We caught up with chef Brad Carter at Escape to Freight Island
Although it’s not advised, a good way to suss out a famous chef is to accidentally mistake them for another famous chef. In this case, the chef in question is Brad Carter of the Michelin-starred restaurant Carters of Moseley and One Star Döner Bar.
Within minutes of meeting him for the first time, I mix him up with Alex Claridge of The Wilderness, another Birmingham chef with a beard and a notable restaurant in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The two were interviewed in the same magazine but turns out it was the latter who featured on the cover holding a steak to his face.
“The likeness is more lucrative for him than it is for me.” Brad jokes, ice thankfully broken.
We sent them to him [Mike Skinner] and The Streets and they emailed us saying they’re the best kebabs they’ve ever had.
I’m at Escape to Freight Island on a nippy Tuesday night for the launch of Brad Carter’s One Star Döner Bar. The gourmet kebab restaurant, a permanent fixture of Freight Island going forward, is inspired by a life-changing Gemüse street kebab Brad once queued up for in minus temperatures in Berlin.
The food also channels Brad’s love of rave. Some might scoff, but that bit is important.
Who’s got the bab?
Like many pop-ups and street food endeavours of late, One Star Döner Bar is a product of lockdown. Back in 2020 when restaurants were forced to close, Brad had the idea to run a takeaway out of his Birmingham restaurant. With a collection-only kebab menu that changed weekly, the idea proved extremely popular. Brad sold 500 portions over two days, every week for five months.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that this isn’t the same food you get at your local takeaway. We’re not dealing in mystery meats here. The ingredients used at One Star Döner are the same used at Brad’s Michelin-starred restaurant.
The menu is short and to the point. First up it’s the Mortedöner. Homemade Tamworth Mortadella sausage (sourced from Paddock Farm in Stratford-Upon-Avon) is given the rotating spit treatment and carved into soft pockets of pide flatbread sourced from a Turkish bakery in Manchester, with shredded white cabbage, shredded cavolo nero and a lick of margarita hot sauce, almost like a pizza garnish.
Iterations of this formula using Cotswold free-range chicken thigh prepped shawarma style (Bonedöner) and Cornish lamb shoulder (Lamb Döner) are also available, both marinated extensively and served with kebab van salad and sauces inspired by their respective streetside origins.
On the side comes a portion of Technoslaw, a bright yellow coleslaw made with turmeric, shitake mushrooms, carrot, cabbage and onion with salad cream in place of mayo for a tangier finish.
Then there are the potato smileys. The Carters of Moseley calling card and the most explicit reference to rave on the menu. McCains Potato smileys, yes those potato smileys, come in three iterations; with chicken nuggets and hot wing mayo (think KFC zinger burger); lamachun, the classic minced lamb Turkish pizza topping complete with a white cow's cheese reminiscent of feta; or cacio e pepe sauce.
On first taste, it’s all undeniably good gear for £10 (give or take) but don’t just take my word for it.
“The first person to try it was Mike Skinner. We sent some over to him and The Streets and they emailed us saying they’re the best kebabs they’ve ever had.” He says.
“I had all the Aston Villa players in my restaurant once except Jack Grealish because he only eats spaghetti hoops. We’re hoping to get a kebab in his mouth whilst he’s up here too."
Acid tabs and Ford Fiesta XR2s
Some people might see the influence of rave on Brad Carter’s work as a bit of a gimmick but I can assure you, it’s legit.
Talk to him about music for a few minutes and you’ll get enough song recommendations for a banging playlist (see his own Spotify playlist below) and an insight into why music is inseparable from his work.
“I went to my first rave when I was 13 and I took an acid tab in the back of a Ford Fiesta XR2 on the way there. It was a release from school for me, I hated school and raves were a saviour,” he says.
A convert from then on, Brad travelled across the UK and Europe absorbing the power of acid house, hardcore and jungle from its illegal origins to the first legal nights like Fantasia, Dreamscape and Helter Skelter. From Eclipse in Coventry and Shelley's in Stoke to MCing at Gabba raves in Rotterdam. The significance of the cultural movement was not lost on him.
“After the big explosion of the Tory government and stuff like that, it was the first time people from different backgrounds, gay or straight, black or white could just dance together. It was the last young cultural movement of all time in the UK. It’ll never happen like that again. That feeling of freedom and release.”
“It’s exactly the same feeling I get from that as when I’m writing recipes," he adds, "It’s just obviously my restaurant, with the Michelin stars and all that, there’s a lot more pressure. I feel like, wanting to be part of a scene and being known for something, now I’m a showman in a different way. Being well known in the raves is the same as being a well-known chef and if I can include my identity and background into anything, I will”
The raves corresponded with chef work throughout. Graduation from a culinary course at University College Birmingham was followed by spells working abroad in Marseille and Menorca as well as at home in Torquay and London. In 2010 with the backing of a former customer he opened his own restaurant, Carters of Moseley, dealing in modern British cuisine with an emphasis on sustainability.
In 2015 the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star, a star it holds to this day. Until he was awarded his own, Brad Carter had never stepped foot into a Michelin-starred restaurant.
All roads lead to Freight Island
All things considered, it’s not difficult then to understand why a rave-obsessed Michelin-starred chef has ended up next door to the Warehouse Project in Manchester. Escape to Freight Island feels like a natural coming together of food and music and Brad’s reasoning for coming to Manchester only further highlights the city’s current pull.
“We’ve got four Michelin-starred restaurants in Birmingham but hardly anything in the middle. Whereas Manchester has got everything in the middle. So much choice.” He says.
“It’s so spread out in Birmingham, whereas from here [Escape to Freight Island] you can walk to somewhere really good in ten minutes. That’s not the case in Birmingham, it’s all taxis and buses. I hate to say it because it’s my hometown but the concept is way more suitable here.”
With talk of further franchising and new menu options for One Star Doner Bar, the future looks neon bright. With Mike Skinner set to play The Warehouse Project this weekend and a who’s who of turntable talent passing through Mayfield Depot over the coming months, don’t be surprised if you find yourself eating the best kebab of your life next to a DJ of note.
You can thank Brad Carter for that.
One Star Döner Bar at Escape To Freight Island is open Wed - Thurs (4pm - 12am) and Friday to Sunday (12pm - 12am). Bookings are advised with walk-ins also available.
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