Being Chinese, I have a natural gravitation towards anything SE Asian, especially in food terms. It’s the sense of eating something that is actually different to Chinese food, yet retains that sense of familiarity about it. We don’t have many Malaysian or Singaporean restaurants (or takeaways) here in Birmingham, which is a shame because they’re very vibrant cuisines and given how popular Thai cuisine is these days, it baffles me that Neither Malaysian or Singaporean food is more popular. I’ve already documented about Bugis St Brasserie and a friend mentioned about wanting to try Blue Ginger in Kings Heath, but they were closed for refurbishment when I tried to go, so I tried out their sister restaurant, Blue Piano, instead. If nothing, perhaps it could be “research” for my forthcoming trip to Singapore.
The restaurant is located near the Five Ways roundabout in Birmingham and is tucked away amongst a slew of large, Victorian houses – Most have been converted into offices but this particular building has been converted into a spacious restaurant and bar. It’s not the most obvious place to have a restaurant – Indeed it was very quiet when I went – But here’s hoping that the food would make the visit worth it.
The first thing that caught my eye on the menu in the starters were the Top Hats; they’re nothing more than wonton pastries deep fried to resemble top hats, then turned upside down and filled with pickled vegetables and crushed peanuts amongst other ingredients. They don’t sound particularly special, but I’ve not seen them on any menu in the UK before and well, I’ve been craving for them for a long time now and that Rick Stein trying them in Singapore as part of his Far Eastern Odyssey didn’t help matters! And these didn’t disappoint when they arrived – The pastry was crisp and light and the pickled vegetables were sweet and tart, whilst retaining a lot of bite. Contrast the crunchy peanuts with the soft hard-boiled egg. and a little bit of sauce – delicious! The only gripe was whether you tried to keep a sense of decorum whilst eating these and nibble at them – in which case the thing falls apart and you get it all over yourself and your surrounding area, or whether you (try to) eat the whole thing in one go – which isn’t a pretty sight for others to look at you as you struggle to close your mouth in the first place, then try chewing the whole thing in your mouth without looking *too* stupid or completely lacking table manners.
I was also intrigued by their Signature dish on the starters; Singapore Carrot Cake; it’s not actually made with carrots per se, but rather with mouli and is similar to what we have in Cantonese as turnip cake. However, it also came highly recommended (we cook it not only with egg but also with some sambal) so I felt compelled to try it anyway – And how glad I did. Soft, pillow-ey dumplings of the carrot/turnip cake with a crisp exterior, pan-fried with some shallots and sambal and topped with egg white and some spring onions – This was a perfect dish in contrasts of textures and tastes from the rather bland carrot/turnip cake with the salty and hot sambal. Very very nice – And still very different to the mouli/turnip cake I would get in Chinese cuisine.
There were a few mains dishes I wanted to try, I was intrigued to try their Beef Rendang given I make it myself sometimes and don’t think my version is too bad. The Slow Cooked Pork sounded suspiciously like the Dong Po Pork which I know I make a decent version of, so I wasn’t going to go for that and the sea bass with garlic, ginger and soy sauce is pretty much something I used to eat every day with the Mothership, so no WAY was I going to order that. Instead, I got seduced by the words “Nasi Lemak” and especially when I discovered that you could order it with a main dish too, I couldn’t really go wrong! I opted to go for a tamarind prawn curry to accompany my nasi lemak, but the other 2 choices of fish sambal and chicken goreng berlada did also appeal to me. What came out was a rather large plate with the nasi lemak in the centre of the plate with a generous helping of the tamarind prawn curry on one side, and plenty of peanuts, ikan bilis, sliced cucumber and (for some reason), prawn crackers. Not that I objected too much to the prawn crackers as I don’t get to eat them very often. Oh, and there was half a hard-boiled egg perched on top of the rice. It was a pretty big plate (which helped with the £16.50 price tag), but in all honesty, it was worth every penny. Sure, I can nit-pick and question why there were prawn crackers and want more chilli sambal, but the rice was cooked just how I like it (fairly hard) and the tamarind prawn curry was a symphony of flavour with the spices and heat, not to mention how the prawns were perfectly cooked. Even though I was a bit full, I wasn’t going to let any of it go to waste!
I was pretty stuffed by now, but they then told me how they has sticky rice with mango – Which could be one of my favourite things in the world to eat. Sticky rice (black or normal) is cooked with coconut milk and a bit of sugar, then served with fresh sweet mango – I’m salivating just thinking about it! Powerless to resist it, they fortunately gave me a bit of a break before serving the dessert and it was as good as I hoped – The mango could have been a bit more ripe, but the rice was sweet, soft, warm and unctuous. Hell, I want some now!
All in all, a decent meal was had at Blue Piano – I’d happily go back to try some of their other dishes. It certainly deserves to do well and I really hope they do. If you’re at all put off by the higher prices compared to other places, all I can say is that you should absolutely go ahead and treat yourself to a meal here at Blue Piano – Because that bit extra you pay comes through in the quality of the food.
You can view the full set of photos on Flickr