I hadn’t been in the building that now homes The Indian Streatery since Adam’s first launched in Birmingham. I remember that building well. Back before Michelin bestowed them with a star and they had their shiny home on Waterloo Street, it was here that Adam Stokes initially set-up; a small rectangular room on Bennetts Hill with a black and white screen acting as the gap between dining room and galley kitchen. I like that the building is now in the hands of this family, the transition feels appropriate. When Adam’s came the city was still getting used to fine dining, whereas we have now become accustomed to our many Michelin stars. Five or so years on we look to a new breed in the city, one that looks for it’s own home after owning and honing street food. Indian Streatery makes more sense as a name when you understand that they used to be a regular at Digbeth Dining Club as Indian Rasoi. When others have made the jump in far quieter spots with far cheaper rent, these lot have jumped into a central Brum location that used to house a Michelin star. And that takes balls. Massive balls.
The dining room is well lit and has attention to detail at every glance. The wooden street cart that forms the bar area at the back of the room will take the plaudits, but for me the ceiling mural of India is what takes the eye. Plush seating in gold makes up the soft furnishings, dark wood fills the rest of the space. Credit must go to whoever managed to make somewhere so small seem so inviting.
The ambition of the location and makeover is matched by the menu. They are going all out here; a section purely for chaat, another of more traditional dishes from the Punjab, and a section of less than conventional dishes such as Indian Hot Dog and Pakora Fried Chicken (they missed a trick there not calling it PFC). Dishes arrive as and when they are ready because this is 2017 and we have been taught to do as we are told. Bhartha is the first to arrive, ordered on the basis that it is new to me. It is a dish that could easily be middle eastern in design, a base of smoked aubergine weaved with garlic, ginger and tomatoes, that we lap up in seconds.
We try two types of chaat when perhaps just the one would of been fine. Of the two it is the samosa chaat that stands out, the torn bits of samosa are perky in spice and have enough to stand out from the chaat chickpea curry. A chicken chaat is interesting for the chicken that has a nice savoury funk from a tamarind coating. A word on the chaat itself and I know I’m in danger of slipping into twat territory here: I’ve eaten a lot of chaat recently – I’m the king of chaat. Michael Parkinson with additional drunks and weirdos on my sofa. This chaat is slightly different to the others you’ll find dotted around the city; the chickpeas are cooked less and have more texture than usual, the curry itself is more perfumed and not as aggressive in heat. It is topped with less of that crunchy sev. This is a more sophisticated chaat that speaks in quieter tones rather than shouting.
My India obsessed other half insists on palak paneer, a glorious blend of spinach and paneer with strands of ginger and garlic that is too refined to ever consider came from a street food begining. Likewise a methi chicken deep with fenugreek flavour that we take basmati rice to in order to work the last of the sauce out of the silver bowl. They both show a gentle touch of taking robust flavours and making them harmonious.
I really like Indian Streetery, more so for the less than conventional dishes on the menu. I often bemoan the identikit menus that haunt the city, so credit must be due for putting stuff out there that you cant get elsewhere, and doing at a price too fair for the location. All of the above, with rice and a couple of soft drinks, fails to touch £40 between the two us. It’s this price point that will allow us to return frequently and try more of that menu. Which we will. Indian Streatery is not perfect but it is ambitious, characteristics I can relate to all too well. It looks like that little room on Bennetts Hill will continue to shape the dining scene in this mighty fine city.
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