Birmingham Indian restaurants
Possibly Birmingham’s best-known Indian restaurant, Lasan has ridden a wave of publicity ever since it was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s ‘The F Word’ in 2010, and is one of the showpieces of the city’s rich Indian food tradition. Lasan is located among the quaint Victorian buildings of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, backing onto the leafy St Paul’s Square, making it a great little spot for bar hopping and restaurant dining.
Hall Green’s Raja Monkey is slightly more forward-thinking and embracing of modern marketing methods than many South Asian restaurants, presenting a range of thalis and streetfood in a breezy, accessible manner. The artfully ‘aged’ interiors aim to evoke nostalgia for the roadside diners of India, although of course their own dining room is decked out with all mod cons. It’s not the cheapest of eats, but prices are competitive. Steel serving-ware adds to the canteen vibe; thalis, snack platters and stacked tiffin tins.
Birmingham now has its very own brimful of Asha right here on Newhall Street. Following on from the success of restaurants in Kuwait and Dubai this is a place where fans of Indian music and Indian food can combine their passions. The space is large but intimate, decorated in a warm, welcoming style. And if you were concerned about theme-ish menus worry no more, from the fabulous Tandoori kebabs to the unmissable curries you’ll be singing the praises of Asha’s food all the way home.
Birmingham has long been famous for its South Asian cuisine, with a proliferation of curry houses, balti restaurants and Indian eateries. However, there are a few that have risen above the crowd and carved out a superior niche. Itihaas is one of them. Well-placed at the boundaries of the historic Jewellery Quarter and the Colmore Business District, Itihaas has long been popular with hard-to-please corporate professionals. Nowadays, however, it is also attracting growing admiration from Birmingham’s army of dedicated food lovers.
In a beautifully bonkers reflection of the cultural diversity of the local area, Mughal-e-Azam occupies a former church in Sparkhill. The menu focuses on Mughal cuisine, and the influence extends to the interiors – with classical art motifs adorning the walls, the ceiling and even represented in the star shape of the counter in the dining room’s centre. Food is for feasting; the menu incorporates saucy dishes dressed with creamy nut-based gravies and studded with dried fruits and all kinds of kebabs.
Birmingham hardly abounds with Gujarati veggie restaurants, so Jyoti’s isn’t competing in a crowded market, and could almost get away with being bad. But it’s not, and, after a single, sublime meal, even rampant carnivores will grudgingly admit that omitting meat does not mean an absence of flavour.
Unashamedly old-school, with workaday interiors that include the local signature of wipe-clean glass-topped tables showcasing the menu, Moseley’s Sheereen Kadah doesn’t even have a website – and not because it’s making some sort of ironic hipster statement. This is a place where the food speaks loudly enough for itself – from Sunday morning breakfasts of channa puri (fluffy fried bread served with chickpea stew) and katlama (a rarely-seen, deep-fried, mince-stuffed pastry) to flavour-packed lamb kebabs, and robustly-spiced lamb tikka.
Soho Road in Handsworth is where the Indian sweet centres dominate – serving distinctly different snacks and sweetmeats to their Pakistani counterparts in Stratford Road. Sangam’s is an excellent example of the former: family-run and known locally as an institution. That means it can get ‘a bit busy’ – you’ll often struggle to get a seat, particularly around festivals such as Diwali.
Most self-professed curry connoisseurs would suggest London’s Whitechapel as the place to find traditional Bangladeshi food (admittedly often buried beneath all the loose interpretations of Indian dishes touted to tourists). But in Sparkhill, Grameen Khana proudly sings its Sylheti heritage, with a specific section of the main menu devoted to Bangladeshi dishes. As far as BYO curry houses go, Grameen Khana is a cracker, dishing out fine examples of all the old favourites in a nicely modern dining room where you’ll find it hard to spend more than £15 a head.
You might think you’ve got a sweet tooth, but if you pay a visit to Stratford Road’s Suraj with a fiver in your pocket we’re willing to bet you won’t be able to work your way though the sugary spoils it will buy. However, before you even get to the rows of fudge-like burfi, fat round laddoos, and syrup-laden jabeli and gulab jamun, there’s a mountain of savoury snacks to resist (or not, as the case may be).
The decor at Kababish in Moseley sits at the elegant end of the spectrum, with simple, smart interiors that are mercifully devoid of any gauche elements. It’s all very tasteful, and definitely won’t put you off ordering a big North Indian and Pakistani feast. The family-run restaurant is committed to keeping regulars in rude health, and nothing’s awash with oil that shouldn’t be. The menu, though modern, doesn’t jar, and off-the-wall ingredients are kept to a minimum.
Since the early 1990s, Al Frash’s fluffy naans (cheaper than the proverbial chips, but rather nicer) have been used to scoop up every single smear of sauce directly from the restauran'ts cast iron serving dishes. The pun-packed menu goes on and on; your best bet is to enlist a waiter to help you build a balti to your own taste, or pick a dining companion who knows their Afrodesia from their White Rose.
Adil's has been selling balti by the bucketload ever since the dish arrived in the city in the mid-70s, and the combination of rock-bottom prices and top-notch fare has earned the restaurant a just reputation as one of the best balti houses in Birmingham. After a temporary relocation, it is is now back in its original Stoney Road site – albeit having undergone a slight facelift. The menu might be concise compared with some, but Adil’s offers the option of creating your own balti from a list of main ingredients, sauces and spice levels, plus as many extra veggies or protein types as you see fit.
A few years back, Shababs’ decor might have been described as a little lacking. True, as it is one of the few remaining original Birmingham balti houses, the experience is understandably all about that dish, but a judicious makeover will definitely make you enjoy the environment that bit more. Unless, of course, you’re pattern-phobic, because swirls, paisleys and graphic prints are all over the place – from the walls to the soft furnishings.
Soho Road might be spoilt for sweet centres, but that only makes it harder to choose when you’re unsure which ones are worthy of your time, cash and appetite. Perennially popular Milan’s is the place to pick if you’re in the market for fried-before-your-eyes, top-drawer pickles and pakoras that will cost pence, not pounds. At the vegetarian sweet centre, ‘farsans’ refer to furiously tasty savoury Gujarati titbits, such as Milan’s moreish kachoris: ball-shaped, stuffed, deep-fried croquettes, seasoned slightly sweetly in the typical manner of the region.
For curry houses such as Sheldon’s Jilabi, buffets are big business, and are well-suited to feasting families with different tastes, small budgets and large appetites. Buffets can go two ways: a dumping ground for the sort of sorry stuff you couldn’t sell otherwise, or a sort of showcase to entice the diner to explore the à la carte on another occasion. Jilabi’s Sunday and Monday all-you-can-eat is the latter, and offers shockingly good value for money at £9.95.
The high-backed seat you’re sitting in might be awash with shades of sea blue, but Punjabi Rasoi, in Acocks Green, could hardly be farther from the seaside. Chef Raturi’s modern Indian menu, however, is somewhat more exotic. The notion of serving street snacks in a formal dining environment is an odd one, but there’s also something about eating gol guppas and papdi chatt at table that feels fun and illicit – plus both are excellent and cost just £3 a pop.
Birmingham’s pub grills could do well to roll out their canny concept nationwide. After all, ‘curry’ is the cry that goes up from many a crowd post-pint, so why not have it on-location and make the food part of the session rather than an afterthought? The Farcroft Hotel is a little more elegant than many of its rough ’n’ ready counterparts, with a formal evening restaurant that would please fans of finer dining.
You’re forgiven if the name throws you. Tipu was the Sultan of Mysore in South India, but this restaurant serves only Pakistani and North Indian-style fare. But that ruler was descended from Mughals in the North – and it was that dynasty that inspired Tipu Sultan’s menu. Aha. Once upon a time, the ‘Jug of Ale’ pub stood on the same site, somewhat inappropriate, given that the venue is now dry.
No frills, great grills and excellent value is what you can expect from this Handsworth pub. The environment is male-dominated, the menu is meaty and sports screenings mean it can get rowdy, but if you’re in it for the food you’ll just have to put up and dig in. The Grove is not somewhere you would head for an elegant experience; adding to the buzz are actual buzzers that are dispensed when orders are placed and call you to collect when the food is plated.