Digbeth

Independent Birmingham Festival, 2019

I think this Independent Birmingham Festival was my favourite so far. It may have been the excellent company we kept, the stream of friends we bumped into continually throughout the day, or the fact that I was very tipsy by 1pm on the Saturday, but they really nailed it. Here is a super quick post on what we ate and drank at this celebration of the wonderful independents in this great city.

Buddha Belly. <

I’m mentioning this first because the sight of Momma Buddha Belly cooking with Sai melted this cold heart. A slightly different menu this time which we dived straight in to. The more familiar Southern Thai curry was ordered with salmon fish cakes and an outrageous beef noodle broth not dissimilar to a pho. Seriously classy Thai food. It’s impossible to not love Buddha Belly, even when I'm on strict instructions to not swear.

Baked in Brick.

Lee decided to spit roast an entire lamb for this event, which took me back almost twenty years to when we used to party together. We had a hybrid dish of the lamb meat with mac’n’cheese, salsa verde, crispy potatoes cooked in lamb fat, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy. The salsa verde was insane, as was the quality of the meat. Claire drank gravy from the Yorkshire pudding because that’s what Northeners do. Mental.

 18/81.

Because we have very good taste. Claire’s was a profanity laden one that tasted of pumpkin spice, I had the off-menu Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee. I lie. I had three of them. Because we have very good taste.

Loki.

A delicious fizzy pink wine which tasted of tip-tops. Drank two bottles so must have been good.

Zindiya.

You may be aware that I live very close to these guys. I may have had a Deliveroo from them the night before. Still never stopped me eating a chicken tikka kati roll and samosa chaat. Huge amounts of flavour in everything they do.

El Borracho de Oro. </

They had a very attractive looking paella on the go, though it wasn’t ready so we changed tactics and went with patatas bravas and ham croquettes. It was a good choice. Both were crazy good.

Original Patty Men.

I have mad love for the burgers from these gents. The one I had with chorizo was as good as burgers get.

Waylands Yard.

Eggy crumpets. Halloumi. Chilli sauce. Call the fire brigade; this is absolute flames.

There were also custard tarts from Salcooks, plenty of gin at Jekyl and Hyde, and cakes from Bake. There were dogs, more dogs, live music, the best in local businesses, and more dogs. I think that someone complimented me on my coat, but I was pissed by then so they could have been calling me something far less polite. Most of all it was full of Brummies celebrating the best of Brum; sticking two fingers up to anyone who says otherwise. I had the best weekend there. I can’t wait for the next one.

In keeping with the Best of Brum, A2B got us there and back.

Sunday Lunch at Baked in Brick, Digbeth

An admission: I don’t like Sunday roast dinners. As far as pointless meals go, it’s up there with the Full English breakfast, and don’t start me on that particular beast. The Sunday roast is a belt around the bicep, two slaps to the forearm, and needle into the vein shot of stoic patroism. It is a relentless onslaught of carbohydrates which only sleep can defeat. It is the dish that Brexit was built upon, the one that we still look at as ours in that typically resolute manner we are known for on these shores. You thinking I’m over-egging this, right? It’s okay, others do too.

Many refuse to listen to my sermon, but I have my reasons. I don’t like them because they are never done right. Honestly — ask yourself — when was the last time you were served a perfect Sunday lunch? It’s a myth: a fallacy. The tangibles are too big; it could be the roasties that go wrong, or the meat is overcooked, or the Yorkshire pudding is too dense, or the vegetables have been boiled to death, or the the vegetables haven’t been cooked enough. Much like my hairline, it is not quite all there. I’ve been dragged all over the country to experience this. Yes, they are the best roast potatoes I have ever tried, but the beef is like leather. And shouldn’t that cauliflower cheese taste of cheese? It goes wrong because all the best things happen in the oven, and each of those best things need different temperatures and times to cook. Some things need to be checked on constantly and others you can’t open the oven door. The Sunday Roast may take 3-4 hours on paper, but in reality it takes a lifetime.

When we go out for Sunday lunch I always try to find somewhere that can appease the both of us. If Claire wants a roast then great, but I would like to eat from the practised bit of the menu if I may, to see what the chef’s vision is instead of what he has been told he must cook on JC’s rest day. I had that intention when we booked in at Baked in Brick on Easter Sunday. I’d sit outside in the sun, underneath the burgeoning olive trees with a cold glass of wine in hand, eating pizza. But the menu was too good not to try out, and far too cheap at £20 for three courses. I could pretend that I was concerned about their prophet margins on this holy day, but I was sitting outside in the sun, underneath a burgeoning olive tree with a cold glass of wine in my hand, ordering suckling pig for lunch.

We take both starters, both of the available meats, and both desserts. We’d had one of the starters before; tomatoes and burrata in a bowl, into which a tomato essence the colour of blushed cheeks was poured. The dish was finished with a few dots of basil oil that immediately forms a relationship with the other liquid. The joys of spring in a bowl. The other starter is aubergine, roasted in the pizza oven until the flesh is spoonable and almost sweet, a pea hummus levelled out a little with ras el hanout, and scattered with the sweet and sour pops of pommegrante. It is balanced and refined; probably not the kind of dish you expect to see in somewhere that primarly markets itself for pizza. It should also be on the menu full time; this is the ideal lunch for one.

Drum roll please. Why does no one ever do a drum roll when I ask? Don’t these people know who I am? Drum roll. The roast is really good. The best I’ve eaten in Birmingham. Maybe not as good as the White Post, which I said was the best Sunday lunch I’ve ever eaten and subsequently went on to win that national title (and people say I know nothing), but not that far off. We cheekily ask for both the suckling pig and rib of beef which they are happy to do. The beef is rare, with that dark crust giving the Malliard reaction too often missing, whilst the suckling pig has that slight gelantinous quality to the meat from layers of fat protected by scorched skin. There is a tart apple puree, a jug of gravy that tastes of animal, and the ultimate in Yorkshire pudding. That pudding is an eruption of oil and batter, light and burnished; as good as a Yorkshire pudding gets. We request seconds. The vegetables on the side include roasted carrots, green beans, roasted mayan gold potatoes (a curious choice, but one that pays off), and monks beard. If I’m being hyper critical the monks beard would have been far nicer with the lamb, and the pedant in me likes to see green beans trimmed. But these are just small pickings. It was really rather good.

Desserts consist of a classic tiramasu and tarte tatin. The former is a generous portion of creamy things that happen to taste lovely, the latter a tiny amount of caramel away from being a very true rendition of a classic. I have a love affair with tarte tatins that goes back way further than this blog, and here it showed skill in getting a good cook on the apples and an ice cream full of honey flavour, if a little soft-set. The bill for all of this with two glasses of wine and a soft drink is £54. Way too cheap. With a second site already in place in Sheffield, rumour has it that Baked in Brick may also be looking for a more central location as a second site. More people with access to food of this quality can only be great for the city.

Regardless of the location A2B will get you there and back

Apocalypse Cow @ Ghetto Golf, Digbeth

Ghetto Golf is the place I always take people who aren’t familar with the city. Friends, extended family members, porn stars who want to make sweaty pornos with me, they all get the Ghetto Golf treatment of the loud 90’s hip hop, cocktails, and 18 holes of Brum. Come to think of it, 18 Holes of Brum would make a great name for a porno filmed here. Not that they would ever do that, of course; the interior would be far too much of a giveaway for the location. Anyway, it’s great fun and a bargain at a tenner; an hour or two of negotiating buses, dildos, a gimp in a cage, a pub, and Jim Davidson. The latter in photo form and thankfully unable to spout his fifty-year old racist routine.

There have been lots of visits here. Early starts, late starts, midnight runs. The behaviour is never the best; maybe it’s the lack of food and too much booze. Last weekend we tried the different tact of eating. In truth I’d barely noticed Apocalypse Cow was here before; it’s tucked in the far corner on the route to the bathrooms. The menu is a list of booze-friendly products; burgers, loaded fries, something called ‘twisted tapas’. We skip the burgers and order from across the rest.

It’s pissed food, in the best possible sense. Big flavours that requires napkins in the immediate and wet wipes the day after when, like me, you’ve overdone it on the hot sauce and life in general. In the majority it is food I can get on board with. Of the four dishes we try it is the two from the twisted tapas section which work best. Strips of chicken breast are tender and come painted in a sriracha sauce that stains the fingers and demands to be washed down with a cold drink. I like these a lot. Likewise the deepfried bits of lasagna encased in a breaded shell that ooze white sauce dotted with mince meat. It tastes like lasagna if some buxom young Italian had made it, not like the version by a hairy nonna rooted in tradition. There is no room for tradition here, not when hole four has dildos to navigate around. I don’t care too much for the nachos which are basic in design, but I do like the kamikaze fries. The chips themselves are decent, defibrilated by some rather good korean pork, chilli, spring onions, and a char sui sauce that is too sweet but works well. Like I said; it’s food for the pissed, which I was on my way to becoming.

Dishes are good value with none of the above costing more than £7, and they go rather well with the too sweet cocktails that will keep you buzzing from hole-to-hole. Is Apocalypse Cow the kind of place I would hunt down specifically to eat? Probably not. But it is perfect for the environment it sits within. It’s that junk food you crave when the good times kick in, before the bad decisions are made and the following day turns into a write-off of regret. I enjoyed almost everything we ate, and for that alone I’ll be doing it again. And after 532 words I’ve just realised that the name is a play on the movie ‘Apocolypse Now’. How very clever of them.

7/10

Need a nap after all that fun? A2B will get you home

The Old Crown, Digbeth

The Old Crown looks like it has no place on Digbeth High Street. It sits between the handsome façade of the Custard Factory and a less than desirable row of shops, its monochrome timber exterior wonkily perched roadside, with small leaded windows that look too small for its wide face. There is history here; six hundred and fifty years of drunks passing through the doors, its shell created in the midst of the Hundred Year War. I wonder if used to be called The Crown. Inside it wears the age proudly: low beams, flag stones, and heavy wooden bars. Back in the days of farcical facial hair and baggy trousers tapered at the ankle I used to drink here frequently and wonder what went on between these walls. Two world wars and one world cup, probably. It appears to be the only way we can define ourselves as a nation.

The history of the building was in full force on the day we lunch, with the start of a Peaky Blinders tour occurring in the space to the side of our table in the back of the pub. I instantly like the place on account of them listing a kilo of meat under ‘light snacks’. We don’t order it. What we do have is cod cheeks and prawns in a greaseless panko crumb, and a sausage roll that is heavy on both sausage meat and black pepper. There is nothing light about the roll, it is a big portion of something filling for not a lot of money which we take pride in finishing. The mango chutney and chipotle mayo it comes with are sucessful at introducing heat and acidity in an unusual way.

Now if someone had told me that one of the most enjoyable things I’d eaten so far this year would be in a six-hundred-year-old pub in Digbeth I would have laughed. If they had told me it would be vegan I may have passed out. The Trinidadian curry was just that; a spicy whack of blackbeans and pumpkin stewed down so that the flavours merge into one of the best Caribbean plates of food I can recall eating outside of the Carribean. Even the roti was a cut above the norm. Given the choice I’d take this over the chicken burger that failed to deliver on the double-dipped coating it promised. The chicken was good – brined, by the look of it – accurately cooked and a hefty piece for the tenner it is. The rest of the burger more than competent; lightly pickled onions, jalepenos, a guacomole which was a little too smooth for my liking, but it didn’t excite me in the way the curry did. A steak and ale pie is delivered to the next table along which draws groans. I’ll order that next time.

Portions this size leave no room for dessert, leaving us to finish up the drinks and head next door to Clean Kilo for the most ethical of shops. I can own up to being naive about The Old Crown – I’d partied here without ever considering food as an option; it was Claire that got us here, having eaten the food and enjoyed it BC (before Carlo). She was right, it really is an option, delivering honest food in a comfortable environment with very little priced at over a tenner. This building started off as coach house, where people passing through would come to be fed, watered, and bed. Remarkably for a world that has changed so much, that has stayed a constant for over six centuries. Long may that tradition continue.

7/10

A2B is my horse and carriage of choice.

Birmingham’s Top Eight Dishes For Under A Fiver

Last January I gave you Birmingham’s top ten dishes for under a tenner; a well-researched ensemble of culinary treats that wouldn’t break the bank. It is still a very good list one year on, showing that when it comes to useless lists that you’ll almost certainly never use, it is I who truly separates the wheat from the chav. But a lot has changed in twelve months. A new threat has emerged, with a long winter ahead of this country looming in the vague shape of Game of Thrones season 8. Brexit, also. I want to give you even more value. So back once again like the renegade master, here is eight dishes in Birmingham for under a fiver with not a Greggs vegan sausage roll in sight. And if eight seems a funny number, you’re right. I had more than five but less than ten with zero filler: these really are the best dishes in town if you’re looking to save the pennies.

Tamworth Pork Sausage Roll, £3.75. Kilder.

This is how you do a sausage roll. Pork from an animal that has lived off the land, spiced with black pepper, and a good fat to meat ratio. The pastry is buttery and flaky. You get a choice of sauces whereupon you should consider brown and then choose brown. And don’t believe them for sticking this under the ‘snack’ banner; this is a lunch for one by itself. Website

White Cut Chicken Bao, £4.50. Tiger Bites Pig.

It was about this time last year that Birmingham went into meltdown over a new opening that specialised in bao. They were rubbish; these most certainly are not. Fluffy pillows of joy filled with smart flavours, my pick of the two under a fiver is this one with poached chicken and crispy skin. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming full review; its a cracker. Website.

Aloo Tikki Chaat, £4.50. Zindiya

This and the chicken tikka have been my go-to order for almost two years, and this dish in particular is probably my favourite vegetarian plate of food in the entire city. Essentially a chickpea curry with a spiced potato patty in the centre, it has bags of attitude. I eat it at least once a week. Website

Pork and Fennel Scotch Egg, £4.50. Pint Shop

But the scotch egg at Pint Shop is an onion bhajii, I hear you say? Correct, young whippersnapper, but there is also one downstairs at the bar that you might like even more. Given the choice I would plump for the more conventional of the two which has more flavour of pork. But what does this multi-award winning nobody know? Quite a lot, actually. Website.

Slice of Pizza, £3.00. Baked in Brick.

I would love to have included an entire pizza in this list but pizza doesn’t grow on five pound trees in this country. Instead I would like to draw your attention to probably Birmingham’s best pizza, which also happens to be the only one I know of which does pizza by the slice. Whatever is on will do; a large wedge of the good stuff and some chilli oil to dredge the crusts through. Website.

Batagor, £5.00. Ngopi.

Thank Farah for this. She took my girlfriend who got all excited and insisted we go. It’s one of the most intriguing dishes in Birmingham that could go on to become a cult classic. Fried chicken and prawn wontons join fried tofu in a peanut sauce marriage of harmony. I honestly never knew Indonesian food could be so interesting. Another full review incoming.

Smoked Beetroot, goats cheese, horseradish and watercress salad, £5.00. Purecraft Bar.

It’s January, you want to be healthy and frugal, right? Purecraft have got your back. Like everything else they do, this is loaded with flavour. The ideal light dinner. Website.

Bao, £4. Little Blackwood.

They are going to murder me for this. The baos are a dessert option as part of a set menu, but get them individually and they are billed at £4 each – I know this because I have paid for them. You’ll probably only get away with this doing what we do, which is by drinking wine on the stools and begging for them. The only dessert on the list, these deep fried bao are similar to donuts when cooked, sliced open and filled with whatever flavours are on: it could be rosehip, salted caramel, champagne, banoffee, or numerous others. The ideal way to finish a meal, and indeed this list. Website.

Want to do this as a food crawl? I’ll join you. Let’s take an A2B. Seriously, let’s do this.

Baked in Brick, Digbeth

My dining history at Baked in Brick is a lengthy one that goes back some way. In Feb 2016, when his street food had not long started I made a point of saying you should keep a firm eye on him, noting ‘the man, the mini, and the food are going places’. Then, a year later at another pop-up after winning Best Street Food, I make the bold statement that ‘Lee’s cooking is right up there with the best’, finishing the piece with ‘the man I said was going places has truly arrived. And only an idiot would miss it’. I have featured him thrice more properly on my blog, a piece on Digbeth Dining Club, another on Sear & Smoke, and most recently at the Independent Birmingham Festival, watching the mini take more awards and the food evolve. Apologies for rehashing my old work like a desperate ‘ICYMI’ tweet, but I always knew it would be good because I know my shit when it comes to food. I’ve been there from the start, I haven’t rocked up at the trophy bus parade like a phoney Leicester City fan because he won a few things and became fashionable to like.

And here he is, less than four years from the first gigs at Digbeth Dining Club, in a permanent home in the Custard Factory. The dining room is instantly recognisable to anyone who has eaten the street food. The bar frontage to the left is the same wood that houses the tent counter, the steel girding above the same as the van that drove to Berlin to take the title. The far wall has clever nods to the backstory in vibrant artwork, with the red Mini Cooper peering out towards the diner. There had to be a mini. To the side is an enclosed terrace where we had our second meal here. The sun loves this space almost as much as I do.

Before I get on to the pizza that dominated our two visits, let’s be very clear; a pizzeria this is not. Yes, it has an oven intended for such things, but there is much more to the cooking than that. On our first visit we start with a tomato salad dotted with tapenade and croutons, on to which a textbook tomato essence is poured. It is all beautifully fresh, with just a hint of verdant basil to lift it all. Our second visit has us ordering a huge bulb of burrata with the same components minus the tomato essence; the burrata is creamy enough. It is so good that I forget to take a picture. What an awful blogger I am. No wonder they all hate me.

But those pizzas. Christ on a bike, they are so very good. I’m sticking my neck out now and saying these are Brum’s best on account of the basic principles; quality toppings, that leopard print scorched base and a pliable crust. Most conventional has folds of Serrano ham and shavings of Lincolnshire Poacher. Another has pork and fennel meatballs and a yellow pepper ketchup whose metallic notes sits perfectly between the sweet and the acidic. Most supreme is the white pizza, a daring blend of smoked chicken and boulangere potato on béchamel sauce. It’s carb on carb, a pool party in Carbella. It also tastes like a chicken and dauphinois potato sandwich. Absolute filth. We love it.

No visit to Baked in Brick could miss out the beef shin calzone, seemingly feed on steroids for how much it is grown on to the plate here. Once the crust has been cut into the tangle of beef and wild mushroom ragu has the deep flavour of wine from a lengthy marinade and a long peppery finish. A stilton dip on the side has a little cayenne pepper and lemon juice but is ultimately there to add more umami to a plate of food already drenched in it. I simply cant think of a better way to spend £11 right now. Try it and you’ll understand why it has won every award known to man including the Noble Peace Prize, the Pulitzer and The Golden Boot.

I am yet to get round to ordering dessert, mostly because I leave on both occasions with a box of crusts to chow on at home, though the present choice is a crème brulee or a brownie. A meal here will cost between £15-25 depending on how greedy you happen to be, which is astonishing value given the quality. And now the score, for which I have thought hard about. I think it sits somewhere between a nine and ten, but I’m going full marks for this reason; Baked In Brick is integral to the development of this city’s food scene, further proof that some of the finest eateries in Birmingham have stemmed from trading on the streets. And it is only going to get better when the chicken tikka roll rolls on to the menu alongside the slow cooked lamb. I have long been a fan of the food, though it is obvious he belongs within bricks and mortar. The Custard Factory, Digbeth and Birmingham have all just gained an absolute gem of a restaurant.

10/10 

Transport provided byA2B Radio Cars

Independent Birmingham Festival, Digbeth

I had intended to start this brief piece on a self-deprecating note for our city. One that gently chugs along with the piss-taking from the rest of the country, about a city centre that’s perceived to be a concrete fortress and a dodgy accent that actually belongs ten miles north west of us. But I’m done with that. I’m done with anything that sets Birmingham at a detriment to anywhere else on the globe. We are growing every day. With game-changing pieces of modern architecture now sitting in juxtaposition with pieces of history. With a diverse melting pot of culture, smells, and sounds. With some of the best food to be found in the country with the most handsome, charming, and multi-award winning food blogger writing about them. Only an idiot who has not been here in over a decade, or worse, the commonly spotted Jealous Mancunian, would tell you otherwise. Birmingham is brilliant in almost every single way. It’s my home, so yes I have bias, but it really is.

Shouting about Birmingham a little more than the next man is Joe Schuppler of Independent Birmingham. Hi Joe. He runs a little business doing huge things for our indie scene. Now, with the help of some seasoned pros, he is championing the very businesses his card supports with Independent Birmingham Festival, this the third within a year and the second at Digbeth’s The Bond. We end up going both days, the latter to eat off the hangover caused by the former. I’m looking at you, Loki wine, for this with your mighty fine Malbec.

There are stalls that sell nice stuff from which I buy a badge that I later lose and a donut that I quickly use to fill a gap in my belly. There are cocktails from the brilliant Rob Wood and craft beers from Tilt. There are countless others all showcasing the tiny elements that together make Birmingham what it is. But I’m here to eat and you are probably here to read about that. So straight to the chase, at Low’n’Slow where the best food of the weekend was had. Pork belly from Blytheburgh farm, cooked over a makeshift fire on the ground. The meat is glorious; smokey, with enough bite and fattiness to serve as a reminder that this once was a living animal. There are blistered potatoes cooked in pork fat with the unmistakable back note of bone marrow, and a salsa slightly bitter from burning it’s components over coals. This is proper grown up barbecue, with real skill. It’s a ready made restaurant dish served from some smoking embers on concrete.

One of many restaurants with a stand here is El Borracho de Oro, a place I’ve stated my love for on many previous occasions. Today we have those golden croquetas filled with quality ham and a toastie that has manchego and sobrasda oozing out of every edge. Those toasties are a special at their present 1000 Trades residency – go try them. Fat Snags are relatively new to the street food world, impeccably sourcing Lashfords sausages and sandwiching them between buns. We try one with a smartly judged salsa of roquito and jalapeños, smothered in one of those silky American cheese sauces that refuses to go quietly into the mouth. I’m super impressed. I’ll be back for more soon.

Baked in Brick is here, a few streets away from its soon-to-be-opening restaurant. We try a ramen debuting for the first time, that is already better than any of the ramen at the specialist ramen shop. The ox tail and miso stock is upstaged by smokey spider steak slices, a tangle of ox tail meat and silky noodles. Best of all is a salty and rich soy egg, golden yolk just transitioning from liquid to a more solid state. A lot of work has gone into this and it will only get better.

Sunday sees suitable hangover food. A pizza from Peel and Stone has excellent ‘nduja and fennel salami for toppings on a base that was slightly too doughy to be perfect. We finish up with a burger from Original Patty Men, the beef just blushing pink, patty crowned with three types of cheese, jalapeño relish and barbecue sauce. Those boys know how to pull a burger together. It sorts me out a treat.

Claire buys jewellery, I buy enough wine to swim in, confirming that when it comes to frittering cash away, we’re a good team to have around. It was a great weekend, superbly organised, with a wonderfully curated live music program. More importantly it showcases the incredible independent scene that goes some way making this city so amazing. Believe in Brum.

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

The next Independent Birmingham Festival has been announced for July. Book your tickets here; https://www.designmynight.com/birmingham/whats-on/food-drink/independent-birmingham-festival-at-aston-hall

Kanteen, Digbeth

The area in and around The Custard Factory is one that seems to drift in and out of cultural importance in Birmingham. My Dad remembers when it really was a Custard Factory, worked in by his friends, when they would meet in The Old Crown for a pint and whatever lads in the 60’s did back then. My first introduction was thirty years afterwards, during the dingy hip hop nights at The Medicine Bar, and then again some years afterwards at the ill-fated Alfie Birds. Now, it feels rejuvenated and ready to take on the city again. Old Crown withstanding, Digbeth Dining Club started it, Ghetto Golf, Clink, and others have followed. Once again the area has a purpose. The Custard Factory is thriving.

It is at this point I pull back the curtains and reveal Kanteen in all it’s glory. And, believe me, it is glorious. It has purpose and a desire to feed the community at prices that work out to be no more than a Pret sandwich. The glass fronted space has depth on the inside. It is cosy and smart: almost homely. They do stuff on bread and stuff with eggs in the morning, then later on turn to hot stuff in boxes and cold stuff in boxes. There is a quiet emphasis on feeding all forms of diets and keeping it healthy. Please erase that last sentence from your mind. The food here has flavour in abundance and that is all that matters.

I come with Hubbie-to-be Greg, who arrives in a ravenous mood having recently only been surviving on Slimming World meals, whatever they may be. We order widely; two from the eggs section and three from the bread, which I can now confirm is three too many dishes for two people. I’ll get the disappointing dish out of the way first: A mass of kale on toast with torn bits of burrata and gremolata. Tearing apart the burrata into small pieces has lost the cheeses integrity – the oozy cream quality that is buried like treasure in the centre has disappeared on to the chopping board and the toast below. It’s nice, and the gremolata is impeccably made, but they should cut costs and move towards a mozzarella.

But everything else is bloody brilliant. Black pudding from Clonakilty has more earthy depths because of chopped hazlenuts, then quickly pulled back up by slices apple. Its an inspired bit of topping for wedge of sourdough toast. It has light and shade. It eats like a dream. Likewise the chorizo, red pepper and goats curd on toast. There is a reason this combination is everywhere; it works. This has poise and balance, with high quality chunks of chorizo. And it’s under a fiver. I told you it was great value.

Both of the dishes ordered from the egg section have them poached so that the whites have just set and the yolk becomes self-saucing. On one the egg sits on folds of Serrano ham with broken potatoes and tomato. Lemon aioli gives it an almost Benedicts edge. The other has merguez, the spiced lamb sausage native to Northern Africa, braised in a cassoulet style tomato sauce, with that gremolata returning to stop it all getting a bit rich. I can’t pick between the two, so have one for breakfast and the other for lunch. It’s brunch. You’re allowed to.

Replete, we take a peanut butter brownie home that Greg assures me was delicious, though could well still be hidden with his PS3 and porn stash in his forbidden items drawer. Walking back we discuss the merits of Kanteen for which there are many. What may read on paper as a collection of healthy things piled onto one another is in reality a finely tuned wholesome feed that just happens to also be good for you. Kanteen is something different to the current offering and something very good indeed.

8/10

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Digbeth Dining Club, Birmingham 

I remember the first time I went to Digbeth Dining Club. It was a dreary day, cold and overcast, when summer promised much and delivered very little. We sat on the few benches outside, shivering and exposed to the elements, supping on beer and wondering what the hype was about. I remember very little about the food, other than a Cambodian pork dish from Canoodle that was ordered at the counter and hand delivered to our bench by the chap who made it. That was great; vibrant, clean, and a reason in itself to return on a more cheery evening. If someone would have told me on that evening that Digbeth Dining Club would go on to shape the casual restaurant scene in Birmingham over the next five years I would have spat my pint out of that massive gob of mine.

And yet, it has. Without DDC (herewith known as) we would have no The Meat Shack, no Original Patty Men, and no Indian Streatery to visit. Imagine that. No, actually don’t, it will give you nightmares. And we wouldn’t as a city be able to lay claim to the Britain’s ‘best of the best’, it’s best burger, and now, more recently, Europe’s best. I’ve gone a lot recently because now feels as good a time as ever to tell you about a few of my favourite traders. In the effort of a full disclaimer, I should point out that I personally know both of the founders. James has got me a beer in the past and Jack hasn’t. Neither will give me a DDC Gold Card and both would never dream of giving me, El Blaggo, anything for free. Take this at face value all you want, but all of the dishes have come out of my own pocket.

Hot off the European victory, Baked in Brick seems a good place to start. In the last fourteen months Mr Brick has pretty much cleaned up; British Street Food Awards Best Main Dish 2016, with Best of the Best the same year. This year he came second overall in the same awards, getting him to Berlin where he won the big one. I’ve written about Baked in Brick at length before, but it’s safe to say that his food is about as good as street food gets, whether that be his chicken tikka wrap or beef shin calzone. If you happen to be there when the red mini is, eat the food – it will not disappoint.

This year’s other victor is Flying Cows, winner of Best Burger at the UK street food finals. The burger here is a virtue to farming; the Dexter beef coming direct from his father’s farm. It’s loosely packed and ferociously seared so that the aged cow is the star, whichever burger is ordered. In a city that has made demigods out of burger traders who started off at DDC, Flying Cows is destined to be the next patty shaped success story.

I have mad love for Bourneville Waffle Company in a way that could invoke a restraining order. The warm waffles could be topped with brownie pieces, or addictive bits of fudge made with biscuit paste. It all works. Newer to me is Street Chef, who makes chips out of halloumi. I am fan of anyone that can combine chips and cheese without resorting to poutine. What really makes him stand out is the mushroom ketchup it is served with that brims with heat and attitude. I would like a bottle, please.

The folk of Birmingham would lynch me if I never mentioned Low’n’Slow, so here we are. Andy is a true maestro of flames and frankly shits all over any of the city’s permanent fixtures that serve smoked meat. His chilli brisket burger is a good place to start, which has layer-upon-layer of flavour sandwiched between buns. More recently I had a plate of pork off him that I took to Twitter to say was world class. World. Class. Working muscles end up as tangles of sweet meat and more expensive cuts fired to an accurate medium rare. Low’n’Slow is revered across the city for a singular reason; the man can really cook.

Buddha Belly has a former Masterchef contestant at the helm, firing off the kind of authentic food that gives Siamais nightmares about them opening a restaurant of their own. Have the yellow curry with chicken. Eat the yellow curry with chicken. Order another and Thank me afterwards. And Canoodle is still going strong, all those years after that pork dish stole my attention. We recently had Korean fried chicken and, more impressively, their signature beef rendang that melted to a sweet nothing.


There are others, some I’ve tried and some I haven’t yet. You see I went to the last DDC with the intention of having a Libertine Burger and ended up with tacos from Low’n’Slow. This happens all the time. I’m not so much a creature of habit, but a creature that hates disappointment. If I know it’s good I’ll return time again. I’ll get to Libertine eventually.

The point is that DDC feels more important than ever. They are attracting the very best week on week, providing the foundations for these vendors to expand or look to permanent fixtures of their own. It’s inevitable that the next crop of success stories will come from some of the above, and all deserve it. To the DDC class of 2017 keep up the good work. I salute everyone of you.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Rico Libre, Birmingham

 

I’ve waxed lyrical about my love of Rico Libre before. Putting aside the emotional connection I have to the building, for me it’s one of the first places I recommend to anyone who asks where they should eat in Birmingham.  Its uncomplicated and unpretentious, astoundingly cheap, and always welcoming.  Most importantly they know flavour.  There is no room for daintiness here, everything is boldly seasoned and spiced, the pepper grinder on a constant rotation.  Its authentic in the way that Spanish food does not pull any punches.

This was, I think, my sixth visit to the old Barn Street dinner since I first ate here, the food  evolving slowly and consistently. With a relatively compact menu we look to much of the same parts for comfort.  The chicken and chorizo dish has become a different beast, more pronounced in taste, more saucy, both literally and metaphorically.  The halloumi dish working even more flavour on to the bland cheese with the help of blistered peppers and gently caramelised onion.  I often think some of the strongest work is done here without meat; the bravas a simple yet staggering ode to tomato, garlic and paprika over crisped cubes of potato.   My favourite is the aubergine, long slices salted and then griddled, folded over a rustic salsa and topped with the fieriest of red mojo sauces. The sauce is native to the canary islands where I have since learned the chef here honed his skills.  The locals taught him well.

It’s not all perfect. A special of pork belly is a hearty slice of softly braised meat let down by a overly sweet reduction of red wine and coca cola, whilst I forgive the queenie scallops for having the roe attached because the mango salsa brings everything together with its sweetness, acidity and heat.  We’re quickly back on track with the meatballs, compact and err… meaty, in a smoky sauce that begs to have the bowl wiped clean with flat breads smothered in garlic.  Come to think of it, all of the sauces have the same effect. Greaseless deep fried fillets of cod in a seasoned batter finish us off with their generosity.

All of this comes at a price almost incomparable with anywhere else in the city. Dishes range generally from £3.50 to just over a fiver, throw in its BYOB policy and you’ll struggle to spend twenty quid a head before they roll you out of the door.  It’s crazy value.  I would be here every week if I wasn’t eating in mediocre restaurants elsewhere to keep this blog content afloat.  Others are far more wise.  On the night we visited we were surrounded by regular customers, all known individually by the chef who pops out occasionally, or the owner constantly doing the rounds to check that everything is okay.  Of course it is.  Its way better than ‘okay’.  It’s a city gem, nestled in the back streets of Digbeth with no care other than to feed people well.  And my favourite part of Rico Libre?  They have no idea just how good they really are.

Rico Libre Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato