"I've not even seen the restaurant yet," says Rosa over the phone, her infectious laugh camouflaging the chaotic counter-intuition of launching a restaurant during coronavirus. "I've been looking to launch a Rosa's in Birmingham for about three years, so I can't wait to get over there and finally see it. Is it nice?" It is, yeah. And where Rosa has been waiting for three years, you need to wait for just twelve days. Eleven days before hospitality reopens in earnest. Twelve days before Rosa's Thai Cafe joins Dishoom in Paradise (above). It's been quite the journey...
I'm calling her Rosa because everyone does, but her real name is Saiphin Moore (pictured, second from left). Saiphin grew up on a mountain farm in Khao Kho, northern Thailand, where she learned to cook from her mom. By the time she left school she was growing her own crops and by 13 she’d sold enough coriander to buy a motorbike, and started making deliveries to neighbouring villages. At 16, she took her first steps into the restaurant business, opening a noodle shop in her parents’ front room. People travelled from across the province to try them.
When she was 20 Saiphin moved to Hong Kong to start work as a nanny, cooking family meals and full-on dinner party dishes. She got friendly with the market traders and shopkeepers of Kowloon City, a local grocer asking her to open an in-store noodle shop and this, in turn, led to a part-time role in a Thai restaurant. As a result, Saiphin spent the next two years fitting catering jobs around her babysitting duties and would often be cooking from 6am to 9pm. "I've never worked so hard in all my life," she tells me, that ever present, comforting chuckle belying years of graft. In 2001, she met husband Alex and, shortly afterwards, Saiphin opened a sit-down restaurant named Tuk Tuk Thai.
The pair lived together in Hong Kong for 6 years, before selling the restaurant and moving to London, in 2006. "We had nothing," she recalls. "No business, no money. It was scary." She started selling home-cooked meals at offices and although she’d make unusual dishes (fermented pork with crispy rice and red curry paste was a hit), she’d often sell out fast. Within a year, she was recruiting friends to help deliver food.
"One day, we went for a walk down Brick Lane and we saw all these market stalls. And we immediately decided we should get one. We did that for two years." At this stage the business wasn't called Rosa's at all. Alex stumbled upon a small greasy spooner called Rosa's Cafe, at Spitalfields, (above) and the pair agreed to take it on, paying for everything on credit. They flipped it into a Thai cafe but kept the name in recognition of the venue's past and, frankly, because they couldn't afford new signage. "Everyone was calling me Rosa, so I just went with it. It stuck." The pair sold their house in Hong Kong to finance a second site in Soho, with friends and family chipping in if they could afford to. "A third site followed," she says. "Then number four, number five, number six," Rosa, I mean Saiphin, making motorbikes out of coriander (figuratively) every step of the way. "It's been a whirlwind. Every time we gambled it seemed to pay off." Gambles maybe, but there's absolutely no doubting this woman's entrepreneurial acumen.
Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds followed, "and Birmingham was the missing link," she says. "I've always wanted to open in Birmingham and I'll tell you why. There is a large Thai population there and I had chefs coming from Birmingham to work in my London restaurants. The funniest thing though, everyone who comes to London from Birmingham pretty soon wants to move back! Chefs come to me and say that Birmingham is home and London just doesn't feel like home. So off they'd go, moving back from where they had just come from. It must be pretty good."
Rosa's may be Dishoom's neighbour (overlooking Town Hall and Birmingham Museum) but it's far smaller at 80 covers, compared to Dishoom's colossal 330. It's more homely in that regard, which is quite a feat given that the Paradise development is many things but 'homely' isn't really one of them. Stripped-back-cool, with immaculate turquoise tiling and the sort of considered lighting that'll withdraw in daylight but feel close and communal at night, this is modern Thai, set to a traditional, almost 'no frills' backdrop.
Every individual Rosa’s makes a subtle nod to its location. In Birmingham, the restaurant’s interior design includes influences from the Jewellery Quarter, with intimate booths, metal finishes and glass panels inspired by workshop benches. The space feels open and angular but somehow still warm and buzzy, small details getting priority over clutter and references.
Before I say goodbye to Rosa I ask what her favourite dishes are from the Brum menu. The stock response, the one that makes me heart sink, is so often "all of them," but, without missing a beat Rosa fires back "Panang curry, but have it with beef. If you're not looking for a curry then try the chilli and holy basil stir-fry with chicken — 'pad kra prow gai' as it's known in Thailand. I make this one for myself every week, without fail. Also, try the papaya salad," she says, still laughing as she hangs up. What a lovely lady.
Rosa's is open for reservations from May 22 onwards, having sold out its opening week, but if you want to try your luck at the door during soft launch, they say you can stop by from May 18.Book
PIES, PIP'S AND PUDS
Edgbaston Village is readying Greenfield Crescent for a new regular street market. The organisers behind Moseley Arts Market are steering what will henceforth be known as Edgbaston Village Artisan Market, which means it'll be filled with beaut traders for its swansong on Saturday, June 5, 10am to 3pm. Brummies have been going bats in the belfry over Kings Heath-based Rourke's Pies — who will be in attendance — and I can confirm their lamb and mint are preposterously good. ICB favourite Pip's Hot Sauce will be kicking about too, with Brum's finest bottles of chilli plus her new chilli chocolate and possibly (but only possibly) some of her U OK H'Onions — spicy pickled onions which in her words are "far too much effort to peel but people bloody love 'em". YUM Sweet Treats have also confirmed which is bad news for me because if they don't have any of these Freddo cookie dough wedges, my four-year-old will flip tables. All manner of art and jewellery types are also on board including Deb Stanley, whose photorealistic wildlife art will mess with your mind in all the right ways. More
The Venue: Your garden, c/o Hampton Manor's Peel's on Wheels; website Choice: BBQ Box (£150, feeds four easily) Chooser: Head chef designed it
Despite decades-worth of evidence to the contrary, it turns out, I'm really very good at barbecuing. You might argue that having a box of Dunwood Farm prime cuts, seasonal produce and silly-good sauces created by Hampton Manor's Michelin-starred kitchen dropped at my doorstep aided me. You might also argue that cooking instructions so simple I could follow them even after sinking Peel's on Wheels' pre-batched piña colada and their paired sparkling was a factor. But if you're looking for an invite to round two, probably stop arguing and put some time into working out if you want your rare breed rib of beef rare or medium rare, your slow-cooked pork belly charred or extra charred and your monkfish tail served up with the kitchen's XO mayo or a simple lemon finish. And while I'm not going to use up my word count banging on about the virtues of salads, who knew barbecuing a gem lettuce made it so damn tasty? Not all delivery boxes are created equal—and filled with little jars of dressings like confit garlic and mustard, lashings of sauces, proper fresh produce, and herbs straight from Hampton Manor's estate—this one arrives looking almost as ace as it tastes. Though I don't think that should take anything away from just how good I am at barbecuing. Available throughout summer, all boxes include three lots of snacks, three mains, three sauces and three seasonal salady combos. Drinks are extra. Delivery is on Fridays. Order
WIN A FRAMED HORACE PANTER PRINT WORTH £350
The Specials bassist and pop artist Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman) has a new exhibition, both virtually and in person at RCFA, on Colmore Row. "It's called Cassettes," says Horace. "Cassettes have always been objects of fascination for me. My previous collection of cassette paintings focused on studio demo-tapes or mix tapes, featuring bands or songs that withstood the test of time. This time I wanted to focus on the cassette itself as an object, in the tradition of Pop Art. I was particularly interested in the colour and design. I've stripped the cassette back to a stand-alone object, in the same way that Andy Warhol stripped back the soup can." To celebrate the launch of the 16 paintings, we're giving away a framed and signed limited edition copy of which only 50 are made per original. The winner can pick the design of their choice. Head over to Instagram for your chance to win this £350 prize. See the full collection online here or head into RCFA from May 8. Entry is free.
Hippodrome aren't hanging about. Hot on the heels of last week's announcement about the first shows to appear since lockdown comes 'The Play That Goes Wrong', family fave 'What the Ladybird Heard', and drag shindig 'Ceri Dupree’s A Star Is Torn!!!' More
Mom-fave and celeb chef James Martin's new tour includes a date at Symphony Hall, March 8. Tickets go on sale at 10am tomorrow (May 7). Expect butter.
The Kickstarter funded book Birmingham: It's Not Shit has met its target, but more backers means authors will be able to pay a local artist to illustrate the cover and "stretch targets" mean they'll be able to throw a launch party. Dig deep
We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.