The short stroll down the hill to La Plancha in Moseley was always going to be a tough one, as it was the first time I had faced the outside world since recently losing my mother. I wasn’t cut out for a night in the pub drowning my sorrows whilst strangers stared at my bloated face, I merely wanted feeding and the company of friends. My Mother was a complex lady with simple culinary requirements; long braised stews at home with fist sized dumplings linger long in my memory, or a chicken rogan josh washed down with an Irish coffee on the occasions she veered outside with Dad. Thinking about it now, if I was true to her memory I should have went for a curry. She scoffed at the thought of me eating rabbit in some flouncy Mayfair gaff, failed to accept that any cheese should be eaten other than cheddar, and ridiculed the idea that a sausage could ever be cooked in wine. Frankly, my dear Mother would have been ashamed with my choice of La Plancha.
La Plancha nestles neatly in amongst the other restaurants and bars on Moseley’s high street. We arrived shortly after it opened and were ushered on to the last remaining table. It’s all dark wood and low lighting – romantic, perhaps, under different circumstances. We browse over a menu that has seen better days and plump for a selection of dishes to nourish the soul which my friend Greg will eventually pick up the bill for. We order two glasses of good red and toast the passing of a great lady. Others were making the most of the cocktail happy hour. For us it wasn’t that kind of night.
Meatballs arrive first. Seven large pucks of minced beef with decent flavour in a puddle of thick tomato sauce that needed a pinch more salt. After these came thick triangles of manchego that were missing the advertised balsamic glaze. Not that we cared for it as the quince jelly it came with was strident enough to handle the rich nuttiness of the cheese. It was to be another cheese that was the stand-out; a doorstop wedge of halloumi, seemingly coated in egg wash and pan fried to resemble the colour of an omelette. Cooking such a large piece had allowed the heat to filter through just enough to lose the unpalatable rawness without melting to a nothingness. The reduced onions had bitter-sweet notes from basalmic, bread gave a chewy texture. All halloumi will be cooked in this way at home from now on.
It was the arrival of chorizo in red wine that made us notice the generosity of the portions. A good bowls worth, brimming with good quality sausage in a reduced sauce you could paint your nails with. We felt bad for leaving some uneaten. More of the chorizo was present in a frittata loaded with capsicum, onions and potatoes – it was this kind of comfort we came looking for and it served us well. Just as I was loosening my belt quesadilla arrived, full of cheese and chunks of chicken that had led a good life. One of the slices was enough to confirm the quality of the food and my fullness.
Service was warm and welcoming to the point that I felt bad for having not been for over five years. I think its improved since then and now I live local I shall be coming a lot more often. The food isn’t perfect – sometimes it could do with more punch – but it was exactly what we needed; food with heart that gives a hug to the parts of the body that require it. I strolled back up the hill a little bit more complete than I had started the day and with a smile on my face. For that alone, I think my Mom would be proud.