Chaii Review – Birmingham

This week we have another review from a new member of the Halal Food Review team, so take it away Shabana Qamar.

Salaams to all our Halal Food Review readers, so my first venture into the world of halal food reviewing begins and it starts with Chaii a new establishment in Sparkbrook in the heart of the Somali Quarter. Having passed it on my journey through Stratford Road I thought yaaaay a new food place finally! Then the words chai brewed (get it brewed!!) bringing images of warm Jalebi and Samosas to mind.

We arrived to find a rather stubborn door that just wouldn’t open until a firm push from my friend after which we stepped into what could only be described as a something resembling Fidel Castro’s hang out spot, all that was missing was the smell of cigars and ashtrays!

My first impressions were this is grim, there was no vibrancy, the walls were a plain cream with a seating arrangement and layout from a wedding that went wrong.  The restaurant had a definite masculine feel which was also emphasised by the big plasma on the wall showing Manchester City vs. Stoke (well done Man City!!). The corner seating drew our eye which looked much more comfortable than some of the other options available.

Chaii seems to suffer from an identity crisis, it was hard to work out whether the place was going for an Italian, Arab or Pakistani vibe leaving visitors distinctly confused and uncertain of what to expect. We made our may to the counter
were we were greeted by a pleasant smiley brother but then errr it just got kind of awkward as we all just stared at each other blankly before I broke the silence by requesting a menu where we encountered our first problem when we were told not to go by 
the prices on the menu as they were not correct! This actually was a blessing  in disguise because the menu layout and options were just confusing flagging up only drink, breakfast and snack options but no mention of more comprehensive main meal options.

We decided to resort to the menu board at the back of the restaurant which was like the menu but in bigger writing resembling something out of countdown and you would need Carol Vorderman (she does still do countdown right) to decode it for you. We were saved from more confusion when the waiter told us not to go by that either so the question still remained what on earth do they serve!?

Meal options were selected from choosing from the variety of dishes on display in the front counter and to be quite honest they looked like leftovers from Eid but as they say never judge a book by its cover though for a moment we wish we had and made a swift exit. The ‘varied’ choices were rice (which they had apparently run out of at 1.30pm lunchtime,those crazy morning rice eaters!), chicken and vegetable pasta, kebabs, paninis and baguettes. We opted for the pasta,  a chicken tikka baguette and a kinder bueno milkshake (the picture on the menu did look rather nice if we could go by anything on it). 

The food arrived in no time at all by our gracious smiley waiter but on presentation it looked rather like your average ‘Caspians’ offer. The pasta was a simple concoction served with a very uninteresting side salad and the baguette  was nothing to write home about. My dreams of Samosas and Warm Jalebi  had quickly vanished.  The menu offer contradicts the name of the establishment, you go in expecting one thing and find yourself ordering something very different. The menu seems to be a random cobbling together of a variety of dishes that don’t always sit well which other. In terms of quality the food is definitely not the worst you can get on Stratford Road there are plenty of better options to have an unpleasant experience but it fails to wow you either. The Pasta was firmly on the spicy side which suited by Pakistani palette but offended by friend’s tastebuds! The one highlight was the milkshake which lived up the heady expectations built up from those very scrummy looking visuals behind the counter.

My overall impression of Chaii was one of disappointment this could be down to my own high expectations of new places and its name although they do serve chai (tea) but its not even their speciality, I am still trying to work out what their speciality is a few days after my experience! It is definitely not a place for true food lovers but more a lunchtime snack where a meal for 2 will cost you around £8 which pretty much reflects the quality you should expect. 

The customer service was better than we expected, you did not have to shout out for a waiters attention although this could be due to it being hardly what you would call busy. The inexperience of the staff seemed too obvious at one point when a customer had to explain step by step how to make a cappuccino to the waiter as he seemed quite clueless as to what one was which was nothing short of embarrassing! 

 

Quality of Food – 4 (high expectations were met with a very disappointing outcome)
Quality of Service – 7 (I am going to forget the Cappuccino incident!)
Quality of Space – 5 (Comfortable seating but not the best atmosphere in the world if you’re female)
Prices – 7 (Budget prices reflecting budget quality)
Overall – 5 

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Poplar Balti House – Birmingham

Salaams everyone I hope you’re all in good health and ready to tickle your tastebuds. After many requests from our fantastic “foodies” we decided to review Poplar Balti House on Ladypool Road. Many of you have said that Poplar Balti House is an unsung hero and their Balti’s where second to none. All this information made the HFR team’s mouth water!

As we walked into the restaurant it gave us a classic balti house feel as if we were back in the 1980’s. For me it gave the place a good character however the seating space was awful, it was almost as though we were sitting with the table next to us at one point. The restaurant is narrow and they have tried to fit in as many covers as possible. For entertainment we were treated to the delights of Eastenders on a small tv above the counter!

As for the menu (which was bright purple) it was typical for any Balti house, over 30-40 different combinations of balti’s which was slightly overwhelming when it came to choosing one. At this point I asked the waiter which one he would recommend to which his answer was “Whichever one you like”. It was almost if he could not be bothered, shame but true. Here at the Halal Food Review its not just about food its about the quality of experience and that includes good customer service!

We decided to order but before we did we were presented with a tray of chutneys and pickles (no mango chutney) and then asked if we wanted some popadoms which were not bad however the missing mango chutney did not help matters. The mint sauce was more chilli and less mint and the smallest mouthful was enough to set fire to your tastebuds!

The service was nowhere near brilliant so we decided to order quickly and let the food do all the talking. We ordered something simple and quick for our starters which was a portion of chicken pakoras and a katlama. At no point were we asked if we would like any drinks which meant no Ginger beer for me. The starters took over 20 minutes to arrive at our table, so much for quick and simple. The chicken pakoras were hugely disappointing, whilst it was evident they were freshly made the batter lacked any depth of flavour and the portion size was paltry maybe reflecting the chicken they came from! The katlama was actually pleasant and meaty as opposed to your thick pastry and ‘blade of a knife’ thin keema filling which is so common. At this point my emotions were mixed and my experience of Poplar Balti House was not how I expected however the mains were on their way….

We ordered 3 main balti’s, Chicken Rogan Josh, Keema and Mushroom Balti and Prawns with Spinach, we requested medium chilli factor for the first two and a mild chilli factor for the latter. Thankfully I had ordered a peshwari naan bread, which was very nice and went well with the very spicy balti’s that were more hot than medium or mild! My dining companions however did not have this luxury as they were forcing themselves to eat the “medium” spiced curry with their tandoori roti’s and working up a sweat without having to step foot on a treadmill! The pilau rice was disappointing, we ended up helping ourselves to drinks and constantly struggled to get the attention of the waiting staff.

Poplar Balti was fairly busy for the Friday night but our discerning diners left feeling like we wanted more, the food was ok, not great and the restuarant could definitely improve its customer service. For a group of 4 our bill came to just under £40 which is reasonable for a balti experience in the triangle!

Quality of food – 7 (not quite Balti of the year)
Quality of service – 5 (seen better at a fast food joint)
Quality of space – 5 (more space in a fast food joint)
Prices – 7

Overall – 6

Adil Riyaz
Halal Food Review Team

Where do you want to send the HFR Team next!

We’re keen to hear from our readers where they would like us to review over the next few weeks, we’ve added some suggestions from our team and regular readers and welcome any other suggestions!