Edgbaston

The Blue Piano, Edgbaston

They do a dish at the Blue Piano for which all other dishes should be judged.  It’s a carrot cake in type, though in reality a steamed radish cake; an even less palatable name for the everyday unadventurous natives of our fine country.  You can see why they stuck with carrot.  The cubes of steamed radish and rice flour are pale throughout, spare the edges, which have been lightly browned in a pan with scrambled egg that coats and adds an unctuous layer.  They are spongy in texture, with only a little bite from a fine julienne of spring onion and chilli that adds a warming heat.  It could easily be the best breakfast you have ever had, though here it is a starter, beguiling and delicious in equal parts.  It must make the top ten, no, top five dishes in Birmingham.

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Situated in a smart Victorian property in leafy Edgbaston, the food here focuses on South East Asia; the carrot cake from Singapore, others from Malaysia through to Cambodia.  Its an intriguing mix that never hits the heights of the glorious starter.  Another of pork puffs (their name, not mine) was light on meat and heavy on the doughy pastry, saved by a chilli jam that could rescue just about anything.  A similar story with rolls of minced pork and prawns battered in to the corner by a heavy hand of five spice.

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Curries of vegetable green and duck red feature sauces with the depth of someone who has been doing this a while.  Each were fresh with lime acidity and seasoned with fish sauce, but invariably could have had more chilli kick in both.  The duck in the red curry had dried out, though the jackfruit was a nice addition, cutting through the meat and giving a cleaner feel to the dish.  Heavier and more substantial was the beef rendang nasi lamak, national dish of Malaysia and loosener of belt buckles.  Long braised cubes of beef in a visually unappealing curry fragrant with coconut milk, with peanuts, dried anchovies, half a boiled egg, cucumber, coconut rice, and prawn crackers.  The best bits happen when its all combined and piled high on to prawn crackers for a smack around the chops of texture and taste which only gets better when additional chillies arrive at the table.

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We debate how acceptable it would be to order the carrot cake for dessert, and after viewing the sweet menu decide it is probably the wisest option.  We don’t, only for the reason that the portions here are enough to fill even the greediest of gluttons, instead paying the bill that stays below thirty pound a head and retire to the nearby Edgbaston for further imbibing.  The place was busy on a Friday evening and it’s obvious popular with the well heeled cliental, though I personally prefer their sister venue in Kings Heath, Blue Ginger, where the cooking feels more consistent in it’s smaller dining room.  Still, it’s enjoyable and refreshing different from the Asian cuisine more readily available within the city.  And they do a pretty amazing starter, if you haven’t already heard.

7/10

Blue Piano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

El Borracho De Oro, Edgbaston

I used to work in an office at Five Ways.  Back then it was a depressing place to be; the trashy Broad St in one direction, Edgbaston’s elitist housing to the other.  Lunch time was equally lack lustre.  You would, if you were lucky, get to see a riddled prostitute on the way to picking up a jacket potato from a man in a van who wished he’d stayed on at school.  Or even worse, a Boots sandwich meal deal.  But that was then, and Birmingham is a changed place after those many years, with few areas more transformed than this meeting point of Edgbaston and the city centre.  Many of the office blocks still remain but the area has become a culinary corner with Rofuto peering down over The Highfield, Simpsons and Blue Piano.  Its become one of my favourite places in the city to be.

To this list of great places to eat please add El Borracho De Oro, found directly opposite Blue Piano on Harborne Road.  I’d known about the place for some time; my girlfriend had been on a couple of occasions and had raved about the tapas here, to which I had promised to take her and never got round to.  Its my loss.  The dining room feels like a pintxos bar in San Sebastian, albeit with food tucked safely away in the kitchen, decorated with splashes of colours on the wall and patterned tiles across the floor and bar front. Hard wooden tables take up the main seating area whilst seating gets gradually more comfortable the closer to the rooms peripherals you get. The menu is a list of things that you want to eat; the land, sea, and vegetables all equally represented along with cured meats and eggs.

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We order widely from the options and are impressed from the off.  A plate of cured meats are the very essence of a Spanish pintxos, from top quality lomo and chorizo to dried beef the colour of a bruise.  Best are wafer thin slices of jamon with ribbons of fat that dissolve on the tongue and leave a memory of flavour in the mouth.  Crisp croquettes give way to a creamy béchamel full of ham which are as good as I can recall ever eating.  A fried egg with soft chorizo and crisp potato becomes self saucing when the yolk is let loose.  Its at these moments that I remember why Spanish food is one of my favourites when done properly.

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Pan con Tomato is correctly served with the mushed tomato on top of lightly charred bread rubbed with just enough garlic to create interest.  I often hanker for this style of cooking without ever finding success (yes, I’m looking at you, Tapas Revolution. Best Spanish restaurant my arse).  Here it feeds the soul.  Padron peppers are also they should be; blistered and well salted to create that bitter, savoury and slightly fiery taste.  Give me these two dishes and a glass of sherry and I am yours.  Please don’t give me the tortilla which was not loose enough in the centre to have me ordering it again.

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But then we move up a gear.  Octopus, dusted with paprika and served with slithers of potato, is cooked to retain a little bite with none of the chewiness that you would usually associate with this cephalopod.  We finish the savoury courses with the ox cheek, a dish that could easily be served with just a dessert spoon.  The slow cooked meat collapsing upon itself easier than a post Brexit Tory government, served simply with the onions and cooking liqueur it has been braised with.  Its a stunning plate of food, deserving alone of regular revisits.

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For desserts we take churro’s with a dark chocolate sauce and a crème brulee made with Tonka beans.  The churro’s are good freshly piped lengths of deep fried choux, though the brulee wins for being lusciously addictive.  Tonka can easily overpower other ingredient’s, though here it benefits from standing alone centre stage.

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Service was knowledgeable and efficient, with a well constructed wine list that hardly ever peeks above the twenties for a bottle.  El Borracho is as unashamedly a Spanish experience as you will find in the city, and for that I thank them.  Its the kind of place I expect I will gladly return to time and time again.

8/10

El Borracho de Oro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My meal here was complimentary

 

 

 

 

 

The Epicurean, Edgbaston

The Epicurean takes over the site that was previously Waters on the Square – a restaurant which I have previously written about.  Its a difficult site, tucked away in a small shopping parade in Edgbaston, close to a affluent residential area not known for its younger personal.  Its a tasteful and bijou space, with expensive contemporary wallpaper and heavy wooden tables.  It is an improvement on the staid décor of the previous residence.

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The food is simply described on the menus and leans more heavily on the cuisine of Spain than the rest of its Mediterranean compatriots’. There are big flavours with some equally large errors, which is a shame, as they detract from cooking which is punchy and mostly enjoyable. A starter see’s plump scallops, accurately cooked, with a silky puree of potatoes. There is a poached egg which has been pre-cooked but not brought back up to temperature correctly – its as cold as the plate it arrives on. What could have been a luscious starter is sadly some shellfish and mash coated in cold egg yolk. Not my idea of fun. It would sadly be a constant over the lunch we had.

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There is a soup poured tableside into a bowl with julienned vegetables. It is supposedly butternut squash, but all I can taste is an overdose of vinegar. Better is a cannelloni of long braised oxtail. The pasta may be overcooked but the meat has a strong bovine flavour and the toasted pine nuts provide a much needed additional texture. The puddle of cooking liqueur has been slightly sharpened and is a delight.

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Tenderloin of pork is correctly pink and benefits from a well judged apple puree and glazed baby onions which cuts through a meaty sauce. Poussin has been roasted on the bone and then doused in more of that meaty sauce, this time with a dice of sweet potato and bacon which offers little respite from the protein. And then we are back to the same temperature issues. A perfectly cooked tranche of cod, on cold hummus, a tepid chorizo sauce and a unheated plate. We send it back. It arrives slightly better than before, though now the cod has lost heat. I am starting to feel sorry for them; the schoolboy errors are getting in the way of some decent cooking. Unforgivable they are all the same.

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Dessert thankfully arrives on cold plates. It is an aerated catalan mousse hiding some boozy soaked sultanas at the bottom. Its a simple, yet effective way to finish a meal. Light, but big on flavour and carefully handled. I only wish I could say the same about the rest of the meal. Twenty pound a head for three courses would be a bargain if the food was executed to the standard it deserves. The Epicurean should have been a local restaurant that I would return to time and time again. Sadly it left me feeling as cold as the plates some of the dishes arrived on.

5/10

The White Swan, Edgbaston

For over one year now I have been assaulting your eyes with my dreadful photography skills and poorly punctuated sentences on this restaurant blog. That’s twelve months of self-confirmation for what a sanctimonious twat I can be, demonstrated repeatedly over forty-odd meals. Nothings changed, aside from the odd invitation to abuse a free bar from a PR company that have clearly never read my rumblings. I’m still always hungry. Still always grumpy. And I still haven’t managed to organise my life well enough to make bookings in advance. Its a miserable Sunday in July, pissing down with rain outside, and we are supposed to be going to going out for food in two hours. I am scrambling around trying to find anywhere that will still be serving a Sunday lunch at half four in the afternoon.  Everywhere is fully booked or closing.  Finally, a result:  The White Swan can fit us in.  We weigh up whether or not we should go – we have eaten here a couple of times; once was very good, another lunch on Christmas day was a disaster.  We go.  Of course we did, otherwise this post would be a low point, even by my standards.

Inside The White Swan looks exactly how a gastropub on the border of Edgbaston and Harborne should:  Its all soft furnishings, pale wood and neutral colours.  The staff, neatly uniformed, are standoffish and unobtrusive.  The menu is British, with the occasional nod to sunnier climes.  We start with one of these excursions, which would be the best thing that we ate all day.  A mezze with creamy tzatziki, a harrisa spiked hummus, and a smokey baba ghanoush, all mopped up with flat breads scented with garlic .  Best of all were slices of aubergine, coated in blitzed chickpeas and deep fried to a crisp, which begged to be dredged through the last of the tzatziki.

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A confit duck leg would frustrate.  The meat, simmered in fat until falling away from the bone, could have only been improved by the skin being crisped up more after its lengthy cook.  Its accompaniments were a collection of ingredients that each work with duck, without any thought of them working together.  A waffle, some thick batons of sweet potato, unintentionally raw hispi cabbage, and a slice of pineapple.  Take any two of those with the poultry and you have a dish.  All four is just a mess.  A vegetarian nut roast was nothing more than a comforting dollop of parsnip and cranberry stuffing, served with a overcooked Yorkshire pudding and veg which veered from well made roasties to more of the raw cabbage.

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If the mains failed to deliver, dessert very nearly salvaged it.  A well made sticky toffee pudding, to its credit much lighter than it looked, was beaten hands down by a salted caramel chocolate pot.  The ganache, bordering on a coffee flavour such was its depth, further soured by creme fraiche with the clever addition of candied lemon peel.  It would have been nice to dunk the advertised biscuits into this, though they materialised in the form of crumbs which remained firmly on the slate with a raspberry coulis that added very little other than presentation.

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The pricing here is in line with its local competition – mains start early teens and rise to a tenner above – so consider around thirty quid a head for three courses before you start looking to a fairly priced wine list.  Its hard to consider this value based on what we ate, even more so when compared to what you can find for the same price close by.  And herein lies the problem with The White Swan; with The Plough half a mile down the road and The Highfield another half a mile the other way, competition could not be more fierce.  With those close by, we just cant see a time when we would ever bother risking it and going back.

6/10

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The Highfield, Edgbaston

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Upon entering The Highfield I was greeted four times, which is four more times than I am usually greeted going about my everyday life. I have lived with a women long enough to take false sentiments wherever I can get them, and although it’s nice to imagine each of these polite and smartly turned-out folk actually care for my well being, it’s more than likely this has been ingrained into their psyche. It is this absurdly polished service that typifies The Highfield. It offered immediate reassurance that food was going to be good before I looked at the menu. I knew that I could trust them. Not with my life, mind, but to cook a piece of meat correctly. And last Sunday that was good enough for me.

It takes time to be become this polished, time that The Highfield hasn’t had. It’s a new pub in a new development in Edgbaston that will in time see the cities wealth gravitate towards it. The owners are seasoned professionals when it comes to this type of client, as they already have similar set ups dotted around in nice places just outside of Birmingham. The building is faux Georgian, befitting its neighbours, with the interiors channelling the pizazz of the 1920’s. It’s all monochrome and glass chandlers. Calling it a nice place to visit would be doing it a injustice.

The menu is an appealing mix of pub staples and the more adventurous. A salad starter saw some lovely Serrano ham paired with creamy goats curd and slightly under ripe figs. Unfortunately it was all a bit sweet, even more so with the addition of truffle honey. Still, it was a worthy attempt at offering a cut above the norm. The following slab of gammon was a mighty success. The meat still slightly pink and with the depth of flavour only obtained from a lengthy cure. The poached egg provided richness and the chips were proper things; crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre. It’s pub grub on steroids.

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The weekend roasts are a further example of how well they understand customers here. The plate contains the main element, a measly two roast potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding and a small jug of gravy. Alongside of this is large bowl of accurately cooked greens. Throughout the meal they visit the table to offer additional spuds and puddings for free, like a U2 album, only wanted. The roast this time being a hefty slice of a vegetarian Wellington, the filling of squash and blue cheese, with the pastry avoiding any sogginess. It was all very good, the spuds in particular excellent specimens.

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In comparison to the mains, desserts were a bit of let down. A hazelnut parfait lacked flavour and any real texture, whilst a chocolate tart, as tasty as it was, was dense and more of a brownie than anything else. Yet, despite the dip at the end, we left full and satisfied. The Highfield isn’t going to rewrite any books, nor are people going to travel far and wide for its food.  What it will do is slot into the area nicely and feed its patrons well, which is I assume is its intent. It brings a little more glamour and class to an area that already has it in abundance. The food is good and the service slick. What’s not to like about that?

8/10

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