I’ve been writing this blog long enough to see a lot of changes within the industry. I’ve seen restaurants switch Head Chefs like it was Premier League Fantasy Football, big names form overnight from a TV appearance, and falls from grace more dramatic than Manchester United’s with Ole driving. The one consistent in Birmingham is where the serious talent comes from; the UCB – University College of Birmingham to you – in the College of Food to be precise. With a set-up so world class that the UK use it for the Bocusse D’Or preparation, it is here that our next generation of superstars sharpen their skills on the chopping block, counting the likes of Brad Carter amongst others as those who proceed on to a Michelin star. 

I was sat in their restaurant drinking a Negroni wondering about the talent working in those kitchens: where they would end up and in what capacity. It seems a given that amongst the brigade there would be several who would work for some of the city’s top restaurants, and potentially one or two who will end up with their own restaurant. This industry experience is (hopefully) the starting point for a long career in hospitality. There is something nice about supporting that. 

At £31 for three courses (£16 at lunch) the restaurant pitches itself firmly at the brasserie price point, delivering food mostly of that standard and occasionally exceeding it. There is a little cup of pumpkin soup for an amuse which is silky and well made, if a little twee, followed by bread that needs more salt. A lot more salt. The kitchen hits their stride with pressed ham hock, deep fried quail’s egg, celeriac remoulade, and compressed pineapple. It’s gammon, egg and pineapple reimagined, not a million miles away from a dish that I had at a starred restaurant in the city on concept and delivery. It’s superb; technically astute and properly seasoned. You could eat this just about anywhere in town and be happy. Similar story with scallops pan fried to an opaque centre with good crust. A cauliflower puree is lifted by a little curry powder, raisins to add a nice sweetness and cauliflower beignets for texture. It’s well considered and again, well executed. Two very good starters with a lot to admire. 

The thing that impresses most about a halibut main is the cook on the fish, which is buttery and tanned with excellent cuisson. The rest of it: the leeks, the mash, and the deep-fried mussels, are there to show off the quality of the fish. Seriously, whoever was on fish that night, snap them up to your restaurant and never let them leave. And chicken with potato croquette and sweetcorn puree, bathing in a sauce that hasn’t wasted a bit of animal carcass. So what if I don’t particularly like the miso chicken wing, the rest is really well done. Again, without sounding like a broken record, I’ve had worse main courses in places which charge for one course what here does for all three. There is just one dessert between us; an apple parfait with apple sorbet and blackberries. The sweetness levels are spot on. It’s a very nice way to finish a meal.  

I had in it my mind that I would only find the positives long before I sat down to eat, but the reality is once the food arrived those positives were very easy to pick out. The talent in the kitchen is obvious, and the ability for those to use the restaurant as a base to learn is irreplicable. It might not be the best restaurant in Birmingham, but it is arguably the most important. Everyone should make an effort to go and eat there; our future dining scene depends on it.