Month: January 2018

The White Post, Rimpton

The detour to The White Post on the way from Devon was supposed to add an additional 45 minutes each side to our journey. Unfortunately for us, Google Maps is particularly shit at accounting for Biblical floods on narrow Somerset county lanes, in the same way that Noah was particularly shit at accounting for all the animals under the same circumstance (where’s the mention of Koalas on the ark, Noah? Or the Kangaroos whilst we’re at it). What started as a bit of rain ended up with us descended into a river between hedges, with water up the bonnet of the car and Claire screaming white noise about repair costs and flooded engines and very possibly shoes. I wasn’t listening. And then after we’ve eaten the rain turned to fog and the ground got all skiddy and a crash near Bristol rerouted us over the Downs where I honestly thought we may slip off the side and die. I portion part of this blame on God and part on Claire, who had far greater trouble finding the fog lights than she does my wallet. It took us five hours to get home, which totalled seven hours of driving. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The White Post do the best Sunday roast I’ve ever eaten.

Now before I break down why it is the best, please know that I really don’t enjoy Sunday Roasts. I find them nothing more than stoic patriotism; all overcooked carbohydrates and blistered brown meat. It’s Nytol on a plate and I swear they must have been invented by disgruntled wives who would rather watch the husband snore on the sofa than surrender him back to the arms of the pub. And it’s not like I have never had good ones before. My Dad does things with pancake batter and beef fat that produce volcanic spews of Yorkshire pudding. A fine lady called Fran showed me the correct way to roast a chicken and my future mother-in-law makes the best roast potatoes I have ever eaten. Correction. Second best. Apologies, Lindsey.

Now back to The White Post, a pub so at ease in its skin, the only thing it is unsure of is the county it belongs to. It sits right on the border of Somerset and Dorset, on the top of the hill with views of green and pleasant lands. When it is not pissing it down this part of the world really is beautiful. The pub itself is fully functioning; there is a bar with stools and a patio with benches if you only want a pint. The menu has one eye on feeding and then other firmly on impressing; there is salt chamber beef and sugar pit pork. Cous cous is Israeli, presumably because they also know a thing or two about questionable borders.

The first edible thing to arrive at table sets the expectations sky high. A skein of carrot slithers, fried to a golden bhaji crust, and sat in a puddle of soured cream. To this was poured a carrot soup as orange as Donald Trump and almost as thick. The soup succeeded in tasting only of the vegetable, the bhaji spice gently lifting it. Opposite me was liver parfait, textbook in execution and light in texture, studded with cubes of pear, gingerbread, and grains. There is a fat slice of brioche to smear it on and an unripe tomato chutney to stop it all getting a bit sweet. Both starters remind me of the first time I ate at The Hand & Flowers, when I realised that is possible to cook wholesome food with finesse. They do that with aplomb here.

And now the roast. They do not mess around when it comes to the roast. You order it and they bring everything on a board. Between the two of us we get slices of chicken breast and a leg each, the most perfect pork loin with shards of crackling, and lamb leg, pink and properly rested. There are potatoes cooked in beef fat with enough brittle edges to pummel with, parsnips and carrots roasted until the natural sugars caramelise and I start to weep, and giant Yorkshire puddings that are as good as any I’ve eaten outside my Dad’s. Apple and Horseradish sauces. A massive jug of gravy that tastes of animal. On the side is braised red cabbage and another bowl with cauliflower and broccoli cheese that could probably do with leaving the broccoli out on. It is everything that a Sunday roast should be but never is. It is a triumph to sourcing and to seasoning, to the virtues of an oven over a sous vide machine. We pile everything on to our plates and wonder how we will finish it. We do. It is remarkable.

Dessert divides us. I like the notes of anise and cinnamon in the spiced brulee, but Claire finds it a bit full-on. Its left to me to smash through the torched sugar and tip in the raisin ice cream. A cookie feels a little superfluous and unwarranted, though it does offer another welcome texture. I finish it. Of course I do, its delicious, but I wonder if the same rooted love is there for pastry as it across the savoury courses.

