Month: March 2017

The Butchers Social, Henley-In-Arden

The origin of The Butchers Social can be traced some fifteen miles north of it’s present home in Henley-In-Arden, back to the suburban site that is now Harborne Kitchen.  Back then it is was a pop-up in the old Walter Smith’s butchers that overstayed it’s intended tenancy by well over a year.  We went occasionally and liked it, even if we failed to see where the local hysteria stemmed from.  The chicken wings were good, the brunch dishes a little more erratic.  Others liked it a lot more than we did, clearly.  Chef Jamie stayed put and is making a big impression with Harborne Kitchen (I still haven’t been), whilst Chef Mike took the name and moved to a pretty spot opposite Cheal’s (I am going very soon).


We’ve had a couple of fleeting visits prior to our first proper meal on Mothering Sunday. The building is split in two; up front is a bar and small dining room, with a galley leading through to a larger area overlooking the garden. It’s muted and comfortable, with splashes of burgundy and turquoise to add interest and warmth. The menu is short and concise, today priced at two courses for twenty pound, or three for thirty. There is a starter of artichoke soup that packs an earthy punch, topped with crisps of the same root vegetable for crunch and texture. Another has thin roundels of salami that pop with aniseed, compressed lettuce and blood orange. It needs more acidity and doesn’t ever really come together, which may be down to the dish featuring slithers of brie instead of the advertised fat-heavy burrata. Pick of the starters is a venison croquette that is gamey and dense,  with an earthy celeriac puree and dots of astringent beetroot seemingly heightened with a little vinegar.


I’ll start the mains with the flawless one and let it slip from there.  A supreme of chicken with gilded skin is as good as gets.  It is a lesson in understanding ingredients and textures, of how to prise the best from the seasons.  The entire dish is underpinned by the flavour of malt from the barley the bird is rested on and a yeasted gravy that speaks of long roasted carcass. A smear of butternut squash puree and slightly charred parsnips are enough to add a vegetal sweetness to the plate, with blanched kale stopping it from all getting a bit too rich.  I stopped ordering chicken in restaurants a while back because it nearly always disappoints.  This was good enough to convert me back.


Other mains, well, they didn’t go so well.  We’re told that the sirloin comes either rare or well done.  Fair enough.  When it arrives they are actually neither, though the medium one ends up in front of my sister-in-law who requested well done, and the medium-well in front of my future mother-in-law who takes hers as rare as it gets.  The meat is okay, both overcooked and a little on the chewy side, the accompaniments much the same as the chicken, save for a decent Yorkshire pudding.  The same applies to the lamb, which we are told comes pink and arrives closer to grey.  Add deep fried sweetbreads that needed a tad longer in the fryer to stop them being slimey and its all a bit miserable.  It’s a shame given that the broccoli and creamed beans were lovely.



Fortunately the pastry section is producing some seriously top work.  Both desserts were classical in approach and restrained in sweetness.  A custard tart has fine pastry and a dusting of earthy nutmeg.  The figs are an obvious pairing, the subtle saltiness of the goats curd less so, but it works purely for being perfectly balanced.  A banana and white chocolate delice is much of the same thanks to a dark chocolate cremeux that has enough bitter to hold everything down.  Top work on both accounts.



Given the inconsistent nature of the mains, the food here was around the 7/10 mark, but I feel the need to pull that down by one.  Service was considerate but slow, and there were oddities with the bill that I only noticed when I got home.  When the soup arrived we asked for bread to accompany it, which took almost twenty five minutes to arrive and appeared on the bill at £6 – a number bearing no resemblance to the £3.75 charge on the menu.  A similar story with an extra Yorkshire pudding that arrived after we’d finished and was charged £1 for.  Indeed, as I look at the bill now, I appear to have been charged for a more expensive red than I actually drank.  Now, perhaps I should have been more thorough with checking this, but we had a car quickly running out of time; hence why I paid the bill and ran.  And I expect it to be correct, anyhow.  The bill here actually works out at about £40 per person with a modest amount to drink; fine if you ordered the chicken, less so if you got the overcooked beef.  We left with the feeling that they have the bones for a very good restaurant here, though with several creases to iron out first.


