Hot dog

Independent Birmingham Festival, Digbeth

I had intended to start this brief piece on a self-deprecating note for our city. One that gently chugs along with the piss-taking from the rest of the country, about a city centre that’s perceived to be a concrete fortress and a dodgy accent that actually belongs ten miles north west of us. But I’m done with that. I’m done with anything that sets Birmingham at a detriment to anywhere else on the globe. We are growing every day. With game-changing pieces of modern architecture now sitting in juxtaposition with pieces of history. With a diverse melting pot of culture, smells, and sounds. With some of the best food to be found in the country with the most handsome, charming, and multi-award winning food blogger writing about them. Only an idiot who has not been here in over a decade, or worse, the commonly spotted Jealous Mancunian, would tell you otherwise. Birmingham is brilliant in almost every single way. It’s my home, so yes I have bias, but it really is.

Shouting about Birmingham a little more than the next man is Joe Schuppler of Independent Birmingham. Hi Joe. He runs a little business doing huge things for our indie scene. Now, with the help of some seasoned pros, he is championing the very businesses his card supports with Independent Birmingham Festival, this the third within a year and the second at Digbeth’s The Bond. We end up going both days, the latter to eat off the hangover caused by the former. I’m looking at you, Loki wine, for this with your mighty fine Malbec.

There are stalls that sell nice stuff from which I buy a badge that I later lose and a donut that I quickly use to fill a gap in my belly. There are cocktails from the brilliant Rob Wood and craft beers from Tilt. There are countless others all showcasing the tiny elements that together make Birmingham what it is. But I’m here to eat and you are probably here to read about that. So straight to the chase, at Low’n’Slow where the best food of the weekend was had. Pork belly from Blytheburgh farm, cooked over a makeshift fire on the ground. The meat is glorious; smokey, with enough bite and fattiness to serve as a reminder that this once was a living animal. There are blistered potatoes cooked in pork fat with the unmistakable back note of bone marrow, and a salsa slightly bitter from burning it’s components over coals. This is proper grown up barbecue, with real skill. It’s a ready made restaurant dish served from some smoking embers on concrete.

One of many restaurants with a stand here is El Borracho de Oro, a place I’ve stated my love for on many previous occasions. Today we have those golden croquetas filled with quality ham and a toastie that has manchego and sobrasda oozing out of every edge. Those toasties are a special at their present 1000 Trades residency – go try them. Fat Snags are relatively new to the street food world, impeccably sourcing Lashfords sausages and sandwiching them between buns. We try one with a smartly judged salsa of roquito and jalapeños, smothered in one of those silky American cheese sauces that refuses to go quietly into the mouth. I’m super impressed. I’ll be back for more soon.

Baked in Brick is here, a few streets away from its soon-to-be-opening restaurant. We try a ramen debuting for the first time, that is already better than any of the ramen at the specialist ramen shop. The ox tail and miso stock is upstaged by smokey spider steak slices, a tangle of ox tail meat and silky noodles. Best of all is a salty and rich soy egg, golden yolk just transitioning from liquid to a more solid state. A lot of work has gone into this and it will only get better.

Sunday sees suitable hangover food. A pizza from Peel and Stone has excellent ‘nduja and fennel salami for toppings on a base that was slightly too doughy to be perfect. We finish up with a burger from Original Patty Men, the beef just blushing pink, patty crowned with three types of cheese, jalapeño relish and barbecue sauce. Those boys know how to pull a burger together. It sorts me out a treat.

Claire buys jewellery, I buy enough wine to swim in, confirming that when it comes to frittering cash away, we’re a good team to have around. It was a great weekend, superbly organised, with a wonderfully curated live music program. More importantly it showcases the incredible independent scene that goes some way making this city so amazing. Believe in Brum.

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

The next Independent Birmingham Festival has been announced for July. Book your tickets here; https://www.designmynight.com/birmingham/whats-on/food-drink/independent-birmingham-festival-at-aston-hall

Chien Lunatique at 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter

A new year, a new pop-up at the delightful 1000 Trades. It doesn’t take much to get me here – the promise of a cold pint and a hot plate of food usually does the trick – but the latest offering got me hotfooting over to the Jewellery Quarter within hours of them tweeting about it. Sausages. Three syllables of happiness. And not just any sausages. Lashford’s, Birmingham’s own multi award winners, something that I would one day like to emulate when I learn the correct of use of an apostrophe. Chien Lunatique turns these sausages into hotdogs. The January diet can go on hold for a day.

The result is one of the best pop-ups at 1000 Trades in a very long time. The dog’s skins snap with quality fillings and are pimped by toppings that add interest. A Churchill has black pudding in amongst the pork sausage mix, lardons scattered across the brow. It’s the very essence of pig; a fumble in a sty of happiness. The Balti sits on the opposing end of the spectrum, with the pork barely detectable due to a hefty whack of garam masala and cumin. It is properly delicious, topped this time with poppadoms and tzatziki that works in a similar fashion to raita. Both come in a brioche bun that defies physics and holds its shape throughout.

With this we have the kind of beans I want at home with my jacket potato – and that’s a compliment. Packed with chorizo and garlic and chilli and teenage angst, these are less of a side dish and more of a tourist attraction. And the chips. Sweet Mother of Mary, those chips. Skin on and fried to bronze, these may well be the best chips in Birmingham outside of George and Helen’s. And if that last reference means nothing, you and I are simply never going to cut it as mates.

With the dogs costing between £6 – 7.50 this is not an expensive meal, but it is one that lingers in the memory. The chef behind this is Simon Masding, a man who has many concepts within that bearded head, though none as effective as this. Chien Lunatique might be his best ever work and we’ll be back again before the stint finishes at the end of Jan. It quite simply is excellent.

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

Nosh & Quaff, Birmingham

Way before I started eating and writing about the nicer places around Birmingham, I used to read about them and not eat at them. I would buy the Birmingham (then Evening) Mail on a Friday only, moving just past halfway to Paul Fulford’s weekly piece. There you would have found a small picture of his small and shiny head in the upper left and two hundred words or so of Paul’s concise writing below. His occasionally acerbic, always honest writing style was an early favourite of mine, more so on the occasions he slipped in a subtle knob innuendo. He’s my neighbour now, which I still find bizarre, and occasionally I get to spend time over dinner with him, taking in his stories and counting the wrinkles on his face.  A couple of nights back I met him at 7pm sharp at Nosh & Quaff where in the deep red leather booths you would have found the unlikely combination of a Birmingham food legend and Paul Fulford, the ex restaurant critic for the Birmingham Mail.

There is a valid reason for us being here.  Back when I first wrote about Nosh & Quaff the menu was even shorter than Paul; lobster, burgers, some ribs.  I liked it, others less so, finding the options too limiting and the pricing aggressive.  Two years and a little introspection later, we have a full page of options and a considerable decrease in the pricing.  I think it needs it.  Downstairs is still a beautiful space of marble and deep red leather with ceilings high enough to fit my ego without the need to crouch, it just now has the kind of pricing and options to fill it more frequently.  There is a large industrial room  of bare brick and wood upstairs that they should turn into the city centre location of Fiesta Del Asado, a stablemate of the same group.


The hotdog is one of those items that has fallen in price.  Impeccably sourced from the Big Apple Hotdog company it is now half the price of the fifteen quid it used to be, with only fries losing their tray gig.  It showcases what N&Q is all about; quality produce, generous portions, and an underlying guilt that you probably will need to run your dinner off the following morning. It is worth the run. The dog snaps, the bun is sturdy enough to hold everything else in place. Order this and ask for a bib to come with it.  


From the newer items are rib tips that really transpire to be precise cubes of unctuous pork, slowly cooked and glazed in a funky BBQ sauce.  This is a lot of pig for £4.50.  Chick Norris may be a dreadful name for a burger but is a hefty bit of dinner.  Two hulks of free range thigh meat in one of those thick American buttermilk batters with bacon and processed cheese. Heat lurks in the background with enough tang in the ‘slaw to cut through the richness of it all. As far as the composition of a burger goes this has it all.



American portions mean only real Americans will have room for desserts.  For the rest of us it’s a small dent in the wallet and a lie down.  I still really like Nosh & Quaff, they’re not pushing boundaries but they are taking a familiar cuisine and applying quality ingredients with precise cooking.  It’s managed to improve what it previously was, now with a menu with enough scope to warrant repeat visits.  And all in the company of a man who definitely makes the list of my top 172 food writers.  Life really doesn’t get much better. 

Mr Fulford picked up the bill, I got the Uber home.  I guess that makes us quits.    

