Min Min, Southside, Birmingham

What can you buy for £7.80?

Obviously, you can pick up a classic album, possibly two.

For example.. and I find this hard to believe … you can pick up “Guilty” by Barbra Streisand (with help from Barry Gibb) and Barry White’s “The Collection” for a combined price of £7.20. Isn’t that amazing?

All of those classic tunes – “Guilty,” “Woman in Love,” “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything,” “Never Gonna Give You Up” – and you still have 60p left for a packet of Scampi Fries.

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Now as tempting as that is, I’m not sure shellfish-flavoured savoury snacks would also sustain me for lunch. No, buying a meal for 60p isn’t going to happen, so let’s return to the original figure, £7.80. What can that get you for lunch?

You might consider any number of processed meals knocked up by the microbiologists employed by Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders.

Dumbed down, dull, uninspiring. Not you?

Or you could get a bowl of this – ALL OF THIS – for £7.80

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Look at it.

Go on.

It’s amazing.

And when you’ve slurped for a few minutes, this reveals itself:

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Yes, noodles. Ramen, to be precise. Thick, white noodles. Oodles of noodles. It’s raining ramen.

In fact, I am moved to declare this is the best value lunch in Birmingham.

What we have is a big bowl of soup with yakibuta (juicy Japanese pork), kimchi and ramen from the fabulous MinMin. (Incidentally, the soup is beautifully clear but I attacked the five-spice egg before I took my picture, so that’s why it looks cloudy.)

If you don’t know MinMin, or have heard of it but haven’t been, do yourself a favour and get down to Bromsgrove Street at the back of the Chinese Quarter. Here, you will find the best cafe/restaurant of its type in the city.

 

photo1Fresh, clear flavours abound in an irresistible mix of Chinese Vietnamese food that takes in roasts, stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes, skewers, soups and rolls. Ah, the rolls – mango and prawn in rice wraps, cheung fun with minced pork and prawn in steamed pancakes…

But I am here today for a quick lunch and go for one of the Japanese-style soups. It combines all the food groups – protein, carbohydrate and whatever soup is – and it tastes so good. The light broth is made with slowly simmered pork and chicken bones, miso, fish sauce and the subtle sweetness is imparted by prawn shells.

All the elements are good. The soup, garnished with seaweed, has wood ear mushrooms, spring onion, sweetcorn, bean sprouts and a five-spice egg that you probably aren’t meant to eat in one mouthful like I did. The chef uses pork loin, which has been marinated and rolled. It’s so soft it tastes like it could have been in a pressure cooker, but I’m no expert. I can tell you the meat works brilliantly with the broth. Tip in some of the kimchi and you get a combination of flavours that makes this style of cooking unique and addictive.

The ramen is the icing on the cake (I’d love to know what Vietnamese Chinese is for that phrase). The noodles are brought in because Denice Phan, who opened MinMin with her family in June 2012, says they have proved so difficult to make in-house. I admire the honesty and the ramen are spot on for bite and flavour.

MinMin imports other noodles – shrimp and egg with chicken, sesame, plain egg, porcini, spinach, shrimp and egg with dried scallop, sweet potato, vermicelli etc etc from a specialist in Hong Kong. The quality is terrific.

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Some of the noodle selection at MinMin

MinMin place is popular with local Hong Kong Chinese and western diners. The menu features some fish-head dishes and spicy concoctions loved by the city’s burgeoning Chinese student population.

Denice, who is one of Birmingham’s great unsung ambassadors for restaurant service, recently had the idea of putting pictures to the menu. I’m a fan when the images are good (they are here) and anything that undermines menu mystique is a good thing.

Since adding the pictures, dishes that used to be shunned by local Brummie diners, such as beef shin, have become some of MinMin’s best sellers.

So, MinMin has great food, good service, it’s accessible to all audiences, it lacks pretension and it is superb value for the quality of the cooking.

That’s not bad, is it?

It is also one of those places that people speak warmly about in that undefinable way. And for me, that makes MinMin a little bit special.

 

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