Beckett’s Farm Breakfast

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I’m not really a breakfast person. All that early morning mastication is hard work if you ask me. Especially if confronted with the full English. On the rare occasion I have one for brekkie, usually getting my money’s worth in a B&B, I’m guaranteed to be in a drowsy stupor by midday. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I love them! I mean what’s not to like? But more usually I’ll cook myself a full English as the main meal of the day. That way I can be sure that everything I like is on the plate.

When I feel the need to have one cooked for me there’s only one place guaranteed to get it right, Becketts Farm Shop & Restaurant. Which handily is next to where I work. This place has been here for years and I’m sure it used to be a farm but any pretense that it sells local farm produce disappeared long ago. But blimey their breakfast is legendary. Every component is good quality. My favourite is actually the Irish breakfast with Clonakilty black and white pudding, soda farl and fried potato. Other options are available. Check them out next time you’re heading in or out of Brum on that road.

Becketts Breakfasts are served Monday to Saturday 7.30am-5pm and Sunday 8.30am-11.30am

Fiesta Del Asado

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Two! Count them, two Brazilian restaurants before we get an Argentinian one. But what a one. When I’d heard that the team behind Brum’s most famous Indian restaurant Lasan were to open this place, I was a little incredulous. It would be like Alan Yau opening a Mexican eatery. I needn’t have worried though because they’ve delivered (as I’m sure Yau would have too)!

Taking over an old guest house on the Hagley Rd, Fiesta Del Asado oozes warmth and class. The parilla or Argentine grill is at the forefront of the open kitchen. The grill master turning out perfectly grilled cuts of beef as well as lamb and chicken over charcoal and wood. The starters are exemplary; Iberico jamon de bellota served on warmed plates so that the complex flavour is magnified. Morcilla is rich and deeply seasoned, empanadas moreish, whitebait often disappointing elsewhere are as you hope they’ll always be, crispy and fresh. Piglet belly main is tender and juicy but the skin should be crispier and the chimichurri could do with more punch but these are minor gripes. Especially as the postres are so wonderful. The Santiago tart on my last visit was wolfed down so quickly that I must have inhaled it.

Fiesta Del Asado is quite pricey but this is superior cooking without unnecessary high-end flourishes. It’s food you want to eat, just how it should be.

Fiesta Del Asado
229 Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16 9RP

Tel 0121 4559331

Charcoal Chicken

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Right I know you think I’ve lost it. Charcoal flipping Chicken?! Yes get the timing right and you’ve basically got the best fast food imaginable. Seriously! Who doesn’t like chargrilled chicken, it’s like a universal language. From Japan to Mexico a nicely grilled bit of chicken equals a good meal.

Charcoal Chicken have their own patented charcoal rotisserie (no photos allowed) in which several whole flattened chicken smothered in tandoori spices rotate slowly till they’re slightly overdone. Now there’s the rub, they’re not cooked to order, which means you could get one that’s been drying out even more in the holding cabinet. But if you can get one fresh off the grill then it’s truly delicious. I mean who else is actually chargrilling fresh chicken? Answer: no one, they’re all using gas.

Whole chicken, naan, fries & salad. Enough for two people £7.99. Stick that Nandos. They like to bill themselves as healthy do Charcoal Chicken, if you took away the fries then er maybe. Other things on the menu include chicken wings and jerk chicken wraps. But I only go for the charcoal chicken, the clue is in the name.

Hall Green Branch (the only I can vouch for): 1158 Stratford Rd, Birmingham B28 8AF
Alum Rock: 710 Alum Rock Road, Birmingham B8 3PP
Kings Heath: Deceased

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Min Min Noodle Bar

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Min Min Noodle Bar opposite the Arcadian car park entrance offers something a little different to the rest of Chinatown. And not just in terms of decor which can only be described as funky fresh lime green. The menu noodles its way around Asia. From classic Chinese stir-fried noodles to Japanese soup noodles. Their flavours are always clean, they eschew the heavy sauces and chemical enhancements that is so common with this kind of food. It’s part of their philosophy.

My favourite noodle dish is a Hong Kong classic, beef brisket hor fun (pictured). The appetisers are fun and varied. Vietnamese cheung fun and special skewers are particularly good. They’ve got an evening menu too, dishes more for sharing like soft shell crab, Thai style fried fish and pigs trotters. Some dishes are more successful than others but there’s always something interesting on the menu. I can’t wait till they actually get that ramen machine though. That broth and pork deserve better noodles!

Nom Nom Noodles

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Vietnamese cuisine, simple, fresh, vibrant and delicious but overlooked in our city. It’s to our detriment, I can think of few foods more comforting than a bowl of Pho. We had our first proper Vietnamese restaurant open a couple of years ago opposite the magistrates courts, Viet An, but I think that’s gone now. Then there’s Viet Moon on the other edge the Jewellery Quarter, so including Nom Nom that makes two but that’s all. And no if you think Cafe Soya is Vietnamese then you need to get out more.

Nom Nom Noodles opened with little fanfare late 2012. Situated on the ring road next to the massive Tesco in Spring Hill it’s an unlikely location. The interior is basic, functional and clean. But the food is wonderful. Deeply rich yet clean tasting bowls of Pho Bo and tender morsels of grilled pork with vermicelli are the highlight of the small menu. Wash it down with some strong Vietnamese drip coffee sweetened with evaporated milk or try one of fluorescent dessert jellies.

Due to their location they’re finding business tough and have recently decided to close on Sundays. Please support them and help reverse the trend. Soon there may be nowhere you can get this lovely cuisine in our city.

Fenky Janes

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Wah gwan bredren?! Everyone loves Caribbean food right? Curry goat, jerk chicken, rice and peas, saltfish and ackee, fried fish, festivals, curry patties. The canon of West Indian food is like comfort food for spice lovers. But I had big issues with curry patties though, for some reason the bright yellow patties from the likes of Island Delight never cut it with me. They were well rarted! The pastry is crumbly and dry and the filling is like some kinda slop, give me a Ginsters any day.

Fenky Janes Caribbean Patties are a local treasure. Find them in discerning West Indian outlets or better still get them from the small factory unit in Hockley. Buy them by the dozen because they freeze really well and you can bake them from frozen. The flaky pastry is perfection and all the fillings are great but my fave is the Ackee & Saltfish. Quite simply you have not eaten a curry pattie until you have tried one of these. They are proppa!

(Some people say that Russells in Lozells make the best patties but not to start a turf war or anything, them people are damnfool)

Fenky Janes
Unit 6, Park Trading Estate, Birmingham B18 5HB
0121 507 0660

Find other great places to eat and buy food in Birmingham on the Birmingham Food Map!

Mughal e Azam

Birmingham, Birmingham, Birmingham. Balti, UB40, Ozzy Osborne, a thousand trades, curry, concrete, balti, canals, carbuncles, balti, spaghetti junction, second city, did I mention balti? We’re blessed with a thousand curry houses here in Brum and the invention or at least the innovation of our own form of curry. We’re not short on choices and every Brummie is an expert on “Indian” food, start a conversation with us on it and we’ll talk your back leg off. But sometimes familiarity breeds contempt, maybe we have too many, maybe our dining choices have narrowed in our splendid City because we love curry TOO much. No matter where you are you can find at least ten curry houses within a 5 minute drive. Is it possible to fall out of love with curry?

The answer to that seemingly hypothetical question is… maybe, almost. Until Mughal e Azam opened just around the corner the possibility for me was very close. Most of the city’s offerings were becoming very generic, especially in the suburbs, there wasn’t any distinction between them. The menu would read meat/chicken/prawn/other in korma/bhuna/dopiaza/madras/vindaloo a few tandoori specialties and that would be that. It had become standardised and familiar and boring. But curries should never be boring! They should ignite the tastebuds and delight the palate. The curries at Mughal E Azam do this but not before your other senses are dazzled first. The old church that it is housed in on the border of Hall Green and Sparkhill was in a sorry state. The multi-million pound renovation is simply stunning, it is without doubt the most splendid curry house in the city.

The food is pure Pakistani, there’s no pandering here to English tastes or sensibilities. The dishes are dry, sticky and rich. Spicing is fervent and bold. I have a Pakistani friend who swears by the authenticity of the spicing, he’s convinced they must import their masala directly from Pakistan weekly. He also introduced me to the joys of simmered lamb brains, soft and delicate like curried scrambled eggs. Fitting, as over there it’s a breakfast dish. The Tandoori mixed grill is pound for pound surely the best meat dish in the city. A sizzling platter of chicken seekh, lamb seekh, chicken wings, chicken tikka, lamb tikka, lamb chops and salmon tikka. All are succulent and feisty but be warned if you share this with less than two other people you will not have enough room for anything else. My favourite curry is the lamb kerela, or lamb with bitter gourd. An unusual vegetable with an incredibly bitter taste that makes an utterly mouthwatering curry. The lacha paratha is the best I’ve ever had, proper buttery layers of freshly made chapati. All the main dishes have that deep home-cooked flavour of long simmering and generous spicing. Not just simply meat covered in sauce that you find most average curry houses. So if like me your love of curry was waning, have it reignited here.

This Church of Curry does not have an alcohol license so bring your own or quench the spice with a soothing mango lassi.

Mughal e Azam
Stratford Road, Sparkhill, Brimingham, B11 4DA
0121 777 9348

Find other great places to eat and buy food in Birmingham on the Birmingham Food Map!

Berkswell Traditional Farmstead Meats

On a back lane (literally) somewhere between Solihull and Coventry in the Warwickshire countryside is our favourite butcher shop; Berkswell Traditional Farmstead Meats. Or simply Berkswell. You drive down the short gravel path to what can only be described as a hut with some other out-buildings. In that unprepossessing hut Phil Tuckey and his son Richard work their socks off to sell the best meat from farmers across the region and beyond. Phil has a deep passion for proper meat, that’s why he champions meat from rare-breed or heritage breed animals. Beef from Dexter and White Park cows. Pork from Berkshire and Tamworth pigs. Mutton from far away North Ronaldsay in the northernmost tip of Orkney Islands. These old British breeds are slower growing than the commercial mass produced meat you find in most butchers and supermarkets. They’re also generally smaller and lower yielding so it’s only really artisan butchers like Phil who deal in these meats. But once you’ve tasted a sweet Tamworth pork chop then there’s no going back to that flaccid Tesco offering.

The difference between the pork that the supermarket/high street butchers have been fobbing off on us for so many years and what Berkswell offer is striking. See the pork chops in the photos below? The first set are from a Berkshire pig, the fat is almost 4cm thick on it! When was the last time you saw anything like that on a supermarket chop? That’s because these pigs have been grown slowly and allowed to get as fat as possible before slaughter. Closer to a year old than the few hormone boosted months of that other pork. On a properly fattened pig there should be slight marbling of intramuscular fat that makes every morsel succulent and delicious.

But it’s not only pork. Properly dry-aged beef is a speciality of Berkswell. The 60 day aged Dexter t-bone I’ve had for my tea tonight could not be bettered by any steakhouse in the land. Dexters are getting more and more popular, they’re small but easy to grow and produce very high quality meat. Hereford and Longhorn beef is more the staple of the shop but sometimes Phil will have something very special like a White Park carcass. When they come in you can be sure that I’m not too far away.

So please get yourself over there and support them. There’s no one else doing what they do in the area. Sure you have Aubrey Allen in Leamington, their beef and lamb is consistently excellent but don’t have the variety of breeds and personal service of Berkswell. They’re a small business in what is still a very niche market in this part of the country so need all the custom they can get as their location receives no footfall at all.

Being a small business I always call ahead to ask what they have in stock. So make sure you do that too to avoid disappointment (01676 522409). Their address is:
The Farm Shop/Larges Farm/Back Lane, Coventry CV7 7LD

Here’s a gallery of meat from Berkswell;

How to smoke an eel

Blimey, 30 quid a kilo that’s how much silver eels are nowadays. Around 8 months ago they were 22 quid, and I thought then that they were dear. So this maybe the last time I get to prepare and cook them before they price themselves out of my reach. Or before they become extinct. Nick and I smoke a lot of things on this blog, from ice cream to brisket, there are a lot of food that’s enhanced by the magic of wood smoke. In particular oily fish are great for smoking. There’s something about the complex flavours of smoke that’s amplified by the oiliness of fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and of course the oiliest of them all, eel. If you’ve never eaten smoked eel then it’s hard to describe how rich and oily it really is, a little goes a long way. If, like me, you think the taste of smoked eel is astounding then you really need to try one hot out of the smoker. It has to be the greatest smoked food ever, EVER [*]!

So why am I not eating this amazing food every day? Well aside from the price, anyone who has ever handled live eels knows they are horrible to prepare. First thing that is obvious is their snakelike appearance, they wriggle and thrash a lot, produce a lot of sticky slime and due to their many vertebrae are really difficult to kill. A dead eel will still twitch and judder long after any sensible animal has, literally, given up the ghost. This enduring quality is seen as virile in many cultures and that’s why, coupled with their deliciousness, they’re prized as food – you are what you eat. But it is for those reasons that I really don’t like handling them, I’ll only pluck up the courage to do it a couple times a year. This time you have the pleasure of accompanying me in this step by step guide in how to smoke an eel.

Step 1 – Buy and kill




Get your fishmonger to choose the most lively eels, 1 kilo in size is just right. Any smaller and the yield is poor, much bigger and they’re difficult to handle in a normal kitchen. I get mine from Pearce’s in the Indoor Market, they won’t kill them for you but if your fishmonger does then get them to do it and clean them too, making sure they leave the head on. Some people just go for it, whack them over the head and gut them whilst they’re still thrashing but I like to handle them as little as possible. So in a suitably sized pot with a lid scatter three or four big handfuls of coarse salt all over the bottom and pour in a little water to make a grainy slush. Tip the eels into the pot and clamp the lid down tight. Leave for an hour, the eels will thrash around for a while but the salt will eventually kill them and help to deslime. You can tell they’re dead when the eyes go blank, they usually go belly up too.

Step 2 – Clean and Gut



Remove the eels and rinse them under plenty of cold running water. A lot of the slime will be left in the pot but there will still be some on the eel. You have a choice here, you can rub this off with some more coarse salt or scrape it off with a sharp sturdy knife. It’s a messy job either way. When the eel has been fully deslimed, gut it from it’s anal vent to it’s jaw and remove all it’s innards making sure to clean the bloodline. Most other fish are quite easy to gut but eel guts are particularly tenacious, you may need sturdy fish tweezers or pliers to make a really clean job of it. Most importantly when gutting eels you need slice a couple of inches towards the tail to get the kidney out. The tip of my knife in the last photo is where the anal vent was located, you can see how far to cut in that direction.

Step 3 – Salt and Dry


For every kilo of eel rub 50g of salt into the cavity and all over the outside. Place covered in the fridge overnight, preferably 24 hours, redistributing the salty brine at least once in that time. The next day rinse the eels off and dry them quickly with a clean cloth inside and out. Place the eels on a rack uncovered in the fridge overnight for a sticky pellicle to form on the skin and in the cavity. A pellicle allows smoke to adhere better to food so make sure that the eel is as exposed as possible while it’s in the fridge, that’s why a rack is useful. The resting in the fridge also helps to redistribute the saltiness throughout the eel.

Step 4 – Smoke



You’re ready to smoke your eel. Prepare your hot smoker for a 80-90C burn for up to 90 minutes. It’s very important that you don’t smoke them too hot or they will split and all the oil will burst out. If you’re using a horizontal smoker, lay the eels carefully belly up, you may need a small skewer to stop the eels from turning over. More commonly eels are smoked vertically, tie some string or twine around the throat just below the side fins and use this to hang them head up. If you don’t do this and simply insert a hook straight into the jaw then as the eel cooks it softens and will fall off the hook – a complete disaster! I like to use oak chips, it’s a classic flavour with fish, robust and sweet but really you can use any smoking wood. Check your eels after an hour, they should be nicely smoked, leave for up to half an hour longer if you’ve got particularly fat ones.

For posterity, a 987g eel at the market weighed 751g after smoking and produced 482g of pure meat. Enjoy, it’s worth it.

[*] Yes really, above smoked ribs, chicken, sausage, salmon, pastrami etc. The only thing that comes close is Nick’s Wagyu Brisket burnt ends.

Birmingham Indoor Market and Wholesale Market

We’ve been remiss here on SmokeandUmami, a Birmingham food blog and no mention of two of our most precious resources. Except for a short hiatus whilst the Bull Ring was being redeveloped, the Indoor Market has always been there to serve the city with fresh fish and meat. Down the road is its ugly sister the Wholesale market, threatened with extinction but hanging on for salvation. Both markets hold some wonderful fresh produce, the only thing they ask of you is to be brave and get stuck in. So to help you out here’s a guide to some of my favourite stalls in both markets, what’s good to buy and what to avoid. All opinions are my own, a Brummie who has been using the markets for over 30 years. Let’s start with the INDOOR MARKET:


SHELLFISH
George Smith and Pearce’s

These two have been here since the old days when the market was in the dank basement of the old Bull Ring. The rivalry between them has pretty much stayed the same too, which is a good thing because between them Birmingham is served with some great shellfish. You can buy fresh (by which I mean live) shellfish such as lobsters, crabs, scallops, mussels, oysters and clams six days a week Monday to Saturday. Out of habit I prefer George Smith’s to Pearce’s because I think they’re friendlier. But really the quality is about the same. I love buying live brown crabs, I think they’re the most delicious shellfish of all. The folks at Smith will let you handle and choose the one you want, they always seem to have more ‘in the back’ too. Pearce’s are a bit funny about you handling their critters. Both have beautiful native lobsters when in season, which I urge you to buy in preference to the dark shelled Canadian lobsters. The flesh of our blue native lobster are denser and sweeter. Both shops have an eat-in shellfish bar that serve prepared crabs, lobsters, oysters, whelks, mussels, cockles and even jellied eels. Though only Pearce’s sell live eels when in season.

FISH
H Satchwell*
Possibly the most unassuming fishmongers in the whole market. A small unit next door to George Smith’s, with only ever half a dozen fresh fish on display singly. Each fish is draped in a clear film, all in all a very sparse looking fish counter. But if you look closer, every fish is the best example of its kind and very fresh. If I were to open a sushi bar in the market I would make Mr Satchwell my very best friend. He always has wonderful flatfish such as brill, dover and lemon sole, large chunks of halibut and tuna. Again he only displays his fish singly but has more in the back. What’s more he has the best selection of kippers, smoked haddock and mackerel. I love kippers, try the Craster type if you’re a kipper fan. They’re fatter and juicier than the Manx kippers.
*not to be confused with W Satchwell, a new stall run by a cousin
AJ Barlows
In the centre of the market, this large three sided unit is half poultry and half fish. But that fish half consistently has the largest selection of fish in the whole market and is always bustling with activity on busy market days. I often buy their trays of farmed sea bass or gilt-head bream, usually 4 for a tenner, which makes them cheaper than the wholesale market. The turbot is always good here too, possibly my favourite fish much prized by Cantonese cooks for its firm white flesh and thick gelatinous skin.
All Seasons Fishmongers
Specialist in exotic fish from warmer waters, mostly previously frozen but impressive all the same. Especially the freshwater Rau a monstrously big river-fish from India, which one day I will pluck up the courage to buy. They only thing I do buy here regularly is octopus. These are the meaty twin sucker kind that taste much better than the single sucker variety that the rest of the market sells.

MEAT
I don’t buy much meat at the market. The quality in general is middling at best but cheap! So here’s a very short list of what to look out for:
Walter Smiths
Greatest Pork Pie you will ever eat, that is all you need to know. Ok maybe one more thing; point to the one you want otherwise they’ll pick out the oldest one for you. All market butchers are inately crafty.
Enochs
Usually a bit of bun fight at this pork specialist, if you can cut a swathe through the Chinese folk then the pork isn’t bad here. Though not all their pork is British, you have been warned.
Hong Keen
New kid on the block, a Chinese butchers with some decent cuts of beef and pork. Nice line in beef and pork offal, if you’re into that sort of thing.

GROCERIES
China Mini Market

This place is the literal meaning of the word gem, something tiny and precious. Here you will find all you will ever need to make any Oriental (far Eastern) dish. From its awkwardly shaped frontage you will find fresh produce ranging from tofu, fish balls and noodles to Thai basil, banana leaves and galangal through to durian, mangosteen and rambutan past gai lan, choi sum and tong ho. Peek at the back wall and it’s crammed with every Oriental cupboard staple; soy sauce, chilli sauces, coconut cream, spices… Shout up here, the ladies that run it don’t stand on ceremony and don’t like to waste time. Essential one stop shop for all your Oriental needs.
Global Produce
Run by the same lot as the China Mini Market. Some of the produce here is replicated but sells more Western groceries. Apples, pears, oranges, leeks and celery replace pak choy and green mangos. However this shop has a slower turnaround and the produce is a little more tired than its Asian counterpart so choose carefully. Occassionally you will find something extraordinary here, a golden tamarillo anyone?

OTHER
There are numerous West Indian stalls in the market, two near the Dudley St doors African Foods and Claras back onto each other and basically sell the same goods. Look out for the city’s finest patties Fenky Janes on sale at African Foods.
There are Halal butchers at the market too and I’ve bought the occasional mutton from them, the quality is variable though.
Mr Fish specialises mostly in game! But don’t fall for their patter, a lot of their stuff is very tired looking indeed.


WHOLESALE MARKET
100 metres down the road out of town is the concrete carbunkel of the Wholesale Market, the largest of its kind in the whole country. The market is split into four blocks: Meat, Fish & Poultry, Fruit & Veg and Horticulture. It’s open from 4am onward Monday to Saturday and is accessible to the public. For a few years there was a guard on the gate that stopped public vehicles from entering, you had to be in a trade vehicle or have a permit to drive in. So there was no choice for members of the public but to walk in. But I’ve noticed this year that the guard has disappeared so you can drive in now, just be careful of the forklifts and where you park. Of course as with any wholesale market in the world you need to get there early. I usually go around 7:30am to make sure there’s still plenty of fresh fish available, because seafood is the primary reason I get up early on either a Wednesday or Thursday (these are the best days for fresh fish). The fish & poultry section is to the right of the complex as you enter, follow the fork right and it’s the large building on the left. It used to house a dozen or so wholesalers but now it’s only half that and dominated by two large companies J.Vickerstaff and Caterfish.
Vickerstaff has more variety, stocking African and Asian species and salted dried fish from around the world. See if you can spot the box of red herrings that always seems to be there. To my eye though the quality of the fish at Caterfish is consistently better and they always have lots of good looking salmon, bass and bream. Caterfish also have 3 live lobster tanks in their cold storage room, if you are a lobster fan then ask to be shown inside where you can dunk your hands into the chilly waters and pull out your own fresh lobsters.
But my favourite fish wholesaler is WS Scott, a smaller operation nestled between the two big boys. Fresh prawns galore from little ones to banana sized ones from Africa. Always the best turbot here, usually two sorts wild and farmed. I prefer the farmed, from icy cold clean Norweigian waters they taste wonderfully clean. Dover soles, lemon soles, live crabs, lobsters, scallops, razor clams all usually very good quality. They are the only stall where I’ve bought live sea urchin. For that reason alone they will always be my favourite!
The poultry and egg section is adjacent to the fish market. H Bellingham sell Label Rouge French chickens which is essential for one of my ultimate dishes Hainan Chicken Rice. They also sell duck, game and around xmas time whole lobes of foie gras.
The wholesale fruit and veg market is enormous and there’s not a lot that the average punter can buy here except if like me you are a mango fanatic. Get your boxes of Indian or Pakistani mangoes from Bidwalla when they are in season.