Fish

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

Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

I feel like Tynemouth has been kept a secret from people like me. That if word got around the area would be ruined by precious souls inflicting their rushed way of life on the locals, bringing down the community with bad habits. The truth is they do things differently up here. They do life better. They have not one, but two beaches, separated by castle ruins straight out of a movie scene and a pier that requires a full turn of the head to track from shore to lighthouse. There is no immediate rush to get anywhere, and everyone wants to help: from the woman in the lunchtime queue who advised on what to order, to the man who started off giving us directions and ended up advising on how to avoid a parking charge. The people are better here, untainted by the rat race that engulfs the bigger cities, unharmed by the obsession that status is everything. On the morning we arrive in Tynemouth it is bathed in pure sunlight. The picturesque village is quietly heaving with those transitioning from coffee shop to pub terrace, hell bent on making the most of an unusually warm Monday in May. We pass these on the way to the steep steps which lead down to King Edward’s Bay. We have lunch to eat.

Riley’s Fish Shack is just that: a wooden hut sat off-centre on the beach. It’s a tiny place with a huge reputation. Two tables inside protected by sliding glass doors, and seating for maybe ten more on wooden stools if the weather holds up. We get there early, order wine and wait for the fish to arrive. It is noon by the time that we can order, by which point the queue is fifty deep. Clearly they have an audience. We order chilli fish empanadas, a small portion of langoustines, monkfish kebab, and turbot with garlic butter. Two more glasses of wine and pay the total of £80.00. The cheapest item is just under a fiver, the most expensive is £26. As ever, we massively overestimate our eating potential.

Simply put, it is one of the best meals I’ve eaten in recent years. Maybe it is the terroir; the shining sun and the North sea slowly rippling onto the sand. Or maybe it is that the fish is supremely fresh, cooked to a nacre either directly over flames or in the pizza oven. From the pizza oven comes chilli fish empanadas, a kind of pasty encased in pizza dough. The casing is robust; tightly crimped like the crowd at an 80’s tribute night which works the jaw like a pill at a 90’s rave. The filling is an unidentifiable white fish (I’m taking a punt at coley) spun with veg and plenty of spice. At £4.80 it would make a very nice office lunch provided you were happy to join the queue which was 80 strong at this point.  A small portion of langoustines is a more primal affair that requires a good grip and hand wipes. No wonder my girlfriend was so good at it. Free the meat from the shell and dredge through a garlicky mayonaise. Repeat process. Produce this good requires minimal intervention.

And then they pulled out the big guns. Turbot is cooked on the bone, which anyone with any sense will tell you is the best way to cook turbot. It comes drenched with brown butter flavoured with garlic. You know it is going to taste great just by looking at it. It does. We communicate only in raised eyebrows and smiles. If anything the monkfish is even better, the meat almost delicate in texture and with a hint of char from the grill. It is served on flatbread coated in a spiced potato puree, with tamarind, spinach, fresh chilli, raita, and bhel puri. It demands to be torn up, folded, and eaten in one. For once I’m not happy about sharing – finding an excuse to travel to the extremities for food like this is the very reason I started this blog. Both of these are served with blackened potatoes that have seen both parts of the grills flame. There is a salad of sorts that we don’t really touch, and a sourdough stick that Claire waxes lyrical about for the rest of the day. We both hum of garlic. Neither of us care.

Afterwards we walk back into town, contemplate walking down to the lighthouse, and then decide that a trip to the nearby Gareth James is far more sensible. It is there we eat the most incredible chocolates over coffee whilst looking at properties, dreaming about a life where Riley’s is within easy reach. I’d seen it on a programe with Michel Roux Jr, another with Rick Stein, and read about it in The Observer. I’ve always wondered if fish cooked over a bit of wood and a flaming grill could be that good. It is. It really is. Riley’s Fish Shack is a little bit of perfection in the most idyllic location. Life really doesn’t get any more rewarding.

10/10

Rockfish, Brixham

029Rockfish is situated directly above the fish market in the pretty fishing town of Brixham in Torbay. We were lured in by its tagline that “tomorrows fish are still in the sea”, a promising prospect given just how unfresh we are used to seafood being back in Birmingham.  The interior is a gentle mixture of distressed wooden flooring, dark brown seating and cream walls.  The view from the windows is either to the town or out to sea, both are which are pleasant on the eye.

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We start with scallops, served in their shell with a crumb so heavy on garlic that it nearly ruined our romantic weekend away. The cooking of the molluscs was erratic; one just right, two overdone.  The roe was still intact, which is a pet hate of mine considering it has a different cooking time to the flesh. There was bread to soak up the garlicky bits which remained on the side.  It wasn’t the greatest of openings.

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And then it improved. Cod taco’s were big on flavour, though never too much to overpower the breaded fish goujons that sat central in them.  There was crisp onions and hot sauce for freshness and piquancy, whilst a smattering of white crab meat on top reinforced the smack of the sea.  They were a delight.  Also impressive was monkfish, fresh in that morning, in a crisp and greaseless batter and served with chips. I may not have been sure about battered fish being served bone-in, but there was no doubting the quality of the produce which was meaty and huge in flavour. Chips were decent but not good enough to test the unlimited offer that they claim.

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We decided not to take dessert despite a good selection being offered and settle up on a sixty quid bill that included a bottle of a nice gentle Spanish white.  Despite being full on an otherwise quiet Brixham evening, service was attentive, in particular from a young chap named Chris.  Rockfish is well regarded locally but we found it a little too inconsistent to warrant a return on our next trip to the coast.

7/10

Rockfish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato