Boca Grande at The Plough, Harborne

So I was sat in a pub recently not far from where I live, when someone I vaguely know from 6am house parties said to me ‘you need to stop dressing like you’re in The Plough, you live in Moseley now’. I look down at what I’m wearing; slip on loafers, no socks, Prince of Wales check grey shorts, a button-down Oxford shirt with sweater over the top. He’s right: I couldn’t be anymore Harborne unless I had two cars to drive, a labradoodle, and a relative in the Conservative party. Like Tuberculosis i guess living there is one of those things you never fully shake off. I had three glorious years living in Harborne, of which approximately two of those were spent in The Plough. Mondays for pizza, Tuesday burgers, the weekends were Connect 4 either in the extension or out in the garden. Do not take me on at Connect 4, I will destroy your constitution and break your soul. And I’ll enjoy every second of it.

On this occasion I’ve taken the long stroll back to Harborne for dinner with Rob of Foodie Boys. Us boys have to stick together in this game. The females dominate in this city, eating the males alive, akin to the Black Widow. Just like those spiders most have a nasty bite and hairy backs. We’re here for the tacos which form the Boca Grande takeover this summer. I have a lot of time for tacos, they’re like the bastard siblings of the burrito before they got fat on carbs and started dressing modestly.

Those tacos are very good, an improvement on the same product they served only on Wednesdays last year. The shell is soft, the fillings piled high. Chicken is as hot as the menu warns, with a ginger slaw that lingers long after the Almost Death sauce has killed my taste buds and done a runner. The delicate flavour of cod is not lost amongst its garnish of jalapeño, lime and ginger, whilst the prawn taco has a inherent sweetness allowed to shine with spring onion and a little chilli.

In my eyes the pick of the bunch is the pork, slow cooked to the point that it retains just enough bite to remind you its meat that we’re eating. Its smoky and rich, needing the acidity of the apple to cut through it. I like it even more with Pip’s hot sauce, but then that sentence can be applied to anything. A beef and bean chilli made from brisket works because of a chimichurri full of bright acidity. From the sides the guacamole is fresh with acidity and heat, but it is the sweetcorn that takes full honours with garlic, lime and butter. I go back for more until the bottom of the pot is visible. It goes with the chicken particularly well.

Service is the standard level of The Plough brilliance; I cant think of another pub anywhere which does it better. They never miss a beat: drinks arrive quickly followed by tacos, empty plates are removed, more tacos come, repeat process. It seems so simple, yet so many get it wrong. Boca Grande is just another example of The Plough’s brilliance, one that taps into a trend that fits perfectly with the Summer, further cementing their position as Birmingham’s best pub.

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Transport provided by the ever wonderful A2B Radio Cars

Wild Beer, Bristol

Now before I get on to the food at Wild Beer, I take full responsibility for the dismal lunch we had. Given the array of talent at Wapping Wharf you could put a blindfold on and find a cracking meal within one of the navy blue cargo containers, even on a Monday when the big hitters are mostly closed. Yet we were driven by the rarest of British finds: Sunshine. That’s right, we picked our lunch choice based on available chairs in the sunshine over where might actually be edible. The bill of £90 for a round of four drinks and food that I paid is entirely my fault. But my face does now have a lovely bronzed glow, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

The wait on the food this fateful Monday afternoon is one hour, a time they were extremely keen to emphasize in between messing the drinks order up. We keep the order simple; fish tacos, chicken tacos, calamari, a couple of sides. Everything is deep fried and as greasy as a door-to-door salesman. Everything is beige, both in colour and as a metaphor for the food.

After two failed deliveries to our table for food that others had ordered we get tacos. The better of two has a firm white fish (Pollock, I think) set to an Ike Turner level of batter, resting on shop brought tortilla and a smattering of undressed sweetcorn and beans. It’s pathetic but at least at it’s not the chicken, southern fried, a description that suits its appearance given that it looks like its been left at the bottom of the fryer for an age. The outside is burnt, the meat dry, but hey, we get more of those sweetcorn and beans! We joke that the kitchen has given up and just wants to be outside in the sun before concluding this is more than likely true. Chips are good, the hot sauce better. They are the saviours on this afternoon.

The sides fair worse. We have frickles of such girth the heat gets nowhere near the centre, with not enough of the liquor coming through. It’s just battered gherkin, which sounds like a component in the next evolution of a Scottish burger. They are very unpleasant. Fried cheese curds succeed in having a coating to cheese ratio highly in the favour of the former, with a ketchup style dip too competent ever to have come out the kitchen. The squid is so bouncy my adolescent girlfriend wants to play on it. I console myself with £3.50 measures of brilliant Cotswold gin. No one asks how the food is as the plates are removed.

Our fleeting visit is not a total disaster. On the way back to the car park we stop by Pizzarova to pick up a cheap pizza. Even cold, after three hours on the back seat of the car on the way home, it is a mile away from the shit we had for lunch. Nice elastic crust, good sourdough flavour, and good toppings. My friend who we visit tells me that the beers at Wild Beer are ace. My suggestion is simple; go for beers, bypass the kitchen and go elsewhere in Wapping Wharf for your dinner. Anywhere but here.

Wild Beer 2/10

Pizzarova 7/10

I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards. Please vote for me in category 17.