Colmore

Sabai Sabai, Birmingham City Centre

Sabai Sabai seem to be spreading faster than Australian Flu. First Moseley, then Harborne and Stratford-Upon-Avon, now the city centre, on Waterloo Street in the bustling business district. The new building is beautiful, an old bank that lends itself to sturdy square proportions with a smart interior of neutral colours and geometric light fittings. It’s sultry and smart, ideal for the targeted clientele of dates and business accounts. It’s a very nice place to have dinner which explains why it is full a couple of weeks after opening.

This is an organised outing with other bloggers who all seem to be practicing the fake smiles they will wear when I win Best Food Blog again in June. We are given food and lots of it, too. Some I am familiar with from my local Sabai Sabai in Moseley and some I am not. It’s a larger menu here from a larger kitchen. This surprises me little as the kitchen in Moseley is so small you couldn’t swing a cat in there. Not that they would ever allow cats in the kitchen. That’s for a dubious takeaway around the corner to do.

From a platter of starters a few dishes stand out. Chicken wings come from a well reared bird, just like my girlfriend, softly braised until the bone slips out cleaner than the gnasher’s of a dental hygienist. It is a side to Thai cooking I’m not au fait with, a delicate cook over a punchy one pan blast and I like it. The flakes of meat and subtle spicing could easily be mistaken for French bistro cooking. A jaunty cut of duck spring roll is better for the proportion. Spring rolls are too often all pastry – here the casing serves as nothing more as a vehicle for a mass of soft duck meat with the occasional bite of al dente veg. Lamb chops have good quality ovine correctly pink whilst pork spare ribs are too saccharine. In every case the spicing whispers rather than shouts. The taste of the protein is king.

Now let’s talk beef short rib. Fat, unctuous short rib cooked so softly that the meat can be spooned cleanly away from the bone, in a mellow masaman curry rich with coconut milk. This is show stealer. The must order. It has contrast with every mouthful, real depth and fragrant high points. It is one of the finest main courses to be found within the city centre.

We look to other dishes once the bone has been scraped clean on the short rib. Pad Thai is all too familiar; silky noodles, soft chicken, the bite of peanuts and raw chilli heat. It’s a classic for a reason. Monkfish and aubergine comes in the most textbook of green curry sauces. All the fundamentals of Thai cooking are present; salty, spicy, sweet and sour, which happen to also be my four favourite Spice Girls. It has bags of personality.

We have Weeping Tiger, which contains zero tiger and serves only as a metaphor because it will leave you crying for more. The beef sirloin is accurately cooked to medium rare, coated in a toasted rice powder that punches with umami. I took to Twitter to say it was the best beef since Biggie and Tupac. I will never better that. It goes fantastically well with sprouting broccoli in a puddle of something bright and acidic.

This quantity of food leaves no room and we settle for a well made espresso martini to send us on our way. Sabai Sabai being good is of no surprise, both Harborne and Moseley cook to a very good standard, but this was perhaps the strongest meal yet. The decision to put both North and South Thai chefs in the kitchen has paid off: There are no dud dishes here, the Northern dishes kick with more fire, those from the South fresher. The latest instalment of Sabai Sabai is a brilliant addition to the city.

The meal was complimentary as part of an event organised by Delicious PR.

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

Nosh & Quaff, Birmingham

This wasn’t supposed to be the plan. I was going to let the hype die down and give Nosh & Quaff the once over when the kitchen has settled. I was expecting the launch party to be the usual mix of free booze and gift bags; we were not expecting to be sat down, fed and watered. Even so, as I am seated upstairs amongst the well-heeled I vow to come back try more of the menu on my own steed before delivering my true opinion.

And then The Pig happened.  Four bone-in ribs from an animal who’s diet I would probably envy, coated in a spice rub full of gentle aromatics and heat.  The thick ribbons of fat had broken down from its slow cook in the sous-vide, the outside charred from its blitz through the high oven heat.  The result is a meat that falls apart at the mere suggestion of pressure.  Its the best piece of animal I have eaten for over a year.  Only when I finish gnawing away at the bones do I notice that there is well-made fries and a coleslaw also on the tray.  I consider for a second how the sharp and piquant ‘slaw would have worked well with the pork, before going back to searching for any meat I may have missed.

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The menu is a concise offering; a whole lobster for twenty quid, ribs of cow and pig, a hotdog from the wonderful Big Apple company in East London, a burger, and some wings.  The sole vegetarian main is a mac and cheese burger, formed ,bread-crumbed, then deep fried.  It oozes creamed cheese flavoured lightly with truffle oil, whilst the pasta still retains its bite.  What makes the dish is the bread crumbs, heavily seasoned so that every bite draws the maximum in flavour.  There is a slice of abalone mushroom and pickled shallots for contrast.  Eating this is not good for your health, but the best things never are.  We order the blooming onion – seasoned and deep fried slithers still bound together at its core – and douse it with a house sauce full of pepper and mustard.  It feels like an instant classic, but then so does everything else. We share the N&Q take on Rocky Road for dessert.  Its good, even if the silky chocolate sauce that covers it is a little heavy-handed on the sugar.  Not that we mind, as we quickly fight over the nut brittle pieces and dabs of marshmallow we later find out are made in house.

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I would forgive you for thinking that this sounds a little familiar.  The name, the lobster for twenty notes, the plastic bib that I am yet to mention.  Its obvious that part of the inspiration is Burger & Lobster, the branch which started in London and is now appearing everywhere, including my beloved Birmingham this Autumn.  When I first saw the menu I thought it was plagiarism; now I think it to be evolution.  Where Burger & Lobster limits itself to two items, Nosh & Quaff takes those boundaries and runs with them, never flinching in the quest for perfection from the ingredient sourcing to the delivery on the table.  Its barely even open and already it feels vital to the city.  Believe the hype.  Every single word of it.  Nosh & Quaff is the real deal.

9/10

As you have probably already established, the food I ate at the launch party was complimentary.

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The Bureau, Birmingham

Sometimes just reading a menu can be tiring.  The desire to be different has become so synonymous with eating out that it has had the reverse effect.  Hardly anyone is different, thanks to kitchens full of Heston wannabes dreaming up dishes that nobody sober really wants to eat.  I can walk two minutes down the road and have a burger topped with Monster Munch, thousand island dressing and Gruyère, or I could interrupt a shopping trip with a burrito filled with chicken tikka.  But why would I ever want to torture myself and do that?  I’m not difficult, I just occasionally want an honest feed, which is becoming harder and harder to find.

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Praise the Lord then for The Bureau, a smart bar just off Colmore Row.  Whilst the opulent interior of marble and soft furnishings may nod to somewhere aimed at a wealthier clientèle, the menu is a simple list of things you want to eat, free too from the frivolous descriptions that too often clog the senses.  Here a hot dog was just that; a pork sausage seasoned with salt and a little mace, sitting on some softened onions, all in a bun that had been slightly charred.  No outlandish toppings, just little pots of mustard and ketchup, both of which were liberally applied.  It was meaty, full of character, and, for a fiver, an excellent lunch option compared to the horrors served at minutes away at EAT.

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Thankfully the same logic has been applied to the rest of the menu.  We could have ordered a steak sandwich, or half a chicken, and known exactly what we were getting for our money.  Instead we chose a pie, kept light with the addition of a side portion of green beans and the deliberate avoidance of additional carbohydrates.  The bronzed puff pastry case hiding good chunks of chicken in a sauce thickened with cream and heavy on earthy mushroom flavours.  Similar big flavours were had with a goats cheese tart, the crisp pastry filling evened out by the gentle sharpness of shallots and enlivened by plenty of fresh parsley.

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It wasn’t all perfect.  A build-your-own deli board looked great, but lacked the power found elsewhere.  Sweet potato and chilli fritters had an unpleasant acrid outer-coating, whilst both a well-timed duck scotch egg and little pasties containing spinach and mushroom were both heavily under-seasoned.  Safer ground was to be had with good quality smoked salmon and moreish beetroot bon bons that brought life to the most overused vegetable of 2015.  Again, without wishing to beat the Good Value drum any longer, the five items seemed fair at £12.00, despite its imperfections.

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There is a roof terrace here, which I will neglect to say too much about for fear of never getting a seat on again.  It is an oasis of calm in the middle of the city that may just be my beer garden of choice when summer finally arrives.  We enjoyed a lunch up there in the smattering of sun that was a heavier hand of salt away from being very good.  I’m not a believer that all independent bars and restaurants should flourish; I believe that good bars and restaurants should, regardless of who owns them, and with a menu that is refreshingly simple and keen pricing to match, The Bureau have got the basics in place to become part of Birmingham’s DNA.  The most honest of foods have survived decades without some idiot tinkering with them, The Bureau understands this, and we should be all the more grateful for it.

7/10

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