Ismail’s Grill Review – Birmingham

Salaams and greetings from the Halal blogosphere!

I kicked off the Halal Food Review blog with a review of the Abu Zayd Grill House and after overdoing on far too many Baltis and different variants of masala fish and chicken pakora I thought it was high time I returned to reviewing some non desi food.

I’m writing this review after watching the second episode of Michael Winner’s dining stars which I have to confess I am enjoying beyond expectations and I would definitely recommend it as a way of winding down for the weekend ahead.

This week’s review takes me to Ismail’s Grill who pride themselves on being Birmingham’s first Halal Steak House but the question is are they the city’s best steak house. I’ve already given you my review of Abu Zayd and inshallah before the month is out will be reviewing Mogos Grill @ Touchwood in Solihull.

Speaking of Abu Zayd I enjoyed a post Friday prayer meal at the Steak House, whilst the food was up to its usual standard one of my fellow diners was kept waiting for his meal. All credit to the management for waiving the cost of his meal. We had earlier discussed the finer points of complaining and it was good to see the management team make amends for a cock up with the ordering process. Whilst I’m complimenting the management team I’d also like to encourage them to do something about the décor upstairs which is seriously letting down what is otherwise a great dining experience.

You might be asking why is Abid rambling on about the décor at Abu Zayd isn’t he supposed to be reviewing Ismail’s Grill. The reason for my ramble is that what Abu Zayd is in need of addressing Ismail’s has placed at the heart of its dining proposition. You can’t fail to notice and be impressed by the chic décor which blends red and black with soft lighting to create a well designed dining space.

The one problem you do encounter with Ismail’s is the location and street parking. The restuarant is bizarrely located off a side street in the main Acocks Green Village Centre, parking is limited and we had to drive round a couple of times to find a suitable place to park. If you’re taking the car you might be better off parking the car on one of the adjacent streets to Station Street.

This is also the first review where the missus and the two munchkins joined me so I was quite keen to see what the customer service experience would be with a baby and an active toddler in tow!

The dining space itself is a rather peculiar L shape which is a result of the building itself, the front of the restuarant is a panelled in glass with the lower half frosted to give a degree of privacy to the diners, the glass exterior definitely lends itself to adding a degree of style to the space itself. For those looking for photos I decided not to take any photographs as Ismail’s have a wonderful website which has some great photos of the dining space and the food on offer. If I was reviewing websites I’d give Ismail’s a big thumbs up. I think more Halal restaurants need to up their game when it comes to developing an online presence.

Inside the dining area is well decorated and has a real contemporary feel, the ambiance is enhanced by subtle nasheeds playing in the background which just adds to the experience. Too many halal restaurants lack sound or are simply reliant on having some random foreign satellite tv station broadcasting on a random lcd screen in the corner. If I was to point out a criticism of the dining space it would be that Ismail’s has put too many covers into the space available. There were times when I found it all to easy to feel I am part of another table’s conversation!

Food I hear you cry!

Well you will have to wait a bit longer 🙂 The other thing I liked about Ismail’s is the waiting staff having uniforms its little touches like this that add a bit of class to a dining experience and I like it when an establishment pays attention to the finer details!

Ismail’s has a wonderfully diverse menu there are ample chicken, lamb, beef and fish options including grills, burgers, platters and wraps. I decided to go for the Mex Beefburger meal, the missus opted for the lamb steak and Maryam went for kids meal comprising of chicken and chips. For starters I also ordered a portion of chicken tenders and thought I’d try out the Aero Milkshake from the drinks menu.

When you’re eating out with kids especially a toddler and a baby you do want to make sure the staff are attentive to detail and I have to give the waiting staff at Ismail’s Grill a glowing review for their customer service. Our waiter for the evening was good natured, engaged in banter and was particularly accommodating towards the needs of our most demanding diner the toddler!

The chicken tenders were excellent, they were well cooked without suffering from an overdose of spices, my criticism of the starters and the mains would be a rather lacklustre salad accompaniment that came with the various courses. I do like a good salad and lots of shredded lettuce, a couple of pieces of cucumber and a stray piece of pepper or two does not constitute a good salad. I’d like restaurants to  pay more attention to the accompaniments. If you are going to put a side salad on my plate don’t put it there for the sake of it, give it the same love and attention you would give to the other items on the menu!

My Mex Beefburger with guacamole was a delight, the burger was fresh and perfectly cooked, the meat was not overpowering and the sauces and guacamole added extra dimension and flavour to the burger. Having had the homemade beefburgers at both Abu Zayd and Ismail’s I have to tip my hat in favour of the Ismail’s beefburger. Others might disagree but this is my blog!

The missus ordered a lamb steak which duly arrived and again the portion was generous perhaps not the same portion size as an Abu Zayd Grill plate but certainly a worthy portion. Where Ismail’s does steal a march on Abu Zayd again is the little extras and in this instance it was an accompanying gravy which I though was delicious. The missus was less keen as she didn’t want the gravy to distract from the flavours of the lamb steak.

The lamb steak itself was a mixed affair we found it to be on the chewy side and slightly overcooked which is a no no when it comes to a delicate meat such as lamb. I mentioned earlier that the intimate table layout made it difficult not to eavesdrop on conversations on neighbouring tables and it was interesting to note we heard similar comments on a larger dining table of the lamb steak being overcooked.

The milkshake was of a good standard. My standard for chicken pakoras is Mushtaqs and when it comes to milkshakes the benchmark is Eis Cafe on the Coventry Road. The Ismail milkshake was good and came with a generous helping of sauces and whipped cream but I’ve still to taste a milkshake that tickles my tastebuds as well as the ones dished out at Eis Cafe!

We ate at Ismails on a Thursday night whilst the restuarant wasn’t overly busy there was a good number of diners with a good mix between guys enjoying a boys night out and families. The restaurant definitely lends itself to a wide range of diners and I’d recommend it to all groups of diners and as well as families. The restuarant does have an upstairs which I am reliably informed can cater for larger parties as well as offering a dining experience to accompany sporting events with its large TV screen.

Price wise Ismail’s definitely falls into the premium category but in all fairness this is reflected in the décor, the quality of the space, customer service and the extra little touches the restuarant provides. If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful Abu Zayd would be your choice of destination but Ismail’s offers an excellent alternative for a more sophisticated experience that is definitely more family friendly and likely to secure you some brownie points.

I thought the chicken and the burger were of high quality but the lamb steak was a let down. Little things like having a gravy accompaniment make a significant difference and allow for a range of flavours to be experienced. The salad definitely needs work. I think when it comes to steaks what we do need to see is customer service staff asking diners how they want their meat prepared. In all the time I’ve eaten at Abu Zayd and Ismail’s this has not been asked and I think it should be standard practice.

Saying all that I would most definitely recommend Ismail’s to readers of the Halal Food Review.

Quality of Food 7.5

Quality of Service 9

Quality of Space 8

Price 8 ( Premium price is reflected in service offer )

Overall  rating 8