Moseley

Little Blackwood, August 2018

In my usual frantic rush to write about anywhere decent first, I may have been a little hasty with my original review of Little Blackwood. For a start I decsribe the service as “kind and well meant, if a little raw”. Well you can scrap the raw bit from that now. I make note that the Asian influences that run through the menu, which, although still there, could be joined by flourishes of European or occasionally South American on what is a now distinctly British restaurant. Reading the first review back it’s clear there was potential which has been realised now for several months. Little Blackwood has transformed into a neighbourhood bistro perfect for its Moseley enviroment.

It helps that they change the menu in full every month, each one based on the success of the last. They have a firm understanding of what the customer wants, tailoring the dishes likewise. When we first came there was ‘steak if you want’, now it seems that beef is omnipresent, whether that be as a crispy salad starter or as sharing cote du beouf for two as main. The wine list, an initial bugbear of mine, is now an ass-kicking list of low to mid range beauties, joined by a carefully curated cocktail menu. The evolution has taken four months. On the Friday we first visit the dining room is pretty much empty; on this early evening Thursday visit they are turning tables away.

It helps that the food has got better and better and better. A hash of chorizo and black pudding is big and earthy, becoming an unrestrained party when the poached egg yolk is cut loose. A jus with the sweet and sour notes of tamarind turns the volume up to eleven rather than calms it down. On the flip of this is bruscetta where notes of garlic lurk somewhere between the dice of tomato and bread. On the side of this is burrata, smoked under the cloche the plate arrives in. It’s simple in practice with enough nuanced flavours cleverly hidden across it to keep fools like me interested.

The best bit of the meal here happens to be the best dish I’ve eaten at Little Blackwood. A supreme of chicken, I assume first cooked sous-vide and then finished in the pan, is all beautiful flesh and crisped, salty, skin. The adornments of tenderstem brocolli, chanterelles, and light-as-a-feather gnocchi are all it needs, with a jus of the cooking juices lightened with a touch of lemon juice. I don’t think this dish would have happened four months back, when the desire was to show technique and load the plate with elements. This is simple cooking, perfectly seasoned. Simplistic enough to fulfil a midweek dinner, special enough to warrant eating on a more lavish occasion. Also special was panfried hake with a paella of clams, rabbit, and chorizo. The paella is as good as any in the city, the rice accurately cooked and taking on all the rabbit stock. It looks and eats great. Dessert is still the deep fried baos. They are still great, in particular the banoffee that packs plenty of flavour.

Pricing has altered now to £24 for two courses, three for £30, and a good amount less at lunch. It’s a steal for the quality. We’ve been to Little Blackwood on numerous times since they opened, to eat a couple of courses, sometimes to just sit at the bar and soak up the atmosphere. It’s great seeing the growth, watching a passionate young couple develop a very good local restaurant. The people of Moseley are clearly lapping it up. Long may that continue.

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Zindiya, 2018

This post is the first in quite a while for no fault but my own. Dear Reader, I have been a naughty boy, shooting that hyperactive gob of mine off at the wrong irrelevant person. I am not permitted to say anything on the matter, by my girlfriend who will probably leave me if I do, and by my agent who is presently haggling with Celebrity Big Brother over my value, but it has been a tough week. I have to be careful now. There can be nothing that seeks the attention of the local paper who are clearly struggling for news; nothing for the police to look into in. I’m going to have to be nice. Nice in a way that otherwise eludes me.

In a way I am lucky, because there really is nothing bad to say about the new menu at Zindiya, a place I am vocal about my love for but was probably due an overhaul on the dishes. They still have the stuff that I always go to, taking away a few dishes and adding a lot more, along with a dedicated menu for those grass munching vegans.

We dive straight in with Raj Kachori, a kind of liquid free pani puri that has the bonus of containing three kinds of carbs (potato, chickpea, and lentils) all dressed in zingy chutneys tempered by yogurt. We have aubergine fritters in a robust batter and a loose potato curry with a puffed bread to dunk. If I’m being hyper-critical, that potato curry, as nice as it is, doesn’t quite stand up to the excellent chole bhature they do here, which shares many common qualities.

They have a new chicken tikka here, a green one to go with the more conventional red one, so we try both against each other for comparison. The newer of the two simmers with a more vibrant heat and feels fresher, though I cant choose between them; a problem that’s created problems in my personal life. Do what we did and take both. Lamb keema is properly robust and warming, needing only the soft buns for transport, whilst the chilli chicken is the same indo-Chinese brilliance as the paneer version. I’ve really come to love both versions of this dish. We finish with chocolate pani puris with strawberries and a shot of chilli-chocolate milk. I enjoyed the one third that I was allowed. Claire clearly enjoyed the rest.

We have cocktails because they have Rob Wood’s approval stamped on them and are therefore brilliant, and pay a bill that works out at about £25 a head with far too much food to eat between two. Zindiya opened up a year and a half ago now and have managed to maintain a consistently high standard of food that continues to fill out the restaurant. With the new menu they have gone above that, adding dishes that will in time become as integral to the menu as the likes of the aloo tikki chaat and the original chicken tikka. They just get better and better. And you Citizen Khan’t say fairer than that.

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Deolali, Moseley

I don’t know where to start here. I really, honestly, don’t. But let’s try at the end, when I am collecting the remains of dinner in a plastic white bag, with sweat pouring down my brow and onto my shirt. The card machine is down, along with the music and all forms of common sense. I pay with the last of the cash from my wallet, despite them offering for me to settle up next time. “Just give it a week or two and all the issues will be ironed out”, I am told. It is not exactly music to my ears; I’ve waited years for this place to reopen, another fortnight would hardly have made a difference.

Deolali is a place that holds many memories for me. Well over ten years ago when it first opened it was a place I would go on dates with girls I met in bars and had no long term plans for. The room was beautiful, arguably the best in Birmingham at that point, being all vaulted ceilings, split-level flooring, and imposing bar to the far right-hand side. The food was less of a selling point. They had a chicken curry with banana that will never leave the depths of my brain, but they did an okay tikka masala which would add a dress size just by looking at it. I don’t think that anyone came here for the food. Having returned now the doors have once again opened, that isn’t going to change any time soon.

In the grand scheme of dropped bollocks, the fact that I was turned away from my initial attempt at dinner because they weren’t ready to open is now so minute that I had almost forgotten about it. When I return an hour later there I have the great view of a builder still at work, from a table in a room so hot I could rub salt into the skin on my arms and turn it to crackling. I order food and wait. And wait. And wait. When the food finally does begin to show after 55 minutes it is clear that this is the Kelly Brook of restaurants. It still has a great front after all these years and absolutely nothing between the ears. Chicken Mo-Mo is notionally a Nepalese dumpling dish, and here we have inch-thick pale foreskins filled with a little curried chicken. They are hard work and not particularly nice to eat. I quite like the red spicy sauce it is served with, so I ask what it is. They don’t know because the chef is still ‘experimenting”. Please don’t tell me that. They come back and tell me it is tamarind and yogurt. It’s not, I tell them, that is the fickle decoration to the side of the plate. They go and ask again and tell me once more that it is tamarind and yogurt. I give in. A lamb keema scotch egg has a solid egg yolk with bland mince packed as tightly as a US child border camp which leaves as bitter a taste in the mouth. It is one of those dishes that sounds great in principle but never reaches its full potential. I imagine the Indian shepherds pie is the same, though I’m not willing to spend my money again to find out.

From the mains a chilli chicken is a kind of Chinese-Indo dish that should take you into new territory. This does nothing of the sort, just a generous amount of poultry and peppers, with a lot of garlic and no real heat at all. If it says chilli then I want sweat pouring down my face because of it; not because they have left the heating on full blast when it is twenty-six degrees outside. Yes, this really did happen, and only came to my attention after five lovely ladies were sat at a table by a radiator. I enquire if it is really true, to which I am told that if they turn the heating off they will lose hot water in the kitchen. I take a big scoop of a paneer makhani with my garlic naan – the two dishes I actually enjoyed – and ask for both the bill and for the remaining food to be packaged up.

By now I am expecting Manuel to fall through the double doors with my food and say “Mr Fawlty, I no want to work here anymore”, but is it not to be and I pay with cash after the card system eludes them further. Back at my naturally heated home I quite enjoy the makhani dish which is rich and luscious, and improve the chicken by adding fresh chilli. Who would have thought it. Deolali’s attempt at digging out a corpse and giving it mouth-to-mouth has failed miserably, delivering very average food with inept service in exactly the same environment as it used to. Maybe they will be better in time, though I happen to be of the mind-set that if they are taking money from customers then they should be at full pelt from the get-go. I love the building and a great restaurant is there somewhere. I just really don’t think it is going to be Deolali.

4/10

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Carters, Moseley

Considering I live 250m away from Carters it is more than a little pathetic that I’ve managed to get here only twice. I have no excuse; I pass the bijou restaurant on St Mary’s Row on my walk to and from work every day, at least twice a week glancing over at the yellow lettering on black frontage and telling myself that I really must return. Now here I am, driven by the need for a midweek treat and a girlfriend who has a total obsession with their staff food Instagram stories. The interior has been tweaked to a darker shade than I recall, though the layout is much the same. It has drama yet a warmth to it. The hole in the far wall means that you can look in to the chefs at work, or they can look in to you eating their work. I am never quite sure which way round it is.

We have a steady three hour dinner which is so good I have decided to put the stuff I should be writing about aside and bring you this. It is one of the very best meals I have eaten in this fine city, one full of nuance and rooted so far in it’s environment you would need a team of gardeners to pull chef Brad Carter out of its soil. Without ever resorting to screaming through the tussles of his beard, Carter has become a champion of the best produce in the central region, only looking further afield when required, such as for caviar from Exmoor, or those heady truffles from Manjimup, Western Australia.

Four nibbles get us quickly underway, the first a parfait of chicken livers with various grains and raisins that I could have eaten a far bigger bowl of, followed by a delicate tart of broad beans and Winchester cheese lifted by a little mint. There are slivers of goose ham cured in house, and kohlrabi compressed in pine oil and topped with a salad of herbs which tastes slightly reminiscent of cucumber. The latter does a great job at prepping the palate though I understand how some, including Claire, could be underwhelmed. We have bread made from flour milled a mile away at Sarehole Mill with a pig fat butter containing a dice of crackling. If that butter doesn’t get the blood flowing to the organs, nothing will. With this the chef kindly brings a little Exmoor caviar over which I never expected, and probably neither should you. Still, caviar on bread and butter is something I’ll never tire of or turn down.

Cured mackerel kicks us off properly, the thin slices layered with gooseberry, bobbing in a bowl of dashi cut with mustard oil that has us slurping the last directly from it. A dish conceived in Japan, delivered in Moseley. That eastern influence runs throughout the meal, from the simplistic presentation, to the constant use of umami, and occasional flashes of deeper knowledge, like in the fermented rice on the last dessert. After this course it is straight back to the local environment; a slice of tomato compressed in elderberry vinegar, clothed in backfat and more elderberry, with basil leaves and seeds. It is one of the evening’s strongest courses, one that turns with every mouthful. There are sweet notes, acidic notes, fatty notes, and most surprisingly, anise from the basil seeds. For something that looks simplistic, there is a lot going on under the surface. I have a lot in common with this dish. Conversely, there is a humbleness to the next course, which means I have absolutely nothing in common with it. A fillet of ray with a sauce made from potato and dots of sea truffle, a type of seaweed that shares similar qualities to the tuber. Three cheap ingredients transformed into a plate that has far more luxurious qualities.

Now when I think of the evolution of Carters cooking it is summed up by the lamb course. A loin cutlet (I think) taken off the bone, cooked and then finished on a barbeque. As good as that is (and it is very, very good) the real points of interest are to be found in the garnish. Umami rich black garlic, peas that have been podded and dressed in the faintest of vinegar, sea lettuce both powdered and gently wilted, a healthy dusting of black truffle and a dressing of lamb fat mixed with aged soy. The complexities on the plate are everywhere, gently positioned into place and allowed to mingle with one another. The result is a dish as perfectly balanced as anything I have eaten this year. I save a slice of burnt fat for last because I know this will be the best bit. It is. What follows this is the best cheese I have ever eaten. A soft cheese called Maida Vale, washed in sour beer and served with malt loaf. It is grown up and addictive, sweet and rich, the beer a genius way of introducing balance.

Desserts are bold because they follow the same ethos as the rest of the meal, meaning that they are marginally sweeter, though not by much. More traditional of the two is the grilled strawberry, a beast the size of Claire’s Beetlejuice sized bonce. It has intrinsic sweetness, cut through by the clever use of unripened green strawberry and a soured cream. The last dessert is an ice cream of fig leaf, with local raspberries and fermented rice that adds a sophisticated sour note. Even the petit four – a silky chocolate ganache with rapeseed oil and sea salt – refuses to get the sugar levels going. I admire this; it is clear that Carter is now functioning with a singular belief.

Looking back on my 2015 review I used the words ‘uncluttered’ and ‘concise’ to describe the style of cooking. Although that ethos is still very much in play, the reality is that now Carters is an entirely different beast; it has matured into a restaurant entirely comfortable in its own skin, a place that looks to the best in local produce and pays respect to them on the plate. Claire considers it to be the best meal she has eaten in Birmingham, so much so that she pays the bill in full as a treat without me seeing it, though with two bottles of wine over the two and a bit hours it would work out to be about £130 a head. The best bit? All of this is on my doorstep. Moseley is lucky to have Carters, and I for one plan on coming here as often as possible.

Rum in Brum, Prince of Wales, Moseley

If you’re a groupie for fat food bastards, or the paid assassin from a coven of food bloggers, I’ll help you out with finding me. Come rain or shine, midday or later from midweek onwards, you’ll find me in The Prince of Wales in Moseley. I’ll either be sat at the bar with the regulars, or out the back, under that massive marquee within spitting distance of the tiki bar. Not that I would ever spit, no that’s disgusting. I tend to just throw shrapnel at the bar staff to get their attention. But I like it there. It’s my local, a great place without pretence where almost anything goes. If you haven’t been to The Prince they have a great bar upfront, and a wine and cheese shack, bottle bar, and rum tiki shack out the back. They do silly things like World Earth Day when I can’t get meat in my burrito, and great things like Woofstock (a dog friendly day festival on May 28th), and Rum in Brum on June 9th and 10th.

This is a quick post on the latter of those because a) I love the Prince and b) those Saturday day tickets aren’t going to pay for themselves. We went last year and it was easily in my top twenty-seven Saturday day time drinking sessions of the year. There were hundreds, maybe even millions, of rums to sample, and drinking tokens to purchase the ones you liked best. There was killer street food to purchase with your food tokens and a rum cocktail menu from the tiki bar. The sun blazed down and I may have shed a tear when the steelpan band played UB40’s ‘Kingston Town’. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a man dancing on the table wearing just a Bundaberg costume. He was absolutely not behaving in any way that was not promoting sensible drinking.

It’s back this year, bigger than ever they say. Which, if my maths is correct, means that there will be a billion or so rums to sample. They have jerk streetfood, and burrito streetfood and something called Vegan, which I believe to be a disease that slowly kills any personality you may have. The sun will 100% be possibly shining. I’m guessing that the steelpan band will back and willing to take a punt on them not churning out the greatest hits of Radiohead. I’m reliably informed by General Dictator Larry that if you have an Independent Birmingham card you get a whole £5 extra in drinks tokens for your ticket purchasing buck. There will be every type of rum, each to sample as much as your greedy chops can handle. And it will be glorious. Loads of merry people all having a great time together. You should go. I’ll be there too, but please don’t let that put you off.

Get tickets for this year’s Rum in Brum here

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Sorrento Lounge, Moseley

They do a great trick at Sorrento Lounge. Dishes are wielded out at the same time to the table, some may be cold, others not as advertised. There will be components missed. They lay them down and ask how everything is that very second, before the damp aromas have risen and the reality sets in. No time to say “I’m yet to try to them, but they look disgusting”, just straight out of the way and on to the next customer, never to be seen again. It leaves the customer in a void, staring into the dimly lit space knowing that having already parted for this clusterfuck of badly cooked food there is very little that can be done about it. I knew I’d lost my money purely by looking down at the table. I was already mourning its loss.

And this, one of the absolute worst meals I have ever eaten in my entire life, is completely the fault of Moseley. We did this to ourselves. This low-lit, gauche, adolescent shit-pit excuse is the latest of places that filled the Halfords void. We were meant to have Boston Tea Party, a place I care little for but at least displays good ingredient ethics and does a very nice scone, but No! we said, its a chain, all 22 of them, and Moseley does not want chains here, even if they have good ingredient ethics and very nice scones. Instead we ended up with Prezzo, a tartier Pizza Express, with a list of half decent things on cheese and tomato smothered cardboard. They fucked-up my order with Deliveroo when I was hungover and I never forgave them after that. Prezzo took liberties at building a nice little terrace when they wasn’t allowed and Moseley went “fuck off our land, we don’t want chains in Moseley”. And so they did. Now this. All walls covered in artwork and tables with candles because presumably they don’t want you to see what you are eating. Part of the very Lounge Group that owns five in Birmingham, and dozens, if not hundreds, elsewhere. We don’t do chains in Moseley. Not unless they change the first name every time. Fucking dimwits.

Sorrento is named after an old hospital in Moseley, the irony of which is not lost on me considering I would rather die than come here again. We order a total of nine dishes, consisting of six tapas and three side. The six are to tapas in the same way Citizen Khan is to comedy. Six pathetic little microwavable dishes containing various bits of food that very nearly bring me to tears of sadness. ‘Animals have died for this’ is the best I could muster for pulled chicken and chorizo. Torn shreds of a tired old bird in a claggy sauce that had me reaching for the insipid red wine. And then there is the courgette and red peppers with fingernail sized pieces of halloumi bobbing in a chilli oil that faintly smells of dead fish. It is supposed to be chargrilled. Bullshit. The only heat applied here has come from a 850w metal box. It is frankly an insult to every single chef who has ever tried to apply his trade with any integrity.

You’ll have to believe me as to how bad the potatas bravas was. Colourless blocks of soggy spud with two sauces they’ve failed to warm up correctly. The red one has the uncooked notes of tomato puree that is my only indicator of its intended flavour.  The white one, absolutely no idea, but I hope its not the bodily fluid of whatever horny teenager in the kitchen they’re paying the minimum wage to operate the pingy thing in the corner. By comparison the sweet potato fries are almost edible, albeit only once something called salt is applied. And then there’s the broccoli, not microwaved enough so that the stems are still raw. With this are soggy bits of garlic and chilli, proving that the kitchen here can fuck just about anything up.

We allegedly get crispy porky belly bites that are soft grey lump of fat sat in a puddle of dirty water. It looks like the contents of a post colonic irrigation and tastes far worse. I do something I’ve only done once before and spit a piece back out after the fat gets trapped in my throat. Buttermilk chicken are really sub-standard chicken dippers, pork and beef meatballs solid bits of off-cuts that would be better driven off a tee than ate. A side of macaroni cheese has the nuclear yellow tinge of a Russian assassination attempt. I eat some hoping to end it all. It doesn’t work. I just get burnt lips and overcooked pasta. A second glass of wine doesn’t sedate me, it just makes me more angry.

We don’t have dessert because we have bread. Two loaves worth of fucking bread that they forgot to bring with our food. I try to stop the lad who dumped it on to our table to tell him how bad this is, but he is gone. Of course he is. With dishes at around £4 each some would say this is value, and to those idiots I would gladly drag them 20 metres to Zindiya where similar prices buys skill and love. A final word; my girlfriend, the far nicer side of our relationship, says that this is the worst meal she can recall eating. She’s right. There is nothing redeeming about anything to do with Sorrento Lounge. It’s cynical and nasty, working on a small plate premise that will quickly see a bill adding up to a price point well above what it is worth. And this glossy wank stain of a restaurant is on my doorstep. People of Moseley, this is all your fault. We could have just taken the nice scones.

1/10

Little Blackwood, Moseley

I am familiar with the dining room of Little Blackwood. It is a space I know well, like my work desk and the contents of my drinks globe. For much of the past 18 months I have spent time and money within its walls, under its previous guise as Cheval Blanc. I hold no shame in my love for its previous incarnation; I drank so frequently at it’s bar I had a stool with my name on, and I mourned its loss in a piece for a regional newspaper when it announced its closure. It gave me some of the very best months of my life. But I’m not one for legacies. The past is just that, a memory, one that slowly dwindles away like the contents of my wine glass. Little Blackwood is now here, tweaking the interior with new lights and mismatched furniture. The sense of deja vu may still be present in the wall murals and turquoise booths, but a new spirit is alive and present.

Now stepping away from my fatty liver and putting my food cap firmly on, I think that what sets chef Ben Taylor apart is a firm sense of identity, one that frequently veers to the East, doing so with purpose and confidence. And whilst the cooking occasionally takes a small misstep, it quickly corrects itself with a stride in the right direction. There is very little about the food here that is delicate; the dishes thud with spice applied through modern technique. We would eat three solid courses each but only after an amuse that fails in its intention of setting out his style. A prawn kissed with the lightest of heat on spiced lentils, with a piece of popcorn dusted in curry powder. The daal was good, the prawn of decent quality with the intestinal tract still in place, which is crap. The popcorn is misjudged – have you ever pined for prawn popcorn? Me neither. They are two textures that should never go together.

And then it all gets good. A mushroom and lemongrass broth is poured tableside into a bowl containing pickled onions, a smoked onion puree, and mushroom wontons. The broth is heady and deep in flavour with the suggestion of mirin lurking in the background. The wontons have the texture of a man who has folded a million of these before. A similar success was had with crab macaroni cheese, rich and molten, with the best bit a croquette of the more pungent brown meat. The balance of crustacean and dairy is a tricky one to get right. He nails it here.

A chicken ballottine main shows strong technique across the plate. The rolled breast meat stuffed with a delicate mousseline that is accurately seasoned and poached. A California roll on the side is not only a playful way of getting carbohydrate on to the plate, it also allows the chef to bring a little wasabi into the mix. It is this, along with a ginger gel and a jus flavoured with sake, that makes the plate sing, even if the pak choi has been show a little too much cooking time. On the flip we have a hefty short rib of beef that relies on classic French technique and no Eastern flavours. The meat is cooked until the bone slides cleanly away from the protein, with a Jerusalem artichoke puree and thick baton of carrot halved lengthways. The very best thing on the plate, indeed that we try all night, is the potato Anna, which is what happens to sliced spuds when you trust them in the company of butter for a long time. These have taken on the best bits of the cow, too, perhaps for being a shelf to the short rib whilst cooking. I don’t bloody know. What I do know is I dream of the day when I can sit on a stool and order a bowl of these potatoes, a good bottle of wine and some of the baos for dessert. Those bao, I’ll get to them now.

Dessert is, you may have guessed, bao, those oriental milk buns usually steamed, though here deep fried to a donut-like consistency. We take three because that particular ratio saves me two quid on the usual £4 price tag, and because I am a greedy bastard. All are very good; the banana and salted caramel, the peanut butter and jelly, and the blackberry and apple. Lovely concise bits of dessert, unlike anything else in the city, and perfect for a one man kitchen operation like here. No doubt others will try to copy it and good for them. I’ll read about it on Twitter whilst sat at the bar here with a bowl of potato Anna, three bao, and a bottle of Nyetimber. I may or may not be on my own. A man has needs and this particular man has a girlfriend not very good at sharing.

Service is kind and well meant, if a little raw. A broth is quite difficult to eat with just a knife and fork. But I liked it here, quite a lot actually. It seems an instant fit to the area, a casual bistro where a meal for two could be had for around £40 a head with wine. At that price point they can expect to see a lot of my business. Cheval Blanc is dead, long live Little Blackwood.

8/10

Zindiya, via Deliveroo

December, a food lovers nightmare. Reservations are impossible to come by, and when they do happen, you’ll mostly find yourself dining from an overpriced set menu, surrounded by those who only get out once a year. The types who get pissed on two drinks and cop off with Martin from accounts in the toilet cubicle whilst you really need the loo, and clog the bar with orders for the entire department. I can’t take those pricks. Had I never had friendships that only survive on that one annual piss-up, I’d stay in all month, eating, watching Masterchef and pulling apart the plot holes in a two-thousand-year-old story about the alleged son of God and an intact hymen. I’m not buying it. I fail to accept that booking.com was down on the very day that they landed in Jerusalem, or that three men that rocked up with such useless presents could ever be called wise. At this time of year the only wise man I’m opening my door to is a Deliveroo driver bearing the gift of Zindiya.

Zindiya being on Deliveroo is a BIG thing. They’ve previously had no takeaway option and the increasing success means it’s harder than ever to get a table. What opened as a Moseley favourite is now a Birmingham hero, beloved of the lowlifes like me to Michelin starred chefs.

That delivery process hasn’t affected the quality. The chicken tikka is still in Birminghams top five dishes and tastes better than ever. The aloo tikki chaat still zings with heat and deft spicing. That bhel puri is still a textural delight.

We tried a couple of dishes that have incredibly still eluded us. There was a toastie of sorts that has the crunch of raw onion hidden under melted cheese and chillies that at £3.50 for two pieces doesn’t feel like value for the first time. It’s the Chole Bature that steals the show. The bread is delicate and airy, the perfect vehicle for the chickpea curry. Top it with a bit of the sev and nuts from the bhel puri and thank me afterwards.

The above, including the delivery charge, comes in at £27.00. That chicken tikka is £7, the aloo tikki chaat £4, the Chole Bature a couple of quid more. It’s astonishing value, some of the best food in the city for really very little. Deliveroo have landed big with this and I for one will be making the most of it. In our household, Christmas really has come early.

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this meal.

Gemmayzeh Nights at Lewis’s, Moseley

I send loads of people to Lewis’s.  In an era of my life where I am still genuinely shocked that people request my opinion, the question of the city’s best breakfast is always met with the corner spot on Saint Mary’s Row.  It’s not because I can practically see what they have chosen from my flat window (though this is a perk), it is because it is the best breakfast.  No fanciful plating, just the finest of ingredients cooked carefully and treated with respect.  And the people who I send seem to agree.  I know this because they are often arse-deep in one of the chairs whilst I am waiting in line for a table.

Now, no more breakfast talk.  I’ve covered it before if you can be bothered to search for it, and my view hasn’t changed.  We’re here for Gemmayzeh Nights, the Lebanese evenings held every Thursday and Friday.  I have to say when I first heard about this I thought it was a curious move given that Lewis’s faces Damascena, with the latter doing the food of the Middle East very well seven days a week.  Still my girlfriend wanted to try it and I have learnt to do as I am told.


We order a very nice bottle of red from an all Lebanese list and order from a menu split into smaller plates and shawarma boards.  Food arrives as and when it’s ready, the first dish being a grilled halloumi dusted with spice and chopped mint that lifts the bland cheese.  Skewers of chicken have zatar, that woody and zingy aromatic, to thank for lifting them well above the norm.  The quality of the meat is superb – it is this ability to source produce that separates them from all else.  


A trio of the more coventional dips arrives with flat bread.  I think that the labneh, strained yogurt to the unwise, has the whiff of Philidelphia cream cheese about it, a notion I am told is ridiculous.  It does.  We both agree that the hummus has a great texture to it – not overly blended to a wallpaper paste as often is the case – and a rich flavour with plenty of tahini and lemon juice.  And we also agree that the baba ganoush could do with more garlic heat against the smokey aubergine.  All three bowls are quickly shammied clean with the flat breads.  We finish up the small plates with fine slices of asparagus, freekah and labneh.  The entire plate is dressed in a bright acidity that lifts all it touches.  It’s a simple thing executed well.  




Given the quality before, the shawarma is frankly a disappointment.  Forget that the crispy potatoes are good, the pickles perfectly made, or the salad well dressed, this dish lives and dies on how good the meat is, making this Death by Lamb.  The meat has little in the way of taste, and has dried out a little due to overcooking.  At £12.50 this is the most expensive dish on the menu and the one I’d probably recommend least.  

This being Moseley village, expect to pay for the experience.  Our bill of £70 includes a £30 bottle of wine, leaving a figure for the food that pushes the top limits of what it’s worth.  It’s a nice night and I admire what they are doing, but if I’m being really honest I’ll be saving the return visits for lazy weekend breakfasts.  

7/10

Gemmazyeh Nights at Lewis’s are every Thursday and Friday 

Saba, via Deliveroo

Saba has been on my radar for some time, though probably not for the reason you might assume.  You see I have a younger brother who’s nickname is the same as of the restaurant.  Please don’t ask me why, I really have no idea, but it is how everyone knows him.  My family, his friends, the local police – we all call him Saba.  Every time I look at the slightly tattered building in Balsall Heath it makes me think of him looking at strangers and saying “do you have a problem, mate?”, or the time the helicopters hovered over the house looking for him.  Brilliant lad is my little Bro.  I love him dearly.  

But the reason I haven’t visited, wait for it, ShitAdvisor’s 13th top ranked Birmingham restaurant, is a simple one.  No booze on the premises.  This is a problem for me.  I can barely eat breakfast without a glug of wine, so it’s never going to happen at dinner.  I’m sure they offer a tantalising selection of non-alcoholic drinks, but when it comes to tails I’m all cock and no mock.  I order via Deliveroo, crack open the vino, and put on the least amount of clothing possible to scare the rider without him pressing charges.

The reality is that the restaurant is nothing like my brother.  It punches with little strength and is far too polite.  The starter promises wheat sauce, walnut and garlic, but if it’s there it’s swamped by aubergine and tomato.  Likewise a Karahi that is all tender chicken and tomato paste.  Where is the spice? More importantly where is the portion?  It takes up a quarter of the tray and is smaller than the starter.  We’re sixteen quids worth of food down and I’m still starving.  



Here’s the stuff they do well; naans and chilli sauce.  The former is supple and light, the latter fruity and backlit with heat.  Two thirds of the kebabs also impress, one of lamb, another of chicken, both tender and wholesome.  The sheekh kebab is dry and lacking any flavour at all.  These three kebabs will cost you £14 and you will find them under the specials section, an exaggeration at best. 


For those not able to read between the lines, this is not an endorsement of Saba the restaurant.  Delivered to the front door and lubricated with alcohol it is tolerable, but that is about it.  It’s overpriced and surprisingly short on flavour.  If I want some Saba action in future I’ll be picking up the phone to my brother to go for a pint.  

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this.  By all means give Saba a go, but if I were you I’d be in The Wellington ordering a Tortilla burrito via them instead.