South American

Pulperia, Birmingham.

This post finds you from somewhere over the Alps, on RyanAir’s flight from Pisa to Hell. There are drunk Brits (I may be one of them) who have little regard for pandemics, and Italians in masks who don’t know whether to fear the British or Coronavirus more. Two rows in front a slurring man with red wine stains around his mouth made the rear of the plane aware that he was a medic. Behind me a posh lady is scolding her partner for their poor choice of rental vehicle. Despite this, we’ve had a lovely trip, drinking lots of great Tuscan wines and eating far too well. If you are reading this as one of the many people who offered suggestions as to the best steakhouses Florence offers, then thank you for the suggestions but they were dutifully ignored. I find steak boring. There, I’ve said it.

Part of the problem I have with them is how badly they are generally cooked. I cook a serviceable one at home, but my modest cooker struggles to get up to the temperature required and imparts none of the smoke that the best steaks have lingering in the background. The ones in Birmingham, well, let’s say they mostly disappoint. Go find the street food vender Beef On The Block if you want a good bavette, but those within bricks and mortar never hit the mark consistently. Whilst the rest of the country have Goodman’s and Hawksmoor, we have three branches of Miller and Carter. Enough said.

Praise be to Aktar Islam for changing that. He is a man of detail – anyone who has eaten in Opheem will know that – so I had an inkling Pulperia was going to be good. It’s better than good: it’s the steakhouse the city deserves; one which is notionally set in Argentina yet finds itself orienteering around the world to wherever the best produce is. It’s on these menus, amongst the wet aged beef from Argentina, you find rare breeds and dairy cattle whose life has been more than purely raised for meat. All in a dining room which is unmistakably Aktar; that juxtaposition between the masculine heavy textures and the feminine floral displays. The room is as good as Brindley Place has ever seen.

We begin with three starters; chorizo has a gentle smokiness reminiscent of gammon with tomatoes that are far too tasty to be British, all dressed up to the nines in a herby and garlicky chimicurri. Soft sweetbreads kissed with char from the grill so a delicate touch can still be applied over flames. These come with chicory and a burnt lime chimichurri that is bold and smokey whilst still retaining the soul of the condiment. The empanadas – those Argentinian pasties – are good, with the spicy beef better than the chicken. They each need a little more filling inside them, though the romanesco style red pepper dip proves great to dunk the excess pastry in.

Those steaks. Let me tell you about those steaks. In the effort of transparency, we don’t get the steak we order, with the kitchen sending out large two pieces of Holstein Fresian – a rare breed dairy cow aged up to 18 years and listed here under the title of ‘basque cider house’ steak. A kilo prime rib here (for two, unless you’re my girlfriend) will cost you £85 and is worth every penny; delivering a depth of flavour unlike any we are used to, full of umami and beefiness. It’s the ultimate in beef, up there with Bar Nestor though without the terroir, cooked over high heat until the Malliard reaction kicks in and then rested until the juices disperse inside the ruby red interior. It doesn’t need the bone marrow and Malbec sauce, but that sauce is so very rich and so very good. With this we have fries and carrots roasted with chicken butter and the best version of humita I’ve ever tried. Seriously, creamed sweetcorn is the best friend of steak. You heard it here first.

We share a serviceable chocolate fondant for dessert, along with two bottles of Malbec, a couple of cocktails, and finish by making two more bookings to come back. Those looking for a cheap steak should book elsewhere; Pulperia is a celebration of the cow, not a trip to Beefeater. Those on a budget should aim for the Argentinian experience; a fillet with fried egg, Malbec sauce and that humita will come in a touch over £30. But why should you when you can experience some of the best beef in the world? We’ve waited a very long time for Birmingham to have a steakhouse of this quality. It’s time for you to enjoy it.

9/10

We visited during a soft launch and received a discounted bill.

Steak this good needs the best in travel. Time for to take A2B

Fiesta del Asado, Edgbaston

A full midweek dining room is a sight that makes me happy. Those who eat on school nights are committed gluttons, a different breed entirely to those that only go out on Friday and Saturday evenings. They know where the good stuff is at and they don’t want the hassle of waiting six weeks for it. They are the beating heart of the trade, the key to a sustainable business. If you can put bums on seats on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, you’ve succeeded. I doff my cap to you.


We arrive on a Tuesday night when winter is flexing its muscle. It is dark, with wind and rain beating against the windows. On an evening when I really don’t want to leave the solace of my sofa, Fiesta Del Asado is full, turning away those who have chanced it without reservation. Those fools. What impresses most is this is not a location suited to passing trade; it is on a stretch of the Hagley Road where intermittent hotels are joined by a healthy prostitution trade, and, even worse, TGI Fridays. Eating at Fiesta Del Asado is a deliberate choice that evidently requires pre-planning whatever day of the week.


It is a handsome dining room where large wooden tables are adorned with little but candles. The restaurant focuses on the Asado style of Argentina with hunks of meat cooked over applewood on the grill that is central to the kitchen. We start with small plates of padron peppers and sobrasada, a spreadable chorizo, with toast. Both revel in their simplicity, the best of ingredients worked as little as possible. We move on to a plate of Iberico ham, with deep flavour and ribbons of soft fat that threaten to disintegrate from the body temperature of finger and thumb.



They do other meats, but we only have eyes for the beef tonight, for which we take two very different preparations. Slow cooked brisket arrives in a thick red wine gravy, almost mulled star anise, cinnamon and clove. It is a classy bit of cooking, more so with the addition of fried potatoes and sweet corn that add body and texture.


It is the bavette that shows off what they really do best here, fired aggressively over the grill so that the steak has a charred crust and the centre a perfect medium rare.  All it needs is a lick of bright acidity from chimichurri and you have a complex bit of cow far more flavoursome than any bit of fillet.

Not even the most charming of waitresses could tempt us into a dessert, leaving us to finish up on a very fairly priced Malbec and vacate our table to those still hoping to get a steak dinner tonight. This was my first trip to Fiesta del Asado in around three years and I’d honestly forgotten how good it is. It’s not cheap, but the steaks here are as good as any in the city. Don’t just take my word on that; there’s a dining room full of people who all share my opinion.

8/10

I was invited to dine at Fiesta del Asado

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

Fiesta del Asado Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cau, Birmingham

Today it’s a whistle-stop visit at Cau, a new South American style steakhouse in Brindley Place. Inside the monochrome interior is broken up by lucid green wallpaper that echoes grass, whilst clouds dangle from the high ceiling. Its an odd space, seemingly kitsch and intent on dividing opinion. With little time to wonder around the menu, we plunge straight in to the beef for mains. The cow, or cau as they would have it, would prove to be very good, maybe even surprisingly so, full of deep bovine flavour from an animal properly sauced and hung. The sirloin appeared central to the plate with no accompaniments – a ballsy move that lives or dies on the quality and cooking of the meat. It was cooked rare as requested, and correctly rested so that the meat juices had remained where they should be and not on the plate. The seasoning was exact and the flavour of the cow good. It was hard not to be impressed and impossible not to love. On the side came chips the size of a fat mans thumb, which were crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. At fifteen quid it was a serious bargain.

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A burger also impressed.  Stacked high, the patty came pink as requested, with an onion ring, American cheese and piquant ketchup.  What made it was the addition of sticky bits of braised short rib, that reinforced the bovine flavour and added a subtle fattiness.  It wasn’t easy to eat, but then the best things never are.  More of those fat chips and another fifteen quid left us replete and pleased with the afternoons work.

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We never took desserts, though the website shows some interesting options.  Perhaps next time, eh, when I can also explore a seemingly well crafted list of Malbecs.  Cau impressed for having a product that far exceeds the mid price range it promotes.  And they deliver via those efficient scooter boys over at Deliveroo, which makes that steak / burger dinner at home all the more luxurious.   I normally insist on several dishes before I can give a score,though in this instance I can confidently say that if you’re looking for a lump of Cau, you’ve come to the right place.

8/10

Cau Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodega Bar and Cantina, Birmingham

I have been going to Bodega long before I started this blog, which I suppose is a recommendation in itself. I can’t say it’s ever been my favourite place to eat, but my girlfriend clearly enjoys it, which leaves me with little choice. To me its unique to Birmingham, though only because the second city doesn’t have a Wahaca on every corner like London. If Wahaca is specific to Mexico in its approach, Bodega takes a broader stroke to South America with familiar dishes like burritos along with the less common banderillas and cordero seco. And shame on you for skiving off Peruvian classes at school if you don’t know what cordero seco is.

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I leave the girlfriend at home and take a much more ear friendly approach with my friend.  Even on a cold Tuesday evening the place is full and the service is warm.  It has a casual feel, with colourfully decorated walls and low lighting.  We settle on a selection of small plates with the intention of sharing – a notion that upsets me just thinking about it.  First up is probably the best dish of the night; a grease-less deep-fried soft shell crab, paired intelligently with a lime mayo and pineapple salsa that offer comfort and a little sharpness which both work well with the crustacean. The pineapple salsa showed up again on a plate on halloumi, the cheese griddled carefully though not an obvious match to the salsa. 176

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Tapas staple of chorizo with peppers and a red wine sauce was next. Here the quality of the cured sausage was better than most, even if the sauce wasn’t reduced to the syrupy consistency that I would like. At its best it should gloss the meat like a lick of paint, not run all over the plate. Following this was the only time they got it really wrong. Papas chorreadas was a mixture of potatoes, tomatoes and onion which was lost under a thick ooze of what tasted like powdered cheese sauce which quickly became a unpleasant mix of nothingness

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Chicken quesadillas is a dish I’ve eaten a million times. Here was a good example; large chunks of poultry flavoured with chipotle and comforted with melted cheese. A similar success was had with the pulled pork tacos, which had good meat at its core and was accurately cooked.  Much like everyone else in the country I’ve eaten a lot of pulled pork in the last twelve months – these taco’s will be remembered more fondly than the vast majority. 181

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The bill, with a couple of pints of Brahma, came in about a twenty quid a head.  Here, perhaps, is the key to Bodega’s obvious success; no one leaves Bodega feeling short-changed.  The food features ingredients of good quality for the price paid – certainly a lot worse can be had for more money in a close vicinity.  There are times when rich food and dainty portions become too much and what you go looking for is a healthy feed at a sound price.  Its at the these times I usually go looking for Bodega.  And that’s a recommendation

7/10

Bodega Bar & Cantina on Urbanspoon