Indico

Indico Street Kitchen, Birmingham

Seconds after walking through the doors of the latest branch of Indico Street Kitchen I am greeted by the General Manager

“Hello Simon”

“Hello, have we met?”

“No, we have a picture of you out back. We thought you might be paying us a visit”.

WHAT. (this word never looks correct in capitals).

It’s a bizarre admission and one that immediately puts me on the backfoot. If it is true, what is the purpose of telling me? To knock me off guard, perhaps, or to let me know that they know why I am here? Have they done it so that I am hesitant to write anything negative, given that they know my face and name, because that is never going to work. Sure I’ve been to Indico in Shirley, but as far as I can recall I’ve not met this chap. And anyway that was under totally different circumstance, one which was back when I went under a PR invite, whereas this involves a table for one straight after work, along with a bill of £33 for my dinner. I’m introduced to the entire team and taken to the table. Would I like papadum? Of course, and lovely they are too. Would I also like some Far Far? Actually given how this secret visit has panned out, I’d like to be far far away from here, please. Whilst the papad’s (or poppadum; same thing) are worth the £3 I wouldn’t bother with the multicoloured far far which taste of nothing other than cooking oil. I barely touch them. They appear on the bill at £2.45.

The menu is huge. In my eyes too big, though possibly perfectly pitched at the type of person who would be eating after a day shopping within The Mailbox, where Indico now replaces the truly awful Gourmet Burger Kitchen. And before I move on to my opinion on the food, it is without question a welcome addition to a bit of Birmingham that needs better places to eat. I’m given the full spiel on how to order: three of the chaat dishes, or a chaat dish and a main, or a thali and nothing else, or one tandoor and two chaat, or a lunch dish and a chaat if I’m not that hungry. I order a thali. Would I like to order a chaat dish with that? But you said… oh, of course I will, I’ll take the chilli chicken 65 you mentioned, presumably named after the minimum spend they aim for with every diner.

The food is nice. Just nice. Inoffensive anglicised Indian for tame English palates. The chilli chicken tingles rather than threatens, the sauce cloying like sweet and sour chicken from the local takeaway. It’s nothing in comparison to the similar version at Zindiya. The thali has a glorious dry spinach dish cut with loads of garlic, which is the undoubted highlight of the afternoon, along with a good naan, and a papadum which could have saved me three quid fifteen minutes ago. Dhaal is the Kate Moss variety; rich, smokey, and addictive, whilst of the two curries the creamy paneer one is better than the taka tak chicken, mostly because the quality of the meat isn’t that great. I don’t like the stodgy potato pakoras that would have bounced back had they fallen off the table, and should be slamdunked into the nearest bin. It’s a lot of food for £17 and something I’d consider ordering again. It certainly doesn’t need the extra dishes.

I’m asked if I want dessert to finish. And then asked again. And then asked again on the way out after I’ve paid my bill. At one point I almost say yes, mostly because they keep on using my name and I get confused and think I’m at the in-laws. It’s a difficult meal to think about in hindsight; I didn’t really enjoy it, but that was more to do with the constant overtly personal attention I received, over the food that was mostly pleasant in a mostly inoffensive fashion. They’ve gone from a space behind the ASDA in Shirley to a prime location in Brum’s most elite shopping centre and that takes balls way bigger than I’ve got. I’m sure that in time they’ll iron out the inconsistencies and have a restaurant worthy of its grand location. They’ll be pleased to see your face should you visit. They may even know the name of it.

6/10

A2B know my face and I am 100% okay with this

Indico Indian Street Kitchen, Shirley

Tonight I find myself in Shirley, a statement I haven’t said too often in the last decade or so. I have nothing against the place; on the contrary, actually – it’s very congenial. If I cast my mind towards Shirley it has several large supermarkets, a good wine shop, an equally good chippy, and a lovely hotel marred by the fact I had to spend an evening at ‘celebrating’ the wedding of some idiot from the office who I happen to detest. I don’t go as for years though its been a culinary graveyard. Locals rejoiced when they got a Beefeater and practically orgasmed when Miller & Carter set-up shop. Neither of those are going to draw me out to this suburb, for the simple reasons that I am a man of taste and I like my steak to rested in the kitchen, not on my plate. I like to eat at places that excite; restaurants that offer something different, and not afraid to show a little ambition. So now here I am, sat down at Indico Street Kitchen, pleased that I made the trip.

It succeeds in claiming attention from the second you walk through the door. The décor is colourful, kitsch, and charming. Painted murals of Bollywood style imagery line the walls, a myriad of umbrellas canopy the ceiling space. At one end is the view into the kitchen with the surrounding wall creating the aesthetic of a street food van (a concept that fits in with the menu here). There is interest to be found from both levels, wherever you look, and wherever in the restaurant you may be sat down for dinner.

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From the menu that deceptively looks like a newspaper, we look past the small section of curry house staples and on to the less common options. There is a large selection of street food options, some familiar from the starter sections of other Indian restaurants, others only from brief travels in India.  All, with the exception of two chicken dishes, are vegetarian. There are fat samosa’s, stained on the underside by softly braised chickpeas in a soured tomato sauce, and spongey paneer tikka, dusted in spices and roasted to the point that edges become charred. Neither dishes are particularly new to me, though both are well executed and seemingly more authentic than the spice-by-numbers, perfunctory cooking found in many establishments offering this cuisine.

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And then things start to get interesting. Bhel puri is a riot of textures that run from sweet, through to savoury, somehow crossing spicy at the same time. The puffed rice, sev, and veg mixture is lightly bound by tamarind and dotted with nuts and pomegranates.  It’s addictive and we continually return back to pile it from tray to plate.  I’d seen, but never tried, Pav Bhaji before.  I’m sure I could get shot for such a flippant generalisation, but it tasted to me much like a thickened vegetable curry, served with bread.  Curry and bread, what’s not to like about that.  It was spicy – so spicy that my poor girlfriend was reaching for anything to cool her head down – but I liked it in a primal way.  The raw onions on top a rustic way of getting the necessary acidity in to the dish.

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The only real slip of the night was a Vanda Pav – a deep fried patty of potato in a bread bun.  The best ones punch with plenty of heat, whereas this tasted of little other than the stodge of mashed potato and mustard seed. As much as that could have been ramped up a gear there was nowhere for our only meat option to go.  A lamb sheekh kebab roll, picked from the kathi section, as big and brash as Jeremy Clarkson though far more likeable.  The meat needed the flatbread roll to hold its shape, and was pungent with aromatics and fiery with chilli.  I loved it. This would serve me happily for lunch on its own one winters day.

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They have desserts, though our greed left us far too full to even consider them – a shame given that these looked the part and would have been a fitting way to finish a distinctly Indian meal washed down with Indian beer and cider.  They do Indian wine, too, which I will reserve judgement on until I try it.  The best thing for me about this place happens to be my partners gripe; its authentic to the point of no compromise.  The spicing was as it would be in Indian; great for me, less so for the delicate taste buds of my girlfriend.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  As we exit out past the Wetherspoon’s, the one owned by the dreadful Lounge group, and the identikit Prezzo and Pizza Expresses, it became clear:  At last Shirley has somewhere genuinely good to eat.  I hope that it prospers.

7/10

I was invited to eat at Indico Indian Street Kitchen.