Birmingham

Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant, Birmingham

Convicted burglar Gino D’Acampo has opened a restaurant in Birmingham. He is so keen on you knowing this that he has not only stuck his name above the door, but also emphasised that it is his restaurant, just on the off-chance you think his name might be used to endorse another restaurant that he also won’t be cooking in. The ego doesn’t stop there; inside is a shrine to D’Acampo, with pictures of him posing with various celebs gracing the decor that is presumably based on his favourite airport departure lounge, right down to the padded stools at the bar knocking out the most acerbic of Prosecco. Just in case you need reminding of his credentials outside of chewing on a kangaroo bollock live on TV, the menu is there to remind you at all times. Dishes are gathered from Gino’s TV shows and cook books, and those cook books are of course available to purchase in the restaurant. Everything has it’s own soundbite description from Gino just on the off-chance that you forget you are in his restaurant, eating food cooked by a chef who has probably never met him. It’s like they decided that the primary reason to visit is to experience the pastiche life of the chef, rather than to actually eat food. A notion they have successfully carried over onto the plate.

The food itself goes from good, to lacklustre, to downright awful. To their credit, the front-of-house remove the plates that haven’t been eaten from the bill without being asked, which softens the experience just enough for me to say that if you were ever in the area and Oyster Club, The Ivy, Fumo, San Carlo, Adams, Pint Shop, Pure Craft, Pieminister, Gusto, Rudy’s, Indian Streatery, Chung Ying Central, and Hotel du Vin were all shut I could probably recommend a dish to eat here. That dish is the bruschetta, the first and best thing I ate all afternoon. The tomatoes are carefully dressed with a lick of vinegar, I think a touch of sugar, and lots of salt. It’s simple and effective. I just wish I could say the same about the rest.

The recipe for the paté can be found on page 18 of ‘A Taste of The Sun’ which I implore you never disgrace your kitchen shelves with. It should never have left the kitchen. Freezer cold, the butter on top had to be cracked apart with a knife. The paté underneath grey and granular from overcooked livers, whilst the promised addition of masala is replaced with a backnote of iodine. When asked what he thought of the dish my dining companion noted to staff that ‘the ratio of bread to paté was good’, which is more barbaric than anything I have to say.

From main courses we get seabass that is a little overcooked, but at least servicable, with lentils that are undercooked and tragically underseasoned. A bowl of cavolo nero and tuscan cabbage might look like the remains of a heavy night on the booze but at least has decent flavour. The last dish is pasta and ragu – the acid test for any Italian restaurant worth its salt, and this was once again lacking salt. The pasta is fettucine; the thicker, more clumbersome Roman sibling of the tagliatelle, which was passable despite not being my personal choice to sit with the watery ragu that has the blunt metallic notes of concentrated tomato that hasn’t been cooked out long enough. It’s twelve pounds of misery, enough to make the staunchest of remainers vote to leave the EU. This isn’t Italian food. The accent is faked, the gesticulations purely for show. I’ll leave you to work out where I’m heading with this.

We have the sense not to order dessert, though if you do you could be treated to tiramisu, or rum baba, or chocolate torte; all lovingly made by Gino on TV and then recreated by his kitchen using the recipes from his cookbooks. As previously mentioned our bill wasn’t much because the excellent front-of-house removed the bad bits, but does that make it acceptable? Absolutely not. We ordered four dishes, two of which were sent back. I ate that very afternoon to put some food in my stomach. With its city centre location and celebrity association no doubt punters will flock here to see what it’s about. To make them come back is a entirely different scenerio and they are going to have to be much better. Fantastico it is not.

4/10

Wanna know what is fantastico? A2B Radio Cars

Laghi’s Deli, 2019

At 5.45pm on a cold Wednesday evening, Laghi’s Deli is rammed. There are people in the bar area discussing work over large glass domes filled with red wine, whilst the restaurant area is packed with those elbows deep in plates of pasta. It’s great to see: some two years after I first stepped foot into here it appears that Laghi’s has reached it’s full potential, one where it has correctly cemented itself as the true authentic Italian in Birmingham. Sure there are others that rely on the same identikit menu with the same tricks and over reliance on a giant pepper grinder, but for real Italian food, for it’s silky pasta, it’s heart, it’s familiarity, you come to Laghi’s.

I’ve been coming fairly solidly since I first wrote about it. The food has got stronger and stronger, with the kitchen cooking more regional dishes from Bologna over what we are told that British will enjoy. This is not the place for spaghetti with your bolognese, nor cream with your carbonara, though if you are the kind of person who expects the above perhaps you’re reading the wrong Birmingham restaurant blog.

On a visit we take full advantage of a recent delivery of truffles from Tuscany. We have little crostinis topped with scrambled egg and black truffle, and taglioni with a lightly smoked cheese sauce and white truffles; a dish that seems very popular in the room, perhaps due to it’s perfume, or the extremely fair price of £30 to try the most prized of ingredients. There are sticks of fried pasta dough to dip into an arrabbiata sauce the right side of fiery, and deep fried bits of cardoon and artichoke, the quality of which are really quite something. I’m told that Luca personally picks the veg via skype from a buyer in Milan’s vegetable market. The mass consumerism of Bella Italia this is not.

The real stand-out moments here are with the pasta. A dish with porcini and coarse sausage meat is dressed in a sauce that contains a touch of cream that bites with lots of black pepper. The rolled pasta has integrity amongst such great company, being the texture it needs to bring every together en masse. Even better is the white crab meat wrapped in a ravioli of jet black squid ink, with onion jam, and a scamorza sauce that threatened to over but actually just gently lifted everything. This is a killer dish; the work of a chef not afraid to play the bold and delicate together, showing a skilled touch at balancing flavours. It might just be my favourite dish on the menu.

I returned again last week for a Sicilian wine dinner, where the kitchen showed they are far more than capable of turning their hand to an entirely different style of cooking. The food was mostly reminiscent of what we ate a couple of months back, with lightly fried panelle, oily fleshed sardines with plump sultanas and pine nuts, and ricotta frittas that leak soft cheese with every mouthful. When it is good – like the perkily dressed octupus salad, or the mussels gratin – it is very, very good indeed. We finish on cannoli better than any we personally ate in Sicily, including those from the reveered Pasticceria Maria Grammitico in Erice. The wine too was superb. But then it was handpicked from the Tenuta estate so it would be.

Now the disclosure bit. I’ve gotten to know Luca since he opened the restaurant and consider him a friend. We’ve been for lunch together and shared a glass of wine on numerous occasions. I say this because I have no need to hide it; we’re friends because because we share a mutual passion and when I eat at his restaurant my card always leaves my wallet. And the reason why I eat at Laghi’s as much as anywhere else in the city is not because he owns it, but because it is the first place I think of when I think of the rustic and bold cooking of Northern Italy.

Take an A2B and treat yo’self

Diwan, Moseley

The choice of where to go for a Balti was once so easy. It used to be the answer to ‘where is the best place to eat a balti?’ and then that’s where we’d go. Now it has other factors to include. Have I written about it before? Do people want to read about it? What’s my angle? All these things that you couldn’t care less for and that keep me awake at night, sweating like I’ve just double-dropped in Miss Moneypenny’s circa 2001. We considered Kabbabish as it’s consistent, a couple on Ladypool Rd, and the one my Mom and Dad went to every week which I kind of like keeping to myself. In the end we opt for Diwan, because the people on the Everything Moseley Facebook page seem to like it and because David Cameron once ate there. It was literally for those reasons. Want my angle? I’ve got two: one is phallic-shaped and the other has a snout.

Because that is how pathetic I’ve become. Give me a cheap shot and I’ll neck it and then order another tray. By the time we pull up outside I have an idea for a piece laden with innuendo and profanity; one that would write itself regardless of what the cooking is like. Except it doesn’t work out that way. I ended up having far too much respect for them to do that. The decor might be on the tired side but they are proud to be here; the service is quiet and efficient, the team more in sync than far flashier kitchens in Birmingham. I request lime pickle for the poppadoms that arrive in less than a minute, the same with drinks, whilst our table is cleaned and reset in the time it takes Claire to go to the ladies and back. They are polite and quiet. We are paying guests in their little world and for that I’ll lay off the cheap tricks for once.

During our meal someone I haven’t seen in ages comes over to the table. “Bloody lovely, isn’t it? We come here at least at week”. Whilst I doubt I’ll ever make it weekly, I can see what she means. The casing for the samosa might be too thick but the inside is accurately spiced, whilst under the canopy of salad is an addictive chicken chaat with rich notes of fenugreek and curry leaf. The three curries we try (well one and two further half-portions) are a little too similar in make-up, though that make-up has a good foundation and is evenly applied. The meat is nicely cooked. It’s a bloody good Balti, better than the vast majority in the neighbouring Balti belt. The rice is good and the garlic naan is more than competent. I’d come back. The bill is under £40 including a couple of soft drinks apiece. It appears that our ex Prime Minister was capable of making at least one decent decision during goverment.

7/10

Taxis are a far easier choice than Balti’s. Take A2B

40 St Paul’s, Jewellery Quarter

If 40 St Paul’s were a restaurant they’d have three Michelin Stars. A bold statement, but one I’d be willing to back up. Those awards dont lie: the regional ones; the one for the best gin list; the best gin bar in the UK last year; and the one earlier this year which crowned them the best gin bar in the world. They don’t mess around here. There are a million places to go in the world for gin, but if you want the very best, the numero uno, the big dawg, it’s here in St Paul’s Square behind a black door with no signage.

The comparison with Michelin ends here. Once those restaurants reach the top it’s a case of preservation, of staying at the top by changing as little as possible, by keeping that machine as oiled as possible, having the same car MOT’d every year. 40’s, as it will hereafter be referred to, could have stuck to rattling off the same gin list for years, but that would be too easy. Aman, the man behind the bar, went missing for seven months to reevaulate and get introspective. A little bit like The Revenant, only with less bears and a lot more gin.

They’ve scrapped the one that came with the 3D glasses and moved to a sleek black offering that goes deeper into the gin profiles. The menu is broken up into sections, including avante garde amongst the more traditional offerings. Within these sections are pages for each of the individual gins that contain a description of both the gin and the distillery, whilst the tasting notes below are shown on both a visual key and a list of key botanicals and pairing suggestions. Like it and want to buy it? Just scan the QR code at the bottom and it’ll take you straight to a supplier of that particular gin. There is something in here for everyone, from the most ardent of gin enthusiasts to those just looking for a nice drink. Like clay and beetroot as your botanicals? They have you covered.

In the name of research we try much of the new 140 strong list. It’s all killer and zero filler. Makar cherry gin was, I am reliably told, an award winner just like me. I can see why: fruity but still juniper forward, I’ve since ordered a bottle for my home collection. There is a Calvados gin which might well be my new drug of choice, and the impeccable Hibernation from Dyfi Disterilly. There are floral ones and savoury ones. There are cocktails that still knock the spots off most, including the Champion Cobbler that comes served in a trophy with a side of applause. The two hours sat at the counter pass in a blur thanks to some of Birmingham’s warmest hospitality. I didn’t think it was possible, but with the new menu the best gin bar in the world just got even better. Nowhere else comes remotely close.

Loki Wine with Wriggle

AD. This is a paid partnership with Wriggle

I’m sat in the Edgbaston branch of Loki Wine. Both Claire and I have prosecco in hand and we’re divvying up the contents of the meat and cheese platter in front of us; Claire has claimed the oozy brie whilst I have laid claim to the nutty Comte which happens to be my favourite. We share the manchego and the meat, folding the salami in half across the diameter so that it matches the semi-circle of the manchego and fits neatly over the crackers. The sun dried tomatoes and bread sticks are fair game. I stand no chance, right down to the tomato flavoured oil that sits in the bowl that she dredges the serrano ham through. Give me a bill of £30 for this at one of Birmingham’s finest independents and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid; give me £15 wine credit on top to spend at the automated tasting machines and you have one of the city’s true bargains. Everyone say hi to Wriggle, the app which is going to save you a lot of money in Birminghams best venues.

The premise of Wriggle is a simple one: the app has limited time deals for  independent restaurants, bars and cafes, laid out across a singular platform. You open up the app, find the deal you want, purchase it and then take it to said venue to be redeemed. On the afternoon we first use the app we could have saved £17 on a Persian feast for two at Saba, knocked £11 off the normal price of a meal for two at Asian restaurant Lucky Duck, or grabbed a healthy two course late lunch for one at Yakinori for a paltry £7.50. Instead we choose the aforementioned deal at Loki, sticking around to purchase another two glasses of prosecco for ridiculously cheap £5 thanks yet again to a deal on the app. But be quick; every deal has it’s own time limit, or it’s own limited numbers. Eating and drinking has rarely been so affordable.

Download the app straight to your mobile from here; https://link.getawriggleon.com/meatoneveg

Chakana, Moseley

The menu at Chakana is full of ingredients I am unfamiliar with. I’d heard of yucca because that’s what they eat on Shipwrecked to not die, and Andean Kiwacha, though I thought he played for Arsenal. Huacatay? Bless you. And something called Tiger Milk which I was pleased to hear is not from a predator’s teat. It’s a lot to take in and many questions are asked. Peruvian food simply isn’t well known north of London. Sure, we have ceviche made by chefs who think that a bit of lime juice on some raw fish will do it, but nothing like Lima which became the first (and only) starred Peruvian in the UK six years ago. Until now.

The chef who won over Michelin in 2013 has a new home, swapping bohemian and artsy Soho for bohemian and artsy Moseley. Robert Ortiz, if our brief encounter is to be believed, is here six days a week, working hard in the kitchen whilst the who’s who of the Birmingham hospitality scene handle front-of-house. The interior matches the tone of the food; it’s bright, and eclectic. The heavy textures of the white walls offset are by bright blues; it’s tasteful and very handsome.

This is my first real experience of this cuisine and I’m impressed. Very, very, impressed. We start with tuna ceviche, the ultra-fresh fish dressed prettily in the pink tigers milk. It’s a million miles away from the ceviche I’m used to: the dressing on the fish keeps going; first acidity, then heat, finishing with a little sweetness, yet still still allowing the tuna to be the star. We follow this up with two from the causas section, which are essentially defined by the cold potato bases. Both the chicken and the king crab are excellent, though if pushed to pick I’d choose the crab one which had less sweetness and more of a chilli kick. Again both are as a pretty as a picture. I’d imagine that some people will order and just stare at the food. We certainly did.

Mains are more wholesome offerings. On paper they appear to be protein and starch, though there are complexities in the subtle spicing and layering of the dishes that lift everything. Beef is marinated in vinegar and chilli so that the pink flesh has a back-note of being cooked over flames. There is a charred corn cake, clusters of black quinoa, a kind of nutty salsa and a purée of something fruity, hot, and squash-like. Apologies if the descriptions are vague; it’s a lot of stuff I’ve not eaten before. I just know I’m intrigued and I want to eat more of it. It is the suckling pig that steals the show. It’s Birmingham’s must-eat dish at present. The slow cooked meat collapses easier than our economy, the sweet yucca root is crushed and cut with herbs and the occasional pop of a tart berry that reminds me of sea buckthorn. There are chillis that linger on the back of the palate and root crisps that give the required texture. It’s an accomplished dish well worth £18 of anyone’s money.

If I’ve fallen into hyperbole, then I’m sorry but there is more to come. Desserts continue the trend for me wanting to go back and eat everything. For now you’re just getting the alfajores. It is as it is sold to us – as a dulce de leche custard with meringue – yes, your dreams really have been answered. The dulce de leche is rich, with coffee and caramel notes, the Italian meringue ethereally light. Claire describes it as the best Angel Delight you’ll ever eat, which is why I’ll always be the second best restaurant blogger in our household.

With this we drink some very good cocktails and enjoy a couple of glasses of very nice wine, gently coaxed into our decisions by a team who are well drilled in all things Peruvian. There’s nothing we didn’t love about Chakana; the cooking is interesting and delivered with real skill, keenly priced, and unlike anything we’ve ever had in Birmingham. Since our lunch I’ve been weighing up the score in my head, wavering between a nine and the ten. But this is my blog and my rules, so it’s top marks. The reason is simple; Chakana is easily the most exciting opening of 2019. You absolutely have to try it for yourself.

10/10

Chakana-restaurant.co.uk

I’d strongly recommend several pisco sours and an A2B home

Bank, Birmingham

They seat us in the new extension at the rear of Bank, which is new in that it absolutely wasn’t here when I came for dinner seven years ago. It’s an odd space; ski chalet-like and in total juxtaposition to the rest of the decor which hasn’t really changed since they opened twenty years back. Out here the expense accounts are in full effect, the boisterous laughter of those wanting to keep the toxic masculinity stereotype raging just a little longer. It’s all TM Lewin and brogues picking from menu staples like Thai green curry and porterhouse steaks. In perhaps the least surprising news of 2019 we are told that the Merlot is a popular choice of wine. Of course it is. I gaze out the window, across the canal and over to Legoland, drawing the similarities in my head with children pointing at all the toys over there and those choosing their dinner inside here. The room rumbles with the belly laugh of a man who has clearly drank too much. A little part inside of me dies.

The reality is that if there is anywhere in Birmingham more deserving of a Dignitas send-off, it is Bank. You’ve served your time, now lets all stand around your bed and reminisce about the good times whilst they stick the needle in and end it quietly. The place is tired, a shadow of what it was, even if there was the occasional moment where the food crawled above mediocrity. A cider and onion soup is competent, as is the cheese on sourdough it is served with. The other starter of crispy squid might not be crispy but it avoids chewiness from a quick cook and solid technique. The thai style salad underneath lacks seasoning and the sweet chilli sauce is from a squeezy bottle, but together it’s pleasant in the way your great aunt was before you packed her off to Dignitas and sold her house to give you your deposit for yours.

But then we are served two of the worst mains I can recall eating. My burger is a disaster; the work of a chef who doesn’t eat them and has worked from someone elses recipe. The beef is a crowded patty of cheap cuts and the occasional bonus nugget of cartiledge. It’s dry. So dry. Dryer than Jack Dee on vacation in the Sahara. And the fucking thing has burger sauce on it and cheese that I’ve paid an extra £1.50 for. Imagine the carnage without that smear of lubrication. The skin on chips are almost exclusively curls of deep fried skin and not pleasant ones at that. If anything Claire’s butternut squash ravioli was worse. The ravioli was poorly made so that the uneven textures mean that some parts are a little soggy and others almost raw, the insides of some are okay and others less great where it has leaked. The beurre noisette loaded with cream so no such thing, clumsily made and coagulated on the hot plates. It’s a disaster. “Food this bad makes me sad” says Claire. She couldn’t have been more right.

They do desserts but I’m not sure I can take any more sadness, so we pay the bill and head to anywhere other than here to continue the evening. We both eat from the early evening menu at £17.50 for two courses, though go later and that burger with cheese is £15.50 on it’s own. With Craft across the bridge and the new Argentinian opening in the same square I despair at anyone who would choose to eat here. A final word: the staff are brilliant, particularly the girl on reception. They deserve better. The paying customer deserves better. Bank, you’ve served your city and had your moment, now it’s time to give up and let someone more relevant takeover.

5/10

let A2B be the carriage to get you far away from here.

Eat Vietnam, Stirchley

Many, many, many years ago there was a shop in Birmingham called A Too. It was a bloody good shop, ran by a painfully hip man called Ming. I used to go to that shop a lot; I had a decent job doing shitty things for a shitty bank, lived at home with my parents, and I had many girlfriends – often at the same time – using their goodwill and natural competitiveness to full advantage in letting them pay for me. I was an original Fuckboy. And a good one at that. I used to shop in A Too because it was the coolest place to shop. I say shop; I would sit in a chair in the middle of the room making small conversation whilst Ming buzzed around collating the latest in printed t-shirts and Japanese denim, giving me just enough discount on my purchases to make me feel special. This preamble is important because Ming plays an important part of this piece, and also because I want you to understand that I have always been an arsehole with an over-sense of entitlement.

A Too came to a sad end and Ming moved on to form Eat Vietnam, first with a number of pop-ups and then with a stint at streetfood. I tried both. The food at Stirchley’s Loaf was an attack on the senses that felt like the Vietnam I loved; no Pho or Banh Mi, but grilled bits of animal and curries that have woody notes and then kick out of the three count with lots of spice. The street food I was a little less taken with, mostly because everything seemingly was drowned in fish sauce. There is a sign in the new restaurant which reads ‘fish sauce is not for everyone’ that had me worried when we sat down. I can take it, just only in tiny quantities. Like sambucca. Or the company of Luke Beardsworth.

With a permanent resturant comes the most refined of his takes on this cuisine up to this point. Pho now makes an appearance, as does Banh Mi at the weekend, joined by more familiar dishes from Vietnam; papaya salad, fried fish, chicken wings, and curries. There is little to startle the people of Stirchley. From memory the food punches less now, coaxing the flavours out slowly, with the emphasis on freshness above all else. That papaya salad has nailed the balance of salt and sugar in the dressing, with loads of fresh, crunchy notes even if it does skimp a little of the amount of poultry. A plate of pork comes as thinly sliced bits of belly; skin taut and crisp, the meat dressed in something that has chilli, vinegar, and I think a little of that fish sauce. It’s a bloody good plate of food.

The pho is the only thing that doesn’t excite me. It’s the one time that it all feels a bit safe; the stock that makes up the soup is devoid of any real flavour, lacking the zip and zing that I remember so much from a country I hold so dear to my heart. I could personally take more herbs, more lime, more fish sauce if I have to. I ask for a half portion of the vegan curry with something called banana blossom; an ingriedient that is new to me. The curry is a delight; pugent and spicy, we scrape the last of the sauce out of the bowl using the rice, leaving the blossom itself which is an acquired taste that I doubt I’ll ever aquire. We finish on the tamarind chicken wings; plump bits of bird with crisp skin, a scattering of peanuts, and a sauce full of funk and umami. Order the chicken wings, whatever happens here.

They presently don’t do booze in the week which is a downer, though my mood is in a much better place when my mate picks up the bill and takes me over the road to Wildcat to carry on the evening. The bill for the above and two soft drinks falls a quid short of £50, which feels fair. I really like Eat Vietnam with its effortlessly cool love letter to the food of its native country and I can see us going back a lot. Ming comes over to the table to say hello and I spy a branded sweater hanging on the wall from the corner of my eye. All of a sudden I feel twenty one all over again.

8/10

Know how to say ‘A2B‘ in Vietnamese? Neither do I. Just make the correct choice and order them to get you here.

Opheem, September 2019

We start this piece on Opheem right at the start of the meal. It is where all of my pieces should probably start but never do, given my tendency to try to hook your attention with a story about my upbringing, my alive parent, my dead parent, or that one time I went to bandcamp. Right now we have food to talk about – a lot of food – so we’ll jump straight in at the start; us sat on one of the large circular tables, peering through the large letter ‘O’ which frames the open kitchen where chef Aktar Islam and his brigade are hard at work. Aktar is hunched over the pass, the quiff of his thick black hair fallen forward like a curtain between his face and the dining room. We on the other hand are a glass of champagne down, happily watching this in serenity under the slowly fading light. The first canapes arrive; duck ham with orange is wrapped around a feather, compressed cucumber with a little spice, a tart with the lightest of cheese mousse inside. A cube of toasted bread is next, the inside filled with bone marrow, the top with fig and onion. The flavour is huge. Then the lamb paté, though now the bread has changed to a brioche made with lamb fat and topped with crispy onions. If the kitchen look like they are hard at work it’s because we haven’t got to the first course yet. The generosity towards diners often talked about At Opheem has never been more noticeable.

What is just as noticeable is how far this restaurant has come in a short amount of time. The swagger is there, rippling from the kitchen to the front of house, each knowing that Opheem has gone from a restaurant with a serious amount of potential to one that is fully realising it. It appears to this untrained eye that every detail has been readdressed and improved where needed; that bread and pate course probably didn’t need changing from the sweet potato bread, but they’ve gone and bettered it with the lamb-fat-brioche-thingy. It takes bollocks to do that. Massive bollocks the size of the ‘O’ on the pass window, and the slightly bigger ‘O’ outside on the wall. One is always bigger than the other; they’ve even got that bit of detail right.

Now before we get on to real food I will offer an apology of sorts: when the outside gets dark, so does the inside of here. What started off as great lighting for a food blog quickly turned into my phone not knowing whether to flash or not, a problem I constantly have to fight with myself. So sorry if the food doesn’t look as good as it should. The first course is tandoori carrot, with pickled carrot, carrot puree, spiced carrot soup, carrot tuile, and lentil pakora, because everyone knows you don’t put carrot in a pakora (I have no idea). The dish shimmers with vibrancy; undeniably carrot, it zips between the light acidic notes, the sweeter ones, and the gentle hum of cumin. The tuile at first seemed superflous, though the charcoal in it worked at accentuating the notes from the tandoor, which is why they are top chefs and I’m a prick with a keyboard. The soft shell crab follows; it’s a bonafide classic which made my top five dishes of last year and if anything has only got better.

We move onto a scallop the size of a babies fist, cooked one side only to a crust and drapped in lardo that slowly spoons the side of the shellfish as the fat warms through. It sits in a broth made from the off-cuts off the kitchen; the vegetable waste, prawn heads, gnarly bits of back bacon, spiced and then sharpened with a variety of lime I’ve never heard of so that it has a smokey hot and sour soup vibe to it. Thinking about it now it was probably my favourite course. I liked it a lot more than the cornet of red pepper ice cream dotted with green strawberry that follows, mostly because it reminded me of sucking on a paper cut, a reference that my other half described as ridiculous. Stone Bass is next, the fillet cooked accurately and the head meat a rillette underneath cut with lots of garlic. The courgette puree and pieces of baby veg, along with the potato fondant could have been classically french until the sauce of raw mango and coconut is poured tableside. This brings everything to life, adding a fragrant and perfumed quality to an already stellar dish.

Then there are the two main meat courses. First up is chicken jalfrezi which is about as traditional as I am modest. The Cotswold breast meat has been cooked sous vide and then finished off under the salamander with a topping of the chicken skin, a little fat (I think) and a little spice. This sits on a ‘keema’ of the pulled bits of the bird, heavily spiced and very possibly in my list of favourite things I’ve ever eaten. If Claire wants the broth for lunch everyday then I want a vat of this. A keema this spicy and tasty doesn’t just make your day, it makes your hole weak. The rest of the plate pays homage to the traditions of the dish without needing to go down the route of cast iron bowls and menus under glass tables for authenticity; a red pepper and naga chilli puree, shallots pickled and then charred, spring onion, one of those complex sauces which Aktar has rightly built his career (and previous tenures) upon. By now I’m praying to the food god to offer some relief, though he doesn’t exist so it’s on to the lamb. Barbecued loin, bread filled wih confit shoulder meat, the most morish of ‘kebabs’ rolled-up and coated in crispy onions, courgette, and a bone marrow sauce cut with enough herb oil to give it the acidity it needs. I was going to avoid mentioning the M word in this piece, but this is one star cooking, absolutely no questions about it.

Aktar comes to the table. He’s got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, he’s got whozits and whatzits galore. The trick of poaching the chai flavoured mousse in nitrous oxide might be straight out of The Fat Duck, but it works; the meringue-like structure dissapates on the tongue, leaving nothing but the notes of cinnamon and cardamon. From there we have the highest quality of cherries with sweet cheese that has been quickly frozen to an ice cream-like state, a riff on a Feast ice lolly filled with mango and coconut, and finish off with a rich ball of chocolate and raspberry. Yes, they are showing off but they have every right to; the quality of desserts here has increased dramatically of late.

The sum of this is what Claire would describe as the second best meal she’s eaten in her four years in Birmingham. It’s not difficult to see why; the cooking has gone up a notch in a short time, with those premium ingredients treated with the respect they warrant. Birmingham has a plethora of brilliant restaurants, each doing their own thing, carving their own path. Based on what we ate over this glorious evening Opheem has to be mentioned with the very best of them.

Want to mention the best taxi companies? The list has just one name. A2B.

Slim Chicken, Birmingham

At the time of writing this, the ‘About Us’ section of Slim Chicken’s website cannot be found which is either, like their cooking, a technical error, or, like the food served, is just half-arsed work. I was only looking it up to add some breadth to this piece. I wanted to tell you why they curiously chose the word ‘Slim’ in the name of a fried chicken shop, though I can’t find it, so we’ll have to assume they based it entirely on the odds of me ever going back. I was also hoping to get some news on their chicken welfare, though I’ll have to guess that they live on a salt plain, eating a diet of salt. Despite my intentions to hunt them down on the internet I know nothing about Slim Chicken other than the meal I ate, which, I can tell you from experience, is already far too much for my liking.

Things don’t get off to the best of starts. I order food at the latest of Grand Central openings which arrives in record time, although it’s someone else’s order and not mine, which would have been forgivable had we all not been given table markers with order numbers on to stop this. Maybe an abacus would have worked better. Mine does eventually turn up, though because they’ve already taken away our number they can’t locate us, and when they do they don’t believe we have an order because we don’t have a board. This food isn’t worth this level of hassle. It’s not worth any level of hassle. It’s rudimentary fried chicken, straight outta… well I don’t know, because the ‘About Us’ section still isn’t working.

The low down on the chicken is simple: the quality of the meat isn’t great, the coatings aren’t very crispy and it’s salty. Really salty. Not salty in the way the yoof of today used to describe things, but salty to the point that eating this isn’t going to help your blood pressure. The tenders are at least tender; the burger with buffalo sauce not something that I would ever want to go back, given that it all gets very soggy very quickly. The fries are straight out of a bag and need salt, whilst the sauces are straight from a factory and need binning. They do however have phone chargers on the table and sport on the screen, meaning that Slim Chicken is a decent choice to have a pint of Camden Hells whilst charging your phone. Decent provided you leave the food alone.

The bill for this is £18 for one. Not much, but too much considering you could eat good fried chicken at Bonehead a minutes’ walk away, even better fried chicken two hundred metres away at The Meatshack, or get a multi-course set menu a train journey away at the unbelievably excellent Chick’n’Sours for exactly the same price. But hey, Slim’s are the ones paying the big rents to feed the through-traffic of Grand Central. I’m sure some customers will take the below mediocre food purely to charge their phone.

4/10

A2B Radio Cars took me and my indigestion home.