brindley place

Pulperia, Birmingham.

This post finds you from somewhere over the Alps, on RyanAir’s flight from Pisa to Hell. There are drunk Brits (I may be one of them) who have little regard for pandemics, and Italians in masks who don’t know whether to fear the British or Coronavirus more. Two rows in front a slurring man with red wine stains around his mouth made the rear of the plane aware that he was a medic. Behind me a posh lady is scolding her partner for their poor choice of rental vehicle. Despite this, we’ve had a lovely trip, drinking lots of great Tuscan wines and eating far too well. If you are reading this as one of the many people who offered suggestions as to the best steakhouses Florence offers, then thank you for the suggestions but they were dutifully ignored. I find steak boring. There, I’ve said it.

Part of the problem I have with them is how badly they are generally cooked. I cook a serviceable one at home, but my modest cooker struggles to get up to the temperature required and imparts none of the smoke that the best steaks have lingering in the background. The ones in Birmingham, well, let’s say they mostly disappoint. Go find the street food vender Beef On The Block if you want a good bavette, but those within bricks and mortar never hit the mark consistently. Whilst the rest of the country have Goodman’s and Hawksmoor, we have three branches of Miller and Carter. Enough said.

Praise be to Aktar Islam for changing that. He is a man of detail – anyone who has eaten in Opheem will know that – so I had an inkling Pulperia was going to be good. It’s better than good: it’s the steakhouse the city deserves; one which is notionally set in Argentina yet finds itself orienteering around the world to wherever the best produce is. It’s on these menus, amongst the wet aged beef from Argentina, you find rare breeds and dairy cattle whose life has been more than purely raised for meat. All in a dining room which is unmistakably Aktar; that juxtaposition between the masculine heavy textures and the feminine floral displays. The room is as good as Brindley Place has ever seen.

We begin with three starters; chorizo has a gentle smokiness reminiscent of gammon with tomatoes that are far too tasty to be British, all dressed up to the nines in a herby and garlicky chimicurri. Soft sweetbreads kissed with char from the grill so a delicate touch can still be applied over flames. These come with chicory and a burnt lime chimichurri that is bold and smokey whilst still retaining the soul of the condiment. The empanadas – those Argentinian pasties – are good, with the spicy beef better than the chicken. They each need a little more filling inside them, though the romanesco style red pepper dip proves great to dunk the excess pastry in.

Those steaks. Let me tell you about those steaks. In the effort of transparency, we don’t get the steak we order, with the kitchen sending out large two pieces of Holstein Fresian – a rare breed dairy cow aged up to 18 years and listed here under the title of ‘basque cider house’ steak. A kilo prime rib here (for two, unless you’re my girlfriend) will cost you £85 and is worth every penny; delivering a depth of flavour unlike any we are used to, full of umami and beefiness. It’s the ultimate in beef, up there with Bar Nestor though without the terroir, cooked over high heat until the Malliard reaction kicks in and then rested until the juices disperse inside the ruby red interior. It doesn’t need the bone marrow and Malbec sauce, but that sauce is so very rich and so very good. With this we have fries and carrots roasted with chicken butter and the best version of humita I’ve ever tried. Seriously, creamed sweetcorn is the best friend of steak. You heard it here first.

We share a serviceable chocolate fondant for dessert, along with two bottles of Malbec, a couple of cocktails, and finish by making two more bookings to come back. Those looking for a cheap steak should book elsewhere; Pulperia is a celebration of the cow, not a trip to Beefeater. Those on a budget should aim for the Argentinian experience; a fillet with fried egg, Malbec sauce and that humita will come in a touch over £30. But why should you when you can experience some of the best beef in the world? We’ve waited a very long time for Birmingham to have a steakhouse of this quality. It’s time for you to enjoy it.

9/10

We visited during a soft launch and received a discounted bill.

Steak this good needs the best in travel. Time for to take A2B

Vietnamese Street Kitchen, Resorts World

I write this on a bitterly cold Monday morning which, if the media are to be believed, is the most depressing of the year. How very depressing of them to inform us of this. I was in a good mood until about twenty minutes ago; I’d put a suit on for an important day with the real job, eaten a very small breakfast, and headed into the office. En route I had a flick through my phone. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. It was the latter which did it. A thread came up with people discussing ‘personal brands’, which I believe to explain the personal accounts of those not subjected to enough attention as a child. Is there a more repellent term? It implies the content is manufactured; a contorted marketing ploy to appear more woke, more gammon, more gay, more straight, more left, more right to appeal to a certain group of followers (another term which riles me. Twitter is not a cult, despite what some would have you believe). Remember the episode of Black Mirror where the women on the way to the wedding collects scores based on how strangers perceive her? Social media is doing that to us. We are losing the human. It’s all smoke and mirrors. An abyss of cancel culture, led by those working on their personal brands during the day and plotting the downfall of the popular kids who bullied them at senior school during the night. And then there is those who think that their face need to be in every picture, every Instagram story. Don’t start me on those. It’s those wankers that are killing the planet.

On the flip of this is Oliver. You don’t know who Oliver is, but suffice to say he is a personal brand I can get behind, and he is so unassuming, so quietly driven, that he has no idea what personal brand means. Right now Oliver is Vietnamese Street Kitchen, both branches; the one in Brindley Place and this, a shiny new one in Resorts World. He slingshots to our table from another to say hi, telling us how he’s been up since well before dawn to prep the dough for the bao, get over to Brindley, then here. He takes our drinks order, brings our drinks, takes the food order and then disappears to help cook the food. This is not a joke. Oliver is now in the kitchen.

I should point out that we are not left alone; there are other staff here and they do a fine job of keeping the beer on steady rotation. When the food does arrive it comes in waves, mostly hand-delivered by yes, you’ve guessed it. And it’s mostly very good. Earnest cooking from the heart, which is all I ever want but seldom see. Lightly cooked prawns have it all on show in the see-through PVC mac that is the summer roll, whilst chicken wings have been taken for a roll in thick sauce that starts hot with chilli and ends with the sweetness of palm sugar. Both of these starters are very nice, as were the fried dumplings stuffed with a dice of vegetables that come alive when dredged through a soy based sauce under a canopy of herbs. Three of these snacks for fifteen quid is tremendous value. If you’re reading this Oliver, charge more. Though I doubt he is; he’s probably brewing the beer, or catching the fish for tonight’s service.

I’ll address the pho here and then finish on a high point. I don’t like it. The beef has that boiled texture of being taken to a temperature too high, whilst the stock is too light on flavour for my liking. I tell Oliver this and in his defence he makes a very valid arguement involving the regional varities of Pho and staying true to his family’s style. What I do like are strips of pork belly that manage that perfect point of crispy skin and soft interior, and even more than that the beef curry so fragrant with lemongrass. The meat falls off the bone, the sauce just thick enough to hold on to edges of the rice. It’s glorious.

As touched on, prices are super fair with any sensible couple getting away with less than £25 a head. We are not sensible. I liked it here. I like what they are doing and I like how they are going about it. It’s no secret that neither sites have been particularly kind to independents, so it’s a big gamble to go from Brindley Place to a second site in Resorts World within a year of opening. But I think they’ll be fine. The owner is a superstar who bleeds hospitality; exactly the type of personal brand the world needs. Should you see Oliver please say hi and tell him I’ll be back real soon.

8/10

We took an A2B because we only ever take A2B

OKO at Nuvo Bar, Brindley Place

If part of my role as blogger de rigueur is to make you, Dear Readers, aware of places you may not have known existed, then I think that I’ve cracked it. The subject matter for the post is a restaurant that I fell upon by coincidence, in a building that I know very well, but for all reasons which are not food. It takes a special kind of person to know Nuvo. Those who do generally either work in Brindley Place or are the kind who enjoy sportswear as outerwear, bottle table packages, and dancing to Fat Man Scoop. All of this is fine; I was once that person. My mate used to regularly DJ there when my body was sculpted enough to wear a cardigan with nothing underneath and my jeans deliberately showed off those fresh Calvin Klein y-fronts. I’m sorry if you’re reading this whilst eating. Or planning on eating. Or have eaten at some point today. But it’s the truth. I even worked for RBS at the time in Brindley Place. I was Nuvo personified.

I thought it had gone in all honesty. Lost to the same oceans that swept away 52 Degrees North and Poppy Red and Mechu. But no, it’s still there, and they even do food now. I know this because I went to get dinner nearby and when that was closed went into Nuvo. I’m inquisitive like that. It hasn’t changed.

The food is Japanese, a sushi heavy trip around the more familar dishes of the Far East. There are edamame beans in a perky chilli and garlic mush that required the right amount of pressure to drag from the surface whilst popping the innards into the mouth. There are very good gyozas and less good fried squid that lacks seasoning and is on the chewy side.

Tempura vegetables are greaseless and still crunchy, which is an achievement that eludes some other versions in Birmingham. These are good, which is more than be said for duck filled rolls that are greasy and a little bit unpleasant. The inconsistencies by this point are noticable.

The sushi comes on elaborate platters complete with plumes of dry ice. I imagine that this goes down a storm in a throbbing club, but here, with only around eight people in the room, it feels a little cheap. The sushi is okay; sure the rice is not at body temperature, nor has it been properly seasoned with vinegar, but the cutting of the fish shows solid technique and the quality of the produce is high. Dragon rolls, salmon nigiri, little mounds of rice with spliced tempura prawns. It’s not groundbreaking but it is more than acceptable, which will do for this part of town.

All of this leaves me split on my opinion: there was good and bad, and I imagine that if you went to the right places you could find the good things done a lot better. But for all of this, I liked it, at least I think I did. Service is brilliant, the sake menu is extensive and kindly marked-up, and the food won’t break the bank. Order right and you’ll do okay here. I’m personally just not sure I’d want to do so when it’s a heaving club, memories or otherwise.

6/10

You know who you won’t find in da club? A2B

Craft Dining Rooms, December 2019

It’s all change at Craft Dining Rooms. The end of 2019 saw them appoint Andrew Sheridan of Great British Menu fame as Exec Chef, a move probably in line with Aktar Islam adding the restaurant to his portfolio as Chef Director. Even now, as this post goes live, the final touches are being added to their English garden; a series of pods which line the canal from the opposing side of Brindley Place. The restaurant too is having a once-over; the large bar area is being halved with some of the kitchen being moved out to that space, a new PDR is going in, the mustard pillars are gone with flowers and softer lighting coming in.

I know all of this because the owner of Craft tells me so over a gin and tonic whilst my friends turn up for our lunch date. It’s the last Friday before Christmas, it’s pissing down to Biblical proportions and Birmingham’s roads are besieged with various closures. It’s the perfect storm for delays and I’m drenched to the core. By the time the last of our trio rolls in some 45 minutes after our booking I am soaked in more ways than one. Thanks Sam for the gins, I needed them.

The food is now taking a tighter line, more in keeping with the ideals set when they first opened. It’s highly seasonal, not only using the larder of the UK but an easier style of cooking. The bread rolls are still as good as you’re likely to see in the city, but now you have the choice of a more conventional butter and another heavily flavoured with Marmite. The latter divides the table like – well – I can’t think of an ingredient which is as divisive. A fat scallop has been pan fried on one side to a burnished crust, in one of those buttery sauces that has you chasing the last of it with your finger. So far so very good.

We get unctous pig cheeks with potato puree, squash puree, and batons of pickled squash and apple. It’s a miniature take on something far more substantial; wholesome and perfect for the wintery conditions outside the large panes of glass, it has just enough acidity to cut through it. Then cod in a bubble bath of crab bisque, all delicate and warming. Simple and understated, it lets the produce speak for itself.

I can’t remember eating a piece of venison as well cooked as that on the main course, the meat not overly gamey and robustly seasoned. The pairing of blackberries and beetroots an obvious one, given little touches like the addition of rhubarb to the beetroot puree. It’s not perfect; the disc of beetroot is undercooked, and the overall feel of the dish is a little high in acidity, but all of this is forgotten because they have a rectangle of compressed potato slices that have been deep fried to golden on the side.

I happen to be a big fan of the pastry chef, a man who answers to the name of Howing. Dessert on this occasion was a white chocolate orange; a frozen shell depicting peel which contains a caramelised white chocolate mousse, macerated orange, and blood orange. This is on a crumb of salted dark chocolate which had maybe a little too much salt. It’s cold, it’s rich, it’s complex. And I really hope I’ve taken the notes correctly for this because by now we’ve drank a fair amount of wine and are making plans to carry on throughout the afternoon.

I don’t know how much this came to because a friend was picking up the bill, though I can tell you that as before the English wines, in particular an orange wine from Litmus, were delicious. Speaking to Andrew Sheridan afterwards I got the feel for his vision of what Craft should be; a full on celebration of the seasons of the UK, laid out simply and without compromise. I have a lot of time for that. Just two weeks into his appointment we got a sense of that and it really delivered. The future is a bright one for Craft.

As ever, A2B got me from A to B.

Bank, Birmingham

They seat us in the new extension at the rear of Bank, which is new in that it absolutely wasn’t here when I came for dinner seven years ago. It’s an odd space; ski chalet-like and in total juxtaposition to the rest of the decor which hasn’t really changed since they opened twenty years back. Out here the expense accounts are in full effect, the boisterous laughter of those wanting to keep the toxic masculinity stereotype raging just a little longer. It’s all TM Lewin and brogues picking from menu staples like Thai green curry and porterhouse steaks. In perhaps the least surprising news of 2019 we are told that the Merlot is a popular choice of wine. Of course it is. I gaze out the window, across the canal and over to Legoland, drawing the similarities in my head with children pointing at all the toys over there and those choosing their dinner inside here. The room rumbles with the belly laugh of a man who has clearly drank too much. A little part inside of me dies.

The reality is that if there is anywhere in Birmingham more deserving of a Dignitas send-off, it is Bank. You’ve served your time, now lets all stand around your bed and reminisce about the good times whilst they stick the needle in and end it quietly. The place is tired, a shadow of what it was, even if there was the occasional moment where the food crawled above mediocrity. A cider and onion soup is competent, as is the cheese on sourdough it is served with. The other starter of crispy squid might not be crispy but it avoids chewiness from a quick cook and solid technique. The thai style salad underneath lacks seasoning and the sweet chilli sauce is from a squeezy bottle, but together it’s pleasant in the way your great aunt was before you packed her off to Dignitas and sold her house to give you your deposit for yours.

But then we are served two of the worst mains I can recall eating. My burger is a disaster; the work of a chef who doesn’t eat them and has worked from someone elses recipe. The beef is a crowded patty of cheap cuts and the occasional bonus nugget of cartiledge. It’s dry. So dry. Dryer than Jack Dee on vacation in the Sahara. And the fucking thing has burger sauce on it and cheese that I’ve paid an extra £1.50 for. Imagine the carnage without that smear of lubrication. The skin on chips are almost exclusively curls of deep fried skin and not pleasant ones at that. If anything Claire’s butternut squash ravioli was worse. The ravioli was poorly made so that the uneven textures mean that some parts are a little soggy and others almost raw, the insides of some are okay and others less great where it has leaked. The beurre noisette loaded with cream so no such thing, clumsily made and coagulated on the hot plates. It’s a disaster. “Food this bad makes me sad” says Claire. She couldn’t have been more right.

They do desserts but I’m not sure I can take any more sadness, so we pay the bill and head to anywhere other than here to continue the evening. We both eat from the early evening menu at £17.50 for two courses, though go later and that burger with cheese is £15.50 on it’s own. With Craft across the bridge and the new Argentinian opening in the same square I despair at anyone who would choose to eat here. A final word: the staff are brilliant, particularly the girl on reception. They deserve better. The paying customer deserves better. Bank, you’ve served your city and had your moment, now it’s time to give up and let someone more relevant takeover.

5/10

let A2B be the carriage to get you far away from here.

Craft Dining Rooms, Birmingham

The opening of Craft managed to elude me. I had heard murmuration of it through various channels: how the exec chef had previously cooked excellent food for a friend and was one to watch, how the ex-head chef of the now deceased Tom’s Kitchen was moving over to man the pans and call the checks during service, and how they were taking up the large space at the rear of the ICC where Strada once resided. I followed it with interest; the ‘coming soon’ on the Twitter accounts, and the work in progress posts from the pastry chef I’ve followed on Instagram from Cheal’s to Adam’s to here. It would take a tweet asking for new openings to find out they had opened. There was, to my knowledge at least, none of the usual fanfare; no opening parties or bloggers tables, no cosying up to Birmingham Live for a soundbite in between their usual stories on Love Island or Danielle Lloyd’s vagina. They just opened the doors and let the passing public work out the rest, which is a commendable idea had anyone actually passed through the ICC this time of year.

A few things immediately stand out on our visit ten days into opening. First the space, which is a huge mass of ash grey and soft furnishings cut occasionally with the warm tones of mustard yellow across the pillars that stop the conferences above from piling through the roof. The second is the concept, rolled out at every opportunity across the pages of the menus, the tome of the wine list, the wordy reservation email, and in person by the waiting team. I’m generally not a fan of concepts. By all means have a vision, but I work by the rule that if you have to spell it out then you’re not doing it properly. They have something good here, something that is clear from the off and maybe they can be less eager about spilling it everywhere. It’s a celebration of Britishness — more Buckingham Palace and long country walks than Boris waving a kipper — the good stuff from the good people doing good things. The produce is carefully curated from the best of British suppliers: from the Cotswold White chickens, to the cheese trolley, and Cadbury’s cocoa. The wine list is roughly 80% British growers, subsidised by expats making wines in warmer climes. They have dozens and dozens of gins all distilled on these shores, some using all-British botanicals, some not. You get the picture. Brexit doesn’t scare these guys one bit.

The extended effort to source the best of the country’s larder is backed up by some rather sterling (I know what I’ve done there) work coming out of the kitchen. Sourdough is the first thing we eat and boy is it good, right up there with Folium for the best of its kind in the city. The butter less so, whipped to the point that it starts to taste like cheese. We order three from the ‘snack’ section between two, and this seems the ideal portion size, even if it does creep the price up a little. Of these the ‘pork pie’ is most meagre portion, though also the cheapest at £6. It is a pastry-less spin on the picnic staple, with apple cider jelly, glorious pickled vegetables, and a mustard emulsion that has beer added for umami depth. Both mouthfuls were lovely. A fat scallop comes perfectly cooked and served in its shell with peas, charred baby gem, and apple. A rich smokiness is hidden somewhere amongst it which needs light acidity from the apple to cut through it. It has great balance. The buttermilk chicken is the biggest departure. Crisp coating on the poultry, the thigh meat cooked to the point the meat has just turned from opaque to white, with a vivid yellow sauce that conjures up the flavours of South East Asia without ever being able to pinpoint precisely where. It’s refined junk food, addictive and wholesome.

Mains take a leap in size and price. These are big portions, and so they should be for a £17-£30 price bracket that puts it up there with the city’s big hitters. The star of these sits at the top of that level: a large fillet of halibut, golden in colour and cooked until the large flakes fall away at the suggestion of pressure.  To the side is a fish pie, vol-au-vent in style, with more chunks of fish spun through buttered leeks, spinach, and dressed in a mornay sauce. This is a proper bit of cooking, showing off precision, technique, and a little bit of wit. The puddled parsley sauce is all the acidity the dish needs, the length of charred leek adding another level of flavour. I would order this time and time again. Likewise the chicken dish, a tenner under the price of the halibut but in no way less considered. You might look at the pictures and think that supreme looks good and you would be right too, but the real fun is to the side of it. A nugget of of shredded confit meat, bound with wild garlic (presumably fermented given it’s out of season) and butter, before being fried in breadcrumbs. It is the essence of chicken kiev dressed up in a suit. Take one of the many onion elements on the plate, a piece of that chicken, drag it through the heavily reduced sauce and again through the black garlic puree, before giving yourself a pat on the back for reading Birmingham’s finest restaurant blog. You’re welcome. And a final word on the side dish of potatoes. Those potatoes! Cubes of burnished spud with a hint of animal and of garlic. We fight over the last of them. I win, because I’m stronger than her. I jest. She beats me everytime.

You may have reached this point thinking that we had enjoyed our meal, and you’d be correct, though if anything it gets better from here. If classical desserts are your thing, then Craft is your Mecca, or, in keeping with the ethos here, your Stonehenge. We eat two desserts as good as any you’ll find in this city, delivering a sweet finish with finesse. First up it’s the bakewell tart soufflé. You read that correct. Bakewell. Tart. Soufflé. Stop the world, I can’t take this much fun. Cherry compote at the bottom, frangipane soufflé base, more almonds, and an toasted almond ice cream for good measure. The soufflé stood proud, shoulders apart, like a Beefeater at the Tower of London (I know what I did there), and ate like a dream. Across from these are choux buns flavoured with Bournville’s finest cocoa powder. A chocolate creme patisserie sits inside, salted caramel and nut brittle underneath, pecan praline ice cream in the centre. Dreamy. I suggest a dessert tasting menu to the ever excellent service team. They laugh it off. I’m only half joking.

