It was on a whim that my new girlfriend and I decided to have lunch at Harborne Kitchen. We’ve both had it rough of recent, both slightly hungover and tired, in need of a stomach lining fill and a top-up of alcohol levels. We initially looked to the greasier end of the spectrum in the city centre, before deciding that The Plough in Harborne would be a good option to while away the day after lunch. So, Harborne Kitchen it was. It would turn out to be one of the better decisions that the indecisive shit has made this year. The girl done good. It’s stuff like this that got her the gig.
We arrive on very wet Saturday afternoon, when the restaurant space is peppered by the dark grey sky looming through the skylight. It is a lovely dining room, arguably one of the cities more charismatic, all royal blue and white, the centre dominated by the open kitchen and stooled seating around the beech wood counter. A flurry of nibbles start us off. Cod skin arrives looking like a gilded pork puff, the salty whack of the sea ramped up by a spritz of rosemary vinegar. These are excellent, as are the cauliflower cheese pastries they share a space with. Lightly pickled carrots with a little of the liquor and buttermilk feel like work in progress, a little too refined and clever for its own good. We end the procession with a gorgonzola donut that erupts through the brioche casing in the mouth. It’s bites like this that make me go out for dinner. It was as corrupt as a Tory MP, only far more appealing.
The first course might just have been my favourite. Just cooked jersey royals, soured, no, sorry, cultured cream, with a wild garlic veloute poured tableside. The veloute is bold and intense, as good as any I can recall eating. Also lurking in the bowl is caviar that gives pops of salinity and toasted rice for bite. We race for the last piece of sourdough to wipe the bowl clean. It’s good enough to make me want to punctuate this sentence with swear words. Absolutely nailed on one star cooking.
The duck liver dish that follows is all about the texture. The combination of duck and cherry is one that harks back to Escoffier, the fruit having enough tartness to cut through the rich liver. Sandwiching the parfait are two shards; one like a ginger melba toast, the other some wafer thin chicken skin. It’s complex and intriguing. Every mouthful is unique.
I ask for a replacement to a salmon dish and get a salad of heritage tomatoes, a baked bean fondue, basil, and a tomato essence poured tableside. It’s light and fresh, a beguiling mix of temperatures.
Our main was a mammoth of a dish. Lamb, as rolled shoulder, neck fillet, and tongue, with (wait for it), lovage, potato puree, radish, black olive puree, curd, spiced aubergine, and lamb jus. There was a lot going on, with some parts better than others. The rolled shoulder was glorious, as was the livery profile of the tongue. Both were more than enough to stand up to the big flavours of the tapenade-like olive puree and aubergine. The neck fillet was a little lost, as was the lovage. We finished it because it was delicious, but both agreed it would have had more clarity with a couple of items stripped away.
Desserts were frankly brilliant – there is obvious talent in the pastry department. A yogurt ice cream is the perfect foil for orange segments frozen with liquid nitrogen in front of us. There is a sharp curd that sits underneath that ties it all together. It is exceptional. Even better is the final dessert of honey parfait with milk ice cream, honeycomb, dehydrated milk shards, and honey. It is good enough to induce tears of joy – balanced with ballerina-like poise. It has character, texture, and flavour. Another nailed on one star course.
The price for the above lunch? Thirty five English pounds. Yes, you have read that correct. I was on the beer (don’t judge), the other half on the G&T and we fail to hit £90 between us. And they don’t charge a service charge, despite a slick operation that will have a certain guide going weak at the knees. Evening visits and wine will ramp up the bill, but even so, this place is worth it. It’s clever cooking, with a focus on big flavours and complexity. Book up and go before word reaches the rest of the city in the same way it did with Carters. It stops raining as we finish eating and light pours through the skylight and on to our table. It feels like a sign. Harborne Kitchen is a very special place that can bring sunshine to the darkest of days.
And now the plug; I am up for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards, where Harborne Kitchen is also nominated in the Best Fine Dining. Please give us both a vote here http://www.mfdhawards.co.uk/vote-now/