Toppoki

 

Hot pot

Hot pot

It’s taken time for me to warm to Topokki’s humble charms. The basic home-style Korean food was alright, it didn’t really hit the spots for me. But it sneaks onto the Brumfoodmap on the strength of one dish, the Dolsot Bibimbap. A red hot stone bowl filled with rice, finely sliced fresh vegetables and a choice of meat, beef all the way for me. Mix in the Korean magic ingredient gojujang (a smooth sweet, fermented, fiery chilli paste) and bingo! Instant satisfaction. Well not instant as it’s scorching hot but that’s the beauty of it, the heat cooks off the gojujang and aromatises the rice as you eat it. Better still there’a nice crust of browned rice at the end of the bowl. A truly delicious way to eat rice.

The fried chicken nuggets are tasty here if a little unsubstantial but the rest of the menu is a little boring. The kimchi is watery and bland. The room has been extended so it’s a lot more comfortable. Maybe a little too comfortable, everytime I’ve eaten there it’s been full of groups of Chinese yoofs passive aggressively treating the place like a lounge. Getting in the way of the patiently polite Korean staff after they’ve finished picking at their food ages ago. They’re obviously the restaurant’s main clientele and I’m not usually bothered by what other diners are up to, but there’s a line of rudeness that people skate very close to here. I just eat my bibimbap and go!

Topokki
Unit 1C Hurst Street, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 4TD
Tel:0121 666 7200

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Le Truc

Now I know we have steak restaurants in Brum; Andersons, MPW, the marvellous Fiesta Del Asado and the mediocre meatfest Rodizio Rico. But my favourite steak to eat in Brum is the onglet in Le Truc. This classic French bistro cut is the muscle that attaches the diaphragm and separates the lungs from the other organs. It’s got a deep beefy offally flavour and has to be cooked rare or it’s as tough as jerky. I always look forward to ordering it, fries and bernaise on the side, a simple thing done incredibly well.

Let’s not overlook Le Truc’s other charms. Open a couple of years now, it used to be the popular Chez Jules off New St. The spacious room is quintessially French bistro with quirky touches and a whole wall enshrined to Serge Gainsbourg. The menu is French bistro but done without any of the corporate Cafe Rouge cynicism. It’s not all French! They do a terrific Sunday roast beef too but really if you’re in the mood for no nonsense Frenchiness then Le Truc does the trick.

Le Truc
21 Ladywell Way, Birmingham B5 4ST
Tel: 0121 622 7050

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Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle II

An update of the previously seminal (not so now) BCRMB on my Foodist Blog. A new point on the Brumfoodmap, Malaysian delight, who aside from tasty roast meats do some decent Malaysian food too.

Here are the results:


New Sum Ye 新意美食

Duck 3.5 (out of 5) Pork 4 Char siu 3 Other 4.5
Total 15 (out of 20)
£10.20 (£8.20, £1 duck leg supplement, £1 tea) ouch!


China Town Noodle Bar 中華美食

Duck 3 Pork 2 Char siu 3 Other 2
Total 10
£9 (£7.50, 50p dls, £1 tea)


Ken Ho 双喜

Duck 4.5 Pork 4.5 Char siu 4 Other 3.5
Total 16.5
£10.30 (£9.50, 80p tea)

Ken ho - glistening

Ken Ho – glistening


Peach Garden 桃園

Duck 4 Pork 4 Char siu 4.5 Other 4
Total 16.5
£8.10 (£7.20, 90p dls)

Meat sweats

Peach Garden – hot under the collar


 

Malaysian Delight 馬來風味
8 Ladywell Walk, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 4ST
Tel: 0121 622 3909

The name of the restaurant might lead you to think it’s not a Cantonese roast meat place at all. But with Chinese chefs this cafe has always served up some decent roasts alongside Malaysian classics like Assam laksa and nasi lemak. If further proof is required then the hanging roast meat display is the most prominent in the whole of Chinatown, facing the main road for all to see. Not usually as much meat on display as Peach Garden or New Sum Ye so you need to get there early for the best cuts. The plate I had was fine indeed. The roast duck is flavourful and juicy with the meat slipping off the bone easily. I’d have liked more as only a drumstick was presented. The roast belly pork was a little tough and the crackling although thin could have been crispier, good flavour meat and well seasoned. Char siu was a great cut of meat, a good ratio of collar collagen for a nice bouncy texture. The flavour was a little sweet for my liking but there was a good char flavour too. Rice was slightly too cold and firm served with a measly amount of pak choi. Typically for a Malaysian cafe the chilli oil had plenty of shrimp flavour and had good heat. Overall portion size was a little on the small side.

Duck 4.5 Pork 3.5 Char siu 4 Other 3
Total 15
£9 (£7.50, £1 dls, 50p tea)

Delightful duck

Delightful duck


Conclusion

Joint winners! Peach Garden and Ken Ho have the best roast meats in Chinatown. As a single plate of food Ken Ho probably edges it but pricewise Peach Garden is unbeatable. For £7.20 you have a triple roast and a cup of tea and know that you absolutely cannot eat a better meal for the money in Brum.

Tipu Sultan

Sultani mutton chops, naughty

Sultani mutton chops, naughty

Beer and curry. Curry and beer. The two go hand-in-hand don’t they? Well it maybe so but this old fashioned drinking culture has set back the quality of Indian cuisine on our high streets. Tipu Sultan bucks that tradition and is totally dry of alcohol. Ironically it’s in the old Jug of Ale pub in Moseley. Something magical has happened to that run down pub, famous for being the city’s best Indie gig venue back in the day (Nirvana played there), it’s now the most lavishly appointed restaurant this side of Dubai. Fit for sultans and just on the right side of bling.

Without the help of alcohol we can focus clearly on the food offering and here it’s proudly Pakistani. Very similar to that other favourite of ours Mughal E Azam. Rich sticky meat curries that have the qualities of being slow cooked properly, not thrown together Balti style. The lamb Achari is a favourite, spicy and hot, with freshness provided by finely shredded ginger. Grilled meats are slathered in spice pastes that do not overwhelm the quality of the meat or the cooking. Their signature sultani mutton chops leave your fingers stained and your taste buds singing. It’s clear to me that if you can break the beer curry habit then you will really love Tipu Sultan. They have expansion plans so it’s definitely a habit worth breaking.

Tipu Sultan
43 Alcester Road, Birmingham B13 8AA
Tel: 0121 449 8539

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Manchester Seafood

When Chinese people eat seafood we don’t mess around. There’s no pan-fried fillet of John Dory with seaweed butter foam perched on a bed of samphire. Forget. That. Give me two lobsters from that tank over there, chop them up whilst they’re still twitching, flash fry them in a screaming hot wok with a mountain of crispy garlic. Whilst you’re at it, steam us a whole turbot, braise an eel, poach prawns, prepare half a dozen crabs and let’s have it all in 15 minutes. Ok? No problem.

The inauspiciously named Manchester Seafood Retail and Restaurant is just that, a seafood shop with a restaurant at the back. I say inauspicious only in the sense that us Brummies are a little

wary of our bolshy Northern counterparts. What have they got that we don’t, apart from two world-class football teams and our national broadcaster? They’re about as land-locked as us so to come down here with your live seafood tanks and Chinese seafood chefs who know what they’re doing, well that’s just marvellous! And whisper it, it is marvellous. For the first time in this country I felt a little like I was in one of the seafood towns of Hong Kong. The seafood is tinged mostly Cantonese with splashes of colour from Sichuan in their meat dishes, but they’re less successful. Stick to the fish the clue is in the title.

It’s best to come mob handed to Chinese restaurants like this. These are big dishes that are meant to be shared family style eaten with rice. Many times I’ve read reviews by old hacks that read like this: “I ordered the salt and pepper squid as a starter for myself and the steamed sea bass for main.” Don’t do this please. Go with like minded food lovers, order 1.5 to 2 dishes per diner, depending on how greedy. Order rice and get stuck in together. Eat Chinese if you want appreciate real Chinese food.

Manchester Seafood
Wrottesley St, Birmingham B5 4RT

18th Feb 2015 An update! We ordered this eel dish last night and we’re blown away by it. The best dish of the year so far. A fresh eel cut and skinned in such a way that it curled into the bowl like a chrysanthemum flower. Each piece still attached to the last by a merest strip of  succulent flesh. This amazing piece of cooking skill also proves that a whole eel is served to you and the kitchen isn’t cheating. It’s been known that unscrupulous chefs will take a chunk out of the middle! The taste and texture of the dish is the best I’ve had anywhere, so clean and fresh. The eels in Asia can be very muddy tasting, there was none of that here. Cantonese cooking at it’s very best.

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Best Bacon Sandwiches at Nimmings Cafe, Clent Hills

Clent Hills - Photo by Hannah Eno

Clent Hills – Photo by Hannah Eno

What are the ingredients of a bloody good walk? Well a nice view is always good. And a sturdy hill to climb to give a sense of achievement at the end, that’s always good too. But mainly I find a food or drink incentive is the best way of getting me out of the house.
But where to go, when starting from Birmingham? Hills and views usually requires a car journey.  Tolkien fans may wish to head towards Tolkien’s inspiration for the Shire – the Lickey Hills, or even further to the Malvern Hills.
But I fancy that notorious bacon fancier Tolkien (there are seven references to bacon in The Hobbit) would, if he was still in walking mode, prefer to go to my top tip for a country ramble: the Clent Hills.
The walk is decent enough, a nice big hill, a trig point, a folly in the distance, the malevolant-looking Black Mountains out to the West. But the real reason to go is what must be without a doubt The Best Bacon Sandwich (nearly) in Birmingham.
If I was writing in the Guardian we could do 300 words on what makes the best bacon sandwich. But given food enjoyment is 90% context, you are halfway there already on a cold, bright winter Sunday morning, surrounded by dogs and dog walkers and half-famished from the effort of dragging yourself out of bed (sandwich should preceed walk I find). But the other 10% is well supplied with a bouncy thickly-sliced bloomer loaf, slices dunked in bacon grease and generously stuffed with well-griddled, crisp edged bacon, cut thick enough from the belly to be substantial. Red sauce optional but a must. Adding an egg often not a bad idea – you know, just for sustenance. Don’t forget there’s a walk after this. This is not the place for multigrain sourdough and rare breed oinkers, and all the better for it.
Be warned, this place is hella popular so you might be in for a 30 minute wait at peak times. But you can get a steaming mug of tea (always tea, never a coffee, especially here) while you wait and watch the dog owners with small-pony-sized hounds struggling to stop them shagging (or eating) the littler ones.
If you can still be bothered to walk up the hill once you’ve had your sandwich, there’s a very decent pub on the other side for a lunchtime pint.
Open every day except Mondays and Xmas Day. If you have National Trust membership you can park for free in the car park.
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Arabic Chicken and Rose Bakery

Fresh roast chicken and fresh bread for just £3.80, beats a sandwich and packet of crisps at Tesco

There’s a cheerful Yemeni chap on the Stratford Rd in Sparkbrook that sells “Arabic Chicken” from a rotisserie on the street. His rotisserie is fuelled by a worn looking gas tube snaking from the letterbox of Al Saada Middle Eastern store. If the prospect of stopping in Sparkbrook as you drive to your homes in leafier suburbs is unappetising, then you’re not going to like hearing that it’s really delicious. Oh and it’s £3.50 for a small whole freshly roasted chicken. It’s generously slathered in his secret recipe spice paste, heavy in garlic and cinnamon. He only cooks in the afternoon, so the chicken is always freshly roasted and moist. Now if only I could persuade him to stick a tray of potatoes at the bottom to catch all that aromatic chicken fat. Like they do in French markets.

Lucky then that the Rose Bakery is next door. For 30p you can get a fluffy Middle Eastern style flatbread to soak up all that chicken goodness. Less than £4 for real bread and meat made by real cooks. Worth getting out your car for I think, you’ll be stuck in traffic anyway.

Al Saada
168 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 1AG

Rose Bakery
170 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 1AG

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Samosa City

Sweet Mahal's meat samosa, greatness

Sweet Mahal’s meat samosa, greatness

A great samosa is never too far away in our fair city. You don’t ever have to eat an onion filled meat samosa at your local Farmers Market ever again. A full guide to Black Country and Sparkhill samosa shops can be found on my Foodist blog.

Truly delicious meat samosas can be found at Sweet Mahal and Mushtaq’s on the Stratford Rd. Suraj gives a different spin on veggies samosas. Uppals sneaks in with great paneer rolls. The Punjabi Sweet Centre is a nice place to eat in, samosas could be better though.

Sweet Mahal
826 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 4BS
Tel: 0121 777 6777

Mushtaq’s
451-455 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 4LD
Tel: 0121 772 0631

Suraj Sweet Centre
703 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 4DN
Tel: 0121 778 5100

Uppals
33 Barcroft Road, Wolverhampton WV2 3HF
Tel: 01902 451113

Punjabi Sweet & Curry House (aka Punjabi Sweet Centre)
285/287 High Street, Smethwick B66 3NJ
Tel: 0121 565 2187

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Black Country Pork Pies

Don Guest and Walter Smith pork pies

Don Guest and Walter Smith pork pies

The butchers of the Black Country have a long history of making delicious pork pies. I visited some of the best and worst in my Foodist blog.

The best I found were Don Guest in Halesowen and Walter Smith in Wolverhampton. Honourable mention for Michael Kirk also in Wolverhampton.

Don Guest & Son, 106A Stourbridge Road, Halesowen, West Midlands B63 3UN Tel: 0121 550 3832

Walter Smith, Mander Centre, Wolverhampton WV1 3NN Tel: 01902 423 755

Michael Kirk, 56 Woolpack Street (off Dudley Street) Wolverhampton Tel: 01902 425064

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Ken Ho

叉燒酥 – Char Siu Sou

People who really know good food know that to yum cha or eat dim sum at a good Cantonese restaurant is a sure thing. It’s the equivalent of putting Stevie Wonder on the playlist at a house party (Superstition not My Cheri Amour), people will start grooving. Ring around, anyone up for dim sum? Yes! People are moving. There’s no better breakfast/brunch/lunch to be had anywhere in the world.

Ken Ho 双喜 (“soeng hei” lit. “double happiness”) is next door to The Hippodrome theatre and is currently my favourite place to yum cha in Birmingham. The selection of dim sum is smaller than the Chung Yings but what they do is all excellent. All killer and no filler, like the Har Gau 蝦餃. Bursting with juicy prawn. Roast meats are excellent, on par with the specialist roast meat shops in Chinatown. The flowing sand buns 流沙包 are a recent thing in global dim sum. They have a salty sweet runny duck egg custard centre and have to be eaten with care. So much better than the boring old custard buns 奶黄包 we had growing up. Pork chitterlings are prepared in such a way to make it look and eat like crispy suckling pig crackling. But best of all, is the off menu item pictured above. I’m loathed to tell you about it but I’m assuming anyone actually reads these blogs and acts on them. Then also assuming there’s enough of you to eat them all before I get there when the place opens at midday. BBQ pork puffs, char siu sou, are as good as Yauatcha’s famed venison puffs. I would go for these alone.

The only gripe is the tea charge, a minor gripe, and maybe the chicken feet in black bean sauce 豉汁鳳爪 could be better too. But I’m the only one who really appreciates that dish anyway.

Ken Ho
41-43 Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4BJ
Tel: 0121 622 1323

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