Month: June 2018

Tap and Tandoor, Solihull

Very occasionally I sit somewhere and know the success is fully deserved. That they have a clear idea of what the area demands, and that those who are demanding it will leave happy. Often it is the most basic of ideas, as is the case here at Tap and Tandoor. It is as simple as location and provenance; the former will see them come in droves, the latter see them returning time over. If Solihull needed this as an area, the market it sits within needed the innovation more. The idea that the grill and curry food could be done using entirely free range meat for the same price as the competition is a genuine game changer for a sector not known for conscientious meat purchasing. And the quality of that meat shines throughout the meal. That is why Tap and Tandoor is one of the most important openings of 2018.

I thought it would be good; I know its sister venue Zindiya intimately. The menu has the infrequent nod towards that Moseley restaurant whilst managing to be an entirely different beast. Here you will find curry, breads, and mixed grills alongside the Indian street food dishes of Zindiya. It is a menu designed to be grazed over a longer period, washed down with any one of the beers that line the back wall. We order and settle in to a table under the painted mural on the back wall. It is heaving. The inhabitants of Solihull clearly have more taste that I credited them for.

From a succinct list of home style curry we have the butter chicken of all butter chickens. So good that all other versions must now feature ‘I cant believe its not butter chicken’ on the packaging. Its unashamedly rich, clogging the arteries with happiness. The poultry is firm, well cooked, and tastes of chicken; a rarity in these places. It is a stunner. We mop this up with a chilli and cheese naan that is supple and light. Exactly how it should be but rarely are.

And then there is the mixed grill. And my, what a mixed grill it is. It is the best of its kind in the city because the quality of the produce is allowed to shine. We have a regular sized one that is too much for two people, but will not stop me ordering the large next time. The chicken tikka is made to the same recipe as the sister restaurant. If anything the morsels here are larger, so whisper it, but this may be even better than the place that does the best I have eaten. There are meaty chicken wings smoky from the grill that do less for me, king prawns that linger with chilli notes for a while afterwards, and heavily spiced sheekh kebab cut to an uneven number that has us arguing over the last piece. Best of all are the lamb chops, charred so that the marinade has crusted up and left a pink centre. Once again the quality of the meat shines through; lamb chops simply don’t taste this good in places like this.

The only slip-up I can find are the beer battered onion bhajis that are a touch greasy and need a little work, but that is it. Even the one dish lifted from the Zindiya menu is an improvement; paneer tikka in an indo-Chinese style sauce. It is no longer caked in sauce, instead it happily shares its space with cooked onions and peppers, splayed out across a plate with the sweet and fiery sauce merely joining the dots. I want to stay and eat the chocolate samosa but I am defeated.

Far too much food, a beer, and a soft drink comes in at just over £40, an obscene bargain. And it is this that impresses me the most. With the premium location and free range meat costs it would have been easy to ramp up the prices, yet they have resisted this, choosing to sit at a price point below their direct competition. It’s all rather brilliant, helped by a team of staff who clearly know their stuff. If I lived closer I’d be here twice a week without fail. The people of Solihull are a lucky, lucky bunch.


Transport provided by another of Solihull’s finest, A2B Radio Cars

Bunsen, Dublin

The menu at Bunsen is a simple one; burger, either with or without cheese, one or two patties. Three types of fries, two of those potato, the other the big orange thing that should be banned. That is it. No silly toppings of crisps or waffles soaked in gypsy tears. No dehydrated acorn bark or rehydrated racoon faeces. Just a straight up burger with no frills or gimmicks. I like this, it shows a confidence in the produce, where if done right highlights the quality of the beef. But it has to be good. There is nowhere to hide with this, the salad has to be fresh, the lettuce still crunch between the teeth. Most importantly the beef has to be knockout good.

The burger at Bunsen – a cheeseburger on this occasion – is very good indeed. An eight, maybe even nine out of ten on it’s own. The patty makes it, charred on the outside, pink in the centre. It is more beefy than the 1981 Ashes victory. The rest of it just works; a bun that doesn’t dissolve to nothing, salad, mustard, ketchup, cheese, and pickles to cut through it all. Claire says it reminds her of something called a Big Mac, a reference that it is lost on me. It reminds me of Bleecker, which if you are au fait with my burger habits is a bloody big compliment.

Alas, it is not all perfect. I don’t like the chips one bit; the fat ones or the skinny ones. My guess is that as we are first in through the door the oil is not sufficiently hot, hence why neither are crisp and both are a little bit greasy. Is it an excuse? No, I don’t think so, and nor is it good enough given how good the burger was. With this I drink the own brand lager, five euros a bottle, making it a bargain in Dublin terms.

I applaud Bunsen for taking the straight forward approach. We live in a society that sees variety as a necessity when it is actually the opposite. They have pretty much perfected the burger offering here by doing it over and over again. And it’s paying off; Sunday afternoon less than an hour after opening and it’s full. If I ever found myself in distance of their three branches I’d return, just this time the order would be two cheeseburgers and no sides. Stick to the good stuff and you’ll be fine.


Why I Am Not Accepting Any More Free Meals

I’ve pissed a few people off of late. I say few, really I mean fucking loads. Bloggers, blaggers, washed-up has-been journalists, more bloggers, PR people, social influencers (whoever the fuck they are), more bloggers, an award ambassador (whatever the fuck that is), and bloggers. Some have been vocal about it, others chosen to shun me. One even went to the trouble of setting up a fake twitter profile – @farlow_clayton – to attack me publicly. And all because I said that I was no longer going to accept free meals for my restaurant blog.

The blog is four years old now. I started it purely out of love for food, genuinely expecting no one to read it. I remember the first time I got a hundred views in a day; I was elated. Now the same amount of hits is a bad number to wake up to. I don’t tend to make a big thing out of it, but I have won awards for it. It has grown beyond belief. But the morality of it has also changed; it took me eleven months to accept my first freebie. The preceding time afterwards has seen me take a lot. Too many, if I am honest. I started with the best intentions and learnt very quickly how to play the game – do it right and PR relationships can be very fruitful. I’ve had complimentary hotel stays and special tasting menus made especially for my visit. I have been showered in champagne and sent home with wine purchased specifically for me after the owner had read I drank it in a previous post. As a result many of the reviews I have posted have probably not been a true reflection of the restaurant. Looking back I can clearly see on a few occasions that I have been too generous with my opinion. Occasionally I have chosen to miss off dishes that may not have been very good; embellish others that were average. I tell you this because I want to tell you the truth. And I am not alone in this; it happens with just about every blogger I have ever met. More recently the traffic I have has allowed me to be more picky, yet I still feel obliged to attend certain restaurants for certain PR companies. I will go because if I don’t, others will and I want to stay top of the pile. I go because the PR company has an active role in an awards I want to win at. I go because the line has been crossed between work and friendship with some people.

I have nothing against those who chose to take free meals, but let’s be very clear, there is only one argument for it, which is “fuck off, I like eating free food”. It has nothing to do with wealth or disposable income. It is not a reward for the time it takes to write a blog post. Those who take a free meal are doing so because it is free and they want to eat at that particular restaurant, where upon they are willingly entering into the marketing cog of the restaurant. It is tainted, there is absolutely no doubt about that and to say that freebies have the same meaning as a paid meal is a big fat lie. I have taken enough freebies to see how the system works and I have also taken enough abuse to understand how it is perceived by the reader. Like it or not, accepting an invite means that you are in some way in debt to whoever has invited you. You are eating their food and drinking their wine because they chose to put you there. I have only once not written about a place I was invited to and that was because they gave me food poisoning. On every other occasion I have done what has been asked. I have made my opinion very clear on this of late and have seen some ridiculous arguments: One told me that their blog was not like that and proved on inspection to have eleven free meals out of twelve. Another made the point that the restaurants she recommends were all paid for, a statement that casts obvious doubts over the freebies she had recently raved about. I don’t have a singular problem with this, I’ve played the same game. But I want out of that culture. I’ve pressed the reset button.

The notion of giving up the invites has been there for a while. I have started to hate myself for not telling the entire truth the entire time, annoyed that this blog has lost sight of the very reason I started it. Now I have made the change and having recently finished my last PR invite post, the sense of relief is huge. The blog can go back to its very roots; I can say whatever I like without fear of upsetting someone. I’m confident that it will reignite my passion for the blog, though if it doesn’t I’ll gladly pull the plug on it. I’m sorry that the truth may have been blurred in the past, but that will completely change as of now. The meals on this blog will be paid for 100% out of my own pocket, with the views honest and undiluted. It is the only way I am happy for it to continue.

A Taste of The Cube, Birmingham

I don’t think you’ve ever really lived until you’re sat in a buffet restaurant watching a man sing a stripped back, samba style version of Hotline Bling, whilst a skewer of garlic breads is whipped on to a nearby table. It was like a dream sequence from a David Lynch movie, one where the heads of the other bloggers at the table morph into demons whilst the soft sounds of Drake gently hum in the background. The restaurant in question is Rodizio Rico, the starting point of our evening of an organised tasting of The Cube. No, not the TV program with Philip Schofield, silly. The beautiful geometric glass building that constantly steals the limelight from The Mailbox.

I have a couple of Negronis in Rodizio Rico and consider why I haven’t been for years. My conclusion is that the venue is fun and I am not. Still the drinks are decent and the singer is genuinely making my year. Upon finishing these we move to Shogun Teppan-Yaki, a restaurant I am very familiar with. I used to come here when I was young and undamaged, back in the days when the food mattered less to me. They put a right show on; balancing eggs on the hot plate, shouting foreign words loudly, and feeding us. We have platters of sushi, vegetable tempura, and then an entire ocean with a bit of cow cooked on the hot plate in front of us. Sitting on the stool brings back happy memories and now, just writing this, I wonder why I don’t detach myself more frequently from this blog. Some bits of the fish are a tiny bit overcooked and the beef could have been rested for a minute longer, but frankly who cares? If you want a gastronomic experience you’ve walked through the wrong door, but places like Shogun Teppan-Yaki exist to give their customers a different kind of evening. I’ll probably regret typing this sentence for the rest of my life, but it is okay to go out and not eat great food all the time. Just as long as you are in the company of a wacky Japanese fella making you flick eggs in the air with a paddle and catching them one-handed.

Stuffed with fish and prosecco we head to Haig Club for the final bit of the night. Cocktail masterclass in the shadow of David Beckham and his whiskey brand. Honesty bit upfront; I don’t like Haig Club whiskey. I purchased two bottles when it first came out and gave them both to my Dad for him to drink with coke. We make three cocktails, two are very good. I get to show my stirring skills, which are fabled in these lands. I leave drunk, the sign of it being one of the seven nights of the week.

And that concludes the last PR invite I am going to accept. And knowing that is the case I can be as honest as I like here without fear of alienating anyone. I don’t go The Cube very often despite it being one of my favourite buildings in the city. I don’t go because I tell myself that the places it houses aren’t to my taste. The truth is I’m missing out. It is a building that serves a purpose, with restaurants that are not aimed at taking themselves too seriously. Places like Rodizio and Shogun are ideal spots for dates or work nights out; casual and fun with food decent enough to not offend anyone, and looking at the prices now, very fairly priced too. Come the next time someone asks me for a suggestion for a group night out I’ll be throwing these names into the mix. They are purpose built for it.

I was invited to this event.

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Ruchie, Shirley

In a change from the norm, lets begin this post with a quick geography lesson. The length of India, from the Himalayan mountains to the beaches of Kanyakumari, sits around 3500km. Pretty big, right? To put that into perspective it is approximately the same distance from Birmingham to Istanbul. Draw a straight line between the two to drive it and you’ll enter Belgium, graze France, pass through the south of Germany and into Austria, hit Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, have a hefty time in Bulgaria and finally reach Turkey. From a culinary perspective there’ll be moules frites, quenelle de brochet, sauerkraut, schnitzels, goulash, and tarator, the latter presumably all down the white Levis and Kenwood jackets of those oh so trendy Bulgarians. Now you can make a half decent sausage and mash, right? In which case I can only assume your tarator has perfect acidity, and your quenelles are as light as your wallet now is. I assume all of this because this is the exact approach we take to Indian food in this country. We assume that every chef grew up perfecting the Balti and Tikki Masala, which is casual racism given that the Tikki Masala was invented on these shores as a way of appeasing the spice loathing palette of the average Brit, and the Balti originated from Pakistan. India is rich in regional variety from the vegetable dominated diets of the Gujarati, to the more identifiable dishes taken from the snack culture in Punjab. So if you are the type to go to your local Indian and order a Balti know that I am judging you. And I am blaming you for Brexit.

My borderline obsession with this meant that my ears pricked up when I heard that regional Indian cooking had found its way to Shirley. Ruchie promises to stick to the south of India, namely the regions of Kerala and Chettinad that lean on less heavy styles of curry, of fish and dosa. It is a region that I know a bit about because my other half has spent time there. From the opening gambit I know they take it seriously: deep fried banana chips join the usual poppadoms, with a spritely lemon chutney in amongst the more conventional dips and pickles. For starters we take two types of dosa; one with paneer, the other with potato. Both are excellent with vibrant spicing and a healthy kick of heat, the batter that encases them light and delicate. They even succeed in making me like sambar, the light vegetable curry that here tastes of something. We also try Kathrikka, a new dish for the both of us. The aubergines are deep fried in a batter and served with a tomato chutney. It could almost be a tapas dish in Spain had it not been for the cumin that runs through the batter. Maybe the position so close to the Portuguese influenced cooking of Sri Lanka has more of an effect that I credited it.

For mains we look to both sides of the southern peninsular. A Meen Kuzhambu gets ordered for direct reference point. Claire thinks it is better than the one she had on a boat in Kerala. The kingfish is beautifully cooked, the tamarind sauce sweet and sour without ever overpowering the fish. And then there is the Chettinad chicken curry, a gravy base more silkier than the usual robust identikit sauces. The overriding flavour is black pepper, though there are plenty of chilli and aniseed notes lurking behind. Without either of us visiting Chettinad before it feels authentic; unfamiliar and cooked with love. I like it here.  Pulao rice is good, a paratha better. The layers distinct, the rich butter flavour distributed expertly throughout.

Given that we take some of the curry home for later, we skip dessert, though Claire is vowing to return for Semiya Payasam, a lesser known Indian dessert that happens to be her favourite and yours for £3.50. Ruchie is a bold move and one that I hope is embraced by the local community, though whether or not Shirley is ready for an Indian restaurant that doesn’t serve Baltis remains to be seen. I think it will be fine; the service is excellent, the bill very good value and we try a couple of very nice cocktails. For me it moves straight into my top five Indian restaurants in the city and somewhere I can see myself returning to frequently. There is so much to learn about the regional cooking of India and Ruchie is the ideal first chapter to start with.


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White Moose Cafe, Dublin

The White Moose Cafe don’t like food bloggers, or least they pretend not to like food bloggers. I don’t blame them; I don’t like a lot of them either, yet the fact remains that they have made their feelings known very publicly and barred us troublesome freeloaders from their modest and shy little cafe under the hotel they also own. But I wanted to go and see what the fuss is about, so I dropped them a polite little tweet;

They never responded. How rude.

Undeterred, I decide that I can’t be in Dublin and not go. We’d already booked the best restaurant in town, and the place voted as Ireland’s best breakfast. We’ve targeted the highly rated bistro and drinks at the place they say is the city’s best cocktail bar. How can we not go to the world famous White Moose Cafe? If I’m not allowed to be there I’ll have to go in disguise. Here is me inside the cafe wearing an eye patch and fake moustache;

They never suspected a thing. The Fools.

We order at the bar; two drinks, a full American (a full Irish with pancakes), and something called a breakfast burrito. I ask if the eggs are free range: they don’t know (my guess is not judging from the pale yellow yolk). The table we sit at is filthy, cleaned some ten minutes after, mere seconds before the food arrives and some five minutes before the drinks do. It’s not a great start. Maybe they should spend more time looking at the detail in their cafe than plotting the next social media publicity attack.

What follows is a breakfast that the ever polite Claire describes as ‘inexcusably bad’ but I will say is a fucking shambles. I was expecting mediocre; some kind of very average food made popular by very clever marketing. The reality is far worse than that. The Full Irish is a disaster; cheap sausages that taste of very little, the tell-tale sign of cheap bacon injected with too much water as an unappealing white residue. Chunks of black and white pudding have been overcooked so much they crumble to sawdust under the pressure of a fork, whilst cheap horrid beans have been warmed up in a microwave. The poached eggs are pale but at least competent, the same with the hash brown. A spoonful of mushrooms that have the texture of slugs; half of a tomato. We have toast but no butter and still no butter when we ask. Pancakes on the side are stodgy and bring on a diabetic coma. The burrito is just some of the same shit rolled up in a tortilla with the addition of jarred salsa and a snotty ‘avo cream’ – a turn of phrase that can fuck itself almost as hard as the notion of ever coming back here.

