Month: December 2018

Purnell’s in pictures. Birmingham.

If any of the Purnell’s team are reading this, please take this as a public apology. Know that I normally behave far better and I’m not proud of my state in your restaurant. For clarification, we were celebrating Claire’s birthday a little too heavily; Opheem, Arch 13, Nocturnal Animals and Hotel du Vin until the very early hours the night prior. Back in Little Blackwood at 10am for breakfast and a birthday bottle of Nyetimber, The Edgbaston for a quick four glasses of Moët (and a couple of drams of Japanese whisky), Pint Shop, and then Purnell’s for lunch where we were kindly greeted with more of the fizzy stuff. You do the math. It was a lot of booze before we sat down for lunch.

As a result I’ve contemplated not putting this on the blog. I’ve been hazy on detail before, but that usually happens during the meal; I have never turned up for dinner drunk – I happen to think it’s fantastically poor form. I’ve decided to utilise Claire; her pictures and her memory (she skipped many of the morning’s drinks), and just write about the bits I’m certain on. What is clear is that Purnell’s delivered another brilliant lunch; one that is witty and theatrical, that still has real technique and flavour at its core. We have many brilliant Michelin starred restaurants in this fine city, yet none wear all that is brilliant about the city quite like this fine restaurant.

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The highlights were the coal potatoes with chorizo dip that echoed the river pebbles at Mugaritz, the cheese and pineapple that remains one of my favourite dishes in Birmingham, the cod with satay, and a couple of really excellent desserts; a chocolate and mint number that worked on a multi-sensory level, and that brilliantly iconic 10/10/10 egg custard. Service was exemplary from start to finish, the chosen wines from Sonal for each course perfectly judged. It was all very, very good. I just wish I was a little less ashamed of it.

So Thank You to Sonal for looking after us so well, to Glynn and to Luke for popping out the kitchen and saying hello. Claire had an incredible birthday and the two hours at Purnell’s were a huge part of that. If you’ll have me, we’ll come back and I’ll stay sober this time. Purnell’s deserves far more than the above pictures and a few words.

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All Greek, Birmingham

When you strip it all back, the foods that nations are built on can easily be joined together dot-to-dot. A Lancashire hotpot isn’t really all that different to the tagines of North Africa, and whether that dough of egg and flour is pasta or noodles really comes down to the continent on which you were born. The notion of coating fowl in starch and then deep frying might be karaage in one country, chikin in another, or just plain KFC in the U S of A. As much as we cling on the idealism of certain foods being owned by countries, it is much like religion; a singular narrative that has become jumbled, bastardised, reimagined and re-homed over centuries.

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I was thinking about this in All Greek. I was chowing down on the most Greek of dishes; souvlaki, gift wrapped in a bouncy pitta bread that contained tomatoes, raw onion, mustard, ketchup, a feta based cheese sauce with plenty of heat, and chips (chips!), amongst lots of meat. Ignoring the protein for a second, the sauces had amalgamated into something familiar, there was the bite of salad, cheesy notes, salty fries, and bread that worked as the perfect mode of transportation to the mouth. The Greeks are going to hate me for saying this, but this is their Big Mac and fries, albeit a much more healthy version. It turns out they have much more in common with the yanks than Brad Pitt playing Achilles. Either way I quite enjoyed it all, with the exception of the bag-to-fryer fries.

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Claire had a similar one of chicken souvlaki that skipped out the mustard, ketchup and the chips, instead choosing to focus on the ‘cleaner’ elements of the wrap with the addition of a spritely tzatiki. She loved it. No complaints. I wish I was that wrap.

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I wasn’t planning on writing this, but there is an honesty to the offering here that warrants it. Everything is fresh bar those chips, the service is charming, and, with every wrap nudging the fiver mark, it is cheap. Get those sauces, kick back with a glass of something and enjoy real Greek food, whatever the roots of that may be.

7/10

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Birmingham’s Top 5 Cocktails

I went and saw my doctor the other day. He asked me how much I’ve been drinking, to which I glanced away nervously into the sterile corner of the room and shook internally, incurring further damage to the organs which I am worried about. I reluctantly told him the truth. He wanted more detail on the type of booze; I said the expensive stuff, mostly blended into expertly crafted drinks. My doctor leans forward, the smell of stale coffee filling the decreasing void between his face and mine. “Sounds fucking fantastic” he says, “You must utilise your multi-award winning blog to write about these, because I need to try them pronto. But heed this warning, young Simon: do not get caught-up in the in the grandeur of awards; even Adolf Hitler won Time Magazine Man of The Year in 1938”. What a wise doctor he is, even if he is the last remaining man alive to use the word ‘pronto’.

So here is a list of the best Birmingham drinks, which, after multiple trips to some place called Londium, really do stand-up to anything in the country. We’re so blessed with what we have here in Brum, which is a small group of hugely talented people bringing the best out of one another. No Pornstar Martinis have been harmed in the making of this list. Give them a go and tell them Ol’ Meaty from the Interweb sent you. You’ll get nothing, but I might get a free drink out of it somewhere down the line.

5) FKD, £7, Nocturnal Animals

The name might be a giveaway, but this is a witty take on teenage boys’ favourite fingering juice. It’s neon blue in colour, bloody lovely in flavour, and rather brilliantly poured on draft straight out of the tap. Nocturnal Animals is too new for me to remotely consider myself an expert on their drinks program, but this is already a highlight for a venue not afraid to take the piss out of fickle aspects of modern life.

4) Negroni, £10, Legna

Ordering a Negroni is like watching Babestation drunk; rarely satisfying. Everywhere in Birmingham has them, very few do them well. For me the best is at Legna where the gin has been steeped in parmesan to give the drink added length and umami. It is up there with the negroni at Bar Termini, which, if drinks is your thang, is the ultimate in Negroni-based compliments.

3) Champion Cobbler, £12, 40 St Pauls

All hail the greatest gin bar in the universe. I’m not making that up, they really are. Right now I’d say get down there for the salted caramel gin hot chocolate, but otherwise take the Gin Cobbler; a fruity little number that comes in a trophy. Because you, Dear Reader, are a deserving champion.

4987AA7C-7C8F-454A-810E-3023724C7CF02) Hit The Rum Jack, £12, The Edgbaston

Simply my favourite place in the city. Indulgent, luxurious, with perfect service, it is everything the bar of a luxury boutique hotel should be. Settle in for the night and work towards this drink; a short, boozy, and complex rum based drink that works on nutty flavours. The truth is you’ll be hard pushed here to find a drink that you didn’t like.

1) Amber Nectar, £10, 18/81

Honestly, the reason I knocked this list up. I was a bit taken aback when I recently tried it; it’s not just one of the best drinks I’ve had in Birmingham, but one of the best drinks I can remember ever having. For what is essentially a double measure of a single malt whisky, they have managed to add a dashes of maple, pecan, and tonka bean to draw out the flavour profile of the whisky. A world class drink that converted Claire to the joys of the fire water.

8057EA13-A94D-43AB-9322-778B3EA07CB2Don’t drink and drive, kids. Take an A2B Radio Car like I do.

 

 

 

 

Buonissimo, Harborne

With all the new openings, burger bars, street kitchens, and trendy Asian joints, it is easy to forget about those neighbourhood restaurants that have seemingly kept areas full on food forever. I’m guilty of this more than most: my diary is an endless list of tasting menus, of baos and ramen, masala chaat, and burrata, all in the name of telling you what is good and what is Deolali. I had almost forgotten that Buonissimo existed, despite the fact that I lived in Harborne for six years, with a proportion of those a twenty second walk away from this quaint spot just off the high street. Before this blog I used to eat there relatively frequently; I’ve spent Valentines evenings there, I’d gone for the cheaper evening meals, and memorably on one evening watched a drunk man topple backwards down the stairs whilst I grazed on a whole baked garlic and sipped on a just warm glass of Appassimento. He lived. I think.

It hasn’t changed much in the two or so years since I last visited. It’s still warm and homely; almost affectionate in service. The heavy wooden tables and chairs more comfortable than they look, with only plants disturbing the blue and white colour scheme. The menu is still concise and changes with the seasons, whilst they still proudly list their suppliers on the reverse. And what a list of suppliers. Meat from my favourite butcher, Roger Brown, bread from Peel and Stone. We work through the bread whilst taking in our options; it is all very good, more so with the peppery olive oil and almost sweet balsamic vinegar.

We take two pasta dishes for starters. Orecchiette has mortadella sausage, peas, and pistachio for company, with the little indentations of the pasta catching the silky tomato sauce enriched with lots of cream. It is elegant and seriously tasty. A ravioli of ‘nduja and pecorino takes the opposite approach, boasting lots of chilli and garlic in amongst the olive oil dressing. This is rustic and big-hitting. Both are winners for which we will return for larger sized portions.

Mains stay on that rustic route. This is Italian home cooking, a kind of meat and two veg (which would make a fantastic name for a foodblog) approach that fills the plate to all edges and dares you to try and finish. There is nothing pretty about either dish, but the flavour is there. I have a duck leg that has been confited and then blasted over heat so that the skin breaks into crisp shards, with a sticky and rich sauce dotted with prunes. Opposite me is chicken breast wearing a winter jacket of courgette and melted cheese. The quality of the meat is obvious, as is the skill in handling the protein. The cavalo nero is nice, as are the garlic potatoes served with the duck, though we’ll gloss over the wedges with the chicken that suspiciously look and taste like they have come from a bag.

By now we’re full. Super full. We have no room for dessert but the menu leads us into first agreeing to share one, before ordering two. It’s the right move. A crepe containing stewed apple and mascapone is good, though is overshadowed by an excellent take on bread and butter pudding using panetone that should come accessorised with a pillow and duvet. We wash it down with a chocolate hazelnut liquor and leave very happy.

Stay away from the fillet steak here and nothing will break the bank. Starters are all under ten, mains around £15, and wine that starts late teens. Exactly how a neighbourhood restaurant should be. There is nothing finessed about Bounissmo, it channels a completely different type of restaurant built around the principals of family cooking. By the time we’ve drank up on the wine we feel almost sad about leaving. The world needs more places like this; we won’t be leaving it so long next time.

8/10

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Burger Theory at Kongs, Birmingham

One of my pet peeves when reading other blogs is the endless comparisons. Apart from being very rude, it also isn’t particularly helpful. There are so many variables it is almost impossible to do fairly: were the dishes identical? Are they the same price? Did said bloggers pay for both meals? (the last one is unlikely). I don’t see what anyone gains from saying ‘this is better than this…’ other than undermining the establishment you are supposed to be concentrating on. But, and this is a but bigger than my rapidly increasing butt, it is going to be nigh on impossible to get through the next five hundred words without comparing Burger Theory to the big guns of this city. We do burgers very well in this town, so you’ll need to do something remarkable to step into the (bull)ring. I offer no apologies for that appalling regional pun.

Burger Theory operate to one side of Kongs, in the building that used to be Chameleon. That place was awful; a mating pen to the sound of commercial house, where wedding rings would be stowed in trouser pockets in the vague hope that two pissed people may horizontally align between the hours of midnight and 3am. Gone is the shiny wood, replaced with sparse seating, neon lights, and concrete. They have managed to erase the smell of regret that used to haunt the dancefloor and replace that area with wiff-waff tables, whilst vintage arcade games line the walls. I like what they have done with the place, mostly because it is no longer Chameleon.

I’ve been twice now because I want to give it a fair crack. The first time was a fleeting solo visit on a weekday night. It was empty. I have a korean chicken burger and a pint of Gamma Ray. The burger is served on paper napkins so that the leaking sweet chilli sauce is a irretrievable bed of red squelch that infuriates me. The burger itself is pretty good; high on salt, crispy batter and chicken that has survived the frying with some of its juices. It works, even if I hanker for a drink after every mouthful. I finish my pint, waste six quid on Donkey Kong and leave.

The second time saw me taking a severe beating at the car game they have before ordering a more substantial meal. Beef this time; on two burgers and one loaded fries. Those fries are not good: supposedly a chilli, the beef is tough and stringy, the promised sauces nowhere near enough in quantity to stop it all being too dry. The burgers are good, maybe not good enough to choose over OPM or Meatshack, but certainly good enough to eat should we happen to be playing wiff-waff in Kongs. The meat is good quality, accurately seared and cooked. The Down and Dirty is better than the one with blue cheese because the latter is out of proportion and only tastes of cheese. As far as burgers go, these would stand up to most competition. Most.

And then there is the issue of the size of the room. On that Saturday lunch there is maybe 60 in Kongs and it still feels empty. Maybe it will be different in the evening when they have a DJ, though they are going to need to put a lot more through the door to make this a viable business. Have they bitten off more than they can chew? Possibly. Still, Burger Theory bring more good food to the city, which can only be a positive.

7/10

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The Greenhouse, Sutton Coldfield

Sutton Coldfield has never struck me as an area to get excited about. I know it exists, like third world poverty and Mrs Brown’s Boys, but I have little desire to seek it out and experience it for myself.  On the rare occasion I do venture north of the wall it nearly always disappoints; there is good stuff happening beyond here, like the excellent The Boat in Lichfield, but Sutton feels timid in comparasion. It’s too genteel, too middle class to have anything edgy going on. It is the land of the company car and fillet steak, which seems perfectly fine for its inhabitants.

My mate Jacob gets excited about Sutton, mostly as he was born there. A car journey with Jacob around the area is a rapid verbal account of very colourful teenage years. It is great fun; kissed a girl here; ran away from the police in that place; had a scrap with a man thirty years my senior in there. I never realised Sutton could be so fun. Anyway, he’s a drinks rep now and he told me about a pub near his parents home that has had a refurbishment that looks great. So we do what thirty-somethings do and arrange to go on a double dinner date which stays civilised until we pick him and his fiancé up and see that they have a small bottle of whisky with them for the car journey.

The pub is smart; tables are spaced far enough apart for the young team to buzz around and handle every table in a warm and professional manner. It is a big menu, one that takes up both sides of an A4 sheet of paper. From the starters the lamb koftas go down well in a kind of DIY flatbread, as does a doorstop wedge of brie crumbed and then deepfried to a gooey consistency. Chicken karage is good when dunked into a katsu sauce that tastes remarkably like the curry sauce from my local chippy. The Asian inspired salad it comes with needs work; nothing tastes of anything.

Out of the four mains we have there is one dud: a dried-out chicken breast stuffed with a little chorizo, in an alleged buttermilk batter that has caught and burnt in parts. That aside, the rest is pretty good gastro-grub. Battered halloumi is precisely cooked with decent chips, mushy peas, and a very good tartare sauce, whilst a rib-eye is correctly cooked, if a little under-rested. Best is the fillet steak, with a little shallot tatin topped with cheese. Again the meat is cooked well, but it’s the accompaniment that makes it shine; adding umami and depth to the lump of cow.

Dessert is a melting chocolate bomb that is super sweet but also super good. Okay, I’ve been eating melting bombs for over a decade, but it’s great to see it somewhere more accessible than starred restaurants. And it works; the salted caramel sauce melts the chocolate and leaves a puddle of happiness around the revealed sticky toffee pudding.

We drink two bottles of decent Rioja and leave replete for the journey back to southern Brum. Is The Greenhouse good enough for me to make a frequent trek back to Sutton? Probably not. Though I do have a sister who lives nearby and I could certainly see myself having a bite to eat with her here. There is a lot to like about The Greenhouse, which delivers good quality food at a fair price.

7/10

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