From Curry to Fish and Chips..

My sister YML and her family recently came over from San Jose, California to visit for the first time in nearly a decade. Needless to say, all of us were incredibly excited about it so the rest of us arranged a bit of a family reunion at my house which would include a meal cooked by myself for everyone (which I will blog about separately). However, they were in Birmingham for a few days and I wanted to not only show them how much Birmingham has changed since they were last here, but also wanted to take the opportunity to let them try things that they possibly missed and/or couldn’t get in California.

Top of the list was a curry, an Indian curry to be more precise. I’ll be completely honest and confess that I’ve yet to be wowed by the restaurants in the Balti Triangle, they’re perfectly acceptable but you can get better elsewhere and I think it’s more the fact that you’re eating in the Balti Triangle rather than the quality of the actual curry itself that appeals to people more. I think that Indian food has come a long way in the past decade and is moving away from the stereotypical curry house from my days as a student where you’d go at weekends and have a bowl of curry with a pool of grease floating on top to go with the copious amounts of lager you’re drinking. It’s now much more health conscious and the newer, modern Indian restaurants emphasise this to separate themselves from the aforementioned curry houses. There is a greater awareness of regionality and of the subtle differences that exist between the cuisines of different Indian regions. It was an early Thursday evening and I needed somewhere which was also suitable for my 7-year-old nephew.

Initially, I wanted to book a table at Lasan but when I looked into booking about 2 months beforehand, we still didn’t have a firm itinerary and the cancellation policy was quite punitive so that was ruled out. I then thought of Kababish as they’ve always been reliably good, but I wasn’t sure it would be suitable for my nephew. So, I settled on Lasan Eatery as that’s my regular go-to place and is reasonably close to where I live. Besides, I’ve yet to be disappointed by their food and have converted a few people to going there in recent months. I’m pleased to say that it was a great success with them all – despite my brother-in-law very nearly eating the menu because he was so hungry when we got there and his protestations afterwards that his curry had been given the gourmet treatment. The grilled items were as good as ever – still juicy on the inside and the crust was crisp and gave a smokey flavour from being cooked in the tandoor, the masala aloo dosa was light and crisp with the filling delicately spiced so that they all complimented rather than overpowering each other. However, the highlights of the night were the sag gosht and the 2 vegetable dishes, especially the bindi do-piaza; the lamb was tender and the spinach still vibrantly green without being over-cooked, similar to the okra which again wasn’t overcooked therefore hadn’t collapsed into a soggy heap of mush as you often get when ordering okra dishes. The spicing levels for all dishes were perfectly judged and I’ll be honest, to see YML enjoy herself so much made me exceptionally happy. She had for the first part of the meal said that Indian food had also come a long way in California and they can get something decent out there now so whilst she was initially still maintaining that the food she got back home was on a par with it here, she quickly conceded that the food was better here than back home once she tasted the mains. Great success! Even if it was gourmet’ed..

Another thing we thought YML et famille would miss in the USA was decent cheese, specifically unpasteurised cheeses, which meant there was really only one place to take them to – Capeling & Co. in Kings Heath. It’s a small, but perfectly formed shop where David is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic that you can’t help but be taken in by it all. Even when there was a comment that one of the cheeses tasted of the smell of horse manure (which was a compliment, I think), David took it very well and remarked on how he does say to people that some cheeses have “fecal undertones” so I’m kind of hoping that he didn’t mind the reference to horse manure! We got some 18-month Montgomery Cheddar, Sharpham, Berkswell (you must have local cheese!) and some Blue Monday which were all duly wolfed down and appreciated by everyone later that evening. I need to give special credit to David for coping so well with us all invading his shop and dealing with all inquisitive questions and (sometimes obscure) reference points when tasting the cheese, even to the point where YML wanted to “be really American” and asked if David minded having his picture taken with her which I think amused him somewhat. It’s not very often that YML gets so impressed so David, if you’re reading this, you should take it as a really good sign and compliment that YML asked to take her picture with you – It’s testament to how impressed she was from visiting your shop!

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By now, it was 1pm and so we headed to Bedders for lunch. Bedders is a fish and chip shop which has been going since the 1950s and is a bit of a local legend at how they still do things as they did when they first opened in the 1950s (albeit the fryers are probably newer). When you go there you can still get double fish and chips with extra crispy bits, pickled onions and mushy peas which are made on the premises and not from a jar or tin. It’s always packed whenever we go there and rarely has the fish been out of the fryer for longer than 5 minutes before they need to fry another batch up – The guy in charge of the fryers usually works non-stop as a result. Business is so good that they generally only open at lunch times and the only evening they open is on Fridays when they also open 4-7pm. Given it was a nice day, we decided to sit outside in the garden and eat there; fresh fish and chips straight from the fryer with a ladle of their gorgeous mushy peas (with bits of ham in it) and plenty of onions. Again, we were all unison in agreement that this was very good fish and chips and very much a reminder of how fish and chips used to be when we were growing up – Even to the slices of buttered (well, margarine) sliced white bread to accompany the fish dinners. Bedders is still one of the few places that you can order haddock or plaice for your fish and chips that I know of. Sure, you can go to Great British Eatery but as Bedders is quite local to me, that will always get my vote.

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We managed to fit a lot in a small space of time; Paul even managed to get to eat a doner kebab and drink some real ale whilst in Birmingham and whilst there were still plenty of other places I wanted to take them all, I think the places we did take them were all of a high enough standard to show that Birmingham has some great places to eat, and I know that YML and Paul really enjoyed themselves. I’d happily recommend these places to anyone and wouldn’t hesitate in going again, neither should you if you’re ever given the opportunity to do so.

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