Month: April 2017

Byron Burgers / The Wellington / Deliveroo

One of the things I love about Deliveroo (and I do love you, Deliveroo. I love you very, very much) is the ability to make a complex evening significantly easier. I have talked in the past about slipping past overpriced set menu’s on Valentine’s Day, and I’ve mentioned avoiding the crowds in Moseley’s beloved Damascena. But what about when you’re in the city centre, and you’ve had two, no three, maybe four too many beers and the place you had intended to go is rammed to the point of queues? Step forward The Wellington. Step forward Deliveroo. I have been rescued once again.


I’ll keep this one short-ish as I’ve already written about my opinion of Byron Burger. I think it’s the second best burger in the city, and that is high praise when you know who the first one is. They do proper patties from aged beef, served pink, in buns that don’t fall apart in the hands. We order a Byron burger that succeeds in showcasing the quality of the patty, a Smokey which is fast becoming a favourite of mine with the slightly hot bbq sauce, and the Kimcheese.  Let me tell you about that Kimcheese.  It’s apparently a special, though if they ever remove it I will riot.  That I promise.  On to the beef goes an addictive mess of fiery Gouchuchang sauce,  a nutty mayonnaise (seasame oil??), crispy onions, cheese, and fermented cucumber.  It is unbelievably good.  It’s also still down a shirt of mine, though that is another story.

Sides come in the way of macaroni cheese with the gooiest of sauces, fries, and ribbons of lightly battered courgette.  All were lovely.  Yes, I know, the pictures are rubbish.  Deal with it.  We were starving, it was dark, and if I’d held on to the food a second longer I was in risk of a public lynching.

The food arrived in under twenty five minutes, which I can tell you is quicker than I have been served inside Byron on occasion.  A nice man phoned me to tell me he was outside the pub, I stopped playing darts and went and collected it.  Eat food, drink beer.  Finish food, resume darts.  And all in one of the best pubs in Birmingham.  With The Wellingtons open policy for bringing food inside their premises, I can see this option for dinner being used time and time again.

Deliveroo supplied some of the credit for this meal.  I paid for the rest because I’m good like that. 

Tom’s Kitchen, The Mailbox, Birmingham

I’ve been spoiled with good food recently.  I can feel it across my waistband and as a nagging ache on the left hand side of my chest. I’m not complaining, I live a good life with many trappings, but I did I know I was going to have eaten so well over the last two weeks? No, probably not. Simpson’s was always a given, and I knew enough of Matt’s cooking to know that I was going to enjoy Cheal’s. But did I really expect Tom’s Kitchen to deliver a great meal? Honestly, not on my nelly. I went to the launch party, I met Aiken’s (my fiancé has a crush on him. Strange taste in men, that girl), I ate the nibbles. They were good, nothing more. And then the company themselves downplay what they do, describing the restaurant as a brasserie serving British favourites and comfort food classics. Thanks, but I can rustle that up at home to a decent standard.


So here we are, in a tucked away corner in The Mailbox, finding out that Tom Aikens excels in, of all things, modesty.  The kitchen here is producing some very high quality cooking, they’re just not shouting it out from the rooftops.   Whoever has designed the room needs a promotion.  It’s a chic space of oversized yellow chesterfields, with splashes of dark green, all under the base colour of soft sand.  Tables are well spaced, service is buzzy and friendly.

A parfait of liver would be the first proper thing to eat. It’s smooth and distinct, the richness ramped up by the addition of foie gras to the chicken offal.  We smear it inch thick on to toasted brioche, apply both cornichons and chutney and away we go.  The parfait is as textbook as it gets.


And then things go up another level.  Venison loin is rare, with red wine poached pear, beetroot gratin and a puree of the same root.  It’s a cloud of purple with only a dome of braised leg croquette stopping Whoopi Goldberg from winning Best Supporting Actress for it.  What impresses most is the precision of it all – every element has been cooked and seasoned to perfection.  It punches way above brasserie level and more into the kitchen of somewhere like Turners, incidentally where the Head Chef previously worked.


A similar story was had with a special of Guinea fowl supreme, on the most addictive of barley risotto spun with confit duck and hazelnuts.  Its deceptively simple looking, though had massive flavour throughout.  If they had this dish on the menu in one form or another, I would be back fortnightly to eat it.


Alas, the pudding we shared was good, though not of the same ridiculously high standard of the two mains.  Iles flottantes, floating islands, or Mrs Bettons Snow Eggs as they appear here – call them what you may – are the ultimate use of an egg; poached meringues for the whites, custard for the yolks.  Good enough to eat as just that with toasted almonds, though here with a blackberry jam that dominates and honeycomb, in the only technical slip, that has the tang of alkaline from raw bicarbonate of soda.  It’s still tasty stuff, and we finish all of it, but it feels a bit of let down given the savoury courses.


This being The Mailbox it comes at a price. Starters are typically £7-10, the Guinea fowl was £18.00 and that venison at £26.00. Desserts rarely fail to hit a tenner. Is it worth it? Yes, I’d pay that for either of those mains any day. Quality like this comes at a price, and I’d argue that a total bill of under £90 for the above, including two large glasses of wine represents good value. Tom Aikens can cook, anyone who knows his pedigree can tell you that, but this is a team working to his specification in his absence and they are doing his name justice. Brasserie? Debatable. Seriously good addition to the cities restaurant scene? Undoubtable.


A proportion of my bill was comped by the restaurant

Tom’s Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheal’s, Henley In Arden


I once referred to Matt Cheal on Twitter as ‘Birmingham’s Phil Howard’, a massive compliment I’m willing to stick to based on a recent lunch. I’ve eaten his food several times before, back when he was Head Chef at Simpsons, and it has always struck me as a style similar to how The Square used to be; bold flavours, classic French sauces that shimmer, and conventional ingredient combinations tweaked with modern flourishes.  In my humble opinion, he is a chef that is defined by a desire to feed, something that reflects on his menu’s, which read like a Shakespearian sonnet.

Cheal’s has been open just over a year now, housed in the black beam and white plaster building where Le Filbert Cottage won one of the countries first Michelin stars.  The downstairs is a maze of rooms and open doorways, with crisp whiten linen adorning the well spread tables.  It wears it’s ambition proudly.  The menu, the service, the interior.  This is a place that wants a star, and, I firmly believe, will get one this autumn.

We get a teeny nibble of cod croquette that accompanies the crisp champagne, followed by an amouse bouche of soup of cauliflower cheese sent spiralling with an umami rich parmesan foam and drizzle of curry oil.  There is sourdough bread that is better than a wholegrain option, both with salted butter and whipped pork fat topped with crispy bacon bits.  I told you the ambition was obvious.

We start with a rectangle of pork belly, softly cooked and compressed so that the fat is nothing but a glue holding the layers of meat together. It sits on an Asian inspired dice of smoked pineapple and leek, some crushed hazelnuts, and bitter chicory to cut through the richness. I’m not crazy about the jus being poured directly on to what started as a crispy piece of skin, but the rest is an assured bit of cookery that manages to balance out some big flavours.


A crispy duck egg yolk is the centrepiece for another starter, bread crumbed and deep fried so that the oozy centre is released by the teeniest of pricks (pun intended – I was holding the knife).  There is a jumble of asparagus, peas, broad beans and shallots on to which the silkiest of asparagus veloute’s was poured.  A grating of Old Wincester provides enough tang to counteract the fresh spring flavours.  Fish comes in the way of skate, seemingly pan cooked in browned butter, with the plumpest of mussels and a collection of things found on coastal ground.  It whacked of the sea, with the salt flavour bolstered by strips of crisp salsify that offered more than merely texture.  The metallic notes of a saffron infused cream an inspired choice.



Back in my favoured land of protein we get a roast chicken and chips.  Well, kind of.  The supreme is perfectly cooked with a bruleed skin that melts to a nothing on the palate, with a confit leg that can be deconstructed with the lightest of tugs.  I have no idea what they have done to the tomatoes to make them sweet and sour at the same time but it works.  Triple cooked chips on the side snap and fluff as they should.


Spring lamb is perhaps the lightest course in terms of flavour we try all day.  The rack is a consistent medium, the fat correctly rendered down.  It needs the little croquettes of shoulder to smash that ovine flavour in fully.  The accompaniments of peas, potato terrine, sheep’s curd and artichoke puree all make perfect sense on the plate.  It’s food that you want to eat every week if the budget allowed.


For the second time in seven days we have a seriously good beef dish.  Fillet comes as rare as we’d requested, crowned with a flurry of trompette mushrooms.  There is a square of brisket, and carrots, both roasted and as a rich orange puree.  The best thing on the plate was the beef fat mash, an indulgent thing that works in harmony with the red wine sauce at holding everything together.


Of the three desserts ordered, I find it hardest to get excited over a wave of vanilla parfait with various elements of strawberry. It’s technically accomplished, in particular the buttery shards of shortcrust biscuit, but it’s all a bit too obvious and all a bit too sweet. Far more balanced was a moist honey and chrysanthemum cake with lemon sorbet. The floral note from the chrysanthemum cake in unison with the honey, the sorbet providing the acidity to cut through it.



The star dessert was the milk chocolate and banana delice, draped in a ganache that reflects light like a disco ball, and topped with popcorn. It’s beautiful to look at, and made with obvious skill. A passionfruit sorbet is the ideal sharpness, and yes, the four components are hardly ground-breaking in their use together, but I’ll say it again, this food that you want to eat.


They do carafe’s of wine around the mid teens, and we take food off both menu options (at lunch either £30 or £50 for three courses), leaving a total bill that almost touches £70 a head.  The value of that is there to be seen with your very eyes.  I am going to state the obvious here, but the food was of a similar ilk and quality to the time when Cheal was fronting the kitchen at Simpsons.  If the cooking then was worthy of a star, the food here surely must be.  Mark my words, come October the B postcode is gaining its seventh Michelin star.  And that star is going to Cheal’s of Henley.


Simpsons, Birmingham


I’ll get the truth out from the start; Simpson’s is a special place for me. It was the first Michelin starred restaurant I took my girlfriend to, the place where we had our first year anniversary, where I celebrated my 30th birthday, and where I’ll be eating on my birthday this year. It’s a distinct kind of place, opulent without ever being flashy, polished without the stuffiness. It used to be much more rigid before the refit, whereas  now it has a Scandinavian vibe, with plenty of natural light bathing the bare wooden elements of tree, tables, and floor. It’s clean and casual, yet still romantic enough for a date night to ask your long suffering girlfriend of seven years for her hand in marriage. The last part is merely a suggestion.


With the refit came a new Head Chef and a fresh approach. Nathan Eades joins Executive Chef, Luke Tipping, in the kitchen creating food that is identifiable with the old Simpsons, yet lighter and more modern in style. I have eaten here more frequently than any other starred restaurant and can gladly report that the food is better than ever. Not only have they moved straight to the top of Birmingham, they are now competing with the big boys across the country.

The opening act sets the scene for the evening. A tapioca cracker given the Just For Men treatment with squid ink is the ideal foil for the creamiest of taramasalata dip, whilst a delicate cracker made from chickpea flour is topped with truffled mayo and flowers almost too pretty to eat.  Almost.  We save the pigs head until last for good reason. The unctuous meat is encased in tiny shards of pork crackling – try telling me you don’t want that now.   It is as fulfilling as two mouthfuls of food can get. Bread comes as a flaky tapenade roll and a sourdough that is almost as good as that from the Hedone bakery. For those familiar with the latter they know this to be the highest of compliments. The crust has bite, the crumb slightly elastic with large pockets of air. It is dreamy when smeared an inch thick with the salty whipped butter.

We are yet to reach the dishes ordered from the A La Carte menu and had already eaten some seriously good food. A starter of veal tartare exceeds this by being one of the best raw meat dishes I have ever eaten, the entire plate basked in light acidity from balls of apple and slices of kohlrabi.


A carrot broth jewelled with herb oil is poured tableside onto a slow cooked duck egg with meaty hen of the wood mushrooms, and tangles of crispy pork for bite and saltiness.  Nasturtium add a gentle pepperiness not unlike watercress.  It’s a joy, and a visual joy at that.  Salmon is cured so that the texture firmed up, with sweet raw obsiblue prawns seasoned with a little lemon juice, caviar, cucumber, and a buttermilk dressing.  The dish requires little in the way of cooking and an expert hand in balancing the sweet and the acidity.  It nails it, producing a bowl full of complexity that celebrates the best in produce.



Beef comes as a rare cannon of rump and a wedge of brisket so softly cooked it concedes at the merest suggestion of pressure.  Add to this a fat spear of white asparagus, petals of charred shallot, mushrooms, potato puree seasoned with crisp bone marrow, and what you have is a plate that produces new combinations with every forkful.  It is rooted in classicism, which is fine by me when it is done as well as this.


I’ll cut to the chase with the other main course; it is the best lamb dish I have ever eaten.  The meat is a perfect medium, so tender it could have been cut with a palette knife.  Garlic is represented both as subtle wild leaves and a pungent fermented emulsion, with a sheeps curd that seasons and elevates.  The sauce is a thing of beauty which we used the last of the bread to mop up, then our fingers to chase the last dots when that runs out.


Pre dessert is a clever little ice cream made from buttermilk with lemon gel that evokes a healthy breakfast with its crunchy oats topping, whilst successfully transitioning from savoury through to sweet.  One of the sweet courses is batons of poached rhubarb with a sorbet of the same fruit, shards of muscovado sugar, and a burnt cream that works in a similar style to a crème brulee, albeit in a much more cheffy, modern fashion.

IMG_8814 The other dessert.  My God, the other dessert.  A caramelised rectangle of filo pastry is the canopy for a serious amount of work that riffs on the flavour profile of coffee.  There is white chocolate, aerated, and again as a mousse, chocolate sponge, Nesspresso granite, and an ice cream made from spiced speculoo biscuit.  It is dark and funky.  Creamy and indulgent.  It delivers on every level.   It is one of the very best desserts I have eaten.


Perfect.  It’s not a word I use too often, but Simpsons delivered a perfect evening.  The bill, creeping in at just over a hundred quid a head including a lovely Hungarian red and a couple of ports, felt very fair for food that was clearly to me at two star level.  It was intriguing, elegant cooking with real personality.  It’s surely just a matter of time before Michelin acknowledges this and elevates it to the level it belongs.  Simpsons is up there with the very best in the country, and we, the good folk of Birmingham, should embrace our finest restaurant at every opportunity.


Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Los Banditos, Boldmere

I feel bad about this one. Really, really bad. In an ideal world this piece would start when the charming manager greeted us at the door and told us they were full, but would find us a table within twenty minutes, and finish fifteen minutes later when the equally charming waiter led us to our spot by the kitchen door and talked us through the menu. Straight away I could see why it is full despite being open only a few months. The interior is nicely kitted out Day of the Dead style, with murals on the wall of cartoon skulls, bright in colour. The large booths are inviting, the space well managed. And the front of house, they care about doing what they are doing, and they are doing it really well.


So apologies to the well-kept man in the grey jumper if this was your place, but the food was nowhere near the same standard as the service. Mexican food in Birmingham continues to be poorly represented. Let me make it clear, it wasn’t all that bad. The quesadillas are passable, with the chilli con carne better than the chicken, though both need more cheese as a binding agent between tortilla and protein which come apart in the fingers. The potato bravos too are pretty good. Yes, the cubes of spud have been cooked too long, but the tomato sauce is laden with fiery chilli heat.



A burrito is really nothing of the sort, consisting of just chicken, rice, and cheese. It is characterless, not hot like I asked for and with none of the black beans advertised. It has the foundations of a decent dish but no roof. It needs bite and texture, fresh acidity, and additional elements to stop the monotony. They should go visit a Tortilla for inspiration.


The worst is yet to come. Pulled pork, as flabby and pale as a Brit abroad, piled heavily onto decent nacho’s made from fat triangular tortilla wedges. It is frankly inedible, a dry tasteless mass of grey pig, with ribbons of un-rendered fat that clog the throat like dental putty. The thin salsa is clearly a cheap variety which annoys me greatly considering that the hot sauces on the table are the rather excellent ones from Pip’s Sauces.


It is cheap, with nearly every item that we have around a fiver, though they do main dishes that sit around the early teens which I am in no rush to try. They forget to add our drinks, we send the bill back and they return it with a genuine Thanks. Incidentally, a dear friend of mine who lives not too far happened to go the following evening. He had the same brilliant service, no burrito or pulled pork, and thought it to be an okay experience. So maybe we caught them on an off day. I’m crying out for good Mexican food to make it’s way to Birmingham. Los Banditos is not the answer, good service or otherwise.



Little Borracho at 1000 Trades

A quick post on the latest wonder to reach 1000 Trades. Little Borracho is an offshoot of El Borracho de Oro, the much loved Spanish restaurant near Five Ways. Now the term offshoot may be a tad unfair given that the owner, Emma, is working the galley kitchen herself, giving a clear insight to how she intends the dishes to be.


Put simply, the food is brilliant. Emma can really cook, I told her this, and I say that in the least condescending way possible. I am used to seeing her work the dining room with that personable charm she possesses, but it so happens that her ability in the kitchen is as good, if not better. Slices of aubergine are fried to a crisp without a hint of grease, finished with honey that clings the sesame seeds and chilli to its surface. It’s vibrant Barcelona in the industrially Jewellery Quarter. Chicken skewers have accurately cooked morsels of breast meat with petals of onion and pepper that still retain a little bite. The last dish is a new one to me, Calandracas, being a beer battered croquette of ham and cheese, with a little chorizo in the middle.  Those three little bad boys of oozy fun are my new favourite snack in town.



And behold, my lateness / laziness brings good tidings!  Hot off the press is the news that Emma has extended her stay at 1000 Trades until the end of May, leaving absolutely no doubt that you should drag that arse of yours down to try it.  1000 Trades is a great place doing great things and with Little Borracho in the kitchen, there is no better area than the Jewellery Quarter to go for a nosh.

Little Borracho is the 1000 Trades residence until the end of May

Siamais, Birmingham

Siamais replaces Thai Edge, an stalwart of Brindley that had long outrun itself. What we now have is a sister venue to the Mailbox’s Aluna Bar, serving up a similar menu to the old place, albeit with a glossy interior and fanciful cocktails. The new place looks great, tastefully flashy, with lanterns dangling low and murals of ladies faces. We get sat on a long table lit a stark white which extends up the walls. They are impressive to look at but hardly conducive to food images. Those with epilepsy may want to look away.


We start with a platter that tops out with a lovely chicken satay that really packs a punch.  There are crisp spring rolls, delicate prawn rolls, and nuggets of chicken that are fragrant from the pandanus leaves they are wrapped in.  Only the fish cakes need work, being a little short on seasoning and flavour.


I take chicken for the main, stir fried in a red chilli paste full of heat.  Its the kind of food I enjoy eating – vibrant and full of attitude.  If it says chilli on the menu I want heat and here it was plentiful.  The veg was crunchy, the chicken moreish.  A good wholesome plate of food.


I miss ordering dessert on account of enjoying the company and the cocktails a little too much.  Is this the best Thai cooking in Birmingham?  Not in my opinion.  But the cocktails, that is where this place comes alive.  They are surprisingly good, served by a knowledgeable team that know how to blend spirits.  For that reason I see this place being a roaring success, a little similar to the original Chaophraya in Liverpool that has made a solid reputation out of cocktails and Thai food in a glamorous setting.  The location in Brindley Place is a perfect one, readily set for the more elegant of Broad Street to have a drink and a bite to eat.  And the crucial part is that Siamais is significantly better than Thai Edge.  Progress is everything.

Thanks to Delicious PR for the launch party invite.

The Boat Inn, Lichfield

A few weeks back I got one of those emails that is impossible to turn down.  An invitation from Tonic Talent to celebrate one of their own, Liam Dillon, at his first venture, The Boat Inn, in Lichfield.  Cocktails in Birmingham, transfer to the pub, and an ambitious menu far exceeding it’s geographical location.  Invited for this bijou event was the who’s who of the industry, and me, who’s inclusion I can only assume to be a prop to poke sticks at once the wine started flowing.  I say yes, of course I do, half-joking that if something were to go horribly wrong en-route I would be the last name mentioned in the following days newspaper.  Looking back at the calibre of starred chefs, restaurateurs, and major industry players, I doubt I would have gotten a mention at all.


We are greeted at the large roadside pub by Liam, a man who’s rugged good looks and gentle charm are offset by the Crocs on his feet.  He speaks briefly about wanting to progress within his own space, to create somewhere that is accessible, yet still special.  He is far too modest. Mr Dillon has a serious pedigree, having worked at Marcus Wareing’s two star flagship, Tom Sellers’ Restaurant Story, and an unheard of place called Noma, which may have been the number one restaurant in the world during his stage.  And let’s be honest, north of Birmingham needs his experience.  It is woefully short of good dining options.


We start with nibbles of crispy porks head with burnt apple puree that is good enough to end up a starter, another of a crispy guinea fowl thigh with quails egg, followed by bread with Marmite butter and the lightest of foie gras torchon that packs the heaviest of punches.  First course is pigeon with dandelion and a puree of mushroom.  It echo’s the cooking of Wareing, rooted in classicism with modern flourishes, the dandelion an interesting addition that adds a lovely bitter note.  We move on to a perfect langoustine, sweet and gently cooked, with a bisque that that has the depth of flavour only patience and roasted shells can muster.  It’s a top notch bit of cookery.




Venison follows with turnips tops, grains, and a staggeringly good cauliflower puree that stole the night.  Credit where credit is due; pigeon, langoustine, venison, all of these require cooking to order and to do that for the thirty or so of us in the room at the same time necessitates far bigger balls than I have.  We finish with honey and lemon, two flavours that are always going to work for me.  It’s the little touches that make a dish and here it was the fresh honey that made everything else sing.



Wine was plentiful and matched to some serious suggestions from the Languedoc region, that resulted in a very sore head the following day.  It was the perfect Monday evening, celebrating a talent who has taken the massive step up to putting his identity on a plate.  And celebrate we should; chefs like Liam deserve the support of the city, and as good as the food was, I can guarantee it is only going to get better as he and the team continue to find their feet.  The Boat Inn is worthy of a journey to see and support Liam’s new adventure, wherever you may be.

Thanks to Tonic Talent for the invite.  They haven’t asked me for a write-up or a plug, but the evening was worthy of both.  For hospitality recruitment please visit them at  Pictures of the evening can be found here  Liam’s restaurant can be found here

The Stable, Birmingham

We visit The Stable on a warm Sunday morning, the communal bench seating bathed in Spring sunshine through the large glass panes that line the front of the building. The place is empty, save for a couple down one end, and a member of staff sat the other, casually tucking into a McDonalds meal whilst looking hard in to his phone. We should have took this gents actions as a warning and fled, that if the staff here would rather feed on Ronald’s massacred beef over their own food, maybe we too should look elsewhere for a casual lunch. But we don’t. We sit and we order and we drink and we eat. We do the last bit disgruntled because this is not the place to come if eating well is your ‘thing’.

The Stable specialise in pizza, cider, and pies. They have the brilliant marketing idea of naming some of these dishes after areas of Birmingham. We could choose the Perry Baa Baa, which is an unbelievably hilarious pun on Perry Barr for a lamb topped pizza, or the Smethwick Scorcher, which I assume to be a reference on the areas many torched cars. I could be wrong on the last point.


We order three pizza’s, the first being that Smethwick Scorcher, actually named because of the dishes heat levels. It’s a one dimensional blast of pure heat that wipes any other flavour off the face of the planet. There are milky white pork balls that taste of chilli, red onion that tastes of chilli, all on a tomato and naga chilli base that tastes of 50% of the listed ingredients which are not tomato. The thin base is overcooked and crisp. It is supposedly sourdough but then your guess is as good as mine. In my two pint haze of bitterness I take to Twitter to call it ‘twelve pounds of shite’ – I was wrong.  It’s actually eleven pounds of shite.


There are others similarly bad.  The least offensive of these is The Blazing Saddle with pulled beef and bacon that starts off well enough and ends up a monotonous crawl through Mediocre Town.  A Fresh Hawaiian is something that could have come from The Plough if they stopped trying and went home.  The ham is the best thing on the board, rich and meaty, the rest of it a lesson in blandness.   We are offered avocado for an additional 50p which confirms my opinion that guacamole is the only sensible home for this overused fruit.  It adds nothing other than an unwelcome texture.



I mention The Plough in jest above, though it’s an important reference point in comparison.  I love The Plough; they do solid cooking with high-quality ingredient’s.  The food here felt like they were trying to be very similar and ended-up a mile away in quality for much of the same price.  It was sloppy, disinterested, and littered with errors.  And we were hungry again just an hour later.  We should have gone to McDonalds.  Or better still, The Plough.