I often used to pass the Hen and Chickens pub on Constitution Hill – and keep walking. It was one of those places which, regardless of which name it was trading under, was not exactly enticing any time I walked past during the past twenty years. However, some months ago, a fellow Tweeter - @myJQ – recommended that I should stop being so timid and go and try one of their curries. He told me that they were really, really good.
Just before Christmas I had arranged to meet Andy Munro, our city Balti Guru, whom I have mentioned previously in reviews of Birmingham’s curry houses, and he was insistent that we should have our Christmas lunch at this very place. So, I had to go, especially now that I had someone to hold my hand, so to speak.
In the event, three of us met a week or so before Christmas and I have to say that everyone had been right. It’s actually a very enjoyable place to go and the curry is indeed pretty good. The unimproved interior is none the worse for that, having apparently escaped any misguided attempts at makeovers in what I imagine would be the past century or so. The staff seem to be very proud of that, and so were most of the customers that day. The clientele were an interesting and eclectic mix of what looked like office workers, business people, construction workers, and local residents. It all felt very comfortable.
The beer was splendid: my Christmas Ale was spicy, meaty, fruity yet hoppily bitter – just what you want at that time of year. The wine my colleagues were drinking, a South American house Merlot, was doing the job for them, too.
I had been warned that the portions were very generous but I was doubtful when one of my companions suggested that we should have only one for the three of us. However, he was right and the Mixed Grill at £15 was excellent value and was just the right size for. I do have to admit that we also had a couple of portions of chips as well – another first for me. I would never have dreamt of accompanying a curry with chips – how déclassé, my dear! Somehow or other, the chips were just perfect as accompaniment. They were chunky, dry, satisfying.
The Mixed Grill itself was comprised of Fish Pakora, Chicken Tikka, Coriander Chicken, Shish Kebab, and Chicken “Lollipops”, all in a powerful but not overpowering sauce. To be sure, this was not the most subtle masala I have ever tasted but it seemed right for the day and for the occasion. We lapped it all up. My lips were suitably tingling without reaching that stage of numbness which can make a strong, basic curry more of a culinary commando combat course than a pleasant challenge to the taste buds.
So, if you are looking for a decent, honest curry without frills, in a genuine old Birmingham boozer with loads of character and you don’t want to break the bank, you could do much, much worse than pop in to the Hen and Chickens. Take a friend though, not for moral support but to help you eat the enormous portions.
The Hen and Chickens, 27 Constitution Hill, Birmingham B19 3LE. 0121 236 3121
#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman