Farewell

This is the final post from the meatball and the salted cod. We’ve both left London: the salted cod has moved to Berlin for an awesome job as marketing manager for a new startup, and the meatball is in Brussels, having found a snug space between the fine dining and snail soup stands of the city. The blog will remain live for any recipes that might be of interest, and Ingrid will keep writing about Swedish food and Brussels adventures here.

Thanks for reading.

Yours truly,

Isabel and Ingrid

(Swedish meatball on the left, Portuguese salted cod on the left)

First day of blogging, at the LSE cafeteria in January 2012


Swedish train gastronomy

SJ trerätters

Judging by the common complaints against the Swedish state train services (SJ) – the constant delays and breakdowns, the high prices, and the 50 years of overdue track repairs – I never expected much of their food. But given SJ’s weird booking system, I recently came across a first class ticket between Lund-Nässjö which oddly was cheaper than a 2nd class ticket. Having saved 100 kronor by travelling first class, I opted for the “Three Course Menu” for 145 Swedish kronor (appox. 16 euros) with quite some excitement.

Swedish train menu

Having rolled out of a rainy Lund with only 1h 30 to eat, I was delighted that the food arrived promptly after 20 minutes. It was so hot that I burnt my finger, and the entire meal was presented on a tray like airplane food. The heavy china with the SJ logo on was a nice touch, as well as the little note presenting the food. But my optimism was slightly quashed by the first forkful. The ‘starter’ consisted of marinated mussles with a slice of chorizo and some chopped red pepper. They were marinated in something tangy, but had a fishy aftertaste, and I set my hopes higher for the next dish.

SJ chorizo with mussels

The ‘main’ was, unfortunately, a slight downward ride from the mussels. Of course, it was foolish of me to get my hopes up for something blandly described as “Herby chicken with tagliatelle”. The chicken was hot, which was good, but rubbery at places, and the tagliatelle was overcooked. The most troubling part was the sauce, which was so thin that it kept splashing across to my fellow passenger (whom I didn’t know, and probably wasn’t appreciating my eager food analysis).

Herb chicken with tagliatelle

The dessert, a “Chocolate and blueberry mousse”, looked cute, but sounded like a combo that would be weird even in the poshest restaurant. Luckily, the promised fusion didn’t actually materialise – instead it tasted like soft chocolate sponge cake with some tangy chocolate mousse on top. It was decent.

Chocolate and blueberry mousse

All in all, the SJ lunch tasted much like airplane food, which I suppose is what you should expect given the price, the setting, and the standard of SJ services. So nothing terrible, yet not quite worthy of the lush “3 course menu” description on their website, or their elegant wine suggestions to go with it. I imagine it’s a lifetime of difference from the food on the Orient Express, where a single trip from Paris to Istanbul sets you back almost €7000. I long for trying it. Until then, I leave you with a wet photo of the Swedish countryside, to match the SJ gastronomic experience.

Sight from the Swedish train


Unrivaled fish and chips at Bia Mara, Brussels

Fried sea bass with truffle mayo and seaweed salted chips

Bia Mara is a neat little fish and chips place near the sleezier streets around Boulevard Anspach. They have a simple concept: doing cheap, sustainable fish and chips, and doing it really well. Having visited a couple of times, I’ve found the weekly special at 12€ to be innovative and tasty, even though one would think fish and chips is a rather basic, and perhaps limited, concept. Recent combinations have included Korean Style Ling with hot red pepper crust and kinchee sauce, Rogan Josh crusted special with lime, mint and coriander sauce, and Malaysian Special Sea Bream with sambal and tamarind sauce. Last time I visited, we tried sea bass with with truffle mayo, and it was just the perfect thing for a slightly hungover sunny stroll on town. Their penchant for curry feels like a true reflection of modern cuisine from the british Isles (although I’ll include the caveat that this in my opinion is true for England – I can’t speak for the quality or popoularity of Irish curry houses).

Curry salmon

The owner is incredibly friendly in that nice, Irish way, and makes me wish I had that special skill of making effortless small talk. The menu changes weekly depending on what fish is available, and great care seems to be taken to ensure that the fish is sourced by sustainable methods. In addition to this, they serve Pellegrino and a beer of the week from a local Belgian brewery. On Sundays, they serve Brunch from 12-16 which consists of their weekly special and a bloody mary. So many good things! Seven meatballs out of ten.

Bia Mara can be found here on the map:


Otherworldly tapas at Ciudad Condal, Barcelona

 Montadito de gamba y rape

Behold the best tapas I’ve ever had. Two weeks ago I was in Barcelona, and was lucky enough to be taken to Cuidad Contal. Ciudad Contal is the old name for Barcelona, and also a beautiful and popular tapas bar.

Arriving in the afternoon, we avoided the worst queues and were seated rather rapidly after a quick, ice cold beer in the bar (and very cheap at that). The bar had a beautiful display of some of the cold, prepared tapas, and I fell straight away for a beautiful creature resembling a black egg with pink stuff coming out of it. Once seated, Victor managed to decipher my description and ordered fig with mascarpone and jamon (montadito de higo, mascarpone y jamón ibérico, below).

Higo con jambugo

If it’s possible to pick one favourite from the various tapas dishes, this would be it. The sweet, crispy fig mixed with the velvety and rich mascarpone posed a perfect contrast to the salty jamon. It’s no revolutionary dish or combination, but proof that classics are classics for a reason.

Arroz

Aside from my personal star of the table, a favourite between the three of us was the black rice (arroz negro con sepia). This was also displayed at the bar, steaming and glittering, and quickly vanishing. Just as the other dishes, it was very simple: rice with squid ink and gently cooked octopus, served with a dollop of allioli. It was also accompanied by small pieces of bread rubbed in tomato, olive oil and salt (pa amb tomaquet), which were perfect for scooping the rice. This staple way of making bread has won my heart over, after a long struggle against indulging in olive oil.

Pimentos padron

We also ordered in some grilled green peppers, doused in sea salt flakes (pimientos del padrón). The grill made them smoky in a mellow way, which contrased very well to the sweetness of the pepper and the salt.

Deep-fried baby squid

The deep fried baby squid (calamares a la andaluza) was incredibly tender and juicy, perfect with a little dash of lemon. We finished this very, very quickly. Such a simple dish, yet with the added lemon, one of the most bite-friendly things ever.

Gambitas de playa

The seafood at this place was so tender it’s difficult to compare it to anything. The gambas (gambas a la plancha) were no exception. I would assume these were steamed, then quickly dressed before going onto the table. They were too hot to hold when they arrived. Again, delicious.

Solomillo

Victor’s personal choice was a little entrecote on a stick (montadito de solomillo). It was charred in the edges and oozing red inside, absolutely perfectly cooked. Blissful.

Ciudad Condal Barcelona

All in all this was a near-perfect meal (I’m not sure what could be changed gastronomically to improve it). If you’re in Barcelona, you should ignore the fact that this magnificent place is placed at the bottom of touristy La Ramblas, as well as the fact that it’s packed nearly all the time. You should just dive in, and gratefully accept a cold beer (or three) while you wait for a precious table. Our meal landed at 17 euros each with was a bargain given the high quality of the food, and I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. 9,5 meatballs out of 10.


Ode to a beautiful, messy herring sandwich

Fjällgårdens matjessill

This is a rather short post, just a little shout-out to the best herring sandwich I ever had (I wrote about this Swedish delicacy and how to make it at home a while back). Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending my cousin’s wedding in the Swedish mountains, at Hotel Fjällgården in Åre, close to the border of Norway. The scenery is, as might be expected, breathtaking, but being an utter food-pig this sandwich was the star of my weekend. (Apart from the beautiful bride, of course).