We pay, thus distinguishing ourselves far apart from the bloggers, and allowing a full opinion to be broadcast. I never really took their latest attack personally; it wasn’t aimed at blogs like mine, and I could see it for the cheap marketing trick it was. But it does open them up to criticism against their own business. Had we had this experience at a nondescript cafe I would have wrote it off and paid for another elsewhere. But The White Moose? They attract business via a clever marketing campaign and should have been able to back it up. The food is, for a lovely Irish term I heard repeatedly, shite. The service not much better. And when those breakfasts come in at a touch over 25 euros for two it’s pretty unacceptable. Do they care? I doubt it. The idiots paying for breakfasts and brunch here are nothing more than a byproduct for the t-shirt sales, marketing tours and Snapchat income. My guess is that this is real reason bloggers have been barred. They don’t want the world to see just how bad it is.


Maribel, Birmingham

My personal experience of Richard Turner is a mixed bag. Years back I passed him en route to the bathroom of his tiny restaurant in Harborne when he was coming out of the kitchen. “Fantastic pork, Chef” I tell him. He just looks back. No words. Just a blank stare that he must have borrowed from every character Danny Dyer has ever played. Then more recently I see him at a restaurant opening where he is lovely and jovial and kind to me until some idiot tells him I write a food blog. Then nothing. Back to the stare which cuts holes in the back of the head. Others will tell you similar stories, though I can empathise with him; I am dreadful at pretending to be nice. I am bloody lovely to both the people I like, but the rest? Why bother. And although it is unfair to judge a man on the two occasions we meet, it is where the similarities between him and I finish. Ask anyone in the know and they will tell you that Turner is one of the finest cooks to come out of this city; a chef’s chef who prefers to be behind the pass than the television screen. He is a man who understands flavour. I wish someone would say something that nice about me instead of just insulting my grammar on Twitter.

His new home is Maribel, a lavish restaurant in Brindley Place which will surely benefit from it’s space directly underneath a load of bankers. The room is tasteful and considered, with well appointed tables and thick carpet. Many of the team have followed Turner in the transition from Harborne to the city centre, meaning that a month in from opening the service and food already feels like it is operating at the level of his previous restaurant when it held a star. A flurry of nibbles arrive within minutes of us sitting down. There is a deep fried croquette of smoked eel and apple on a horseradish puree, followed by a gougere of aged gruyere. The choux is delicate, the cheese crème rich. It’s as good an example I’ve had; right up there with Ramsay’s three star flagship at Royal Hospital Road. We get an elegant spoon of diced scallop with cucumber and a grating of fresh wasabi, and a final nibble of soft boiled quail’s egg, Berkswell cheese, anchovy, and chicken skin on lettuce that brilliantly riffs on chicken Caesar salad. It achieves something rarely found within classical cooking; originality. It also tastes incredible; rich, salty, and decadent.

The further nine courses veer from very good to outstanding, showcasing a respect for the finest of ingredients in allowing them to take to the plate with as little interference as possible. We have firm heritage tomatoes with goats curd and marjoram doggy-paddling in a labour intensive tomato essence, followed by the slenderest of mackerel fillets that has it’s inherent oiliness cut through by fresh gooseberry and cubes of buttermilk jelly. There is an ease to the cooking here, the simple understanding that two or three elements on a plate can make more sense than one loaded with unnecessary showy technique. A bowl of Jersey Royals and caviar reinforced that for me, the pureed potato loaded with butter and offset by the salinity of the luxurious sturgeon eggs. It is a dream dish, one that sucks you into the table and makes you forget the environment you are in.

It’s not all delicate flavours; occasionally he metaphorically whacks you in the gob, though as a blogger I never rule out the literal, either. A cube of barbequed lamb (from the shoulder, I think) is about as unrefined as this dinner gets, in the best way possible. The flavour of the ovine is pure with just a hint of smokiness. Sharing the plate are slithers of garlic, peas both fresh and pureed, and the most textbook of hollandaise sauces I have ever tried. To extract so much from so few components is nothing short of outstanding. Dover sole sees two fillets glued together with some sort of crustacean paste, and then pan fried until the flesh just begins to tan. It is crowned with teeny shrimps that ramp up the taste of the ocean, and a little puree of parsley that pulls it back towards the shore. A sauce split with parsley oil is stellar stuff, but then all of the sauces are. These take time, skill and a lot of patience.

When I think back to the meal it is three dishes that stand out: the potato and caviar, a dessert I’ll get on to soon, and the guinea fowl that was next up. It had everything I look for in a plate of food; interest, technique and flavour. The breast is delicate with crisp skin, the leg stuffed with a mousseline of langoustine. Morels for earthiness, the vegetal freshness of asparagus, and another killer sauce. I would kill for this dish and then demand it once more on Death Row. I find myself checking that no diners or staff are watching before chasing the last dots of sauce around the plate with my fingertips. A kind of cheese course is next that suffers from following the guinea fowl. It has Lincolnshire poacher mousse at the base, topped with a parsley oil, lardons, and spring onions. On to the dish is spooned pastry that has been cooked, quickly frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed up. On its own the pastry has developed a raw note, though the intentions become clear when combined with the rest; its quiche Loraine and very nice it is, too. My mate who I’m having dinner with thinks it is too rich but then he eats fish in a bag at Mooch Bar, so you can trust me on this one.

Desserts are frankly brilliant. A rice pudding leaves us both speechless; decadent with vanilla it has the very costly Mara de Bois strawberries cooked down to a jam-like puree at the bottom. The meringues and frozen strawberries on top are delicate yet offer just enough texture. I know upon reading this my Dad will insist on me taking him for this and Dad, you’re welcome, I’ll do it without the usual passive aggression. It is followed by the bastard relative of the baba, the savarin, sliced apart and soaked in sherry. We load this with the puree of golden raisins and a healthy dose of cream. It is the Spanish rum baba. Your mind is pure filth, Turner. Filth.

Petit fours are a very interesting cornet of raspberry, rose, and beetroot that ate far more cohesively than it sounds. We leave stuffed and giddy, given up two hours of the evening to a tasting menu that comes in at ninety-quid a head and the wine pairing, that includes some special wines from the Coravin system, adding a bit more on top of top. It’s not cheap, but nor should it be, just look at the ingredients used above. A night at Maribels is one of luxury, of the finest food cooked by a man who knows what he is doing. It is clearly at one star level, something the tyre company will pick up on soon enough. As we’re finishing up on the wine Turner pops out the kitchen to ask how everything was. He is interested in feedback, affable, and dare I say it, happy. Maribel may just be what was needed to reignite the fires of this super talented chef.


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Jailbird, Birmingham

It’s going to be impossible to talk about Jailbird without mentioning it’s previous incarnation, so let’s get that giant lobster out of the room. Nosh and Quaff is dead. All three floors of it, from the top bar to the toilets nicked from the set of Saw in the basement. I was sad when I initially found out about it; I quite enjoyed it’s frivolities and it’s name summed up my ideal Friday night. In its place is Jailbird, a New York style concept that makes much better use of the vast space. Ground floor is now a  glorious looking cocktail bar, upstairs an homage to the Mid Town steak houses. The menu is bigger; more approachable with greater options. The emphasis is on large cuts of animal with prices to match.


It seems a given that it is going to work. It’s a much more appropriate fit to the suits of Colmore Row and there is no need to get messy or wear a bib here. The service is super slick and the food already to a high standard, with my only issue that of portion size; something that I will come back to later. A disclosure at this point; I had an emergency at the dental practice a couple of hours before meaning the food I order is not what I had been eyeing up. It’s okay, I’m taking it as reason to return.


My starter of scallops, bacon and sweetcorn is huge; a pile of coarse sweetcorn puree cut with a little lemon juice and plenty of chilli. The scallops are well timed to a lovely medium without being fleshy, though there is not enough of the salty bacon to reign in the sweetness. It is a dish that shines through its simplicity, the kind that makes me happy. I get to try some of the softshell crab, another generous portion. The crustacean is lightly battered with just enough heat from the cayenne, whilst the salad underneath makes the best of this seasons asparagus.

I wanted steak for dinner, and I am forced to watch my dining companion eat a large flat iron that cuts to a perfect medium rare. It is a serious bit of steak, that much I can tell you. I have black risotto with black garlic. It’s black on black, The Cure of culinary dishes. A dish the colour of my soul. The rice still retains bite, the black garlic adding an umami crash of fig-like sweetness once popped out of their coats. It’s rather good.

No one takes desserts because they are all taking food home. Portions are that big, and I expect in time that the steak sizes will shorten with the price. Sure it’s pricey in parts – mains range between £13.50 and £59.00 – but there is value to be found if you take the flat iron chicken from the bottom of that price range. How do I score it? In all honesty with a little difficulty; as I mention before I ate differently to how I intended, but lets be clear, everything I did eat was very nice. There is a lot to admire about Jailbird, from the gorgeous bar downstairs, good cocktails, a very affordable lunch menu and some very competent cooking. I enjoyed it and look forward to returning soon.


I was invited to dine at Jailbird

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Wing Wednesdays at OPM and Kilder, Digbeth

Hype is a horrible thing which we’re seeing loads of in Birmingham at present. Baos, fried chicken, ramen, Indian street food; you name it and we’ve been subjected to the same cleverly marketed Twitter launch that see’s everyone proclaim it to be the next best thing. I blame The Blaggers, those who punctuate with examination marks and think that by quote retweeting ‘can’t wait to try this’ will see them first in line when the PR soup kitchen starts handing out free meals. And for what? In almost every instance these launches have disappointed, with businesses forgetting that they should really be focusing on getting the product right before the branding. The very hype is misleading others into thinking that it is good without even trying it. It is this very reason that I tend to keep that giant gob of mine closed until the food has entered it.

I was having one of those ‘just look what we’ve created’ moments recently in an not-be-named location that absolutely sells more than just fried chicken and is not named after a previous member of Oasis. I was chowing down on some very average wings when out of the corner of my eye saw the rarely spotted Patty Man doing the same. We exchange a brief chat over the chicken wings. “They’re alright”, I say. “Come try ours” he grunts (the Patty Man communicate only by grunt). I admire his confidence and take this as a challenge.

Cutting to the chase, those wings are some of the best I have ever eaten, shitting all over the place with the over-hyped chicken. We order one set of each, including the special. Each one has high quality bird with delicate meat and crisp skin, the latter being a very important detail that seems to allude many a chicken wing.  I like the honey wings and waffle special least because it appeals less to my savoury tastes, but the rest, whoa, I’m in love. There are wings in barbeque sauce, and another in a tangy white sauce with notes of vinegar, mustard and horseradish. Like the time I simultaneously dated two girls called Helena, I can’t mentally separate the following two. Both the Korean gochujang wings and the buffalo are knockout brilliant. The former has its fingers on the pulse with the most 2018 of wings, the latter a proper take on a classic. Both have the same thing in common; a pitch-perfect balance of heat and acidity. With these we have chips with garlic, parmesan, and parsley. They are not needed but quickly disappear.

It was around the time of this visit that they also opened Kilder in the unit next door. A completely different offering to the burgers (and weekly wings) at OPM, Kilder has a wider drinks menu and a menu that looks to the tried and tested traditional British values of stuff that works with beer. The room is more complete than next door, the seating more suited to longer stints than the nature of burger joints. In the corner is a fridge with the cheeses and cured meats that make up the majority of the menu. They have Queens of Stone Age playing loudly over the speakers. I like it here.

The food is superb. Really superb. It owes a lot to the careful sourcing of the ingredients and the rest to the virtues of keeping it simple. Of the stuff on bread I thought it would be ‘nduja and honey on sourdough that would steal my heart, but it is the cheese and ham toastie which does it, the cheese blend an ideal combination of more perky hard varieties and the oozy gentle ones. That’s not to say the other isn’t good; the ‘nduja in particular has the tang of offal lurking underneath the abrasive chilli notes. I want to know who they get it from so I can keep it in my fridge. And then there is the pork pie, which, if I ever did Birmingham’s best dishes for under a fiver, would be right at the top of. The warm water pastry crumbles between finger and thumb, with a pleasing amount of bone jelly. The pork mixture is heavy on the black pepper. It is an absolute joy. I initially thought that the ratio was out on the sausage roll, but I quickly realised that any less meat and we’re stepping into Greggs territory. It is a monster that we dispatch half of, before finishing up later on at home. Even the olives are brilliant.

I think that Kilder will be a slow burner and that sits fine with me. Be it for whatever reason, but people tend to be less excited by minced meat between pastry than they are between buns. I’m cool with this; I’ll gladly take it upon myself to keep the business going whilst the masses slowly hear about it. The bill for both occasions was around £40, though it goes without saying that is possible to spend a lot less and still leave full. Both Wing Wednesdays and Kilder are worthy of your time; put down the burger for two evenings and give them both a go. There is no hype here, merely perfectly executed food. Just how it should be.

Wing Wednesdays at OPM 9/10

Kilder 9/10

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Opheem, Birmingham

Such was the brilliance of Opheem that we found ourselves arguing about the best bits for hours after our meal. Was it the deboned, rolled and stuffed trotter on the pork main course? Or the subtle use of jaggery to add a treacle flavour on the lamb dish? Maybe it was the acidity of the raw mango with the softshell crab? I always think that it says a lot about a place if you remember the garnish as much as the protein, and here we are, two blokes sat in a boozer discussing the finer merits of what my mate Jim thinks it is the best meal he’s eaten in Birmingham and me adamant is the finest Indian food I’ve ever had. We go over the small elements over and over, where on the plate every ingredient matters. It is a meal of outstanding taste, that much we can both agree on.


This will come as less of a shock when you learn that Opheem is the new restaurant of Aktar Islam, long servant to the city from his time at Lasan where he won The F Word’s best local restaurant, and TV chef from Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. Aktar has gone it alone now, with a large dining room and bar where a notorious nightclub once stood. The space has an industrial feel with lots of brushed concrete effects, whilst tables are spaced far enough apart to upset an accountant. A glass partition separates the dining room from the open kitchen. Aktar is present at the pass, tasting and casting his eye over every dish. There is fire in those eyes.

I’ve been eating his food for years now, and this feels like him cooking without fear or constraint. The flavours are familiar, though there is a lighter touch to the spice in general, and more purpose in the complex techniques. Of the three snacks that launch our dinner the clearest example of this is the use of sphererification, the gel membrane releasing a spicy tamarind water when popped whole in the mouth. It is pani puri reimagined via molecular gastronomy that has more in common with Indian Accent and Gaggan than the Ladypool Rd. And then there is a tempura oyster with spiced batter and puree that tastes cleanly of tomato chutney. Only a onion bhaji style fritter is instantly recognisable and even then it’s greaseless and a world away from the norm.


There are nods to his previous accolades on the menu and from this we take the soft shell crab dish that pays homage to his winning fish course on Great British Menu. The batter on the crustacean is delicate, the crab itself tender. A silky puree of raw mango has all the acidity and sweetness it needs, whilst the fermented rice batter bowl it comes in at first feels superfluous until you realise it adds a nuttiness and additional texture that enhances the dish. Everything has a purpose.


Chicken comes smothered in a moss green mass of herbs, the marinade breaking down the protein in the meat so that it is implausibly tender. A simple salad of heritage tomatoes is all it requires, along with a little more of the same diced fruit and a yogurt dressing. It is fresh and clean in taste, with a predominant flavour of herb over spice. There is an intermittent course of sweet potato and cumin bread with a lamb brain pate; a nod to him smearing his mothers cooking on to crusty white bread as a youngster. The delicate jewels of offal still pronounced in amongst the robust spices. His mother clearly taught him well.



Mains show the concept of Opheem in full force; one that takes the traditions of India and recreates them. Traditionally a spicy mutton curry, Laal Maans is reimagined with slices of pink lamb loin and crisp beignets of tongue joining pearls of smokey aubergine and barley. The gravy style sauce pulls it back towards its roots though there is obvious alchemy involved with the liberal use of chilli and silky bone marrow. Pork is given a similar treatment with pink cuts of loin, a pastilla of smoked ham hock, and the rolled trotter that I am still dreaming of. There is so much to get excited about on the plate, like the carrots cooked with star anise and another killer sauce, but the genius element is the puree of vindaloo that is ferociously hot with chilli and soured with vinegar, just how you’d find it in the beach shacks of Goa. It is this that is the highlight of the meal. It takes everything it touches and throws it into the clouds.




Dessert is a fragrant rice pudding panacotta served with various preparations of rhubarb, which include more molecular dots of jammy fruit and a sorbet of astonishing depth of flavour. Indian desserts are often the weak link, yet here he is proving that a little classic European cooking technique can go a long way at rectifying that. It is a smart move and one that guarantees I go home happy. It is is well balanced and pretty impeccable in delivery; Oh boy, does this man do flavour.


And that concludes a truly superb meal. One that isn’t just a coup for the city of Birmingham, but is important to Indian cooking in this country. I’ve seen what the best in this cuisine has to offer and in my eyes Opheem already stands up to them, even surpassing them in places. Aktar Islam has been long touted as a standout talent, yet Opheem feels bolder than ever before; the product of a man cooking without shackle and allowing that creative stream to run riot. It is fresh yet relatable, distinctive cooking from a man clearly in tune with his craft. We are lucky to have Opheem in this city, but we must share far and wide. Food as good as this deserves celebrating.


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