It was my fault for posting the menu on Twitter. I should have known that anything on there would be at once a focal point for all opinion on the planet, from the good to the bad to the warranted or the frankly irrelevant. It is a funny place is Twitter; a hot bed of hot takes mostly nabbed from someone else and passed-off as their own for likes, credence, and virtue signalling . It’s Elon’s fault they probably screamed at the phones whilst telling me that the menu is too expensive, too cheap, grammatically incorrect, and – my personal favourite – nothing like the Spanish food they cook at home. I only said that after three dishes it was the Spanish restaurant that Birmingham desperately needed; a fair point given that the present Spanish highlights in the city amount to 241 on sangria at the one in Grand Central or the bloke selling churro on New Street. Those churros are six quid by the way. Please provide address details so that I can come and eat better ones at your house for less. God, it’s tiring. The only thought that gets me through it is by imagining some Spanish blogger presently getting chastised by an old perma-tanned English bloke living in the Canaries for a picture of a plate of fish and chips. It’s never gravy and curry sauce, Juan. How bloody dare you insult the food. It’s also too bloody expensive. Every home in England could do you better.
The building that now houses Plates by Purnell’s used to be Spanish in notion. It wasn’t very good. They had the cheap meal deals that drew in the accountants fresh off their lunchtime meetings and a location just far enough from New Street to be described by the worst of the internet as a ‘hidden gem’. It’s probably best described by a previous friend of mine who went and quite liked it “even if the cured meats came straight from the fridge of Lidl”. In that way, Plates, as I’m herein calling it, is a massive upgrade. The meats, oils, and quintessentially Spanish bits have come from a top supplier. They sell brandy-heavy jugs of sangria and have a good list of sherry. The room with its faux plants and distressed tiles is camp and over-the-top, accurately described that very evening by Glynn Purnell as a 70’s wine bar. In the summer they’ll pull the bifold doors back and have a few tables outside, hopefully, one presumes, to stop it being so hidden. Those hidden gems, you can never find them.
The food is mostly authentic, and when I say mostly, it comes with a few caveats. Serving the tomato pulp on the side of the pan con tomato so that the toast stays firm is going to be enough to get that Spanish bull charging towards Glynn, and that’s before I get anywhere near to the creme catalan later. But mostly its earnest and humble. The olives are briney and bright, thanks to the dainty pickled onions and charred cubes of peppers. Another little bowl has artichokes taking a dip in some excellent olive oil. The patatas bravas are the best I can recall eating in the UK. Maybe they could be a little crispier on the edges but the sauce has an alluding deep smokey heat.
We eat a lot of the menu and love almost all of it. A salad of charred lettuce has anchovy and a crunchy topping that I think is freekah but likely very wrong. Aubergine chips are soft and moreish, drenched in truffled honey, whilst a cassoulet of chickpeas is a tangle of onions, peppers, and capers. I think it’s a little flat on seasoning at first and then realise it’s very much not. The most expensive of the above dishes is £7.50, whilst the cod is the most expensive on the menu at £9. You can’t miss that cod. The portion size is generous and the cookery spot on. The sauce has a beautiful lactic quality that stands-up the paprika. You will chase the last of the sauce around the peripherals of the bowl.
Possibly my favourite dish is the simplest. Chorizo in red wine has super high-quality chorizo in a sauce that is reminiscent of French onion soup that has the swagger of a two-bottle-a-night rioja drinker. Order extra bread and sit in the bowl until the liquid levels drop and the bread has a new life of its own. Eat the last of the chorizo, get the sodden bread down the shaft and book The Camino de Santiago. Celebrate with the garlic prawns that are beautifully cooked but maybe not as breath-honkingly pungent as they could be. A pork fillet is cooked to medium as it should be, with more of that very good tomato sauce. I’m going to stick this here right now and say that the only people who will criticise Plates are those who don’t eat here.
Two desserts to finish. A lemon and poppy seed sponge is basically a fancy lemon drizzle cake, and the “creme catalan” which comes in inverted brackets given its a caramel mousse and cracker, which tastes great on its own and even better with a glass of sherry dashed into it. I know, internet, it’s not a creme caramel. Please think of it as something you’d get over the road in his one star restaurant and stop shouting at me. The bill with some cocktails was about £80 a head though you could do it much cheaper by being less greedy. And when I say ‘about’ its because the bill was paid before I had a chance to see it. I can see myself spending a lot of time at Plates by Purnells. At lunch or dinner, for an inexpensive bite to eat with a glass of something red. I really hope they sort the wording on the menu out because I can’t handle any more flack and they’ll be judged on the food alone, which is undeniably excellent.