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    Musings, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Akrams, Stirchley

    I kinda think the whole Balti Triangle thing in Birmingham is a bit of a marketing gimmick.  It’s one I’m totally fine with, because Birmingham on the whole never seems to do very well at claiming its rich heritage, but we totally claim the balti, check wikipedia.  Because if there’s one thing Brummie love, it’s a good curry.  And the reason i think the Balti Triangle is a gimmick is because whilst there might be a whole pile a cracking curry houses around the Ladypool Rd, Sparkhill, Balsall Heath area, I kinda think it’s pretty hard to find bad curry in Birmingham.

    You see, Travelodge wanted me to talk about the Birmingham Balti and whilst it would’ve been easy to bang on about the Balti Triangle, I’m gonna be lazy and tell you about a balti house down the road from me.  To me, this is one of the great things about Birmingham…you never have to go far for a good curry.  And, my friends, the balti at Akram’s in Stirchley is properly good.

    Akram’s pride itself on Kashmiri cuisine, which means lots of meat and rice and I can tell you they do both well.  Rogan Josh is probably the most well known of the Kashmiri curries, especially round these parts, and the traditional lamb version at Akram’s is delightful – and if you ask nicely they’ll add a whole pile of vegetables to it, because a girl’s gotta get her greens. I’ve been to Akram’s few times now, owing to it being one of my nearest curry houses, but on my last but one visit I discovered their spinach and chicken balti.  And whilst my food photography skills are passable at best, I cannot get a good photo of this, but trust me it’s good. Popeye would be happy with it because there’s a load of spinach, rightly so, and lovely tender chicken.  In fact, there’s so much spinach that it’s not so much a wet sauce as wilted spinach carrying some extra liquids.  It also means you rarely leave any behind, which is totally worth it.

    I like to do the duo of rice and naan, because carbs give me life.  They do those giant table naan at Akram’s and one day I will order it, but my love of bread is so strong that I will probably try and eat the whole thing myself.  So for now I stick with the standard naan which is lovely and fresh, but still nicely doughy round the edges.  They do all the fancy types of naan you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t, but the quality of the simplistic plain naan is so good I’m yet to move on.A special mention has to go to the music, which I’d totally not noticed on previous visit but I got to fully absorb the soundtrack this time round.  And the cover version of such classics like Careless Whisper and I Believe I Can Fly were so notable that I Whatsapped my friend to arrange a visit next time she’s in town.  If the good curry doesn’t convince you to make a trip, then the music choices should.

    Birmingham is the best place for Balti and whilst I’d recommend any visitors to the city to visit the Balti Triangle, but south Birmingham locals or those sticking around a bit, Akram’s is totally worth a visit.  And if you’re staying at the Maypole Travelodge, the food offerings for dinner nearby are fast food so come to Akram’s instead – it’s less than a 10 minutes taxi ride away.

    Akram’s, 1526 Pershore Rd, Birmingham B30 2NW.

    Disclaimer: Travelodge paid for my meal but all views remain my own, as ever. The restaurant didn’t know why I was taking photos of my dinner and giggling at the music, until they asked me if I used TripAdvisor and I thought I better own up.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Jiyaan, Solihull

    My mum has a favourite curry house, I know this and if you’ve been reading the blog for a while you’ll know too, because she once told me how poor she found the curry houses in some bit of Wales I’ve never been to but seems to have some significance.  But, turns out my mum doesn’t like to go to the same curry house too often, so she’s been looking for an alternate place to go.  This exploration has had varying levels of success, and she’s probably overdoing it by going to India on holiday, but when I got an email asking me to check out a curry house in Solihull, I knew I had to go and take my mum with me.

    Jiyaan is an upmarket curry house at the end of the of the High St in Solihull, overlooking St Alphege Church.  Despite many trips to Solihull shopping, I’ve never noticed it because there’s not a lot to take me down that way, but when you do it feels like much more of a charming town centre than a place to go shopping when I can’t face Birmingham city centre.  With it’s own entrance and modern but comfortable surroundings, it’s easy to forget that Jiyaan is part of the Ramada Solihull, something you only really notice if you need to go to the toilet.  The short section of the hotel I saw walking to and from the toilet made it feel a little dated, but Jiyaan has a lovely freshness to it with proper table clothes and napkins and bottles of water already on the tables.

