Chicken Wings

Wing Wednesdays at OPM and Kilder, Digbeth

Hype is a horrible thing which we’re seeing loads of in Birmingham at present. Baos, fried chicken, ramen, Indian street food; you name it and we’ve been subjected to the same cleverly marketed Twitter launch that see’s everyone proclaim it to be the next best thing. I blame The Blaggers, those who punctuate with examination marks and think that by quote retweeting ‘can’t wait to try this’ will see them first in line when the PR soup kitchen starts handing out free meals. And for what? In almost every instance these launches have disappointed, with businesses forgetting that they should really be focusing on getting the product right before the branding. The very hype is misleading others into thinking that it is good without even trying it. It is this very reason that I tend to keep that giant gob of mine closed until the food has entered it.

I was having one of those ‘just look what we’ve created’ moments recently in an not-be-named location that absolutely sells more than just fried chicken and is not named after a previous member of Oasis. I was chowing down on some very average wings when out of the corner of my eye saw the rarely spotted Patty Man doing the same. We exchange a brief chat over the chicken wings. “They’re alright”, I say. “Come try ours” he grunts (the Patty Man communicate only by grunt). I admire his confidence and take this as a challenge.

Cutting to the chase, those wings are some of the best I have ever eaten, shitting all over the place with the over-hyped chicken. We order one set of each, including the special. Each one has high quality bird with delicate meat and crisp skin, the latter being a very important detail that seems to allude many a chicken wing.  I like the honey wings and waffle special least because it appeals less to my savoury tastes, but the rest, whoa, I’m in love. There are wings in barbeque sauce, and another in a tangy white sauce with notes of vinegar, mustard and horseradish. Like the time I simultaneously dated two girls called Helena, I can’t mentally separate the following two. Both the Korean gochujang wings and the buffalo are knockout brilliant. The former has its fingers on the pulse with the most 2018 of wings, the latter a proper take on a classic. Both have the same thing in common; a pitch-perfect balance of heat and acidity. With these we have chips with garlic, parmesan, and parsley. They are not needed but quickly disappear.

It was around the time of this visit that they also opened Kilder in the unit next door. A completely different offering to the burgers (and weekly wings) at OPM, Kilder has a wider drinks menu and a menu that looks to the tried and tested traditional British values of stuff that works with beer. The room is more complete than next door, the seating more suited to longer stints than the nature of burger joints. In the corner is a fridge with the cheeses and cured meats that make up the majority of the menu. They have Queens of Stone Age playing loudly over the speakers. I like it here.

The food is superb. Really superb. It owes a lot to the careful sourcing of the ingredients and the rest to the virtues of keeping it simple. Of the stuff on bread I thought it would be ‘nduja and honey on sourdough that would steal my heart, but it is the cheese and ham toastie which does it, the cheese blend an ideal combination of more perky hard varieties and the oozy gentle ones. That’s not to say the other isn’t good; the ‘nduja in particular has the tang of offal lurking underneath the abrasive chilli notes. I want to know who they get it from so I can keep it in my fridge. And then there is the pork pie, which, if I ever did Birmingham’s best dishes for under a fiver, would be right at the top of. The warm water pastry crumbles between finger and thumb, with a pleasing amount of bone jelly. The pork mixture is heavy on the black pepper. It is an absolute joy. I initially thought that the ratio was out on the sausage roll, but I quickly realised that any less meat and we’re stepping into Greggs territory. It is a monster that we dispatch half of, before finishing up later on at home. Even the olives are brilliant.

I think that Kilder will be a slow burner and that sits fine with me. Be it for whatever reason, but people tend to be less excited by minced meat between pastry than they are between buns. I’m cool with this; I’ll gladly take it upon myself to keep the business going whilst the masses slowly hear about it. The bill for both occasions was around £40, though it goes without saying that is possible to spend a lot less and still leave full. Both Wing Wednesdays and Kilder are worthy of your time; put down the burger for two evenings and give them both a go. There is no hype here, merely perfectly executed food. Just how it should be.

Wing Wednesdays at OPM 9/10

Kilder 9/10

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars

Sear and Smoke, Birmingham

Meat. If that one word isn’t to your liking, then you may want to shut down this window and go back to your hummus and crudites. For the rest of you, prepare for sympathy sweats and burger envy, for lumps of protein and token pieces of carbohydrates. The latest addition to this cities fast expanding food scene is an ode to fire and beast, to feeding using only the finest animals in the most skilled of hands.

Being a collaboration from Original Patty Men and Digbeth Dining Club it was never going to be ambiguous in name. They settle for Sear and Smoke, which makes sense given that pretty much covers off the cooking processes involved. It’s home is Crane, a beautiful old factory too close to St Andrews to be desirable. The huge ceilings, bare brick and steel framework feels like its already integral to the city and I feel slightly at loss to have seen this for the first time in my mid thirties.

I head straight to Flying Cows because a burger for breakfast makes perfect sense. There I take The High Flyer because that’s the award winner and award winners should only ever eat award winners if you want to go Full Pillock. I do. The aged beef is pink throughout, with the sweetest of bacon and Swiss cheese that has the same gummy feel as it’s American counterpart, only with the added bonus of actually tasting of cheese. Whisper it, but Flying Cows remind me of Bleecker Burger at their finest. It’s the burger I would choose from anywhere right now if given the choice. I wash it down with a cocktail from the Birmingham Whisky Club. And lovely it is, too. Far better than the whisky I usually wash my breakfast down with.

There are a dozen or so food traders here on the day, the cream of the local talent and some from further afield. From a little place called London we have Wingman, a chicken wing specialist who came to my attention when they won best of the best at this year’s British Street Food finals. I have the winning dish (see previous Full Pillock comment) that has the sweet, sour and hot profiles of Thai cooking all over their chicken and all down my jacket. Properly lovely stuff and easily the best chicken wing I have ever eaten. Taking second place at those awards was Baked in Brick, today cooking a 45 day aged rump cap as a special alongside some of the more usual suspects. The beef is gloriously tender, with a chestnut mushroom sauce enriched with bone marrow that transformed some very ordinary fries underneath into something far more magical.

I’m outside for a talk by a man who knows a lot about street food and more whisky. The air is stained by smoke and the smell of rendered fat. Low’n’Slow are to blame. Throngs of people have gathered round to watch him smoke pork belly over a make shift pit on the floor before being finished over a barbecue by the very farmer who supplies the pigs. The meat is stunning; aged pork with thick ribbons of fat that only a fool would discard. It’s a proper plate of food, with potatoes cooked with bone marrow and a fiery burnt salsa and sharp ‘slaw. He is bringing the theatre of Meatopia to a warehouse in the backstreets of Birmingham. This is the future of Sear and Smoke.

Original Patty Men are here with a friend – Dom Clarke of Canneat, a little place in Stirchley that I have much love for. I try the special which has their usual patty with ox cheek, gruyere, and ‘French soup’ onions. It’s one of the days more technically minded dishes, aimed squarely at a mouthful of umami. The ox cheek has been braised in reduced Guiness, the onions cooked down to a meaty gelatinous mess. It’s seriously good, I just wish I’d left more room for it.

I wanted to try more, though without my usual partner in crime I was defeated. Three hours after the start and the place was starting to heave, my attempts over, dictated by a bulging waistline and the arrival of a coven of my ex’s friends. I depart for a well earned snooze, awaking to a social media frenzy at the event as the night draws in and the bands begin to play. It seems that I was not alone in my love for it. It was a bona fide success, proof that Birmingham can play with the big boys. It was a faultless stepping stone to a more ambitious event next year. The countdown to the next Sear and Smoke has already begun.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. For more information please see http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Modu, Birmingham

I’m going to do the crass thing here and bring up money straight from the off.  Its not something I would usually do, though this is exceptional in circumstance.  Fifteen English pounds.  It doesn’t buy you much. A nice pair of socks, a day riding London’s underground, or maybe the cat food for the week.  Three pints of beer or a decent bottle of wine.  In terms of food, some edible cardboard from Dominoes about covers the potential extent for misery for the amount.  In our bent at the knees and hunched over modern society, fifteen quid is simply not enough money to eat well.  Unless you happen to be at Modu, tucking into a four course Korean meal of crotch grabbing, up on the toes with one arm aloft brilliance.

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To experience the food here you first have to find the place.  Good luck with that.  Aim for the bit of Hurst Street where the flamboyance ends and turn on Google maps – that’s as much as you are getting from me.  Once in, take place in the small dining room by the courtyard with its white washed bricks and let them deal with the magic.  First up are dumplings; a flat seafood one for my chum and two pert vegetable gyoza type things for me.  We wolf down both quickly without any real comment other than just how tasty they are.

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Witchcraft was at play for our next course, either than or an expertise in fermentation and a gentle hand at cooking.  Sweet potato transformed into translucent noodles, woven with peppers and strips of beef and topped with sesame seeds.  For this dish we are given a side bowl of kimchi and told to mix it in.  We do as we are told.  She is right; the kimchi brings everything to life, the fermented cabbage adding a crunch and some fire to the polite noodle dish.  It is both elegant and macho; self-assured and authentic. It is at this point, two courses in, that we know we are in safe hands.

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Chicken wings next.  Not just any chicken wings, but the greatest wings in all of Chickdom.  Wings so good that Paul McCartney named a band after them.  You may have guessed that we liked the wings.  Six jointed and rolled bad boys of the poultry world, coated in soy and honey and sixteen other ingredients (I know this.  We asked.), before being cooked to a crisp exterior.  These are the best chicken wings in Birmingham.  My dining companion, Jim, commenting that should sell them by the bag load.  And Jim is right, they really should.

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We finish off the four course bonanza with a stir fry type thing which was two parts hot and one part delicious.   It was all there; the meat and veg correctly cooked, little side bowls of more fermented stuff to add in to it, but it never quite hits the heights of before.  There is only so much joy you can take from a stir fry and rice, after all.  The chef comes out and presents some homemade chilli sauce that she really should bottle up and sell with the chicken wings.

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The owner talks to us of a love for traditional Korean food and a want to feed people well.  If that’s her intention then she has pretty much nailed it on the head.  It was an often enthralling lunch where a steady hand in the kitchen was matched with fermentation and curing that when combined creates something truly special.  Nothing feels faux, everything is there for a reason.  And the bill, twenty quid with a bottle of Korean beer is extraordinary value.  Modu is special kind of place, destined to be a cult hero in Birmingham.

9/10