Knife & Fork: Shabab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shabab, Ladypool Road, Birmingham 01214402893

Brum Faves visits: Bar Opus


Corporate bars have come a long way since my days of working on London’s Fleet Street. Back then, us ladies who worked in the newspaper industry were prevented from being able to buy drinks at certain bars. Indeed in the early 1990s, there were two restaurant bars that I not only couldn’t buy my own drink but I couldn’t wear trousers at the bar.

My first visit to Bar Opus reminded me of these days but only because it’s just around the corner from where the Birmingham Post & Mail building used to be, before it’s relocation to Fort Dunlop. The third sibling of the Opus restaurant group, Bar Opus will clearly attract the corporate crowd the original restaurant in Cornwall Street does although the vibe is distinctly non-grey suited on a Saturday evening.

Tucked away under the One Snowhill building, set back from Colmore Row, we receive a bold, sociable service from the minute the bf and our out-of-town friend set foot in Opus three. I imagine it’s quite different during the day, however, on this weekend evening, the place is darkly lit and if anyone figures out how the taps work in the unisex loo first time should surely be compensated with a free drink.

We decide to take advantage of the tapas style menu to try a few things although one of our choices proved unavailable, we were recommended the honey glazed baby chorizo, which went down extremely well on our table. The child in me never loses the love for baby-sized versions so I’m a sucker for the dishes like mini but amply stuffed burgers and a basket of fries. (A new menu is coming was due so check what the current offering is). Elsewhere, the crispy salt and pepper Brixham squid with lemon aioli, served in ample portion, was appreciated.  These were quickly devoured - hence no photos - but go see for yourself!

Small plates are available from 12 noon at £5 each or four to share for £17.50. Regular all day menu includes breakfast also offered.

Do share your thoughts on @BrumFaves or comment below.

By avid eater and Brum Faves founder, Rickie J @RickieWrites

Photos courtesy of Opus Bar.

Knife & Fork: The Warehouse Café


Eating out, no matter how often or seldom you do it, is always still something of an adventure. Many of us like to stick to what we know and love and therefore don’t stray much beyond our favourite local eating spot. I hope that in my columns I will persuade you to try the unfamiliar and sometimes even the exotic as I work my way through the great variety of culinary experiences Birmingham has to offer.

Having recently returned to the city after a six year sojourn in the East of the country in a small city with excellent restaurants, I have been enjoying reacquainting myself with what Birmingham has to offer. The Michelin starred restaurants will undoubtedly be tried at some point but for the moment I am concentrating on those places that most of us can afford to eat in without having to apply for an overdraft.

Several years ago I found myself chatting to the local manager of Friends of the Earth, who told me about the vegetarian restaurant operated by the organisation. As someone who normally eschews “that vegetarian muck” I was kind of intrigued and decided to put it on my list of places to try. So, a few weeks ago, some seven years later, I eventually made it there with a former colleague.

My goodness, why did I leave it so long? Set in a dark, slightly foreboding, street in Digbeth, this turned out to be a little oasis of culinary light. We began with the soup of the day which was a Tomato and Coriander confection, sweet enough with just enough pungency for the spice and a more or less perfect texture: the kind of soup you might almost want to take with a knife and fork, so powerful is it. 

Our main courses were the Halloumi “Fish n Chips” which I have to say cold almost persuade me to give up the real thing and the Halloumi special which was a casserole of Halloumi with mixed veg. In both cases the tastes and textures were as near to perfect as a seasoned vegetarian might desire, with a mix of well-balanced complementary flavours. Even this confirmed “meatie” was convinced that vegetarian cooking can be interesting and satisfying.

The Kreissler pudding, which we shared, was something of a revelation. Subtle yet powerful, slightly sour yet fruity and full flavoured, delightfully textured, this was something I want to try again and again. My taste buds discovered one flavour after another, as each part of the confection made itself apparent. Made, I presume, with little or no added sugar, this is what healthy desserts should be about.

The Warehouse isn’t licensed but customers can bring their own. I had selected a bottle of Simpson’s Sauvignon Blanc (Naked Wines) which I had hoped would be a fairly safe bet and found that it worked pretty well.  BYOB is always a slight risk if you don’t know the menu but at least in this case the choice turned out to be a reasonable one, the acidity and complexities of flavours complementing those of the food pretty well. Charles and Ruth Simpson fetched up in the Languedoc some years ago and have established a reputation for wonderfully zingy white wines which benefit from the hot summers of this part of Southern France. This one is a beauty!

Would I return? Absolutely, and it won’t take me seven years either. This is a little gem of a place. It was certainly busy that night, and it deserves to be.  The staff were polite, calm, jolly, and gave every sign of being able to take almost anything in their stride. The overall cost for two starters, two mains, and one dessert shared: £34, a snip, I’d say.

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

Photos courtesy of The Warehouse

Knife & Fork: Opus Café

Eating out, no matter how often or seldom you do it, is always still something of an adventure. Many of us like to stick to what we know and love and therefore don’t stray much beyond our favourite local eating spot. I hope that in my columns I will persuade you to try the unfamiliar and sometimes even the exotic as I work my way through the great variety of culinary experiences Birmingham has to offer.

At any rate there was no confusion of any sort in the kitchen of this culinary haven, the offshoot of serious eating house Opus in Cornwall Street. Not that this is in any way a lightweight; while it is definitely a café, it is a very serious café with light and airy food which is easy to eat yet complex and utterly fulfilling as a culinary experience.

We had ample but not large portions of bread with a nicely balanced olive oil while we decide on our main (and only) course and talked shop. By coincidence, we both chose the same dish, the Fillet of Cod with Spiced Orzo, Wilted Spinach, and Lemon Tahini Yoghurt. Under normal circumstances that would be a terrible mistake for a food writer but on this occasion I had not been intending to write about the experience, simply savour it, which I most certainly did.

The Cod, for such a butch kind of fish, was light, delicate, just melting in the mouth. The lightly spiced Orzo and the Lemon Tahini Yoghurt binding it bringing a wonderful mixture of North and South shores of the Mediterranean to Oozells Square, a perfect complement. This was, on the face of it, uncomplicated lunchtime food but clearly cooked with thoughtfulness, care and, might I suggest, love. Since the days of wine at lunchtime have largely gone, we were content to have sparkling water but I imagine a light, not too complex sauvignon blanc from the Adige would have been a perfect accompaniment.

This was the second time I have taken lunch at the Ikon since Opus took over the kitchen and I shall certainly be back. The price for two? I have no idea as my colleague was paying, and a gentlemen, especially one who cannot keep his own appointments diary, would never dream of asking, but somewhere in the region of £29 including two coffees.  Pretty good value for such excellent cooking and courteous, friendly service.

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

Photos courtesy of Café Opus.

Foodie Faves: Edwardian Tea Rooms

Have you ever see your city through the eyes of a tourist?

Sometimes it takes a friend visiting from out of town that makes us see our city through the fresh eyes of a tourist. So when a friend came to visit from Devon who’d already stayed with me before, I decided to take her to some places we had yet to visit.

I’d been meaning to try the new look Edwardian Tea Rooms in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for some time and we thought it a good as place as any to fill up on a nourishing snack before the trip back to the south west. After a stroll around one of the floors of the museum, we enter the colourful ETR and pour over the wide-ranging  menu. So much for a snack; we end of with boulder sized jacket potatoes and served with a decent salad; a full-on meal and great value at under a fiver, especially in such majestic surroundings.

The only complication is that you have to get a table number before you then queue up to order your food at the till. Tricky when you’re on your lonesome but even when you are with people. It’s such an enormous space and you need to leave some personal belongings in order to let others know the table is taken and the staff won’t take your order without it! Even more troublesome when I went back the following week and just wanted a coffee while I work. I understand it helps to know you have a table before you bother to queue but it is a big space so tables aplenty, even during busy Sunday afternoons.

They currently have offers every day including 10% off brunch on Saturday mornings and a second wine/beer free when you buy two Sunday roasts.

The restaurant is gorgeous to be in and super comfortable, which is why I’ve gone back three Sundays in a row!

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites @BrumFaves @RickieWrites

Photos: courtesy of BMAG


Storytelling at Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath

Tucked away on York Road in Kings Heath behind Fletchers Bar and Eatery is the delightful Kitchen Garden Cafe, a wonderful and cosy venue offering excellent food, a range of fine ales, delicious soft drinks, great coffee, amazing cakes and a wide variety of entertainment.

In October, I headed along there for the Storytelling Cafe, a wonderful event that takes place on the third Wednesday of each month.  It's been running for a number of years now, and was recently taken over by some lovely lady storytellers, a few of whom were performing on Wednesday night.

Adult storytelling is something that I was first introduced to in 2012, and I was immediately smitten. We are all used to stories being gifted to us as novels, television shows and movies.  However, there is something unique and almost magical about sitting in an audience of eager listeners, as a storyteller continues with a tradition as old as time, weaving their tales around you like soft, silken threads of words.  I really do highly recommend giving it a go!

As for Kitchen Garden Cafe, well, they offer a special menu for Storytelling Cafe, and food is available from 6:30pm for approximately 45 minutes.  As well as storytelling, they also host live music nights, comedy and cabaret, details of which can be found via their website.

On my most recent visit, I didn't eat (well, okay, I had coffee cheesecake, and it was divine, but I was too eager to taste it and forgot to take a picture!).  When I visited in the summer, I enjoyed this delicious mezza platter, which as well as being a carnival for the taste buds, was also very reasonably priced!

Needless to say, I shall be returning again and again, and ensuring that I arrive in enough time to enjoy a meal when I do!

To find out about Kitchen Garden Cafe, visit their website.

Written by Debra Jane who can be contacted via @Notaskinnymini or her blog