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.

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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.

Bonehead, Birmingham

I love seeing new independents opening up in Birmingham, especially when they’re bringing something new to the table. Sorry Indian street food, I love you, I really really do, but surely we’ve reached our quota now? I want my chicken any way but tikka, so the news that Bonehead were bringing fried chicken and liquor to Birmingham was music to my millennial ears. A gentrifried chicken shop. See what I did there? You’re welcome.

It’s a short menu and we make a dent into almost all of it in the name of research, starting with wings in a variety of coatings. I like that the chicken is all ethically raised Cotswold White, and the wings are fat and good quality. However I find the original batter anaemic in colour, under seasoned and a little floury. Not the best of starts, but then come the sour and hot buffalo wings with ranch sauce, which have us fighting over the last wing, and the hothead, which have good flavour but are more lukewarm that hot in terms of chilli fire. I can (pretend to) handle my heat, I want more.

Having gone to a chicken pop-up at The Meat Shack which served as a prequel to this opening, I was, in all honesty, a little disappointed by the burger. They’re good, don’t get me wrong; the fried chicken thigh is generously proportioned and would be described as moist if the word didn’t make me shudder. But they just don’t excite me that much. I’d like to see some of the more interesting toppings from the pop-up, rather than the same wing flavours and sauces rehashed into a burger. I need more variety, and a reason to rush back. Basically, I l want some gochujang mayo vibes up in here. Pretty please?

What did make me want to rush back, though, are the loaded waffles; potato goodness dressed in the comeback sauce and a ‘slaw that is sharp and damn-right delicious. They’re more interesting than fries, and a slight 90s childhood throwback which I love.

So here’s the thing; I liked Bonehead and really admire what they are doing, but I didn’t LOVE it. Not like I thought I would, anyway. I can’t see myself craving one of these in the same way that I do with The Meat Shack, or OPM. I can’t see myself waking up thinking about eating one. But the queues on the weekends say this will be a roaring success, and it’s great to see another independent in the John Bright Street area. Unlike many others they haven’t had time on the street food scene perfecting their trade, so given some time to settle into their skin (and some gochujang mayo – I’m not letting this go), Bonehead should be a great addition to Birmingham.

Visit Bonehead at 8 Lower Severn St, Birmingham B1 1PU

Lucky Duck, Jewellery Quarter

There have been some mixed responses to the new Lucky Duck opening in the Jewellery Quarter. The announcement that it was opening generated massive amounts of hype, followed by vociferous complaints that it wasn’t as perfect as the expectations that people had loaded onto it.

And yes, there are definitely areas that need work. But my duck noodle bowl felt nourishing and hearty, with a perfectly soft boiled egg joining pak choi and pink breast atop a well seasoned broth filled with tangles of noodles, spring onions and chunks of dark leg meat. It warmed my belly and my soul. Consistency might be an issue for Lucky Duck at present, as I’ve heard from others their bowl had seasoning issues, or the breast wasn’t quite right, but it is their first week after all; I think it’s fair to cut new restaurants a little slack in their opening weeks while they tweak things.

There was more accurate cooking in the fillings of the bao; pork came meltingly soft, while the aubergine regained the perfect amount of firmness and the battered cod has a heavenly crunch. The flavour combinations are simple though, and I’d like a bit more funk. I found myself wishing for the texture of sesame seeds or crushed peanut, the fire of chilli, or the aromatics and colour of fresh herbs. The buns needed more fluff and lightness, and veered too much towards stodginess.

All of this is easily fixable though, and what a wonderful spot this will be to eat if they can do so. The bijou space has been beautifully designed, light and minimalistic with pale wood and plenty of swoon-worthy blue and white tableware that had me vowing to conquer Asian cookery to justify purchasing my own. Little details like the origami flowers pick up the same colour scheme and show the love that has been put into the restaurant. Lucky Duck also has an admirable ethos when it comes to sustainability – such as rewards for bringing your own takeaway containers – but if I wasn’t the type to read about restaurants on the internet I wouldn’t have known this; it might be a good idea to include a small note or mention with the menu so that people are more aware.

Feedback seemed to be welcomed on our visit, so I’m betting that this place will come on in leaps and bounds. With a little bit of time and work, Lucky Duck could fly.

Lucky Duck is located in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter at 21 Caroline Street, B3 1UE. Website.

‘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.

Sabai Sabai, Birmingham

Turns out the North-South divide is universal. Here in the UK, it’s all dinner vs tea, baps vs cobs, chips and gravy vs jellied eels. Touch down in Thailand however, and it’s the milder flavours and dryer dishes of the North vs South Thailand’s seafood, hotter curries and love of coconut milk.

Being in the Midlands, we’re in the unique position of being in, well, the middle. According to a recent YouGov survey, people in the Midlands can’t decide whether they’re Northern, Southern, or nothing at all. Indecisive, you say? No identity, I hear? Nope, not at all. We just know how to have the best of both worlds, and that’s exactly what the fourth Sabai Sabai site in Birmingham city centre have done, installing not just one but two Thai chefs, one from the North of Thailand and one from (you guessed it) the South. Happy days.

A confession now. Despite living less than half a mile from their Moseley site, I’ve never actually visited Sabai Sabai; a combination of my laziness and a handy little app called Deliveroo mean that although you can often find me chowing down on a selection of my favourite Thai dishes, it’s always in the comfort of my own sofa, usually in my pyjamas. What can I say? It’s dark and miserable outside, I have Sky and I don’t have to socialise with people.

After visiting their new city centre site I can see that there are some things I’m missing out on by insisting on takeaway. The beautiful decor, for one; pretty light features, patterned ceilings and botanical flourishes. Save for my lone Swiss cheese plant, I definitely don’t have that at home. Then there’s the staff, including some recognisable faces from some of Birmingham’s finer establishments; friendly, knowledgeable and serving up a bit of humour alongside dinner. Again – much as I love Deliveroo – I wouldn’t credit the delivery drivers with much charisma and they never stay to pour my wine. Third? Cocktails. I can whip up a mean G&T at home but a lychee Martini? Piss off.

We start with the Sabai Sabai Meat Platter. At £12.95 per person, it’s certainly not the cheapest but the portions are large. Personally I wouldn’t choose this again – I’d rather order separately so I could have more of my favourite items and less of those I’m not so keen on – but it’s a great introduction to Sabai Sabai. The spare ribs are overly sweet for me, but I love the garlicky chicken wings which are braised before being finishing in the fryer to leave them falling-off-the-bone levels of tender. Lamb chops come pleasingly pink throughout, and the garlic, peppercorn and pineapple dressing it is good, although hiding a little meekly. Crispy duck rolls are fat and full of meat. Dunked in sauce they are addictive, and I hopefully eye up the rest of the table, but no one is giving theirs up. I understand.

Mains are a combination of old favourites and some new dishes I’ve not tried before. The Phad Thai never disappoints, but the unexpected star of the evening is braised Beef Short Rib in a Massaman sauce. The sauce is rich with spices, peanut and coconut and the topping of crushed cashew nuts and crispy shallots provide some texture to prevent the dish reaching retirement home levels of softness. The papaya salad is the definition of fresh – if someone could make this for me every day I’d be supermodel skinny in no time – and is a nice foil to some of the more meat heavy dishes on offer. In terms of sides, for me it’s the garlic fried rice every time; I could eat a bowl of this on it’s own.

My verdict? Us Midlanders have got it right. Whether the origins lie in North or South Thailand, pretty much everything I’ve tried at Sabai Sabai is delicious and deserves a place on their menu (and my plate). I’m sorry Sabai Sabai, that our relationship has been long distance for so long. I promise I’ll come and see you more often.

Sabai Sabai is located at 7 Waterloo Street (Birmingham City Centre) and also has restaurants in Moseley, Harborne and Stratford-upon-Avon. We were invited to dine as guests of Delicious PR, but all opinions and love of Sabai Sabai are my own (please see my Deliveroo account for proof).

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