desi

The Horseshoe, Hall Green

The plate on which I portioned my half of the starter now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting; a drunken blend of vivid mint yogurt and a crimson chilli sauce that has the background funk of molasses and tamarind. The platter, once sizzling, is now a luke warm graveyard of bones. We have left nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The waitress, a young and affable lady in her early twenties, asks how it was, to which I respond with a simple and concise ‘excellent’. She is pleased, like she had cooked it herself, and goes on to tell us how the new menu for the refit centred around creating this mixed grill to be as good as it can be. She goes into details about the different marinades they trialled for the three types of tikka, and how the lamb chops cooking time was constantly tweaked. It is a level of attention that I was not expecting, yet alone to hear of in such detail from the staff. Frankly, I am impressed. Welcome to The Horseshoe version 2.0.

It is still The Horseshoe, I just added to the version 2.0 bit on the end to make it sound like a Hollywood movie. They’ve sharpened up the lines of the old interior. They’ve tweaked the menu to give it a more Desi pub feel. And they still offer a European menu which is sent back as soon as it is offered on account of the kitchen team looking more Mumbai than Milan. I blame the local community for this who clearly cannot accept that a pub which used to do pub food badly can now exist in the same bricks and mortar under a different cuisine. Would you ever go into a Fish and Chip shop and ask for Nasi Goreng? Exactly. If you come here and complain about the state of your carbonara, you’re an idiot and you only have yourself to blame.

That mixed grill starts and pretty much finishes us off. It’s gargantuan in size and only a starter to the optimistic or American amongst us. Three types of chicken tikka; one a conventional marinade, another sharp with the acidity of pickle, and one fiery with green chilli. Two types of mince kebab; one lamb, the other chicken. Both with personality, the latter packed with the hot stuff. Lamb chops that have the funk of a James Brown record only without the domestic violence. Chicken drumsticks. I think I’m done. No, sorry, I forgot the quarter of tandoori chicken, all communist in colour and scorched on the fringes. It’s all good; some, such as the chicken tikka, minced chicken kebab and tandoori chicken, are knock out brilliant. It is, right now as a collection, the best mixed grill in Birmingham. And I say that with the confidence of a man who has eaten many of recent in those considered as the premium.

We take a couple of curries and a dhal, because we are greedy and promiscuous with our choices. The tarka dhal gets ordered again, as does the methi chicken whose fenugreek flavour slowly reveals like a burlesque dancer. The punchy achari gosht is a little more one dimensional – we get heat and tomato and not much else with the tender cubes of lamb. From a bread basket is a good naan and roti, with a stellar paratha that’s all buttery wafer.

What we don’t finish they are happy to box up, and the following day we load the last of the lamb curry onto the leftover roti, with some yogurt which they correctly guess we would need. And there in a leftover box is all you need to know about The Horseshoe – they have their finger on the pulse and a firm eye on giving the customer what they want. And if you go looking for a mixed grill you really can’t do much better in Birmingham. Just go hungry.

8/10

The meal was complimentary and arranged by Delicious PR

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

Hen and Chickens, Jewellery Quarter

Claire has been banging on about the mixed grill at the Hen and Chickens since we met, which, if you’re either of our previous partners reading this, was seven lovely months ago and not a day before. We had come into the city centre with the intention of going to a vegan restaurant but sometimes tofu and quinoa just doesn’t cut it. Actually, never does tofu and quinoa cut it. We opt for the Hen and Chickens, beloved of my beloved on account of the mixed grill that is her benchmark for a mouthful of protein. And I’m happy with this. It’s a pub, I can drink beer and eat meat. I can pretend to pay attention to her whilst watching the football over her shoulder. Very happy indeed.

It’s hot in here. So hot Nelly wrote a song about it. The recent refit is a smart move towards bare brick walls, leather booths and dark wooden tables. It’s a close space and our table is initially a spill over area for those either side of us. We fallout over the size of the mixed grill, I want to spend the extra £4 on a large, whilst Claire wants a medium, which is not an analogy for our relationship. I win, which is an analogy for our relationship.

She was right, which is absolutely an analogy for our relationship. It’s massive, a group feed rather than just the two of us. It’s all good, some of it is spectacular. The green chicken is part of the latter; spicy with marinade seemingly full of chilli heat, it knocks spots off the more conventional chicken tikka and that is one of the city’s better versions. We love the chicken niblets, which are thigh drumsticks coated in a thick cornflour batter, and chunks of a firm white fish coated in a batter fragrant with garam masala. Sheekh kebab could maybe do with more heat, but chicken wings make up for it with aggressive spicing that penetrates throughout the meat. In short, it’s a monster feed for seventeen quid. The reason to come. If you’re not ordering this you’re simply missing out.

Stupidly, we order more food and it fails to hit the same dizzying heights of the mixed grill. Masala fries are as passable as frozen chips coated in garam masala will ever be. A chicken balti initially starts off as one dimensional until the spices slowly start to reveal layer-by-layer. By the time we finish we are chasing the last dots of sauce around the bowl with a very good garlic naan.

All this, a pint and a gin comes in at £36, and we leave with half the mixed grill in a bag which serves well for lunch the following day. The Hen and Chickens wasn’t one of the original desi pubs, but it did take the appeal of places like The Vine and stick them in a more convenient and appealing location. I liked it, it’s probably my favourite at this point in time. And that large mix grill is a reason to go in itself.

8/10

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; www.a2bradiocars.com