brindley place

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