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Carters of Moseley, Winter 2019

This was supposed to be a recap of both the meals we had booked in at Carters over the festive period, but no, Claire had to pick up a spluttering, bubonic, germfest that had us cancelling all plans and turned me into a tea waiter for two weeks. There are many reasons to hate the know-it-all, boyfriend stealing, Kardashian obsessed, clever clogs tax nazi that is Claire, but few more valid than her ruining me eating good food. As it was, I managed to guilt shame her into getting a curry in as a replacement meal, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

The mathematicians amongst you may have worked out that ‘both’ minus one bout of illness equals one meal. You are going to read about that meal because it was four hundred quid and I want to preserve what already hasn’t been sacrificed to the porcelain gods a long time ago.

It was another amazing meal; I think maybe the best yet. It appears to the eye of this bloated epicurean (yes, I did just refer to myself in the wankiest way possible) that the reins are off and that now we are eating what Brad and the team here want to cook and, more importantly, what they want to eat. Take the partridge that comes at half time; poached in master stock, the bird is butchered, it’s elements cooked seperately, and then reassembled to its original form, albeit axed in two for sharing purposes. The breast meat isn’t going to offend anyone, though some might object to the claws left intact on the braised legs (I don’t), and those people will take equal offence to the skewer of innards which happen to be the best bit. The biggest talking point is up top. The unctous neck meat that leads up the birds skull, beak intact, brain ready to be sucked out. I’m told that this made an appearance last year, but only to the tables they thought would be receptive to it. Now everyone gets it. That’s where Carters is at presently; a brilliant point of realisation of what they do best is what is going out of the kitchen. We ate every bit with Claire not only cleaning the bones but sucking out the last of my share of the brain. It’s yet another reason to hate her.

The rest of the meal was another tour de force of what is right now the best kitchen in Birmingham. The nibbles and bread are pretty identical to this meal, whilst the brilliant scallop brex-o description can save me eighty words by reading it here. We eat barely warmed through razor clams in pepper dulse sauce that is pepe e cacio reimagined by a wizard, followed by sturgeon in a velvety sauce bobbing with caviar. The sturgeon is a new one to me given that I’m only used to eating the eggs of it’s unborn children. I struggle with it as its texture is too reminiscent of trout (the true evil of this planet) though make up for it by mopping up the sauce whilst Claire finishes off mine. She eats mother and daughter. Another reason to hate her.

The menu tells me that we had the partridge at this point, so it’s onto the eight year old Holstein with fermented hen of the wood mushrooms and ‘beer mustard’ which, if I remember correctly from the Calum Franklin event is pickled mustard seeds fermented in beer. I think. They are incredible anyway. The cow meat has a maturity to it that only comes from dairy cattle, layered with funk and umami from it’s accompaniments. It’s a proper plate of food. Then Baron Bigod stuffed with truffle because life is too short to eat it any other way.

I should point out at this point that Alex and Holly had curated a truly fantastic (and very generous) wine flight for Claire’s birthday and I’m less half cut, more impaled on my own spike. It’s all a bit blurry from here on in, which is probably our fault for polishing off a bottle of something fizzy before the food started. There is a mousse of cornish honey with a prettily decorated shard of something sweet and crispy containing the very bits that the bee feeds off. Lucky bee: my diet is made up of bitterness and partridge brain. The last picture I took was of a chocolate and cobnut tart which I remember being delicious. I think there was something after that, though it could just be more port. I think it was more port. We pay the bill and saunter to Couch for more drinks and a rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, capping off a perfect night. The style of cooking at Carters is in a new phase which may not be for everyone. It is most certainly for us. I can’t get enough of it.

Wanna know what else I can’t get enough of? That sweet, sweet A2B.

OKO at Nuvo Bar, Brindley Place

If part of my role as blogger de rigueur is to make you, Dear Readers, aware of places you may not have known existed, then I think that I’ve cracked it. The subject matter for the post is a restaurant that I fell upon by coincidence, in a building that I know very well, but for all reasons which are not food. It takes a special kind of person to know Nuvo. Those who do generally either work in Brindley Place or are the kind who enjoy sportswear as outerwear, bottle table packages, and dancing to Fat Man Scoop. All of this is fine; I was once that person. My mate used to regularly DJ there when my body was sculpted enough to wear a cardigan with nothing underneath and my jeans deliberately showed off those fresh Calvin Klein y-fronts. I’m sorry if you’re reading this whilst eating. Or planning on eating. Or have eaten at some point today. But it’s the truth. I even worked for RBS at the time in Brindley Place. I was Nuvo personified.

I thought it had gone in all honesty. Lost to the same oceans that swept away 52 Degrees North and Poppy Red and Mechu. But no, it’s still there, and they even do food now. I know this because I went to get dinner nearby and when that was closed went into Nuvo. I’m inquisitive like that. It hasn’t changed.

The food is Japanese, a sushi heavy trip around the more familar dishes of the Far East. There are edamame beans in a perky chilli and garlic mush that required the right amount of pressure to drag from the surface whilst popping the innards into the mouth. There are very good gyozas and less good fried squid that lacks seasoning and is on the chewy side.

Tempura vegetables are greaseless and still crunchy, which is an achievement that eludes some other versions in Birmingham. These are good, which is more than be said for duck filled rolls that are greasy and a little bit unpleasant. The inconsistencies by this point are noticable.

The sushi comes on elaborate platters complete with plumes of dry ice. I imagine that this goes down a storm in a throbbing club, but here, with only around eight people in the room, it feels a little cheap. The sushi is okay; sure the rice is not at body temperature, nor has it been properly seasoned with vinegar, but the cutting of the fish shows solid technique and the quality of the produce is high. Dragon rolls, salmon nigiri, little mounds of rice with spliced tempura prawns. It’s not groundbreaking but it is more than acceptable, which will do for this part of town.

All of this leaves me split on my opinion: there was good and bad, and I imagine that if you went to the right places you could find the good things done a lot better. But for all of this, I liked it, at least I think I did. Service is brilliant, the sake menu is extensive and kindly marked-up, and the food won’t break the bank. Order right and you’ll do okay here. I’m personally just not sure I’d want to do so when it’s a heaving club, memories or otherwise.

6/10

You know who you won’t find in da club? A2B

Bar Iberico, Nottingham

Had our meal at Bar Iberico finished after the first dish I’d be here telling you how amazing it was. Had it finished after the second dish I’d be still be waxing lyrical, albeit in a slightly more restrained fashion. But we didn’t stop there. Of course we never. We ordered more and the food got progressively worse until I felt bad for ever walking through the door and asking for a table. But they are clearly very popular in Nottingham and TripAdvisor loves them, so hopefully they’ll ignore this whiney little bastard and crack on with whatever they were doing before.

Should you find yourself here by choice I strongly suggest you order the crispy chicken with jerez sauce and then bolt for the door. Only kidding. Make sure you pay the bill first, I can’t condone theft. The chicken is the ultimate bar snack; crisp and fiery and robustly seasoned, it begs for a second and third bowl to be ordered alongside a winelist that offers value and choice by the glass. If you do need a second plate of food you’ll do alright by ordering the the chorizo and padron pepper skewers which take very average quality staples of Spanish cuisine and put them in the same space. There is nothing wrong with this idea in my world.

And from there it just goes downhill. A flatbread with shredded duck and balsamic is too sweet and the duck has been cooked far too long. The patatas bravas has cubes of spud that are suspiciously like those obtained from a bag with a nondescript tomato sauce. Worse with these is the pot of something buttery with the whack of garlic that if I close my eyes could be that awful thing they send with Papa John pizzas to put you off ordering from the Papa ever again. If that was unpleasant (which it was), the low point was yet to come. A ragu of lamb with something called a Samphaina sauce which I can only assume is made by blending up a can of Campbell’s cream of vegetable soup. The ragu is underseasoned, the sauce an acrid pool of grey sludge. It’s one of the worst things I ate in 2019 and that included a trip to Gino D’Acampo’s.

Service is a little cumbersome, which is understandable given that we eat over the Christmas period, and the bill works out a little over £47 for the two of us. Afterwards we walk the one minute to the always excellent Cottonmouth. Here we drink honed and polished drinks from a concise menu. It’s pretty much the blueprint for the perfect bar. There is a lot here for Bar Iberico to learn from about not over-stretching themselves.

5/10

Chilli Pickle, Brighton

I’ve eaten quite a few thali in my time. Some in India, several in this country, and one in Magaluf when I was nineteen which resulted in me having sex behind the restaurant with a girl from an adjoining table. They have always interested me: the solar system of silver tins that make up the meal; the curries and the side dishes; the breads, the carbs, and the sweet. Whether sat on plastic chairs in an un-air conditioned room in Agonda or a room with broken air conditioning in Hall Green it’s always an occasion, even when they disappoint, which they mostly do. You see, getting a thali right is a skill that eludes pretty every Indian restaurant I have ever been to.

But I had high hopes for Chilli Pickle. Maybe it was the various titles they’ve picked up over the years, maybe it’s the bib from Michelin that recognises good quality cooking at fair prices, or likely it was the strong recommendation from Birmingham’s grumpiest chef (thanks Paul). Either way it seemed the right place for a late lunch.

Before we get on to that thali there are other dishes to first get through. I liked the masala poppad, though it is ultimately a very clever way of charging £2.60 for a pre-assembled poppadum with the tomato and onion salads. And then the tandoori chicken on supple naan bread that packs wave after wave of flavour. The chicken is cooked with skill, the marinade just catching in parts, all the sweetness leveled out by a salad that has been long thought out. The masala fries on the side are undercooked. It’s the only slip of the meal.

We make the upgrade to king thali and are rewarded with the best thali I have eaten outside of India. The railway chicken is packed with the heady notes of cardamon, cinnamon and garam masala, with slices of potato that have absorbed the best bits whilst slightly thickening the sauce. A tarka dhaal is restrained in spice with ideal texture. There are poppadoms and chapatis, a bright lime pickle, pickled red cabbage, sweet pear chutney, deceptively spicy beetroot chutney, the lightest of onion bhajis, too much rice, a savoury chickpea flour cake that Claire enjoyed more than I did, and gulab jaman properly soaked in maple syrup. Honestly if this was three hours closer in a car I’d gladly pay the sixteen quid to eat this once a week.

Dessert cocktails are my favourite type of dessert and here they range from a very successful cherry sour to a less than so old fashioned with dates, with a gin martini somewhere inbetween. The bill was about £70 (I was a bit pissed), a bargain given that we order too much to drink and far too much to eat, leaving us to saunter down to L’Atelier du Vin for more cocktails. Brighton is a wonderful city and our weekend had many other great highlights, though none as good as the thali here. I’d have no problem recommending Chilli Pickle to anyone. The place is a joy.

8/10

Craft Dining Rooms, December 2019

It’s all change at Craft Dining Rooms. The end of 2019 saw them appoint Andrew Sheridan of Great British Menu fame as Exec Chef, a move probably in line with Aktar Islam adding the restaurant to his portfolio as Chef Director. Even now, as this post goes live, the final touches are being added to their English garden; a series of pods which line the canal from the opposing side of Brindley Place. The restaurant too is having a once-over; the large bar area is being halved with some of the kitchen being moved out to that space, a new PDR is going in, the mustard pillars are gone with flowers and softer lighting coming in.

I know all of this because the owner of Craft tells me so over a gin and tonic whilst my friends turn up for our lunch date. It’s the last Friday before Christmas, it’s pissing down to Biblical proportions and Birmingham’s roads are besieged with various closures. It’s the perfect storm for delays and I’m drenched to the core. By the time the last of our trio rolls in some 45 minutes after our booking I am soaked in more ways than one. Thanks Sam for the gins, I needed them.

The food is now taking a tighter line, more in keeping with the ideals set when they first opened. It’s highly seasonal, not only using the larder of the UK but an easier style of cooking. The bread rolls are still as good as you’re likely to see in the city, but now you have the choice of a more conventional butter and another heavily flavoured with Marmite. The latter divides the table like – well – I can’t think of an ingredient which is as divisive. A fat scallop has been pan fried on one side to a burnished crust, in one of those buttery sauces that has you chasing the last of it with your finger. So far so very good.

We get unctous pig cheeks with potato puree, squash puree, and batons of pickled squash and apple. It’s a miniature take on something far more substantial; wholesome and perfect for the wintery conditions outside the large panes of glass, it has just enough acidity to cut through it. Then cod in a bubble bath of crab bisque, all delicate and warming. Simple and understated, it lets the produce speak for itself.

I can’t remember eating a piece of venison as well cooked as that on the main course, the meat not overly gamey and robustly seasoned. The pairing of blackberries and beetroots an obvious one, given little touches like the addition of rhubarb to the beetroot puree. It’s not perfect; the disc of beetroot is undercooked, and the overall feel of the dish is a little high in acidity, but all of this is forgotten because they have a rectangle of compressed potato slices that have been deep fried to golden on the side.

I happen to be a big fan of the pastry chef, a man who answers to the name of Howing. Dessert on this occasion was a white chocolate orange; a frozen shell depicting peel which contains a caramelised white chocolate mousse, macerated orange, and blood orange. This is on a crumb of salted dark chocolate which had maybe a little too much salt. It’s cold, it’s rich, it’s complex. And I really hope I’ve taken the notes correctly for this because by now we’ve drank a fair amount of wine and are making plans to carry on throughout the afternoon.

I don’t know how much this came to because a friend was picking up the bill, though I can tell you that as before the English wines, in particular an orange wine from Litmus, were delicious. Speaking to Andrew Sheridan afterwards I got the feel for his vision of what Craft should be; a full on celebration of the seasons of the UK, laid out simply and without compromise. I have a lot of time for that. Just two weeks into his appointment we got a sense of that and it really delivered. The future is a bright one for Craft.

As ever, A2B got me from A to B.

Adam Reid at The French, Manchester

I like Manchester. I know as a Brummie I’m supposed to be belittling it as a way of confirming our rightful status as the second city, but frankly I can’t be arsed. It’s a nice place, the people are kind, and it looks decent even when it’s pissing with rain, which it does every time I visit. They have a proud cultural heritage and in the Northern Quarter have a arguably the best district in the country. Whilst Birmingham is beautifully self-deprecating, Manchester has swagger; an arm-swinging, have-you-shit-yourself, broad simian stroll with added bad haircuts. And it’s wonderful. I think it owes this attitude to it’s music over any artist or football team. The Smiths, Buzzcocks, The Stone Roses, Oasis; they all have that can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it special ingredient that makes Manchester the most musically rich city in the country. But not Simply Red. Simply Red are shit.

They play a lot of that music in the dining room of The French. Over the course of the two hours nestled in the deep boothes, directly under one of the oversized chandeliers, we get Elbow and Stone Roses and Oasis and Joy Divison. It’s just one of many connections to it’s terroir, the glue that binds it to the base of Manchester. It’s an atmosphere that works against convention; the decor is smart, befitting of the five star hotel it resides in, yet the ambience is one without pretence; there appears to be no dress code and everyone – including the staff – look like they are enjoying themselves. This may have to do with the lack of Simply Red. Simply Red are shit.

The opening passage comes thick and fast. A broth is syrupy in texture, with a depth of flavour obtained from browned vegetables and quickly reduced added water. There are bowls of lightly smoked whipped cods roe, to be dredged with shards of chicken skin and lineseed crackers, and then slabs of cheeses and hefty pieces of cold ham with piccalilli and house-made mustard. As fun as it is, it is the most underwhelming part of the meal. Whilst the rest of the menu proves to be high in skill, these feel like a collection of ingredients thrown together for the purpose of generosity. The bread is better and the beefy butter even better than that.

The first course on the lunch menu would sit high on the list of best things I have eaten this year. A tartare of aged sirloin is mixed with fine of dice of root veg, all loosely bound in a mushroom condiment that brings an earthiness to it rife with umami. It does what it intends in riffing on the flavours of a potato hash, albeit with a subtlety and clever change of textures. It is genuinely fantastic; that kind of clever cooking that every chef tries but very few successfully pull off. Then cod with lightly pickled mussels and a chowder that hugs the acidity away. It shows great self-control to let the produce speak in such a simple style. The gamble pays off; we go back to the bowls until all four are wiped clean with the last of the bread.

I’m slightly less taken by thin slices of red deer which appear to have lost more temperature than those being eaten by my girlfriend and her parents. There is plenty of bright acidity in the sauce and from the pickled quince, whilst the accompaniemnts of bacon and mushroom further echo the sentiment of a one-pot casserole. It’s clear that this is where Adam Reid’s skill is at; the ability to take familiarity and spin it on it’s head to something more finessed.

There is no such finesse with the dessert, though nor should there be. This is a plate of food designed to be eaten, not fawned over with cameras. Apples baked until their form has long dissapeared and the texture is softer than the soulful tones of Mick Hucknell. A disc of caramelised pastry and a quenelle of cold custard. I don’t need to tell you what it tastes like because you can probably guess, but I will, because I am better at describing food than you are. It was fucking fantastic. There you go. We get a boozy cake to finish. Also fucking fantastic. You came here for the descriptions and I’ve given them to you.

The bill is £400 for the four of us with a bottle of wine and a round of drinks. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Claire’s father for offering to pay almost half of that. It’s value for a lunch that goes from solidly good to exceptional in parts. It’s clear that the kitchen is around the level it wants to be; the tartare, the cod, and the dessert are clearly at one star level. In my eyes it’s only a matter of time before they get the recognition they deserve.

8/10

Top Ten Dishes of 2019

It’s been a huge year for the team here at MAOV HQ. Starting the year after being named Time magazine’s ‘Man of The Year’, I turned down a knighthood from the queen, Cheryl Hole. I won big at the global blogging awards, scooping the ‘Greatest Blogger Alive’, ‘Lifetime Achievement’ and ‘Most Unnecessary Wordcount’ awards, whilst narrowly missing out on the coveted ‘Best Line’ to Tom Carroll. I was immortalised in paper mache at a cafe in Huddersfield despite never have visited Huddersfield.

All of this is of course bollocks. I’ve learned this year that the ‘multi-award’ bit in my bio means absolutely nothing. If my life goal is to have my face flash up on a roundabout on the inner ring road following an award from a local panel best described as dubious, then I’ve fucked it. Properly fucked it. What matters is that this blog is still read, which it is in the largest numbers thus far, and that it is useful, which I think it is, at least 40% of the time. I’ve eaten a lot of food this year, some good, some bad, some great. Here are the ten best.

10) Tagliatelle with pepper dulse sauce and truffles. (0121) at Carters.

Do you find yourself looking at the menu for Carters and thinking it’s too expensive? Work harder, you shits. 0121 may be the answer for you. An unreserved area in the window by the bar with a small menu made up of ever-changing Carters classics. Think chicken liver cereal, oyster in beef fat, and the glorious scallop Brex-O. The pick was this, the best pasta dish I have eaten this year. Tagliatelle using ancient grains in a healthy amount of sauce that coats everything in a cheesey umami. Add truffle to the mix and you have a bowl of food well worth ruining your shirt for.

9) Tuna Ceviche. Chakana

Robert Ortiz’s plates of food are so beautiful to look at I don’t know whether to eat them or sexually harass them via text message. Go for the former and you’ll be rewarded with the complex flavours of Peru, where the quality of the fish stars alongside the sweet and the acidic. It’s finessed and fun. There is nowhere like it in Birmingham.

8) Roscoff Onion. Harborne Kitchen

I know a man called Rob who writes a thing called Foodie Boys. Rob thinks this dish is worthy of seventeen Michelin stars which demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the guide’s processes. It is, without a shadow of doubt, worth the maximum amount of nine stars that they can award a restaurant, being a comforting and well rounded homage to the humble onion. The best bit is the broth, seasoned with minus 8 vinegar for that sweet and acidic finish. Presently off the menu, I see it returning shortly in the future.

7) McYard. Backyard Cafe

The sausage and egg McMuffin of your dreams. One that runs with the basics of sausage patty and muffin, swapping the weird microwaved egg out for one that has been fried and oozes yolk, they’ve also upgraded the slice of a plastic cheese to a rarebit. And crispy onions, got to have those crispy onions. This could only have come from the filthiest of minds. Little wonder Rich’s partner always looks so happy when I see her.

6) Turbot chop. Riley’s Fish Shack

When I look back at the year one of my very favourite days was in Tynemouth. The sun was shining, we drank wine on the beach, and went to Riley’s. There is something beautiful about eating the produce of the sea whilst the waves break metres from your very eyes. That turbot was sublime; swimming in a garlic butter, the fat flakes collapsed at the nudge of a fork.

5) Bakewell tart soufflé. Craft Dining Rooms

Craft have had an interesting opening six months, changing Head Chef and key front of house on a number of occasions, but one consistent has remained; in Howing they have a pastry chef of serious talent. It’s practically impossible to choose a bad dessert here, but given the choice take the soufflé. Our first visit back in August featured this perfectly risen souffle, almond flavoured with a cherry compote at the bottom, just like a Bakewell tart. One of the very best soufflés I’ve ever eaten and I’ve eaten a lot of the fuckers. With Aktar Islam’s involvement and the arrival of Andrew Sheridan as Exec Chef it’s shaping up to be a very big 2020 for Craft.

4) Chicken Katsu. Ynyshir

The difficulty of Ynyshir featuring in a list of best dishes is that every dish potentially could be included. I’m going for Katsu chicken this year, an obscene mix of meat and compressed skin, coated in breadcrumbs and finished with Gareth’s version of a Katsu sauce which is way better than anything Wagamama have ever produced. Like everything they do here it’s direct and straight-to-the-point; a flavour-bomb of umami and acidity. February’s visit can’t come soon enough.

3) Langoustine. The Ritz

The highlight of my birthday lunch at The Ritz was this dish. So precise in delivery, the lightly cooked langoustines and buttery nage compliment each other perfectly. In a meal I have mixed emotions over, this was a three star moment that will live long in memory.

2) Patè en Croute. Carters and Calum Franklin

So good I almost cried, though with this taking place on a Sunday afternoon it might have been a comedown talking. A patè en croute of rabbit, pistachio, and bacon that revealed an acid smiley face throughout the centre when carved. Brad’s elated face when showing it off to the dining room was enough to make it a highlight of the year, though the flavour catapults it towards the top of the list. Incredible stuff. Holborn Dining Rooms is happening in 2020 because of this faultless meal.

1) Chicken Jalfrezi. Opheem.

When drawing up this list I had to ask myself what was the most important factor. I decided on a simple answer; what was the one dish I wanted to eat over and over again. Given that a battered sausage and chips from George and Helen’s lacks the finesse required to top such an elite list, I decided on the Chicken Jalfrezi from Opheem. It’s a dish that showcases exactly what Opheem is about: that marriage between French technique and Indian flavours; how the breast has the skin removed and is cooked sous vide, whilst the aforementioned skin is blitzed-up and reapplied to the meat to form a cripsy coating to the top of the meat. The picked leg meat turned into a spicy keema. The garnishes of different textures of onion, and the little blobs of naga and red pepper puree to be treated like English Mustard to give bright hits of heat. That sauce, gravy-like, which keeps growing in the mouth. It’s delicious. Like really fucking delicious. So delicious that I have phoned up on more than one occasion this year and asked (mid-week of course) if I can go and eat it as one course. I think it’s thirty quid if they say yes, but they might not, as I imagine that you are not Birmingham’s finest restaurant blog. In a world where I barely have time to visit anywhere twice, I have eaten this five times this year. It’s special. The best dish of 2019.

Top one taxi firm for the year goes to A2B Radio Cars

Indico Street Kitchen, Birmingham

Seconds after walking through the doors of the latest branch of Indico Street Kitchen I am greeted by the General Manager

“Hello Simon”

“Hello, have we met?”

“No, we have a picture of you out back. We thought you might be paying us a visit”.

WHAT. (this word never looks correct in capitals).

It’s a bizarre admission and one that immediately puts me on the backfoot. If it is true, what is the purpose of telling me? To knock me off guard, perhaps, or to let me know that they know why I am here? Have they done it so that I am hesitant to write anything negative, given that they know my face and name, because that is never going to work. Sure I’ve been to Indico in Shirley, but as far as I can recall I’ve not met this chap. And anyway that was under totally different circumstance, one which was back when I went under a PR invite, whereas this involves a table for one straight after work, along with a bill of £33 for my dinner. I’m introduced to the entire team and taken to the table. Would I like papadum? Of course, and lovely they are too. Would I also like some Far Far? Actually given how this secret visit has panned out, I’d like to be far far away from here, please. Whilst the papad’s (or poppadum; same thing) are worth the £3 I wouldn’t bother with the multicoloured far far which taste of nothing other than cooking oil. I barely touch them. They appear on the bill at £2.45.

