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

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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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Nemrut & Rod Roj

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Nemrut, lamb ribs and testes

Actual Turkish grill restaurants. You wait ages for one then three come at the same time. With Istanbul in Handsworth leading the way last year, Nemrut and Rod Roj are hot on it’s heels. I hate to use the phrase “expertly grilled ” as bloggers who say this tend to refer to cheap steaks in mediocre gastropubs. But get this, the Turks are expert grillers and to see a man (it’s always a man) tending an ocakbasi is both mesmerising and strangely appetising. The aroma of lamb or chicken fat atomising on hot coals and permeating back into the meat does that to you.

Nemrut on the Dudley Rd, like Istanbul, is not in the most salubrious part of town. The restaurant is large as is the choice of grilled meats with quail and lamb testes on the menu. The portions are generous and expertly grilled here (there I go again) but the bread and salads are average. The esme salsa is terrific here but no rice or bulgur wheat accompany the meats. They have a new location on Holyhead Rd in Handsworth but can’t vouch for that one.

Nemrut
381 Dud­ley Road, Birm­ing­ham B18 4HB
Tel: 0121 4544 999
12 Holy­head Road, Birm­ing­ham B21 0LA
Tel: 0121 5516 886

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Rod Roj’s Lahmacun and salad, £2.49. Better than a Greggs.

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Rod Roj’s Adana kebap

Rod Roj looks for all intents and purposes like a greasy late night takeaway for revellers. Situated on Smallbrook Queensway in the middle of town around the corner from the Chinatown bars it attracts its fair share of the inebriated and desperate. I can assure you that I’ve only been in the day and they know how to chargrill. Pop in for lahmacun, the classic Turkish flatbread smeared with lamb mince and a salad. At £2.49 surely the best value eat in the whole of the city centre. Stick around for the juicy adana kebap served with rice and bulgur, the best I’ve eaten. Shame about the pide flatbread which is the worst. But hey it’s free!

Rod Roj 
Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham B5 4HE
Tel: 0121 633 0999

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Bader – Ladypool Rd

Wait what’s this!? A Birmingham food blog and this is the first time we’ve reviewed a restaurant in our famed Balti Triangle?! Hold your horses, it may be at the Balti epicentre of Ladypool Rd but Bader restaurant is not a curry house, the menu is half Lebanese. Amongst the sea of standard Balti house offerings along that road is an island of Arabian calm, because the other half of the menu is Arabic with nods to Maghreb and tagines. It’s the twin sister restaurant to the original on Coventry Rd in Small Heath (which is two doors down from Arabic grill Abu Zayd). Don’t expect the deep red hues of the kebabs you would find at the nearby Lahore grill, but more subtly spiced meat and tastier for it. The real treat is the lamb arayes, a small flatbread topped with a smear of minced lamb and freshly baked. For £3.50 each I could eat these beauties till I burst but that would do the rest of the menu a disservice. Grilled meats are a strength, cooked so that they are still juicy, a state unknown to the Pakistani grills that suffuse the area. The only let down is the rice which to my Chinese palate has been undercooked to an unacceptable degree on every occasion I’ve eaten there. But tough grain aside, it’s no reason why you shouldn’t visit Bader. Certainly the lovely Arabian décor is worth checking out on it’s own.

Bader
178-182 Ladypool Road
Birmingham
B12 8JS
Tel: 0121 773 9818

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Byzantium

For a number of years I scoffed at the suggestion that Byzantium in Kings Heath was really good and I should check it out. I went already! A couple of times when it first opened mid-00s, it was a bit meh and was confused why anyone would believe otherwise. Good friends with good taste would genuinely beam when they talked about the place. But I found in those early visits that it was just very ordinary, a few olives or anchovies plucked from a can into a mini cazuela. Forgettable bland dishes.

But on a recent Monday evening we were stuck for a place to eat. A few of our favourite curry houses around here being closed on Mondays. So we found ourselves here and glancing at a Spanish tapas style menu with influences from other corners of the Mediterranean. Croquetas, flatbreads, hummus, patatas bravas, souvlaki, you get the idea. We ordered a few tidbits and a couple of the specials. And you know what? I was stupidly happy to be proved wrong about the food. For a quiet Monday night it tasted like it was cooked by someone that cared. The pork belly dish being the standout, very tender with a shattering crisp skin. Great croquetas too. It wasn’t all perfect, the two fish dishes we ordered, unsurprisingly, weren’t that fresh but forgivable considering the time of the week. Overall with the tasty little dips and the charred flatbread we ate very nicely for not very much money.

So the moral of this blog is; it pays to go back and a lot sooner than I did with Byzantium.

Byzantium
11 York Road
Kings Heath
Birmingham B14 7SA
Tel: 0121 4445444

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