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: 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

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

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

Frieze Art Fair/Ikon Gallery

 
Frieze Art Fair at Regent’s Park, London is the annual extravaganza which provides an opportunity for international fine art galleries to show off the work of selected artists from their stables, make a bit of a splash and often enough court controversy with some outrageous offerings. If the many regulars I met last week are anything to go by, this year was a much more considered and serious event than some in previous years.

There was nothing that I saw which in any way outraged me, and much that delighted and engaged me. Chief amongst the latter were works by Frank Auerbach, Carmen Herrera (whose wonderful show at Ikon a few years ago remains an abiding memory), Roy Lichtenstein, Kwon Young Woo, and John Hoyland. But especially enjoyable was the sole offering from The Sunday Painter, an artist-led gallery based in Peckham, which showed a water feature by Samara Scott, recessed into the floor and sitting so still and unmoving that, like most other viewers, I initially took it to be a layer of inlaid resin. This colourful, thoughtful, subtle installation seemed to have caught the imagination of many visitors and was one of the most talked about items amongst my fellow visitors on the first day of the show.

That was especially satisfying as this relatively young gallery was taking part in its first Frieze, sited in the curated section in which galleries had been selected by the organisation for inclusion. Samara Scott exhibited recently at Birmingham’s Eastside Projects so there must be some satisfaction in that quarter to have talent spotted at an early stage.

There were 164 galleries from 27 countries in total, spread over the main space at the south end of Regents Park and several more in Frieze Masters at the North East corner, as well as those individual artists whose work was featured in the Sculpture Trail which extended throughout the whole demaisne. In a full day of trekking, looking, discussing, and looking again, I only managed to take in the main event. To “do” Frieze properly I imagine one would need to devote at least two days. However, with so much happening in London’s galleries at the moment, a day was all that could be spared.

Other exhibitions viewed recently included: Barbara Hepworth and Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain (soon to be graced as Director by the inimitable Alex Farquharson of Nottingham Contemporary), each of which was magnificent in its own way, Auerbach particularly thoughtful and thought provoking; Agnes Martin and The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern, the first of which was a WOW (Martin is very much an artists’ artist) but now ended, while the latter might not be too high up on anyone’s list of priorities, insightful as it may have been; Goya Portraits at the National Gallery, which must be seen if only because there will never be such an opportunity to view them all gathered together like this again; the small but utterly gorgeous Barkcloth Textiles at the British Museum, which anyone with an interest in textile art ought to make an effort to see.

No, I didn’t see them all in one visit: it so happens that there have been other business reasons to be “In Town” regularly recently so these have been the bonuses added on to some of them. Additionally, you might want to pop in to the Wellcome Trust on your next visit to London since it is just across the road from Euston Station. There is always something really intriguing here, even if there is no featured exhibition and you simply go to view the permanent collection gathered over a lifetime by Dr Wellcome.

No matter how long you are in London, you will need some sort of food intake. As in all tourist cities, there is much that is awful, plenty that is mediocre and, lots of ripoffs, but if you know where to look or just have a nose (as well as a taste) for it, there are some really good and surprisingly not overly expensive eating places. As I was overnighting at a delightful find from Airbnb in Chalk Farm, I found myself at the Colonel Fawcett in Camden Town. This is a well known and well liked bar with a bit of history and (more importantly perhaps) food and which, I suppose, thinks of itself as a Gastropub. The food is pretty good, the wine seems reasonable, and the beers on tap more than acceptable. I had their Roast Smoked Pork Belly with Confit Potato, Black Pudding Croquette, Kale, and Mustard and Cider Cream which was as good as any Pork Belly I have ever tasted and my colleague the Sirloin Steak with Burnt Shallot Puree, Roast “Heritage” (really?) Tomatoes, Bone Marrow Butter and “Hand Cut” Chips which looked, smelled, and tasted very good indeed. Does that sound just a tiny bit pretentious? Well, maybe, but it was well cooked, and tasted excellent. The pub prides itself on its range of gins and does have an acceptable wine list but it also serves some damned good beers so we both had the Redemption Pale Ale which went down very well with both dishes: rich, hoppy, fresh, a lively tickle on the palate.

Since I think of my main task of food criticism as being principally related to Birmingham restaurants, I am not writing about this one in any more detail but I can definitely recommend the Colonel Fawcett should you be in London and want decent food at a reasonable price. (1 Randolph St, Camden Town, London NW1 0SS)  Two main courses and two beers each, £52 plus tip.

Spending a few days in London and being so excited by the gallery scene there makes one forget just what great venues we have back in Birmingham. The main Museum and its various branches house a collection as good as anything and better than most outside of the capital. In the Ikon was have one of the country’s (indeed one of Europe’s) most interesting galleries, and the various enterprises now thriving in Eastside offer regular events of work by new, upcoming, exciting and often thought provoking, mainly young, artists and groups. We are lucky to have them but we should cherish them and help them to develop by supporting them. The next Digbeth First Friday would be a good way to start.

In the meantime, the new Fiona Banner exhibition at Ikon is at the top of my list. A visit there in the next few days is definitely on my schedule and, of course, Café Opus is always worth a punt. Since my first review some months ago, I have returned several times and each time come away as satisfied as on the first occasion. Consistency is as important as genius.

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman

Fiona Banner, Scroll Down And Keep Scrolling, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016, ikon-gallery.org. (With thanks to the Ikon Gallery for these photos)

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

Recipe: Lamb Curry with Bombay Potatoes (Indian month)

Feeling ready for a challenge?  This is a recipe that has been a bit of a work in progress over the last week.  It combines a lot of flavours  and takes over an hour and a half to prep and cook. [But I’m sure it’s worth it – Ed.]

You need the following:

  • Two lamb steaks per person
  • Flour for coating and frying
  • Red or white onions
  • Baby button mushrooms
  • Freshly chopped mint
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • pureed ginger
  • pureed garlic
  • pureed chilli
  • pureed tomato
  • Natural yoghurt
  • Canned coconut cream
  • Green pepper (optional)

For the Bombay potatoes:

  • New potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Spring onions
  • One green chilli, de seeded and finely chopped.

For the rice you need:

  • Rice

So, let's do this thing..

You need one small frying pan on heat with a little oil. Fill a dish with flour.  Take a red chopping board, placed over a damp cloth, on a counter.  Dice the lamb into small cubes, and coat it thoroughly in the flour.  Wash your hands and open a window for ventilation, this is where it tends to get a bit smoky.

Fry your cubes of lamb in the oil, until they are all brown on all sides.  Transfer the lamb to a clean plate and set aside.  You can also cover it to prevent contamination by insects and other yucky things. Leave your small pan in the sink to soak with loads of washing up liquid and water.  It will come off easy later.

Take a green chopping board, set us as before. Peel the onions and chop them into wedges.  Take the mint, wash it and remove the leaves, then chop them very finely. Wash the button mushrooms carefully under the tap. Cut the green pepper into strips.

Next, prep work for the Bombay Potatoes...

Rinse the new potatoes in the sink and set them aside.  Boil the spinach leaves in a small pan of water until they wilt.  This kills all the germs and nastiness.  Drain the leaves and transfer to a saucer.

Take half a white onion and dice it very finely on the green board.  Next, de-seed and finely chop the green chilli.  Set all of this aside on a plate. So, that is all your prep work done.  Wash your hands after working with chillies!

Next, take a great big wok or deep cooking pot.  Add a little oil and place on heat.  First add the onion wedges, turn them over and allow them to soften.  Add the mushrooms and stir them in.  Again, let them soften of their own accord.  Add the Lamb and mint next.

Then one tablespoon of garlic puree, one teaspoon of ginger puree, one of chilli and one of tomato.  Stir it all in and allow it to melt.  Add the tin of tomatoes and allow to simmer for five minutes.  Meanwhile, open the can of coconut milk and spoon one spoonful over the kernel (that is the thick white gloopy stuff.  Throw the transparent liquid under it away - you don't want to drink that.  (It is a laxative!)

Stir in the coconut cream and add the mint.  Now add a tablespoon of natural yoghurt.  Reduce heat and allow the curry to simmer gently.

While the curry is doing it's thing, boil a pan of water and boil the new potatoes until they are soft.  Poke them with a knife to check they are soft right through to the middle.  Drain the water and transfer the potatoes to a deep dish.  and crush them up, using a potato masher or a fork.  I prefer a fork, as you don't really want to mash them up too much.  Put a small frying pan on heat with a little oil.  Add the onions, spinach and chillies.  Mind your eyes for chilli vapours, they sting like hell.

Once they have softened and browned a little, add the potato and stir in.  Adding a teaspoon of yoghurt is optional.  And that is your Bombay potatoes sorted.

Boil another pan of water (hey, just rinse out the pan you have already used, save on the washing up).  Add two-thirds of a cup of rice per person.  Bring it to the boil and allow it to simmer until the rice is soft.

Taste the curry, it should have just a nice tang to it.  And the lamb should be just soft enough.  It generally takes about an hour to cook.  Add the green pepper finally, just to give it a little crunch.

Drain the rice and add all three elements to a bowl, and serve for each person. I really hope you enjoy this new challenge (to me, anyway), and let's keep pushing those culinary boundaries at home.

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

#ChefsTable

Knife & Fork: Butchers Social

This restaurant began life as ashort-term pop up in the former Walter Smith butcher’s shop on Harborne High St a few months ago, the intention being to try out the site for just a few days or weeks. Such was the reception that it is still there and trading successfully if the evening I was there is anything to go by. The long-term plan of the two chef/entrepreneurs, Jamie Desogus and Mike Bullard, is to develop the site, extend it at the back, and establish a new fine dining restaurant here.

With this in mind, there are occasional fine dining evenings taking place and these seem to be rather sought after. Given the success of Butchers Social, the partners are now considering finding another site in the area in order to continue this part of the business while the current side is developed. It certainly seems to be a winning formula. The menu is short and simple, comprising variations on Chicken Wings, which seem to change regularly and other simple but genuinely interesting dishes. There is a small selection of wines and a list of nine featured beers and ciders of which normally only four or five are available at any time, due to the small number of pumps. There are, of course, a few bottled beers to be had as well

The evening I went there, it was quiet to begin with, filling up pretty quickly by about 8pm, to the point that people were having to wait a little in order to find a table. The décor is trendily basic, the tables being made from three industrial pallets joined together and much of the wall and other paneling fashioned from industrial quality chipboard. Quite funky really, certainly not luxurious. But then, neither are the prices. Everything seems quite reasonable and therefore the clientele is fairly democratic.

Chicken wings would not normally be a natural choice for me, conjuring up visions of cheap mass market cooking, but these were quite delightful, flavoursome, fairly lightly cooked, a bit greasy, yes (how couldn’t they be?) but not overly so. My friend had the squid and couscous sala and we shared French fries cooked in truffle oil, a real delight. The squid was perfectly cooked, tender and, well, perfect, really, the fries light, airy, and very tasty. This was certainly a very different experience to what you might expect from the normal kind of fried chicken joint.

To drink, we opted for some of the “craft” beers on tap. Living near Two Towers Brewery, following the business on Twitter, but never having actually drunk one of their beers, I thought I really ought to try the Hockley Bitter while my friend had Hockley Amber, a light and fruity ale. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed by my choice although the Amber was rather splendid.

As it happens I went to an event at Two Towers a week or so later, tried the Hockley Bitter there, and found it to be a much superior pint. It’s all in the cellaring, guys!.............. I will certainly be back to Mount St to drink more.

So, all in all, a decent experience sampling simple, well cooked food with a slight disappointment over one of the drinks. The disappointment was not enough to put me off and I will be back. Once I’ve saved a few more pennies, I shall definitely sign up for one of the fine dining evenings, too. Jamie and Mike have impressive CVs which include service in several top-end restaurants, including Per Se and Le Bernardin in New York, and Petrus in London. I want to see what these fellows can really do.

Butchers Social. 175 High St, Harborne B17 9QE

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

@BrumFaves

 

Recipe for Indian Month: Chicken Tikka

Good morning my little Brummies.  I hope you are enjoying the lovely warm autumn weekends. Drank enough Pumpkin spiced latte yet?

This month we are cooking Indian food.  That's me, teaching you. This is hilarious and terrifying for several reasons.  I am from a very small, very white town in Yorkshire.  I never had a curry till I was 21. I have never worked in an Indian restaurant, never been to India, and know very few Indians. Hell, I have never even been to Sparkhill. And you people have been brought up on Indian food.  So, let's take this slow.

We are starting with Chicken Tikka, because it is nice and simple. You need the following:

(prep time 4 hours minimum, just so you know)

  • Two chicken thighs per person
  • Natural Yoghurt
  • Tikka Spices (available from all good supermarkets)
  • Rice
  • Coriander

Take a large, deep bowl and fill it with a pint and a half of fresh, natural yoghurt.  Not too thick.  Take a whisk and blend in half a packet of Tikka spices.  Add the chicken thighs and coat them well in the mix.  Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least four hours.  Or even overnight, which really tenderizes the chicken and makes it taste awesome.

Preheat an oven at 180 degrees centigrade.  Take an oven dish, preferably with a lid.  Add your chicken, and a little of the mix.  Now sprinkle over this with some freshly chopped coriander, which goes so well with chicken.  Cover with the lid or metal foil, and bake in the oven at 140 degrees for 40 minutes.  Meanwhile boil a cup of rice on the stove until the rice is soft, then drain.  This usually takes under ten minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, place it in a dish and serve with rice on the side.  Top it off with a little of the yoghurt coating and chicken fat.  The latter with seep into the rice and enhance the flavour a little.

That's it.  Enjoy your supper!

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

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Recipe: Slow Braised Alpine Rabbit

Welcome one and all to the latest of the Italian series of recipes.

As I noted at the start, a lot of Italian food reflects the coldness of a mountainous environment.  After the war, food was scarce, and unusual meats had to be hunted down.  In the Alpine region, which suffered the longest, Rabbit was often a staple diet.  Another was Polenta, a maze meal that can be roasted, baked or fried and has a neutral flavour.  It is very cheap to make, and sustained many families throughout the hard post-war years.

Rabbit is available from most good butchers in the UK, although you may have to pre-order it.  It tastes just like chicken, but a little richer. I am giving this recipe a danger rating of three severed fingers.

So, to start, you need:

  • One Rabbit, dead, skinned and gutted.
  • One slab of Polenta
  • One handful of baby button mushrooms
  • One lemon
  • Two tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Chicken stock
  • White wine
  • Plain flour

First, take a red chopping board and put it over a damp piece of kitchen paper, on a work top.  Make certain it is stuck down fast.  Take a meat cleaver or heavy knife and CAREFULLY cut the rabbit into quarters.  Take a hot pan and add a little oil to it.  Coat the rabbit in flour and fry gently until it is golden.  Add it to a deep baking tray.  Move the red chopping board to the wash up area.  Replace it with a green board.  Chop up your Polenta into roast potato sized pieces. Chop the celery into smaller pieces, and the lemon into quarters.

Pan fry or deep fry the Polenta just until the edges turn golden and crispy.  Add it to the tray.  Add the celery and the lemon.  Wash the mushrooms to remove any loose soil and grit, then add them to the tray.

Boil a kettle and add the boiling water to a deep bowl.  Cut a cross into the top of each tomato and place them in the bowl.  After a minute the skin will peel off.  Once they are peeled, add them to the tray.

Add a small glass of white wine and half a pint of chicken stock poured evenly over the Rabbit, Polenta and vegetables.  Cover the whole tray tightly with metal foil and place in the oven.  Bake it slowly for three hours.  After each hour, add a little chicken stock if it is going dry.

By the time it is cooked it should be tender and falling off the bone, ready to enjoy.  Just be aware that rabbit bones are smaller and more brittle.

Enjoy a good, Alpine, autumn/winter night's supper.

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

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Recipe: Salmon Arrabbiata Risotto

Hello people and welcome to the second instalment of Italian recipe month. To offset the rainy start to Autumn, we have something tasty from the shores of the Amalfi coast.

For two people you need the following:

  • Two Salmon steaks
  • Prosciutto Ham (one slice per steak)
  • Risotto rice (two cups per person)
  • One white onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • White wine (250ml for two and two glasses to drink)
  • Chicken stock (one pint)
  • Half a tin of tomatoes
  • Chopped red chillies
  • Tomato puree

We start with the veg prep.  Take a green chopping board and place it over a damp paper towel on a work top.  Peel and finely chop your onion and the garlic. Move them to a plate together and now chop your red chillies, very finely.  Keep or remove the seeds, depending on how brave you feel.  Move the chillies to another plate.

Now take a shallow saucepan or a frying pan and add a little olive oil.  Sweat off the onion and garlic until they are translucent and slightly brown, but not too brown.  Add the rice and stir in well until it too becomes translucent.  Remove from the heat.  Heat your chicken stock slowly on the hob until it is steaming, but not boiling.  Add the white wine to the rice and stir in, and continue to heat gently.  It should evaporate quickly.  Now take a ladle and spoon the stock into the rice, a little at a time.  Keep stirring and the rice will expand quickly.  It will also soak up all the stock, so you need to keep adding it a little at a time, making sure the pan does not go dry.

Next we make the Arrabbiata sauce (it is Italian for angry, by the way).  Very simple, take a saucepan and add a little olive oil.  Fry off the chillies (beware of the fumes, they hit you like CS gas).  Add half a tin of tomatoes, whatever seasonings you like, and two tablespoons of tomato puree.  Bring it to the boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and allow it to reduce.

Set your oven to 180C and allow it to pre-heat.  Take a baking tin and place a piece of baking foil in  the middle of it.  Drizzle a little oil over it to prevent stickiness.  Next, wash your hands thoroughly.  Now carefully wrap each salmon steak in the ham, tightly.  Drizzle a little oil over the salmon and place it in the oven.

Bake the salmon for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the Salmon.  As it cooks, the ham will shrink and tighten around the salmon.

Take a plate and cover the middle with risotto rice.  Flatten it down a little, then place the Salmon on top.  Cover the salmon with a few spoons of Arrabbiata sauce.

I have a little broccoli with mine, but it is optional.

Ciao, et buon appetito!

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable