I did a list post recently on the best places to eat in Birmingham. It went down better than I expected with only 4 angry text messages over the categories. In that wonderful piece which you absolute should read, I said that BOP kebabs were the best kebabs in Brum, which was interesting given that BOP themselves said Marmaris (my second choice) was the place they thought should have won. My mate had other ideas. We’re going to Coventry Road he said. We’re going to eat Syrian kebabs he said. You can’t be Syrious I said. I’m syrious, he said*.
Bader makes Marmaris look like The Ivy, and the backyard of The Old Crown, where I get my BOPS, look like The Ritz. We sit in the plastic extension off the front, the tables adorned with ashtrays, sat wonky off angle like they had been thrown out in the morning and plonked upright wherever they landed. Inside is dimly lit with a counter of meats cooked to order, with skewers of compressed kebab slowly rendering down in the background, pirouetting like meaty ballerinas.
We start with flatbreads fresh off the grill that mould into the hand and demand filling. On these we scoop the spicy red pepper paste of muhammara which feels like a naughty romesco, and a baba ghanoush smokey and heavy on lemon juice. There is hummus Beiruty that takes the standard stuff and gives it a makeover with chilli and parsley. There is texture from whole chickpeas and a puddle of high quality olive oil in the well in the centre. There’s skill in abundance. The dips blow all others out of the water in Birmingham. I’m being syrious.
We’re here for the kebabs and honestly, they don’t live up to the dishes we’ve just eaten, though not by much. Best is the lamb sheesh; mincemeat punctured with lots of pepper and cumin, grilled over flames so that the waft of cooked animal spills down the street. There’s cubes of chicken breast that have taken on the smokiness like the best barbecue, and cubes of lamb cooked way too long which simply aren’t worth the chew. The rice is good, as are the pickles. The harissa on the side is exceptional.
I don’t see the bill but my mate assures me it’s under £20 a head, which seems about right for what is far too much food. There is something unique about this part of the Coventry Road; it’s like nowhere else in Birmingham. It’s Ladypool Road without the Blackpool illuminations, where immigrants from all over the world settle with a common ground of religion. It’s here the Somali cafes rub shoulders with Afghans and Syrian grills, each a little piece of home away from war. One of the oldest is Bader, and whilst it’s not my favourite, I’m so glad I got to experience one of the originals, taking in a little piece of Birmingham so different to the one I live in. I love the diversity of this city.
*syrious joke pilfered from Joe Lycett