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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Recalibrating for Bloggers Bias

We have been a bit lazy around here, almost two months into the year 2014 with no blogpost. How are you, the good people of Brum, going to decide which of our city’s unsung Indie food purveyors to spend your money in? Humbly assuming of course that you trust our opinion. It’s a funny thing blogging about restaurants, because invariably the places a blogger reviews are the ones we would go to anyway. Drawn to them because they serve food that sounds like what we want to eat at a price we don’t mind paying for. You don’t really need us to tell you that the new bar on Colmore Row (pick one) has nice drinks but the food is a bit average. You can work that out yourself. No it’s finding that Turkish place in Handsworth or the Spanish in Sutton Coldfield is really worth the short trip from the centre. So maybe the real value in this blog is to dig out these nuggets in the nooks and crannies of our city. Wipe the fluff off them and fearlessly give them a chew for you. A service we’re happy to provide.

But then we can’t strike rich everytime, not every place we try can be great and that’s where a lot of blogs fall down. Most food bloggers will only write about the nights they’ve had out where they’ve had a good time. Usually going something like this: “We had such an amazing night at X that started with amazing cocktails… the staff were so friendly and made us feel so at home…. steaks were mouthwatering and you can choose from two different cuts that had been aged for 21 days…. OHMYGOD the triple cooked chips were simply TO DIE FOR!… decadent chocolate fondant… we all went home slightly tipsy” and that’s great! You can blog about your crazy nights out but just don’t pretend you’re a food blog. The bias in blogs like those is so skewed as to make the most right-wing newspapers seem reasonable and balanced. For example, if you were to believe everything you read in the Daily Mail then you’d think that our country is full of immigrant bikini-wearing teenagers who want to rob you. If we were to believe those bloggers then every food outlet in Birmingham is just wonderful, representing the very pinnacle of their cuisine. Clearly this is not the case, and can never be in a city of over a million people each with their own opinions. So where is the balanced criticism? The truth is that our country is full of lovely decent people who eat in mediocre sometimes awful restaurants. Compiling the Birmingham and West Midlands Food Map last year has really skewed the blog a little, because all we do is recommend great places to eat and buy food. We haven’t had the time to dissect the bad places because frankly it’s harder to write a balanced piece constructively criticising them than being effusive about a good one. You try! It’s not easy. To show that all is not so rosy in the garden of Birmingham, here are some examples where I think most bloggers get carried away with the really rather mediocre food offerings.

Bodega

Everyone knows this colourful place on Bennet’s Hill, those bloggers talk about the cool vibe and the fantastic drinks in the cosy basement bar. They say the Pan-Latin American food is fresh and vibrant but whenever I’ve eaten there it’s been about as fresh and vibrant as a Birmingham pavement. I’m suspicious of pan-continental themed food offerings anyway*. There will be exceptions of course, a truly passionate and inventive Latin-American cook could offer you a sparkly fresh scallop ceviche alongside spiky carnitas and deep earthy feijoada. But with a menu that starts with those stodgy Tex-mex staples nachos and burritos, you know Bodega isn’t going for anything except lining your stomach for more cocktails.

Woktastic

I have to admit the name put me off for some time. How good can a Japanese restaurant be that’s named after bad pun about a Chinese cooking implement? Oh but so many people say it’s the best Japanese restaurant in town. Well fine, that could be true but only by the paucity of other offerings. Let’s get this straight the sushi there is not good, by Japanese standards is appalling, by British standards it’s just about serviceable. What it does do well however are Japanese comfort dishes like chicken katsu curry, a filling, tasty and unpretentious dish. Though I’d have preferred a Tonkatsu (pork) curry but Woktastic is Halal friendly, so they definitely know their market in Birmingham and it’s not catering for lovers of authentic Japanese cuisine.

Streetfood

Some of the best food I’ve eaten in this city have been under the Streetfood banner. Meatshack’s burgers, Sharians curry goat, wonderful dosas and pizzas from the market in Kings Heath. But really, reading some of the Streetfood reviews it seems that every oozy mouthful of Streetfood ever eaten in this city is an explosion of flavour. Just take a step back, yes you’re having a good time the tunes are great the beer is cold but apart from the few exceptions you or your mates can actually cook better than this. Don’t be taken in by the label “gourmet streetfood”, don’t let fashion hide what is in fact pretty ordinary stuff you could get at any farmers market.

But why am I doing writing this? Apart from addressing the bias, it’s important to let it out sometimes. If you’ve been served something bad don’t be so British about it and slope off muttering under your breath to never to eat it again. Sometimes it’s so bad that these people need to be stopped and told where to go. Politely though, in the British way. You’ll feel a lot better for it and in the end it might actually raise the standard. That’s always been my goal for food blogging. That’s why Nick and I get on so well, we don’t use this blog as an exercise in PR, it’s just all about the food.

* pan-continental food is deeply suspicious, it’s food stereotyping. At worst in big corporation’s hands it’s lazy mass-produced rubbish, at best in the hands of skilled chefs it’s just confusing. Imagine a Pan-European restaurant in Shanghai serving “authentic” spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips, coq au vin alongside tapas. How good can it be? There might be one or two dishes they do well but in the main it’s going to be sub-standard. But this is the equivalent to a Pan-Asian restaurant here in the UK serving chicken yakitori and satay skewers alongside stir-fried beef in oyster sauce and pad Thai. It’s usually a cheap mess wrapped in the illusion of choice.

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Smokeandumami’s 2013 Top of the Pops

It’s been a pretty good year for Birmingham food. Street food has definitely been on-trend, with original purveyors Digbeth Dining Club going from strength to strength, with the glorious Meat Shack certainly our pick of the vendors there, with both his regular burgers and specials both worth seeking out. Also helping the cause of street food was Brum Yum Yum, loudly declaring their intentions to transform the way we dine in the city, and having established a very popular regular Saturday event in Kings Heath. Food pop-up Can Eat run by Lap and Dom Clarke from Loaf Community Bakery’s premises gained a regular audience and a 5* review from Paul Fulford.

A number of independent openings have plugged the few remaining gaps in Birmingham’s food offering, perhaps most particularly Istanbul for Turkish food, and both Seoul Plaza and Banana Leaf Cafe providing much-needed lunch options in Selly Oak. All this we have been (kind of) diligently documenting on our Birmingham Food Map. We plan to continue adding new sites until we have the whole city covered (please leave suggestions in the comments).

A fourth Michelin star was added to Birmingham’s impressive roster of Simpsons, Turners and Purnells by Adam’s Restaurant. Huge congratulations to Adam Stokes and the other head chefs for this achievement, it cannot always be easy in the current economic climate. But increasingly we find our own appetites have increasingly shifting away from this style of dining, as evidenced by the eateries featured on this blog.

Sadly there have been the inevitable closures too: Lap’s favourite sichuan restaurant BBQ Village is no more. And it seems the useful independent Birminghamplus.com food board has gone the way of the dodo too?

Looking at the blog statistics, the most popular posts during 2013 have all been related to home cooking, including Nick’s treatise on brining, and Lap’s guide to butchering a pork shoulder for BBQ, the epic how to cook a fat steak, 9000 ways with razor clams and the definitive comparison of chilli bean pastes for those wishing to follow the peerless Fuschia Dunlop’s recipes..

On the Birmingham food map, popular entries have included fish and chips at the Black Country Living Museum (still unbeatable in Nick’s view), the estimable and very reliable Min Min and pho-slingers Nom Nom Noodles, Digbeth Dining Club and finest purveyors of curried lambs brain’s Mughal-E-Azam.

Posts from previous years that still keep giving in 2013 include Lap’s encyclopedic guide to the Birmingham Indoor Market and Wholesale Market, actually the most popular post on this site and a lesson to Birmingham Council who seem set on moving and marginalising this unique asset (Birmingham Council should realise that claims of Birmingham being a foodie city are just as much to do with the market as the four Michelin stars we claim as our own). Other popular posts are Lap’s excellent guide to eel smoking, his definitive guide to Hainan chicken rice, Nick’s guide to Moro-style beetroot borani and the unimpeachable beef rendang recipe, which I highly recommend you try. Finally, judging from the hits, thousands of you are still desperate to find a place for sushi in Birmingham, but it sadly remains  a bit of a desert out there.

So all that remains me to do is to thank you the readers of the blog for your support in 2013, wish you a Happy New Year and ask that you keep reading in 2014 and please do get involved in the comments section or on Twitter as it makes the whole experience much more rewarding for us!

 

 

 

 

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2013 – My Year in Food

It was going to be a top ten list of the best dishes of the year but I can’t be arsed to put them in order and besides ten is a pretty arbitrary number innit? So instead here’s a stream of consciousness in a vaguely chronological fashion.

Keller Fried Chicken

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The year started strong on the 1st day with the best fried chicken any of us had ever eaten. A religious experience involving Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Fried Chicken kit brought back from Yountville, CA by Nick. His kitchen is still getting over the mess he made that day cooking up those golden hunks. But it was worth it, the brine and seasoning made every bite juicy crunchy perfection. The standard that all fried chicken must now live up to.

Brisket Burnt Ends at Grillstock Festival, Bristol

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The Grillstock Festival in Bristol came early this year at the start of May which meant we were getting our practise on in the snow. But it was all worth it when we won best brisket and came 5th overall. Let’s talk about the brisket, it scored 476pts out of 500. So from the five judges it averaged over 95%. That’s like, almost, perfect! On that day the best part of the brisket was the burnt ends. In the evening after the judging when they’d had a bit more smoke I actually thought they were perfect. BBQ holy grail attained, he’s a clever bloke that Nick.

Anchovy on Toast & Prawns from Palamos at Etxebarri, Axpe

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Later in May was our first visit to the Basque grilling sage Victor Arguinoniz in his restaurant Etxebarri situated between Bilbao and San Sebastien. There were lots of highlights on the tasting menu. The first that shone out was a long fat anchovy that had been caught a year ago, cured by the chef and served on toasted bread. Very simple, very perfect. So much so that to try and describe it any more would be futile. The second dish was a pair of deep red prawns, grilled with salt. Again a perfect thing, the tail meat was buttery sweet and the head juice like a concentrate shot of seafood bisque. The best thing was that no one else wanted their prawn heads so I got to suck down eight of these.

Cha Ca La Vong and Goi Cuon

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Went through a bit of a Vietnamese cooking binge mid-summer. There is a dearth of good Vietnamese food in Brum that I can’t understand. Maybe it’s the logistics of the fresh veg and herbs required to make the dishes really special. The first dish Cha Ca La Vong, I marinated baby monkfish tails in turmeric and lemongrass before frying them with spring onion and mounds of fresh dill. They’re served over rice vermicelli dressed with cashews, coriander, sweet basil, mint, chillies and nuoc cham. A taste explosion! The second dish Goi Coun or Summer Rolls. A thin rice paper wrapper filled to bursting with fatty belly pork, white crab meat, prawns, rice vermicelli and all those herbs. Dipped in nuoc cham, don’t think I can wait till summer to eat these again.

Kabayaki Unagi

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As explained in this blog post here. The simple joy of cooking is learning to cook the things that you like to eat. This dish had always seemed really difficult to recreate but when I did the results were spectacularly good. The bonus being it was actually a doddle. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about cooking this again, the only problem is finding good fat clean eels.

Lobster Curry

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I like a bit of lobster I’m not afraid to admit. Usually stir-fried Cantonese style with noodles or Thermidor with buttery fettucine. But this summer I fancied a change and started experimenting with a Thai red curry sauce. Split female lobsters in half saving the roe and tomalley, char grill them then finish them with a red curry sauce thickened with the lobster innards. Yes, I’m salivating too as I type.

Everything at L’Enclume, Cartmel

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Late summer tasting menu at L’Enclume. We’ve been twice before in colder months so it was great to come back when the earth around Cartmel was at its most fecund. Is it possible to choose single dishes out for praise? Would be like choosing the best songs from your favourite album, you’d quickly end up with an album’s worth of songs. Possibly my meal of the year, but then that can be true in any year that we go.

Stilton and Prosciutto Macarons

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Been slowly perfecting my macaron technique this year using Pierre Hermé’s basic recipe and by Jove I think I’ve got it! So much so that it’s one of the few sweet recipes I know by heart. My favourite variation was a plain macaron piped with a mixture of white Stilton*, cream cheese, black pepper and crispy prosciutto. A savoury twist that surprised and delight everyone who tried it.

*apparently this year some TV Bake-Off muppet just stuck a wedge of Stilton between two mac shells. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t well received by the judges.

Mille-feuille at Jacques Genin, Paris

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We’ve all had mille-feuille in some form or another. Custard slices we call them here, some puff pastry layered with some kind of filling or another. Cut into it and the filling squirts out from between the cold claggy pastry. You end up eating a mash up of soggy pastry and sweetened dairy gunk. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Imagine made-to-order mille-feuille, freshly baked squares of perfect light buttery puff pastry piped with delicately smooth crème patissiere or even chocolate mousse. Well you needn’t imagine it, just go to Jacques Genin’s patisserie in the Marais area of Paris. You needn’t imagine your knife falling through the layers of pastry like a sigh, clinking the plate with a whisper. Nor the perfect balance of textures and flavours melting in your mouth.

Hall Green Salami

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I’ve been making my own dry-cured sausages for almost 7 years with some mixed results. Not having a humidity controlled drying room would account for that. Trying to gauge how the weather will pan out three weeks in advance has been the trick for me. I took apart half a massively fat Tamworth pig in mid-October, made some fennel salami and chorizo and the dry cool weather we had in Birmingham (akin to autumnal Tuscan mountain air) produced the best charcuterie I’ve ever made.

Dexter Prime Rib Roast

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I don’t often cook big beef roasting joints. Big crusty steaks, yes I’m your man. But this Xmas I wanted something other than the usual bird and ham combination so went for bird and beef instead and ordered a standing roast from Berkswell in mid-November. Knowing full well that it would be nicely aged by Xmas day. What I wasn’t expecting was Berkswell delivering in spades with the most amazing joint of beef that I’d ever seen. An untrimmed five rib Dexter aged over 5 weeks. They’d only had one Dexter carcass the whole year so I felt very lucky indeed. Two days before Xmas I trimmed it up and seasoned it, on Xmas day it was put into a 100C over for about 4hrs until the internal temp reached 40C then rested for 2hrs whilst we finished cooking the rest of the meal. A quick sear before slicing resulted in the best roast beef the family had ever eaten, to quote my cousin as she guzzling down another slice: “it’s the beef of dreams!”

CANeat

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Throughout 2013 I had the pleasure of cooking with Dom Clarke at our CANeat popups in Stirchley. Too many different dishes to list but the grilled mackerel, smoked beef rib and smoked belly pork & squid were personal favourites. Expect more from us in 2014!

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Istanbul Restaurant

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In the news today, a man lost his sight in one eye after he’d been stabbed in that eye by a beggar that followed him into a restaurant in Handsworth. I hope that this doesn’t stop you from going out to eat in this neighbourhood as there are some really good ethnic restaurants there. Which has been bolstered by the addition of a Turkish one called Istanbul Restaurant.

It’s been open two months and I only found it by chance driving from The Farcroft to The Grove in my Indian Pub Grill Roundup. It was like a beacon because Turkish food is seriously underrepresented in this city, we have a couple of Persian but aside from the ubiquitous doner kebab you’ll be hard pressed to find a freshly char-grilled Adana kebap here. Adana, a city in the south of Turkey is where the owners are from and is also the name of the popular spicy minced lamb skewer. As you enter the restaurant you can see the fresh skewers laid out and might think it’s just another kebab shop. But if you hang around you’ll see little things that sets them apart. Like the way they prepare bread, grilling and pressing the hot charred lamb fat into it, they know what there doing. It comes warm, heavily scented with that fat and herbs, whilst you wait for your meat to the grilled. The salad that comes with the bread is fresh, vibrant and dripping with pomegranate molasses that puckers your mouth and makes you salivate, getting you ready for the deliciously grilled meat. I’ve only tried the Adana and Lamb ribs so far and can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the menu.

Istanbul is one of the world’s culinary capitals and what I had in Handsworth took me right back there. It’s real Turkish food and it can now be found in Birmingham.

2 Stockwell Rd, Handsworth, Birmingham B21 9RJ (on the junction of Rookery rd and Oxhill Rd)
Tel: 0121 4485223

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Don Diego

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A roast suckling pig leg and a few potatoes for £18, go. I could just end the review there but I’ll carry on for a couple more paragraphs to annoy you.

Traditional Spanish food as we know it is not difficult, simple bold flavours with great ingredients. Then why do we get it so wrong so often? Tapas is an excuse to tip a cheap jar/tin of olives/peppers/chorizo/anchovy into a cazuela and charge quadruple for it. Who has actually ordered a paella in a Spanish restaurant in Birmingham and got something even close to what they could cook at home? It’s a bit of trick question because there aren’t that many Spanish restaurants in Brum and the best paella in town is Argentinian.

So when I heard that Don Diego was actually really good I was doubtful. Not least because it was in Sutton Coldfield, which like Solihull is a bit of a wasteland for good or interesting food (dons tin hat). It’s in a lovely double fronted property at the end of the high street and like most Spanish restaurants they’ve included la cocina sink in decorating it. Paintings of matadors, photos of grizzled peasants working the fields, maracas, flamenco paraphernalia, you get the idea. The food though does that thing of making you forget where you are, everything is cooked just right. Even when it’s not cooked like the embutidos you can really tell it’s all excellent quality presented with care and attention. The only gripe was the Pulpo a la Gallega, which was bulked out by serving it on sliced potato. That was quickly forgotten about when the the last dish arrived, did I mention the suckling pig leg? Ah I did.

Don Diego
5 Manor Rd, Sutton Coldfield B73 6EJ
Tel: 0121 355 5354

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Chamberlain’s

How long should one mourn for something lost? I suppose it depends how dear it was to you, the joy it brought to your life and the sadness it left when it was gone…

A bit dramatic for a chippy no? But I did mourn the loss of the Great British Eatery, easily the best Brummie fish and chips for a few brief years before its ignominious closure in 2011. I’ve been moping ever since. The Black Country Museum is too far away and not open in the evenings. There’s nowhere else that fries in beef dripping which in my book is a must for best fish and chips. Well that is apart from Chamberlain’s but I’d been far from convinced on my early visits there, the chips were flabby and the batter too thick. But out of desperate longing for our national dish* I’ve gone back to Chamberlain’s a few times recently. I can now declare my extended period mourning over! Simpy impeccable cod/haddock and chips cooked in beef dripping, what more do you want? Some nice plain mushy peas would be nice, the minted stuff they have in there is really dull. And the haddock & mackerel scotch egg should be avoided, nice idea but the freshness is dubious. But the sides aside, if you’ve been missing proper fish and chips then I can’t think of a better place to go.

*even in curry capital Brum I still consider Fish and Chips the national dish

Chamberlain’s
8 Wolverhampton Road
Birmingham
B68 0LH
Tel: 0121 4297709

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Kabayaki unagi

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I’m a bit of a fan of eel, you might have read my thoughts on smoking one in an earlier blog. Love eating them but hate having to deal with them. But with anything sometimes you have to do the dirty stuff in order to get to the good stuff. The good stuff in this case being one of my favourite dishes. Simple grilled eel done the Japanese way with a sweet sticky soy based kabayaki sauce. “Oh yeah so what” you murmur “I can get frozen eel from Wing Yip “. Yes you can, it’s also the same kind of eel that’s on top of everyone’s favourite nigiri sushi. It tastes great but you really don’t know how great until you’ve tried the real thing fresh off the coals. Come on, think about that hot eel fat dripping down onto the hot charcoal, igniting, the vaporised lipids bonding with the kabayaki sauce as you lacquer it on. If you like Japanese food, then you owe it to yourself to try kabayaki unagi as soon as possible. It’s one of the most beloved dishes in Japan where specialist unagi restaurants exist to perfect it.

But now we come to the crunch! Where can you actually eat this dish? Certainly not in any Yo! Sushi or other high street Japanese restaurant. Even the high end places such as Tetsu, Shiori, Roka or Umu don’t do it. From my extensive research the closest is Nodaiwa in Paris, an offshoot of the Michelin starred one in Tokyo! You know I love this dish so much that I recently went to Paris and ate it there. But then I wouldn’t be much of a cook if I didn’t try to make it myself too. I mean how hard can it be? Well it’s not that hard at all except for one caveat. You have to fillet them and eels are the most difficult fish to fillet. But after that it’s all downhill!

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Dispatch your eel
I’m assuming of course that you’ve bought a live one because what would be the point of buying a dead one? Eels go off very quickly so cook them as soon as possible. My preferred method of dispatch is to lock one up in a pot with a slurry of salt. An hour should do it. Remove the eel and scrape all the slime off its leathery skin. Cut off the long fins that run along the top and bottom.

Fillet
This is the hard part. Because of the shape of them and the tough leathery skin they’re tricky to fillet conventionally. But when you come upon a fish conundrum you just have to ask yourself “what would the Japanese do?” as no doubt they’d have come up with a simple elegant solution. In this case the shape and tough skin has been turned into an advantage. Make a small drill hole in the top right-hand corner of your largest chopping board (if you’re right-handed) and peg the head securely to it with the belly facing away from you. Make an incision behind the side fin and zip your knife along the backbone to release the top fillet and open the eel out like a fishy baguette. Cut out the guts (hardcore unagi eaters skewer these and grill them separately). Snip the backbone near the head and cut out the bone in one long piece starting at the head. The tough skin will make sure the head is still firmly pegged to the board so you can give it some power if the bone is being stubborn. This is a lot easier with a traditional Japanese style single-bevelled deba knife, a useful investment if you eat a lot of fish or have a knife fetish.

Steam and Grill
Cut the fillet in half and thread the two halves onto thin metal skewers so that they are easier to grill. You can grill the eel from raw with just a little salt if you prefer but if you want to brush them with kabayaki sauce then it’s better to par-cook the eel first as the the sauce is likely to burn over prolonged grilling. Very gently steam the fillets for 7 to 8 minutes before gently grilling them directly over coals brushing with the sauce:

Kabayaki Sauce 4 parts light soy, 1 part mirin, 1 part sake, 2 parts white caster sugar by volume. This is the basic sauce, simmer until thickened. I like to add star anise and a whole clove of garlic too.

The grilling should not be rushed, take your time, brush as often as you like with the sauce. I like to do it six or seven times on the flesh side only as I like to make sure the skin is nice and crispy and plenty of the fat has rendered off. Give the flesh a final lacquering before cutting into bite sized pieces. That’s it, told you it was easy. Just serve over a mound of tender Japanese rice and lashings of the sauce drizzled over the top. Or if you’re a real Japanese food nerd, give it another grill over a tabletop Konro before you pop into your mouth. Truly one of the best mouthfuls of food there is.

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Indian Pub Grills – A Roundup

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Classic pub grub, remember that stuff? Not the gastropub fare that you get nowadays. Not the multi Michelin starred gourmet delights of Tom Kerridge’s proper pub food. No I’m talking about the horrors of the 80s and 90s, where if you wanted more than a bag of pork scratchings or piss-stained peanuts you ran the eminent danger of salmonella poisoning from a week-old reheated lasagne. Those were the days, you really didn’t want to see what was going on behind that greasy kitchen door. Some bloke scratching his arse all the while dropping fag ash on your chicken kiev? The least of your problems. When the food came, it was obvious it was nothing more than a cheap sop for desperate binge drinkers. You had to drink more to erase the memory of it.

All those old boozers, all those kitchens, all that potential. Well in Brum some of that potential has been realised. In venerable pubs across the city, kitchens have been handed over to people who actually care about cooking good food for a decent price. The Thai chefs at The Bartons Arms being a shining example of this, but also the exception as most of those kitchens have been skewered by the expert grillers of the Punjab. Yes, in back rooms across the metropolis, fingers are being stained red from the smoky spice of a thousand kebabs. Here’s a smoke&umami (i.e. brief) guide to some of them:

The Vine
152 Roebuck St, West Bromwich, West Midlands B70 6RD
0121 553 2866

The daddy, the one everyone thinks of when you talk about Indian BBQ. On an unassuming back road, first left after the big West Brom roundabout, the small traditional frontage gives no indication to the behemoth of a grill room and garden in the back. Order your grilled food from the grill area but order your curries and bread from the bar at the front. The trick is to get them to arrive at the same time. I have no idea how the system works, it’s semi-organised chaos, just cross your fingers! Thankfully everything arrives pretty quickly as the kebabs are pre-cooked and finished to order. In all of these places it’s always the mixed grill, why would you order anything else? A mountain of grilled meats for not much money where you can assess the strengths and weaknesses of each restaurant. On the plus The Vine does pork steaks and the spicing is pretty much spot on. On the minus the chicken can get a little dry. Curries are good but breads are pretty ordinary.

The Sportsman
13 High St, West Bromwich B70 6PP
0121 553 1353

A stones throw away on West Brom high street is the other one. It’s the question that always comes up; The Vine vs The Sportsman, which one is better? The question should be; is there any difference? To me, not really. The grill room at The Sportsman is smaller and still feels like a back room of a regular pub. You can order everything from one hatch so it all comes at the same time. I really can’t decide between here and The Vine. The food is identical. Toss a coin if you’re in West Brom.

The Grove
279 Grove Lane, Handsworth, B20 2HA
0121 554 3120

It was making me itch a little being in the Black Country. Being a Brummie born and bred it has that effect on me! So it’s actually nice to find myself in Handsworth, no lie, actually very pleased because at one end of Grove Lane is where I went to school and at the other is The Grove pub freshly rebranded as a bar and restaurant. Fond memories of underage drinking were not rekindled as the place has been completely refurbed. There is still some semblance of the front bar but out back is now a large spotlessly clean dining room lined with hd TVs showing Sky Sports. The semi-open kitchen and grill is in one corner. This is the best ordering system of all, one hatch where you order, they give you a remote buzzer that vibrates when your order’s ready to pick up from a separate adjacent hatch. The kebabs taste a notch above those of the The Vineman (see what I’ve done there) and despite also being pre-cooked the chicken tikka is some of the juiciest and flavorful I’ve ever eaten. The seekh kebabs are spicy, thick and meaty. Special praise goes to the bread here, parathas and rotis are excellent. No pork though which is a shame but for me the best of the bunch.

The Farcroft
Rookery Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, B21 9QY
0121 554 0957

Staying in Handsworth we’re now in the fairly rough looking Farcroft, which will please purists who complain about The Vine having been sanitised. If you want grit then this is the place for you. A big pub which has seen better days. You wend your way through the back gate to the BBQ area where you get fairly standard renditions of everything including pork steaks. Strangely the mixed grill is small here, it only includes wings, seekh kebabs and chicken tikka. But, like the surroundings, everything is really cheap so you can order extras to your wallets content. Spicing is really good here but a hard sell for me considering The Grove is just two minutes down the road.

Hen & Chickens
27 Constitution Hill, Birmingham, West Midlands B19 3LE
0121 236 3121

Quite a small corner pub on Constitution Hill a brisk walk from Snow Hill. They’ve only been serving Indian BBQ for about 6 months and pride themselves on cooking everything from raw. Only problem is that there’s an interminable wait for your food. Compounded by no visible kitchen, always a worry with these kind of places. There’s a primeval buzz to seeing stacks of skewered meat piled high ready for the flames. It’s one of the big draws of these pubs. It’s worth the wait though, the large mix grill is good and includes fried chicken, fried fish and green chicken! A kind of green chicken tikka, quite tasty though I could really do without the fried stuff in my mixed grill especially as they sacrifice lamb chops for them. The bread here, a bit thin and crispy, isn’t as good as The Grove. There’s not much dining space but they have plans to extend out into the beer garden. A good option if you’re in town and have craving for mountains of meat.

The Shaftmoor
266 Shaftmoor Lane,Birmingham B28 8ST
07956 879688

Here’s one from the southside of town. Yes we have meat lovers down here too though mostly we’re catered for by Muslim kebab and curry houses. So it’s actually rare, possibly unique, to find a grill in a back of an actual working pub in the south of town. The Shaftmoor, similar to The Farcroft, is a big old pub not far from the Mughal e Azam . Which probably does the best mixed grill anywhere in the city not just in the back of a pub so it has some stiff local competition. The grill is actually called Minesh’s BBQ as Minesh has taken over one of the pub’s outhouses. He was plying his trade down the road in The Sparkhill Social Club in Sparkbrook but moved because it got a bit rough. I did the same! This is the smallest operation I’ve come across so far, just your man on the grill and taking orders at the same time. Hygiene is also the most dubious as he cooks everything from raw. Seeing him scoop a big handful of seasoned raw minced lamb, expertly forming seekh kebabs then handing your change covered in lamb gore is certainly keeping it real. Some may be may put off by this, I was a little, especially when I found a rare piece of chicken tikka in my order. The seekh kebabs are delicious though. If you want to get close to the action then this is the place, this has the most backyard feel of all of them.

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