OPM

Independent Birmingham Festival, 2019

I think this Independent Birmingham Festival was my favourite so far. It may have been the excellent company we kept, the stream of friends we bumped into continually throughout the day, or the fact that I was very tipsy by 1pm on the Saturday, but they really nailed it. Here is a super quick post on what we ate and drank at this celebration of the wonderful independents in this great city.

Buddha Belly. <

I’m mentioning this first because the sight of Momma Buddha Belly cooking with Sai melted this cold heart. A slightly different menu this time which we dived straight in to. The more familiar Southern Thai curry was ordered with salmon fish cakes and an outrageous beef noodle broth not dissimilar to a pho. Seriously classy Thai food. It’s impossible to not love Buddha Belly, even when I'm on strict instructions to not swear.

Baked in Brick.

Lee decided to spit roast an entire lamb for this event, which took me back almost twenty years to when we used to party together. We had a hybrid dish of the lamb meat with mac’n’cheese, salsa verde, crispy potatoes cooked in lamb fat, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy. The salsa verde was insane, as was the quality of the meat. Claire drank gravy from the Yorkshire pudding because that’s what Northeners do. Mental.

 18/81.

Because we have very good taste. Claire’s was a profanity laden one that tasted of pumpkin spice, I had the off-menu Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee. I lie. I had three of them. Because we have very good taste.

Loki.

A delicious fizzy pink wine which tasted of tip-tops. Drank two bottles so must have been good.

Zindiya.

You may be aware that I live very close to these guys. I may have had a Deliveroo from them the night before. Still never stopped me eating a chicken tikka kati roll and samosa chaat. Huge amounts of flavour in everything they do.

El Borracho de Oro. </

They had a very attractive looking paella on the go, though it wasn’t ready so we changed tactics and went with patatas bravas and ham croquettes. It was a good choice. Both were crazy good.

Original Patty Men.

I have mad love for the burgers from these gents. The one I had with chorizo was as good as burgers get.

Waylands Yard.

Eggy crumpets. Halloumi. Chilli sauce. Call the fire brigade; this is absolute flames.

There were also custard tarts from Salcooks, plenty of gin at Jekyl and Hyde, and cakes from Bake. There were dogs, more dogs, live music, the best in local businesses, and more dogs. I think that someone complimented me on my coat, but I was pissed by then so they could have been calling me something far less polite. Most of all it was full of Brummies celebrating the best of Brum; sticking two fingers up to anyone who says otherwise. I had the best weekend there. I can’t wait for the next one.

In keeping with the Best of Brum, A2B got us there and back.

Wing Wednesdays at OPM and Kilder, Digbeth

Hype is a horrible thing which we’re seeing loads of in Birmingham at present. Baos, fried chicken, ramen, Indian street food; you name it and we’ve been subjected to the same cleverly marketed Twitter launch that see’s everyone proclaim it to be the next best thing. I blame The Blaggers, those who punctuate with examination marks and think that by quote retweeting ‘can’t wait to try this’ will see them first in line when the PR soup kitchen starts handing out free meals. And for what? In almost every instance these launches have disappointed, with businesses forgetting that they should really be focusing on getting the product right before the branding. The very hype is misleading others into thinking that it is good without even trying it. It is this very reason that I tend to keep that giant gob of mine closed until the food has entered it.

I was having one of those ‘just look what we’ve created’ moments recently in an not-be-named location that absolutely sells more than just fried chicken and is not named after a previous member of Oasis. I was chowing down on some very average wings when out of the corner of my eye saw the rarely spotted Patty Man doing the same. We exchange a brief chat over the chicken wings. “They’re alright”, I say. “Come try ours” he grunts (the Patty Man communicate only by grunt). I admire his confidence and take this as a challenge.

Cutting to the chase, those wings are some of the best I have ever eaten, shitting all over the place with the over-hyped chicken. We order one set of each, including the special. Each one has high quality bird with delicate meat and crisp skin, the latter being a very important detail that seems to allude many a chicken wing.  I like the honey wings and waffle special least because it appeals less to my savoury tastes, but the rest, whoa, I’m in love. There are wings in barbeque sauce, and another in a tangy white sauce with notes of vinegar, mustard and horseradish. Like the time I simultaneously dated two girls called Helena, I can’t mentally separate the following two. Both the Korean gochujang wings and the buffalo are knockout brilliant. The former has its fingers on the pulse with the most 2018 of wings, the latter a proper take on a classic. Both have the same thing in common; a pitch-perfect balance of heat and acidity. With these we have chips with garlic, parmesan, and parsley. They are not needed but quickly disappear.

It was around the time of this visit that they also opened Kilder in the unit next door. A completely different offering to the burgers (and weekly wings) at OPM, Kilder has a wider drinks menu and a menu that looks to the tried and tested traditional British values of stuff that works with beer. The room is more complete than next door, the seating more suited to longer stints than the nature of burger joints. In the corner is a fridge with the cheeses and cured meats that make up the majority of the menu. They have Queens of Stone Age playing loudly over the speakers. I like it here.

The food is superb. Really superb. It owes a lot to the careful sourcing of the ingredients and the rest to the virtues of keeping it simple. Of the stuff on bread I thought it would be ‘nduja and honey on sourdough that would steal my heart, but it is the cheese and ham toastie which does it, the cheese blend an ideal combination of more perky hard varieties and the oozy gentle ones. That’s not to say the other isn’t good; the ‘nduja in particular has the tang of offal lurking underneath the abrasive chilli notes. I want to know who they get it from so I can keep it in my fridge. And then there is the pork pie, which, if I ever did Birmingham’s best dishes for under a fiver, would be right at the top of. The warm water pastry crumbles between finger and thumb, with a pleasing amount of bone jelly. The pork mixture is heavy on the black pepper. It is an absolute joy. I initially thought that the ratio was out on the sausage roll, but I quickly realised that any less meat and we’re stepping into Greggs territory. It is a monster that we dispatch half of, before finishing up later on at home. Even the olives are brilliant.

I think that Kilder will be a slow burner and that sits fine with me. Be it for whatever reason, but people tend to be less excited by minced meat between pastry than they are between buns. I’m cool with this; I’ll gladly take it upon myself to keep the business going whilst the masses slowly hear about it. The bill for both occasions was around £40, though it goes without saying that is possible to spend a lot less and still leave full. Both Wing Wednesdays and Kilder are worthy of your time; put down the burger for two evenings and give them both a go. There is no hype here, merely perfectly executed food. Just how it should be.

Wing Wednesdays at OPM 9/10

Kilder 9/10

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars

Sear and Smoke, Birmingham

Meat. If that one word isn’t to your liking, then you may want to shut down this window and go back to your hummus and crudites. For the rest of you, prepare for sympathy sweats and burger envy, for lumps of protein and token pieces of carbohydrates. The latest addition to this cities fast expanding food scene is an ode to fire and beast, to feeding using only the finest animals in the most skilled of hands.

Being a collaboration from Original Patty Men and Digbeth Dining Club it was never going to be ambiguous in name. They settle for Sear and Smoke, which makes sense given that pretty much covers off the cooking processes involved. It’s home is Crane, a beautiful old factory too close to St Andrews to be desirable. The huge ceilings, bare brick and steel framework feels like its already integral to the city and I feel slightly at loss to have seen this for the first time in my mid thirties.

I head straight to Flying Cows because a burger for breakfast makes perfect sense. There I take The High Flyer because that’s the award winner and award winners should only ever eat award winners if you want to go Full Pillock. I do. The aged beef is pink throughout, with the sweetest of bacon and Swiss cheese that has the same gummy feel as it’s American counterpart, only with the added bonus of actually tasting of cheese. Whisper it, but Flying Cows remind me of Bleecker Burger at their finest. It’s the burger I would choose from anywhere right now if given the choice. I wash it down with a cocktail from the Birmingham Whisky Club. And lovely it is, too. Far better than the whisky I usually wash my breakfast down with.

There are a dozen or so food traders here on the day, the cream of the local talent and some from further afield. From a little place called London we have Wingman, a chicken wing specialist who came to my attention when they won best of the best at this year’s British Street Food finals. I have the winning dish (see previous Full Pillock comment) that has the sweet, sour and hot profiles of Thai cooking all over their chicken and all down my jacket. Properly lovely stuff and easily the best chicken wing I have ever eaten. Taking second place at those awards was Baked in Brick, today cooking a 45 day aged rump cap as a special alongside some of the more usual suspects. The beef is gloriously tender, with a chestnut mushroom sauce enriched with bone marrow that transformed some very ordinary fries underneath into something far more magical.

I’m outside for a talk by a man who knows a lot about street food and more whisky. The air is stained by smoke and the smell of rendered fat. Low’n’Slow are to blame. Throngs of people have gathered round to watch him smoke pork belly over a make shift pit on the floor before being finished over a barbecue by the very farmer who supplies the pigs. The meat is stunning; aged pork with thick ribbons of fat that only a fool would discard. It’s a proper plate of food, with potatoes cooked with bone marrow and a fiery burnt salsa and sharp ‘slaw. He is bringing the theatre of Meatopia to a warehouse in the backstreets of Birmingham. This is the future of Sear and Smoke.

Original Patty Men are here with a friend – Dom Clarke of Canneat, a little place in Stirchley that I have much love for. I try the special which has their usual patty with ox cheek, gruyere, and ‘French soup’ onions. It’s one of the days more technically minded dishes, aimed squarely at a mouthful of umami. The ox cheek has been braised in reduced Guiness, the onions cooked down to a meaty gelatinous mess. It’s seriously good, I just wish I’d left more room for it.

I wanted to try more, though without my usual partner in crime I was defeated. Three hours after the start and the place was starting to heave, my attempts over, dictated by a bulging waistline and the arrival of a coven of my ex’s friends. I depart for a well earned snooze, awaking to a social media frenzy at the event as the night draws in and the bands begin to play. It seems that I was not alone in my love for it. It was a bona fide success, proof that Birmingham can play with the big boys. It was a faultless stepping stone to a more ambitious event next year. The countdown to the next Sear and Smoke has already begun.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. For more information please see http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Original Patty Men, Digbeth

I’m all for competition. It breeds an environment where the best product and most savvy of businesses survive.  Its vital for the food industry in keeping profit margins at an acceptable level for the customer and for keeping the owners on their toes.  Rivalry breeds respect and results.  Though occasionally competition is futile.  Every now and then a leader emerges that is unbeatable, rendering everyone else to fight to for second or third place. Federer at tennis a decade ago, Google for search engines, America at obesity.  Now I’ve tried the burgers at the permanent home of Original Patty Men you can add them to that list.  Everyone else should turn off the gas on the grill, go home, and work on that pulled pork recipe.  Or whatever horrid trend is next in line to dominate 2016.

I’ve had the burgers before.  I’ve queued with the rest of them at Digbeth Dining Club and Seasonal Markets for my fill.  Street food is everywhere in Birmingham; we do it better than anywhere else, with OPM (as it will herewith be referred to) topping the bill alongside my other favourites Bournville Waffle Company and Baked in Brick .  Its just I like the queues as much as I trust the English weather.  Which is why I was a tad excited to park my fat arse on a chair in their new gaff under the arches in a Digbeth passage near Moor Street station car park.

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I could go on at length about the make-up of the burgers.  How the aged meat is coarsely ground and tightly packed.  How the high heat sears a crust full of umami and retains a blushing pink centre.  Its a thing of beauty that almost leaves me to be able to communicate only in profanities.  Oh, fuck it.  They are fucking amazing.  We try one in a glazed Krispy Kreme with maple glazed bacon where the potential over-sweetness is held at ground level by the savor of bovine hung for a good period of time.  Another sees the components of a cheese burger with a spiced mayo and crushed pork scratchings.  It sounds more outlandish than the reality; the pork rinds are there to provide an additional layer of seasoning and texture.  Its all very clever and extremely moreish.

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The small but perfectly formed menu has a few sides from which we try smokey home baked beans and chips topped with slaw and more of that spiced mayo.  The chips are good, taken up another level by the toppings which offer crunch and a little heat.  Better are the beans with bacon and a steal at two quid a pot.  They have no sweet courses on offer today, due to the local bakery that supplies them being too busy.  I consider requesting a Krispy Kreme for dessert.  Only grilled.  And with bacon and a lump of charred cow.

 

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We settle a bill which fails to reach thirty quid including a couple of drinks and look to the doors where a queue of waiting people are already starting to form.  That queue is only going to get bigger and bigger -Its inevitable with a product this good.  Forget Goodman’s, Byron, or the one at Burger and Lobster that costs £20.  Forget Dirty Burger or Meat Liquor or anywhere else that the capital has to offer.  OPM’s are the best burgers that I have ever eaten.  Digbeth, long home to the countries best street food, now has a resting place for one of the jewels in its crown.  I for one, could not be happier.

9/10