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    Bar reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, Jewellery Quarter

    indian_brewery_company

    I’ll accept a lot of things in the name of good food and drink, after all we’re only human we all have crap days, but it’s kind of hard to forgive a place built for beer that does it badly.  Anyone familiar with the Taj Mahal will be aware that an emperor built a palace in memory of his favourite wife he loved her that much.  In my head, this is the kind of thinking that goes into building a tap house; a brewery is so proud of their beers they build a living shrine to it.  You’ve lovingly crafted this liquid nectar, it’s going to be super fresh and if anyone is going to treat it right, baby it’s you.

    Sadly not.

    Recently, I went to the Indian Brewery Company’s tap house, newly housed in the old Brewsmith’s building.  It was a Thursday night, and understandably busy, but the place cramped and the music felt intrusively loud; there is very little space to stand if the lines of bench-style seating are taken, and the place full of men in suits.  I’m not complaining about the suits, having already attracted the locals is a good thing, but cramming up by the door because there’s nowhere to stand isn’t fun.

    Understandably, the bar takes up one side of the venue and Indian Brewery Snowhill’s beers make up the bulk of the offerings, with cans of Birmingham Lager used to decorate; a nice touch without looking too gimmicky.  There are several shelves of spirits and I saw a few people drinking wine; nice to see they’re catering for the non-beer drinkers too.  On my visit, there were lone cans of beer from Magic Rock and Evil Twin, on a shelf which would’ve been fine except they were served straight from that shelf, and unlikely to be at the correct temperature.  Call me dramatic, but that feels to me like a disrespectful way to treat other breweries beers, in somewhere that ought to know better.

    chicken_tikka_roti

    I’d like to be able to tell you that the can debacle was just a mistake, but when I was given a glass of Peacock, their take on an English style bitter, things just seem to get worse.  To me, and the two people with me, it did not smell right and it didn’t taste much better either.  The aroma was what caused me to google “why does my beer smell like pond water” because I could smell sulphur, and that’s not what I want to smell in my beer if it puts me off drinking. The reaction I got from the member of staff I complained to was a lesson in how not to do customer service and when he grudgingly replaced it, I realised the IPA he’d given me didn’t feel like it was being served at the right temperature either. My third drink there was a Diet Coke.

    And of the food. My chicken tikka roti was nice, the chicken tender and flavoursome but nothing particularly special, disappointing in a city like Birmingham where Indian food is ten-a-penny.  My masala fries arrived cold, and had to be sent back, replaced, this time, without much hassle.  As far as fries go they were alright, but I suspect others might find the heat of rather generous masala seasoning a bit overkill, as did one of my dining companions.  The fish and chips, and chicken wings enjoyed by my friends well received, the sauce on the chicken wings in particular, and something I’d be keen to try.

    fish_and_fries

    I really wanted to like the Indian Brewery Snowhill; a quirky little independent rising from the ashes of another fallen indie café, pushing forward the Birmingham beer scene and giving us somewhere exciting to go for food and drink.  This wasn’t my experience, but rather than leave me disappointed, I was angry.  I can forgive one mistake, but I had beer that didn’t taste right, poor customer service and cold fries.  I guess bad things do come in threes.

    I might go back for food, those wings looked good, but I won’t be back for beer. I’d rather go down the road or visit some of the cities award winning bottle shops and head for the Balti Triangle.  I can only hope that I witnessed a blip, but frankly there’s enough places selling better beer that finding out is likely to be low on my list.

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, 214 Livery St, Birmingham B3 1EU. http://www.indianbrewery.com/snowhill

    Disclosure: I paid for this myself. Well except one beer, which a friend bought, and reminds me, I owe him a drink.

    Reviews, Take away

    First Bite: Chilli Aariz in Stirchley

    lamb_mirchi_masalaYou know how it is when you’re full of the lurgy and after what feels like a lifetime you’re finally able to eat something other than bread?  Yep, that happened to me recently and I celebrated with curry…obviously.

    I still wasn’t feeling tip-top, so ordering a take away to be delivered seemed like the wisest plan and, as I was sitting on a voucher for hungryhouse, I figured I’d try one of the local curry houses.  Honestly, I’d like to tell you there was lots of thinking behind this but I went with whichever one the app came up with first and Chilli Aariz in Stirchley was it.

    I sort of went overboard with the ordering, mainly because all I’d eaten all week was bread, and they had a deal where you got 20% off if you spent over £20, so I figured what the hell (and I could always reheat the leftovers).  I wasn’t overly sure spicy curry was the wisest idea so went with something mild and something a bit spicier.  In the end I ordered; chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, naan, pilau rice, shish kebab and lamb mirchi masala.

    The chicken tikka masala was pretty standard because I’m not sure it’s ever the most exciting of dishes.  I sometimes wish saag paneer wasn’t a side dish because spinach and cheese is lovely, although the addition of a few slices of tomato confused me a bit.  The lamb mirchi masala was described as arinatuc herbs and spices along with green chillies, garlic and coriander.  I probably should’ve guessed that spices and green chillies might be a bit on the hot side, but their menu never mentioned this.  For most of the week my taste buds couldn’t cope with much more exciting than bread, so maybe I was being a wuss but this blasted through my head cold and felt more of the medium-hot scale.

    The service was also pretty good too; the food arrived in the time they said it would, and whilst the driver got a little confused as to where I live was (the sat nav likes to send people to the wrong road) he called and apologised profusely.  I’m not sure my taste buds were entirely up to reviewing this place properly, but I was satisfied with my first bite of food after not being able to eat much all week, so I’ll order from Chilli Aariz again.

    hungryhouse are running a competition where they’ll be awarding £25 hungryhouse vouchers every day until the 23 October 2015.  To enter, Instagram a photo of your food, tag @hungryhouseuk and use the hashtag #FirstBite.   For more information, or to check out their terms & conditions, visit http://hungryhouse.co.uk/blog/firstbite-instagram-competition/

    naan_bread

    Disclosure: hungryhouse sent me a voucher which had no strings attached – no really!  Anyway, as it arrived just in time for me to be able to order actual food I figured I might as well tie it in with their First Bite competition, because who doesn’t love an excuse to Instagram.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Lasan, Jewellery Quarter

    Talk about famous Birmingham restaurants and bets are someone will mention Lasan pretty quickly.  It’s not hard to see why, with it’s Indian fusion, fine dining cuisine and nationwide recognition from being voted Best Local restaurant by Gordon Ramsey’s F Word to inclusion on BBC’s Great British Menu and several British Curry Awards.

    After enjoying food a few times as Lasan’s sister venues, Fiesta del Asado and Raja Monkey, I was keen to try Lasan for the first time and so my friend Ed and I ventured down to see what all the fuss was about.  We had a look at the menu, but after hearing rave reviews about the tasting menu we decided to treat ourselves.

    First up was an Amouse Bouche, an Indian broth of reduced lamb stock, black cardamom and cream with a sort of na’an breadstick on the side.  This was deliciously creamy and certainly set me up for the next few courses.  After that was a smoked duck samosa with sweet tamarind chutney and cucumber.  Although tiny this was delicious and a little sweet, with perfectly cooked pastry and I’d certainly have been happy to eat this again.  Our third dish was Kekda, soft shell crab dipped in ajwain and Kashmiri chilli batter which was inspired by the winning fish course on the BBC’s Great British Menu and so I had high hopes.  It was nice and the crab was beautifully light and dainty, but if I’m honest I wanted a bit more spice.

    Continuing the fish theme was Sarson ki Jhinga; a fresh water prawn marinated in mustard, turmeric and lemon, served with grapefruit, orange and fennel shoots.  The prawn was lovely and meaty with the turmeric giving it a nice flavour without being overpowering.  The accompanying salad garnish was also a lovely zingy contrast to the prawn and its marinade.  The Nellore Chappa, a pan fried fillet of wild Cornish bass on slow cooked aubergine was equally delightful with a lovely crisp ship and flavoursome meat.

    Until this point everything I’d eaten had been lovely, but a real standout dish for me was the Haleem; a speciality from Hyderabad of mutton cooked slowly with pearl barley and lentils, with fresh ginger, fried onions and lime.  Named after the Persian for ‘patience’ because of time needed to cook it, this was a wonderful, complex mix of savoury mutton with a hint of heat from the ginger and a nice twist of citrus.  I would go back for this dish alone.

    The last savoury dish was Hiran Achari – slow braised haunch of venison and pearl onion bhuna and tandoori spiced loin of venison with Bengalo sauteed chard and okra bhajee and picked pumpkin puree served with Achaar gravy.  Beautifully cooked with a lovely pink hue to the meat this was a close runner up for me in terms of favourite dishes.  I’m not sure the dish really needed the rice and na’an bread, but I was pleased to see their inclusion and would certainly allay any fears someone might have of fine dining being tiny portions.

    IMG_1418.JPGTo finish the sweet course was Bombay Mess, a twist of the classic Eton Mess with mango mousse, raspberry sorbet, berries, mango, pineapple and meringue with a hint of cardamom and Thai basil.  I much preferred this to Eaton Mess with its fresh flavours, contrasting textures and bright colours, it had a lovely simple playfulness to it and beautifully executed dessert.

    By this point both Ed and I were pretty full, which is a bit of an unusual feeling after a fine dining menu.  Each of the dishes had its own unique flavour and whilst the Haleem was a particularly favourite, I would struggle to pick one I didn’t like.

    The tasting menu was a great introduction to the breadth and complexity of flavours in the dishes at Lasan.  Having eaten there it’s easy to see why they’re rated so highly amongst Brummies and a host of celebrities, as well as chefs.  I’m looking forward to returning and trying some dishes from their menu soon.

    http://www.lasan.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Lasan by the team to give my honest opinion on the food.  A certain portion of the bill was deduced and the rest Ed and I paid for ourselves, although this didn’t mean I had to be nice about the food. Please note, that the photo of Hiran Achari also includes what is apparently becoming a sort of ‘photo-bombing’ of food blogging photography where your dinner guest partially ends up in the photo. Although Ed made me re-take this photo because he didn’t like the first one.

    Events, News, Pop Ups and Streetfood

    Holi Rave & Indian Feast-ival

    holiraveChucking colourful powder at each other in order to celebrate Holi, the festival of colour, sounds like a pretty fun way to celebrate a Saturday anyway, but team it up with a pun-tastic Indian Feast-ival and it just gets even better.

    Amusement 13 (on Kent St – near the Nightingale) is playing host to Holi Rave & Indian Feast-ival this Saturday – 21 March 2015.  Celebrating the ancient Hindu religious festival of colour, the Birmingham Holi is being organised by Shaanti and will feature live music from bhangra and electronic artists, the usual colour powder celebrations, henna tattoos and Indian God/Goddess face painting – you can totally be a god/goddess for the day!  And the bit I’m most excited about; food from Indian street food vendors from around the Midlands and local restaurants.

    Holi Rave is teaming up with Taste & Liquor to bring you the Indian Street Food Feast-ival.  Confirmed vendors so far are Mahirs ExperienceVichag FoodsField-Elicious  and local legends Wrapchic.  For those looking for a drink, there will also be Taste & Liquor’s first pop-up cocktail bar (they’ll later be a permanent fixture inside Amusement 13, tailoring their menus to compliment the venue’s events).

    Manga Singh managing director of Taste & Liquor and founder of Indian Street Food Feast-ival says; “Shaanti is always exciting, because they offer a very tasteful selection of events. For us it’s an honour to launch with their second festival Holi Rave –they’re unique and you know they’re going to put on an incredible event. Combining their love for music with our love for food gives the public a great way to try lots of different world flavours and sounds without having to leave Birmingham.

    “Indian Street Food Feast-IVAL also provides an opportunity for start-ups and small businesses to get out there and give it a go – without any overheads, it’s important to support local chefs and produce – it’s an idea setting to engage with new customers face to face and introducing new and exciting dishes from Bombay to Calcutta, from Lahore to Birmingham.”

    Get your tickets for the Holi Rave via the website http://www.holirave.com/ or Ticketmaster.

    Disclosure: This was posted because it sounds interesting and unusual and you can totally pretend to be a goddess all day and get yourself covered in pretty colours all whilst eating yummy food. Why wouldn’t I want to help share that news?! Also the photo belongs to Holi Rave which I took from their website, with permission.

    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
    http://www.peachykeens.co.uk/

    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).

    Product reviews

    Moms Home Cooking*

    All this dining out is all well and good, but some times I miss the call of a home cooked meal with no airs and graces. Enter Moms Home Cooking, a sort of meals-on-wheels for the student and/or professional. That’s to say they’ll deliver five days worth of home-cooked dinner for £10, which works out cheaper than a take out. Umar, the man behind Moms home Cooking, got in contact and asked if I wanted to give the delivery service a try, so of course I said yes.

    DSC_2390

    I was given the vegetarian Indian option to try, as they were looking to expand their offerings. Umar duly delivered individually portioned sets of Aloo (Bombay potatoes), Rajma (red kidney beans), Gobi (spicy cabbage) and Maash Daal (yellow lentil) .  Each dish is also served with the sort of fluffy plain rice that you find in restaurants that I just cannot recreate at home, no matter how much I try.  The portions all come in their own metal take-out container, which is perfect for popping into the oven to cook when you get home from a busy day, or transfer into a dish and stick in the microwave. The week I tried them was a busy one, so I took a few to work for lunch and they traveled well.

    All of the dishes felt like they were on the medium-hot scale of spiciness.  Ordinarily, I’d probably go for something a touch milder, but I enjoyed having my taste buds challenged and once I got used to it the heat was quite pleasant – probably helped by the cold spell we were having at the time.  A particular favourite was the Maash Daal, which uncooked resembled a sort of paste, but once heated and stirred through the rice to make a lovely sticky rice full of flavour. I’m not usually a fan of double carbs in my dinner (sorry chip butty fans), but even the Aloo and rice worked well, with a nice bite to the potato which prevented it being a big pile of fluffy carbs.

    DSC_2389I’m not aware of anything similar to Moms Home Cooking, but it’s a great idea and seems unusual I haven’t stumbled across something similar. Moms Home Cooking offers food which is flavoursome but isn’t dripping in the over-indulgence from the local curry house; it’s the sort of food you could imagine your mum cooking (or at least if my mum was Pakistani and not the daughter of Irish immigrants). And it’s good value at £10 for five meals, each of which is different – something which would be hard to recreate at home, unless you wanted a freezer full of extra portions.

    The ordering system is also pretty simple – order by Thursday and the following Monday a week’s worth of food will be delivered.

    Moms Home Cooking are expanding their offerings, so as well as the Indian cuisine option there is also British and Caribbean offerings. If, like me, you tend to be busy during the week and not always in enough to justify cooking, else risk reheating the same meal for days in a row, then this is a cost-effective way to make sure that you eat something decent without resorting to microwave meals. Being versatile enough that it also works as an alternative lunch, Mom’s Home Cooking is worth ordering if you’re expecting a busy week and don’t want the indulgence of consecutive nights of take out.

    http://momsghc.flavors.me/

    <p style=”font-size: x-small;”>Disclosure: I was given a selection of dishes for free in exchange for a review.  I wasn’t obliged to give a positive review, all opinions (and photos) are my own.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    EastzEast Birmingham

    Birmingham is synonymous with curry, so opening an Indian restaurant in the heart of the city was always going to be a brave thing to do.  But with successful restaurants in Manchester and Liverpool and plenty of awards under their belt, EastZEast opened on Broad St early last month.

    With around 200 covers, it’s a large restaurant but the contemporary interior is nicely balanced so it feels welcoming yet still has a sense of occasion.  The menu is also impressive; billed as ‘the home of punjabi cooking’ there are a lot of familiar dishes on the menu but there is also a section of traditional Punjabi Desi dishes which are perhaps less familiar.

    We started with an array of appetisers.  The EastzEast Mixed Starter for two includes lamb chops, fish tikka, seekh kebabs, chicken wings, and samosas.  It’s a lot of food, but each item feels like it’s been carefully thought through and the spices and flavours for each item give it a lovely, individual taste.  The fish, cod, was light and still retained moisture, but the spices gave it a lovely taste and whilst lamb chops might seem like an strange addition, it oddly worked.  I also tried the Vegetable Mixed Starter with aloo tikka, mushroom pakora, paneer pakora, mixed vegetable pakora and aloo pakora.  It sounds like a lot of pakora (aka fried food), but again it felt like each was give careful attention to detail.  I had a lovely slice of aubergine, which had been fried but retained its flavour without being greasy.  The paneer was chunky, yet utterly delicious.

    16  02

    I love bread, so the arrival of a table/family naan was welcomed.  As table naan should be it was an impressive sight and though they can sometimes be a bit disappointingly dry, this wasn’t.  We also tried some of the smaller flavoured naan, which are well worth getting if you don’t want to share your bread.

    As I mentioned before, there are a number of main courses, some familiar and some not.  We tried a lovely Biryani, which had a lovely lightness to it, rather than a heavy stodgy which some can befall.  A particular favourite dish was the Keema Aloo Mutter, a minced rice, potato and peas; medium spiced which gave it a good flavour without overpowering the individual ingredients, this was one I’d be happy to eat again.  Our table was too full so I didn’t write down the names but we also tried some seafood dishes that usually I’d steer clear of in curry-houses, but these were delightful.

    27  29

    Sadly I had to leave at this point so I didn’t get to try and of the desserts, but if the starters and mains were anything to go by they’d be well worth trying.  EastzEast has an impressive menu, which offers a great variety that is all well executed.  It also caters well for vegetarians and points out the dishes that contain cream as well as more healthy options.  Whilst the Balti Belt might be the go-to for a casual curry in Brum, EastZEast is well worth checking out in you’re in the city centre and looking for something authentic, that suits a variety of tastes.

    http://eastzeast.com/

    Disclosure: I was invited down by Delicious PR to help eat the props after a promotional photo-shoot.  I wasn’t obliged to write a positive review, all views are my own.  Photos by Jas Sansi – https://www.facebook.com/jassansi.