It’s all about the cleaver – and the ducks

IMG_7405The blade of the cleaver has a dull metallic hue. Frankly, it looks like it has been in the wars.

There are small blemishes and the edge of the blade has a couple of tiny nicks that have smoothed out over time.

But do not under-estimate the clinical effectiveness of this tool, which could double as an effective implement for a jobbing forester or an executioner.

Neither should you ignore the heritage this hunk of steel represents. In a world of fly-by-night, wannabe restaurants, of pop-ups and pop-offs, this cleaver speaks of values that whizzy social media marketing cannot buy: knowledge and experience.

In short, this tool has decapitated and jointed thousands of ducks (they get through 40 each day at this place) and a whole hill of pigs. The reason for that is simple: diners keep coming back to Birmingham’s New Sum Ye. And the reason for that is simple, too: the food is very good.

IMG_7394Maggie, the master of the cleaver, and her husband Philip took over the restaurant eight years ago, having previously worked at a take-away in Tamworth.

Philip specialises in Hong Kong Chinese food but, according to his wife, he is always keen to improve on recipes and add his own interpretation. Long may he do so. For this couple are arguably the finest purveyor of roasted Cantonese meats in Birmingham.

Why only arguably? Well, I haven’t eaten at all of the places that specialise in this cooking but New Sum Ye is a tough act to follow. Certainly, it’s ahead of the competition over the road at Peach Garden.

Both restaurants, or cafes, or whatever you want to call them, are in the Chinese Quarter and attract their own loyal following. The city, in truth, is fortunate to have a couple of places like this and the growth of the pan-Asian community, not least among the student population, can only be a good thing for lovers of this addictively tasty and affordable food.

IMG_7403When I arrive at New Sum Ye just after midday, the place is already starting to fill up. Maggie is frenetically at work at the chopping block, laying into pork ribs, soya chicken and pork belly.

Boxes of the expertly portioned meat are being whisked out of the front door by a waitress who is on delivery duty to nearby businesses.

Nothing stands still here. I’ve sat in far too many new restaurants where it’s like waiting for death. It’s a breath of roasted meat-perfumed fresh air at B105 Arcadian Centre.

I do what I cannot help doing here and demolish a huge plate of triple roast meats with rice. There is beautifully flavoured duck, without sinew and cartilage (which may, or may not, be a good thing, depending on how much you like to crunch and grind your fowl).

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The pork, with its creamy sweet fat, is like you want to cook it at home but, if you’re like me, don’t always manage to pull off. It’s best left to the experts. The char siu pork is moreishly sticky (but not over sticky) with requisite sweetness.

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The chilli oil, on the table, offers a deceptive burn. Less of this is definitely more. I overdo it and end up sneezing rice down my nostril (into a napkin, discreetly). Fortunately, I am dining alone. It’s a Cantonese schoolboy error.

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I don’t think you will find a better plate of roast meats and rice. Or if you do, please tell me. And all this lovely food costs just £6.50, the price of a frozen prawn cocktail, with Marie Rose sludge, at a dull pub. I am so happy I push the boat out and order a cup of jasmine tea, for £1.

Over the road at Peach Garden, in Ladywell Walk, there are ducks, chickens, hunks of salty pork and all sorts of innards craziness racked up in the window. It’s ace, one of my favourite places in the city for window shopping.

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There has been a recent extension to the restaurant to make space for more tables, proving the old adage is correct: if you roast it, they will come.

I take along the youngest member of the RichardMcComb.com team, 14-year-old Livvy, to run the rule over the meats. I am gutted it’s not a Monday when we discover that is the day the chef knocks out a special of suckling pig.

The dish of four roast meats ticks all the boxes for taste (Liv has the three-roast) but the rice isn’t quite as good as NSY and the meats are cold. The absence of a quick waz in the microwave means the pork skin is crackly but the pay off is limpid meat. It’s a tough one to get right.

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The meat quality is fine, as it is at NSY, but Maggie’s probably gets the edge on chopping. It must be to do with that cleaver.

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I have tea again, with endless refills, and Liv has a can of pop. The total bill for two is £16.

Birmingham’s Balti Belt, taking in parts of Sparkbrook, Sparkhill and Moseley, used to be vaunted as the best place in the city for well-priced, affordable informal dining. Yes, the area has some great restaurants and it’s been far too long since I last ate at the likes of Al Frash.

But the Balti Belt has also got some stinkers and continues to receive a disproportionate amount of promotion when people talk about the city’s food story.

In fact, there is a case for saying the title of Birmingham’s go-to dining destination has passed to the Chinese Quarter, which falls within the Southside Business Improvement District.

I am not saying the city’s finest restaurants are based here. My favourite haunts remain scattered around the city – in the Colmore business district, Harborne and Edgbaston. Hell, I’ll even go to Moseley if Brad Carter is cooking and I will follow the mysterious trail of that nomadic burgermeister called the Meat Shack.

But what I am saying is that if you had to pick a district based on both the range of options (for there are so many within the catch-all term of “Chinese Quarter,” including Vietnamese and Korean) and the generally decent quality and affordability of the restaurants, then it’s got to be the Chinese Quarter.

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