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.

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