Dishoom, Covent Garden

I love the idea of Dishoom; a place that pays homage to the old school Irani cafés of Mumbai (or Bombay, as it was then). Dining rooms of faded colonial elegance, buzzing with life, where people from all backgrounds gathered, bypassing social barriers or religious differences to unite over their desire for sustenance.

It’s a great concept for an eatery. And although Dishoom is a very Westernised, gentrified version of those Irani cafés, there’s a lot to like here (and the rate at which new outposts are cropping up indicates that people rather do).

The fit out is beautiful, with dark panelled walls, marbled tabletops and sepia tinted photographs on the walls. I’m sure a lot of money has been spent to make this place look as though it’s been untouched for decades. Due to unforeseen circumstances I’m dining alone this morning, so have the luxury of a deep leather booth all for me and my thoughts. For a generously priced £2.50 comes a glass of excellent chai which is refilled regularly, without once having to wave down a waiter. It’s richly spiced and warming, with just enough sweetness; a hug of a drink that more than makes up for the snow flurries I’ve braved on my way here.

I order the bacon naan roll, and it is very good. Admittedly, you can’t go too far wrong with freshly made naan, admirably sourced bacon from the Ginger Pig and smears of cheese and chilli tomato jam. It deserves all the very nice things people say about it, but at £5.50 I’m not sure of it’s value. I guess it all balances out if you get your money’s worth of that chai.

Although my dining companion couldn’t join me this morning, I order an extra dish in his honour. I wish I hadn’t bothered. The Akuri tastes as unappetising as it looks. The egg has collected into flabby little lumps, a result I would guess is due to too much time in the pan with too little fat. There’s a vague suggestion of spice and the occasional bite of soggy onion buried within. It goes mainly uneaten, unsurprisingly. The sweet buns are unremarkable, so I won’t remark, and the tomato was probably my favourite element of the dish.

A game of two halves, then, in regards to the food. The service meanwhile was polished and attentive throughout, without ever giving seeming as though they were trying to rush me out of my prime real-estate booth.

Had I ordered just the bacon naan and a chai, I would have walked out with change from a tenner and a glowing opinion of Dishoom. Damn my gluttony, and damn those rubbery, greying eggs. I may still return – I’ve heard good things about their main menu, particularly the black daal – but perhaps not in too much of a rush.

Dishoom has a number of branches around London, but I ate at the Covent Garden branch at 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2H 9FB. Website.

Dishoom Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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The Horseshoe Bar and Grill, Hall Green

In the two or so weeks since I ate at The Horseshoe I’ve sent three people to eat their mixed grill. It’s a recommendation that’s gone down well; one now skips the gym nearby to get his fix. I’m so proud. This verbal pyramid scheme is great in principal but not so good for my blog stats. I should probably share it with everyone, even if it means having to wait a little bit longer for my dinner.

And that mixed grill is definitely worth shouting about – it’s hands down the best in Birmingham. Fifteen quid will get you three types of chicken tikka, two types of kebab, lamb chops, chicken niblets, and a quarter of tandoori chicken. It’s all very good but ask for my opinion (and by reading this you indirectly are) and I’d pinpoint the achari tikka with the tang of pickle, and the green tikka with a chilli heat start and herbal finish. We go a little bit crazy over the lamb seekh kebab and full on bonkers over its chicken sibling. There’s very little to not like – the chicken niblets maybe at a push – but it’s all well executed. I gather that they’ve added prawns of recent. And that’s nice of them. Just as long as they’ve left my chicken seekh and green tikka untouched.

It’s at this point that I should point out that they offer two menus; the one with the mixed grill, that you should order from, and a European menu that only a moron would consider eating off. Given that the chefs here are Indian, asking for Italian is practically racist, and besides, I’ve eaten at Jimmy Spices; I’d never put myself through that again. The curries we have are good, maybe not the gloriously high standard of the mixed grill but certainly very good. My boyfriend is a bit methi chicken barmy and here the fenugreek flavour takes its time to fully unveil. When we finally get there it is worth it. I like the lamb a little bit less. There is nothing wrong with it, I just only like it and it loves me. I have a similar problem with ex boyfriends and Jesus.

I love yellow dhal so I insist on ordering it, even though it’s definitely too much food. It’s thick and spicy, like Mel B, and we load it on buttery paratha. These finish us off; nowhere to go but bed with no hope of dessert.

Service was so good it’s impossible to think that we are in a pub in Hall Green, but I’m glad we are given that I now know it to be a nice stroll from Moseley. It was impossible not to be impressed with The Horseshoe. It’s the kind of place you’d gladly tell your friends to go to, which I already have, and now I’ve put my love for it in writing, you really have no excuses not to give it a go.

The Horseshoe Bar & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

‘Modern Greek’ by Leo Kattou at Purecraft, Birmingham

Leo owes me dinner, technically. Wind the clock back a few months and you’ll find him stood in my kitchen at 4am, my boyfriend attempting to feed his ego by feeding Leo his beef ragu. A bowl of beef ragu that was supposed to be my dinner the very next evening. I would have been annoyed, but Leo is too impossibly likeable for that.

Wind the clock forward again, and Leo has just finished a successful stint on Masterchef: The Professionals, gaining a place in the semi-finals and a horde of female fans which has led to his Modern Greek pop up at Purecraft Bar & Kitchen selling out not only once, but twice after the basement was opened up for extra bookings.

The menu is a fine dining twist on Leo’s Greek-Cypriot heritage, and at £55 for five courses plus beer pairings it’s an absolute steal. We start with smoked cod roe, blitzed smooth and smeared onto squid ink crackers. It’s a classic Simpsons snack, and a perfect introduction to the evening.

The next dish veers firmly towards the Mediterranean, combining fried halloumi with tomato, smoked aubergine purée and olive tapenade. Bar the unseasonal tomato, which reminds me that I’m sadly still in Birmingham, every element is packed with flavour and executed perfectly. It delivers what you always hope a halloumi dish will, but so rarely does in this part of the world.

‘Fish and Chips’ is a wonderfully playful dish that takes all the best of the classic dish and abandons the worst. Gone are the greasy, heavy carbs, replaced by panfried cod with a punchy sauce which references tartar by way of capers, onion and lemon. Peas give bursts of freshness, and the ‘chips’ (essentially a fine dining version of Salt and Vinegar Chipsticks) bring tang and crunch.

So far, so brilliant. It gets better though. Lamb kleftico, brined and then slow roasted so that the bone slips cleanly out, the kind of dish I could never tire of eating. On the side, black cabbage and a salad of bulgar wheat, golden raisins, pine nuts and onion. I could rave about this dish for hours, but really I just want the recipe.

Dessert is equally as delicious; in essence it’s cherries topped with yoghurt, honey, walnuts and filo, made a bit clever. I try and wangle a second portion out of Leo but he’s having none of it, so I settle for nicking my mate’s cherries whilst he’s not looking. I haven’t really talked much about the beer pairings, because in all honestly I know fuck all about beer, but the Bacchus cherry beer that accompanies the dessert deserves an honourable mention for being really rather nice.

The pedigree of those in attendance, and the lovely things they have to say about the dinner, is a sure sign that Leo is one to watch in the Birmingham dining scene. Not only is he a rising star, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Next time he announces a pop up, take my advice and book in immediately.

Leo’s Modern Greek pop up took place at the always fabulous Purecraft Bar and Kitchen on Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5TJ. Alternatively, catch him in his day job at Simpsons.

Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, Machynlleth

We first visted Ynyshir in August last year, but I didn’t post about it. It wasn’t because I didn’t love it; our lunch was so good that we immediately booked in for dinner that night. It was more that I loved it so much that I wanted to write an amazing post to match, but couldn’t seem to do it justice. But screw the vanity. Ynyshir is incredible and I want to shout about it.

Like the first, our second trip to Ynyshir falls just shy of 24 hours yet we leave with a sense of content that usually only follows a holiday. The food here is stunning, but as much so is how a trip to this little corner of Mid-Wales makes you feel. Nestled amongst the Cambrian mountains, close to Snowdonia, it’s the kind of place that is good for your soul; the kind of place that makes you feel that there is a book inside you.

Today mist blankets the surrounding hills, so heavy you’d swear there were no hills at all. It’s beautiful, giving everything a mysterious feel and making you glad to be inside. As our tyres crunch up the drive, we are greeted by a familiar building, sturdy and white. Inside, jewel-toned walls and period features combine with furs, moss and natural wood; it’s both cosy and grand at once, the intrusion of nature a sign of the seasonality reflected on the menu. The snug dining room has Welsh mountains at one end and an open kitchen at the other, and a record player spinning a well-curated collection of vinyl. It feels like home. Except for the cooking, of course.

We tear ourselves away from the incredible Garden Suite (the nicest place I’ve stayed, EVER) for a drink in the bar before dinner. The decision to move 200 kilometres away from Birmingham means I don’t get to drink Rory’s cocktails nearly as often as I used to, but he is working wonders heading up the bar here, serving up creations with complexity and depth. The wine list has expanded, too, with a greater range of both price and style; it feels as though the bar has really come into it’s own since our last visit.

Dinner, then. Four hours, twenty or so courses, an exciting romp through seasonality and flavour. Gareth Ward has a unique ability to present everyday, familiar flavours in a totally new way. Take, for example, lamb neck fillet topped with kombucha which on the tongue becomes lamb and mint sauce; duck liver with tofu, spelt and smoked eel which you would swear on your mother’s life was smoked bacon; or wagyu, sourdough mayonnaise and fermented lettuce which brings a burger into the realm of fine dining. It’s incredibly clever, without falling into the trap of being clever-for-the-sake-of-being-clever.

Elsewhere there is langoustine of fantastic quality, grilled with wild garlic and a bisque-esque dressing of which I refuse to leave a drop. Onions cooked in beef fat and beer produce a deep, rich cooking liquor, which poured over sourdough makes the best bread course I’ve ever eaten.  A dainty lamb rib falls from the bone with the lightest of touches, a triumph of fat, meat and flavour; a theme repeated throughout the meal. Rhubarb and custard is a nod to childhood, whilst tiramisu comes as blobs of coffee and vanilla, topped with a shard of sugar, grated chocolate and mascarpone granita. The food echoes the feel of the building; spectacular pieces of technical chef-ery that still retain warmth and appeal. There are many more courses that I won’t go into, but each delights – full of surprises in content and presentation – without abandoning the central element of flavour.

What Ynyshir are doing is exceptional, exciting and – on top of all this – pulled off by the friendliest, most down-to-earth team I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.Trust me when I say this place is truly special; I can’t wait for my next visit.

Read about our first visit here.

Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms can be found in the extremely pronounceable Eglwys Fach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA.

Ynyshir Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato