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Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Eating out

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Tom Discovers a Chinese Gem Serving Homemade Sichuan Cuisine… in Birmingham

Crispy fried chicken in chilli oil

Crispy fried chicken in chilli oil “the taste of love and experience”

I wish I could say that it’s all up to me. You know, the all-knowing, always-seeking critic, nose quivering, ear glued to the ground, ready to unearth the most varied and juicy restaurant finds. And that I could tell a picaresque story when I stumbled upon a rather gorgeous regional Chinese restaurant run by an English couple who, in Beijing, were so inspired by their local Sichuan spot that they decided to return home and to settle in Birmingham. Stirchley. And cook dishes that could keep your head held high in Chengdu. In a room barely big enough to swing a cleaver. But I can not.

Because I was told about Yikouchi at Chancer’s Cafe by the excellent blogger Brummie Meat & One Veg (meatandoneveg.blog), better known as Simon Carlo. He’s my first call on anything Birmingham, but today was the first time we met. A sip of a fresh, clean martini at the Grand Hotel Birmingham, which, in the words of Lawrence Durrell, flows through the system like “ice through rigging”, and I know we’ll be good friends.

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One more, just for luck, and in an Uber in Stirchley. And in this little space with James Kirk-Gould in the open kitchen, and his wife Cassie, not only running around the house, but making some serious fudge. Don’t miss Sweetmeat Inc, which you can buy after lunch. Anyway, the menu is short and sweet. There’s a cold tiger cucumber salad, a symphony of clean crunch, cucumbers with lots of cilantro and sesame oil that float in your mouth like a cool northern breeze. Then chunks of fried chicken, crispy and hot, smothered in a kind of complex, deliciously flavored chili oil that tastes like love, experience, and a whole load of Szechuan pepper. Enough to numb even the most sinister nuggets of our incessant industry gossip.

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Simon disappears, only to return with a cocktail (in a pocket) from the nearby bar, Couch, which we drink, happily, between bites of fish-flavored aubergine that sings of smoke and spice, and a rich yet sweet allure. And pork with long Turkish peppers, and more peppers and wok souffle.

Kirk-Gould makes no claim to authenticity, yet it really is good food. Something to make the heart sing and the stomach roar. Oh, and one of the best value lunches I’ve had in months.

About £15 a head. Yikouchi at Chancer’s Cafe, 1418 Pershore Road, Birmingham; @_yikouchi

DRINKS: the stars of Olly Sauvignon Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc Day arrives on May 6. While some moan that Sauvignon fatigue is overwhelming the wine world, I adore this gem of French class Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, whose tropical exuberance also entertains us with New Zealand’s Marlborough flair. Bottles from Chile and South Africa strike a balance between exotic zest and elegant refreshment — and the prices are friendlier than you might think.

South Point Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (12.5%), £6.50, Tesco.  All the magical flair of a chalky wand reminiscent of a lime tree - great value for money.

South Point Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (12.5%), £6.50, Tesco. All the magical flair of a chalky wand reminiscent of a lime tree – great value for money.

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (13%), £11.99, Waitrose.  Pure and lovely – heaven with a bean, feta and mint salad.

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (13%), £11.99, Waitrose. Pure and lovely – heaven with a bean, feta and mint salad.

E Block Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (13%), £12, M&S.  With tropical zing at full throttle, it's lush, shiny and a total crowd pleaser.

E Block Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (13%), £12, M&S. With tropical zing at full throttle, it’s lush, shiny and a total crowd pleaser.

The Best Pouilly-FumE 2020 (13%), £13, Morrisons.  Award-winning splendor like this on the high street is almost too good to be believed.

The Best Pouilly-FumE 2020 (13%), £13, Morrisons. Award-winning splendor like this on the high street is almost too good to be believed.

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