Deliveroo; Chilli Dog Dog’s / Heavenly Desserts

If you are one of the dozens of people that follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I am partial to food from Chilli Dog Dog’s. I occasionally post pictures of their food, which, if you are not familiar with their back catalogue, mostly amounts to buns containing protein and other stuff that tastes nice. These food porn images have led to a bit of an on-line bromance with Simon, the cordial chap that slaves behind a grill in the backyard of The Prince of Wales so that I can get fatter. He humours me, which is an achievement in itself. Outside of Twitter our relationship extends to me being a drunk and him working in a beer garden that I often drink in. I am a big fan of his cooking, so when those nice fellows at Deliveroo suggested that I have a dinner on them, there was only one place I was going to fill my boots at.

I keep on returning to Chilli Dog because the standard is consistently high. In a market saturated with burgers and hotdogs he takes prime ingredients’ and doesn’t mess with them – a concept that I wish would catch on. Given the nature of this blog I should be out trying others and probably wishing that I hadn’t, but I don’t because I am fastidious and difficult with the food that I eat. I am also intrinsically lazy, so praise to Deliveroo for saving me the hassle of changing out of my pj’s and getting my dinner to me within forty minutes. Even if the man on the scooter had to handle over the goods to a rotund ageing man in a dressing gown.

The food which arrived may have had the precision knocked out of it a little by the short ride up the road, but it was hot and packed with all the flavour that I have come to expect. A cheese and bacon burger was the star; the texture tightly packed, the beef flavour massive from the coarse meat of an animal that had been properly aged since its offing. Thick, cured bacon gave smokey notes which were eventually wiped away by the pickles. Everything served a purpose. It wipes the floor with any other burger locally and you’ll be hard pushed to find a better one in the city. A Mexicana Dog has toppings of guacamole, cheese sauce, sour cream and jalapenos. It’s not conventional, though it works because the sausage is of extraordinary quality from Lashford’s. The pork flavour inside the crisp skin is ramped up enough to handle enough to handle everything that is thrown at it. It’s messy, but then the best things in life are.

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Side dishes from here are usually bypassed in my attempts for a quick nosh between beers, though this time we try a variety to turn it into a main meal. Out of the additional carb’s we order only nacho’s disappoint by being far too salty, even for my taste buds. Chips have crispy exterior and fluffy centres thanks to several cooking processes, whilst a mac and cheese has pasta with just enough bite. What holds them all together is molten nacho sauce, thick like custard and cheesier than four bar stools containing the members of Westlife, for which I would love the recipe for.

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It was a different proposition for the second Deliveroo of the evening.  I was aware of Heavenly Desserts in the sense that I had seen the constant queue of people that I was never going to wait in:  I simply don’t like sweet things enough to stand around and wait in line with strangers for them.  What arrived twenty minutes from order on my doorstep would be my first experience of them; quality was generally high, though everything was very sweet.  A chocolate cheesecake was intense on the cocoa flavour and light in texture, the accompanying Belgian chocolate ice cream equally indulgent.  It’s a chocoholics dream (which I hasten to add, that I am not) and a relative steal at £4.90.  For the same price a waffle, a wheel trim in size and appearance, felt less value.  The sweet batter was a little heavy, the sugar levels in the white chocolate sauce relentless, even more so with the addition of whipped cream that was packaged separate.

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The highlight of the Heavenly Dessert order was a special that was a play on Ferrero Rocher.  Chunks of waffle, intermingled with crisp chocolate pieces and chopped hazelnuts, nutella and cream, topped with a massive scoop of hazelnut ice cream.  If the waffle was one-dimensional this was a riot of texture and temperatures, with familiar flavours cleverly pronounced.

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A final quick word on Deliveroo, because they covered my dinner and therefore deserve it.  The on-line ordering is simple, the delivery process efficient and hassle-free.  It is never going to replace my obsession with dining out, but it does continue to give me options of eating at great places on the nights when I want the comfort of my own home.  In instances such as Heavenly Desserts its a no-brainer:  Why queue for thirty minutes in a store when you can have your sugar rush delivered to your front door in twenty?  And with Chilli Dog Dog’s, well you should regardless, because its bloody brilliant.  Go on, treat yourself.  You deserve it.

Chilli Dog Dog’s 9/10

Heavenly Desserts 7/10

Deliveroo picked up the bill on this occasion, though I’ve since ordered (again) on my own accord.  Mostly because I appreciate nice food and so do they.  Go check them out at http://www.deliveroo.co.uk

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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