    Typically mum and I go for a sharing platter when we go out for dinner, so we ordered the Jiyaan sharing platter made up of chicken tikka, lamb & mint seekh kebab, aloo tikka and paneer tikka.  The chicken tikka was delightfully spiced and the seekh kebab light, yet still moist, and certainly one of the better ones I’ve had.  It was, if I’m honest, probably a bit much for two people with the generous slice of paneer and the potato.  We ended up leaving a large amount of both of these, not because it was bad, it was really very lovely, but the paneer did seem a bit lost and we’d never had had room for mains if we kept going.

    And scoff all you like but I went for Chicken Tikka Masala for main, because I fancied it and also because I think it can be a dish that can often be mishandled if the chef isn’t good.  Thankfully this was not the case and the rich tomato sauce wasn’t too exorbitant but felt well balanced but still very much a chicken tikka masala.  Mum had the King Prawn Gassi, something she’s not tried before; a Mangalorean style dish of king prawns cooked with coconut milk and spices.  I worried it would be too rich but my mum was incredibly impressed, and the king prawns were certainly big and juicy.  It’s something she commented she wants to go back for again.

    Frankly by this point we were both a bit stuffed but I thought it would be rude not to try dessert.  Given how well Jiyaan had done with the previous dishes, I wanted to see what their take on a traditional Indian dessert would be like.  Ordinarily I struggle a bit with Gulab Jamun; I know it’s a dumpling and supposed to be heavy but the denseness of them and the sugary rose syrup is often too sickly for me.  But Jiyaan continued the theme of fresh and light dishes with Gulab Jamun that was light and springy and a scoop of ice cream which cut through, calming any of the sweetness that threatened to overpower.

    I was incredibly impressed with Jiyaan.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from there, given its location on the outskirts of Solihull town centre, a place awash with chain restaurants, and itself being part of a hotel, but it felt like the kind of place I would happily go back to.  The waiting staff were incredibly attentive to all of the guests in the dining room and happy to make some excellent suggestions.  We’re certainly not suffering for lack of curry houses in Birmingham and Solihull, that’s for sure, but Jiyaan’s well executed food, friendly staff and convenient location makes it somewhere I will be back to.

    The Jiyaan Restaurant, The Square, Solihull B91 3RF.

    Disclosure: I was invited for a complimentary meal in exchange for my opinion, but as ever it didn’t alter my opinion. If you don’t believe me, ask my mum, she takes her curry very seriously.

    Product reviews, Reviews

    Holy Cow curry sauces


    I’d like to tell you that I always cook everything from scratch, but that would be a blatant lie. In fact, after a busy day at work, my tea this evening was a portion of frozen curry microwaved with some rice – leftovers of the mangalore malabar from Holy Cow.

    The team at Holy Cow had sent me a selection of their curry sauces; mangalore malabar, Delhi tikka masala, rogan josh, and Goan prawn curry.  The first thing I noticed was that the packets were servings for two people, rather than jars of sauce which feed four people.  As someone who doesn’t have a family to feed, a small freezer compartment and a low attention span for eating the same thing for days, two portions is pretty perfect – one to eat and one to freeze for later.


    Holy Cow call their sauces “home-cooked” style recipes, developed in a home kitchen by a genuine Indian mum, using natural ingredients; no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives; gluten free; and suitable for vegetarians  and coeliacs.  Which is quite a lot of dietary requirements all covered in one packet of curry sauce.  The label warns that due to using natural ingredients, there is the potential of some separation of ingredients, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Personally I didn’t notice this, but what I did notice was how thick the sauce was as I squeezed it from the packet.  The cooking instructions require it to be thinned down with 50ml of water which meant a nice texture to the sauce rather than the sometimes liquid stuff from jars.

    The packets also give advice on what to cook them with; the front of the packet givens a perfect serve suggestions, but in the interests of fairness (and not just laze, honestly) I tried them with chicken.  So far, I’ve tried the mangalore malabar, Delhi tikka masala and rogan josh sauces, all of which have distinct, full flavours.  I hate it when variations of a sauce all effectively taste the same so it was nice that each one had its own flavours – although the two chilli rating did have a bit more of a kick to it than I expected…but in a good way.



    Overall I was impressed with the Holy Cow sauces I tried (the Goan prawn curry is still to be used, mainly because defrosting and reheating prawns sorta scares me).  They’re easy to use, flavoursome and well portioned – and not much more effort than ordering a take away.

    Disclosure: Holy Cow sent me a complimentary set of their curry sauces, but did not require me to be nice about them. I’ve also realised I can’t take photos of curry, so sorry about that.

    Cake, Recipes

    Recipe: Chocolate Curry Cake


    So Travelodge were like hey, we want you to help us tempt people to Birmingham for a cheeky visit by telling them about the food.  And as part of their #TravelodgeFoodies they came up with this list of five Birmingham delicacies.  Sure balti, or curry in general, is definitely a Birmingham delicacy, but I was pretty miffed that chocolate had been missed off the list – being we’re the home of Cadbury and all (which I guess is more of an ingredient than a dish, but still).

    The whole plan was to tell people about the food by showing them an amazing recipe of something classically Birmingham.  But one of my favourite things about Birmingham is the people – we’re a pretty unconventional bunch.  With massive celebrations for St Patrick’s Day, Eid, Jamaican Independence and enough festivals in winter that one year the council created the ill-fated Winterval (they didn’t cancel Christmas, calm down), it’s a city where anything goes – as long as you’re good humoured about it.  So rather than cook up something sensible like a balti or a chocolate brownie, I thought what the hell I’ll make something interesting (like the architecture in the city centre).

    And so I bring you chocolate curry cake.  I know, this sounds a bit weird…but I’ve tested it out on some friends (one of which I bumped into on Colmore Row and demanded he eat cake – sorry George).  Ginger and cinnamon are fairly typical flavours in cake and they come across in this recipe, but the extra curry spices give it an extra depth to the flavour.  I used a supermarket medium curry powder because faffing around with minimal amounts of cinnamon, garam masala and the like would’ve been a nightmare; medium had a good flavour without there being any heat (a bit like our current summer).  To be honest I was tempted to leave these without icing, but thought a slight citrus would really bring it all together, so added a drizzle of glacé icing made with lime juice, which definitely worked.  I thought about a buttercream icing (which is why they’re a bit flatter in the photo) but I think this would’ve overpowered the flavour.

    Recipe: Chocolate Curry Cake
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Serves: 6
    • 100g margarine or butter
    • 100g vanilla caster sugar
    • 1 medium egg
    • 50ml semi-skimmed milk
    • 80g self-raising flour
    • 20g cocoa powder
    • 0.5tsp medium curry powder
    • 1tsp icing sugar
    • 2 drops lime juice
    1. Pre-heat your oven for about 180c or whatever the equivalent is on your oven. Prepare your cupcake tin with liners.
    2. Cream in the margarine (or butter) and sugar.
    3. Mix the egg into the sugar and margarine mixture until it's combined fully.
    4. In a separate bowl add the flour, cocoa and curry powder and mix together.
    5. Sieve the flour mixture into the main bowl and fold in (mix in a sort of figure of eight formation).
    6. Pour the batter into the cupcake cases or directly into the tin, if you prefer.
    7. Cook for about 20minutes or until the tops are springy and you can insert a skewer into the cake and it come out clean. Then leave them to cool.
    8. Once the cakes are completely cooled create an icing with a teaspoon of icing sugar, a few drops of lime juice and a little water - add the water slowly. Drizzle over the cakes.

    And there you have it, two of Birmingham’s delicacies…curry and chocolate, combined into cake!  Thanks to Travelodge for inspiring this slightly random recipe…and Birmingham, of course.


    Disclosure: Travelodge provided me with vouchers to pay for the ingredients to make this…I think they were thinking of a sensible recipe, but that would be far too simple now wouldn’t it?

    Reviews, Take away

    Simla take away, Hall Green

    You know how it goes, you’ve planned to spend Saturday night round at a friend’s, eating take out and playing Cards Against Humanity, but then the host is sick and you’re stuck with no plans and a craving for curry?  Yep, that happened to me fairly recently.  I tried looking round the supermarket for a viable alternative, but in the end I fired up the hungry house app and ordered some curry for myself.

    Hungry House have announced their top 500 take aways for 2015 based on popularity, positive ratings, ability to deliver food to hungry customers without fail, and high Food Hygiene Rating scores.  Out of over 10,000 restaurants there’s quite a few top takeaways in Birmingham and one of them, an Indian in Hall Green, Simla, won sixth place in the league.simla order

    Using the hungry house app I ordered and food arrived well within the time they said it was…which is a big bonus for me.  That said, I may have gotten a little overenthusiastic with my ordering, considering it was just for me; seekh kebab as a starter plus tandoori murgh masala for main, along with Simla special rice, saag paneer and a plain naan.  It was already too much food for one person, but the generous portions (particularly with the rice) meant that I was able to have a pretty indulgent Saturday night dinner and then leftovers for Sunday night too.

    You know those people that have a usual when they go for curry?  I’m not one of those people, but if I were something like a tandoori murgh masala would probably be fairly high on the list.  It’s a fairly traditional dish from the Punjab region, or so I’m told.  It was lovely, with chicken that had a great flavour and a sauce which wasn’t too watery and had a nice balance of richness and tomato.  I’m not entirely sure what the hard boiled egg was about but it was pretty nice.  I really liked the rice too, even thought I wasn’t overly sure what I was ordering.  It had a lovely flavour to it and the peas allowed me to pretend I was eating something vaguely healthy…because green things are good for you, right?  There was also enough rice to have two plentiful portions which, given the price of £2.50 is a very good deal.

    curry_from_simla 2

    I had the saag paneer the next day, heated up in the microwave and was impressed that the cheese was still light with a good texture.  I accompanied this with the other half of the rice as there was an awful lot of it – making sure to cook it thoroughly, and it too kept its flavour and fluffiness.  I’m always impressed when a dish can survive a second sitting, as so often they look so unappetising the next day, but Simla managed to retain the flavour and texture of the dishes.

    I was so impressed that a couple of weeks later I reodered from Simla, this time going for chicken gurka masala, along with the Simla special rice, naan and saag paneer (again, for the next day).  This too was of excellent standard – I can see why people keep going back!

    Disclosure: Hungry House gave me a voucher to order some food from Simla and write a blog post about my honest thoughts of the experience. Don’t judge me for my over-ordering, it was all in the name of science…and by that I mean this review.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Peachy Keens, Sheldon / Yardley

    IIMG_1374.JPGf you’ve ever studied philosophy, you’ll be familiar with utilitarianism; the greatest good for the greatest number. It’s also a good summation of the attraction of multi-cuisine, all you can eat buffet type places. Frankly no one is likely to win a Michelin star doing it, but you’re guaranteed to find something that everyone will tolerate.

    And this is pretty much what I found at Peachy Keens. Located on the Coventry Rd near the Swan, it was a Harry Ramsdens when I was growing up and then became a pub. It has retained some of the pub interior up front, with the all you can eat out back. It’s frankly a little strange but seems to work for its customers.

    I went down with my friend Andrew on a Monday night and was surprised to see it pleasantly busy; meaning most of the tables in the section we were seated at were full, but not so much that you were queuing for food. The staff, who were consistently excellent throughout the night, asked if we’d ever been before (neither of us had) and then asked if we’d like to be shown round. Ordinarily the irreverent side of my personality will wonder why on earth you’d need to be, but she had some good tips.IMG_1376.JPG

    First off were the starters. A line of fried foods from chicken nuggets to onion bhajis I was worried that this was going to be a coronary disaster, but the crunchy seedweed was lovely and located just at the end of the counter which gave you ample view of the salad bar. And it was a pretty decent salad bar at that. I measure most salad bars on if I think my mum would be content to eat there (she loves salad and hates carbs, some times I wonder if we’re really related) and I think she’s be alright with it.

    For mains I did a double dose, because it feels rude not to at an all-you-can-eat. The first plate was chicken panang with egg-fried rice. This was pretty indistinguishable from most Thai red curries I’ve eaten and was as hot as them (medium-hot I’d say), but actually quite nice. My second main was Goan fish curry with pilau rice and naan bread. Again the sauce was on the medium-hot side and the fish was chunky but well cooked, not too dry nor too flaky. Andrew, at some point, ate the paneer mhakani which he too said was hotter than he expected too. It’s clearly a bit of a theme. There were also lasagnes and chicken meatballs for anyone who fancied things a bit closer to home, cuisine wise.

    Pudding was standard all you can eat fayre. There was an ice cream maker with psychedelic sauces and an array of mini desserts which looked bought in, bulk buy – some more successful flavours than others. There was tradition gulab jamun and the buffet traditional chocolate fountain, but I had space left for neither.

    All in all though I was pleasantly surprised by Peachy Keens. It’s not the sort of place I’d ordinarily choose to go and some of the decor was a bit tired looking, but the food exceeded my, admittedly low, expectations. Surrounded by groups of people, including the celebration of a sixteenth birthday, it was a bit unusual to see a restaurant so busy on a Monday night but evident that they’re clearly doing something right to retain regulars. I’m not sure if go out of my way to visit but if I were staying in the hotel next door or looking to organise dinner with a large group with different food tastes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    1741 Coventry Road, Birmingham, B26 1DS

    Disclosure: I was invited to Peachy Keens by their PR team and our meals were complimentary in exchange for an honest review – I wasn’t required to say anything nice, nor was I required to include Utilitarianism 101 or the history of the venue as remembered by trips to the Swan when it was a treasure trove of tat (and I mean that fondly).

    Restaurant reviews

    Raja Monkey, Hall Green

    Since retiring my mum has become somewhat opinionated on the topic curry.  I’m not sure quite how this happened, but when you’re listening to her discuss the merits of curry houses in Monmouthshire versus Birmingham, it’s pretty obvious who is going to be the best person to take with me to review Raja Monkey.starter

    We arrived down on a Tuesday night and were pleasantly surprised to see there being quite a few people dining – couples, groups of friends, and a large family complete with adorable child in possibly the best onsie I’ve seen this year.  Located on the Stratford Rd, Raja Monkey’s street cafe brief is definitely at home here and whilst it might not seem like the most obvious location, the number of people in it on a Tuesday night begs to differ.

    Billed as an authentic Indian street cafe, the menu at Raja Monkey is reassuringly brief; an A3 of dishes including Thalis and curry, plus a couple of specials.  We’re spoilt in Birmingham for curry houses, but I’m still wary of places that have pages and pages of dishes.  Thankfully Raja Monkey doesn’t, which gives them the perfect opportunity to go for quality over quantity.

    My mum and I shared a starter of Bhoti kebab; lamb marinated with yoghurt and mustard oil.  Beautifully cooked, the lamb had a lovely smokiness and a sort of spice that danced over the tongue.  With three pieces it was of good size as a single portion, although also pretty good to share too.

    thaliFor main I had to go for the South Indian Thali; piquant fish kari cooked in coconut milk, mustard seed and curry leaves and served with rice, a dosa, aubergine curry and dhal.  The collection of dishes all had a lovely flavour; with the aubergine being spicier, the fish slightly sweet and the lentils creamy.  I didn’t actually need both the dosa and rice, as I was stealing bits of my mum’s naan bread, but the whole meal all had different flavour components which really worked.  My mum had spotted a special of Murgh Raj Tikka-Masala which was a nice twist on the British classic and wasn’t too sweet.

    Raja Monkey has a lovely relaxed atmosphere which is unfussy but clear that the staff take pride in their work.  The food is good value and whilst the menu isn’t massive this is a positive which allows them to make sure the dishes are each carefully prepared without pretence.  Definitely somewhere I’d be happy to go back to regularly.

    And Raja Monkey; It turns out it’s my mum’s favourite curry house anyway.  Take that Monmouthshire.

    Disclosure: I was invited to review Raja Monkey. Although my meal was complimentary I wasn’t required to write a positive review Opinions and photos in this post are my own and I really did listen to my mum tell me about curry houses in Monmouthshire.