lunch

Kuula Poke, Birmingham

This post comes to you high above France onboard a RyanAir flight to Sicily. I’m in holiday mode, on my sixth unit of booze and trying to forget the fact that I’m sandwiched between two volatile Italians, both of whom look fully aware that the last time a Carlo was on the island he was frog marched on to a boat by a man with a gun. It is as you expect a RyanAir flight to be; there is a screaming child, our plane was late, dirty, and my pull-down table doesn’t work, The uneven top threatening to spill the cheap red wine on to a surface that has a suspicious white residue from the previous flight. I’ll likely drink a few more of these wines between now and our landing at an airport which will probably be geographically closer to Palma, Spain, than Palermo, Italy.

There is a reason for me mentioning flight 666 from BHX to Hell. We have these shitty low budget flights to thank for the vast array of cuisines on our doorstep. Without flights we would still be clinging onto the empire for the sense of the exotic, with ships bringing spices from the sub continent, rum from the Caribbean, and an overdose of testosterone from Australia. Without air travel there would be no sushi, no ceviche, no hummus. Imagine a life without hummus. It’s no life for this drunk (seventh unit).

We would certainly have no Kuula Poke. How else would you get to Hawaii? Frankly I’m more astounded that anyone from Birmingham has ever been there. One, it takes a lot of effort and too many flights, and secondly, I imagine it’s full of yanks calling each other ‘bro’, crushing cans of piss-weak lager into their huge enamelled gobs and grinding on girls to the sound of Nelly. Or that’s how it is in my head. Well it’s here, smack bang in the heart of the business quarter, bringing bowls of healthy goodness to the suits of Birmingham.

And it’s lovely. Really really lovely. I wasn’t sure it would be my thing, but the bowl of tahini miso chicken is clean and fresh and zings with the exotic whilst still clinging on to the value of being a bowl of things that are good for the waistline. Not wanting to mess with the principles I take it as it comes; chicken, edamame beans, pickled carrots, brown rice, chilli, a super slaw — which is a very accurate description — topped with a creamy dressing that tastes a bit like hummus. Mmmm, hummus. I could have had the raw tuna, or the salmon; could have jazzed those up with pickled onions, or pineapple, or a variety of things I can’t remember now. Eighth unit.

Tenth unit. I’m told that they got Richard Turner in here to consult and that makes a lot of sense. For what is essentially a lunch offering, it has a certain swag and clarity that is clear from the second you enter. The service is top notch, the beer I drank ace, and the price fair. It’s class.

Over the next eleven days we’ll be avoiding car bombs in Palermo, climbing into the mountains in Erice, diving in the crystal clear waters of Ustica, strolling hand-in-hand on the beaches of Cefalu, staying in one of Italy’s finest vineyards, and seeing The National headline a festival in a castle. After that, should RyanAir deliver us safely back to the UK, I’ll be heading straight back to Kuula Poke.

8/10

Flying is overrated. Take an A2B instead

Kanteen, Digbeth

The area in and around The Custard Factory is one that seems to drift in and out of cultural importance in Birmingham. My Dad remembers when it really was a Custard Factory, worked in by his friends, when they would meet in The Old Crown for a pint and whatever lads in the 60’s did back then. My first introduction was thirty years afterwards, during the dingy hip hop nights at The Medicine Bar, and then again some years afterwards at the ill-fated Alfie Birds. Now, it feels rejuvenated and ready to take on the city again. Old Crown withstanding, Digbeth Dining Club started it, Ghetto Golf, Clink, and others have followed. Once again the area has a purpose. The Custard Factory is thriving.

It is at this point I pull back the curtains and reveal Kanteen in all it’s glory. And, believe me, it is glorious. It has purpose and a desire to feed the community at prices that work out to be no more than a Pret sandwich. The glass fronted space has depth on the inside. It is cosy and smart: almost homely. They do stuff on bread and stuff with eggs in the morning, then later on turn to hot stuff in boxes and cold stuff in boxes. There is a quiet emphasis on feeding all forms of diets and keeping it healthy. Please erase that last sentence from your mind. The food here has flavour in abundance and that is all that matters.

I come with Hubbie-to-be Greg, who arrives in a ravenous mood having recently only been surviving on Slimming World meals, whatever they may be. We order widely; two from the eggs section and three from the bread, which I can now confirm is three too many dishes for two people. I’ll get the disappointing dish out of the way first: A mass of kale on toast with torn bits of burrata and gremolata. Tearing apart the burrata into small pieces has lost the cheeses integrity – the oozy cream quality that is buried like treasure in the centre has disappeared on to the chopping board and the toast below. It’s nice, and the gremolata is impeccably made, but they should cut costs and move towards a mozzarella.

But everything else is bloody brilliant. Black pudding from Clonakilty has more earthy depths because of chopped hazlenuts, then quickly pulled back up by slices apple. Its an inspired bit of topping for wedge of sourdough toast. It has light and shade. It eats like a dream. Likewise the chorizo, red pepper and goats curd on toast. There is a reason this combination is everywhere; it works. This has poise and balance, with high quality chunks of chorizo. And it’s under a fiver. I told you it was great value.

Both of the dishes ordered from the egg section have them poached so that the whites have just set and the yolk becomes self-saucing. On one the egg sits on folds of Serrano ham with broken potatoes and tomato. Lemon aioli gives it an almost Benedicts edge. The other has merguez, the spiced lamb sausage native to Northern Africa, braised in a cassoulet style tomato sauce, with that gremolata returning to stop it all getting a bit rich. I can’t pick between the two, so have one for breakfast and the other for lunch. It’s brunch. You’re allowed to.

Replete, we take a peanut butter brownie home that Greg assures me was delicious, though could well still be hidden with his PS3 and porn stash in his forbidden items drawer. Walking back we discuss the merits of Kanteen for which there are many. What may read on paper as a collection of healthy things piled onto one another is in reality a finely tuned wholesome feed that just happens to also be good for you. Kanteen is something different to the current offering and something very good indeed.

8/10

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