Baked in Brick, Digbeth

An early memory of mine involves a statuesque neighbour and his classic Mini. I recall watching him get in with wonder: as a small girl he seemed almost a giant, six foot tall with a broad frame larger than my boyfriend’s ego. He would dip down, swinging his head and lead leg in simultaneously to enter the tardis-like interior with ease. This was a man who could eclipse the sun from certain angles, fitting into a car that looked the perfect size for an eight year old schoolgirl.

Merely getting into a Mini Cooper would be far too simple for Lee Desanges. Three years ago he decided there was much more that could be done with the chassis; he stuck a pizza oven on the back and a grill on the front, then wrapped those oh-so-massive arms of his around the street food industry and suffocated them of every award going. Off the back of that success, Baked has moved into some permanent bricks of his own, tucked away in a corner of Digbeth’s Custard Factory. It is a beaut of a restaurant with exposed wood, metal caging, and a mural on the far wall where you can spot nods to Lee’s journey to so far. That is, of course, if the massive Mini bursting through the wall doesn’t distract you. Outside is one of the nicer sun terraces in the city. Inside or out, it is a very nice place to eat.

On both our visits, the majority of our meal comes straight out of the pizza oven. We have a serrano ham pizza finished with shavings of Lincolnshire Poacher, another with robust meatballs of pork and a yellow pepper ketchup, and most ludicrously a carb squared white pizza topped with boulangere potatoes and smoked chicken. With blistered bases and the softest of crusts, the composition is pretty much perfect. Is this the best pizza in Birmingham? Probably. More specifically, is that white pizza with spuds my favourite in the entire city? Absolutely. Oh no, I’ve morphed into Josh from Love Island.

The dish that grabbed the majority of awards for Baked in Brick was his beef shin calzone, and it is properly glorious; rich beef in a lengthy marinade of red wine that has just a hint of spice and garlic heat. In amongst the meat are teeny wild mushrooms for an earthy kick. It is a dish that only improves when slathered in a blue cheese dip full of more umami. What a plate of food this is.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a pizzeria though; dishes such as the oak smoked burrata with tomato and pesto and their ever rotating lunch menu – think anything from burritos, curry and salt beef sandwiches to salad and mezze platters – show off Lee’s innate understanding of flavours and make me want to relocate my office to Digbeth.

It’s impossible not to love Baked in Brick. They have seamlessly moved from street food to restaurant without losing sight of what has made them so successful. And with winter approaching at a frightening speed (my bets are on Christmas songs any day now), the fact that Lee’s food is now available under roof makes me very, very happy.

Find Lee’s bricks at The Custard Factory, Gibb Street, Birmingham, B9 4AA. Website.

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Zindiya, Moseley

Zindiya and I have grown up in Moseley together. I’ve been here fourteen months now, replacing them as the newbie in town two months after they opened. We’ve come through hard times together, mostly involving my hangover, occasionally stemming from their oh so fine cocktail list. And it’s amazing living so close to them; it’s impossible to have a bad meal there. I can easily recount the menu from memory, tell you what I want to eat based purely on my mood without looking down at the paper on the distressed wooden tables.

We’re also growing outwards together; just like my waistline after too few gym sessions and too many burgers, their menu is expanding. Which is obviously more bad news for my waistline, but absolutely brilliant news for everyone else. Over two trips I’ve managed to tick off pretty much all the new dishes and I can confirm they are b-a-n-g-i-n-g.

We kick off both visits with Zindiya’s Raj Kachori, a miniature version of the famous Rajasthani dish. The crispy wheat vessel is similar to that of pani puri, but here encases potato, lentil, chickpea, pomegranate, sev, tamarind and mint and coriander chutney; essentially all the elements of their chaat in a little bomb of deliciousness. Think pani puri evolved Pokémon style and you’re on the right track.

I might (definitely) have mentioned before that Zindiya’s chicken tikka is legendary, and it’s now joined on the menu by the Hariyali chicken tikka, a green version with fresh spinach, coriander and mint running through the marinade. Our heated discussion over which of the two is best nearly ended in violence, so you’ll have to be the judge; I’d probably order both to be on the safe side.

Authentic is a bit of an odd term to use whilst eating street food inside a restaurant in a middle class Birmingham suburb, but the moreish rounds of aubergine, fried in crisp gram flour batter and dredged though a sweet-sour tamarind sauce, remind me so much of my sub-continental travels that I think it’s warranted here. It takes the palate to similar places as the crispy aubergine dressed in honey, soy and chilli at El Borracho de Oro (which, if you haven’t already, is one of my Brum ‘must eats’) and is just as good at it’s Spanish cousin.

Keema pav is probably the least exciting of the new dishes that we try, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not good. It’s a comfort food kind of dish – the Indian equivalent of a shepherd’s pie or a chilli – comforting, warming flavours that I imagine will come into it’s own once Britain stops trying to be a tropical country and gets all miserable again.

Zindiya’s sister restaurant, Tap & Tandoor, do a wicked chilli paneer so it’s great to see it on Zindiya’s menu (along with a chicken version for dedicated carnivores). The punchy Indo Chinese sauce is sweet and sour for grown ups; more spice, less sugar and Zindiya’s trademark quality ingredients.

As well as traditional street food dishes, Zindiya like to put their own twist on things. Dessert samosas are nothing new but instead of taking the safe option and stuffing them with chocolate, they’ve used Gajar Ka Halwa, an Indian dessert of carrot, milk, sugar and nuts, as the filling. I know, I know, it sounds weird, but trust me on this one. It works.

I didn’t think it was possible for Zindiya to get any better, but the new menu is so good that I can definitely see some of the dishes ousting old favourites when I order. Either that, or I’ll just get them all. Sorry waistline.

Zindiya is at 21 Woodbridge Rd, Moseley, B13 8EJ. WEBSITE.

The Ivy, Birmingham

In possibly the most exciting thing to ever happen in Macclesfield, my parents have an incubating duck in their back garden. I know, hold on to those pants of yours before the gust of elation whips them clean off. It’s just sat there, keeping the eggs warm, giving my Dad disapproving looks through the patio doors for watching Naked Attraction in his sixties. My Mom is ducked off about it because she has to contend with the dog going ducking barmy at not being able to eat it. And as cute as they are to look at, I’m siding with Betty the terrier. I ducking love eating duck.

Duck meat makes up two of the four dishes we eat at The Ivy in Birmingham, but before we get to the food let’s talk about that dining room. It’s a stunner; 1920’s glamour in shades of lavender, burnt orange, and jade. We are sat in one of the booths under the gaze of the stain glass windows. This must be one of Birminghams most beautiful seats for food.

One dish withstanding, the food is very good. A starter of asparagus, mozzarella, and pesto is light and impeccable in delivery; the mozzarella has an air of burrata in texture, a million miles from the ball of rubber that so many places wheel out. A salad of duck is even better, the five spice dressing not overpowering, the richness cut through by cubes of compressed melon, and toasted cashew to bring texture. If all salad was this good, I’d be a Victoria’s Secret model.

The duck main is a red curry, rich with coconut milk, fragrant and generously spiced. The meat is tender, and there’s a lot of it; pretty good for a brasserie curry. I’m less keen on the seabass, which is served whole and battered into submission by the olives, capers, and fennel that accompany it. In hindsight I wish I’d never ordered this, given that there were a dozen or so other dishes on the menu I’d rather have eaten, but I was trying to be healthy. Given the copious amounts of wine I’d already drunk, I should have just ducking given in and ordered the shepherd’s pie.

With portions generous in size dessert defeats us. It seems that The Ivy is already a smash hit in Birmingham, turning tables away on a packed midweek evening and heavily booked up for weekends to come. I can see why; the food is not the best in Birmingham by a long distance, but the service is polished, the prices fair, and it’s definitely the dining room to be seen at the moment.

Find The Ivy at 67-71 Temple Row, Birmingham, B2 5LS. WEBSITE.

Wing Wednesdays at Original Patty Men, Digbeth

The popularity of chicken wings as a meal is a bit weird, if you think about it. Compared to something like a burger, the effort to volume-of-food ratio is pretty damn high. But irrational as it is, I love a ‘wang’ as much as the next ‘thang’, and it’s good to see more places popping up around Brum to fill the wing shaped hole left by the Butcher’s Social.

One such hole-filler are burger legends Original Patty Men who have turned their attention to the other side of the farmyard for ‘Wing Wednesdays’. I’m not going to write War & Peace about chicken wings, but this deserved a post because OPM have got. it. nailed.

Their menu has four regular choices of wings (Buffalo, BBQ, Gochujang, Alabama), plus a rotating special, currently Chicken ‘n’ Waffles. We ordered them all, but if you’re not as greedy as us then feel free to close your eyes and point; whatever you land on will be world class. There’s tang, heat and sweetness in the various sauces, not a soggy chicken skin in sight and the battered Alabama and Waffle wings have perfect crunch even when doused in white sauce or honey respectively. Oh, and make sure you order fries to scoop up the last bits of sauce once you’ve finished the wings.

Bravo, guys. You’ve done those chickens proud and made hump day that little bit more manageable.

Original Patty Men is at 9 Shaw’s Passage, Digbeth, B5 5JG

Itihaas, Birmingham

I love buying things when I’m on holiday. My best friend laughs mercilessly at me for the amount of – in her words – ‘utter tat’ that I manage to cram into my suitcase before my return flight. Notable past purchases include a hammock (for all that balmy English weather) and a Moroccan rug which I promptly ruined by spilling preserved lemons on. What a twat.

When I was in Kerala last year, I was more than tempted by shops and warehouses crammed full of antique furniture, including the most incredible carved wooden doors. Sadly they weren’t quite the right size for my suitcase, let alone my one bedroom flat in Moseley, so I had to make do with other essential holiday purchases (elephant puppet made out of recycled saris, anyone? Joking; that was my mum).

Luckily, Itihaas has a little more room (and reason) to fit out their gaff with these pieces, so for now I’m happy to make do with perving over their beautiful decor; especially because I always get dinner in the process. Tonight though, the main attraction is a preview of dishes from their forthcoming Spring menu, launching this weekend.

We start with soft shell crab pakora, lamb tikka and scallops in a coriander, tomato and garlic butter. Seafood cooked Indian style is a weakness of mine so the plump, sweet crab encased in a crisp, greaseless batter has me going a bit wobbly at the knees. The depth and spice of the scallops are another triumph, but the stand out starter for me was the lamb tikka; quality cuts, marinated and hung for long enough that the meat becomes more tender than my head on most Sunday mornings.

This is followed by lamb shank, cooked slowly so that it comes away from the bone with little effort, in a sauce with is rich with spice. The Makhani paneer is a dish I’d normally overlook on a menu, but the generous amounts of paneer finished with a velvety sauce mean this is now a must order. Soy tikka masala is another solid vegetarian dish, with none of the awful texture that is often associated with the meat substitute. All of this is accompanied by a range of quality breads, from paper thin roomali rotis to the more decadent truffle oil and poppy seed naan bread which is obscenely good.

A saffron and pistachio rasmali dessert is textbook in execution (though I’m not too keen on the presentation in metal ‘cocktail’ glasses), whilst our second dessert of chocolate samosa comes with a bourbon and almond kulfi which has the perfect balance of booziness and sweetness.

I know that a blog post singing the praises of a complimentary meal is never quite as believable as one without that dreaded disclaimer, but this truly was one of the most enjoyable Indian meals I’ve had in the UK. You pay for the quality, of course – this isn’t the place for your weekly curry – but in my opinion it’s worth every penny. The service is faultless, and even the simple fact that they regularly change their menu to keep it fresh is a sign that this is a place that cares.

Itihaas is located at 18 Fleet Street, Birmingham, B3 1JL. Find more details on their website.

I was invited to preview the new menu at Itihaas, and my meal was complimentary.

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

Wayland’s Yard, Birmingham

The city centre is rarely somewhere I venture for breakfast or brunch. On weekdays I’m in too much of a rush, with maybe enough time to grab a coffee before I head into the office for a thrilling day of tax. And on weekends? Why would I, when within walking distance of my front door I have Lewis’s, Damascena, Bloom, Zindiya and more serving up some of the best brunches in the city?

But then I saw two words on the Wayland’s Yard menu that made me reconsider. Those words? Eggy. Crumpets. My other half and I are obsessed with crumpets – we’ve been known to have actual physical fights over the last in the pack – so anywhere that dips them in egg before topping with halloumi, chilli jam, spring onions and fresh chilli is guaranteed to get us through the door.

And did it live up to expectations? In a word, yes. A generous portion full of sweet, salty and chilli flavours that had us immediately planning our next visit. Their signature full English (‘Wayland’s Big Brunch’) is a hit too; I can’t think of many better I’ve had in the City Centre. There’s a couple of missteps on the plate – the sweet potato hash balls are too dense for my taste and avocado hummus is a combination that should never have happened – but the rest more than makes up for it. Smokey heat and garlic runs through the beans, griddled mushrooms have been taken to a perfect level of bite, eggs are runny and the meat is good quality and locally sourced. I also have to shout out to the fact they use Netherend Farm butter, which I stockpile whenever I see it for sale because it’s bloody lovely.

With all this accompanied by great coffee and welcoming staff, it’s a breakfast I’ll definitely be back for. And it’s convenient location on Bull Street means I’ve even found a new stop for my pre-work coffee dash.

The Birmingham branch of Wayland’s Yard is at 42 Bull Street, B4 6AF. Find more details on their website.

My meal was complimentary for review purposes.

Salt, Stratford-upon-Avon

I knew I would like Salt way before I arrived. Way before I looked at the menu online, way before I read the glowing reviews. It’s the name you see: Salt. That most simple of ingredients which has a place in almost every dish; one that humbly elevates it’s plate-fellows to heights they would never reach were it not present. In short, salt is like the person I wish I could be (but am definitely not). As a restaurant name, it connotes nothing but good things.

The restaurant itself must have once been a Stratfordian’s home and has retained a charming wonkiness, with low slung beams and cosy corners. Whitewashed walls and a lick of grey paint on those beams do wonders to lighten the space and prevent any suspicion that you are attending some sort of National Trust historic experience dinner. The kitchen pass along the back wall gives a view of a kitchen so poky that it reminds me of my own, which only serves to make the brilliance of the dishes that will shortly appear even more impressive.

At lunch, you’ll find an a la carte and a six course tasting menu. Both are obscene value, although at a measly £45 the tasting menu seems the obvious choice.  For that you get plump green olives and smokey almonds on arrival, quickly followed by malty bread rolls to smear with sunshine yellow butter.

The first course happens to be my favourite; pink fir potatoes under a layer of transparent lardo and radish, dusted with roasted yeast flakes. My boyfriend is right: it evokes the feel of a jacket potato. Buttery, rich and warming, it’s the kind of dish I wish I could reproduce in my poky kitchen so that I could eat it on the sofa, wrapped up in a dressing gown and sweeping up the remnants with my finger.

Without wishing to turn this into a loveathon I also get a little bit weepy over two fillets of hake, panfried to a golden crust. The accompanying caramelised cauliflower purée is sweet and earthy, with shaved fennel for some acidity. Following this comes carrot roasted in chicken fat which sits in a puddle of carrot broth, with crispy chicken skin and pickled carrots. Carrots cooked in chicken fat might just be my new thing. They’re the flavour of a Sunday lunch without the excessive carbs. The Northerner in me wants to clean out the bowl with a Yorkshire Pudding, but for now the last of the bread will make do. There seems to be a theme here; Salt is plate-lickingly good.

The pheasant that comes next is probably my least favourite course, if only because it lacks the same whack of flavour as the others. The breast was tender, the cavolo nero retaining a little bite, the pickled onions zingy. It’s a solid piece of cooking that on another menu would be a star, but here it is among such good company it pales slightly in comparison.

Desserts start with an ice cream of brown bread. No, I’m not using Cockney rhyming slang; it’s a transitional course that pairs savoury ice cream with a sorrel granita and sweet, sharp poached blueberries. As a dish it takes some getting used to, but in the end we are both agreed that it’s rather lovely in character.

The second dessert steers us into more recognisable territory with a dreamy ganache of Valrhona chocolate paired with some other chocolatey bits and a pumpkin cream. Chocolate is always a crowd pleaser, but the balance and quality here is clear.

We end on another high in the form of choux buns filled with raspberry and Douglas fir. They are as near to a perfect mouthful as any I’ve had. If these were available in shops, I would no doubt be the size of a house but blissfully happy.

Now, here I have to be honest. My visit to Salt fell around November last year and so the above dishes will be shamefully out of date, but I recently sent a good friend here who reported back that the standard is still just as high (and those choux buns still the finale). In fact, despite a visit to L’Enclume a few days earlier, her dessert of sea buckthorn mille-feuille was declared her “favourite dessert ever!”. And if that’s not enough to make you want to visit, I’m not sure we would ever get along.

Salt is at 8 Church Street, Warwickshire, Stratford-Upon-Avon, CV37 6EP. WEBSITE.