The bill, with a couple of boozy drinks for the passenger and a soft drink for the driver, is an absurdly low sixty quid. I felt almost embarrassed to pay it until they told us that they do a 10 course taster menu with overnight stay in the rooms above for two people for only an additional ton on top of that. Maybe its just this part of the world that wants to wants to be generous at lunch time, but it’s a welcome change from home where the best roast costs the same amount for half the size and a meal of similar quality would be double. It’s wonderful here, the passion is clear to see from the team, the love for food transcending on to the plate. The future is very bright for The White Post and I can’t wait to return when the drive there and home becomes a little less eventful.


The Horseshoe, Hall Green

The plate on which I portioned my half of the starter now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting; a drunken blend of vivid mint yogurt and a crimson chilli sauce that has the background funk of molasses and tamarind. The platter, once sizzling, is now a luke warm graveyard of bones. We have left nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The waitress, a young and affable lady in her early twenties, asks how it was, to which I respond with a simple and concise ‘excellent’. She is pleased, like she had cooked it herself, and goes on to tell us how the new menu for the refit centred around creating this mixed grill to be as good as it can be. She goes into details about the different marinades they trialled for the three types of tikka, and how the lamb chops cooking time was constantly tweaked. It is a level of attention that I was not expecting, yet alone to hear of in such detail from the staff. Frankly, I am impressed. Welcome to The Horseshoe version 2.0.

It is still The Horseshoe, I just added to the version 2.0 bit on the end to make it sound like a Hollywood movie. They’ve sharpened up the lines of the old interior. They’ve tweaked the menu to give it a more Desi pub feel. And they still offer a European menu which is sent back as soon as it is offered on account of the kitchen team looking more Mumbai than Milan. I blame the local community for this who clearly cannot accept that a pub which used to do pub food badly can now exist in the same bricks and mortar under a different cuisine. Would you ever go into a Fish and Chip shop and ask for Nasi Goreng? Exactly. If you come here and complain about the state of your carbonara, you’re an idiot and you only have yourself to blame.

That mixed grill starts and pretty much finishes us off. It’s gargantuan in size and only a starter to the optimistic or American amongst us. Three types of chicken tikka; one a conventional marinade, another sharp with the acidity of pickle, and one fiery with green chilli. Two types of mince kebab; one lamb, the other chicken. Both with personality, the latter packed with the hot stuff. Lamb chops that have the funk of a James Brown record only without the domestic violence. Chicken drumsticks. I think I’m done. No, sorry, I forgot the quarter of tandoori chicken, all communist in colour and scorched on the fringes. It’s all good; some, such as the chicken tikka, minced chicken kebab and tandoori chicken, are knock out brilliant. It is, right now as a collection, the best mixed grill in Birmingham. And I say that with the confidence of a man who has eaten many of recent in those considered as the premium.

We take a couple of curries and a dhal, because we are greedy and promiscuous with our choices. The tarka dhal gets ordered again, as does the methi chicken whose fenugreek flavour slowly reveals like a burlesque dancer. The punchy achari gosht is a little more one dimensional – we get heat and tomato and not much else with the tender cubes of lamb. From a bread basket is a good naan and roti, with a stellar paratha that’s all buttery wafer.

What we don’t finish they are happy to box up, and the following day we load the last of the lamb curry onto the leftover roti, with some yogurt which they correctly guess we would need. And there in a leftover box is all you need to know about The Horseshoe – they have their finger on the pulse and a firm eye on giving the customer what they want. And if you go looking for a mixed grill you really can’t do much better in Birmingham. Just go hungry.


The meal was complimentary and arranged by Delicious PR

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Leo’s Modern Greek Food Night, Pure Bar, Birmingham

If you’ve been watching Masterchef the Professionals you’ll probably recognise Leo Kattou of Simpsons restaurant. The softly spoken and impeccably mannered Greek-Cypriot from Coventry has a distinctive look that would be described as a Bear in some circles. A man bun, big beard and bigger smile about sums up that large, rotund head of his. Now before I proceed and the observant of my Twitter feed protest, I will disclose that I know Leo; I have feed him my beef ragu at 4am and he has beaten me at pool, so I was personally super chuffed to watch him reach the Semi-finals of Masterchef. He’s one of the good guys of the local scene and deserves all the success it brings.

Part of that increased public exposure is tonight’s sell-out pop-up for which we’ve shelled out £55 each for in advance for five courses with matching beers. The first course is familiar to anyone who has dined at Simpsons. Tapioca crackers dyed with squid ink and a splodge of the creamiest of Taramasalata to dredge through. Bread and butter is served at the same time. The crust is taut, the crumb loose. It’s a simple, yet effective start to the meal.

This wouldn’t be a homage to Greek food without halloumi. We have a Jenga stack of them fried to a Midas crisp, with a crown of olive tapenade, smoked aubergine purée and the nights only mis-step, a fat slice of tomato that tastes of very little. The rest is a composed collection of stuff that transports us from a rainy evening in Birmingham to far sunnier climes.

The fish course is a nod to his parents owning a chippy in Coventry of their own. It’s simple enough; panfried cod with tartar sauce and ‘chips’. The chips are really puffed potato pieces seasoned with salt and vinegar powder, the tartar closer to a bearnaise with chopped caper and fresh peas running through it. You could argue whether or not the peas needed to be there, which we did and I lost, but it’s a clever bit of cooking. Obvious enough to be a direct reference point, yet light enough to sit within a five course meal.

I know all is going to be well with the lamb kleftico main the second I slide the bone clean out of the shank. Ooh, Matron. The meat breaks down at the nudge of a fork, it’s inherent fatty qualities tempered by some smartly dressed bulgar wheat and kale. An anchovy emulsion seasons it all and is textbook in delivery. It’s hard to believe that this has come from the same man who messed up a lovage emulsion so badly on national telly. But he did, and it makes great viewing on iPlayer if you need a laugh.

Dessert is, to quote a food critic often found on Masterchef, a bunch of creamy things with some crispy things on top. But what creamy and crispy things they are. Layers of aerated honey and yogurt hide a sticky reduction of cherry juice, whilst shards of crisp filo stick out like Leo on a police line-up. This man understands that if the menu says cherry then we want physical cherries and they are here, boozily macerated in Kirsch and obscured under those creamy bits. A word now on the beer pairings from the manager Matt. Properly clever and well considered, these varied from using the less-than-obvious citrus back notes of an unfiltered lager, to the cherry beer that went with this course. Truly excellent work from top to bottom.

Now back to Leo. A few things were very obvious from the dinner. Firstly, his tenure at Simpsons has grounded him within their principles – respect for ingredients was obvious, in most cases simplicity was key. Somewhat more importantly for Leo it showed his true potential; a chef capable of taking the classic technique associated with the French and apply it to a more rustic Greek cuisine. He has shown a wit and playfulness, delivering plate after plate of well conceived and precisely cooked plates of food. He’s young and hungry. His role of senior sous at Simpsons is the perfect job for him at present, but every one of the packed-out dining room earmarked Leo Kattou as a star of the future.

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Kanteen, Digbeth

The area in and around The Custard Factory is one that seems to drift in and out of cultural importance in Birmingham. My Dad remembers when it really was a Custard Factory, worked in by his friends, when they would meet in The Old Crown for a pint and whatever lads in the 60’s did back then. My first introduction was thirty years afterwards, during the dingy hip hop nights at The Medicine Bar, and then again some years afterwards at the ill-fated Alfie Birds. Now, it feels rejuvenated and ready to take on the city again. Old Crown withstanding, Digbeth Dining Club started it, Ghetto Golf, Clink, and others have followed. Once again the area has a purpose. The Custard Factory is thriving.

It is at this point I pull back the curtains and reveal Kanteen in all it’s glory. And, believe me, it is glorious. It has purpose and a desire to feed the community at prices that work out to be no more than a Pret sandwich. The glass fronted space has depth on the inside. It is cosy and smart: almost homely. They do stuff on bread and stuff with eggs in the morning, then later on turn to hot stuff in boxes and cold stuff in boxes. There is a quiet emphasis on feeding all forms of diets and keeping it healthy. Please erase that last sentence from your mind. The food here has flavour in abundance and that is all that matters.

I come with Hubbie-to-be Greg, who arrives in a ravenous mood having recently only been surviving on Slimming World meals, whatever they may be. We order widely; two from the eggs section and three from the bread, which I can now confirm is three too many dishes for two people. I’ll get the disappointing dish out of the way first: A mass of kale on toast with torn bits of burrata and gremolata. Tearing apart the burrata into small pieces has lost the cheeses integrity – the oozy cream quality that is buried like treasure in the centre has disappeared on to the chopping board and the toast below. It’s nice, and the gremolata is impeccably made, but they should cut costs and move towards a mozzarella.

But everything else is bloody brilliant. Black pudding from Clonakilty has more earthy depths because of chopped hazlenuts, then quickly pulled back up by slices apple. Its an inspired bit of topping for wedge of sourdough toast. It has light and shade. It eats like a dream. Likewise the chorizo, red pepper and goats curd on toast. There is a reason this combination is everywhere; it works. This has poise and balance, with high quality chunks of chorizo. And it’s under a fiver. I told you it was great value.

Both of the dishes ordered from the egg section have them poached so that the whites have just set and the yolk becomes self-saucing. On one the egg sits on folds of Serrano ham with broken potatoes and tomato. Lemon aioli gives it an almost Benedicts edge. The other has merguez, the spiced lamb sausage native to Northern Africa, braised in a cassoulet style tomato sauce, with that gremolata returning to stop it all getting a bit rich. I can’t pick between the two, so have one for breakfast and the other for lunch. It’s brunch. You’re allowed to.

Replete, we take a peanut butter brownie home that Greg assures me was delicious, though could well still be hidden with his PS3 and porn stash in his forbidden items drawer. Walking back we discuss the merits of Kanteen for which there are many. What may read on paper as a collection of healthy things piled onto one another is in reality a finely tuned wholesome feed that just happens to also be good for you. Kanteen is something different to the current offering and something very good indeed.


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Bloggers vs White Moose Cafe

I was going to keep my mouth shut, but fuck it, in a roundabout-kind-of-way it the actions of both Elle Darby and Paul Stenson affect me, so here is my thoughts on the recent shit storm that was White Moose Cafe vs Bloggers.

For those unaware, Ms Darby is a blogger and ‘social influencer’ who emailed Charleville Lodge, the Dublin hotel owned by Mr Stenson, essentially asking for a complimentary room. Mr Stenson responded by sharing the email on the Facebook page of White Moose Cafe, another business owned by him, along with a cleverly constructed response which shames her for asking. The public was loud and aggressive in its opinion, to which a proportion of Ms Darby’s fellow blogging fans reacted by leaving negative comments about White Moose Cafe on various review sites. As things stand, the White Moose Cafe has banned all bloggers from entering its premises.

I blog. But I’m not about to defend Elle Darby because a) I don’t want to, and b) I simply can’t. Anyone who has ever read my blog will know that I occasionally accept meals in return for reviews. Although I keep my opinion honest, I recognise that this is seen as the dirty side of blogging and I am trying to move away from it completely for my own integrity. Never have I dreamed of approaching any business asking for free meals. I find the process demeaning and it tarnishes the reputation of the word ‘blogger’ for those such as myself, who do it out of passion. Ms Darby has defended herself via a video on YouTube which is 13 painful minutes of her trying to play a victim. Total poppycock. She makes a living from places like this saying yes to her emails. She is naive and, worst of all, ill-researched. She has emailed a business that has a history of vilification for Facebook likes.

You see, I’m calling bullshit on Paul Stenson, a man who now looks like a people’s champ for standing up to the pique-assiette culture of blogging and social media influencers. Take a look at the history of White Moose Cafe and he has hit headliners for altercations with vegans, gluten intolerant, and now bloggers. Each one of these have gone viral garnering significant interest and raising the profile of the cafe to almost 200k followers on Facebook and countless thousands on other social media platforms, which help to sell a sideline business of promoting products on their social media. Request correctly and the business has a rates book they can provide for showcasing products. For all the public hate he has given to ‘social media influencers’, Paul Stenson himself is one, albeit in a very aggressive manner to fractions acceptable for hate. He is Donald Trump in a green, white, and orange suit. He is building a wall and the bloggers aren’t paying for it, because according to him they don’t pay for anything. Look past the fake reviews on TripAdvisor and he is the owner of two very mediocre businesses – no wonder he has to turn to the lucrative world of product placement (which, interestingly, features no disclosure on any of his media accounts. Naughty, naughty). And what better way to draw attention to those accounts than by ripping vegans, dietary specific, and bloggers to pieces? Paul Stenson is a pre-Brexit Borris Johnston. He’s fooling everyone. The White Moose Cafe are using the increased traffic from an attack on a social media influencer to gain financial benefit via their own influencer channels.

Will he really ban bloggers? I seriously doubt it, and I’m willing to find out when I’m in Dublin in June visiting a couple of it’s top restaurants. And White Moose Cafe. In the meantime I’ll be dealing with this in the best way possible; by ignoring both of the businesses owned by Mr Stenson and forgetting that Elle Darby exists. Combined they are the ugly side of social media; one using her status to gain endless freebies, the other using nasty attacks to increase their own standing. Both only exist because we pay them attention. Me, I’m switching off and hoping they go away.

The Chefs Forum Lunch, UCB, Birmingham

Some things are worth knocking off work early. A nativity play or Sports Day spring to mind, but I don’t have any children of my own and ‘borrowing’ them is apparently illegal in the eyes of the law. Mealtimes are my baby, all 8lb 9oz of it, and I am never one to turn down an opportunity to mingle with the big guns of the industry. Offer me a chance to have a lunch cooked by some of the UCB’s success stories and I am going to snap your hand clean off. Tell me two of those have just finished on Masterchef The Professionals and I’ll have that annual leave booked so quickly Google wont have time to tell you about the time I got in trouble for ‘borrowing’ a child. It was for a Sports Day. I enjoy the competition.

The premise of the lunch is to fund raise for The Chefs Forum Education Forum, a rather marvellous foundation that helps to alleviate some of the financial worries of young people training within the industry. We get four courses from five chefs, each associated with the college, or foundation, in some way. It’s a line-up that attracts the finest of the industry; restauranteurs, suppliers, chefs. It’s a privilege to be involved with something so worthy.

The food is a success from start to finish. Masterchef finalist and chef at The Wilderness, Louisa Ellis, works with little more than a cauliflower and yeast to pickle, roast, and purée the vegetable into a layered dish which is rich and, dare I say it, meaty. Head chef of Opus, Mark Walsh, dusts butter poached halibut with a tarragon powder that seasons with a subtle anise. Discs of kohlrabi cloak cubes of swede, whilst cockles nestle around a buttery Jerusalem artichoke purée. There is a lot going on, but it’s all held together by a burly chicken dressing. A sorbet appears from Alicias – a new company that I suggest you keep a firm eye on.

We get pork and smoked eel from the Modfather of culinary Brum, Luke Tipping, and his Masterchef disciple, Leo Kattou. It tastes like pork wrapped in smoked bacon, with leek and nuggets of squid ink dyed tempura pumpkin that I’m nicking for home. All presented in that clean and attractive manner that anyone familiar with Simpsons will easily identify with. Dessert is from The Edgbaston’s Olivier Briault, a dark chocolate cremeux sitting on a dacquois and feuillentine base, which is a posh Kit-Kat to those that don’t have a slight obsession with classic Ducasse desserts. I do. The addition of blood orange is not only seasonal but clever as it brings enough acidity to stop this and the cognac ice cream being too rich.

The triumph of the day is two fold; good money is made for the foundation and the UCB shows off the future of the industry. Not a beat is missed in service from those still in training. Glasses are topped-up regularly, every dish plated at the same angle. We finish on a roll call of the chefs and the students to much applause. Chefs never seem to be able to take ovation; it’s not in their nature. They work mostly out of sight with the desire to feed and nothing else. It’s what I admire about them and it’s what the students look up to. It is clear the foundation is doing great things and long may that continue.

This was a pay what you want event and I made a sizeable donation to the foundation.

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Sabai Sabai, Birmingham City Centre

Sabai Sabai seem to be spreading faster than Australian Flu. First Moseley, then Harborne and Stratford-Upon-Avon, now the city centre, on Waterloo Street in the bustling business district. The new building is beautiful, an old bank that lends itself to sturdy square proportions with a smart interior of neutral colours and geometric light fittings. It’s sultry and smart, ideal for the targeted clientele of dates and business accounts. It’s a very nice place to have dinner which explains why it is full a couple of weeks after opening.

This is an organised outing with other bloggers who all seem to be practicing the fake smiles they will wear when I win Best Food Blog again in June. We are given food and lots of it, too. Some I am familiar with from my local Sabai Sabai in Moseley and some I am not. It’s a larger menu here from a larger kitchen. This surprises me little as the kitchen in Moseley is so small you couldn’t swing a cat in there. Not that they would ever allow cats in the kitchen. That’s for a dubious takeaway around the corner to do.

From a platter of starters a few dishes stand out. Chicken wings come from a well reared bird, just like my girlfriend, softly braised until the bone slips out cleaner than the gnasher’s of a dental hygienist. It is a side to Thai cooking I’m not au fait with, a delicate cook over a punchy one pan blast and I like it. The flakes of meat and subtle spicing could easily be mistaken for French bistro cooking. A jaunty cut of duck spring roll is better for the proportion. Spring rolls are too often all pastry – here the casing serves as nothing more as a vehicle for a mass of soft duck meat with the occasional bite of al dente veg. Lamb chops have good quality ovine correctly pink whilst pork spare ribs are too saccharine. In every case the spicing whispers rather than shouts. The taste of the protein is king.

Now let’s talk beef short rib. Fat, unctuous short rib cooked so softly that the meat can be spooned cleanly away from the bone, in a mellow masaman curry rich with coconut milk. This is show stealer. The must order. It has contrast with every mouthful, real depth and fragrant high points. It is one of the finest main courses to be found within the city centre.

We look to other dishes once the bone has been scraped clean on the short rib. Pad Thai is all too familiar; silky noodles, soft chicken, the bite of peanuts and raw chilli heat. It’s a classic for a reason. Monkfish and aubergine comes in the most textbook of green curry sauces. All the fundamentals of Thai cooking are present; salty, spicy, sweet and sour, which happen to also be my four favourite Spice Girls. It has bags of personality.

We have Weeping Tiger, which contains zero tiger and serves only as a metaphor because it will leave you crying for more. The beef sirloin is accurately cooked to medium rare, coated in a toasted rice powder that punches with umami. I took to Twitter to say it was the best beef since Biggie and Tupac. I will never better that. It goes fantastically well with sprouting broccoli in a puddle of something bright and acidic.

This quantity of food leaves no room and we settle for a well made espresso martini to send us on our way. Sabai Sabai being good is of no surprise, both Harborne and Moseley cook to a very good standard, but this was perhaps the strongest meal yet. The decision to put both North and South Thai chefs in the kitchen has paid off: There are no dud dishes here, the Northern dishes kick with more fire, those from the South fresher. The latest instalment of Sabai Sabai is a brilliant addition to the city.

The meal was complimentary as part of an event organised by Delicious PR.

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Chien Lunatique at 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter

A new year, a new pop-up at the delightful 1000 Trades. It doesn’t take much to get me here – the promise of a cold pint and a hot plate of food usually does the trick – but the latest offering got me hotfooting over to the Jewellery Quarter within hours of them tweeting about it. Sausages. Three syllables of happiness. And not just any sausages. Lashford’s, Birmingham’s own multi award winners, something that I would one day like to emulate when I learn the correct of use of an apostrophe. Chien Lunatique turns these sausages into hotdogs. The January diet can go on hold for a day.

The result is one of the best pop-ups at 1000 Trades in a very long time. The dog’s skins snap with quality fillings and are pimped by toppings that add interest. A Churchill has black pudding in amongst the pork sausage mix, lardons scattered across the brow. It’s the very essence of pig; a fumble in a sty of happiness. The Balti sits on the opposing end of the spectrum, with the pork barely detectable due to a hefty whack of garam masala and cumin. It is properly delicious, topped this time with poppadoms and tzatziki that works in a similar fashion to raita. Both come in a brioche bun that defies physics and holds its shape throughout.

With this we have the kind of beans I want at home with my jacket potato – and that’s a compliment. Packed with chorizo and garlic and chilli and teenage angst, these are less of a side dish and more of a tourist attraction. And the chips. Sweet Mother of Mary, those chips. Skin on and fried to bronze, these may well be the best chips in Birmingham outside of George and Helen’s. And if that last reference means nothing, you and I are simply never going to cut it as mates.

With the dogs costing between £6 – 7.50 this is not an expensive meal, but it is one that lingers in the memory. The chef behind this is Simon Masding, a man who has many concepts within that bearded head, though none as effective as this. Chien Lunatique might be his best ever work and we’ll be back again before the stint finishes at the end of Jan. It quite simply is excellent.

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Best 10 Dishes in Birmingham For Under £10

Are you broke after overdoing it at Christmas? Yeah, me too. Still, don’t let that keep you in the house eating leftover turkey and microwave dinners. January is depressing, though if you know where to eat (and I do), there is some exceptional food to be had for not a lot of money. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty; here are the best ten dishes to be had in Birmingham for under a tenner. All independents doing brilliant things, who need your support more than a big corporate with a mid-week discount voucher.

1) Chicken Tikka, Zindiya, £7.00

Zindiya do many, many things brilliantly, but there is nothing better on that menu than the chicken tikka. The stuff of local legend, these fat morsels of skewered and tandoor’d fowl are the best example I have ever tried. Dress them in the mint sauce, eat and wash down with a pint of Lawless. These are worthy of a trip to Moseley at least once a week.

2) Scotch egg, Pure Bar and Kitchen, £6.00

Not just any scotch egg. Served warm and with a runny yolk, atop of shoestring fries and beer ketchup, it is probably the best scotch egg you will ever eat. This comes as little surprise when you learn that the menu design is headed-up by Michelin starred Simpsons. The ultimate in bar snacks.

3) Hell Shack burger, The Meat Shack, £7.50

The slogan ‘dripping filthy goodness’ may be a little salacious, but don’t let that stop you from missing out on these beefy beauties. My pick is the Hell Shack, a fiery blast of smashed patty, green chilli relish and a hot sauce which will hurt more on the way out than on the way in. It will end up all down your chin and possibly your top, and it may hurt a little, but it’s worth every second of the eating.

4) Singapore Carrot Cake, Blue Piano, £5.95

Yes, you are reading that correct. Carrot cake. Just not as you know it. Containing very little in the way of actual carrot, this is a spiced savoury cake made mostly of rice flour and mooli, a variety of radish, topped with scrambled egg, spring onion and chilli. It’s so good you’ll consider having it again for dessert. Which you should, apparently it’s a common request.

5) ‘Nduja, Honey, and Chorizo pizza, Otto, £9.00

Otto understand how a good pizza works; a seriously hot oven that blisters dough in a couple of minutes, and impeccably sourced ingredients. My choice showcases those top meats in all their glory. Chorizo and ‘nduja – a spicy and malleable salami – with the heat tempered by honey. It sounds like it doesn’t work. Trust me, it does.

6) Potato Churros, El Borracho de Oro, £5.50

These are so addictive the government are voting to classify them. I jest. I have no idea how they are made – my guess is they’re mashed, mixed with a little flour and then piped into a deep fat fryer. Whatever the process, the result is a savoury potato stick that begs to be dunked into blue cheese dip. Delicious.

7) Alabama Slammer burger, Original Patty Men, £7.50

Brummies love an OPM. Drake loves an OPM. Everyone loves an OPM. Realistically everything on the menu could have made this list, but we’re going leftfield to say ditch the beef and order the Alabama Slammer. Think of it as a Zinger burger for those in the know, with deep fried chicken thigh in the lightest of batters. Stick this is a bun with ‘slaw and hot sauce and what you have is a bona fide winner.

8) Hummus Kavurma, Cappodocia, £7.95

What possibly could be better than hummus? How about hummus topped with crispy bits of lamb and its dark, syrupy cooking liquor?! This relatively new Turkish restaurant in the Jewellery Quarter takes bashed up chickpeas to new heights with this addictive blend of the spicy meat and soothing layer of hummus it beds on.

9) Char Sui Bao. Chung Ying Central, £4.00

Tender slices of marinated and slow cooked pork, hidden inside the fluffiest of steamed milk buns. Sold? Me too. Available at all three Chung Ying sites, I suggest that that you try them in the comfort of the central location over a cocktail or three. The cheapest dish on the list, you’ll still have change in your pocket when you order another portion.

10) Vegetarian Dosa, Gateway to India, £4.99

Don’t let the Broad Street location put you off, this dosa is worth the risks of a stag party slalom. A rolled savoury pancake the size of my forearm, filled with a potato, cumin and mustard seed blend, it is served with two chutneys and a vegetable curry. All for a fiver. The rest of the menu may not come close to this dish, but if I worked closer it would be my lunch of choice on a daily basis.

Otto, Jewellery Quarter

At the far end of Otto is a blackboard whose scrawling catches my eye. It is titled ‘The Producers’, going into detail about the charcuterie, cheese, flour, tomatoes, and olive oil. It is a biological passport of provenance. A statement to sourcing. And all of this from a little place serving pizza and not much else. Prezzo this is not.

The menu is concise and cleverly put together. Eight pizzas, with starters (some flatbreads, and a couple of sharing boards) using up the same bread, meats, and vegetables as the pizzas. We order a couple of Negronis that are as well made as anywhere in the city.

The oven that our pizzas are in is ticking at 400 Celsius today, which cooks the dough to a blistered crust in under three minutes. The dough is good, up there with the best in the city though a little short of London’s pliable best, but it is the toppings that stand them miles apart. My order sees fennel sausage stand in for a lack of chorizo, with ‘nduja and honey. It is excellent; meaty and rich, the honey tempering the ‘nduja’s more aggressive qualities. We also add meat to an otherwise vegetarian choice of ricotta, aubergine, and artichoke. The meat, coppa ham on this occasion, sits in comfortably amongst the healthy stuff. The veg is brilliant, the oozy ricotta more so. In both instances we apply liberal amounts of a chilli infused oil that has heat without losing the peppery quality of the oil.

So two very good pizzas and Negroni’s for under £40 – drink more modestly and you could shave at least a tenner off that. I was impressed with Otto, they seem at ease with what they offer and that is reflected in a service that is both personable and efficient. This at present is the best pizza in Birmingham.


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