Lasan

Lasan, St Pauls Square, Birmingham

It is impossible to mention the new Lasan without referring to the old. It is a restaurant that I am very familiar with, one widely regarded as the best of it’s kind in this city, thanks in part to it’s association with TV food mahatma, Aktar Islam. Aktar has now parted with the group and the restaurant has had a well needed spruce. Gone are the hard wooden lines and non-existent lighting, in comes a softer, more approachable look of pastels and patterns. It’s almost colonial in feel, like they play fine jazz to those awaiting food on the curved bar that sits adjacent to the dining room. And they do play jazz. I’m a massive fan of the refit.



Without wishing to play down the offering, you get the feel that the chase of a Michelin star has gone, replaced with a desire to feed with more traditional methods whilst still keeping to the refined style that has made it so popular. This is reflected with an ease to the service; staff are happy to chat, some dishes are rustic in their presentation. It’s less stuffy and more congenial – a place to return to time over rather than just special occasions. Accolades are excellent, but it’s paying customers that pay the bills.


It starts as it always has, with umami bombs of pani puri, filled to the brim with a pungent tamarind water and as good as they ever get. These come with greaseless poppadoms and dips to range from a familiar made from mango to a pineapple one that’s new to me. We try samosas made with the lightest of filo pastry, the filling of minced venison more than capable of standing up to the spicing.



Another starter of chicken is a solid piece of  workmanship. From the kebab made with coarsely ground mince, to the paté patty with the background funk of offal, and precisely trimmed drumstick, it sings with deft spices and well judged heat. Soft shell crab has the lightest of chilli batter that packs the biggest of flavour, with a crab cake packed with brown meat that reinforces the crustacean flavour. It’s hard to pick fault with any of the starters. Looking back, I can think of no fault at all. 


The biriyani that follows has cubes of goat at the base, braised so that they collapse under the interagation of the fork, with a dry curry that packs real power and crowned with a flurry of rice, crisp shallots, and herbs. I wish that the dish arrived wearing a pastry cap so that the aromas are released tableside, but this is a small detail given the quality of it all. We scoop on to excellent garlic naan, and, even better, roomali roti that is so thin it could be parchment paper. It’s great to see this bread, the most tricky to make, being properly showcased.



A steel tray comes bearing a shank of lamb, coated in marinade and slowly cooked. It’s an accurate bit of cooking; the meat coming away from the bone with ease. Pickled onions have enough astringency to cut through the chilli heat, with pots of raita and dhal for light and shade. That dhal returns in a larger pot – it has to, it’s glorious. As good as any dhal I’ve eaten anywhere. The lentils slow cooked and as smokey as a jazz club. 


Dessert course defeats us, and I sense a dissapointment from the waitress that we are really missing out on something. It’s okay, we’ll be back. Soon. This was my most consistent meal here to date, wholesome and confident in it’s new identity on the plate and in it’s space. I have no doubt at all that Lasan is currently the best Indian we have in Birmingham. 

9/10

I was invited to dine at Lasan

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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.    

Lasan, Birmingham

Few restaurants garner local adoration like Lasan. Since a young and ambitious Aktar Islam swept to glory on Ramsay’s F Word five years ago, we have seen his elaborate cooking style develop and timekeeping skills worsen over two series of Great British Menu, amongst many other cooking programmes. Lasan has become synonymous with transporting the curry away from the Balti Triangle and in to more refined parts of the city, taking with it a fresh approach to the cuisine, from improved ingredient quality to elegant presentation.  Ask anyone local for a recommendation of where to eat and Lasan will inevitably come up, regardless whether or not they have actually been there.  The city of Birmingham likes to claim the curry as our own; its only natural we want one of our local stars to sit amongst the higher echelons.

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The cavernous space Lasan operates in is a muted wash of Farrow and Ball neutrals. The heavy wooden tables are bare, the chairs ornate and comfortable. Everything functions, though, in all honesty, it is a little tired looking. From our elevated seat on the balcony we agree that it is nothing that a lick of paint here and there wouldn’t solve. Pani puri arrives, the crisp spheres filled with vegetables and a piquant water.  Its Indian street food spun through the fingers of a spice wizard; chilli heat, sweat and sour notes from tamarind, crunch and earthiness from the chickpeas and potato.  It is about as good as one mouthful gets.

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A tasting of quail showed Islam’s long term vision for Lasan is rooted firmly in fine dining territory.  A marinated supreme which still retained its delicate meatiness was only overshadowed by a beautifully poised quail egg kofta . It was an ambitious plate worth commending with only a roast leg failing to delivery. The little amount of meat lost in the sweet molasses.  Salmon Tikka was faultless, the fish more than standing up to the marinade of tomato and red pepper that grew and on the palate whilst being tempered by lime acidity.

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A duck main had perfectly pink breast atop of braised cabbage and lentils.  The meat was well timed, though it needed the killer south Indian style sauce to bring everything together.  The coconut bringing a subtle sweetness against the bell peppers.  Another sauce, this time a Rajastani style gravy, would fight for star billing on a lamb main that nod towards Lasan’s Achilles Heel.  Whilst the aubergine and shoulder rilllette had more flavour levels than Tetris, the coriander crusted rack was undercooked.  The meat, cooked sous-vide and then roasted, had spent too long in the water bath and not long enough in the oven, resulting in a rare rack with fat that had not rendered down.  It highlighted that the modern cooking techniques had not been mastered as well as the primitive tandoor cooking in complete juxtaposition.  Much safer ground was a chicken tikka masala, of course not referred to here by its common name.  The large chunks of poultry were charred and flavoursome, the creamy sauce complex with a restrained hand on the heat.

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Breads were predictably brilliant, as was a dhal which ranks as the best I have eaten.  And then the price.  With mains hovering around twenty quid, a share of the sides and bread that is insisted on as required (its not), a meal here can reach the same dizzying heights as its Michelin contemporaries.  Is it value for money?  I would say so.  Its occasionally brilliant, consistently entertaining and infrequently frustrating, though never through lack of trying.  A bit like the Aktar Islam I watched on telly.  This is his show; a study of taking a cuisine that we expect to be rustic and refining it to something far more beautiful whilst still retaining the soul of the cooking.  And a bit like the Aktar Islam I watched on telly, it’s a fascinating bit of viewing.

8/10

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