Summer ski slope

This sandwich was more voluptuous than a normal matjessillmacka, as it was much bigger and, frankly a bit excessive. It had all the key building blocs: delicious matjes herring (the best kind, in my humble opinion), Swedish soured cream (gräddfil), red onion, chives, potato, warm sweet dark bread and boiled eggs. In addition, it was sprinkled with small bits of beetroot and capers, which sharpened the salty-sweet scale. But the magic ingredient was clarified butter, which was doused (very generously) on top and gave it a sweet, even caramelised flavour. Hardly healthy, of course, but ridiculously delicious. Not that one passes by Åre every other day, but if you do, make sure to take a trip up the ski slope to Fjällgården, for this sandwich is absolutely worth the hike.


Swedish Christmas

julbordI’m currently hiding away in a little cottage in the vast forests of Småland, after six consecutive nights of heavy Swedish Christmas dinners. The next few days I intend to eat only pizza and salad, and possibly a curry if I can be bothered making one. But it’s Christmas, so most likely I won’t. Since I’ve had the pleasure of being served food by everyone I’ve visited this Christmas, I will not present any recipes in this post, but rather a little run through of what Swedes eat at Christmas, and why it’s amazing despite its gluttonous repetitiveness (at Christmas, we tend to eat a variation of this for all too many nights).

Swedish herring selectionThe basis of Swedish Christmas food is our love for sandwiches – its basically sandwich food, just a bit over the top, and without much bread. Southern Christmas food (Skånskt julbord) tends to be the most over-the-top of them all, in line with the Southern tradition of exaggerating and bragging through food. You must start with the fish dishes (it’s always a buffet, all you can eat-style), and here the herring takes up most of the space. It’s normally eaten with eggs, caviar, boiled potato and dark bread. You will have several versions of home-made pickled herring (inlagd sill) and the guests are normally expected to contribute with a few kinds of their own. One of the tables I visited this year had ten different varieties, including the classics with mustard and onion. My undisputed favourite remains my stepdad’s curry herring with apple. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing.

Gravlax and gravlaxsås

The second staple of the fish table is gravlax. Ambitious people make this by themselves, by rubbing a salmon in sugar, salt, dill and pepper, and leaving it to ferment lightly under something very heavy in the fridge for a couple of days. The method of making gravlax actually stems back to VIking age, when people used to bury fish deep into in the salty banks of beaches, as a way of preserving it until they wanted to eat it. It tastes somewhat similar to smoked salmon, but with stronger hints of spices. The sauce that goes to it (gravlaxsås) is sweet, tart and full of dill.

Smoked eel

However, the real star of the fish table is the smoked eel (rökt ål). It’s normally served with scrambled eggs, and its delicate smoky creaminess is simply sublime when done well. The conscious reader will know that due to over-fishing, fishing Baltic eel becomes illegal every now and then. However, stubborn traditionalists will still sneak it up on the table for Christmas with a sly smile to the general applause of other traditionalists. I’m not too bothered with tradition, but eel is one of my favourite kinds of food ever… and my aunt promised me that this year’s eel came legally, from a nearby lake.

Köttbullar

Now, moving on to the meat table, the meatballs (köttbullar) are obviously a key feature, served with beetroot salad. The meatballs are so central that in some families, you will have several different batches of meatballs. One year my mother, gran, aunt and cousins had all set about making meatballs, with the obvious competition to go with it. Some opt for modern takes on meatballs, like putting thyme and parmesan in them. Others go with revival recipes from the 19th century which include sweet anchovy brine. My favourites remain my mothers: she makes them small, juicy and hot with white pepper. One thing is clear: never make them all beef, and never, ever, replace the butter with olive oil.

Julskinka

The Christmas ham (julskinka) is another central feature of the meat table, with different strong mustards (home-made, as seen in the background, makes for the strongest kind), cheeses and dark, sweet bread. One of Sweden’s most famous Christmas songs is about a julskinka that ran away. Julskinka is also the reason why you will be served so many home-made hawaii, capricciosa or other ham-based pizzas after New Years eve. No matter how much ham you eat, it just never ends. Adding to this equation, people tend to assume that the larger hams are tastier.

DSC04298

Danish paté (dansk leverpastej) with Cumberland sauce and cornichons is a sandwich-linked must-have on the Southern table. With home-made cumberland sauce it’s one of my favourites, as the aroma of the orange peel is delicious together with the creaminess of the paté and the salty pickle.

Janssons frestelse

Janssons frestelse (The temptation of Jansson) is a creamy, potato based dish with onion, breadcrumbs and anchovies. Sometimes people sneak caviar into it for the perfect amount of saltiness. It’s eaten with the ham, meatballs or eel, or just about anything on the table. Beside the köttbullar and julskinka, Janssons is one of the most common things found on any Swedish Christmas table. No Janssons, no Christmas.

Lutfiskpudding

Lutfiskpudding is a weird one. This dish, prepared with white dried fish, butter and rice, is loved by many of the older generation but sadly not quite understood by me. But apparently there’s something irresistible about the crusty surface and the lutfisk flavour eaten together with loads of butter.

KorvNo julbord would be complete without sausages (julkorv). There are normally a few varieties of these, including reindeer, wild boar and normal smoked salami with green pepper. They are normally accompanied with four or five kinds of cheese as well.

All the savoury food is served with beer and frozen snaps of course, which is taken every five minutes with a rowdy or happy Christmas song. If you’re confused regarding which snaps to go for, always opt for Linie aqvavit, which is a safe bet and enjoyed by most. Try Piraten or Beska droppar at your own peril.

RisgrynsgrötThe dessert of the julbord is called risgryngröt and is a form of sweet porrige. In Sweden, it’s tradition to eat risgynsgröt with an almond smuggled into in. Whoever eats the almond is said to get married the following year. My aunt tends to cheat and add four or five, so that people have a bigger chance of getting married. 25 years and it still hasn’t worked. And for someone who’s not into desserts much, I have little love to spare for risgrynsgröt. It’s quite heavy, with lots of cream, and in the South it’s normally served with raspberry sauce (normally just wild raspberries, in the freezer since summer, and then gently simmered with some sugar on the stove). The anomaly on the picture is the Norwegian way of eating it, with butter and cinnamon (as preferred by my stepmum).

DSC04384

Of course, this is far from a comprehensive overview of what Swedes eat at Christmas, as I’ve left out dopp i grytan, rödkål, brunkål, svampgaller, lutfisk and many other dishes. But since it’s Christmas and I’m feeling lazy, I leave you with this for now. God jul!


Some love for the greengrocer – Stoke Newington Green

Pardon the following entry, I’m not endorsed by anyone in writing this but I feel so very strongly about this family-run business on Church Street and think more people should go. Think of it as a restaurant review, but for a shop. I would start by saying that Stoke Newington Green is the best greengrocer I’ve ever been to, but giving it some consideration I think it’s the best food shop I have ever come across. Perhaps the best shop full stop. (If it was a restaurant, it would receive 9 meatballs out of 10). Normally specialist shops like boutique bakeries or traditional butchers are beautiful but incredibly expensive, and exist primarly due to the proximity of wealthy yummy mummies (which, admittedly, is true for Stoke Newington). But Stoke Newington Green does three things which put it above those kinds of shops (or your local vegetable market for that matter).

1) It is cheap. Really, really cheap.

2) It is open from 7-11 every day, so most normal working people can pop by after work or on the morning jog.

3) They accept cards.

This would not be that amazing had it not for been for the fact that they stock local, seasonal produce as well as exotic spices and vegetables I’ve never heard of. Their fresh herb section involve English herbs I didn’t know existed. They have five different kinds of garlic, including incredibly aromatic fresh variants. They stock at least six different colours of courgettes and aubergines. All is beautifully stacked up inside the bamboo-walled shop and clear, handwritten signs display price (both kg and lb and sometimes per item), origin and other important details.

I just arrived home from the shop with two carrots, two onions, a celery, six mini-courgettes, one fresh garlic and two large bunches of spinach. It all came to 3,49. I wish these kinds of green grocers existed all over London. I’d eat much more vegetables, and I’d learn all about the new produce I find in the shop every day. It would be like 5-a-day heaven.

Stoke Newington Green, 39 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0LU.

Update: Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables (109 Newington green road, Islington, N1 4QY) is their sister-shop – I have now been and seen and smelled amazing things. This shop is slightly bigger and busier and just as amazing with all the things mentioned above.

Both shops can be found on the map here and here.


Foraging for golden chanterelles

Because of the terribly rainy summer, Sweden is invaded with golden chanterelles at the moment. My stepmum complains over being bombarded with everyone’s beautifully instagrammed pictures of them on twitter. The chanterelles, which only grow in the wild, have a floral, spicy and slightly nutty flavour with hints of apricot, and are known in Sweden as the gold of the forest (and the price tag for fresh ones in London suggests there’s something to that name). All the more reason to write about these tasty beauties, so here is my mini-guide to finding, picking and eating them.

Finding. My sister-in-law who is from the dark forests of Värmland has what we in Sweden call kantarellnäsa – chanterelle nose. This has nothing to do with the appearance of her cute, shapely nose, but rather to her mysterious talent of finding these mushrooms in the wild. No matter how hard I try, I never find as many as she does. Her main tips are to look on small hills in the forest with a sunny side, in areas where birches grow sparsely together with large fir trees. If you lift the lowest branches of fir trees growing in these conditions, you can often find some chanterelles. Also, stay clear of patches of the forest where lingonberry and blueberry bushes grow, because if you find one of these you’re rather unlikely to find chanterelles nearby. Chanterelles like rainy summers but also heat, so like grape vine they enjoy hillsides where they can soak up as much warmth from the sun as possible (however they tend to live in the undergrowth, so you rarely find them in direct sunlight).

Foraging. Whilst picked berries can be placed and stored in plastic containers, mushrooms should ideally be placed in an airy basket lined with newspaper, and be wrapped in newspaper in the fridge when stored at home. If you actually make your way to Scandinavia to forage, mosquito repellent and long-sleeved thin clothing is essential. Mosquitos are simply a pain, especially in the forest if it’s been rainy and hot, which means they co-exist with the chanterelles. Also, large parts of Scandinavia have ticks in high grass, who sometimes carry Borrelia, a very serious disease if it goes untreated. So make sure to check your elbows, knees and other skin creases after coming back from the forest or meadows with high grass. If you’ve caught a tick, gently remove it with a tweezer. Normally that’s all there is to it, but if you get a red circular rash developing around the bite after a few weeks, see a doctor.

A final hazard of foraging in the wild is the risk of picking the wrong kinds of mushrooms. Unless you’re an expert, stick to picking only golden chanterelles which are unmistakably golden and hard to confuse with anything else. Do not pick any white mushrooms at all, as you might accidentally pick Vit Flugsvamp, aptly named Destroying Angel in English, which looks like this. Even a small quantity can lead to a slow and painful death, so it’s important to wash your hands if you accidentally touch one.

On the upside, most of the berries you find in the forest and meadows are perfectly edible, so after all those heavy warnings, here are some cute photos of blueberries and wild strawberries.

Cleaning. Once you’ve gathered a basketfull of chanterelles for yourself, it’s time to clean them so they are ready for the pan. For this you need a small brush and a knife to remove the bottom of the stalk with. Cut the very bottom of the stalk just to remove the dirty root, and then carefully remove any other dirt on the mushroom with a little brush. You can use an egg brush for this. This is rather time-consuming, but do not under any circumstances wash the chanterelles, as this removes a crucial part of their flavour. If you’re too impatient or scared of bacteria for this process, you may simply have to stick with green-house grown mushrooms.

Cooking. With their distinct flavour, chanterelles take-over or accompany a great array of dishes and they blend beautifully in salads with apple, in reindeer stews with lingonberry, or with scrambled eggs. However, I prefer to just enjoy them on their own, pan fried in butter, and placed on toast. This is particularly delicious if you bake your own sourdough bread and toast it on high heat in the pan you’ve cooked the chanterelles in (but baking sourdough bread is something I have yet to learn and most likely requires a mini-guide of its own). Pan-fried chanterelles require a hearty spicing of butter (and if you even consider replacing it with something lighter you might as well not bother), however you must not put it in at first, but instead turn the water out of the mushrooms by dry frying them. This is a heartbreaking process in many ways, as you’ll see your large batch of chanterelles shrink considerably.

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Once their water has evaporated from the pan, add a large knob of butter and let the chanterelles soak in this whilst frying for a few minutes. Remove from the pan, increase the heat and pan-toast your bread in the leftover butter. Place the mushrooms on top of the toast and sprinkle with salt and white pepper before serving. Absolutely delicious.


Cooking in Corsica, or how to cook for 12

I am back from a blissful two weeks in Corsica and I thought there was nothing better to remind myself I am no longer there but in cloudy London than to recount my culinary adventures in the Île de Beauté. Before going there I had images of fresh fish barbecues, relaxed meals by the beach and not much to do. Little did I remember that we would be TWELVE! I don’t know how I managed to forget that my close family (bother, sister and step brother and sisters) includes 7 children plus my parents, with the addition of cousins and grandmas but I wasn’t really prepared to cook for 12 people everyday for a week (we were ‘only’ 8 for the last week) in a house prepared to welcome 7. So I thought it would be a good idea to give some tips on how to cook for big parties, maybe some of you have ridiculously big families too or just want to entertain some your close friends all at the same time…

The first thing I have to say is BBQ! This is your best friend when you are cooking for a lot of people. No need for complicated prep, not a lot of washing, and something that almost everyone will like. Before going to Corsica I was dreaming of fish and seafood barbecues, but due to the amount of people that populate the island in the summer fish was almost always unavailable or ridiculously pricey so we stuck with meats. You don’t want to spend a long time prepping when you could be enjoying the view above with a glass of wine (yes that is the amazing view from the barbecue) so just stick to simple marinades: smashed garlic, salt, pepper and mustard for pork (or pasta de pimentao/pimiento with some oil if you’re in Spain or Portugal), good old salt and pepper for beef (good steaks don’t need more than that) and salt, pepper, garlic and some mint (optional) for lamb. Make sure you leave the meat marinating for quite a long time in the case of pork and lamb and make sure to only salt the steaks close to cooking time.

Sorry no pictures of food, I was too distracted by all these beautiful views

Your next best friends are starters and sides. If you are cooking for many, especially in a kitchen which doesn’t have enormous pots and pans, the easiest thing to do is to prepare a lot of small different side dishes and starters. Starters can be anything from local charcuterie (coppa and saucisson from Corsica are great), to small vegetable dishes (cucumber salad, tomato and mozarella, mini quiches) or soups (gazpacho is my favourite for summertime) and are great to divide up your meal so you don’t have to cook a big dish. Also make sure you make a lot of different side dishes to keep everyone happy and to make cooking easier. My favourite sides for a barbecue are a big green salad with lots of vinaigrette and oven roasted fries. Other good ideas are grilled vegetables (that you can make at the same time as the meat), baby potatoes blanched and then cooked in butter with garlic, grilled asparagus, coriander rice or sweet potato fries. Just make sure they are easy to cook so you can juggle two or three at a time.

My final tip is to make salads! This might seem like a weak meal at first but we have provided you with many salad meals which are all but weak. My favourite remains the Swedish Meatball’s grape, halloumi and pomegranate salad but this summer my stepsister (merci Philippine!) prepared us a dream salad which consisted of mâche (also known as lamb’s lettuce), roasted pine nuts, melon and feta cheese tossed with classic vinaigrette and might just become my new go-to salad. Salads are easy because they don’t require much cooking and you can actually call your guests and ask them to do some chopping. And with that comes an extra tip: when cooking for big parties, make them cook too (and provide a lot of wine)!


Review – Al Frash (Birmingham)

Amy and a massive Peshwari naan.

A few weeks ago I was finally back in Brum, city of dreams for a curry loving food blogger. Who cares about abandoned warehouses, ugly motorways and the worst accent in the country when you can eat like a Mughal Queen for less then a take-away pizza in London? Apart from the excellent curry houses Sundarbon, Jyotis, Desi Express, and Miss Salted Cod’s Favourite Chamon (a curry-mini guide to Birmingham will be on the blog shortly), Al Frash truly stands out among the lot. And I’m far from the only one raving about this pearl…

Al Frash is quite brightly lit and not particularly cosy, but it is incredibly friendly, and the atmosphere is loud and cheerful – it’s BYOB like most curry houses in Birmingham. If you don’t book in advance you may have to wait a moment for a table, in which case you’ll be seated in the waiting area to read reviews and newspaper clippings about the chef Azam.

We visited on a Saturday night but were seated rather quickly. Our slightly hungover selves were incredibly grateful for the jugs of water quickly placed at the table, as well as the popadoms with chopped onions and raita. Of course, this is standard for curry houses, but at Al Frash you aren’t charged for any of it, and you get their excellent sweet and hot tamarind sauce instead of some boring mango chutney.

For starters we ordered a mixed grill to share, which came at £12 but was well worth it. We were given tender masala fish, savoury onion bhajis, succulent lamb chops and hot tandoori chicken wings and thighs. It was all delicious, hot and spicy, and steaming fresh off the grill. With a refill of the delicious tamarind sauce and cooling raita we politely licked our fingers to the very last bit.

Our mains took a while, however the service was attentive in the meantime so we did not mind. There was a birthday party of probably 30 people being served before us and we were quite impressed by the speed by which the cheerful waiters managed to get food out to everyone, especially seeing how one of the slightly intoxicated guests from the birthday party insisted on helping on serving it, for which they had given him a waiters outfit and all. When our mains did arrive they all came in sizzling balti dishes, as is the custom for Birmingham curries – after all it was here the balti style of cooking gained its fame. Jessi was not entirely happy with the strong masala flavour of her achar gosht (lamb with pickle), but one of the waiters quickly picked up on this and had it back to the kitchen for a change. When it came back a few minutes later (with some extra rice for comfort) she was pleased.

Me and Beth had an amazing dish called afrodisia, made out of finely chopped king prawns and chicken mixed with plenty of coriander and oyster mushrooms in a hot green chili sauce. It sent me sweating but also smiling like a drunk out of food happiness. Amy had a sweet and sour chicken Pathia, and Aurelie a really strong chicken Jalfrezi. They were all lovely and hot, and together with the truly massive, almond-filled and honey drizzled Peshwari naan we ordered to share we really felt quite satisfied. “Large naan” does not quite do it justice in terms of its size, as you can see from the photo at the top. Despite it’s terrifying size, it is velvetly soft but crispy in the bottom, so if I came back I would go for the big size and just not get any rice.

To the food we also ordered some mango lassi (soothing my burning tastebuds) and coke which was cheap at £1/can. If you fancy some beer or wine to your dinner, the staff will recommend a nearby off licence.

The best thing about Al Frash is not the food – although the massive naans, grill starters and Afrodisia dishes are absolute beauties and worth the journey on their own – but the familiar service and the atmosphere inside the restaurant. The waiters are engaged and helpful, advice about your dishes and clearly take the food very seriously. Watching the birthday party leave, we noticed that everyone gave the two main waiters either a handshake and a “cheers boss” or hug and peck on the cheek. The waiters also made sure all us girls came home from the restaurant safely in a pre-booked cab. Finally, for all this loveliness Al Frash is also very cheap – we ended up forking up less than £15/each for the whole meal. Therefore, we jointly awarded it 9 meatballs out of 10.