The Fleece Inn, Bretforton

The villagers of Bretforton have it lucky – it is as idyllic a central England spot as you could wish for.  The homes are crafted by stone, with lamb grazing openly in the fields that occupy the spaces in-between.  The only shop is a community store hidden away that sells local produce with the level of proudness only the location could warrant.  For here is the country’s finest larder, where the heavy top soil in the Vale of Evesham turns out the best in fruit and veg.  I digress, but this is my food blog so I’ll do as I please.  Still, as we watch the rugby from the barn of The Fleece Inn, and a band later on the evening, you get the impression that only thing that fails around here is the internet streaming signal.


Central to the village community sits The Fleece Inn, a quintessential English pub some six-hundred years old, clearly popular with the locals.  From the outside the half-timbered walls looked warped from the application of gravity over gradual time.  Inside these make for pocket sized rooms, with uneven slate floors, a roaring fire, chairs and tables of solid wood, and doorways not suited to a man of my stature.  Upstairs there is a solitary bedroom, functional and comforting.  We would sleep well until the church bells chime early the following morning.

The place is heaving come dinner time where it soon becomes obvious that the desire to feed takes precedence over the need to dress a plate fancifully.  Indeed, I doubt anyone has ever left here hungry; very few disappointed.  The ham hock terrine was a soft press of pork meat, herbs, and mustard seeds, loosely bound in a jelly from long braised pig bones.  It was four times too large and far too cheap at £6.00.  I mean this as a compliment of course, as I finish half by trowelling it on to bread with sharply dressed salad and a chutney that warms.


The main dishes are split up into two sections; ‘finest’ and ‘favourites’, from which we choose one from each.  From the Finest comes a chicken breast in a cream-based sauce the sort of deep orange David Dickinson would approve of, with onions, garlic, and peppers, coloured with a liberal hand of smoked paprika.  The chicken is the star here; a plump lump of protein with the texture only a life outdoors would bring.  The veg taste like they were just plucked out of the ground, which given the location, they probably were.  I order a pie based purely on the advice of our charming waitress and then completely forget to take a photo of it.  Its another hulk of a portion, the burnished short crust is seemingly sculpted by hand, the tender chunks of braised beef inside an ideal bedfellow for the umami rich ale sauce.  We get more of that ale sauce as a gravy because they know it makes sense.  They may not have a potato ricer to make the mash potato, but they have a firm hand in the salt pot.  Everything is seasoned accurately and punches with distinct clarity.


And they can do pastry here.  A fat wedge of bread and butter pudding would finish us off, rich and satisfyingly squidgy.  An unsubtle whisky glaze has enough personality to hold its own, whilst clotted cream is there as a reminder that any dish can be made more indulgent with its addition.  We roll out of the main doors and in back in to the stable to watch that band and very good they were, too.


How do you score a meal like this?  I’ve been asking the myself same question all week.  There is very little refinement and portions are far too large, though I assume that is exactly the  point; the food here is not designed for arse-on-seats-at-the-office, city dwellers like me – it’s for locals who have earned a pint and a good feed after a hard day at work.  We ate way too much food because it was so enjoyable; the seasoning is accurate, the ingredient’s obviously very carefully sourced – the very basic staples I would look for in every restaurant that I visit.  The Fleece Inn is one of those places that is impossible to dislike.  It has bags of character; the building, the food, it’s people.  We may have finished dinner several belt buckles looser than when we started, but we left far more content than we would at many more glamourous establishments.


My stay and dinner at The Fleece Inn was complimentary thanks to Shakespeare’s England.  I paid for my own drinks, which is a good job as I drink far too much.  For further information please see

Canal Square, Birmingham

The term ‘Indian food’ is one generalised and frequently shy of the mark, often taking in the cooking of Bangladesh and Pakistan, sometimes Nepal, less often Sri Lankan.  India itself is a vast country of 29 states, 7 union territories, and 1.2 billion people (thank you, Google).  Add the sub continent and you can make that almost 2 billion people – more than double of all of Europe.  Yet we have come to accept a sweeping generalisation; a world where the only separation of madras and vindaloo is a tablespoon of chilli powder, the mark of a Balti is a unique serving wok, and where chicken tikka masala actually existsI could go on, but I won’t, because I’ll combust and ruin my day.  Needless to say I find the ignorance of it all baffling.

So, in many respects, Canal Square is doing the right thing in sticking to just one of those states.  The food of the Punjab is driven by its position at the north of the country;  protein and pulses from the farms, very little fish due to the distance from the coast.  Spicing is bold, and dishes are often rich with ghee or butter.  As it happens, it is one of my favourite regions of India.  Fat and spice speak to me in a language that I understand.


The reason that I am here is for the launch of the new Maharajas tasting menu, seven courses dictated by the seasons.  We start with fragrant onion bhaji’s, crisp and light, before moving on to aloo tikka.  The potato cake is soft and boldly spiced with cumin and chilli, the whole thing draped in a chickpea masala sauce and the cool murmur of mint yogurt (we’ll gloss over the random addition of  blueberries).  What impresses me most is the depth of flavour in the sauce – they know how to make a masala here. We move on to chicken tikka, one marinated in mixed pickle so that there is heat and tang on the surface, the other a far more gentle offering that was fresh with herbs.  I happen to prefer the more spicy of the two, though both are well executed, the meat timed so that it is only just cooked through.

Battered morsels of cod are a cheeky wink back at the UK.  The batter is crisp and greaseless, the fish correctly flaking apart inside.  Best on the plate  glass is the homemade chilli sauce that teases, rather than threatens the taste buds.  Back to meat, we take a pork samosa with a tart apple chutney and a solitary lamb chop blasted in the tandoor – a cooking process that we have the Punjab to thank for.  The chop would be one of the stars of the evening, a good piece of meat from a properly reared animal.  The thick ribbon of fat is crisp, the marinade full of fiery funk.  It is a delight.

Six courses in and we get curry.  I bloody love curry.  The lamb in this curry was good, the tomato sauce a lovely buttery thing thicker than Joey Essex.  It made for enjoyable eating; uncomplicated and homely.  A lot like Joey Essex, I suppose.  The naan on the side was a fabulous thing of buttery niceness, which I dredge through the last of the sauce and stain my fingers with pride.  I apologise for the photo’s – my camera was struggled with the glare from the glass it was served on.


I was pushed for time and missed out on the dessert, so I cannot comment on the final course.  What I can say for sure is that the service was attentive and the drinks well sourced; the wine was carefully matched to each course and the beer I tried fresh and crisp.  The competition for the higher-end of Indian restaurants in Birmingham is fierce, though the best dishes here stand up to anything in the city; so much so that I am going to stick my neck on line and say that when word gets about, Canal Square will competing with the big boys for your cash.  And for anyone with an interest in how the food of the Punjab should taste, I recommend that you give it a try for yourself.


I was invited to try the Maharajas tasting menu at Canal Square by Delicious PR

Sabai Sabai via Deliveroo

Given the shortage of good Thai restaurants in Birmingham, Sabai Sabai is the kind of place that I should be going to more often. Except I can’t. Because I may have upset someone affiliated with the restaurant by being a self-entitled arse on Facebook, and now I may be too embarrassed / pig headed to show my face in the little restaurant down the road from where I live. Will I ever learn? Of course not, being an arrogant arse is ingrained in my DNA.  But my stupidity is Deliveroo’s gain. When I am feeling flush it is my takeaway of choice. And sometimes its rescued me, like on last valentine’s day when it saved me paying for an overpriced set menu and allowed us to fake romance from the comfort of our own home.

It’s nearly always the same order; sweetcorn cakes, almost bhaji-like in texture and devoid of grease, to start, along with their crackers which are thick and crisp. We always order the Pad Thai noodles, silky and moreish, with perfectly judged acidity from the lime. We scatter it generously with both peanuts and chilli flakes and entwine the chicken with the noodles.  It captures the very essence of Thai food.

I’d written about the holy basil stir fry before, so I’ll spare you the finer details again.  It’s my favourite thing on the menu here – spicy enough to hold interested, with enough veg to nourish.  It gets even better with the addition of egg fried rice that soaks up the salty sauce and ensures the plate enters the kitchen clean.


We both agreed that this was up their with the best we’d ever had from Sabai Sabai – proof that food can travel and still be as good.  The only thing stopping us from having it every week is the cost; both mains are about a tenner, starters around a fiver, rice £3.55,  and crackers a hefty £2.25.  Add that up and it doesn’t come cheap.  My opinion?  Treat it as a meal out – order it and crack open a decent wine.  Make a night of it. It’s worth it.

Deliveroo kindly provided the credit for this meal.  Sabai Sabai can be found in Moseley, Harborne, and Stratford-Upon-Avon.  For free credit on your first order please see use the code