John Bright St

Bonehead, Birmingham

Who would thought that a bit of fried chicken could cause such bother? KFC running out of chicken caused total pandemonium. Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham. I wonder to myself could life ever be sane again? Of course it could, its just chicken for fucksake, and not very good chicken at that. Still people properly lost their shit. Social media went into meltdown and 999 calls were made to report the closures, which is just ridiculous. Everyone knows if you are going to waste police time you do it when the carrot on the snowman is nicked.

Bonehead also do fried chicken, except they get their chicken from a nice little farm in the Cotswolds and not a secret underground laboratory where 12ft mutant chickens are crafted with 8 wings. And whilst no one sane is going to phone emergency services about them, they do some very good things for a little chicken shop just three days old on the date of our visit. It is deliberately low-key and dark on the inside. Walls are painted black and coated with flyers. Downstairs is the dive bar, upstairs is a basic dining room with basic seating and a hole in the wall to the kitchen. This is the beard and beanie of chicken joints, a little too hipster for its own good. I like it.

And so to the menu, which is made of chicken that you can have cooked anyway you like just as long as its fried. They do the important things right; good quality chicken, brined, with the wings jointed for even cooking. We end up with three trays of those wings, and should you find yourself less greedy than us and in need of choice, take the buffalo option. These are a showstopper, hot and sour from cayenne pepper and vinegar, that are as difficult to remove from the breath as from a shirt. I know, I’ve tried to do both. The blunt notes needing the blue cheese to soothe the finish. And we like the hothead wings which are more aromatic than spicy, though the original ones are floury and not particularly nice. Two outta three ain’t bad. Just ask Meatloaf.

And then there’s the burgers. We try both because those trousers aren’t quite tight enough after 24 wings. They eat a lot better than they photograph. There is crunch in the batter that protects the chicken thigh from the harsh heat. There is molten cheese and the tang of pickle lurking in the background. It’s very well balanced but asked to choose you should take the hot one which gently smoulders. And whatever you do add the potato waffles loaded with sauce and slaw. That slaw might just be the best thing about the entire meal. It’s crisp and clean with a slight Asian feel to it. Those waffles and some buffalo wings with a cold pint of craft lager might just be my go-to dinner for a while.

Prior to its opening I’d publicly played Bonehead down because the hype was making my little head explode. And if you are the type of person that orgasms over a picture of a dish you’ve never eaten then please go find a hobby. But is the hype justified? Kind of. It’s not Fuku, the best fried chicken I have ever eaten, not by a distance. But it is good. Cleverly conceived tasty food at a fair price. Birmingham needs places like this. Independents raising the standards is only a positive thing. If you haven’t been to Bonehead yet, you finger lickin’ should.

8/10

In the effort of full disclosure the kitchen sent out additional wings which were not ordered and did not appear on the bill.

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Turtle Bay, Birmingham

Out of my close circle of friends, it is The Artist Formally Known as Craig that I have known the longest. Since meeting him in a dodgy nightclub when I was eighteen whilst wearing a see-through black shirt, we have had a decade misbehaving and chasing girls, followed by half a decade reminiscing of our glory days whilst being all grown up and monogamous. As the city has evolved around us, so have we: I have steered away from the dodgy fashion faux-pas and he no longer has his birth name; instead choosing to be legally known as something far more pretentious, hand-picked from a phone directory after a few beers, which I will spare him the blushes of here. He’s a good lad with a great heart and horrendous taste in food, which is why I should never have let him choose where we would eat as a final meal before he leaves these shores for Canada next week. He sends a text message to me suggesting “Turtle Head”, which I take to be Turtle Bay – a Caribbean restaurant on John Bright Street I’ve been meaning to try for some time. In hindsight I should have double-checked where he meant; perhaps I could have ended up with a dinner I would eat.

Inside Turtle Bay is a space of neon lights, corrugated steel and bare brick walls with murals of generic Caribbean imagery, such as the Jamaican flag. In truth, the interior is a success; it has warmth and cosiness despite the industrial girders and bare concrete flooring. The food is anything but a success, veering from being very average to very bad. Average would be the flatbread, overworked and dressed with limp rocket leaves. The very bad were the duck rolls, three pieces, each dry and cloyingly sweet. Served with this was a sour orange chutney which was essentially a bitter marmalade with added raisins that destroyed the already limited flavour of the poultry. I understand that on paper it should provide contrast, but really, someone from head office should try it before sanctioning it.  If I have ever eaten a more ill-judged starter it has been long banished from my memory banks.

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Jerk chicken is a dish that I have loved ever since a holiday in Montego Bay ten years ago, where they cook it roadside on reversed metal bin lids.  At best the bird has depth and heat from Allspice and Scotch Bonnet which infiltrate the meat from a lengthy marinade.  Here they had succeeded in keeping the chicken moist, but I doubt the meat had spent long enough in the marinade as it was lacking in the flavour I have come to expect from good jerk cooking.  There were a portion of sweet potato fries which seem to have appeared everywhere, a clumpy red cabbage ‘slaw and an additional side of heavy and dried out fried dumplings.  The dumplings are yours for £2.35 to look at and wonder why you ever bothered.  Better was a browned chicken stew with rice and more of the tired dumplings.  The chicken having good flavour from the slow braise in the cooking liqueur.  Both main courses are a few pence under a tenner.  I can think of at least two places in the city where superior examples can be had for half that price.

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I’ll try to be positive here:  They do good cocktails and sell Guinness Punch with rum that could fuel an army.  Its a nice place to enjoy a drink and they have Happy Hour everyday.  But that’s it.  I haven’t  anything positive to say about the food which is essentially New Generation Nando’s, only with better booze and Bob Marley on the stereo.  Our waitress, who, I should point out was utterly charming, asked how everything was.  I mumble “okay” because she was too nice to be told otherwise.  I’ll be sad to see The Artist Formally Known as Craig leave, though he can gladly take the terrible choice in restaurants with him.

4/10

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