Gateway to India, Regency Wharf

The last time I visited the Gateway to India was in Mumbai; it was a little different there.  Perched on benches we ate cheap and tasty food, and watched men wearing little clothing pass by with bedazzled cows, whereas here, just off Broad Street…Okay, I take it back. Thinking about it, Mumbai really isn’t that different to Broad Street at all; give or take a few pitchers of Sex on the Beach, a visit to either will guarantee colourful characters, a riot of noise and hordes of taxis.

Gateway to India, then, is a fairly apt name for this newcomer. Could this possibly be the inspiration behind the name? We may never know.*

What I do know is that Gateway to India are serving up some seriously impressive street food, with a menu inspired by favourites from Mumbai and beyond. And when I say seriously impressive, I mean dishes that are up there with the best in the city. Look beyond the traditional interior and you’ll discover a menu more akin to the Zindiyas and Indian Streaterys of the city than your standard curry house.

I was there a couple of weeks back and I’ve been thinking non-stop about some of the dishes I ate.  Chole Bhature is everything that I love about Indian street food; take one puffed up piece of fried bread, tear, and fill with a chickpea curry that has the right balance of zing and heat.  It’s that visceral, hands-on type of eating that I love, a far cry from the well mannered world of cutlery that we survive in.  It’s the same with pani puri. Delightfully light, crisp, puffs are drizzled with tamarind and a punchy mint and coriander sauce. Fill them and then pop in the gob in one piece to release a world of goodness.

My Northern tendency to put anything and everything between buttered bread is satisfied by the Pav Bhaji; a vegetable curry accompanied by a buttered bun to spread or dunk as you choose. It’s bloody brilliant.  Aloo Tikki are deep fried mashed potato patties, a concept that could easily have originated from Glasgow (the home of haggis pakora). These are delicious, fragrant with spice and served with the same chickpea curry that formed the Chole Bhature.  It’s at this point I should tell you I am madly in love with the vivid green mint and coriander sauce; I would gladly elope with it had it not been frowned upon to do so with a liquid.

And there’s more – I’ve saved my favourite dishes for last. Bhel Puri is an addictive combination of crispy rice and noodles, dusted with spices and finished with onion, tamarind and yogurt. Samosa chaat is the best rendering of the dish I’ve tried to date; a pungent and warming mixture of that chickpea curry and torn samosa that demands your immediate attention. Best of all is the dosa, a wrapping paper-esque tube filled with the most addictive potato spiced with mustard seed and cumin.  It is this that I have been dreaming of recently, all seventeen foot (a possible exaggeration) of it with the loose vegetable curry and tomato chutney.  At just a fiver for the vegetarian one it is the obvious lunch of choice, even when your work is twenty minutes walk away like mine is. Trust me, it’s worth it.

We tried other dishes – curries, grills and a brilliant lobster dish – but it is the above street food menu that for me really stands out. With ever more Indian streetfood joints popping up in Birmingham, I can truly say that this is one deserving of your time.

*It’s true, we may never know, but I’m 99.99% sure this is not the case.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Anita at Delicious PR for the invite. The meal was complimentary, my opinions are honest as always (ask my boyfriend – I haven’t shut up about the dosa since!).

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The Meat Shack, Southside

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”; a phrase much loved by classic Western movies and American rock band Sparks alike.

Luckily for The Meat Shack, it’s one that doesn’t apply to burger joints. In a move which will inevitably draw comparisons with Original Patty Men, Meat Shack have gone from stalwarts of the Birmingham street food scene to setting up shop in the city centre.

But let’s make like proud parents and halt the comparisons. Even though you’ll inevitably have a favourite (in my family it’s obviously me), you should still have room in your heart for both. We desperately need more good burger places in Birmingham, and The Meat Shack has just upped our total by one.

The burgers, then. The Dutch Piggy is a beast of a burger, packed with both Dutch and American cheese (perhaps to honour their shared liberal views towards marijuana consumption – who knows?), streaky bacon, iceberg red onion, pickle, ketchup and chipayo. The patty is excellent – a densely packed hunk of quality beef which, although less pink than I prefer, is full of juice and flavour. It more than lives up to The Meat Shack’s “filthy dripping goodness” slogan, and combined with the toppings offers a perfect balance of flavour and texture. It’s essentially a pimped-up bacon cheeseburger, and a damn good one at that.

The Hell Shack is a burger for those braver than I, topped with green chilli relish and Holy F**k hot sauce. It gets a good review from my partner-in-crime but I prefer to retain my tastebuds, so don’t try it.

We desperately want to try the fried pickles but they are out for the day, so we opt for onion rings and chipayo fries. The onion rings are exceptionally good but at £3 a little steep for the quantity; after all, they are just bits of onion and batter. The fries are nice enough, but overall offer further evidence to my boyfriend’s theory that when the burgers are exceptional you should just sack off the fries and order two burgers.

Sides aside, the burgers are the headline act here and they are brilliant. The Meat Shack have honed their craft throughout their formative street food years in the city; they are now using that experience to bring something very special to Southside. Go, eat, support.

Find The Meat Shack at their new permanent home on 17 Thorp Street, Birmingham, B5 4AT.

Harborne Kitchen, Harborne

Our first trip to Harborne Kitchen is so good that we book straight back in for two weeks time, when my Mum is in town. My Mum is nothing like Dad; no demands of tablecloths and central heating in the height of summer, just the simplicity of a good dinner. And I know she’ll love it here – as I do – because it’s not stuffy, part of a new wave of restaurants who deliver high-end cooking without all the pretension. We’re Northern, so we like that a lot.

But back to the original meal here. A Saturday lunch on a day when British Summer Time was in full flow. And by that I mean it pissed it down, nonstop, all day. Even on such a miserable day, the dining room is bright and airy; a room big on natural light, walls in blue and white warmed by copper and beech. In case you can’t tell, I really love the decor.

With nowhere to be in any rush we take the full lunch flight of five courses for the far too low price of £35. We get nibbles of hot gorgonzola donuts that are as amazing as they sound, fermented carrots that are not quite as good, and fish skin crisps with a fancy rosemary vinegar spritzer. The latter convert me from fish skin hater to fish skin fan. They are pure salty goodness, and when combined with the vinegar transport me to the seaside. Bread follows; a house sourdough with whipped butter. We have since purchased this bread directly from them to eat at home. As should you. It really is that good.

The first proper course of lunch is my favourite. Jersey royals, wild garlic veloute, soured cream and herring roe. It’s a list of my favourite things to eat, with the exception of the roe which is hardly ever stocked at Moseley Co-op. It’s clean and precise, warming yet refined with every flavour distinct. Salmon next, cooked mi cuit, with lightly pickled cucumber and buttermilk. It’s light and fresh, the perfect fish course for what is already turning in to a lengthy lunch.

Duck liver parfait is gunned on to a shard of cracker and topped with crisp chicken skin. The liver is light in texture and big on offal flavour, with the addition of cherry providing enough acidity to cut through the richness. It’s pretty much perfect in my eyes.

The use of offal follows through to our lamb main which has slivers of tongue, cuts of neck fillet, and rolled shoulder meat. With this is smoked potato, olive purée, lovage purée, radish, sheeps curd and spiced aubergine. Still with me? Good. It’s a lovely bit of cooking, but far too generous in size even for me.

We get to watch some Kitchen wizardry with the first of the desserts. The pastry chef uses liquid nitrogen to turn an orange into flaky bits of frozen heaven in front of us. Along with the yogurt sorbet it’s a perfect palate cleanser for the last course. Milk and honey in various forms finishes us off. It is incredible, especially the honeycomb and the honey parfait, the milk ice cream and the dehydrated sheets of milk. It’s all incredible. Just go and thank me later.

Back into the time machine and the Sunday lunch two weeks later confirms that Harborne Kitchen is my favourite place to eat. Without going into the same detail as above we have an amazing confit chicken dish with black garlic, roast dinner with beef and Yorkshire puddings, all finished off with gooseberries and nettles for dessert. My Mum loves it. Of course she does; you only have to look at me to see she is a woman of taste. Harborne Kitchen can do no wrong; Birmingham is full of great places to eat, but for me there is nowhere better.

Harborne Kitchen is, unsurprisingly, based in Harborne at 175-179 High Street, B17 9QE. Check out their website here.

Zindiya, Moseley

I’m welcoming the Indian street food movement currently sweeping Birmingham (and the rest of the UK) with open arms. I’m lucky enough to have one of the very best “streatery”s right on my doorstep in Moseley; Zindiya. It’s versatile, vibrant food served up in a cool, relaxed setting, with the small plates meaning you can spend (and eat) as much or as little as you want.

I’m a little bit obsessed with India. I’ve been three times, and I’m counting down the days until my next visit in November. It’s an incredible country where I’ve had some incredible experiences. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve come very close to shitting myself in the back of a rickshaw. And I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it: the diverse and welcoming people, the vibrant streets, the stunning landscapes and landmarks. And the food. Of course I love the food.

In comparison, Indian food at home rarely comes close. It’s all too often heavy, greasy and stodgy; the same boring sauces trotted out over and over again. So I’m welcoming the Indian street food movement currently sweeping Birmingham (and the rest of the UK) with open arms. Places like Indian Brewery, Raja Monkey and (arriving soon) Mowgli are repping Indian street food all over the city, but I’m lucky enough to have Zindiya – one of the very best “streatery”s – right on my doorstep in Moseley.

I loved this place as soon as I walked in. The decor is fun, colourful and kitschy, with the exposed brickwork, mismatched chairs and painted shutters throwing a not-even-trying-to-be-subtle nod to the Indian streets that inspired the place. It’s brilliant, transporting the mind and spirit (though sadly not the body) far away from the grey streets of Birmingham.

The cocktail menu has been curated by Birmingham bartender extraordinaire Rob Wood: a sure sign of quality. Limeis the best of the four we try; tangy lime pickle cordial, fresh lemons and limes combine with Finlandia Vodka to give a sharp, complex flavour. The Chai Wala, an ‘Indian’ take on prosecco which adds Chai bitters, is – unsurprisingly, as I love chai tea – another favourite of mine. We find From Ooty with Love (rose, strawberries) and Coconut Bliss (coconut, lime) a little sweet, but the quirky presentation is sure to appeal to the Instagram masses.

So on to the food; the main reason we are here. The dishes are smaller, lighter and fresher than your standard curry house; the idea is that you order a selection and share. We order far too much of course – we always do – but the menu is so full of temptation that I challenge you not do the same if you visit. I skip over some old favourites – pani puri, bhajis, fish amritsari and seekh kebab, to name a few – in favour of trying some of the more unusual dishes.

I’m a committed carnivore but I only ate meat once when I spent a month in India, and because the veggie options are so good I didn’t miss it at all. Sadly this is rarely the case in the UK, so it was a pleasant surprise to notice that we had inadvertently chosen an almost entirely vegetarian meal (bar one portion of chicken tikka which my boyfriend has dubbed “the best chicken tikka in Birmingham”). I’m pleased to say that this mostly-meat-free meal did not disappoint.

Papri Chaat is my highlight of the night. Pops of crispy dough wafers nestle amongst chickpeas, potatoes, yoghurt and tamarind chutney, giving a perfect contrast of texture. The spicing is beautiful – all depth rather than heat – giving the dish a complex flavour that demands another mouthful. It’s absolute heaven in a dish, and a bargain at only £4.

A generous trio of dosas (£6.50) come with your choice of filling (Masala Aloo on this occasion), sambhar and coconut chutney. They’re excellent, as are the deceptively named Hara Bara kebabs (£7) – not kebabs at all but vegetable patties often served as a streetside snack in the Punjab.

We’re so full that I can’t give the paneer kati roll (£6.50) the attention it deserves, but my boyfriend finishes it off with pleasure. He was reluctant to order the Okra fries (£3) – branding the vegetable “disgusting” – but when faced with Zindiya’s crisp, beautifully seasoned rendition he was rapidly converted. He’s wrong a lot; don’t hold it against him. One thing he was right about was the chicken tikka though. It’s moist, fragrant and thoroughly delicious.

Zindiya is really bloody brilliant, and I reckon it’s pretty perfect for any occasion. It’s versatile, vibrant food served up in a cool, relaxed setting, with the small plates meaning you can spend (and eat) as much or as little as you want. It may be 4 months until I land in my beloved India again, but until then I’m very, very lucky to have Zindiya’s amazing street food less than half a mile from my door. Go there, and go soon – it’s a lot cheaper than a plane ticket.

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

 

Bloom, King’s Heath

Listen up, King’s Heath-le people. A new cafe has sprung from the ground on Poplar Road, bringing with it everyone’s favourite combination – coffee and brunch. 

True to it’s name, inside Bloom abounds with plants and succulents. Set against the minimalist grey, white and wood inferior it’s all very Swedish and swoon-worthy. I love it. 

Coffee takes a while to arrive, but all is forgiven once it appears. I ask for sugar out of habit, but realise upon tasting that it’s good enough not to need it; it’s rich, smooth and perfectly balanced. 

I’m pleased to see the brunch menu doesn’t stray towards standard Instagram-hipster brunch fare; only one dish on the menu features the much loved/loathed avocado. With just six options (not counting toast), it is short, but the choices are varied and interesting and I like the confidence implied. 

Even with a choice of six, I struggle to choose (disclaimer: this may be because I’m an indecisive shit) and would happily have tried every dish. The portobello mushrooms, served with truffle dressing, cashew cream, sourdough and smoked potato broth is a dish I will definitely return for. Today, however, I am sharing with my funghi-hating boyfriend so we opt for duck hash (sweet potato, spring greens, crispy shallots, fried duck egg and duck stock) and pork belly (Boston baked beans, sage aoili and charred polenta). 

I start with Bloom’s riff on pork and beans. Tried and tested flavours, yes, but Bloom absolutely do them justice here; it’s all nicely balanced and seasoned. My only gripe with the dish was that the pork fat doesn’t seem to have been rendered properly, meaning there was an occasional mouthful of mushy fat. Regardless, I was still reluctant to surrender the other half to my other half. 

All the components of the duck hash are things I love, so I was expecting to be blown away by this dish. Sadly, I felt that the execution was slightly lacking; it seemed generally underseasoned and the water given off by the greens and sweet potato meant that the sauce became too diluted. I’ve heard some rave reviews about this dish though, so it could be down to teething problems – our visit was their second Saturday trading. 

At £9 per dish, it’s not the cheapest brunch around, but if they work to get the cooking of these dishes spot on then I’d say it’s £9 absolutely well spent. Will I return? Certainly for the coffee (you should visit for this alone), and probably for the food; I’d like to eat there again once they’ve settled in.

Not quite in full bloom yet, but definitely a budding star; this is exactly the sort of place King’s Heath needs. I hope they do well. 

Visit Bloom at 32 Poplar Road, King’s Heath, B14 7AD. 

Rum tasting at The Plough, Harborne

It may be due to the brief spell of sunshine the U.K. is currently snatching (last week we were hotter than Spain, don’t you know?! In your face, Costa del Sol. We don’t need you anymore. Welcome to Costa del Brum), but rum is definitely having a moment. 

In the past month alone I’ve been to two rum festivals and drunk more rum cocktails than I can count (especially after a few rum cocktails). 
But probably the most interesting rum-based activity I’ve undertaken recently is a rum tasting evening at The Plough. Along with most of Birmingham I love the Plough but until now, I’ve never made it to one of their spirit master classes – run by Spit Wine School – so I was pretty excited to get all education-y and learn more about rum than that (as the great MJ once said) it don’t matter if it’s black or white. That song was definitely about rum, right…?

Our guide on this voyage of rum discovery was Tom Bartram, who has spent over 10 years working in the drinks industry and was clearly incredibly passionate about the spirit. Over the course of the evening he guided us through a tasting of seven different rums, whilst also giving us the low-down on the history and distilling process of pirate water (note: this is definitely not the technical term). To prove I was listening and not just getting pissed, let me hit you with a fact: the origin of the word rum isn’t entirely clear but many think it was first used around 1650, and derived from ‘rumbustion’, a slang word for ‘uproar’. Judging by my behaviour after a few too many rums, I’m happy to go with this explanation. 

As I might have already mentioned, I’ve drunk a lot of rum recently, but it’s one of the spirits I probably know least about. We tried a range of rums such as the Cuvée de L’Ocean, an “Agricultural rhum” with an almost tequila-ish vibe, a darker rum with a hint of whisky to it’s character, and (my favourite by far) the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva which had a creamy, banoffee flavour. Throughout the tasting I was amazed at the variety there was within the spirit; it’s something you just don’t appreciate when your only experience of rum is the standard brands.

The spirit masterclass was a brilliant insight into the world of rum and I left feeling a lot more knowledgable (as well as pretty tipsy – maybe not recommended if you have a big day at work coming up). Who says you can’t drink and learn at the same time? The evening costs only £17 and (let me hit you with another fact here) as rum was worth more than it’s weight in gold at one point, I reckon that makes it an absolute steal. Cheers!

Thank you to The Plough for having me. Details of all Spit Wine School classes can be found here.

The Plough Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shibui Supper Club at Rofuto, Fiveways

Let’s get it out there straight away. Birmingham is not known as the prettiest of cities. It doesn’t have the gleaming skyline of London or the dreaming spires of Oxford. Birmingham, I love you to bits, but you’re not going to win beauty pageants any time soon.

So excuse me for being slightly cynical before I visited Rofuto’s skyline restaurant, located at the top of the Park Regis hotel at Five Ways. I mean, do I really want to eat my dinner whilst looking out over the the gritty landscape of Digbeth, or the snaking grey of Bristol Road? There’s a reason postcards of Birmingham ain’t a thing, people.

But, cynical as I was, an invite to Shibui supper club was enough to tempt me up to the 16th floor. Held every bank holiday Sunday, priced at £40, the supper club is an opportunity for Rofuto to show off it’s favourite dishes via a five course taster menu, all set to the background of chilled out funky house from a live DJ.

As usual I’m the last to arrive, but I still have time for a cocktail at the bar. The interior is beautiful; slick and sophisticated with every detail thought out, and my cocktail is just as good.

After the obligatory edamame beans, our first course ‘proper’ is a perfectly executed sushi platter. Kinpira Hosomaki, my favourite, encases carrot, lotus and salsify salad in perfectly cooked rice and is a bite of pure bliss. Almost as good is Rofuto Futomaki, a fat roll of yellowfin tuna, salmon, Inari-sweetened tofu, avocado and cucumber. The quality of both is a clear reflection of the skills of their sushi chef.

Next are pulled pork and kimchi gyoza and prawn spring rolls. The prawn spring rolls are fantastic, a million miles away from the Chinese takeaway imagining. A light, crisp shell surrounds a tender prawn filling; I’m happy to report that unlike most prawn spring rolls, the filling retains more than a passing resemblance to it’s original form and flavour. Take note, dodgy spring rolls of Brum. This is how it should be done. The pulled pork and kimchi gyoza are pleasant, though I expected much more of a kick from the kimchi so I was slightly underwhelmed.

Our third course is a plate piled with mixed vegetable and tiger prawn tempura. Good tempura is a thing of beauty, and my god, this is good tempura. The ultra-light batter gives way with a satisfying crunch, yielding insides of plump, meaty prawns and fresh, al dente vegetables. If I didn’t know there were two more courses on the way, I could have devoured another plate with ease.

Japanese beef korokke and lapsang souchong tea yuzu duck form the main course. Prior to this evening I had no bloody clue what a korokke was, so I had no idea what to expect. What arrived were little breaded spheres of heaven; tender, melt in the mouth beef with a crisp outside, livened up with a kick of wasabi sharpness. These were so far up my street they could have delivered my post.

The duck was never going to beat those korokke, but it was cooked beautifully and given a very subtle smokiness from the Lapsang Souchong. If I was going to be picky, I would have liked the seasoning and flavours to be stronger, but when paired with the sensational duck egg fried rice I found myself constantly going back for more.

By this point, we were full of lovely food and wine, so a light(ish) dessert was definitely required. A gloriously wobbly, delicately flavoured hibiscus pannacotta hits the spot. With a robe of colourful, exotic fruits and sugar crisp, it completely outdid all of us in the style stakes.

And so, full and content, we enter the lift and descend back to reality. An exceptionally good supper club; great food and attentive service, at a totally reasonable price. I’d definitely recommend this as a way to try out some of Rofuto’s best dishes.

Oh, and the elephant in the room. That view. I WAS WRONG; I take it all back. It might just be the wine talking, but from this height the city looks almost beautiful.

Okay, it’s not quite Tokyo but Birmingham, you ain’t so bad after all.

Thank you to Adam Hayes and Rofuto for the invite. My honest opinion as usual. 

Find Rofuto at 160 Broad Street, B15 1DT. WEBSITE.

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