, too.  The people of Lichfield deserve better.

In its place we have the aforementioned The Wine House, a bare bricked, wooden floored, restaurant that looks the part.  Its ambitious – overly so at times – giving the impression that there is a very good restaurant lurking behind one that is still finding its feet.  The menu is a large offering that extensively covers both land and sea, with plenty of room for impulsive splurges, such as a 7oz wagyu fillet at a pokey sixty five quid.


A starter of beef carpaccio is well conceived.  The thinly sliced fillet is of obvious quality, lifted and seasoned by a little grated horseradish and slithers of parmesan.  There is further complexity with well dressed rocket and dots of pickled cauliflower. Yet at £8.00 for three slices, the value is debatable.  There was no doubting the value of spring rolls, vivid in colour due to its generous filling of beetroot and goats cheese.  Its all technically correct – the brik pastry is crisp, its interior properly seasoned – and we pile high the broken off shards of pasty with the last of the chilli jam, addictively hot and sweet.  A take on yuk sung with duck is a success, though they may want to calm it down a little on the star anise.  I liked it more with the chilli jam, but then I’d like most things more with it.




Mains dropped the standard a little.  Least notable was a pretty filo pie, generous in size yet unremarkable in flavour with its filling of halloumi and roasted veg.  A lamb dish saw the rump served on the cusp of nearly being too rare, the meat magenta in colour and deep in taste.  There was a second cut of braised belly and a fricassee of peas; the two elements providing the needed shade and light on the plate.  I would have liked more of the sticky sauce, but that’s me just being picky; this was solid, assured cooking.  A short rib pie was nothing of the sort, consisting of two whole ribs which required longer in the pressure cooker, mash, peas, and thick gravy with bacon and shallots.  It encompassed everything that frustrates me about deconstruction.  If the menu says pie, I want pie.  At the minimum I want pastry.  This was a homely dish that needs a little rework and a lot of rebranding.




Too replete, we skipped dessert, though I was tempted by the black cherry panna cotta which appealed to me on every level.  The bill, with too much to drink, was a very reasonable £40 per head – undoubtedly good value for the quality served.  False promises of pie aside, there was little to dislike about the food we ate and a lot to admire.  I’ll be back in time to see if The Wine House has grown into the restaurant that I hope it will become.


The Wine House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


The Elephant, Torquay

On a sunny day like the one we enjoyed, its hard to believe that Torquay is in England.  The quay is an expanse of yacht’s and fishing boats, the promenade a seemingly polite place to people watch with a cold glass of rose in hand.  Everything glistens.  Try to stifle those chuckles but we could have easily had been in the south of France.  To the far end of the harbour is the award winning The Elephant.  The chef and proprietor, Simon Hulme, has pedigree; he has represented blighty at the Bocuse d’Or and the restaurant has held a Michelin star for many years.  Booking dinner there for our only night in Torquay was an easy choice.

The restaurant itself is a bright space with washed out hues of blues and yellows, with wooden tables nicely spread out.  We dive straight in with nibbles whilst perusing the wine list.  Olive focaccia was pleasant enough, with high quality olive oil to dunk the aerated break into.  A scotch egg followed, the runny quails egg encased in a mixture of pork and quail.  Outside the crisp breadcrumbs were sat in a smooth arrabbiata sauce full of heat.  Give me a box of these with a pint of the black stuff down the road at Seamus O’Donnells and I’ll be a happy man.


We move on to a pretty plate of opaque beetroot slices draped over whipped goats cheese.  It is a dish that benefits from the acidic and warming pickled mustard seeds without ever moving on to anything great.  Elsewhere a singular pigs cheek sat atop of a fine dice of celeriac ‘risotto’.   I like it; its a culinary hug with unquestionable cookery on display.



Slices of lamb rack follow, the meat perfectly pink even if the thick ribbon of fat has not been rendered down enough to my taste.  Not that this matters. The other parts of the plate are a total joy; a potato fondant so buttery it should come with its own defibrillator, with a precisely cooked sweetbread on top.  There is a croquette of lamb shoulder meat that reinforces the ovine flavour whilst working in perfect harmony with a spikey garlic and anchovy gremolata.  Carrots and peas washed down with the most weightless of lamb sauces.  It’s spring on a plate.  It’s seriously impressive.


The vegetarian option is the lightest of pithivier’s, the filling of squash and spinach boldly seasoned.  The star on the plate were the baby onions, meltingly tender and with a real depth of flavour.  My only complaint is that both vegetarian options were so light my girlfriend felt that they would been better suited to a multi-course menu.  Two courses in, and at the end of the savoury courses, she was still hungry.


Desserts were knockout.  A chocolate mousse with the richest of salted caramel centres was a sure-fire hit.  The tuile and biscuits crumbs providing nice additional textures, whilst a yogurt ice cream was a much needed  relief from all of the richness.  Best was a lemon and passionfruit tart, all bruleed top and silky interior.  A banana sorbet of impossible depth added to the tropical fruitiness and was a nice counterbalance to the sharp tart.



The bill, including a good bottle of Sancerre, tipped in at just over £120 and felt fair, even if we both could had easily had eaten another course.  Service was kind, though a bit rushed as we were in and out in a little over an hour.  It was impressive stuff; near faultless cooking, with a light touch to all dishes.  From the clientele it was obvious that is the destination restaurant for the Torbay area.  The Elephant continues to stampede on.


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

Rockfish, Brixham

029Rockfish is situated directly above the fish market in the pretty fishing town of Brixham in Torbay. We were lured in by its tagline that “tomorrows fish are still in the sea”, a promising prospect given just how unfresh we are used to seafood being back in Birmingham.  The interior is a gentle mixture of distressed wooden flooring, dark brown seating and cream walls.  The view from the windows is either to the town or out to sea, both are which are pleasant on the eye.



We start with scallops, served in their shell with a crumb so heavy on garlic that it nearly ruined our romantic weekend away. The cooking of the molluscs was erratic; one just right, two overdone.  The roe was still intact, which is a pet hate of mine considering it has a different cooking time to the flesh. There was bread to soak up the garlicky bits which remained on the side.  It wasn’t the greatest of openings.


And then it improved. Cod taco’s were big on flavour, though never too much to overpower the breaded fish goujons that sat central in them.  There was crisp onions and hot sauce for freshness and piquancy, whilst a smattering of white crab meat on top reinforced the smack of the sea.  They were a delight.  Also impressive was monkfish, fresh in that morning, in a crisp and greaseless batter and served with chips. I may not have been sure about battered fish being served bone-in, but there was no doubting the quality of the produce which was meaty and huge in flavour. Chips were decent but not good enough to test the unlimited offer that they claim.



We decided not to take dessert despite a good selection being offered and settle up on a sixty quid bill that included a bottle of a nice gentle Spanish white.  Despite being full on an otherwise quiet Brixham evening, service was attentive, in particular from a young chap named Chris.  Rockfish is well regarded locally but we found it a little too inconsistent to warrant a return on our next trip to the coast.


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

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.



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.


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.


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