[Disclosure: I was invited to try Bop Kebabs and my meal was free. I paid for my pal’s meal and our drinks]
Kebabs get a tough time don’t they. A bit like my poor pet pooches, they’re often victim to a narrow-minded stereotyping by people who don’t know better and assume that the bad experience they had with the van parked up outside whatever grotty nightclub they went to as a teen is the extent of what a kebab is. Mechanically-recovered meat, cheap bread from the cash and carry, and some kind of acidic ‘chilli sauce’ guaranteed to be twice as bad as it exits your body than it was on the way in.
Of course those experiences happened, but times have changed and one kebab does not make them all. I guess perhaps once upon a time you may have had to travel abroad, or seek out an authentic, traditional kebab-offering joint somewhere obscure or particularly diverse. But in 2021 great examples of cuisine from all over the world – kebabs included – is literally right under our nose and in the most mainstream of places.
Which leads me to Bop Kebabs. You don’t have to go down any back alleys to find these guys, or wait for them to pop up at a special event. Instead, you can head to one of Birmingham’s popular (and historic boozers) The Old Crown, which sits in what is now a much more mainstream-feeling Digbeth than it was 20 years ago, and get your hands on what is a pretty enviable kebab from Bop who have taken up residence there.
If you need a reminder that kebabs are far more than a fast food snack whipped up by someone to serve the drunken masses, but a cuisine with its own rich history and Middle Eastern roots, then you can start with the Bop Kebabs menu. Here you won’t find doner vs chicken and nothing else, but a far wider-ranging menu that gives a nod to some of the influences that may have played a part in our beloved kebab’s history, whilst keeping a sense of individuality that makes a menu stand out.
A mezze menu simply can’t be ignored, so my friend and I go for some loaded fried potatoes, golden and crispy on the outside yet soft inside and smothered in a dill-laced yoghurt and crispy onions. They look good and taste even better, making us wonder if our kebabs will end up being the star of the show at all.
We share a portion of chicken wings, because who can resist chicken wings? Forget standard barbecue sauce slathered options. These are coated in green harissa with a citrus kick from lemon added to a slight heat and a thwack of garlic. The wings are big, juicy and messy. Exactly as they should be.
The kebab menu itself is, again, a bit different from what you might see in your local chippy. Chicken shish or lamb shawarma are on offer, along with a tofu option or a cauliflower shawarma to remind us that yes, in 2021, kebabs aren’t only for carnivores. You can choose between a classic kebab on Bop’s hand-rolled flatbread or try one of their bowls, so we go for one of each.
The chicken shish bowl is bright, fresh and fragrant. The chicken is moist, with a smokey char, and doesn’t need drowning in sauce as you may have had before. Instead, chilli and yoghurt are drizzled over sparingly, accentuating the chicken rather than overpowering. Accompanying salad and rice are simple but fresh, while the hummus is wonderfully rich and creamy and juicy pomegranate seeds add a pop of fresh sweetness.
It’s good, but not as good as the lamb shawarma kebab which I have thought about several times since. Maybe it was the light, pillowy flatbread that’s about as far from a shop-bought pitta as you can get. Or it could have been the tender, rich lamb piled high after being pulled apart. Or the addition of Zhoug, a hot sauce packed with fragrant coriander and parsley and a kick of green chilli. It’s a delight, and will change your mind about kebabs forever if you have never had a decent one.
We leave full and, I’m ashamed to say, unable to finish, but determined not to allow such great food to go to waste so trot off with a pack-up tea for Emma’s other half.
Wandering home with a half-eaten kebab in your handbag is about the only similarity between Bop Kebabs and whatever stereotype some of us might have from all the wrong experiences. It’s about time that kind of image of kebabs was updated, I reckon. And for anyone who tries Bop Kebabs, I imagine it absolutely will be.