For me, one of the biggest plus points of last year was the success of the Tabor House project. Every Wednesday evening, at 6pm sharp for twenty weeks, we fed the 15 guests of a shelter in Digbeth some of the best food from Birmingham and further afar. We had pizza, curry, burgers, chillis and so much more, not only allowing the budget of the shelter to be spent elsewhere, but also providing an aspirational quality of food to the residents they wouldn’t usually have been accustomed to. At the point of the pandemic closing down the shelter we had pledges of enough Wednesday meals to take us through to September. As Marcus Rashford has proved, hospitality is often the lifeboat that comes to the rescue of the government’s sinking ship.
One of those people who had pledged food was Gary at Hennessey’s. It turns out that charity is his thing. I asked him for a one-off of 15 meals and he offered it every week, on top of the 100 meals he already provides weekly to another Digbeth food bank. When Eat Out To Help Out launched, Hennessey’s became the first in Birmingham to extend it into September, then October, and now I hear likely November but please don’t quote me on that.
My mate Tom took me for lunch there. I’ve since been back twice to eat. An old school pub in Digbeth which specialises in affordable dining is an unlikely spot for me, but I like it. They make pizza dough and burger patties fresh every day, the chicken and eggs are free range, and the couple of items they don’t bring in – such as the cod goujons – are the best quality they can afford. Let’s not pretend this is destination dining, but more a place that’s not going to cut corners in feeding you well, at a price you can afford, and crucially at this point in time, outside in a heated covered area with friends.
I’d suggest that you start with the breakfast burger, be it whatever time of the day. The sausage patty, bacon, cheese, fried egg, and hash brown combo has been done before in a bun, but this is a solid rendition and pretty much perfect hangover food at a tenner. Then I’d move on the shredded bits of chicken in panko breadcrumbs and plunge them deep into the bbq sauce. On the first lunch I wasn’t over enamoured by the beef chilli on the loaded fries, and told the chef in passing that I thought the blunt metallic note might have been from putting tomato purée in with the chopped tomatoes and not cooking it out first. A week later and the problem is sorted without a chef bludgeoning me to death for giving an opinion. It’s now a very nice and substantial chilli on chips for £7.
Tom insists we try the mash’n’gravy bites because he thinks they’re hilarious in notion. The reality is far less challenging; they are basically croquettes with gravy to dunk into. Slightly messy and very satisfying; a bit like my lovemaking. And halloumi fries, softened and still holding their shape, go down inoffensively whilst watching the IPL from the giant outdoor screen.
Three of the small plates come in at £13, meaning that this Wednesday lunch under the EOTHO scheme comes in at under £20 for the food, but quite a bit more if you are aware of Tom’s drinking prowess. On a further visit I ask Gary how he makes money on this scheme, “we don’t really”, he tells me, “it’s just nice to give something back”. Truth is I’m drawn to people who want to do good for others, who see the importance of community and charity; but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go easy on them. If Hennessey’s wasn’t good I wouldn’t write about it. It just so happens that they do honest food with good ingredients at a price point that is way too cheap.
I should probably use this moment to thank A2B who delivered a massive amount of food to the shelter for free.