The menu is huge. In my eyes too big, though possibly perfectly pitched at the type of person who would be eating after a day shopping within The Mailbox, where Indico now replaces the truly awful Gourmet Burger Kitchen. And before I move on to my opinion on the food, it is without question a welcome addition to a bit of Birmingham that needs better places to eat. I’m given the full spiel on how to order: three of the chaat dishes, or a chaat dish and a main, or a thali and nothing else, or one tandoor and two chaat, or a lunch dish and a chaat if I’m not that hungry. I order a thali. Would I like to order a chaat dish with that? But you said… oh, of course I will, I’ll take the chilli chicken 65 you mentioned, presumably named after the minimum spend they aim for with every diner.

The food is nice. Just nice. Inoffensive anglicised Indian for tame English palates. The chilli chicken tingles rather than threatens, the sauce cloying like sweet and sour chicken from the local takeaway. It’s nothing in comparison to the similar version at Zindiya. The thali has a glorious dry spinach dish cut with loads of garlic, which is the undoubted highlight of the afternoon, along with a good naan, and a papadum which could have saved me three quid fifteen minutes ago. Dhaal is the Kate Moss variety; rich, smokey, and addictive, whilst of the two curries the creamy paneer one is better than the taka tak chicken, mostly because the quality of the meat isn’t that great. I don’t like the stodgy potato pakoras that would have bounced back had they fallen off the table, and should be slamdunked into the nearest bin. It’s a lot of food for £17 and something I’d consider ordering again. It certainly doesn’t need the extra dishes.

I’m asked if I want dessert to finish. And then asked again. And then asked again on the way out after I’ve paid my bill. At one point I almost say yes, mostly because they keep on using my name and I get confused and think I’m at the in-laws. It’s a difficult meal to think about in hindsight; I didn’t really enjoy it, but that was more to do with the constant overtly personal attention I received, over the food that was mostly pleasant in a mostly inoffensive fashion. They’ve gone from a space behind the ASDA in Shirley to a prime location in Brum’s most elite shopping centre and that takes balls way bigger than I’ve got. I’m sure that in time they’ll iron out the inconsistencies and have a restaurant worthy of its grand location. They’ll be pleased to see your face should you visit. They may even know the name of it.

6/10

A2B know my face and I am 100% okay with this

Digbeth Dining Club, Stars of 2019

For those who don’t know, Digbeth Dining Club is a weekly dining club in Digbeth. The clue is in the name, really. It’s the best street food (official) in the coolest suburb (official) in the country. And it’s ace. Really ace. I’ve covered off my favourite venders in the last couple of years (Buddha Belly and Flying Cows, if you really must know) and I’ll always have love for them, but it’s time to look at the newer venders I’ve tried this last year and a bit.

Fat Snags

Sossig’s, as the kids these days torture me with, but not just any sossig, but, for fucksake, a proper sausage (and breathe) made by Lashford & Sons to the Snagmeisters own personal spec. The obsession doesn’t stop there, the brioche buns come from a local baker whilst all of the sauces, bar the godly Pips hot sauce, are made inhouse. This is the hotdog of all hotdogs.

Dicks Smokehouse

It took me a while to try Richard’s food, but now I’m a fully-fledged convert. He know’s what he is doing; the meat is never oversmoked, always retains texture, and is paired-up with the right levels of acidity. This style of cooking is a difficult one to master, but they do it very well here. My Dad was very impressed, which is better than anything I have ever managed.

Only Jerkin’

Need help finding Only Jerkin’? Head straight to the biggest queue, wait, and then order some of the finest nuggets of chicken known to man. The key to eating here is to go big on the spice; you want plenty of the jerk gravy and as many of the sauces as you can muster. It’s these bits that really make Only Jerkin’ come alive.

Kebab Cartel

So edgy are the boys from Kebab Cartel that one of them held their stag party in Kiev. Mentalists. Back in Blighty I’ve become a big fan of the food; high quality meat, cooked slowly on a fuck-off rotating grill, carefully constructed to resemble something like you’d eat at 2am from a rat infested kebab shop, but is layered with big and bold flavours more akin to the better restaurants. I’ve also dropped two down my front in the last six months.

Beef on The Block

Everyone loves steak and chips, right? Unless you’re a cow. Or worse, a vegetarian. Those sassy ladies from Beef On The Block know this, sourcing quality cuts of bavette from the ever fantastic butchers, Aubrey Allen. The results are up there with the better steak restaurants in the city; tender meat with a lovely charred crust, chips, and a killer chimmichurri. Cooking all this to order only makes it more impressive.

(Photo by @thehangryblonde)

Yardbirds

Fried chicken between a bun. Fried chicken on a waffle. Fried chicken with buffalo sauce. Fried chicken. Glorious fried chicken. Clucking lovely fried chicken. You get the idea. Fried chicken. Crunchy coating, tender meat fried chicken.

Carcass

Not necessarily a DDC regular, but one that gets instant recognition thanks to one of the very best dishes I ate this year. A pork belly bun with delicate ribbons of fat cut through by a lively chimmichurri sauce and roquito peppers. Really outstanding. I always keep one eye open for them when they are back visiting.

Jade Rabbit

Big, brash, and in your face, and that’s just the owner, John. I’ve eaten a lot of Jade Rabbit this year because it always performs. Packed full of seasoning and spice, anything you order will be packed with loads of flavour.

Greidy’s

It was one of the founders of DDC who told me about Greidy’s. He said something about how good they are, to which I nodded, before coming back the following day to take my hangover out in full force. It’s good. Really good in fact. The sauces punch and burn in all the places and that chicken is fried with military precison.

Urban Cheesecake

It’s dessert time, folks. And this is one big happy ending you can have without lying about your whereabouts and visting the local massage parlour. A chunky slab of the sweet stuff adorned with unadulterated chocolately heaven. I like the caramac one, if only for it reminded me of those decades long ago when I was innocent and kind.

Wanna know how to get from A to B? Take A2B you numpty

Harbone Kitchen, November 2019

I can’t be bothered to trawl through older posts for evidence, but I’m pretty sure that at some point in the past I referred to Harborne Kitchen as the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. And it is. So perfect that we have decided to make it our neighbourhood restuarant and chose to spend our first night as Harbornite’s eating there when we really should be unpacking cookbooks and feeding ourselves. In short, the meal was everything we hoped it would be; sharp, precise, and nuanced. The flavour profiles gently layered up, proving that few chefs understand the finer details of ingredients than Jamie Desogue.

We opt for the ‘choice’ menu and supplement it with the onion course, because it’s the onion course and I’m not leaving here without it. We get the nibbles and the bread course, and I order the liver parfait from the tasting menu to start because I’m a gigantic pain in the derriere. This seasons offering is the unconventional pairing of brambles, macadamia nuts, and white chocolate, that really works. The white chocolate creates a fatty layer at the roof of the mouth that holds in the liver flavour, the nuts a contrast, and the brambles the acidity to cut through it all. It’s all very clever. Claire has a mushroom and egg yolk thingy that is gone too quickly for me to try, but she would like you all to know that she very much enjoyed it. The onion course is every bit as good as I remember. I would say you all have to try it, but they’ve since taken it off the menu. The Bastards.

Mains show a different side to Harborne Kitchen, one that cements the choice in moving to this area. A fat fillet of cod has one of those pearlescant centres only acheivable with the correct amount of heat judged over the correct amount of time. The charred hispi cabbage the ideal bridge for a romesco sauce that is light and rife with metaliic, acidic, and garlicky notes. I have a cube of pork belly with head fritter, plums and swede. I’ve eaten elements of this dish in various guises and this is the best yet. The fritter has improved, now looking like a posh fish finger and less dense in texture.  The overall seasoning of the dish about as perfect as it gets. It’s the food that you want to eat after a tough day in the office.

Desserts include an upgraded version of the honey parfait that I’ve been eating since the first visit almost three years ago, and carrot cake with carrot ice cream and coffeee zabablione which I imagine is great at mantaining great eye sight. It was a seriously good dessert, and that is coming from someone who firmly believes that vegetables should be kept out of the sweet courses in a meal.

The kitchen is clearly on form, maybe more than ever, but there is something I want to mention before I finish this up and work on the cover letter for a job I want. The front of house here is a team that not only rivals the best in the city, but is one of the strongest I have seen anywhere in the last year. They all know their respective roles, ducking in and out when needed. And they have incorporated one of the great steals in a wine book that has small number batches of great wine marked-up at levels not seen enough in this industry, encouraging the diner to spend more on better wine. As an example the £90 wine we drank would be in excess of £150 elsewhere thanks to the set margin placed on top. It’s just another reason to visit one of the very best restaurants in a city crammed with immense talent.

I guess I won’t need A2B to get me here anymore, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing the same.