Saturday, 28 March 2015

Shamrock Restaurant, Bristol Street, Birmingham, 27th March 2015

Shamrock Restaurant, serving Eritrean, Ethiopian and East African food, is located among a row of old terraced buildings on Bristol Street, on the edge of Birmingham City Centre.  We first noticed it while driving past, and the sign attracted my attention straight away.  I’d loved Ethiopian food when I tried out a few recipes back in September 2014 (click here for details), so Shamrock became a destination of choice.

There is no expensive décor, either outside or inside, and the tiled floors, textured wallpaper and anaglypta covered ceiling look decades old.  The walls are decorated with a variety of arts and crafts from the Horn of Africa, and when we entered there was a television on showing Eritrean programmes with the sound muted and pop music from the region playing instead.  There were a few people inside, sitting round tables and chatting among themselves, and the restaurant had a small community centre feel to it.

The menu offers a choice of four starters, all vegetarian friendly, two fish dishes, and a comprehensive selection of beef, lamb or chicken based dishes.  There are plenty of vegetarian options too, with nine main courses, and in addition there are set buffets for either 2 or 4 people which can be either meat based or meat-free.

As this was our first visit, we opted for the vegetarian mini buffet, pictured below;
This was brought to our table covered with a decorative conical shaped basket, which was removed to display the food: a large injera flatbread/pancake, on top of which were arranged dishes selected by the chef from the menu.  In the centre of the picture is the Zigni, an Eritrean sauce made from tomatoes and a selection of spices.  It is one of those recipes that varies from cook to cook and Shamrock appear to be quite proud of theirs as it appears several times on the menu, including the Timtino, also part of the buffet, which was a dish of lentils and beans gently mashed together.  The other three dishes making up the buffet were Hamli (sautéed spinach), Alicha with vegetables ( a stew containing cabbage and carrots which had a slightly sharp taste not dissimilar to sauerkraut but much more chunky in texture) and a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes.  We were expecting this salad just to be included as a palate cleanser but in fact it was dressed with a delicious oily, spicy dressing. 
There is no metal cutlery involved.  Here, the food is scooped up with rolled up injera which had been provided rolled up in a basket and can be seen in the top right hand corner of the photo.
Once all the toppings were gone, we then ate the large injera which they had been placed on.  During the meal, this had soaked up some of the sauces and was packed with flavour.  I loved this final part of the meal and would perhaps go so far as to say that it was my favourite.

Eritrean cuisine is not noted for its desserts, although the menu does offer a choice of yoghurt and honey or ice cream, but we opted instead for the Coffee with Ceremony and Jebena, pictured below;
The coffee ceremony had been recommended to us by a friend of Jay’s who had visited the restaurant a while ago.  First, the beans are roasted in the restaurant kitchen and brought to the table in the still-smoking pan so that we could see and smell the coffee being prepared.  This was fantastic, and the aroma of roasting coffee beans filled the whole restaurant for a few minutes afterwards.  When ready the coffee is brought to the table in the Jebena, which is a clay jug with a long spout, from which the drink is poured.  It works in a similar way to a caffetiere, with straw being placed at the mouth of the spout to act as a filter.  A large bowl of sugar was provided but neither of us added any as the coffee had a rich earthy and slightly smoky taste.
Accompanying the coffee was a large basket of freshly cooked lightly salted popcorn and a small stone cup containing burning incense.  All of this together made for a great experience and a terrific end to the meal.

The cost of the whole meal including the coffee ceremony was £23, one of the best value meals we’ve had in ages.

For a taste of traditional Eritrean cuisine and casual dining outside of the city centre then the Shamrock Restaurant comes highly recommended.

The restaurant has a web site which can be accessed here:  Shamrock Restaurant web site

Review written by Dee 28th March 2015

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