American

Holy Moly Macaroni, Birmingham

In opening their inaugural branch in Grand Central, Holy Moly Macaroni have really laid out their plans. There is to be no settling in period; no slow burn of customers led by word-of-mouth to a discreet sign on a backstreet. They have positioned themselves in one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares; the gateway to our central train station, in amongst the chains that dominate the food court. They want to be seen, with the open façade a crash of neon that has attracted a waiting crowd like flies to a light. In that respect the gamble of high rents has already paid off. Where else would have them queuing out the door a little over a week since opening?

Now we can praise the audacity of a new independent and leave it there, or we can face facts about the quality of the food they are serving. I won’t be rushing back to join that queue anytime soon. It was fine, in exactly the same way that you say ‘fine’ when the waiter asks and it really isn’t. The issue is a pretty big one; for a restaurant that has built a menu around macaroni cheese, the main event is a let-down. Overcooked pasta, coated in a grainy sauce that tastes as much of uncooked flour as it does of the alleged four cheese blend that appears to have three of them missing in action. We choose a ‘Cluckin’ Hot’, yours for £10.50 with the addition of two sorry pieces of cheese topped garlic bread. The macaroni is beaten into submission by pieces of Cajun chicken, Sriracha sauce and jalapeños. We finish it all without really enjoying it. It is that kind of meal.

A dish without pasta fares marginally better. Chicken and waffles is fairly satisfying stuff; okay, the quality of the chicken isn’t the greatest, but the waffle is light in texture and it’s not been drowned in maple syrup. Apologies for the lack of action in this post; any excitement about the prospect of writing it died during the eating. We wash them down with a couple of cans of Brooklyn lager and leave, £30 lighter than when we started.

It was a meal that did nothing but make me miss the mac and cheese from Pure Bar, where it is cheesier and richer and cheaper. I wanted to love it, to embrace the ambition of taking on the big boys in their own yard, but I can’t. It’s simply not good enough at present. Sure, I expect that the bright lights will continue to bring the queues, but I’ll be elsewhere enjoying an assured meal, waiting for them to improve.

5/10

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MEATmarket, London

I read a lot of other blogs and a lot of lists. I’m fun like that. Almost always food, always a mixture of the good and the bad; there are those I look up to and those I read to make myself feel better. It’s important to keep your eyes on both the sky and the dirt. One of the things I read a lot about is burgers. Outside of Brum I know about as much about them as I do monogamy and modesty, but my girlfriend loves them so it’s in my interest to keep her happy. I’d have never had found out about Bleecker without reading other blog posts, and those same posts always list MEATliquor (and it’s offshoots for which Covent Gardens MEATmarket is one) as one of the true originals to the burger scene in this country.

So I’m not quite sure what has happened. Maybe the very businesses that they have inspired have surpassed them in quality and delivery. Maybe there offering isn’t as good as it used to be. Maybe it was actually never that good. I don’t know, I can only base it what we had, and what we had was okay. The burger that I see on most lists is the Dead Hippie, a double patty of just pink beef in slender proportions with their famous Dead Hippie sauce that is seemingly a mustard mayo given a kick up the arse with chopped pickles and Worcestershire sauce. It’s messy and difficult to hold (these are plus points, honestly), with a bun that gets too soggy too quickly. The beef is good, but not up there with the best; it’s a little chewy in parts and we chow down on bits that possibly shouldn’t have made the cut. The sauce adds a nice acidity and the diced onions are welcome. It’s a good burger, I’ve just had much better.

The double bacon cheeseburger baffles me for crimes against bacon. We’re back on that double patty and bun though this time with additional thin layers of something dark brown that tastes vaguely of pig. It’s bacon, minced and reformed again, because, y’know, sometimes a rasher just isn’t good enough. They’ve destroyed the essence of what it should be, the fat content and the crisp shard of pure pork flavour, turning it into a just another layer of something brown and grainy that detracts away from a pretty good burger. We switch our attention to battered fillets of chicken breast that give the impression the oil was not hot enough. The batter is flaccid in good places, soggy in others from a coating of buffalo sauce. It makes a bit more sense when dipped into the blue cheese dip.

There is a revelation in the form of a Hot Mess, cylinders of crisp potato that ooze a pungent blue cheese and jalapeno sauce, and less of one with green chilli fries that blast heat with every mouthful. It’s a credit to MEATliquor that the sides are genuinely interesting and I’ve seen very similar options pop up elsewhere, including Birmingham, in a blatant bit of plagiarism.

The bill for all of the above and a couple of soft drinks came in at a few pence under forty quid, which would have been value had we enjoyed lunch. The truth is we both walked away full but underwhelmed, struggling to see what all the fuss is about. I can think of three burgers I’d rather eat in Birmingham and at least another three in London. The burgers at MEATmarket may be of legend, but the competition has not only caught up, but surpassed them.

6/10

Nosh & Quaff, Birmingham

Way before I started eating and writing about the nicer places around Birmingham, I used to read about them and not eat at them. I would buy the Birmingham (then Evening) Mail on a Friday only, moving just past halfway to Paul Fulford’s weekly piece. There you would have found a small picture of his small and shiny head in the upper left and two hundred words or so of Paul’s concise writing below. His occasionally acerbic, always honest writing style was an early favourite of mine, more so on the occasions he slipped in a subtle knob innuendo. He’s my neighbour now, which I still find bizarre, and occasionally I get to spend time over dinner with him, taking in his stories and counting the wrinkles on his face.  A couple of nights back I met him at 7pm sharp at Nosh & Quaff where in the deep red leather booths you would have found the unlikely combination of a Birmingham food legend and Paul Fulford, the ex restaurant critic for the Birmingham Mail.

There is a valid reason for us being here.  Back when I first wrote about Nosh & Quaff the menu was even shorter than Paul; lobster, burgers, some ribs.  I liked it, others less so, finding the options too limiting and the pricing aggressive.  Two years and a little introspection later, we have a full page of options and a considerable decrease in the pricing.  I think it needs it.  Downstairs is still a beautiful space of marble and deep red leather with ceilings high enough to fit my ego without the need to crouch, it just now has the kind of pricing and options to fill it more frequently.  There is a large industrial room  of bare brick and wood upstairs that they should turn into the city centre location of Fiesta Del Asado, a stablemate of the same group.


The hotdog is one of those items that has fallen in price.  Impeccably sourced from the Big Apple Hotdog company it is now half the price of the fifteen quid it used to be, with only fries losing their tray gig.  It showcases what N&Q is all about; quality produce, generous portions, and an underlying guilt that you probably will need to run your dinner off the following morning. It is worth the run. The dog snaps, the bun is sturdy enough to hold everything else in place. Order this and ask for a bib to come with it.  


From the newer items are rib tips that really transpire to be precise cubes of unctuous pork, slowly cooked and glazed in a funky BBQ sauce.  This is a lot of pig for £4.50.  Chick Norris may be a dreadful name for a burger but is a hefty bit of dinner.  Two hulks of free range thigh meat in one of those thick American buttermilk batters with bacon and processed cheese. Heat lurks in the background with enough tang in the ‘slaw to cut through the richness of it all. As far as the composition of a burger goes this has it all.



American portions mean only real Americans will have room for desserts.  For the rest of us it’s a small dent in the wallet and a lie down.  I still really like Nosh & Quaff, they’re not pushing boundaries but they are taking a familiar cuisine and applying quality ingredients with precise cooking.  It’s managed to improve what it previously was, now with a menu with enough scope to warrant repeat visits.  And all in the company of a man who definitely makes the list of my top 172 food writers.  Life really doesn’t get much better. 

Mr Fulford picked up the bill, I got the Uber home.  I guess that makes us quits.    

The Highline, Resorts World

Resorts World is a strange beast in the best possible sense. Part gambling mecca, part retail outlet centre, part leisure development, its location within the grounds of Genting Arena serves predominantly the throngs of people otherwise visiting the nearby exhibition halls. Initially I was sceptical; where was their core business, other than the constantly shifting demographics of those staying short term in a nearby hotel? I failed to see how they could constantly draw on more local support, when even the most local of those is a good taxi journey away. But what do I know. It transpires that their master plan is simple: To take the development and make certain parts of it more exclusive than what we already have anywhere else in the city. To offer the glitz of a five star hotel in bar and restaurant form with a suitable price tag. People are suckers for the glamorous and the expensive, few more than my fickle self.

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All of which brings me to The Highline, a chintzy new bar restaurant within the confides of the development. It’s a pretty art deco styled space, with deep turquoise booths and monochrome fittings that ooze Great Gatsby style 1920’s chic, a sentiment echoed by smartly turned out staff who look to have been employed as much on their aesthetics as their congeniality.  The menu looks to New York for inspiration, with a strong Italian accent that you may find in the lower west side.  We start with corndogs like those I had in New York less than six months ago.  These are infinitely superior, the finely minced sausage inside a batter far lighter than it looks.  From there we take arancini balls that have a deep savoury flavour from plenty of porcini mushroom and properly jointed chicken wings which crack from their crisp batter.  The ingredients are high quality and everything avoids the greasiness that too often plagues deep fried food.

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Meatballs are gutsy things of beef and spiced pork, sat in a thick puddle of tomato sauce that punches with plenty of garlic.  The bread which I would have piled these on to needs work, though it matters little as I dredge excellent fries through the last of the sauce.  Sliders are too big to rightly be labelled as such – instead consider them as three sandwiches for £14.00, which would easily feed two.  The Rueben is not quite there yet, whereas the beef burger very much is with a big whack of cow flavour offset by pickles with nice acidity.  There is another with more of the meatballs which disappears quickly.

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Too full for dessert we order two desserts, purely in the name of research, of course.  A pop tart is everything that McDonalds wishes its apple pie could have been, with flaky pastry and a filling of apple and cinnamon which leaves you wanting more, without the first degree burns.  Best is a chocolate bomb, delicate in texture and big on flavour.  My advice is simple; come here for cocktails, order the meatballs and follow it up with this bomb for dessert.  Thank me afterwards.

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Afterwards we go for a drink in The Sky Bar and very good they were, too.  From our perched seats we could see a couple eating at the chefs table that looked a far more serious intention from what we ate.   The taster menu they do is reason enough for a return, as would be Bottega, the prosecco bar with hunks of cured Italian meats.  Resorts World already has its doubters, though we were impressed.  It wears its ambition proudly on its sleeve.  And that is perfectly fine with me.

8/10

We were invited to eat at The Highline.  Opinions remain my own

The Highline Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

Rub Smokehouse and Bar, Birmingham

If anything had put me off going to Rub’s, it was the word ‘Smokehouse’ in their title. 2015 saw the art of smoking food have it’s arse ripped out of it by the mainstream, who seem to think that anyone with a lump of meat, a bit of wood and a couple of hours to kill, can produce the sort of grub that southern Americans have been living on forever. If only it was that simple; smoking meat is an art-form, yet what we now have is nondescript mushes of meat sandwiched between buns in chain pubs all over the country. Or ASDA with their take on pulled pork. Even KFC are doing pulled chicken. Seriously, I shit you not. Pass me the gun. Its time that I pulled the trigger.

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So for that alone I am glad that I went to Rub’s. It’s restored my faith in a cooking process that brings character to cheaper cuts of meat, with a little love and a lot of patience. There is an obsession here to do it the right way and not to cut corners. And I admire that. A lot.

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The menu is split between those meats in their unadulterated smoked states,  some with seriously hot sauce, or in mammoth, challenge sized, portions. We take a taster platter which veers from good to obscenely good. Pulled pork is still identifiable as pig, with texture to the meat and a nice gentle smokiness which doesn’t detour from the flavour. They are better than the ribs from the same animal, though the ribs are very good indeed. Beef brisket are fat slices of cow that has given its life for a worthy cause, the meat tender, yet still with the right amount of yield. For those who believe that this cut of meat should be eaten with a spoon, go elsewhere and have an amateur overcook your meat to nothingness. If you want to taste how it should be done, come and get your fill here.

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Best is the chicken with the pink tinge to the flesh that you get from it being cooked low and slow. That colour should not put you off – this is a chicken that tastes of a bird reared outside, with a rub that has gently penetrated the meat after a night in a smoker. Hand on heart, this maybe Birmingham’s best roast chicken. We have meaty burger sliders, deep fried hotdogs and properly jointed chicken wings. Its a serious amount of meat and only the beef hotdogs remain, as the batter is too heavy. Sides veer from decadent wedges of brioche draped in melted cheese, to mac’n’cheese which is not as good as the one I make at home.  That’s hardly a slur – I am yet to eat a better mac that is better than my own version.  I think there was crisp chips, though I was too face deep in meat to notice.  I ask to try some of the hot sauce which makes up the ‘insanity’ meals.  Its called Pyscho Juice and takes hot to a new level that I find uncomfortable in a macho way.

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Too full, we take our desserts home, along with a box of leftover meat that will be the following days lunch.  The desserts are a meal in themselves; a cream egg bound in brownie and chocolate and coated in digestive biscuit crumbs, and a caramel egg given the same treatment with pretzel coating.  They are chocolate crack, designed by someone with a mind of pure filth.  We love them but cant choose between them – asking to do so is like picking your favourite twin.  We want more, if only to make my GP shit himself at the thought.

Prior to this we got chatting to very affable chap who transpired to be one of the co-owners of Rub’s and was happy to show us around the kitchen.  Unsurprisingly, he had just returned from a trip over the Atlantic to the Deep South, for research and to further develop the food here.  Perhaps that the key to it all; that attention to detail is coming from really first-hand experience of how it is done properly, not swiped from All Bar One’s new pulled pork burger.  Its a winning route, with an end result a million miles away from what we have come to expect as acceptable due to market saturation.  It would have been easy for them to take shortcuts, instead they chosen to put their time into it.  Literally.

8/10

Rub Smokehouse and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato