Much will be said about the view from the top of 103 Colmore Row. It will mostly be hyperbolic, as is to be expected, and it will completely ignore the simple fact that Birmingham – a city I love and try my utmost to champion – looks better from the ground than it does from the sky. The rapidly developing and changing face of the city simply never took into account that we may at some point be staring straight down at it from lunch and, as such, little thought has gone into the bald patches and rooftops other than functionality. The view from Aqua at The Shard has St Paul’s and the Thames, Galvin at Windows has Hyde Park, whilst I could see the Sacre Coeur from lunch in Ducasse’s place in the Eiffel Tower. Here, In beautiful Birmingham on the greyest of days, our table looked directly past the train tracks of Digbeth and onto the imposing chimney of Tyseley incinerator. Next time I’d like a table facing Harborne, please. If only to keep tabs on when the postman has been.
Still, it’s fun picking out the key points of the city from up there: Old Joe – the second greatest Joe in Brum after Nolan – as handsome as ever, the cubic red bricks of The Fort looking like, well, a brick fortress. The vast green spaces and the rolling hills which ease the eye from the buildings that are going up by the second across the city. The incinerator and St Andrews, each dealing with their own levels of rubbish, the overhanging lights of Edgbaston cricket ground, and the glistening metallic facade of the train station. Almost every table has a view from the window, making the interior almost irrelevant. But that interior is lovely; plush and yet discreet, allowing the direction of the camera phones to face the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The menu reads well. Appealing, approachable dishes that will cater to all ages without challenge. It’s a predictable ensemble of proteins; beef and lamb and turbot and cod and foie bloody gras. There’s tartare and risotto and enough to please both mother and granny. It doesn’t start great. A chickpea panisse tastes of absolutely nothing, some bread slices are a little pappy, whilst the seasoning on a terrine of ham hock is widely erratic. And I’m nit-picking but the burrata has lost its oozy glory and is more stracciatella than anything. Despite this, there are good parts; the pickles and mustard emulsion on the ham hock are well-judged, whilst the tomatoes show a level of detail in absorbing the sweet and sour liquor once they have been skinned.
From then, well, I really enjoy it. Cod is beautifully timed, skin removed and flesh glistening. A beurre blanc made from brown butter has elegant acidity and there is a light pop of anise somewhere in the background. And then there’s the other main of chicken, properly tasting of chicken, which should be a given but never is. Soft yielding breast meat that only could have been improved with a crispy skin, pressed leg meat, a few girolles, and a silky potato purée. What makes it is more excellent saucing, a glossy beautifully judged chicken sauce kissed with vinegar. It’s a sauce that could grace a one or two-star restaurant comfortably. It deserves to be wiped clean with the bread we never finished earlier on.
Desserts come from the trolley and are excellent. Like really excellent. There is clearly skill in that part of the kitchen. A chocolate dome on a short pastry base riffs on Black Forest Gateau. The mousse element could maybe benefit from a touch of salt, but this is technically superb and the cherry comes through just perfectly. Better is the apple choux, exquisitely balanced and full of roasted apple flavour, finished tableside with a caramel sauce. We drink a white burgundy with the first two courses and Omar orders port and a very nice Sauternes with the desserts. He pays and I don’t see a bill. It would have been over a ton a head. It’s not cheap but we leave happy, which surely is the point of any meal out.
It is impossible to be up here, peering out across the skyline, and not think of Dave Oram, a man who documented Birmingham’s rich history via Brumpic before his untimely recent passing. As old buildings vanish to be replaced with newer, shinier ones, Brumpic has long celebrated a city that hasn’t always been celebrated, done so purely out of love. He embodied everything which is great about Brummies; a self-deprecating man who saw the best in everyone. Dave had no ego; he could sit in The Plough or Paper Duck with a beer, chat about music or football and be content in knowing that the vast majority had no idea that he was the guy who spot-lit this city into the best possible light. Friendships were a two-way transaction for Dave and I was fortunate enough to benefit from his time and words and support, as were many other countless lucky people. He would have been the ideal person to see Orelle, to talk you through the city he lived for, knowing every detail about the old facades and the new; the way we have gone from national joke to home of the Commonwealth in just three decades. The gap he leaves behind is immeasurable. He is sorely and dearly missed. Dave is Birmingham.