mixed grill

The Summerhouse, Hall Green

The Shaftmoor is a pub which has inadvertently shaped part of my upbringing. I never entered until my early thirties, when I would join my brother and dad for beers following my mother’s untimely passing. Prior to that it was the pub I was scared of; the one on the end of nan’s road, opposite the chippy on the wrong side of the area in which I grew up. There would be stories of fights which would spill out on to the carpark and locals you should avoid to the point that even in my late teens I would jog nervously past on the way to my friend Alasdair’s house. Nobody I knew went to The Shaftmoor and neither could I, especially with my supercilious wardrobe of moleskine and pastels in an area where the tracksuit is staff uniform. It’s nonsense of course. The pub would transpire to be a little ragged around the peripherals but inside was a homely space where no one judged three blokes quietly sobbing over a game of pool and drinking cheap lager. I liked it. I liked it’s soul and it’s honesty. They even had a shack outside cooking up seekh kebabs and chicken tikka on weekends, which I swore I would eat and review but never did. Me and my stomach have a bad relationship at the best of times. I’m not prepared to call it completely off by eating from a smoking shed.

That pub is now The Summerhouse. It looks far more inviting from the outside than it used to, with not much of a makeover inside, but enough to add a quid to most of the drinks. Aside from the lick of paint, new chairs, and bizarre Irish wall murals, the majority of the cost appears to have been spent on the kitchen. Gone is the shack, replaced with a glossy new area from which the latest of the city’s Indian Desi pubs will serve vast amounts of meat on sizzling black plates. I should probably take this oppurtunity to moan about yet another one of these opening, but I won’t: they are great at breathing new life into pubs on the way out, and anything that saves a pub from shutting down is fine with me. Plus they have the credentials of being from the previous owner of The Horseshoe. If the food is up to the standard of there, I’ll be running through the doors as opposed to past them.

The good news is it is pretty good. A chicken madras may have had the whiff of jarred sauce but the spicing was rich and fruity, the lumps of poultry only just drying out. I’ve had far worse at places charging twice the price. The mixed grill also impresses, with chunks of fat chicken tikka where the marinade has worked into the centre of the meat, and chicken wings that offer plenty of spiced flesh. The chicken seekh is missing in action, and I’m non-plussed about the lamb seekh which is underwhelming and overworked. Chips are straight out of a bag, into a fryer and dusted with some generic spice. Exactly what we anticipated.

The wait of 50 minutes for the food is passed on the pool table, meaning that I am late back to work and unable to finish the food, or query the missing chicken seekh from the grill. I’m conflicted about the score which sits around the seven mark before the missing bits of food and the lengthy wait. Look, it’s good if you happen to be in the area, which I will be several times a year, though in the grand scheme of desi pubs it’s not going to top my list at present. Given that Dad lives ten minutes walk away and my brother likes to drink here, I’ll be eating here often enough. I sincerely hope that I’ll be reporting an improvement here somepoint in the future.

6/10 

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Tap and Tandoor, Solihull

Very occasionally I sit somewhere and know the success is fully deserved. That they have a clear idea of what the area demands, and that those who are demanding it will leave happy. Often it is the most basic of ideas, as is the case here at Tap and Tandoor. It is as simple as location and provenance; the former will see them come in droves, the latter see them returning time over. If Solihull needed this as an area, the market it sits within needed the innovation more. The idea that the grill and curry food could be done using entirely free range meat for the same price as the competition is a genuine game changer for a sector not known for conscientious meat purchasing. And the quality of that meat shines throughout the meal. That is why Tap and Tandoor is one of the most important openings of 2018.

I thought it would be good; I know its sister venue Zindiya intimately. The menu has the infrequent nod towards that Moseley restaurant whilst managing to be an entirely different beast. Here you will find curry, breads, and mixed grills alongside the Indian street food dishes of Zindiya. It is a menu designed to be grazed over a longer period, washed down with any one of the beers that line the back wall. We order and settle in to a table under the painted mural on the back wall. It is heaving. The inhabitants of Solihull clearly have more taste that I credited them for.

From a succinct list of home style curry we have the butter chicken of all butter chickens. So good that all other versions must now feature ‘I cant believe its not butter chicken’ on the packaging. Its unashamedly rich, clogging the arteries with happiness. The poultry is firm, well cooked, and tastes of chicken; a rarity in these places. It is a stunner. We mop this up with a chilli and cheese naan that is supple and light. Exactly how it should be but rarely are.

And then there is the mixed grill. And my, what a mixed grill it is. It is the best of its kind in the city because the quality of the produce is allowed to shine. We have a regular sized one that is too much for two people, but will not stop me ordering the large next time. The chicken tikka is made to the same recipe as the sister restaurant. If anything the morsels here are larger, so whisper it, but this may be even better than the place that does the best I have eaten. There are meaty chicken wings smoky from the grill that do less for me, king prawns that linger with chilli notes for a while afterwards, and heavily spiced sheekh kebab cut to an uneven number that has us arguing over the last piece. Best of all are the lamb chops, charred so that the marinade has crusted up and left a pink centre. Once again the quality of the meat shines through; lamb chops simply don’t taste this good in places like this.

The only slip-up I can find are the beer battered onion bhajis that are a touch greasy and need a little work, but that is it. Even the one dish lifted from the Zindiya menu is an improvement; paneer tikka in an indo-Chinese style sauce. It is no longer caked in sauce, instead it happily shares its space with cooked onions and peppers, splayed out across a plate with the sweet and fiery sauce merely joining the dots. I want to stay and eat the chocolate samosa but I am defeated.

Far too much food, a beer, and a soft drink comes in at just over £40, an obscene bargain. And it is this that impresses me the most. With the premium location and free range meat costs it would have been easy to ramp up the prices, yet they have resisted this, choosing to sit at a price point below their direct competition. It’s all rather brilliant, helped by a team of staff who clearly know their stuff. If I lived closer I’d be here twice a week without fail. The people of Solihull are a lucky, lucky bunch.

9/10

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The Horseshoe, Hall Green

The plate on which I portioned my half of the starter now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting; a drunken blend of vivid mint yogurt and a crimson chilli sauce that has the background funk of molasses and tamarind. The platter, once sizzling, is now a luke warm graveyard of bones. We have left nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The waitress, a young and affable lady in her early twenties, asks how it was, to which I respond with a simple and concise ‘excellent’. She is pleased, like she had cooked it herself, and goes on to tell us how the new menu for the refit centred around creating this mixed grill to be as good as it can be. She goes into details about the different marinades they trialled for the three types of tikka, and how the lamb chops cooking time was constantly tweaked. It is a level of attention that I was not expecting, yet alone to hear of in such detail from the staff. Frankly, I am impressed. Welcome to The Horseshoe version 2.0.

It is still The Horseshoe, I just added to the version 2.0 bit on the end to make it sound like a Hollywood movie. They’ve sharpened up the lines of the old interior. They’ve tweaked the menu to give it a more Desi pub feel. And they still offer a European menu which is sent back as soon as it is offered on account of the kitchen team looking more Mumbai than Milan. I blame the local community for this who clearly cannot accept that a pub which used to do pub food badly can now exist in the same bricks and mortar under a different cuisine. Would you ever go into a Fish and Chip shop and ask for Nasi Goreng? Exactly. If you come here and complain about the state of your carbonara, you’re an idiot and you only have yourself to blame.

That mixed grill starts and pretty much finishes us off. It’s gargantuan in size and only a starter to the optimistic or American amongst us. Three types of chicken tikka; one a conventional marinade, another sharp with the acidity of pickle, and one fiery with green chilli. Two types of mince kebab; one lamb, the other chicken. Both with personality, the latter packed with the hot stuff. Lamb chops that have the funk of a James Brown record only without the domestic violence. Chicken drumsticks. I think I’m done. No, sorry, I forgot the quarter of tandoori chicken, all communist in colour and scorched on the fringes. It’s all good; some, such as the chicken tikka, minced chicken kebab and tandoori chicken, are knock out brilliant. It is, right now as a collection, the best mixed grill in Birmingham. And I say that with the confidence of a man who has eaten many of recent in those considered as the premium.

We take a couple of curries and a dhal, because we are greedy and promiscuous with our choices. The tarka dhal gets ordered again, as does the methi chicken whose fenugreek flavour slowly reveals like a burlesque dancer. The punchy achari gosht is a little more one dimensional – we get heat and tomato and not much else with the tender cubes of lamb. From a bread basket is a good naan and roti, with a stellar paratha that’s all buttery wafer.

What we don’t finish they are happy to box up, and the following day we load the last of the lamb curry onto the leftover roti, with some yogurt which they correctly guess we would need. And there in a leftover box is all you need to know about The Horseshoe – they have their finger on the pulse and a firm eye on giving the customer what they want. And if you go looking for a mixed grill you really can’t do much better in Birmingham. Just go hungry.

8/10

The meal was complimentary and arranged by Delicious PR

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Hen and Chickens, Jewellery Quarter

Claire has been banging on about the mixed grill at the Hen and Chickens since we met, which, if you’re either of our previous partners reading this, was seven lovely months ago and not a day before. We had come into the city centre with the intention of going to a vegan restaurant but sometimes tofu and quinoa just doesn’t cut it. Actually, never does tofu and quinoa cut it. We opt for the Hen and Chickens, beloved of my beloved on account of the mixed grill that is her benchmark for a mouthful of protein. And I’m happy with this. It’s a pub, I can drink beer and eat meat. I can pretend to pay attention to her whilst watching the football over her shoulder. Very happy indeed.

It’s hot in here. So hot Nelly wrote a song about it. The recent refit is a smart move towards bare brick walls, leather booths and dark wooden tables. It’s a close space and our table is initially a spill over area for those either side of us. We fallout over the size of the mixed grill, I want to spend the extra £4 on a large, whilst Claire wants a medium, which is not an analogy for our relationship. I win, which is an analogy for our relationship.

She was right, which is absolutely an analogy for our relationship. It’s massive, a group feed rather than just the two of us. It’s all good, some of it is spectacular. The green chicken is part of the latter; spicy with marinade seemingly full of chilli heat, it knocks spots off the more conventional chicken tikka and that is one of the city’s better versions. We love the chicken niblets, which are thigh drumsticks coated in a thick cornflour batter, and chunks of a firm white fish coated in a batter fragrant with garam masala. Sheekh kebab could maybe do with more heat, but chicken wings make up for it with aggressive spicing that penetrates throughout the meat. In short, it’s a monster feed for seventeen quid. The reason to come. If you’re not ordering this you’re simply missing out.

Stupidly, we order more food and it fails to hit the same dizzying heights of the mixed grill. Masala fries are as passable as frozen chips coated in garam masala will ever be. A chicken balti initially starts off as one dimensional until the spices slowly start to reveal layer-by-layer. By the time we finish we are chasing the last dots of sauce around the bowl with a very good garlic naan.

All this, a pint and a gin comes in at £36, and we leave with half the mixed grill in a bag which serves well for lunch the following day. The Hen and Chickens wasn’t one of the original desi pubs, but it did take the appeal of places like The Vine and stick them in a more convenient and appealing location. I liked it, it’s probably my favourite at this point in time. And that large mix grill is a reason to go in itself.

8/10

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