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.

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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

Dishoom, Covent Garden

I love the idea of Dishoom; a place that pays homage to the old school Irani cafés of Mumbai (or Bombay, as it was then). Dining rooms of faded colonial elegance, buzzing with life, where people from all backgrounds gathered, bypassing social barriers or religious differences to unite over their desire for sustenance.

It’s a great concept for an eatery. And although Dishoom is a very Westernised, gentrified version of those Irani cafés, there’s a lot to like here (and the rate at which new outposts are cropping up indicates that people rather do).

The fit out is beautiful, with dark panelled walls, marbled tabletops and sepia tinted photographs on the walls. I’m sure a lot of money has been spent to make this place look as though it’s been untouched for decades. Due to unforeseen circumstances I’m dining alone this morning, so have the luxury of a deep leather booth all for me and my thoughts. For a generously priced £2.50 comes a glass of excellent chai which is refilled regularly, without once having to wave down a waiter. It’s richly spiced and warming, with just enough sweetness; a hug of a drink that more than makes up for the snow flurries I’ve braved on my way here.

I order the bacon naan roll, and it is very good. Admittedly, you can’t go too far wrong with freshly made naan, admirably sourced bacon from the Ginger Pig and smears of cheese and chilli tomato jam. It deserves all the very nice things people say about it, but at £5.50 I’m not sure of it’s value. I guess it all balances out if you get your money’s worth of that chai.

Although my dining companion couldn’t join me this morning, I order an extra dish in his honour. I wish I hadn’t bothered. The Akuri tastes as unappetising as it looks. The egg has collected into flabby little lumps, a result I would guess is due to too much time in the pan with too little fat. There’s a vague suggestion of spice and the occasional bite of soggy onion buried within. It goes mainly uneaten, unsurprisingly. The sweet buns are unremarkable, so I won’t remark, and the tomato was probably my favourite element of the dish.

A game of two halves, then, in regards to the food. The service meanwhile was polished and attentive throughout, without ever giving seeming as though they were trying to rush me out of my prime real-estate booth.

Had I ordered just the bacon naan and a chai, I would have walked out with change from a tenner and a glowing opinion of Dishoom. Damn my gluttony, and damn those rubbery, greying eggs. I may still return – I’ve heard good things about their main menu, particularly the black daal – but perhaps not in too much of a rush.

Dishoom has a number of branches around London, but I ate at the Covent Garden branch at 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2H 9FB. Website.

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

The Horseshoe Bar and Grill, Hall Green

In the two or so weeks since I ate at The Horseshoe I’ve sent three people to eat their mixed grill. It’s a recommendation that’s gone down well; one now skips the gym nearby to get his fix. I’m so proud. This verbal pyramid scheme is great in principal but not so good for my blog stats. I should probably share it with everyone, even if it means having to wait a little bit longer for my dinner.

And that mixed grill is definitely worth shouting about – it’s hands down the best in Birmingham. Fifteen quid will get you three types of chicken tikka, two types of kebab, lamb chops, chicken niblets, and a quarter of tandoori chicken. It’s all very good but ask for my opinion (and by reading this you indirectly are) and I’d pinpoint the achari tikka with the tang of pickle, and the green tikka with a chilli heat start and herbal finish. We go a little bit crazy over the lamb seekh kebab and full on bonkers over its chicken sibling. There’s very little to not like – the chicken niblets maybe at a push – but it’s all well executed. I gather that they’ve added prawns of recent. And that’s nice of them. Just as long as they’ve left my chicken seekh and green tikka untouched.

It’s at this point that I should point out that they offer two menus; the one with the mixed grill, that you should order from, and a European menu that only a moron would consider eating off. Given that the chefs here are Indian, asking for Italian is practically racist, and besides, I’ve eaten at Jimmy Spices; I’d never put myself through that again. The curries we have are good, maybe not the gloriously high standard of the mixed grill but certainly very good. My boyfriend is a bit methi chicken barmy and here the fenugreek flavour takes its time to fully unveil. When we finally get there it is worth it. I like the lamb a little bit less. There is nothing wrong with it, I just only like it and it loves me. I have a similar problem with ex boyfriends and Jesus.

I love yellow dhal so I insist on ordering it, even though it’s definitely too much food. It’s thick and spicy, like Mel B, and we load it on buttery paratha. These finish us off; nowhere to go but bed with no hope of dessert.

Service was so good it’s impossible to think that we are in a pub in Hall Green, but I’m glad we are given that I now know it to be a nice stroll from Moseley. It was impossible not to be impressed with The Horseshoe. It’s the kind of place you’d gladly tell your friends to go to, which I already have, and now I’ve put my love for it in writing, you really have no excuses not to give it a go.

The Horseshoe Bar & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Indian Street Food Class, The Spice Club

As you can probably tell from my blog, I have a massive love for Indian street food. Since moving to Moseley my tried and tested hangover cure has become chicken tikka and aloo tikki chaat from Zindiya, eaten cross-legged on the floor so we can watch TV without staining the sofa. Trust me, it works.

But despite my adoration for the cuisine of the sub-continent, I have managed to reach my 26th year with pretty much zero knowledge of how to cook it. My repertoire stretches as far as a single chickpea and potato curry; a damn good one, I’ll admit, but after the billionth time it can get a little dull. So when I heard from the lovely Han Eats that Monica was bringing her The Spice Club cookery classes to Birmingham, our names were the first on the list.

The class lasted 3 hours and the format went a little like this: cook delicious Indian street food dish, eat said street food dish, cook another delicious Indian street food dish, eat second street food dish, leave happy and very, very full. Perfect for people like me, who can’t go more than about an hour without stuffing something in my gob. And after a slightly heavy Friday night, I was thrilled to see that the first dish we would be cooking was my favourite hangover-busting aloo tikki chaat (spiced potato cakes on a bed of chickpea curry), followed by chicken Kathi rolls (paratha filled with sukha chicken and a pickled lime and onion salad).

Monica was a fantastic teacher, making everything seem simple and giving us plenty of time saving tips along the way; for example, did you know that microwaving garlic bulbs makes them super easy to peel? With a small class size of six everyone was able to get involved in each part of the dishes, whatever their cooking experience, and it felt more like cooking with a group of friends than a formal class.

And the results? Stunning. Even with our amateurish skills we managed to produce some incredible tasting food, and after trying the same dishes on a recent trip to India it’s clear that Monica has absolutely nailed her recipes. They were so good that I recreated both at home the very next day with the help of the recipes we were given. I’ve been practising ever since and my parathas are slowly getting rounder.

If you’re even slightly into Indian food (or want to discover it!), I’d definitely recommend giving one of The Spice Club classes a go. It was such a fun way to spend a morning, and I came away with amazing memories as well as recipes. Monica runs a variety of classes, including vegan options, so you can choose the vibe that suits you (Kashmiri cookery class, I’m coming for you next).

I’m not gonna lie, I’ll still be phoning in the Aloo Tikki Chaat from Zindiya when I’ve overindulged in gin, but from now on my hangover free days will be spent in the kitchen making my own.

The class cost £55 and was held at the Kitchen Food School in Digbeth and ran from 11-2. Details of upcoming Birmingham classes can be found here. If you fancy trying some of Monica’s recipes, check out her Spice Diary blog.

Masala Kraft, Mumbai

We’d had a long day; an early flight, travelling and the onset of a cold had all taken it’s toll so upon reaching the luxury of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel we couldn’t bear to leave again. Downstairs it was then, to Masala Kraft (one of the hotel’s numerous restaurants) for some ‘North Indian cuisine’.

The service throughout our meal was impeccable – polite down to the last detail – and the room, all dark wood and burnt oranges, is undeniably handsome. But there’s one big problem; there is absolutely no vibe whatsoever here. Zero. Nada. Nil. And that’s important. A restaurant shouldn’t feel clinical or unmemorable. If it does, then – even if the food is incredible – I’m unlikely to want to return. And the food wasn’t even incredible.

To begin comes a platter of poppadom shards, mixed with what look like prawn crackers, without any of the prawn flavour. It’s a bizarre plate, probably containing no more than one or two poppadoms if pieced together, and about seven of the prawn-crackers-that-aren’t-prawn-crackers. It’s a total over complication. Just give me a bloody poppadom please, with some decent chutney and pickles. I’ll be much happier.

We skip starters, though I note they are priced at almost the same cost (if not more) than some of the mains. Our first choice of main is a chicken pulao. a Biriyani-esque dish of rice layered with chicken curry, priced at 1750 rupees (excluding tax). Once you factor in that tax, it works out to be around £26. FOR SOME RICE AND CHICKEN. It’s good, and fairly plentiful, but in no way special enough to warrant that price tag; a few days later, a biriyani at least as good costs just 150 rupees.

Back at Masala Kraft I fancy dhal makhani, but can’t quite stomach paying near to £15 for it; I reckon if you gave me fifteen quid I could make enough dhal to feed every guest in the Taj. Instead I opt for Baigan Bharta; tandoor cooked aubergine cooked down with onions and tomatoes to a thick sauce. It’s £17, doesn’t come with rice (that’s an extra £7.50, thanks), and a huge disappointment, gaining the dubious award of being the only dish during our whole trip with no depth of flavour at all. It’s flat and thoroughly, thoroughly boring. I douse it with the £5 raita to try and give it some personality.

We drink two glasses each of Sula, an Indian wine that we become extremely familiar with over the two weeks; my Mum bloody loves a wine. By the glass it’s a little more that we’ve paid elsewhere for the same wine, but considering the location that’s to be expected. It’s better than the alternate option of foreign wine; I understand mark-up is necessary (as well as customs charges) but it seems crazy that a bottle of wine which you can pick up in Tesco for under a tenner appears on the menu at around £75.

We knew that the bill would be a lot, but £110 to me seems extortionate for the amount we had (two mains, rice, naan, raita and four glasses of wine). Especially when you compare it to the full tasting menu we had at Indian Accent a few days prior, which came to just under £170 including a bottle of the same wine we drunk this evening.

I’m not going to slate Masala Kraft for being so eye-wateringly expensive; it’s in the Taj, so of course it’s pricy. I don’t mind paying a lot for a meal (being able to eat out is what gets me through the day job) but it HAS to be worth the money, and this is where Masala Kraft fails miserably; I didn’t walk away excited about the food or the experience in any way.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone dine here when, for a fraction of the price, you can eat as well – or better – at any number of places in the city. Be adventurous, and leave Masala Kraft to those dining on expenses.

Masala Kraft is located inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba, Mumbai.

Masala Kraft - The Taj Mahal Palace 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