Monthly Street Food Markets brings culinary delights to Kings Heath

Every second Saturday of the month, Kings Heath’s Village Square is turned into a street food market. With plenty of street food on offer, I made the trip up to Kings Heath to see what it was all about. Originally organised by Brum Yum Yum, the Kings Heath BID now organises the market. The market is not just about good food, but also the entertainment which creates a great atmosphere. There were new vendors, as well as long-time street food vendors, ready to serve customers with sweet or savoury dishes. Street Kitchen Brothers’ Director Chris Butcher spoke about what attracted his company to the market. “It’s got a fantastic reputation. We’ve seen it promoted and it’s an up and coming event, which is superb. Even though the weather is really grim, I think we’ll do very well today. “We want to broaden people’s horizons a little bit. You can get standard Greek food from any restaurant and get nice stuff abroad, but we have our own twist on the Greek classics and we’ll do some beautiful stuff today.” The Spice is Right Director Ams Singh, with his team of Sous Chefs served up a creative samosa and maple syrup and sweet chilli chicken dish, which tasted amazing when I came across their stand. Ams said “Having fun and experimenting with the spices that are around us all the time. “I have a Punjabi background and a lot of heritage there, so it’s about using what I have learned from my mum and getting it into chicken especially because it absorbs anything and it returns great results.” Chef James Walter, who travelled from Stoke-on-Trent to be at the Street Food Market, added “My brother-in-law saw it on the TV and we decided to come down and see what the locals were raving about. “It’s all about having some good food and a few cheeky wines along the way.”

Words and pictures by Umar Hassan

If you are interested in seeing what went on at the market, watch this video here. Follow me on Twitter at @umarjourno for all things news and journalism related.

 

Knife & Fork: St Paul's House

I thought that since the new Saint Pauls House boutique hotel, restaurant and bar had opened recently and was promoting itself as the new “happening place” to eat and drink in the Jewellery Quarter, I would book a table for two and try it out. On entering, it is apparent that little expense has been spared in converting this space into something which is light years away from the not-very-appealing boozer that it used to be in its period as The Ropewalk. The ambience is reasonably welcoming though perhaps a bit confusing as to where to go or whom to speak to in order to confirm a booking. It is all perhaps just a bit overdesigned in some respects. It felt a little as if the establishment was making a major point about being different and a bit chi-chi. Anyway, we were taken to our table in a very quiet dining room where only one other table was occupied. That in itself was not a great problem as I imagined that we would probably receive very attentive service as a consequence.

The furniture is comfortable and welcoming although I was a bit at a loss as to what the visual relationships were between the tables and chairs – or the rest of the décor for that matter. It did not have the feel of a really integrated interior, but currently that’s not entirely unusual in establishments which are trying to make a statement.

All food and drinks on the menu looked quite interesting to begin with, possibly a little, shall we say, pretentious, but inviting enough. We shared the fish board to begin with followed by our main courses. I had the Dual of Lamb and my companion for the evening chose the Minute Steak, both of which we requested to be “pink”. I selected a bottle of Rioja – Villa Pomal Centenario - from the relatively small but very intriguing looking wine list. It looked as if it had been chosen with some thought.

While we waited we were offered a little basket with a very generous two pieces of bread and a small pat of butter. When the wine came I am sorry to say that the lovely and delightful, but ridiculously undertrained, waitress had to admit that she didn't know quite how to use the Waiters Friend bottle opener. The upshot was that, to avoid more embarrassment than was already evident, I opened the bottle of wine myself. Perhaps this did not presage well for the rest of the evening. I do not understand how a manager can put any member of staff out there in front of customers without proper basic training.

The fish board comprised of a “Crab Roulade” (in reality a bowl of shredded crab) mixed with I'm not quite sure what but it seemed to be mayonnaise and rather a lot of vinegar, not tasting much of Crab at all. There were a few slices of Smoked Salmon and you can't really go wrong there I suppose, Pickled Cucumber “Salad” which tasted mainly of vinegar, Seaweed Crisps which were hard then teeth-stickingly chewy and - heavens above - Lobster Bisque Popcorn. Well, that was a bit of a surprise. Yes, I know we read it on the menu but, really, why would anyone want popcorn to begin with let alone lobster bisque flavoured popcorn? I cannot really describe the taste accurately, but let’s try: cardboard with the vaguest taste of lobster and thus very strange. I thought this was a bit of a disaster and a quite unnecessary inclusion.

The crab was rather mushy, tasting mainly of vinegar and a little mayonnaise, hardly anything of crab overall although the texture was most definitely crab-like.

The Minute Steak, instead of being pink, was moderately well done, not so well done that it was like a cinder, but it was certainly not pink. Nevertheless, it was tender, tasty, and enjoyable. The accompanying Confit Tomatoes and Lamb’s Leaf greens were quite delicate, the Bearnaise Sauce delicious, but the Triple Cooked Chips rather mushy. My lamb, on the other hand, was delightful. The medallions were beautifully pink, very tasty and succulent; even the rib which looked a trifle overdone turned out in reality to be quite delicious, the accompaniments were tasty, the side order of Sweet Potato Fries were a little bit overdone and quickly turned mushy but, I have to confess, tasted pretty good.

Why is everybody doing salted caramel?

We then moved on to desert. The Sticky Toffee Pudding which we shared had most definite overtones of salted caramel. Why is everybody doing salted caramel at the moment, please? Doesn't anyone have the wit not to? Must every kitchen with pretensions feel the need to follow the culinary in-crowd?

Having said that, it was actually very pleasant and really enjoyable! It was well enough presented with slices of peach, three raspberries, and a scoop of ice cream.

The wine was not perhaps what I think of as a typical medium to full-bodied example of Rioja with those familiar and meaty vanilla and oaky overtones, smooth, velvety on the palate. This one was a bit on the thin side - not unpleasant, but not particularly flavourful either. I couldn't say that it was bad but it was a little, shall we say, underwhelming, especially for the meat dishes.

Overall it was not exactly an exciting or particularly satisfying culinary experience. This is a new establishment and may well need time to bed in yet, but, on the basis of this experience, it was rather disappointing. The management has stated that it aims to bring something of Shoreditch to Birmingham. Whether Birmingham actually needs Shoreditch is perhaps a question worth asking but - on the basis of this experience - it seems that some of the negative aspects of Shoreditch have been brought to Birmingham, rather than the positive. The menu was not without ambition but not terribly well thought out and, regrettably, not well executed in reality. I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps there is an underlying presumption that the word Shoreditch is all that anyone needs in order to impress in Birmingham.

My companion for the evening is someone who, like me, enjoys food, has eaten extensively around the world in all sorts of restaurants from the humble wayside café to the Michelin starred establishment. Her reaction: at best, 6 out of 10 and I think that's fair. I normally do not award stars or marks out of 10. It’s not the way I generally think about food but, on this occasion, I am stumped for words which would explain adequately the quality of the food and the overall experience of dining at St Paul's House.

I appreciate that this was a quiet night with only three tables occupied in the whole restaurant and it is still early days. I do wish the enterprise all the very best for the future but I think to make a real mark in Birmingham it is going to have to work very, very hard to provide a much better experience than this and one which is worth the money. Just being a new face in the Jewellery Quarter isn’t enough.

Cost for two, including wine £76

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

@BrumFaves

St Paul’s House, 14 St Paul’s Sq, Birmingham B3 1RB. 0121 272 0999

 

 

Knife & Fork (Chopsticks): Noble Seafood Restaurant, Shanghai

Some months ago I wrote about eating out in China and Australia, recording some of my culinary experiences during a working visit last year. Recently I was in China again to fulfil my duties as a Visiting Professor at Nanjing University of the Arts and undertake a few other interesting and enjoyable tasks. No business meeting in China is complete without lunch or dinner as a conclusion. There were several of these during my trip which was very much one of those living-out-of-a-suitcase experiences. The longest stay in any hotel room was three nights and I never, during the two weeks, actually managed to empty my bags properly.

The cities visited were Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou, each with a different kind of cuisine. Shanghai of course is very much the most cosmopolitan of them all withal sorts of international as well as regional cooking available. I find that my colleagues and friends quite like to take me to impressive European-style restaurants when I am there but that’s not why I go to Shanghai; it’s Chinese cooking that I want to try. As always, my preference is to wander the streets and find a decent looking, clean neighbourhood restaurant and try the food there. Often enough there is no English menu but that just means looking to see what the locals are eating and pointing at it. Easy, really, and it occasionally results in a few surprises.

That said, one of the best places in the city is Noble Seafood Restaurant which is conveniently situated in the same building where I often have meetings and, this time, where I was teaching a Masterclass. Consequently I was taken there twice – and I didn’t complain. The setting is indeed somewhat noble, being decorated in a sort of mix of Olde Englishe and Louis Quatorze styles. The bone china crockery is very aristocratic looking and the cutlery would grace any English country house table. Somehow or other the silver plated chopsticks rest and the rosewood chopsticks themselves seem perfect in the setting.

The food is excellent, tasty, gently spicy, and full of textures from the delights of shrimps which offer substance, flavour, and bite to the saffron rice and noodles of many sorts which just glide into the mouth once you master the exact amount of “slurp” required.

It is more or less in the Cantonese style, slightly spicy but not overly so. In Britain most of the Chinese restaurants we encounter are in the “Cantonese” category but it means something much more complex and varied in China.

Normally, friends are keen to show off a little and explain something about the food so, when I am with them, there is absolutely no stress in deciding what to eat: I am happy to leave it to them. “Surprise me”, I say. And they usually do.

Noble is always a delightful experience. Food tends to come in quick succession. The concept of separate courses seems strange to most Chinese and things will just be brought to the table as they are prepared so the diners can dip in and out of several dishes during the course of the meal. Highlights will usually be the Tofu, Crab with Crab Roe, sometimes with Quail’s Eggs. The Abalone is delightful, not rubbery or slimy, just tender and more or less melt-in-the-mouth. Sashimi is also a good bet here and what they describe as baked Codfish is always tender and flaky. I am not certain that it IS cod but it’s delightful anyway. The fish that I most enjoy is usually one of the freshwater types – pike, perch, carp - which always taste slightly “earthy”. It’s a strange taste for a Westerner at first but kind of grows on you and eventually is delicious. It may be baked, poached, or deep fried in a tempura batter. The bones are always a bit of a trial and require careful sifting but the delicacy of the flesh makes the trouble worth it. Other meats are available, of course, too and one of the best at this place is the Peking Duck and the Roast Goose with Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Desserts in China are sometimes a bit hit-and-miss. The commonest authentic ones tend to be based on some form of sweet(ened) bean paste, often wrapped in a pastry of some sort. To a Western palate these are not at all sweet but, given all the current angst around sugar consumption, probably not a bad thing. Certainly they are an acquired taste but soon become quite delicious in their own way. Alternatives usually include some form of ice cream and/or sorbet, not really so very “Chinese”, I would say.

As I mentioned once before, wine is usually only drunk sparingly, often there may be just one glass to accompany a whole meal. That may seem niggardly to a Westerner but is an indication of its value in Chinese society. That said, wine consumption has risen incredibly over the past five or six years to the point where even quite ordinary stuff is expensive by Western standards. At the top end, it is Chinese buying which has driven the market to ridiculous highs. Once upon a time, an “ordinary” wine drinker here might have aspired to save up a bit and enjoy a bottle from one of the better French houses but now it’s virtually out of the question.

The steadily rising affluence of the Chinese middle class makes them more and more interested in the trappings of a suitable lifestyle and overt wine consumption is one of the markers of this.

The local wine is getting better too. For a long time only Chinese wine was available in most restaurants and it was pretty poor stuff but now much of it is pretty reasonable. It may not be a match for anything imported yet, but give the vignerons time……………

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

@BrumFaves

 

Knife & Fork: Last Minute Comfort Eating - The Old Contemptibles

After being away for most of the Christmas and New Year break and having had a surfeit of eating out, January was largely a month of cooking and eating at home. As a friend of mine, a very good cook and gourmet, once said to me: why go to the bother of going out for the evening and paying through the nose for food which is no better (often inferior, actually) than you can make at home. That is a fair point: if you can cook well and enjoy doing so, it is all the harder to find really good professional cooking that is genuinely much better. If you are having a minor treat for a special occasion or just feeling a bit lazy, then it’s a different matter, hence my recent visits to a few of the city’s less pretentious restaurants and some of the decent pubs which serve perfectly decent food. The restaurants were, indeed, not pretentious which is as well, since they had nothing to be pretentious about - but they filled a gap on a couple of occasions when I had unexpected visitors, so there are no complaints. Pub grub usually falls into the category of comfort food and that is exactly what we often want in the depths of winter when we might not be worrying too much about the calories. What can be more comforting than a glass or two of a decent beer along with a generous portion of fish and chips or a good, tasty pie?

Some months ago I wrote about an evening at The Shakespeare on Summer Row and last week I popped into one of the sister pubs, The Old Contemptibles on Livery Street – one of my longstanding favourites.

I had a dear friend visiting and additionally a colleague arrived unexpectedly from China. Well, actually, his travelling companion was refused leave to enter the country at Heathrow and sent back, but that’s an entirely different story for some other time. Often visitors from China are not happy to eat Western food – yes, I know we are expected to eat Chinese food when we go there, so why shouldn’t they – but this friend is well travelled and sophisticated. Additionally, when he was a student at BCU he was happy to explore the city’s pubs along with his currently absent colleague.

We tried different beers as accompaniments to the standard Cod and Chips, Chicken and Mushroom Pie, and Steak and Ale Pie, all suitably large. For his small stature our Chinese visitor easily scoffed the fish and chips which he pronounced Very Tasty with a smack of the lips. My Chicken and Mushroom Pie was topped with a disconcertingly large Puff Pastry which I had some difficulty dealing with using anything remotely like good table manners but it was delightfully tasty, lightly seasoned, and full of good chunks of delicious chicken. The Steak and Nicholsons Ale Pie was full of texture and taste, with a good gravy, all inside a Long Crust Pastry which was unfortunately, but not disastrously, just a bit on the soggy side.

Our beers, Acer from Bristol Beer Factory (slightly spicy with a long finish), Uncle Sam from the Cotleigh Brewery (tasty, spicy, a bit strong on the aftertaste to want a second), and our old standby Nicholsons own Pale Ale which seems to go with damned near anything, were excellent accompaniments.

So, a short notice decision to go out rather than cook at home, a wish for reasonable winter comfort eating and drinking in a pleasant and convivial atmosphere, were all suitably catered for by The Old Contemptibles. It’s hard to believe that I lived in Birmingham for more than 14 years before discovering this place. Better late than never at all…..

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

@BrumFaves

Recipe: Toad in the Hole

Hello Brummies

If you suddenly found yourself single in the last week or two you will be surprised to learn that you are not the only ones.  February is statistically the most popular for the breaking up of relationships. Maybe it is the thought of Valentine's day and all that lovey-dovey stuff that breaks shaky relationships.

So Chef Nick has something to cheer you up.  Good stodgy comfort food idea for a winters night.  I think we can kick the diet into touch now, can't we?  Yup, and open the bloody wine while you are at it.

You will need:

  • 200 grams of plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml of milk.  I would recommend full fat for this.  You will taste the difference.
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Two good quality butchers sausages.  Can I recommend Aubrey Allen of Coventry.
  • Half an onion
  • Sticky brown sugar
  • Sweet red wine, like Mavrodaphne
  • Instant gravy (yeah, don't judge me)

Equipment:

  • Sauce pan
  • Oven proof dish
  • Mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Tongs
  • Green chopping board
  • Sharp veg knife
  • Baking tray
  • Pan stand or nice thick wooden board

Method:

  1. Set your oven to 200 degrees.  Place your sausages on a tray and bake for ten minutes or until they are just starting to brown a little.  At the same time add two die-sized cubes of lard to a baking dish and place it into the oven next to the sausages.
  2. While they are baking, place a green chopping board on a flat work surface over a damp cloth.  Finely slice half an onion.  Heat some oil in a sauce pan and add the onion.  Fry it until it is golden brown.  Add two heaped tablespoons of brown sugar and allow it to melt into the onions.  Add 125ml of red wine.  You don't need me to tell you what to do with the rest of it...
  3. Make up some instant gravy in a jug, make sure it is nice and thick.  Add it to the sauce pan.  Stir it in and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
  4. Remove the sausages from the oven and set them aside.  Turn your oven up to maximum so the oil in the baking dish gets very hot.
  5. Measure out the flour, oil and milk.  Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and add the milk and oil.  Mix them well and slowly mix in the flour until you have a nice smooth batter.
  6. Now the dangerous bit, please use extreme caution. Using a thick dry oven cloth remove the baking dish with the oil and place it on a pan stand or wooden board.  Add to it enough batter mix to fill it a quarter way (or slightly less).  Add the sausages using the tongs.  Carefully place it back in the oven and cook for a further ten minutes at 200 degrees.

Do NOT open the oven for ten minutes, or it will deflate.

Go listen to Morrissey or something.

7.  Now check the pudding by standing well back and opening the oven door an inch.  If it looks risen and nicely brown it is good to eat.  If not, give it another ten minutes.  As long as you keep the heat in the oven, or can see it through a window, you will be fine.

 Remove the Toad in the Hole from the oven using great care.  Place your oven dish on a cool plate and pour the gravy over the top.  Serve it up with the rest of the bottle of red wine.

Now, give Chef Nick a smile.

Enjoy!

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

Recipe: Deep South Ribs

Good day to you Brummies, and welcome back.

An announcement.  As you may be aware, Birmingham Favourites is slowing down it's production.  This is for several reasons. Firstly, we agree that it has served it's purpose in getting the ball rolling, in highlighting the best of the city.  Secondly, we all need to move on to other projects. [Nicely put - the Ed]

But, as it stands, you will be getting one post a month from me, henceforth.

Anyway, crack on, Chef..

So, today we are doing ribs again.  But better this time.  Now, for a good rib recipe, avoid the 'Mommy-bloggers' on Youtube, with their Stepford-perfect kitchens.  You need the Hillbillies,  You know the ones I mean:  bad teeth, dungerees, loaded shotgun propping up  a propane tank, mirrored shades.  The guys who look like a casting call for Deliverence.  There are your guys. Check out the Barbecue Pit Boys on YouTube.

You will need:

  • One rack of pork ribs per person
  • Salt and whole black pepper corns
  • Bay leaves, one palm full

For the sauce:

  • One can of tomatoes
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • One onion, finely diced
  • Brown sugar
  • Garlic and tomato puree

Finally, kit:

  • One baking tray
  • Metal foil
  • One saucepan and a spatula.

Cooking time, two hours.

That's all.

Right kids, set your oven to 180 degrees centigrade.  Remove your ribs from the packet and carefully rinse them under the tap. You may have to cut off any excess membrane from under the ribs.  Place the ribs in the tray.  Add a liberal sprinkle of salt, throw in a handful of black peppercorns and the same amount of bay leaves.  Add a pint of water and cover tightly with the foil.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for two hours.

When you get up to one and a half hours, start on the sauce.  Take a saucepan and add a little oil.  Add the finely chopped onions and fry them until brown.  Add three tablespoons of brown sugar and allow it to caramelize into the onion.  Now add two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and one of Dijon mustard.  Stir it in well. Mind your eyes, the fumes can be potent.  (Why not add a glug of Jack Daniels?)  Add the tomatoes and bring to the simmer.  Once they are bubbling away, add a tablespoon of tomato and/or garlic puree.  Stir in well and allow to simmer for five minutes.

Grab a thick, dry oven cloth.

Remove the ribs from the oven.  Carefully remove the foil, allowing the steam to escape.  Remember, steam burns hurt like hell.

Drain off the water and scrape off the Bay leaves with a knife.  Now slowly pour the sauce over the ribs, rubbing it on with the spatula.  Make sure it is nice and even. Replace the metal foil tightly over the ribs and place back in the oven for a further ten minutes.

Now go play your banjo for a bit.

When the ribs are ready, remove the ribs from the oven and use oven tongs to move them to your plate.  I always serve them with coleslaw or chips.

Now, they taste A-freaking-mazing.  Remember to keep paper towels handy.

And enjoy, Birmingham.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

Knife & Fork: (Curried) Hen and Chickens

 

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

@BrumFaves

Recipe: Toasted Spicy Nuts

Hey Birmingham

How is the Christmas shopping going? Anything wrapped yet

I have found a new recipe that is more addictive than crack.  To compliment your drinks, try Spicy Toasted Nuts.  Furthermore, they are really easy.

You need the following equipment:

  • One baking tray
  • One mixing bowl
  • One spatula

And the following ingredients:

  • One big bag of mixed nuts
  • Two tablespoons of sunflower oil
  • One tablespoon of salt
  • One teaspoon of sugar
  • One tablespoon of paprika
  • Half a teaspoon of cracked black pepper
  1. Set your oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix them well with the spatula.
  3. Pour them into a baking tray, lined with grease-proof paper and place in the oven.  Spread them out a bit.
  4. Bake them in the oven for five minutes then turn them over with the spatula.
  5. Bake for another five minutes then pour them into a bowl.  Allow them to cool and serve

They taste amazing, make you very thirsty, but they go great with beer or cider.

Enjoy your party!

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

Recipe: Thai Salmon Fishcakes

In the on-going party season you need to sometimes give something slightly bigger than scrawny chicken wings.  Especially when there is that much alcohol floating around.  I will be straight with you, that fish cakes take a bit of work, but you can freeze them, and defrost them on the day you need them, so plan ahead.

For equipment you need the following:

  • saucepan
  • colander
  • green chopping board
  • small knife
  • lime zester or fine grater
  • juicer
  • three bowls
  • large mixing bowl
  • grease proof paper
  • small ice cream scoop

Ingredients:

  • four large potatoes
  • two salmon fillets
  • two limes
  • three red chillies
  • plain flour
  • two egg whites
  • breadcrumbs
  • Thai seven spice

Firstly take your green board and place it over a damp cloth on a clean surface.  It is going to get a lot of use today.  Peel and chop the potatoes and add them to the pan. Add boiling water and cook until they are soft.

Next add the Salmon fillets to a baking tray and bake for twenty minutes at 180 degrees.  While they are cooking, take the lime and grate off the zest into a bowl.  Juice the remaining lime.  Now take the chilli and slit them lengthways.  Remove the seeds with the knife tip.  If you miss so much as one you are playing fish cake-Russian-roulette with your mouth.  Which can be fun if you have my warped sense of humour, but I digress.  Now dice the chillies very finely

Drain the potatoes and crush them up in a bowl.  Remove the salmon from the oven and slice it from the skin - throw that bit away.  Crumble the salmon into the potatoes, add the lime zest, juice and red chilli.  Now add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir the mixture up really well.  Let it sit in the fridge for half an hour or it will be too hot to handle.

Clear some space on a table, and lay down some grease proof paper.  And right about now, you want to switch on your fryer.

Using the ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of fish cake mix and place them on the paper.  Then, you can mould them into shape with your hands.  Set up three bowls, one with flour, one with egg whites and water mixed, and one with breadcrumbs and a little 7 spice. One at a time, roll them in the flour, then the egg white, and then the breadcrumbs.  Place them in the fryer carefully.  Repeat, until you have three balls in the fryer.  Fry them for about a minute, and repeat.

Drain them carefully and place them in a bowl.  And serve with any dip that you like.  I recommend homemade tartar sauce or Thai sweet chilli dip.

Enjoy the party, kids.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

Recipe: Southern Fried Chicken Wings

 

Hello noble people of Brum,

Well the party season is just around the corner, and you seem to have the drink end pretty much sorted out.  But what about party food?  Nibbles and buffet food?  We need that too or people will be trollied by the first hour.

Let's start with an old favourite.  Chicken wings are cheap, cook easy enough and are pretty tasty.  But if you add a dash of the deep south, they become a whole lot more.

You need:

  • One red board
  • One meat cleaver or very sharp knife
  • one baking tray
  • three bowls
  • a deep fat fryer

And the ingredients:

  • Chicken wings, as many as you want, really
  • Plain flour
  • Two egg whites and a little water
  • White breadcrumbs and southern fried chicken spices

Take the red board and place it over a damp cloth on a clean work top.  Make sure it is really secure for this one.  Take your cleaver or big-ass knife.  Cut the chicken wing at the pivot joint.  They sometimes take a little sawing so be very careful.  Seriously, now.

Add them to the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes at 180 degrees.  You may wish to check them with a knife for any pinkness.  Allow them to cool for about 15 minutes.

Take three bowls, add the flour to the first one.  Then separate two egg whites from the yolks and add the whites to a bowl.  Stir in a little water to dilute them.  In the last bowl, add a fifty-fifty mix of dried breadcrumbs and southern fried chicken spices.  You can buy these from the foreign foods section of most food stores.

Dip the wings into the flour first, then the egg white, followed by the breadcrumb mix, and add to the fryer basket.  Fry for about a minute and allow to drain.  Shake them a little and add them to a bowl.

I serve them with a dip, such as Thai sweet dipping sauce.  Or blue cheese dressing.  That's just yum.

That's it, give it a good.

Enjoy the party season, Brummies.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

Knife & Fork: Syriana

Birmingham’s own version of the Flatiron Building on the corner of Constitution Hill and Hampton St on the Jewellery Quarter/Newtown border has hosted a number of enterprises over the years but, to the best of my recollection, Syriana Restaurant seems to be one of those which have lasted longest and gives every indication of being a successful operation. I had often passed by and wondered what it might be like. Was it actually Syrian cuisine? What exactly IS Syrian cuisine?

Well, a few months ago, for want of anywhere else able to accommodate two of us at short notice on a Saturday evening, I found myself sampling the cooking which, it transpired, is actually Lebanese/Eastern Mediterranean in style. Given the chance nature of this experience, it turned out to be a very pleasant one. The frontage is not forbidding but neither particularly inviting, the interior is perfectly OK but not exactly luxurious, the place might benefit from a bit of a makeover or, at least, a freshen up: I am inclined to think that the décor is pretty well leftover from its previous incarnation as a straightforward Indian restaurant.

Nevertheless, that first culinary experience must have been good enough to warrant a return visit a few days ago.

The welcome was warm and pleasant, we were made to feel almost as if the staff knew us like regulars, which is always a good start. The place was warm, clean, and comfortable.

For my starter I had Wark Inab, vine leaves stuffed with tomato, rice, parsley and mint, with a lemon and olive oil dressing, served on a bed of green salad. These are similar to Greek Dolmades or Turkish Dolma.

My friend opted for Borak Jobneh, Lebanese pastry filled with mixed cheeses and parsley. The menu described the pastry as “freshly made” but in this case it was a bit leathery as if it had perhaps been reheated or maybe had been sitting for a while. However, once through the tough outer casing, the contents were somewhat delicious.

My vine leaves were a touch overexposed to the dressing but had a nice texture and were very tasty indeed. I began to conjure up memories of eating in warmer climes.

Our main courses were Farrouj Meshwi, a char-grilled baby chicken with baked vegetables, a helping of coleslaw on a lettuce leaf, and garlic sauce; and Lahm Bil Lkhodar, lamb cubes with a selection of seasonal vegetables and rice.

The chicken was full of flavour, a touch on the dry side, but enjoyable nevertheless. Although dryish, the texture nevertheless was good and whatever herbs had been used in the cooking gave a relatively subtle complexity to the dish. The garlic sauce was not particularly overburdened with garlic and, for my taste at least, might have befitted from an extra clove or two.

The cubes of lamb were described in the menu as “tender”. Often in eastern-styled restaurants lamb is a bit of a disappointment, being regularly tough and chewy. In this case “tender” did indeed mean tender. The meat may not quite have melted in the mouth but it was decently cooked and tasted very good indeed. The rice was fairly light and did not lie at the bottom of the stomach for ages afterwards, as can also often be the case.

This was not intended as a night for a special culinary treat. What we had hoped for was some decently cooked and presented Eastern Mediterranean food and we were not disappointed. After making my notes for this review I had a look on Tripadvisor to see what other people had thought of their visits to Syriana. “Variable” would be the best way to put it, some people almost raving about a wonderful night out while others were rather more negative in their criticism. All that tells me is that people come from all sorts of backgrounds and culinary experiences and with all sorts of expectations. Our experience on the evening was of a decent everyday restaurant which makes its customers very welcome and serves pretty decent food prepared and served in an Eastern Mediterranean style. The ethnic origins of that evening’s customers was pretty varied and that, for me, is often a good sign. These other customers gave every indication of thoroughly enjoying their experience.

On my first visit I had selected a bottle of Lebanese red wine from the restaurant’s small list and it was fine. My experience of Lebanese wines is that they can be pretty undistinguished or extremely good. Think of Chateau Musar, for example, in terms of the latter. There is not a whole lot in the middle: perhaps not entirely surprising, given the country’ recent war-torn history. Unfortunately, the really good ones like Musar are pretty expensive. On this occasion I took my own bottle of “The Parcel Series” Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand, which did the trick perfectly. This came from Majestic Wine Warehouse at a cost of £13.49 per single bottle or £8.99 if you buy two or more. I do hate that practice, not because it makes me buy more than I want (that is simply not possible where wine is concerned) but because it is frankly bloody irritating.

The cost for starters and mains for two diners was a very modest £27.30 plus tip and wine. Pretty reasonable, I would say, for a decent meal, and well worth making a booking.

Syriana, 1 Constitution Hill, Birmingham B19 3LG. 0121 236 9444

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

@BrumFaves

Cocktails with Nick : Espresso Martini

Good evening Birmingham.

What we are about to discuss is an important recipe. This is the secret drink that keeps bartenders wired and energized on even the toughest days.

You need the following equipment:

  • A martini glass
  • A cocktail shaker
  • An Espresso maker

Ingredients:

  • Good vodka
  • Espresso coffee

That's all.

Firstly, you need espresso coffee.  Make it in a proper espresso maker and allow it to cool.  Accept no substitute.  If you use Nescafé, we can't be friends.

Take the shaker and add five large chunks of ice.  Add 60ml of vodka and the same amount of coffee.  Shake well until condensation appears on the outside of the shaker.

Strain it into the martini glass and serve.

One sip is like doing the ice bucket challenge. But some nights, it is exactly what you need.  Trust me on this.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable

#ChefUnderTheTable

Cocktails with Nick: Mojito

Hello  Brummies, is it five o'clock yet?

Fresh out of Havana comes one of my all-time favourites.  The Mojito has a unique flavour, sweet and fresh, yet deep and mellow at the same time.  It is rum based, and everyone has their favourite.  I like Morgan's Spiced Rum, as it has a kick, and the spices add layers to the flavour.

So you start with a nice thick based glass.  You also need a muddler stick.  If you don't have one, just use the end of a rolling pin.  And a bar spoon.  Right, that's the kit.

For the ingredients you need:

  • Rum.  I recommend Appleton’s, Havana Club or Morgan's Spiced.  Bacardi, at a stretch.
  • Sticky brown sugar, nice and dark.
  • Fresh mint, nice big leaves
  • Fresh limes
  • Ice for crushing
  • A mixer, such as 7up or sugar syrup

Take a nice, wide, thick-based glass and, using the bar spoon, add a spoonful of brown sugar.  The darker and stickier, the better.  Add four or five large mint leaves. Carefully crush the mint into the sugar, this releases the flavour.  Cut a lime into wedges and add three to the glass.  Now crush them in too.

Add the rum, and we are talking 50ml as a bare minimum.  Make it 70ml, what the hell.  And stir well.

Take some ice cubes and crush them into tiny little pieces.  Pour them into the glass.  Decorate the edge of the glass with a wedge of lime placed over the ice and a few mint leaves arranged in a fan shape around the edge.

Enjoy, amigos. Hasta Manana

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable

#ChefUnderTheTable

Knife & Fork: Bacaba

Of all the unlikeliest places to find a really good restaurant, the New Birmingham Road in Oldbury is probably it but recently I had one of the most delightful culinary surprises in a while when I took up the invitation of Aram Jit Singh, co-owner of Bacaba, to have dinner in his recently opened enterprise. Having undertaken a complete refurbishment of the premises bought when a previous restaurant closed down, this restaurant and cocktail bar has been open since August 2015. A veteran of several other successful enterprises, some of them with his business partner, the Chef Indra Baluni, is to offer the highest standard of Indian cuisine with an international character.

The evening I went there was relatively quiet, the dining room at about half capacity so the engaging and enthusiastic Mr Singh had time to talk about his ambitions for the restaurant and his vision for providing the best food he can to the West Midlands. I wondered if the clientele tends to be very local but he told us of regular customers who come from as far away as Solihull as well as the city centre some eight miles away. Ever the canny businessman, he offers a pick up and drop service to local hotels and thus seems to be building up regular custom from travellers and visitors to the area as well.

I had wondered at one point if I might be on a fool’s errand driving that far out of town for a curry when there are so many Indian restaurants in and around the city centre. The drive, even allowing for terrible map reading and satnav (all entirely my fault), turned out to be well worth the effort.

We started with Poppadums in a basket form, filled with a Kachumber (cucumber) Salad consisting of chopped cucumber, red onion, tomato, green herbs, and a fairly gentle chilli sauce. These were refreshing, tasty, and nicely textured, just about right to prepare the taste buds for our starter. This was a shared Mixed Seafood Grill consisting of Fish Pakora, Salmon, Cod, and Jumbo Prawn, all gently grilled and covered lightly in a very gentle, subtle masala, brought sizzling in a flat iron dish to the table and accompanied by a simple green salad with a couple of slices of tomato. As far as we could detect, the masala consisted mainly of saffron, turmeric, lemon juice, chilli, and something else we could not quite decide on. This turned out to be powdered dried Mango which somehow imparted a simultaneous sweetness and sharpness. The helping was substantial, to the point that it might well have served at least one more person but, since my friend and I had both missed a proper lunch, we scoffed the lot.

This was a light and subtle yet substantial starter, sharp yet sweet, leaving us with just a hint of a tingle at the sides of our tongues.

For main course I had Nalli Gosht, a lamb shank, and my colleague the Patiala Shahi Macchi, a fillet of Tilapia in a masala sauce and roasted cumin seeds. This fish was very tasty, beautifully cooked “to the point”, and the sauce was very complex, being robust, full of flavour and subtle all at once, the roasted cumin seeds adding a little extra bite, so to speak. This was simply presented and garnished with sprinkled chopped herbs.

If the fish was simply presented, the lamb was even more so. The shank sat part in – part out - of its deep plate, ungarnished but sitting in a deep bed of creamy looking “chef’s special” sauce. My colleague remarked on how ordinary it looked but it was apparently intended to look very plain, as I discovered later in conversation. The chef’s view is that the lamb shank is its own garnish. While I think I might want to take issue with that, believing that a little sprig of parsley or coriander would have finished it off better, the sauce was one of the gentlest curries I have ever tasted, but rather complex and intriguing. It was cream based with a limited and subtle range of spices and a definite presence of almonds. This is the kind of cooking which reflects an Afghani influence in parts of India.

What seemed at first to be a gentle, almost bland sauce, gradually revealed some more lively elements. As an accompaniment for a lamb shank, this might not have seemed an obvious choice, but its slowly unravelling, complex warmth was easily a match for this one. The lamb itself just fell off the bone, was beautifully, slowly cooked and utterly tender: none of your traditional chewy curry lamb in this place.

The accompanying boiled pulao rice was delicate, light and airy, and the cheese naan was indeed cheesy without compromising any of the normal qualities of a naan. This, in fact, was a bit of a minor revelation. The idea of cheese naan seemed somehow slightly bizarre but the reality was delicious. This again was light and tasty, not tough and chewy as one so often finds.

To drink, we opted for beer and selected Mongoose rather than the more or less ubiquitous Cobra, being a much less gassy drink, fairly smooth, more complex in taste, and accompanying all our dishes surprisingly well.

So, overall, a very pleasant experience and worth driving out of the usual confines of the city, even worth the hassle of poor navigation. If you feel like a break from the normal run of city centre restaurants, I am happy to recommend a little trip to Bacaba. You are unlikely to be disappointed. This is good, thoughtful, well prepared and presented cooking.

  • Bacaba. 157a New Birmingham Road, Oldbury, B69 1QP. 0121 552 4756
  • Starters and main courses for two: £33 plus drinks.

Norman Cherry was the guest of Bacaba on this occasion.

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

@BrumFaves

Cocktails with Nick: Old Fashioned

Take off your shoes, kick back and open the cocktail cabinet.

The Old Fashioned is exactly as its name suggests. It is also, in my opinion, a very masculine cocktail. It was the cocktail Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra would have waiting for them on the bar after a night playing at the Dunes hotel.

You need:

  • Your favourite brand of Whiskey
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Sugar (cube form is recommended)
  • Mixer (optional)
  • Big chunky ice
  • Garnish

Equipment:

  • One sturdy Whiskey glass
  • A bar spoon.

Take the sturdy glass and place the sugar in the base.

Drip five drops of Angostura Bitters on to the sugar.  Use your bar spoon to crush it down and mix it up.

Add a good measure of whiskey. Anything less than 50ml is just cheating yourself. Give it a stir. If it too strong, add a little mixer. Be it, tonic, lemonade or ginger ale. Never be embarrassed of a little mixer. This is your drink, for you to enjoy.

Add big chunky pieces of ice.  Anything small just melts away and dilutes your drink.  Cut a slice of orange for garnish, and a cherry if you like, and serve.

Enjoy your weekend, Birmingham.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable

#ChefUnderTheTable

Cocktails with Nick: Cosmopolitan

Hello you lovely Brummie people,

Let's get this show on the road shall we?  Clear some space, grab some clean glasses, because it is Cosmopolitan time. This drink of choice dates back to the days when Dorothy Parker and her cohorts would write a short column for Vanity Fair in the morning and then retire to the bar for lunch, and get kicked out about three in the morning.  In more recent years it became popular with Candice Bushell's alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw, who brought it to the attention of a new generation.

Ingredients

  • Vodka  (Smirnoff is fine, but have you tried Chase Vodka from Hereford?)
  • Triple Sec  (A typical brand is Cointreau but you can also use Grand Marnier for a deeper, richer flavour)
  • Cranberry Juice
  • One fresh lime
  • One fresh orange

Equipment and glassware

  • One two-part Boston shaker
  • One strainer
  • One knife and green chopping board
  • Crushed ice
  • Regular ice
  • and one cigarette lighter (I will explain in a minute)

Right, let's do this thing.

  1.  Take one clean martini glass and place it on a dry surface. Crush some ice and fill the glass with it, and leave it to cool.
  2. Take one lime and cut it lengthways in half. From one half cut a wedge and cut an indent into it so it will hold on to the side of the glass.
  3. Cut a thin slice of orange zest. That's all you need of it, put it back in the fridge.
  4. Fill the glass half of the Boston Shaker with ice.
  5. Take one spirit measure, add 35ml of vodka, 15ml of Triple Sec and  25ml of Cranberry juice to the shaker.
  6. Grab the half of lime and squeeze it into the shaker, using a juicer, or in your hand if you want to look all strong and masterful.
  7. Place the metal half of the shaker over the top and push it down hard and then place one hand on the top of the shaker and half on the bottom. Shake it like a pro, go on!
  8. Remove the crushed ice from the glass and place the lime wedge on the side. Place the shaker on the work top with the metal half at the bottom and the glass half at the top. Using the strainer to hold back the ice, pour the drink into the glass.

Now the final touch.

Take the orange zest and give it a quick wave under a flame from the cigarette lighter. Hold the flame over the glass and squeeze the oils from the orange over the drink. They will ignite as they hit the flame. It is perfectly safe [so he says – the Ed] and adds a bit of theatre to the drink.

To see this done properly (It is hard when you are holding the camera yourself) click this link here

And serve to the person of your choice, with one eyebrow slightly raised.

Next we are doing Don Draper's favourite cocktail, the Old Fashioned.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable

#ChefUnderTheTable

Knife & Fork: Pub Grub

In my recent piece on Frieze Art Fair in London I wrote about eating at a decent gastro pub in Camden – The Colonel Fawcett - and I thought it might be worth mentioning some of the decent examples of pub grub that we have in Birmingham. Dining out is not always about the big culinary experience, after all, and often enough I am happy to eat simple, honest food in congenial pub surroundings.

I used to eat occasionally at The Old Contemptibles on the corner of Edmund Street and Livery Street. This is one of Mitchell and Butlers’ Nicholson’s branded houses and always has a decent selection of cask ales. I have been going there for a few years now but I didn’t frequent it before the makeover some years ago so cannot be sure how much the interior and ambience might have changed from the original. It is certainly a congenial place to have a beer. The eating area is to one side, with plenty of space for comfortable dining. The menu is reasonable and the service usually cheery and friendly.

Last week, on the way to the cinema, I popped into the Shakespeare on the corner of Summer Row,  another of the Nicholson branded pubs. Others in the group are Bacchus Bar in the basement of the Burlington Hotel in New Street and, confusingly, another Shakespeare in Lower Temple Street. Pubs can change a lot in relatively short periods as managers and staff move on and are replaced and it had been about six years since my last visit to this Shakespeare. I was not, however, disappointed. The pub décor seems not to have changed in aeons (which is good in my book) and there was a decent selection of beer which was well-kept and tasty.

The food menu had a reasonable variety of good plain dishes and I opted for the “famous” fish and chips, my companion for the evening taking the steak and pale ale pie. Both were tasty, well cooked, well presented and just hearty enough to prepare us for a screening of Guillermo del Toro’s utterly bonkers Crimson Peak which is as great a load of old tosh as I’ve seen in a long time (by which I mean that I enjoyed it immensely). I had no complaints about the cod which was cooked well without too much heavy batter and almost perfect chips. The flesh was meaty and well textured as you would expect yet quite delicate in flavour. My companion left some of the short crust pastry of the pie which was a bit on the doughy side, but not a disaster. The meat inside was delicious, apparently. We drank some of the Nicholson’s Pale Ale, Redemption Brewery’s Rising sun, and Cross the Line: perfect accompaniments.

So this is not a place with pretensions to be a gastro pub but it does offer good food and drink at reasonable prices which set you up for the evening. Having recently downloaded the Nicholson’s Hop Circle app, I was looking forward to using it for the first time in order to claim my 25 pence per pint discount. Imagine my surprise when I realised that my lovely friend had quietly paid the bill. Another time, then….

On the way home we had a beer in The Queens Arms on Newhall St, one of those old bars which seem to have become more friendly in recent years without losing too much in the way of original features. There’s no food that I am aware of but it offers a decent pint and a friendly atmosphere.

Another bar offering food which is worth trying is The Old Joint Stock, which I find a bit too packed and noisy to consider the food as anything other than fuel for the engine, but which nevertheless has some great Fullers ales to taste.

In the Jewellery Quarter The Rose Villa Tavern (aka the School of Jewellery Common Room) in its most recent makeover offers surprisingly decent food, and there are others such as The Lord Clifden and The Church, both on Great Hampton St, where I have drunk good beer but not yet tried the food, which I am told is pretty good in both. One informant tells me that The Hen and Chickens, further down Great Hampton St towards the city centre, which from outside looks less than inviting, frankly, does excellent curries and just has to be sampled. So there are three for my list.

If you venture out to Aston (oh go on, be brave, it’s not that frightening) The Bartons Arms just has to be visited if only for its architecture and interior design. It is simply magnificent and I understand that on certain evenings there are official tours of the building followed by food and drink. The wonderful, and almost surreal, surprise here is the restaurant which offers pretty damned good Thai food. I went there a few months ago, had an excellent and ridiculously inexpensive meal, wrote a review, asked the manager for a little more information about the recent history and a few jpegs – and received nothing, even after a couple of prompts. So, no full review, folks! But go anyway: you will almost certainly love it.

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

@BrumFaves

A visit to Resort World

What will Big Enn, an art curator who has a keen interest in architecture and of course he's our resident food writer, make of Resort World?

After all the publicity in the lead up to the recent opening of Resort World at the NEC site I thought I would like to go and have a look. From what I could understand, there should be a major architecturally significant building housing a casino, restaurants, IMAX cinemas, conference centre, and an outlet shopping mall to rival Bicester Village.

From the centre of Birmingham the sensible option seemed to be to take the train and, after a twelve-minute ride, I alighted at International. It was pretty straightforward to follow the signs and walk along that great soul less corridor which I have trudged so many times in the past to attend the annual Spring Fair and other events. It has been tidied up considerably since I last traversed it but it is still just a long metal tube, I suppose. Once down into the NEC complex, signage was a bit less obvious and it took a few minutes to be certain quite where to go. Slightly to my surprise I found myself being routed outside again and faced with a walk of not much less than a quarter of a mile to the actual Resort World building. On a fine day this was perfectly pleasant but would be a bit daunting I think in the middle of winter.

Having seen pictures of the building I was not entirely expecting an architectural masterpiece but the reality is, frankly, even worse than my already rather low expectations. It is certainly new, large, shiny, and asymmetrical but those qualities do not necessarily constitute architectural value. I was somewhat, shall we say, underwhelmed.

The day I went, preparations were underway for the local premiere of the new Bond film Spectre and so the main entrance was partially blocked by the workmen labouring to lay the Red Carpet.

Once in, I found to my left what looked like a decent enough bar with food, and a high street restaurant branch straight ahead at the beginning of the mall. What was particularly noticeable was the small numbers of visitors at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. My experience of indoor shopping malls is that they are often complex and confusing to negotiate my way around but not this one: it is very straightforward, being laid out in a simple oval plan. It is also pretty small, with most of the standard high street names you would expect, a number of units bearing Open Soon messages and others which still seem to be available to rent. Some of the shops are pretty decent, others somewhat scantily stocked, and one well-known High Street name looking not unlike a charity shop with all its surplus sale items laid out on what appears to be a Pile Em High Sell Em Cheap basis.

I did enjoy the ProCook store, however, and found some small items to take home from there and elsewhere. Staff in a number of the shops were at pains to tell me that they were expecting more stock in soon. I guess it would be unfair to judge the place too harshly on the basis of the first week of operation but normally that would be when traders would especially want to meet the expectations of customers as fully as possible in order to encourage repeat visits.

So, what of the rest? I glanced in to the casino which looked glitzy and respectable, not dowdy and slightly seedy like some others encountered. Not being a gambler, I had no reason to stray too far beyond the threshold. The spa on the top floor looked like it might be quite inviting, were I in the mood for pampering. It was the wrong time of day for watching a film, so I cannot say anything about the IMAX experience but RW staff to whom I spoke were very upbeat about it and absolutely certain that they have a winning combination out there. I mentioned my disappointment with the shopping experience and suggested that Bicester had nothing to fear from the RW offering. It appears that what RW wants to do is offer the whole experience, concentrating on the casino, cinema, and food and drink “offers” (don’t you hate that word?), with shopping being an additional benefit rather than the main reason for going.

Well, fair enough. I take that at face value but overall it was a disappointing experience for me. Perhaps I will return when it has become more established but I think I can find much better places to eat and drink, to shop, and to relax in the city centre without troubling myself to go out to the edge. As for cinema, I still find it hard to better the Electric Experience (admittedly a slightly odd acquired taste).

However, don’t let me put you off. Go out and try it for yourself. It is, after all, an addition to the many visitor attractions Greater Birmingham has to offer and which, one way or another, makes it such a great place to be right now. There is always the new Andy Waters restaurant to look forward to, though, when I called RW to find out when it is due to open, no one could tell me! [We're all waiting for that one! - the Ed]

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman

 

Recipe: Potato and Cauliflower Curry (Indian month)

Good morning, fine folk of Birmingham.  Did you enjoy your Sunday lunch? Got any leftover roast potatoes and cauliflower? Great, I have just the quick recipe for you.

The last curry we did was a bit of an  epic, but this one will be much quicker to put together. Half the work is done already.

You need:

  • Several roast potatoes per person.  How many depends on how hungry you are.
  • Several florets of precooked cauliflower.  The same applies.
  • One large onion.
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • One tin of chopped tomatoes
  • One chopped green chilli
  • Ground cumin
  • Tumeric
  • Curry powder

Take a green chopping board and place it on a counter over a damp cloth.  Then start by finely dicing the onion, garlic and de-seeded chilli. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling chillies.

Take a wok or frying pan. Add a little oil and heat.  Then add a teaspoon of curry powder and stir it into the oil.  Once the curry powder and hot oil have mixed, add the onion, garlic and chilli.  Cook these off until they are soft and golden in colour.

Next add a teaspoon of Cumin and one of Tumeric.  Once these have blended in, add the tomatoes and stir them in until they start to bubble a little, add the potatoes and cauliflower.  Stir in well, and cover the vegetables well with the sauce.  Now cover with a lid and allow the curry to simmer slowly for 30 minutes. Occasionally stir it and check that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

Take a taste, is it spicy and full of flavour?  If not leave it a little bit longer.  If it is too spicy, add a little lime juice. Too bitter? Add a little sugar.

After 30 minutes it should have thickened up somewhat and be ready to eat.

Serve with rice, if you like, and/or naan bread.  You will definitely need natural yoghurt to take the sting out of the chilli.

And that is it.  Enjoy!

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable