(Issue 128)
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Every week we pontificate about the very best dish to have found its way onto our plate, but what about the process behind the end result? From a new start-up burger bar to a global mega chain, we've been hanging backstage with the menu maestros to find out precisely what’s involved.
Tom Cullen (Editor) at O.P.M; Dish - Burgers. All of the burgers.
Not content with showing me a dish to cook, Brum's finest burger architects decided I had to actually work the lion's share of a lunch shift. Since 9am they'd been prepping sauces (all their house special sauces are made from scratch - they'd had garlics roasting for hours by the time I arrived), slow-cooking barbecue beans and hand-balling dozens of patties. Their level of preparation is immense. Example: they pull apart every slice of American cheese and arrange two slices in star-like formation, making them easier to apply in portions of two, come service. This saves them about five seconds per burger.
The beef arrives minced from a Herefordshire farm that the O.P.M boys are not for revealing. The farmer himself has said they are at the limit of the amount of the five week-aged mince he can provide – they cook 110kg a week for an always busy restaurant. The farm might be guarded with Area 51 levels of secrecy, but they were willing to reveal their beef to fat ratio. A 70% meat to 30% fat combo provides enough flavour and 'hold' that no other ingredients are required. And you'll probably be unsurprised to hear that these chaps have a decent dollop of fun on top of the obsessive level of detail they go into. O.P.M has a Robot Coupe machine nicknamed Alex Murphy (one for the fanboys) and a creepy looking sketch of arch-nemesis Ronald McDonald guarding their first aid kit. These are chefs at the top of their game, loving every ingredient and every step of the process. Full recipe
Katy Drohan (Deputy Editor) at Opus, Cornwall Street; Dish: Steamed fillet of brill, fennel and squid ink ravioli, cockle beurre blanc and sea vegetables
The first restaurant I ever ate at in Birmingham was Opus. Following which, I immediately accepted a spot at UoB and never left Brum. After numerous follow-up visits, I crossed the threshold into the kitchen for the first time at 9am on a Monday, hours later than the team of eight who were busy soaking, steaming and reducing across every available surface. Steamed fillet of brill with fennel and squid ink ravioli was the 'simple' dish exec chef, Ben Ternent picked out for me to prepare, and pasta making was step number one. Yep—I (*we*) made this innocuous looking dome of delicious from scratch.
Next on the agenda were the cockles, which—after dispensing with open molluscs—were thrown into a very hot pan together with a slug of wine. Ready after only a few minutes (when they open; throw them away if they don't), the liquor in which the cockles cooked formed the glorious reduction which is critical to the success of the beurre blanc—the sauce which makes this dish the kind of thing to require even Gordon Ramsay to crack a beam. Steaming the fish and ravioli, the only thing you can do wrong now is cook either for too long. Or boil the beurre blanc - if you do that it will separate. Or let the beurre blanc get too cold (separation again being the issue). And the pasta will split if too dry/not properly finished/too much filling has been used... Easy, right? Full recipe
Tom Cullen (Editor) at wagamama, New Street; Dish - Firecracker chicken
The chef is showing me how to flip ingredients with Thor-like strength. This wok is about three times heavier than the one I have at home and I'm spilling food all over the place. Our photographer captures one professional looking flip (above), but mark my words, those ingredients are on a trajectory right out of the pan. "People need to look past Chicken Katsu Curry," chef Dominik says with a chuckle. I can tell he's cooked his fair share of the restaurant's most popular dish. At this New Street venue they can serve over a thousand covers a day. "The most important thing is not to over cook the vegetables," he says. "Wok fried vegetables need crunch."
There are four jet engine-esque hobs surrounded by a layer of constantly running cool water. This stream cools the metal surface at all times so it doesn't, literally, melt. The firecracker sauce is a secret recipe—you won't find it in their cookbook—but I tease four of the five ingredients out of the chef: Sweet Chilli Mae Ploy, Lee Kum Kee Oyster Panda, Sriracha Hot Oil and chilli oil. "Those four alone will make a great firecracker sauce," he says "but I'm not telling you the final ingredient." The pride he has in his work is palpable and his attention to detail is first rate, meaning even a kitchen clutz like me can produce something as attractive as the above. "You don't wash your wok," he says as we clear down. "All the flavour is in that pan and soap will remove it entirely. Just wipe it down with water and away you go with the next order." Recipe: Classified, but all ingredients above available in Chinatown


If you're yet to find your way to Harvey Nics' new look behemoth of a flagship store, a mightily good excuse is coming down the tracks. And for once—it's all about you (if you're a man; if you're a woman, we've got nothing for you). There'll be free beers, a Haig whisky tasting, Goodlife Barbershop—offering comp'ed shoe shining, beard trimming and wet shaves—Clements and Church doing a masterclass on how to secure that darned bow tie, plus English shoemakers, Grenson, who are bringing their G:Lab, providing a made to order service which has previously done the rounds at Liberty and Selfridges' Oxford Street store. On May 5, from 6.30pm until 9pm. It's £10 to secure your spot, which is entirely redeemable against any purchases you make on the night. Huzzah. Tickets


Was the world crying out for a new version of The Jungle Book? Splitting the difference between Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and the 1967 Disney cartoon, this is an unexpected success that’s so family-ready it’s baffling that it wasn’t released over the Easter break. Neel Sethi as Mowgli is the only ‘real’ thing on screen, with the rest of the jungle’s flora and fauna rendered digitally, Avatar-style. You know the story, so the real question is: do new arrivals Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley and Scarlett Johansson make good beasties? They do, with Johansson’s Kaa a particular and trippy standout, and Murray making a ballsy stab at the Bare Necessities. He’s inspired casting for Baloo: far from the only good decision in this surprise treat. Times & trailer


In 2010, the European Commission ruled that the work of deceased American artist, Dan Flavin, should be classified for tax purposes as mere light fixtures. Widely revered for his fifty years of art creation, Team Ikon is doing the artworld equivalent of flicking the Vs at the European largesse with the gallery's new exhibition—which consists exclusively of fluorescent light works by Flavin and launched last night. Untitled (to Don Judd, colorist) 1-5, consists of 5 T-bars and, like all Flavin's sculptures, was dedicated to a person the post-war artist respected, in this case to his friend, the artist Donald Judd (who ultimately named his son Flavin in 1968). It is what it is and it ain't nothing else continues until June 26. Entry is free.
Venue: Akram's, 1526 Pershore Road, Stirchley B30 2NW; website
Choice: Saag paneer (£3.90)  Chooser: Waiter

The abundance of Indian restaurants in Stirchley is both brilliant and potentially intimidating to the uninitiated. If you fall into the latter category, or, if you've never paused long enough to consider the Pershore Road for supper, Akram's is where you should really start. You'll know it from the steamed up windows, neon signage and the fact it is opposite Stirchley Wine, which, though we've never tried the vin, has an enviable and substantial selection of beers (probably a good time to mention Akram's is BYO). Be sure to go with enough folk to warrant a selection of veggie sides, which are universally excellent. For its glorious union of spice, cream and texture it's the saag paneer (diced, firm Indian cheese with spinach), which always appears on our order. Unless you can handle a lot of spice, order medium hot, rather than hot. And never, ever eat at Akash, which, though sharing the first two letters of its superior neighbour's name, shares none of the kitchen's skills. Menu
  • Charcuterie heroes, Eight Foot Grocer, are launching Otto—a pizzeria of the wood-fired sourdough variety. Next to their current digs, pick from eight pizzas, including two rotating options. Opens June
  • Contrary to popular belief, Holi Rave hasn't happened yet. From 2pm this Saturday, there'll be feasting, paint (lots of) and a goodly measure of muzac. Tickets are £19.25
  • Cask-ale focussed Wildcat Tap has opened in Stirchley. From 5pm tonight and earlier come the weekend. More
  • No waffling allowed: Pecha Kucha originated in Tokyo and involves talks of 20, 20 second bursts, no more, no less. Catch the Brum chapter's Flatpack edition on April 20 at Gas Hall
  • 40 St Pauls is turning the dial to eleven with five courses of cocktails and canapés based around a Prohibition storyboard. Wed April 20, tickets are £35 and can be secured care of 40stpauls@gmail.com. Go
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"...your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride." - Anthony Bourdain - Kitchen Confidential
WORDS: Katy Drohan, Andrew LowryTom Cullen
IMAGES: Infinity Project by Tom Bird (O.P.M), Boilerhouse Video Unit (Wagamama), Installation view, Dan Flavin, untitled (to Don Judd, colorist) 1-5, 1987, MASS MoCA; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London

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