Niraj’s Kitchen, Dudley

I’m not good with dinner parties. And when I say I’m not good, what I really mean is I’m dreadful at them. I never get invited to them, maybe because I’m overly opinionated, a little arrogant, and drink too much. Maybe it’s because the last one I went to I asked for salt and pepper to make a truly horrific chilli con carne marginally better, or maybe it is because the time prior to that I criticised the technique in making an frittata. For some reason, and I have every idea why, people do not want to cook for me in their own home. And I totally understand that. I don’t want to cook for me in my own home. I just chastise myself continually until I’m told to shut up for talking over Don’t Tell The Bride.

So it’s a good thing that neither Niraj and Leena had no preconceptions of who I was prior to their supper club. Had they known in advance what a horrendous human being I am they may not have greeted us so warmly at their doorstep, taken our jackets and wine away and sat us down in their living room with a mocktail whilst we awaited the other guests. Then, when they arrive, they may not have been so eager to sit us in the large kitchen diner and serve up some of the very best Indian food I have ever had the privilege of eating anywhere. So good that on the drive back to Birmingham we contact them about coming back again. So good that I would gladly travel back to Dudley to eat. It’s that good.

This event, as part of WeFiFo’s supper clubs, is a showcase for the cooking of Niraj, a local government employee whose passion lies elsewhere; a sentiment that I can very much relate to. Over the space of an hour and forty five we get food cleverly layered with spice from a chef with serious talent. Even the homemade chutneys that get served with poppadum’s are great; a sweet and sour date and tamarind puree, a more conventional mint yogurt, and a vivid green one that has coriander at the front and the blast of green chilli at the rear. This is just a prequel to the knockout starter. Chicken wings, deboned just like those legendary morsels at the greatly missed Modu, with a Manchurian sauce. The wings have been cooked twice, my guess being first sous-vide and then pan fried to crisp up and render down the fatty skin. The sauce is an Indo-Chinese one I’m not familiar with that has bags of chilli heat and vinegar acidity. The two together are incredible; put these in Digbeth Dining Club and you have an instant street food classic, stick them on a restaurant menu and people will be asking for an extra portion to take and eat at home the following day. For the only time in the evening there is total silence at the table. Not a scrap is left by anyone.

Mains are communal and generous. There is a warming karai ghost with slow cooked lamb that breaks down at the slightest suggestion, and a butter chicken that is complex and rich. A chickpea and spinach curry that we cook at home shows just how rubbish we are in comparison to Niraj and an aubergine curry is everything you want a vegetarian curry to be; smoky with plenty of spice, yet still putting the aubergine as the star. All of it is absolutely brilliant and if it sounds like I am gushing it is because I genuinely am. This is the very reason I started this blog, to find food of this standard in places I never thought to look, and to hopefully encourage others to then seek it out. Even the naans are brilliant, light and pliable, as we get plain ones and garlic ones and ones flavoured with plenty of chilli. My partner spent much of November in India. She elbows me to whisper that this is better than anything she ate there.

Dessert is the ultra traditional chocolate and ginger fondant, with Chantilly cream hiding a pond of raspberry gel. It’s a crowd pleaser executed with precision, the oozy centre with a hint of spice and a huge whack of chocolate. It’s rich and unexpected given the food served prior, but I would personally take this over kulfi every day.

I was sceptical before going: After all there are a lot of variables involved. Will the food be any good? Will I like the hosts? Will I like the other people who are here? The truth is this was one of the best Saturday evenings that I can recall having, with lovely company, hosts who care and a meal that will linger far longer in the memory than most restaurants. An evening at Niraj’s Kitchen will be one of the best ways you will ever spend £30, that much I can guarantee.

I was invited by WeFiFo. Book Niraj’s Kitchen here; https://www.wefifo.com/event/212770520476624/5-course-indian-feast

Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory, Tipton

As I write this post a Vietnamese lady is trying to get into my bed. Don’t worry, my girlfriend is aware of this. In fact, she is watching. The lady in question has been trying all afternoon, and who can blame her; my bed on the sleeper train is deemed luxurious by local standards. We are supposed to be sharing the berth with two other ladies, who appear to have told everyone about the English couple armed with playing cards, rum and Ritz crackers. At one point there were nine in here watching us play Rummy, all eating a bark of some kind and gobbing the residue into a bag. Now there are six. I am covered in spittle and would like to eventually get some sleep in a bed on my own. I am trying desperately to take my mind to a happy place.

My mind takes me to Tipton, to Mad O’Rourkes Pie Factory, where I was a few days before we upped and left for the other side of the world. It’s a pub full of cliches; saw dust on the floor, a cardboard cut of Desperate Dan with the face missing for the idiots who cannot resist the photo opportunity. I was one of those idiots. It was impossible not to be. Even now, with the spittle and the glaring stares, I am smiling reminiscing about it.



Back home, pie is something we take seriously in our household. Charlie, my long suffering partner, makes a mean one. She will cook the protein in the slow cooker until it falls apart at a gentle poke, add it to the blind-baked pastry and give it some more gentle love. Mad O’Rourkes take it further, to the extent that they claim to be “World Famous” for them. Although a little far-fetched, they probably should be. Steak and Stilton sets the tone, the meat cooked long and low until the point that the need for molars becomes redundant. The thick sauce smacks of bovine which more than stands up to the pungent cheese. The puff pastry topping is so good it has to be shop-brought. For once, I don’t care.


More of the same appears with a chicken and mushroom pie, the cream sauce spiked with garlic and paprika heat. Again the meat is so tender I don’t know how it could be possibly be from the lean breast of the bird like they advertise. The pie, as with all of the others, has a side of battered chips which would get my vote for replacing Prozac on the NHS.


The next two take the rules of pie and feeds them to the penguins at nearby Dudley Zoo. A chicken tikka pie is topped with a naan. Yes, you read that right. It’s like being back at my local Indian, only with chicken that tastes like chicken and with battered chips. Oh, those battered chips. A faggot pie has funk and the faint tang of offal, like all good faggots should. At the base is mushy peas the colour of Kermit the Frog. Mashed potato and more of that beef gravy fill in the rest. No pastry. It’s complete as it is. There are puddings, which include a chocolate cake and sticky toffee pudding. We enjoy them, because they are good and deserve to be eaten, though we never needed them.





They do a Desperate Dan pie which comes in at a whopping 4lbs of steak and kidney, topped with puff pastry horns, which caused instant envy when it arrived on a neighbouring table. I could pretend that this is reason to return, but it would be lies: You don’t need to justify anything when its this good. I look at across at the bunks to my left and feel sorry for them, for they will probably never get to taste what is now running through my head. More spittle lands on my arm as one of the ladies is sick into the plastic bag. I’ve made my mind up; its Mad O’Rourkes for me again as soon as we touch down.


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