Sunday. One seventh of the days. The one to rest on in the words of the bible, and silent and grey according to the ornery, cantankerous, entitled Steve. Or Morrissey, as he likes those keeled over at his altar to call him. Sunday is the arse-end of the week to all aside from the Happy Days theme tune; the final turn of the weekend – it’s literally the ‘week-end’, Fonzie – where time slows to an elongated drawl rarely seen outside a Morrisey record. It’s the day where only one meal counts. The one that takes hours to achieve, the pièce maîtresse. It’s the carb-loaded, big plate of beige dullness that sends you to sleep. Quite literally.
I don’t like Sunday roasts. Too problematic. Too many bits that go in an oven at the same time on different temperatures. Stuart Deeley knows this. He knows it because, as the two-star chef who was also eating at the same as us says, he’s a “proper chef who gets it”. I gave Smoke a perfect score in my first review of the year and he’s getting it again now for the Sunday lunch, which is close enough to a classic Sunday roast for the basic bisto’s of certain parts of the internet, but interesting enough to get me excited. You will still need a sleep afterwards but those dreams will be of much more than if the roast spuds could also double-up as pummel stones. It’s a lot of food for £55 per head.
First let me talk you through the bits before the main event. A smorgasbord to start of cured meats, bread, butter that’s almost cheesey, and vegetables from the garden, the pick being brittle kale flashed through the deep fat fryer. Then starters, a half portion of gnocchi made with Isle of Mull cheese, with asparagus, baby gem and wild garlic, perfect for a balmy Sunday afternoon like this, and tangerine bright carrot risotto. There is nuance everywhere with the risotto; the pickled carrot gel, and the light touch of the mounted smoke butter bolstered by hazelnuts. Toying with risotto can often go awry (like the strawberry risotto at this 3*), but this was just superb.
It’s the roast chicken for two as main. Tenner each as a supplement, so £65 a head now if you’re counting, but worth every penny. Cotswold White, bred to a far older age than normal, stuffed under the skin with a fat layer of chicken mousseline mixed with a mushroom duxelle. The result is as good as any chicken I can recall eating, accurately cooked breasts so large I take half home, with a mousseline which protects the meat and adds a savoury depth. Glazed skin, crispy and delicate, ornate with flowers like it needed to look any more appealing than it does already, and a jug of truffled jus on the side. There is no need for roast spuds or mash when you have the boulangère potatoes cooked with caramelised onions and smoked onion broth; heady, punchy things that deserve to the main attraction had it not been for the fat bird shouting for attention in the centre of the table. Grilled hispi with garlic and dill cream, plus add-ons of cauliflower cheese for the traditionalists and pigs in blanket licked in mustard and honey. There is beef with Yorkshire pudding for those who get a headache at the thought of missing out on an inflated pancake.
Desserts are a choice of three made easy by my general dislike of chocolate in desserts. A lemon posset with the freshest lemon sorbet and a cube of aerated white chocolate (it’s not proper chocolate, okay) which all make for the cleanest, easiest eating, and a miso tart with hazelnut ice cream. The tart has the essence of a custard tart, if said custard tart started listening to Earth Wind & Fire and drank only pet nat on the weekends. It has funk and zip, the consistency that has it constantly teetering on the apex point of the pastry. With this we drink wine by the glass, including a Meursault which offers the chance to drink a £100 bottle of wine for £20 a glass. Sure, it’s expensive, but if you are going to do the chicken at least give it the wine it deserves.
A while back I was sat having lunch with someone with a way bigger profile than I, talking about the food scene in Birmingham. He asked about the restaurants here which he should be looking at, to which I get enormously worried. There is the weight that goes with some restaurants; the big price tags come with hefty expectations, the stars, the cooking that tries too hard, or those that are sailing along on reputation alone. I’m loath to recommend some because if they don’t blow them away, it’s my head on the block for suggesting it and a city of 1.8 million ready to swing that axe. I fully endorsed Smoke to them, a sentiment I more than stand by now. Whilst quietly going about his business, Stu Deeley has arguably Birmingham’s best restaurant right now. It’s accessible and entirely without pretence; the food from a chef who has gone full circle in his cooking style, worn the t-shirt and held the trophy. There is nothing silent or grey about Sunday’s here. Not by a long shot.