I’ll get the truth out from the start; Simpson’s is a special place for me. It was the first Michelin starred restaurant I took my girlfriend to, the place where we had our first year anniversary, where I celebrated my 30th birthday, and where I’ll be eating on my birthday this year. It’s a distinct kind of place, opulent without ever being flashy, polished without the stuffiness. It used to be much more rigid before the refit, whereas now it has a Scandinavian vibe, with plenty of natural light bathing the bare wooden elements of tree, tables, and floor. It’s clean and casual, yet still romantic enough for a date night to ask your long suffering girlfriend of seven years for her hand in marriage. The last part is merely a suggestion.
With the refit came a new Head Chef and a fresh approach. Nathan Eades joins Executive Chef, Luke Tipping, in the kitchen creating food that is identifiable with the old Simpsons, yet lighter and more modern in style. I have eaten here more frequently than any other starred restaurant and can gladly report that the food is better than ever. Not only have they moved straight to the top of Birmingham, they are now competing with the big boys across the country.
The opening act sets the scene for the evening. A tapioca cracker given the Just For Men treatment with squid ink is the ideal foil for the creamiest of taramasalata dip, whilst a delicate cracker made from chickpea flour is topped with truffled mayo and flowers almost too pretty to eat. Almost. We save the pigs head until last for good reason. The unctuous meat is encased in tiny shards of pork crackling – try telling me you don’t want that now. It is as fulfilling as two mouthfuls of food can get. Bread comes as a flaky tapenade roll and a sourdough that is almost as good as that from the Hedone bakery. For those familiar with the latter they know this to be the highest of compliments. The crust has bite, the crumb slightly elastic with large pockets of air. It is dreamy when smeared an inch thick with the salty whipped butter.
We are yet to reach the dishes ordered from the A La Carte menu and had already eaten some seriously good food. A starter of veal tartare exceeds this by being one of the best raw meat dishes I have ever eaten, the entire plate basked in light acidity from balls of apple and slices of kohlrabi.
A carrot broth jewelled with herb oil is poured tableside onto a slow cooked duck egg with meaty hen of the wood mushrooms, and tangles of crispy pork for bite and saltiness. Nasturtium add a gentle pepperiness not unlike watercress. It’s a joy, and a visual joy at that. Salmon is cured so that the texture firmed up, with sweet raw obsiblue prawns seasoned with a little lemon juice, caviar, cucumber, and a buttermilk dressing. The dish requires little in the way of cooking and an expert hand in balancing the sweet and the acidity. It nails it, producing a bowl full of complexity that celebrates the best in produce.
Beef comes as a rare cannon of rump and a wedge of brisket so softly cooked it concedes at the merest suggestion of pressure. Add to this a fat spear of white asparagus, petals of charred shallot, mushrooms, potato puree seasoned with crisp bone marrow, and what you have is a plate that produces new combinations with every forkful. It is rooted in classicism, which is fine by me when it is done as well as this.
I’ll cut to the chase with the other main course; it is the best lamb dish I have ever eaten. The meat is a perfect medium, so tender it could have been cut with a palette knife. Garlic is represented both as subtle wild leaves and a pungent fermented emulsion, with a sheeps curd that seasons and elevates. The sauce is a thing of beauty which we used the last of the bread to mop up, then our fingers to chase the last dots when that runs out.
Pre dessert is a clever little ice cream made from buttermilk with lemon gel that evokes a healthy breakfast with its crunchy oats topping, whilst successfully transitioning from savoury through to sweet. One of the sweet courses is batons of poached rhubarb with a sorbet of the same fruit, shards of muscovado sugar, and a burnt cream that works in a similar style to a crème brulee, albeit in a much more cheffy, modern fashion.
The other dessert. My God, the other dessert. A caramelised rectangle of filo pastry is the canopy for a serious amount of work that riffs on the flavour profile of coffee. There is white chocolate, aerated, and again as a mousse, chocolate sponge, Nesspresso granite, and an ice cream made from spiced speculoo biscuit. It is dark and funky. Creamy and indulgent. It delivers on every level. It is one of the very best desserts I have eaten.
Perfect. It’s not a word I use too often, but Simpsons delivered a perfect evening. The bill, creeping in at just over a hundred quid a head including a lovely Hungarian red and a couple of ports, felt very fair for food that was clearly to me at two star level. It was intriguing, elegant cooking with real personality. It’s surely just a matter of time before Michelin acknowledges this and elevates it to the level it belongs. Simpsons is up there with the very best in the country, and we, the good folk of Birmingham, should embrace our finest restaurant at every opportunity.