Our bill is quite a lot because the wine list is really great, and in particular because they have the staggeringly good white pinot from Litmus on at £56 a bottle, which might seem a lot until you realise it retails at £26, showing kind mark-ups for one of the best wines to come from England. Seriously, treat yourself, it drinks like a far more expensive Mersault. Anyway, I digress. Craft was fantastic, from the first mouthfuls to the petit fours that come with the bill marked ‘the damage’. It’s not cheap, but nor should it be. This is the finest that Britain has to offer, packaged up with great front of house delivering smart cooking to your table. When the rest of the country is busy booing politicians, and staring into the abyss of what the future may or may not hold, Craft are looking to celebrate what we have on our little island. And when the results are this good, that is absolutely fine with me.

9/10

Drank too much white pinot? A2B will gladly get you home

Maribel, Birmingham

My personal experience of Richard Turner is a mixed bag. Years back I passed him en route to the bathroom of his tiny restaurant in Harborne when he was coming out of the kitchen. “Fantastic pork, Chef” I tell him. He just looks back. No words. Just a blank stare that he must have borrowed from every character Danny Dyer has ever played. Then more recently I see him at a restaurant opening where he is lovely and jovial and kind to me until some idiot tells him I write a food blog. Then nothing. Back to the stare which cuts holes in the back of the head. Others will tell you similar stories, though I can empathise with him; I am dreadful at pretending to be nice. I am bloody lovely to both the people I like, but the rest? Why bother. And although it is unfair to judge a man on the two occasions we meet, it is where the similarities between him and I finish. Ask anyone in the know and they will tell you that Turner is one of the finest cooks to come out of this city; a chef’s chef who prefers to be behind the pass than the television screen. He is a man who understands flavour. I wish someone would say something that nice about me instead of just insulting my grammar on Twitter.

His new home is Maribel, a lavish restaurant in Brindley Place which will surely benefit from it’s space directly underneath a load of bankers. The room is tasteful and considered, with well appointed tables and thick carpet. Many of the team have followed Turner in the transition from Harborne to the city centre, meaning that a month in from opening the service and food already feels like it is operating at the level of his previous restaurant when it held a star. A flurry of nibbles arrive within minutes of us sitting down. There is a deep fried croquette of smoked eel and apple on a horseradish puree, followed by a gougere of aged gruyere. The choux is delicate, the cheese crème rich. It’s as good an example I’ve had; right up there with Ramsay’s three star flagship at Royal Hospital Road. We get an elegant spoon of diced scallop with cucumber and a grating of fresh wasabi, and a final nibble of soft boiled quail’s egg, Berkswell cheese, anchovy, and chicken skin on lettuce that brilliantly riffs on chicken Caesar salad. It achieves something rarely found within classical cooking; originality. It also tastes incredible; rich, salty, and decadent.

The further nine courses veer from very good to outstanding, showcasing a respect for the finest of ingredients in allowing them to take to the plate with as little interference as possible. We have firm heritage tomatoes with goats curd and marjoram doggy-paddling in a labour intensive tomato essence, followed by the slenderest of mackerel fillets that has it’s inherent oiliness cut through by fresh gooseberry and cubes of buttermilk jelly. There is an ease to the cooking here, the simple understanding that two or three elements on a plate can make more sense than one loaded with unnecessary showy technique. A bowl of Jersey Royals and caviar reinforced that for me, the pureed potato loaded with butter and offset by the salinity of the luxurious sturgeon eggs. It is a dream dish, one that sucks you into the table and makes you forget the environment you are in.

It’s not all delicate flavours; occasionally he metaphorically whacks you in the gob, though as a blogger I never rule out the literal, either. A cube of barbequed lamb (from the shoulder, I think) is about as unrefined as this dinner gets, in the best way possible. The flavour of the ovine is pure with just a hint of smokiness. Sharing the plate are slithers of garlic, peas both fresh and pureed, and the most textbook of hollandaise sauces I have ever tried. To extract so much from so few components is nothing short of outstanding. Dover sole sees two fillets glued together with some sort of crustacean paste, and then pan fried until the flesh just begins to tan. It is crowned with teeny shrimps that ramp up the taste of the ocean, and a little puree of parsley that pulls it back towards the shore. A sauce split with parsley oil is stellar stuff, but then all of the sauces are. These take time, skill and a lot of patience.

When I think back to the meal it is three dishes that stand out: the potato and caviar, a dessert I’ll get on to soon, and the guinea fowl that was next up. It had everything I look for in a plate of food; interest, technique and flavour. The breast is delicate with crisp skin, the leg stuffed with a mousseline of langoustine. Morels for earthiness, the vegetal freshness of asparagus, and another killer sauce. I would kill for this dish and then demand it once more on Death Row. I find myself checking that no diners or staff are watching before chasing the last dots of sauce around the plate with my fingertips. A kind of cheese course is next that suffers from following the guinea fowl. It has Lincolnshire poacher mousse at the base, topped with a parsley oil, lardons, and spring onions. On to the dish is spooned pastry that has been cooked, quickly frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed up. On its own the pastry has developed a raw note, though the intentions become clear when combined with the rest; its quiche Loraine and very nice it is, too. My mate who I’m having dinner with thinks it is too rich but then he eats fish in a bag at Mooch Bar, so you can trust me on this one.

Desserts are frankly brilliant. A rice pudding leaves us both speechless; decadent with vanilla it has the very costly Mara de Bois strawberries cooked down to a jam-like puree at the bottom. The meringues and frozen strawberries on top are delicate yet offer just enough texture. I know upon reading this my Dad will insist on me taking him for this and Dad, you’re welcome, I’ll do it without the usual passive aggression. It is followed by the bastard relative of the baba, the savarin, sliced apart and soaked in sherry. We load this with the puree of golden raisins and a healthy dose of cream. It is the Spanish rum baba. Your mind is pure filth, Turner. Filth.

Petit fours are a very interesting cornet of raspberry, rose, and beetroot that ate far more cohesively than it sounds. We leave stuffed and giddy, given up two hours of the evening to a tasting menu that comes in at ninety-quid a head and the wine pairing, that includes some special wines from the Coravin system, adding a bit more on top of top. It’s not cheap, but nor should it be, just look at the ingredients used above. A night at Maribels is one of luxury, of the finest food cooked by a man who knows what he is doing. It is clearly at one star level, something the tyre company will pick up on soon enough. As we’re finishing up on the wine Turner pops out the kitchen to ask how everything was. He is interested in feedback, affable, and dare I say it, happy. Maribel may just be what was needed to reignite the fires of this super talented chef.

10/10

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars

Siamais, Birmingham

Siamais replaces Thai Edge, an stalwart of Brindley that had long outrun itself. What we now have is a sister venue to the Mailbox’s Aluna Bar, serving up a similar menu to the old place, albeit with a glossy interior and fanciful cocktails. The new place looks great, tastefully flashy, with lanterns dangling low and murals of ladies faces. We get sat on a long table lit a stark white which extends up the walls. They are impressive to look at but hardly conducive to food images. Those with epilepsy may want to look away.

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We start with a platter that tops out with a lovely chicken satay that really packs a punch.  There are crisp spring rolls, delicate prawn rolls, and nuggets of chicken that are fragrant from the pandanus leaves they are wrapped in.  Only the fish cakes need work, being a little short on seasoning and flavour.

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I take chicken for the main, stir fried in a red chilli paste full of heat.  Its the kind of food I enjoy eating – vibrant and full of attitude.  If it says chilli on the menu I want heat and here it was plentiful.  The veg was crunchy, the chicken moreish.  A good wholesome plate of food.

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I miss ordering dessert on account of enjoying the company and the cocktails a little too much.  Is this the best Thai cooking in Birmingham?  Not in my opinion.  But the cocktails, that is where this place comes alive.  They are surprisingly good, served by a knowledgeable team that know how to blend spirits.  For that reason I see this place being a roaring success, a little similar to the original Chaophraya in Liverpool that has made a solid reputation out of cocktails and Thai food in a glamorous setting.  The location in Brindley Place is a perfect one, readily set for the more elegant of Broad Street to have a drink and a bite to eat.  And the crucial part is that Siamais is significantly better than Thai Edge.  Progress is everything.

Thanks to Delicious PR for the launch party invite.

Ju Ju’s Cafe, Birmingham

The front of the menu at Ju Ju’s reads ‘Welcome to Ju Ju’s’ in large font.  Rarely has such a statement been so simple yet so accurate.  Its a place where the worst of people could go in and leave smiling.  I know this because I have been and I fall very much into that worst category.  It does not offer much to the culinary world other than a big hug and a kiss to the forehead, but that’s fine with me; comfort is underrated is modern cooking.  Flavour is too often sacrificed for finesse, heartiness lost to dainty dressing.  Not here.  At Ju Ju’s Julia is boss and her world is about feeding others.

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We find Ju Ju’s tucked away in a canal basin stacked high with glossy residential apartments, five minutes walk away from Brindley Place.  Its not an easy place to find, though others seemingly have with ease and the place is thriving late into Saturday brunch.  From the three dishes we order (two from the mains, one from the breakfast for my girlfriend who is still to wake up) the trio of pies impresses least.  The Shepherds pie works well with its topping of crisped potato cubes and well balanced mince ragu, the cottage pie on similar ground with a less successful topping of under-seasoned mash.  The cheese and onion pie is the disappointment; good puff pastry opening up to a watery and salty interior that remained uneaten.

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Fortunately everything else was far better.  The breakfast hash was a finely diced mix of the good stuff.  Bits of sausage meat, onion and potato, topped with a couple of fried eggs that gradually find their way into the nooks of the frying pan when released.   It feels value at £8.50, too, unless you opt to add grated cheese for a scandalous £2.50 extra.  The main courses finish with a burger filled to the brim with a tangle of ham hock and braised belly that’s been bound in a hollandaise the right side of sharp.  A mound of braised red cabbage at the base of the bun is the perfect foil for both the meat and hollandaise.  There is a dusting of bacon bits because there always should be.  Its all bloody delicious.  If you have one dish when you come here, make it this.

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With portions this size it was of no surprise that there was no room for dessert, leaving us to pay the bill and head home.  Ju Ju’s isn’t rewriting any cookery books any time soon, but it will feed you for a fair price and leave you with a belly full of food and a smile on your face.  The constant table turning during our lunch is a testament that others feel the same way.  Sometimes you just need an honest feed and Ju Ju’s knows how to do that very well.

7/10

Ju Ju's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

Cau, Birmingham

Today it’s a whistle-stop visit at Cau, a new South American style steakhouse in Brindley Place. Inside the monochrome interior is broken up by lucid green wallpaper that echoes grass, whilst clouds dangle from the high ceiling. Its an odd space, seemingly kitsch and intent on dividing opinion. With little time to wonder around the menu, we plunge straight in to the beef for mains. The cow, or cau as they would have it, would prove to be very good, maybe even surprisingly so, full of deep bovine flavour from an animal properly sauced and hung. The sirloin appeared central to the plate with no accompaniments – a ballsy move that lives or dies on the quality and cooking of the meat. It was cooked rare as requested, and correctly rested so that the meat juices had remained where they should be and not on the plate. The seasoning was exact and the flavour of the cow good. It was hard not to be impressed and impossible not to love. On the side came chips the size of a fat mans thumb, which were crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. At fifteen quid it was a serious bargain.

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A burger also impressed.  Stacked high, the patty came pink as requested, with an onion ring, American cheese and piquant ketchup.  What made it was the addition of sticky bits of braised short rib, that reinforced the bovine flavour and added a subtle fattiness.  It wasn’t easy to eat, but then the best things never are.  More of those fat chips and another fifteen quid left us replete and pleased with the afternoons work.

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We never took desserts, though the website shows some interesting options.  Perhaps next time, eh, when I can also explore a seemingly well crafted list of Malbecs.  Cau impressed for having a product that far exceeds the mid price range it promotes.  And they deliver via those efficient scooter boys over at Deliveroo, which makes that steak / burger dinner at home all the more luxurious.   I normally insist on several dishes before I can give a score,though in this instance I can confidently say that if you’re looking for a lump of Cau, you’ve come to the right place.

8/10

Cau Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato