Month: June 2016

Rico Libre, Birmingham


I’ve waxed lyrical about my love of Rico Libre before. Putting aside the emotional connection I have to the building, for me it’s one of the first places I recommend to anyone who asks where they should eat in Birmingham.  Its uncomplicated and unpretentious, astoundingly cheap, and always welcoming.  Most importantly they know flavour.  There is no room for daintiness here, everything is boldly seasoned and spiced, the pepper grinder on a constant rotation.  Its authentic in the way that Spanish food does not pull any punches.

This was, I think, my sixth visit to the old Barn Street dinner since I first ate here, the food  evolving slowly and consistently. With a relatively compact menu we look to much of the same parts for comfort.  The chicken and chorizo dish has become a different beast, more pronounced in taste, more saucy, both literally and metaphorically.  The halloumi dish working even more flavour on to the bland cheese with the help of blistered peppers and gently caramelised onion.  I often think some of the strongest work is done here without meat; the bravas a simple yet staggering ode to tomato, garlic and paprika over crisped cubes of potato.   My favourite is the aubergine, long slices salted and then griddled, folded over a rustic salsa and topped with the fieriest of red mojo sauces. The sauce is native to the canary islands where I have since learned the chef here honed his skills.  The locals taught him well.

It’s not all perfect. A special of pork belly is a hearty slice of softly braised meat let down by a overly sweet reduction of red wine and coca cola, whilst I forgive the queenie scallops for having the roe attached because the mango salsa brings everything together with its sweetness, acidity and heat.  We’re quickly back on track with the meatballs, compact and err… meaty, in a smoky sauce that begs to have the bowl wiped clean with flat breads smothered in garlic.  Come to think of it, all of the sauces have the same effect. Greaseless deep fried fillets of cod in a seasoned batter finish us off with their generosity.

All of this comes at a price almost incomparable with anywhere else in the city. Dishes range generally from £3.50 to just over a fiver, throw in its BYOB policy and you’ll struggle to spend twenty quid a head before they roll you out of the door.  It’s crazy value.  I would be here every week if I wasn’t eating in mediocre restaurants elsewhere to keep this blog content afloat.  Others are far more wise.  On the night we visited we were surrounded by regular customers, all known individually by the chef who pops out occasionally, or the owner constantly doing the rounds to check that everything is okay.  Of course it is.  Its way better than ‘okay’.  It’s a city gem, nestled in the back streets of Digbeth with no care other than to feed people well.  And my favourite part of Rico Libre?  They have no idea just how good they really are.

Rico Libre Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Rose & Crown, Warwick

Warwick is a beautiful town built around the majestic castle which dominates the local skyline. I’d never been to the castle before, though it proved to be a great day which the weather threatened to ruin, but never managed more than a dribble of rain from the looming dark clouds.  We sat on the grass and ate ice cream in front of a bird of prey show, walked the towers and ramparts of the ancient walls, and delved deep into the laughably scary castle dungeons.  We had a great time; small part theme park, large part historical centrepiece of the midlands.  As clichéd as it is, I find it hard to believe that anyone would fail to enjoy a day there.

After all of this we walked through the medieval core of the town, with its monochrome fronted buildings of tipsy stature, and on to our base for the weekend. The Rose & Crown stands handsomely on the edge of the cobbled Market Square, making the most of the imposing frontage against the stark white walls.  It has pedigree, past being named Pub of the Year, amongst many more recent top ten entrees.  Inside it has the feel of somewhere used frequently and often.  Staff know the names of the locals and their pets, who seemingly perch at the same spot of the wood fronted bar several times a week and know exactly what they want to drink.  I would too, had my geographical location of home been kinder to me.  We drop our bags in off in our well-appointed room, head back downstairs and order something cold and fruity before meandering our way through the functioning pub and into the dining room, with its dark wooden floors and navy blue interior, offset by splashes of bright red.  The menu speaks of stuff I want in to eat and we struggle with our decisions.

R&C Front




It takes all of two minutes to realise that we could have ordered anything and still have eaten well.  Here the heartiness which is central to pub food is underpinned by a precision with every motion in the kitchen and a confidence from the front of house team.  A salad of scallops and monkfish sees the queenie sized shellfish cooked to a perfect crust.  Whilst I admire the skill in accurately cooking fish, it is the nicoise salad that catches my attention, from the just cooked green beans to the wobbly quarters of soft boiled, each individually seasoned with cracks of black pepper.  We decide to share this, fighting over the last slithers of briny sardine and salty black olives.  We also halve the portion of croquettes, the crisp panko coating giving way to an oozy béchamel sauce stuffed full of ham hock and peas.  They don’t need the piccalilli mayonnaise though it is a welcome addition, the acidity and heat a natural foil to cut through the big piggy flavour.



A main of harissa lamb shoulder sees a generous lump of protein nestled neatly on a spicy stew of chickpeas with a dollop of calming yogurt for good measure.  As the cylinder of meat collapses into chunks with the smallest of pressure we fail to resist the temptation to pile the components into the pitta bread and build our own kebab.  It’s a wise move, with the soft pieces of ovine becoming more luscious in its surroundings, even if the large portion size defeats us.  A tranche of cod is accurately timed, its skin crisped, the fat flakes opaque.  The nuggets of cod cheek like the very best scampi matched up to teeny fondant potatoes, buttery and cooked through.  In the same way the lamb dish is an ode to a late night kebab, this wears its influence proudly:  It’s fish and chips without the grease.  Only the pea puree lets it down, flat and under seasoned, a surprise given just how accurate the use salt had been with everything else.



Desserts were bloody brilliant.  A parfait of clotted cream with a gelee of strawberry had impeccable balance, but what we loved most were the macerated strawberries and crunchy blowtorched Italian meringues made of brown sugar.  Best was the lemon tart recommended from the specials board, the sharp lemon filling giving way to a pastry so short it auditioned for the part of Tyrion Lannister.  The accompanying blackberry sorbet also packing plenty of whack, with a small quenelle of crème fraiche to bring everything back to earth.  Honestly, and I’m not just saying this because dinner was free, I’ve eaten worse lemon tarts in starred restaurants.  Its a keeper that deserves its place on the main menu.  We wash all of this down with a great Torrentes-Reisling from an impeccably chosen wine list and call it a night.




The morning sees one of us rise for breakfast where I take a potato and chorizo hash with homemade brown sauce and a fried egg.  Its more of that attention to detail; the fennel seeds inside the hash, the smattering of seasoning on top of the egg.  I scoff the entire plate in seconds.  It’s delicious – the perfect foil for my hazy hangover.  And with that we were off, wishing farewell to the team that looked after us so well and promising that we will return.  And we will, probably on a Sunday when we want to impress the mother-in-law, or maybe just us two on a Saturday when we want a pint or two and some good food.  We left our weekend to the capable hands of the Rose & Crown and they showed us an excellent time.  I implore you to do the same.

Our stay and meal at the Rose & Crown were complimentary.  Views remain honest.

For information on Warwick Castle and other local attractions please see