Sunday, 17 June 2018

23. Purnell's Tribute To Spaghetti Junction.

  In the past couple of days there has been notable publicity on local television stations which has drawn attention to a new dish coming out of Glynn Purnell's worthy kitchen. As usual it has the wit and appeal which places Glynn at the peak of our local cuisine.

  Purnell was asked to come up with a dish which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the beginning of work on 'Spaghetti Junction', the notorious Gravelley Hill roadway interchange, and, as might be expected, he delivered a splendidly delicious-looking and witty dish which deserved the attention it received. And yet, as with the best of food, it's a simple enough concept, wholly apt, and completely designed to drive the diner into a sense of total lust to try it out. 

  The dish is made up of potato and celeriac 'spaghetti' cooked in a cream sauce with a pinch of dried ginger in it and served with truffle shaved over it.

  I'm looking for a reservation in the near future at Purnell's in the hope that this dish is on the lunch menu.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

22. London: 50, West Midlands: 1.

  In the recently announced Estrella National Restaurant Awards a bunch of critics put their heads together and chose what are, in their humble opinions, the 100 best restaurants in Britain.
  We won't be too surprised to find that they rated 50 of their choice to be restaurants located in London. Nor will we be too surprised that these doyens of gastronomic criticism rated only one West Midlands restaurant - Carter's Of Moseley - good enough to feature in the top 100 list and then in a rather lowly number 66 position though this single West Midlands representative is sufficient for the ever-optimistic Birmingham Post to claim that Brad Carter 'has helped put the Second City centre-stage again' which seems just a little unjustified.

  I don't think that this has anything to do with the quality of our great restaurants but it is more a consequence of the blinkered viewpoint of London-based, elitist critics who, in the words of Giles Coren, view us as 'One eyes'.
  What a waste of time these lists are. And what a shame that the Birmingham Post gives publicity to them though I suppose Brad Carter is glad of the mention.
  The Post points out that this is Carter's return to this particular list - in 2016 his restaurant was placed at number 91 and then was absent from the list in 2017. Meanwhile Adam's was at number 52 last year and Simpson's was at 91 but both have been dropped completely from the 2018 list.
  The post quotes the organisers of the list as saying, "From Michelin-starred dining rooms with tasting menus to casual neighbourhood bistros and steakhouses, the awards are a celebration of places in the U.K. that make eating out a true pleasure." Although they don't add the obvious qualification which states, "providing they're in London or the Home Counties".

  Meanwhile, I am delighted to report that Maribel, where Richard Turner is head chef, has opened in Brindley Place and some friends and I had the magnificent 7 course dinner there 2 or 3 weeks ago. The new decor is very chic and the excellent front of house staff who served us previously when the restaurant was Edmund's fit in nicely in their new stylish get up. Turner has designed a wonderful menu, much of it beyond criticism, with some splendidly delicious dishes which look good, as shown below, and taste even better. Turner certainly seems to be on form with this new venture.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

21. Birmingham Joins The Ivy League.

  The Ivy Temple Row opened recently in Birmingham. A review of mine on the dislikeable but sometimes useful website, Tripadvisor, is depicted below and summarises the impression of a lunchtime experience there. I did not find it to be a terribly enjoyable experience but it was not intolerable though the volume of din to be heard in the place did indeed push the boundaries of my tolerance.
  The food was satisfactory but nothing more and painfully overpriced. If The Ivy had not arrived in Birmingham then those who enjoy good food would be none the worse off but it's a glitzy addition to the range of places where the gullible who prefer style to substance may like to be seen though Birmingham has no real celebrities of note so spotting such people in the place is an unlikely event. I suppose that if Birmingham gets Channel 4 to serve as its new base then the sort of people who work for that television station might feel at home in the place.
  The original, hoary centenarian Ivy in Covent Garden is most notable as a place to be admired in, its Birmingham offspring is more a place to be deafened in.
  My lunchtime companion and I have no plans to return. The review below expands on the subject a little more:-

Saturday, 12 May 2018

20. Lunch At Pieminister.

Beggar Boy with a piece of pie by Giacomo Peroti

 I do like a good pie. Somehow it seems very English.

  So what could be better than a restaurant that specialises in serving pies? Let's head for Pieminister in Waterloo Street to find out. Fleetingly I think of Sweeney Todd and Bellowhead's song 'Black beetle pies' but such unpleasant fancies soon flee away as I arrive at the restaurant which specialises in minimalist decor and seems to attract far more male customers than females.
  Not much in the way of starters, somehow olives don't seem appropriate. And so straight to the main course - a chicken and ham pie on a bed of mash with accompanying mushy peas. I might have liked simple chips with my pie and peas, not modern chips with the skin on, but classic beautifully cooked chips, soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, but such was not available. But let's be honest, how can you better classic pie and mash? And the pie was fine. The classic chicken and tarragon combination with just the right amount of tarragon so that the powerful herb enhanced the flavour without killing it straight dead. The mash too was fine - proper mash not some near-liquid purée with all the body squeezed out of it - and the peas were admirable, perfectly minted, I wondered if there was a hint of vinegar which would have been spot on.

Pie, mash and mushy peas

  I had a vanilla milkshake with the meal which served as an accompanying drink and a pudding. The milkshake was inadequate in size and overpriced but I guess Pieminister has to make its profit somewhere or the other.
  The service was excellent and all in all the experience quite pleasurable and if it survives I will be happy to lunch at Pieminister again.
  Pieminister had begun as a business for 12 years prior to its opening in Birmingham and had been started in Bristol with other branches in Exeter, Nottingham, and Leeds. It's pleasing to have a chain of restaurants that specialise in food with a distinctly British character rather than yet another tedious burger joint but the restaurant could have looked more British. And going out to eat should have a little bit of excitement to it but there is really no thrill to going to Pieminister. Perhaps things could be made to be a little less routine by having special pies of the day to add an air of immediacy to the menu. 
  Nevertheless, a visit to Pieminister is a perfectly satisfactory experience. You could say, "The pies have it, the pies have it".

Children eating a pie by Murillo 

Thursday, 10 May 2018

19. Folium Opens, Wilderness Wanders, Edmund's Closes And Turner On The Move.

  Dining out in Birmingham has been very interesting in the last few months. 

  Folium opened in Caroline Street. I've had two excellent lunches there so far. Ben Tesh is producing some wonderful food and the place is bright and modern and comfortable.
  What a pleasure indeed was the salt marsh lamb. A fine start to Folium in its Jewellery Quarter home.

  A little further into the Jewellery Quarter a surprise temporary home for The Wilderness. With work on its new Bennett's Hill home delayed, Alex Claridge is cooking in the previous location, down an alley in Warstone Lane, of Two Cats and, more historically, The Toque D'Or. The all-black decor follows the rule that less is more and Claridge's whimsies are no worse showcased in this perhaps slightly claustrophobic environment than anywhere else. Claridge' food is magnificent and full of humour. His Big Mac appetiser does to steak tartare what it has always been asking for. His lamb (charcoal, cucumber) is perfect and his 'Quail, Tamarind' (NAFB - the waitress will tell you what it stands for - not only is Claridge a gastronomic genius but also one of Britain's great comedians) gives us one of the most memorable 'curries' ever served up in Birmingham. Notably, all tables were taken at a mid-week lunchtime.

  Perhaps The Jewellery Quarter is the new Ludlow.

  Having mentioned the Toque D'Or there comes the sad news that Didier Philpott's later restaurant, Edmund's in Brinkley Place, closed suddenly and is to be reopened as Maribel where the Head Chef will be, of all people, Richard Turner, who closed his own Turner's At 69 shockingly suddenly in January this year. I liked Edmund's though it's fate always seemed sealed by how few people were lunching there whenever I went. Philpott's cooking gave us perfectly fine and accurate French cuisine better than that served at the persistently 2 Michelin star Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and I shall miss it.
  Turner of course went through revisions of his menus at Turner's eventually ditching his multi-course tasting menus for a return to the pleasures of a la carte. Now an article in the Birmingham Post tells us that Turner will be presenting an 11 course tasting menu at a cost of £85 in Maribel but that there will also be a three-course a la carte menu which in my view is a relief.

  Finally The Post tells us that Aktar Islam, his days at Lasan numbered, is planning 2 new restaurants in the coming months - the Opheem in Summer Row which will feature 'progressive Indian cuisine' and  also in Summer Row will be the Mi Amore Ristorante Pizzaria to open in May. Oh good, another Italian-style restaurant - as Claridge would say, "NAFP", the last initial standing for 'pizza'.

Monday, 15 January 2018

18. Richard Turner Closes Turner's at 69 and Ben Tesh Opens Folium.

  Richard Turner closed Turner's at 69 in Harborne on 15 January 2018. Turner had opened the restaurant, known simply as Turner's for most of its life, in 2007 and it won a single Michelin star in January 2009. The restaurant was highly thought of throughout its existence but in August 2016 Turner changed the restaurant's style to some extent and the restaurant lost its Michelin star in the 2018 edition of the Michelin Guide. At the beginning of 2018 Richard Turner has announced that he closed the restaurant on 15 January 2018. This is despite the fact that Harborne has a busy dining scene with the opening of Jamie Desogus' Harborne Kitchen which one Harborne resident I know who likes to dine there describes as "almost as good as Purnell's but less expensive".

  Folium duly opened in November 2017. It got off to a slightly stuttering start in that I had a reservation there for lunch a few days after opening but my reservation had to be cancelled due to the non-appearance of a sous-chef. However I'm very pleased to be going to lunch there in a few days' time. I look forward to enjoying Ben Tesh's food having thoroughly enjoyed it in his former 'Pop up' restaurants. I'm pretty sure it will be worth the wait.

  Islam Akhtar, the chef director of the Lasan restaurant group, has stepped down from the role. He has made a number of television appearances including in three series of The Great British Menu where his soft shelled crab dish, which I ate at Lasan, won a place in the Banquet itself. Lasan was awarded a Michelin Plate in the 2018 Michelin Guide.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

17. Ben Tesh To Open Folium In November 2017.

  At last the glad news that Ben Tesh is to open his first permanent restaurant which he calls Folium. Service gets underway in November and it all looks very exciting. The aim is to serve modern British dishes in "a relaxed and informal atmosphere"and the 28 cover restaurant will be situated in Caroline Street off St. Paul's Square in the Jewellery Quarter.
  If you look up the meaning of Folium the definition " thin leaf-like structure" appears. However if you look up the meaning of Folium in cooking then you come across a text "Discovering words in the kitchen" by Julian Walker which links the word to the section on Pastry. It reminds us tha Filo derives from the modern Greek word for a leaf but mentions that the 1390 Forme de Cury includes a recipe which involves the use of sheets of thin pastry called foyles which are described as being "of paper". The piece then goes on to link 'folio', a sheet of paper, with 'leaf' which is what is meant by the Latin word Folium. I'm not sure if Ben Tesh would have gone through such tortured thinking to arrive at his restaurant's name but it will be interesting to find out.
  Tesh's partner, Lucy Hanson, will front the house.
  If the food served in his "pop-up" days is anything to go by then Birmingham will soon have another immaculate and brilliant restaurant to add to its fame as a truly great Food City. I have already booked myself a table. See Blog 10.