Desi Express Review – Birmingham

Its been a few weeks since I have had a chance to update the blog. On the 2nd January 2010 Allah SWT blessed me and the missus with a beautiful baby girl so its been more a case of nappies and baby feeds than fine dining.

I did manage to escape the house to have enjoy an evening of great art and great company this past week when I went to see the Writing on the Wall show at the Birmingham Rep. Now in my other life I work in the arts and I have to say when it comes to Muslim arts scene I have been tempted to start a blog but I get more enjoyment out of food but never say never.

Suffice to say Mohammed Ali, Dreadlock Alien, Zena Edwards and Amir Sulaiman literally blew the roof off the soon to be demolished workshop space at the Rep for a night of poetry, visual dhikr, stunning lighting and incredible sound that had the sell out crowd crying out for more. For more information on the show go to http://www.soulcityarts.com

Post show I joined the cast and crew for a bite to eat at one of the newer eating destinations on the Ladypool Road Desi Express. Desi Express replaced the Al Faisals Italian restaurant which never managed to live up to expectations perhaps a case of wrong location and wrong pricing or a combination of both. For the true Al Faisals experience I would highly recommend making the short hop to Stoney Lane where the original Al Faisals remains the premier halal balti house in the city.

Gone is the signature chic black frontage of Al Faisals, diners are now greeted with a blinding Orange frontage which definitely captures your attention. If the proprietors were hoping to turn heads they definitely did! The restaurant is located in the heart of the Ladypool Road Balti district and retains the same interior of the old Italian establishment albeit with a lick of new paint and a some Lollywood memorabilia thrown in for good measure including a lovely reminder of the epic Lollywood classic Maula Jat a must for anyone wanting to experience the very best and worst of Pakistani film!

Food I hear you cry 🙂

We arrived at Desi Express towards the end of the evening, our dining party consisted of 11 people once somebody remembered to pick Amir Sulaiman up from his hotel in the city centre. The benefits of dining in a larger party is the opportunity to sample a better variety of dining options to give you a more informed viewpoint that takes into account different tastes and diner preferences. In our dining party we had vegetarians, an Aussie who simply doesn’t do spices as well as artists infamous for their appetite!

Desi Express has a simple menu comprising of classic kebab dishes, chicken options, masala fish as well as the traditional balti and biriyani options. The extra options on the menu include a number of steak options and remnants of the old Italian menu all adding up to an eclectic mix that gives you part kebab house, part steak house and part italian dining.

The starters of choice across the table were the half chicken option, sheekh kebab and masala fish which was definitely the unanimous winner.

Service was prompt helped by the restaurant winding down for the evening and our starters arrived promptly. The masala fish was excellent as was the half chicken both of which were generous sized portions that could easily serve as main options. Having eaten at Desi Express on a number of occasions I have noticed there is an excellent consistency to the food. The masala fish and the chicken starter definitely exceeded expectations and excelled in comparison to local competitors including Lahore where the Masala fish is as temperamental as the service excellent one moment and frustrating the next.

For mains the table ordered a selection of chicken and vegetable biriyanis, tagliatelli with chicken in a mushroom and cheese sauce, ghost bhuna, a daal dish and some chicken balti with rice. Again the service was prompt, portion sizes were adequate and the food hit the mark. The tagliatelli was creamy and the bhuna ghost was mild but managed to sneak in a tangy bite. Both the chicken biriyani and vegetable biriyani portions were generous and following equally generous starter portions meant that two of our guests took home a doggy bag for later consumption.

I have to give shout outs to the Mango Lassi which has to be the drink of choice to accompany any balti eating experience and it was great to see that Desi Express has maintained and transferred the quality and standard of the Mango Lassi from Al Faisals to the new establishment.

Price wise the menu is affordable and a group of 11 people managed to eat and drink for well under £100 whilst ordering a variety of dishes and drinks throughout the evening. Prices are competitive considering the main rivals on Ladypool Road are ZamZams and Lahore Kebab House. Where Desi Express steals a march on its erstwhile rivals is the quality of the space which is light, airy and a welcome change from the dreary and drab surroundings of other establishments.

One thing that does strike me about Desi Express is that I’m never sure whether its a dining destination or a place to grab a quick bite to eat and go. It bizarrely manages to fuse a traditional dining experience with the experience of sitting in a diner where you don’t want to overstay but in a weird way the halfway house hybrid model works for me. I’m equally comfortable eating at Desi Express with the family as I am relaxing with friends and the boys.

If you’re looking for fine dining, head for Al Faisals on Stoney Lane, if you want cheap and cheerful a term new to our Aussie friend Desi Express is the place to go without compromising on quality.

Quality of Food 8

Quality of Service 8

Quality of Space 8

Value for Money 9

Overall score 8

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