Knife & Fork: Shabab

I went with a couple of friends to Shabab on the Ladypool Road, Sparkbrook, two weeks ago and had a very enjoyable evening. The premises sit opposite Al Frash, reviewed recently, and this restaurant is thought of by many dedicated Balti aficionados as the second of the “Big Two” Balti houses in the Triangle. Like most of the others in the area Shabab is very much a family affair, presided over by Zaf the owner/chef.

The staff offered a warm welcome and looked after us politely while tables were rearranged and tidied up from a previous large party which had just left on what turned out to be a pretty busy Friday evening. As with Al Frash, the rule here is BYO and we had prepared ourselves with several bottles of beer and two bottles of wine to cover all eventualities. The beer was Marston’s Pedigree at £1.57 per bottle (from Tesco) and our wine selection Serena Sauvignon Blanc (from Majestic Wine Warehouse) at £9.99 and Piper’s River Vineyard Tasmania Chardonnay (from Aldi) at the same price. Each of these did the job very satisfactorily, the beer refreshed, the Serena was fruity, dry, and cut through the spicier dishes very well while the softer, creamier Chardonnay went well with the milder dishes and desserts.

Zee, our waiter, and one of the family, was charming, knowledgeable, and entertaining. He told us quite a bit about the restaurant’s individual approach to making a good curry paste while managing not to give away any trade secrets.

We opted for a combination of starters for sharing, settling for Fish Pakora, Onion Bahjee, Chicken Pakora, Mixed Grill and the Tandoori Fish. This turned out to be a well-balanced combination of flavours, spices, and textures. They were perfectly cooked, not greasy, not too dry, and tickled out palates in anticipation of the treats to come.

For our main courses we selected the Balti Chicken, Chicken Bhuna, and Chicken and Meat Balti, with a side dish of Mushroom and Spinach, individual helpings of Pilau Rice, and a Table Naan. We probably did not need the Naan bread but were so intrigued by the idea of one described as being big enough for a whole table full of people that we just had to see it and try it.

The Balti Chicken was very tender, the spice mix seemed just on the right balance.  The Chicken Bhuna had a good balance of spiciness and texture which did not so much attack the palate as tickle and caress it; not too greasy not too dry. The meat in the Chicken and Meat Balti turned out to be lamb (in a way, how could it not have been?), the chicken very tender, more or less melting in the mouth, the combination of herbs and spices providing an almost perfect piquancy. This was a strong enough curry but not one to leave the lips numb.  As elsewhere, the lamb was not uniformly tender but nevertheless generally pretty good. I certainly finished it all.

We nearly finished the Table Naan too. This lived up to its name.  We had been curious to know just how well it would fit its description. Well, when it was delivered to our table, we understood perfectly: it could easily have covered the surface of our table for four. It was enormous, was thinner and crispier than expected and certainly not doughy in any way, nor was it oily or greasy as we have experienced elsewhere. This was certainly a Prince of Naans.

Having something of a sweet tooth, I found it hard to resist dessert, as did my friends. The menu listed some intriguing titles such as Chocolate Concrete with Custard, Pingu described by our waiter as “Penguin”  - but we could not fathom that one out and opted for the Chocolate Concrete and Coconut Kulfi to be shared around once more.

The Chocolate Concrete was initially just as intriguing in reality as it was on the menu list. It turned out to be rather like a Ginger Chocolate Cake with proper custard.  My friends thought that perhaps it would have been better described as Chocolate Cement since it was softer and slightly fluid, more like a cement fondue. The Kulfi was definitely coconutty and extremely refreshing.

So, a delightful evening catching up with friends who enjoy a Balti as much as I do in decent, comfortable, clean, relatively unglitzy  surroundings, eating good honest food which was clearly prepared with care and skill. Definitely another one to recommend.

The bill for dinner for three came to £54, give or take a few pennies.

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


Shabab, Ladypool Road, Birmingham 01214402893