The Quest for the Perfect Balti

punjab paradise - BaltiI’ve taken on a challenge, a project, a search, a quest if you like, to find the best Birmingham Balti. Why? Because I’ve been asked to speak as a ‘local food expert’ at an event in July 2010 – the topic is the origins of the Birmingham Balti – and quite frankly I’m scared. Although I’ve eaten and loved them for 9 years since first moving to Birmingham, I’m certainly not a Balti expert. So, I thought, I better get doing some research. Now there’s going to be other experts speaking who know a lot more than me about the Birmingham Balti, and there’ll be chefs there talking about the finer points of the ingredients and cooking style, so what’s left to research?

I’m going to take a look at the Balti from the perspective of the inquisitive eater, using my tastebuds, stomach, and general ignorance as my primary research tools. And I’ve set up a new blog to document my progress at http://perfectbalti.wordpress.com. I’ll be posting food reviews for sure, but I’m hoping to delve a little deeper, ask some questions, meet the owners and  chefs, take some photos, discover the culture, stroke the underbelly, and hopefully present an overview of what a Balti-eater can and should expect. And who knows perhaps along the way I’ll find the perfect Balti…

Can the Midlands Produce Britain’s Best Dish?

I officially left my job as an NHS nutritionist on Tuesday. It was a strange moment as I headed out of the building, leaving behind me four and half formative years of working on the front line of food and public health, and heading into the unknown world of running a new food social enterprise. Then my phone rang. “Hello?” I said. “Hello, this is Christina from ITV” said the voice on the other end. YES, I thought, my gamble has paid off, goodbye NHS, hello Ant and Dec. “I was wondering whether you’d help promote a cooking programme for us”. Ugh. No River Cottage meets Jamie at Home TV series for me after all.

Nonetheless I was all ears, not wanting to miss an opportunity to show off Birmingham’s cooking talent. As it turns out, ITV are about to start auditioning for the 4th series of Britain’s Best Dish. The programme is an amateur cookery competition in which they celebrate local produce and fantastic home cooking. Birmingham auditions take place 15th May, so please do go for it. Lets show the nation that Birmingham’s not just about Michelin stars, we’ve also got some of the best home cooking in the country. Email bestdish@itv.com to enter. Tell them I sent you. Check out the flyer below.

MIDLANDS POSTER FLYER 2010-1

Rossiters Organic Butchers

S A Rossiters, 247 Mary Vale Road, Bournville, Birmingham, B30 1PN
Local Products Available (<40 miles from B1 1AA): Pork, Lamb, Mutton, Beef from Galileo Organic Farm; Free Range Chicken and Turkey from Caldecotts Holly Farm (Wythall); Chicken from Springfield Poultry (Leominster)
Tel: 0121 458 1598 Email: update your listing Web: update your listing
Distance from B1 1AA by road: 4.6 Miles

The Grocer @ Edgbaston

The Grocer @ Edgbaston, 1 Templefield Square, Wheeleys Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2LJ
Local Products Available (<40 miles from B1 1AA):
Fowlers Cheese (Earlswood), R-Oil (Stow-on-the-Wold), Just Oil (Rugeley), Purity Brewing Company (Studley), various ready-made’s from Creating Taste
Tel:
0121 4404205 Email: update your listing Web: www.thegroceratedgbaston.co.uk
Distance from B1 1AA by road: 1.5 Miles

Leverton & Halls Deli and Coffee House

Leverton & Halls, 218 Mary Vale Road, Bournville, Birmingham, B30 1PJ
Local Products Available (<40 miles from B1 1AA):
Eggs (Frankley), Honey (Kings Norton), Berkswell Cheese (Berkswell).
Tel: 01214 511246 Email: update your listing Web: update your listing
Distance from B1 1AA by road: 4.5 Miles

Taste of Birmingham 9-12 July 2009

taste birminghamTaste of Birmingham food festival starts tonight in Canon Hill Park, and runs until Sunday. It’s supposed to be a celebration of Birmingham and the region’s food culture, with 17 local restaurants taking part, and a host of food producers from the region exhibiting. Loaf will be there for the opening session tonight, and is equally hopeful and sceptical about what awaits. We’ll be on the hunt for local ingredients among other bits – a bit of research for the soon to be launched local food directory!

In previous years the cost has been somewhat prohibitive, but this year it’s much more reasonable (£10 advanced tickets), and is being launched by local agency Marketing Birmingham, so hopefully will be more in-tune with the local scene, and we’ll have less of the helicopter-travelling slebchef nonsense.

Expect a full review in the next couple of days, and some twitter action from the fest tonight – another reason to follow @loafonline on twitter! If anyone else will be twittering from the event tonight, leave you’re twitter name in the comments below.

La Banca Review

Bill for four including wine
Bill for four including wine

La Banca is a brand new Italian restaurant in the heart of Cotteridge village. It’s home is the old bank (hence the name) opposite the corner of Pershore Road and Watford Road. Opening night was the 30th of June, and loaf was there to soak up the atmosphere…

La Banca has little competition in Cotteridge – the clean but classical decor is a far cry from Greggs or Subway – and provides a buzzing, excited atmosphere whilst loaf awaits it’s dinner guests. The welcoming and obviously experienced manager, belied a noticeably nervous front of house, with the understandable opening night jitters: uncollected cutlery, unpoured wine, bill mistakes, and longer than usual waits for orders etc. The menu is probably a bit too large for a single cuisine restaurant, but with a notable absence of pizzas – perhaps investment in a proper oven will come at a later date. Pasta predominates, but there’s an enticing range of non-pasta ‘secondi’ too – the tuna steak with cold tomato salsa was tempting, but at £13.95 (the most expensive item) loaf couldn’t stretch to it in these credit-crunch times.

The menu is spattered with seasonal treats – chard, peas, mint; but there’s no claim that this is intentional, nor is there any indication of where they are sourced. Nevertheless, the food was good – homemade canneloni was executed well and served in a deliciously fresh salty-sweet tomato sauce, and the tirimasu was smooth and luxurious, if lacking a little of the expected alco-kick. There were appreciative noises coming from round the table and the portion sizes were about right if you’re having more than one course. The wine list is excellent, and extensive, with great descriptions for those as ignorant as loaf!

Overall La Banca serves good, well presented, fairly priced food, in a nice environment, which is an overdue treat for Cotteridge. The owners also run Pangaea in Kings Heath which is also worth checking out for a posh curry. For address details and menu etc, see their website at: www.labanca.co.uk

3/5

The Beez Neez

Went to the Birmingham international food fair on Wednesday evening. It’s a city council sponsored event organised by a French company, the first of what the council are hoping will be an annual summer event to replicate the popularity of the Christmas market.

I was on the hunt for locally produced food and found a great honey producer from Kingswinford (12 miles west of Birmingham), the Beez Neez. They sell a range of honey’s from lavender, to lime flower, to acacia, all around £3-4.

The best thing was that the bee keeper was also selling on the stall and very keen to offer an education in honey with every jar. I went for the lime flower honey, and it definitely has a noticeable citrus tang to it. If I can find some local stockists I’ll add to this post.