‘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.

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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

Chien Lunatique at 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter

I’m calling it. Simon Masding is the unsung hero of the Birmingham fries scene. It’s a scene which – admittedly – is a little lacking, but even if Birmingham was a veritable chiptopia I would still bet on Mr. Masding to provide more pleasure per inch than anyone else I know.

It all started back in September with his Kebabylon pop up at my favourite Jewellery Quarter haunt, where I declared his sweet potato fries “the best sweet potato fries I have ever eaten”. I’ve been chasing those batons of goodness all round 0121 ever since.

He’s now back at 1000 Trades for January, slinging gourmet hot dogs made from Lashford sausages (some of the best sausages in the Midlands, if you’d missed that memo) and a variety of toppings that are more genius than Donald Trump on a Twitter rampage. “Do we really need fries?” asked my dining companion. A disgusted look gave the necessary answer; we ordered fries. At Chien Lunatique potatoes of the hand-cut, skin-on variety accessorise the dogs, and at first I’m disappointed because I truly am obsessed with those sweet, sweet, sweet potato fries. But when they arrive it’s love at first bite. Masding has done the double – won the FA Cup and Premier League, if fries had legs and could kick a ball into a net. God, I love the way that man handles a potato.

But enough about fries. It’s the dogs we came for, and they are just as good as the chips. There’s eight on the menu, each utilising a different flavour of Lashford sausage. We slept late – it’s one of those overcast, blustery days when the duvet is reluctant to release you from it’s welcome hold – and so I order ‘The Churchill’, reasoning that it’s technically brunch. Seams of black pudding run through the sausage, and a simple garnish of bacon lardons complete this homage to pigginess. It’s not ostentatious – in fact it’s almost laughably simple – but the use of the best ingredients possible means that this pork-and-bread combo is heads above the sausage baps that I usually stuff in my face after a night on the sauce.

Our other chien veers more towards the lunatique end of the spectrum. The sausage mix is given a decidedly Brummie vibe with the addition of Balti seasoning before being topped with tzatziki, onions and poppadums. I don’t think I would ever have ordered this – my cynical side immediately thought “gimmick” – but I’m bloody glad my boyfriend did. It’s almost as if he knows something about food. It’s a massive punch of flavour, the best six inches of pork anyone has ever served me. I’ll be coming back for more of this.

I could bang on about these bangers for hours, but that would be wasting time of yours that you could be spending eating as many of these hot dogs as you can before Chien Lunatique pops down on 3rd February. Make like a French ski instructor and allez vite!

The Chien Lunatique pop up will run until 3 February at 1000 Trades, 16 Frederick Street, B1 3HE. WEBSITE.

Grana Padano Lunch at San Carlo, Birmingham

I bloody love cheese. Hard, soft, stinky, mild, cow or goat – I don’t discriminate. And now that winter has officially rolled in, I have no shame calling out for cheese in every meal. Luckily San Carlo have my back, rolling out a special menu dedicated to cheese – Grana Padano in particular – which will run throughout the whole of November.

The new menu kicked off with an afternoon of cheese and wine, where we were joined by a Grana Padano expert (how can I get this job, please?) to sample the cheese and dishes that San Carlo have created to showcase it.

First order of the day – after prosecco, of course – is a tasting of the cheese in it’s pure, unadulterated form. Three hearty chunks of Grana Padano, ranging from a spritely 11 month old vintage with a mild, creamy flavour, through the nuttier 16 month vintage, to the robust 20 month ‘Reserva’ vintage which smacks of umami and has a lovely crystalline texture. It’s a versatile cheese, the various vintages able to suit different dishes and palates.

Good stuff, but there’s one surefire way to make any cheese taste better; add carbs. And San Carlo are on it. Our first dish is Gnocco Croccante; essentially large gnocchi with a crisp coating, atop a smooth Grana Padano sauce and accompanied by fresh truffle. It’s rich, cheesy and all kinds of delicious, with the crunch of the coating giving texture to a dish which would otherwise be soft enough for my great grandma to enjoy. A crisp Pinot Grigio does a great job of cutting through the richness of the dish.

Next up is a mushroom risotto, served in (wait for it) a WHEEL OF CHEESE. This is the stuff of dreams, people. It’s a good risotto, hearty and warming with lots of mushroom, but the rice could have done with a fraction longer in the pan and a touch more salt. It’s paired with a glass of rosé. Yes, I thought they were crazy too, but it really worked. San Carlo know their wines; I should never have doubted them.

Finally there is more gnocchi, this time in a Grana Padano basket with a Gorgonzola sauce. A glass of red is essential here, standing up to the big, cheesy flavours on the plate.

We leave, taking with us a distinct odour of cheese. Perhaps three in a row is a bit too much, but as standalone specials these dishes are a perfect way to get your cheese fix. They’re available at San Carlo until the end of November, which by my calculations means you have exactly 506.5 hours to get your hands on them. Godspeed!

I was invited to the press event, but was not asked to write about it. Find San Carlo at 4 Temple Street, Birmingham, B2 5BN

San Carlo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lasan, Jewellery Quarter

I used to live almost directly above Lasan. It was the ultimate temptation; my arrival home from work each day coincided perfectly with the start of dinner service. Exotic scents wafted out of the restaurant as I lugged my bag upstairs, causing numerous tantrums as I peered into the fridge and realised dinner would be nowhere near that enjoyed by those seated downstairs.

I’ve moved on since then, and so has Lasan; although you’ll still find it tucked just off Saint Paul’s Square, inside it’s been transformed. Gone is the dark, serious interior, replaced by a light and airy space full of quirky features and ripe for filling with a buzzy crowd. There is a newly formed bar area which gives much more versatility; it’s now as much a place for after work cocktails as for a special meal.

The menu has been revamped too. Some of the old favourites are there, but they’ve been joined by dishes with a bit more heart and a little less fuss. The meal still begins with delicious mouthfuls of pani puri, brimming with chickpea and tamarind, followed by three faultless starters. First, soft shell crab arrives, enveloped by a light chilli batter; it’s accompanied by tomato chutney, sour mango and Devonshire crab which appears via Kerala in delicate crab cakes. Samosas filled with venison are rich and tender, whilst chicken comes in a trio of paté, kebab and drumstick that is beautifully presented and tastes just as good.

Lasan really know how to treat their meat; the mains are proof of this. Slow-roasted lamb shank has a charred coating of spice which gives way to reveal a soft interior which slips away from the bone effortlessly. On the side there is a silky dhal makhani and raita to cut through the richness. Hyderabadi Biriyani is even better, with tender chunks of deftly spiced goat meat hidden under soft rice. It’s as good a biriyani as I’ve ever tried and alone is enough reason for a return visit. The portions are generous, so the side of additional dhal makhani is not at all necessary, but is delicious scooped up with garlic and coriander naans and paper thin Roomali Roti.

Even gluttons like us cannot contemplate dessert, so we finish our wine and depart reluctantly. I’ve always been a fan of Lasan, but I like this new direction; it’s more relaxed, more authentic, with the service and food consistently brilliant. It makes me excited to return.

I dined as a guest of Lasan.

Find Lasan at 3-4 Dakota Buildings, James Street, St Paul’s Square, Birmingham, B3 1SD

Lasan Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Borracho de Oro, Edgbaston

Autumn has definitely arrived in Birmingham. And whilst I love a scarf and a pumpkin spice latte as much as the next basic bitch, one thing I really can’t get on board with is the lack of daylight. Dragging myself out of bed has become an impossible task; one that requires more willpower than I happen to possess and a fancy sunrise simulating alarm clock. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s miserable, it’s shit, and I’ve used up all my holiday at work.

With a trip to Spain off the cards, the next best thing was a trip to El Borracho in Edgbaston, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit ever since eating at their brilliant 1000 Trades pop-up. It’s a lovely space; warm, welcoming and expertly presided over by the wonderful Emma.

We start the evening with Catalan bread. Simple flavours of tomato and garlic soak into the top of the bread, whilst the bottom retains it’s crunch. It’s almost definitely the best rendition I’ve ever had and puts the one we have two days later to shame; it’s half the price and definitely twice as good. To accompany it comes the house red (Pez de Rio, excellent at £17.50) which I quickly recognise as one I often drink far too much of in Bar Opus..

Skewers of chicken marinated in red mojo sauce are our first meat dish. The tender meat is packed with flavour and sandwiches chunks of pepper and onion that still retain a little bite. Drizzled with garlic aioli, it’s a perfectly formed plateful and – happily – a sign of things to come. Lamb is slow cooked and falling apart in the tomato and pepper sauce, whilst the tang of baked piquillo peppers stuffed with goats cheese balances brilliantly against the richer dishes.

The pork cheek is rich and comforting, the pork perfectly cooked and served with a red wine sauce that cries out for every last drop to be finished. It’s perfect for cold Birmingham evenings; a hug in a dish. The butterbean stew with smoked black pudding, chorizo, pancetta and red pepper has a similar vibe. It’s all kinds of warming, the kind of dish you want to eat tucked up on the sofa, mopping up the last of it with bread.

We order the potato churros with blue cheese because they sound intriguing. They are fantastic. Out of this world, life altering, fight-to-the-death-over-the-last-one fantastic. If I was a potato, I’d be pretty happy to end up in this particular afterlife.

Regrettably, we have no room for dessert. The bill for two barely reaches £70 including wine and we roll home full of some of the best Spanish food I’ve ever had. The value is further driven home a couple of days later, when we pay a considerable amount more for an underwhelming meal at a much-acclaimed Spanish restaurant in Manchester.

So thank you, El Borracho, for bringing some sunshine to my dreary Thursday evening. You really are a gem.

El Borracho de Oro is on Harborne Road, Birmingham, B15 3BU. WEBSITE.

El Borracho de Oro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bar + Block, Birmingham

I was a weird child. Still am. Amongst the many childhood tales my mother has recounted to me, the first word I chose to utter is one of my favourites. It wasn’t mama, or dada. Not hello, bye-bye, yes or no. It was moo.

My boyfriend might point to this as an early warning sign of my infamous moods, but I prefer to think of it as a first declaration of my love of steak.

You see, a properly cooked steak is a thing of beauty. I personally like mine dry aged, charred on the outside and so rare that it could be returned to life with a defibrillator. Properly rested so that the juices disperse across the protein, not the plate. But this beef nirvana is rarely achieved; far too often my rare steak is overcooked, or the meat has been cooked on too low a heat so that the exterior is a sweaty, muddy grey. Cooking a bit of cow shouldn’t be that difficult yet it so often misses the mark. Luckily, my visit to Bar + Block proved they know how to handle a piece of meat (whey).

I know I’m in the minority, but I have a real issue with meat flavoured crisps. It’s just. not. right. I won’t pretend, then, that the arrival of beef popcorn to start the meal filled me with joy. Fortunately, in this case I was wrong; these little pops of meatiness would make even the cheapest of Cineworld seats bearable, and had completely disappeared by the time our wine arrived.

We choose three small plates from the menu to start us off. A gammon and pineapple scotch egg gets a mixed response; I like the nostalgic flavours of ham surrounding the egg, studded with sweet pineapple and the occasional tingle of chilli, but my dining partner brands it a complete bastardisation of a classic. I reckon I’m right.

Mac and cheese bites do exactly what they say on the tin; deep fried bits of molten cheese and pasta. They’re good, but better eaten with burnt ends; smokey, sweet and crispy bits of slow cooked brisket, with a hint of heat lurking in the background.

I’ll gloss over my boyfriend’s odd decision to order a chicken burger in a steakhouse, because it was a decent burger, but if you’re here it should be about the cow. And it was for me; a hunk of 10oz fillet, exactly how I asked for it. The exterior had a nice crust, the centre still gently moo’ing, with a tangle of samphire bringing welcome saltiness. I like it a lot, and it’s a bargain for it’s size at £22.95.

Dessert is definitely not needed, but we order it anyway. The sundae comes piled with churros, honeycomb, brownies and other things your dentist warns you about. It’s mammoth and would defeat the hugest of appetites for only six English pounds. The baked cheesecake with cherry is the only real disappointment of the meal. The texture is all wrong, a mass of bland, dense sweetness that tastes like it’s been defrosted. I should have ended on the steak. Serves me right for being greedy.

Bar + Block is never going to be my favourite restaurant, the place that I rave about to everyone who’ll listen and take all my friends to when they visit. But it does what it sets out to do extremely well; it serves up tasty, well cooked food at an extremely reasonable price. And for that I can’t fault it.

Bar + Block is at 6 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5PG.

Food was complimentary for review purposes.