The Balti is a rite of passage for travellers to Birmingham. The so-called Balti Triangle is famous the world over, and Brummies are very passionate about their curries. Travelodge sent me to check out Birmingham’s Balti Triangle for them.
Ladypool Road, in the heart of the Balti Triangle, is dotted with fabric shops, curry houses and Asian supermarkets. It looks like an unremarkable inner city street, a far cry from the glitz and glamour of Birmingham City Centre. But despite its humble appearance, Ladypool Road hides one of the best Balti houses in the UK: Al Frash.
Lauded by the Birmingham Mail, The Independent, The Guardian and Rough Guides, Al Frash is home to, arguably, the best Balti in the UK. This fact alone was enough to have me salivating. The intoxicating smell of toasty spices as I walked in the door told me I was right to be.
We sat down at 7:45 and were met with a jug of water, poppadoms with dips and menus almost instantaneously. The menu is huge, and has a good selection of classic, recognisable dishes alongside some more unusual options. Plenty for vegetarians too.
We tucked into the poppadoms while trying to decide what to order and was I highly impressed by the chilli dipping sauce, flavoured with cumin and coriander, as well as fruity chillies. The raita was also tasty and refreshing.
We ordered lassi while we were checking out the food options, pistachio for me and mango for Steven, and again were impressed. The mango was the sweeter of the two, while the pistachio was creamy and had pieces of pistachio in.
After some deliberation on the menu, we went for a selection of starters, a Balti each, then rice and naan between the two of us.
We shared vegetable pakora, onion bhaji and nargis kebab to start with, all of which surpassed expectations. The pakora were crisp, with a light batter and crunchy veg on the inside.
The bhajis were substantial patties, well spiced with some heat and plenty of turmeric.
The nargis kebabs arrived on a sizzling platter which wafted the smell of the spicy lamb coating around. A nargis kebab, if you’ve never heard of one (I hadn’t until I moved to Birmingham) is effectively the south Asian version of a Scotch egg. A boiled egg covered in spiced lamb mince, then fried.
In the Al Frash version, the lamb mince was packed with onion, garlic, coriander and tomato pieces, with a delicious cumin flavour and a crunchy fried exterior around a perfect hard-boiled egg. The freshness of the flavour meant it was unlike any other nargis kebab I’ve had before, and one of the best I’ve ever had.
There was a comfortable wait between the starters and mains, where we ordered another lassi before being presented with our dishes. They arrived, true to tradition, in a sizzling hot Balti dish, joined quickly by a heaping plate of mushroom pilau rice and a significantly larger than expected garlic, onion and coriander naan bread. The aromas coming from our table were simply mouth-watering, it was difficult to stop myself from digging in before I’d taken my photos!
As well as being quite the looker, my Balti was absolutely delicious. The smoky barbecue flavour from the tandoor cooked lamb tikka melded with a thick, richly spiced tomato sauce, spiked with fresh coriander.
I asked for mine to be slightly hotter than the standard, and it had the kind of heat that doesn’t burn your mouth, but warms the back of your throat like a good brandy. This is the kind of curry I wish I could cook.
Steven was equally as enamoured with his chicken tikka Balti.
The freshly cooked naan bread was the perfect accompaniment to all that rich sauce. It was crisp, fresh from the tandoor (not a microwave in sight) and had the fillings cooked right into the dough, rather than stuffed into the middle. I mopped up every scrap of sauce with this. It was too good to waste.
In all honesty, the Balti and naan would have been enough and we didn’t really need the pilau rice, but it was a pleasant side dish with buttery rice and lots of mushrooms. The portions are very generous, and as expected, we were thoroughly stuffed after finishing our meals.
Our waiter looked a little concerned when he cleared our table as we hadn’t eaten everything, but we reassured him it was fantastic, but clearly our appetites weren’t as big as we’d thought!
Admittedly, I did take a peek at the dessert menu and was tempted by the barfi – traditional Indian sweets – but really couldn’t fit in another bite.
Our bill came to a surprisingly good value £44.80, and no service charge was added. We paid by card, left a tip in cash and left as two very happy customers.
The beauty of Al Frash for me is that you can get such fantastic quality food, from a chef who clearly takes great pride in his work, for very low prices. Al Frash is relaxed and friendly, but the food could give any Indian fine dining restaurant a run for its money.
The Balti has become an icon for Birmingham, representing its diversity, its rich heritage and it’s culinary reputation. Al Frash embodies all of that. You certainly shouldn’t leave Birmingham without trying it.
Nargis Shami Kebab £4.90
Lamb Tikka Balti £8.60
Garlic, Coriander and Onion Naan (medium) £4.80
Pistachio Lassi £2.00
How to get there
Al Frash can be found at 186 Ladypool Road, Birmingham, B12 8JS. It’s around 10 minutes drive from the city centre, and there is a small council car park directly opposite.
You can also get there by bus on the X20, 5, 6 or 31. Get off at Stoney Lane and take a 5 minute walk to Ladypool Road.
Your nearest Travelodge is Birmingham Central Broadway Plaza
My meal was paid for by Travelodge, many thanks to the team there. My opinions are, as always, my own, and I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.
Prefer Indian street food? Have a look at what Tamatanga Birmingham had on offer when I went to their launch.