Adams

The Oyster Club, Birmingham

The issue of price is unavoidable when discussing The Oyster Club. On paper they have pitched themselves alongside the big-hitting fish-centric restaurants of London, charging the sort of prices you would find at J Sheekey, or Bentley’s. Looking down the menu the eye immediately takes you to the crab on toast small plate at £18.50, or the asparagus, chorizo, and poached egg larger plate at £19.50. Battered halibut with tartare sauce and minted peas is £24.00, with the additional dozen chips at £4.50 – add your 10% service charge and that fish and chip supper weighs in at a hefty £31.35. It’s ambitious, and it has to be faultless for this kind of money. The precision that Adam Stokes has become renowned for at the one Michelin star Adam’s must be transferable to this, his shiny new casual, fish-focused restaurant next to The Ivy. If it doesn’t, the first thing that people will be moaning about is the price.

Now if you are the kind of person who considers value when going out for dinner, you have it from me that you have nothing to worry about. Yes, it is going to leave a dent in your wallet, but that money will buy you some very fine produce prepared expertly in the sleekest and most elegant of dining rooms. Take the room itself; a rectangular space of marble tops, offset with light greys, soft blues, and pastel pinks. The best seats in the house happen to be those that cant be reserved; the baby blue leather high-chairs that weave around the bar to the oyster section. Being the first booking on the first official night of opening, we are sat adjacent to this, on the area overlooking the dining section below. It is from our table we can watch them shucking oysters that we don’t order, and pouring wine, which I absolutely do. I’ll start the night with a white from Dorset, move on to an albarino, a picpoul, and finish with a Mersault. Those wines are priced between £6-18 per glass. They are very nice wines.

I order the crab and all thought of the end bill dissapears. The crab is of fantastic quality; the white meat bound loosely in mayonaise, with apple and broken shards of crisp chicken skin. My initial misconception of it being small in size is proven wrong when I run out toast and find myself scraping the plate for the last of it. It is simplicity personified; a few simple ingredients treated with the respect they deserve. I’ll be eating this a lot. The same applies to the octopus and chorizo salad with sauce vierge that Claire says is the best octopus she’s ever eaten. She’s not wrong. Only the scallops dont feel like value at £6.50 each for not the plumpest of specimens, though its impossible to fault the cooking of them, or the sensible addition of crispy bacon and samphire. If the flavours seem traditional it’s because they are. It works that way.

For mains Claire has cod, beautifully cooked to a pearlescent centre, with fennel, charred hispi cabbage, and a crab sauce that she thinks was a touch too sweet but I really enjoyed. I can’t resist the fish and chips I mentioned before, and neither should you. The batter around the halibut is a sturdy thing that cracks on impact and lets out a little of the steam that has cooked the fish from within its coating. Little crushed peas are mixed with some unscathed for texture and have just enough mint, whilst the tartare is bright and loaded with both caper and gherkins. Those chips! Who would know that twelve chips stacked like Jenga pieces could be so divisive. They snap and crunch, with light fluffy spud inside. Only twice can I recall eating better chips; both of which were at 2* restaurants. A side of broccoli is ordered and eaten before I have a chance to try them. I can only assume they are good.

Now desserts. On the night we are there they are priced at £12.50 – a figure I pointed out on Twitter I thought was steep – though now the website tells me they have been reduced to between £7.50 and £10. I don’t know why they have been cut in price, though it’s a positive move in my eyes that shows they are firmly on the ball in these very early stages. The fact is that the old price put them in the same bracket as The Cross in Kenilworth and, ahem, The Hand & Flowers. They are not up to those standards, but they are very good, and now correctly priced. A raspberry and lemon pavlova is a classy bit of pastry work, with textbook meringue holding lemon curd, raspberry jam, a raspberry sorbet I recognise from Adams, and fresh fruit. The other dessert of baked apple with frangipane sponge and vanilla ice cream is arguably even better. The apple has a tatin-like quality to it that we can’t get enough of. Those two desserts will now cost you a total of £17.50 and are worth every penny. I should have eaten here a day later.

Now the total bill, which is a fair whack for a Monday dinner. It’s well over £150, though to put it into perspective it is well under half the price I last paid at Adams, and it appears they use the same suppliers and have transferred many of the staff. And I guess that’s my point: a dinner like this shouldn’t be cheap. We pay top money for top steak without batting an eyelid, so why is it we expect quality fish to be more affordable? What ultimately makes up the end price is the raw cost of ingredient, the skill of the team serving it and then the mark-up. When all of this is taken into account the final bill seems quite fair. Can I see us ordering a total of nine dishes any time soon? Probably not. But for a glass of wine and the crab at lunch, or for the fish and chips with a bottle of wine mid-week, I can see us doing it far too often for my bank accounts liking. The Oyster Club is the kind of place we’ve been saying that Birmingham needs for years. Now that it’s here I’m already a massive fan.

9/10

You know who else I’m a massive fan of? Those wonderful people at A2B

Adams, Birmingham

Given that Claire whisked me away to Ynyshir for my birthday, it was always going to be a struggle to get close to her efforts for her birthday. My idea was a simple one; to saturate her with saturates, to become the quintessential feeder and ply her with good food over a sustained period of time. We end up doing eight meals in eight days, lots of daytime boozing and as many late afternoon naps. Central to this was a meal in the multi award winning Adams, which also has the added bonus of being the only decent restaurant in the city in which I have not been on a date to with a girl. I’ve been several times before with mates, on those long boozy lunches that end with hazy memories and self loathing.

The interior is smart here, with a polished team operating on a level way above the one star currently bestowed by Michelin. The noise levels are low and it is more intimate than I recall, but perhaps that is a more a reflection of the company I’m in keeping of tonight. We quickly receive a number of amouse bouches; artichoke crisps with earthy purees of the same vegetable and black truffle, and squid ink macaroon with creamed cod’s roe filling. This is followed in rapid succession by tuna sashimi with ponzo jelly and a tartare of steak with charcoal mayo. The last of these is the star, the meat of real quality and the charcoal mayo giving the flavour of roast beef without heat touching it. It’s not my first encounter of the use of charcoal in a similar ilk, but it’s right up there with L’Enclume for precision delivery.

This is a kitchen that means business, that much is clear from the off. Bread comes as two types of sourdough with whipped lard and the richest of butters. First course is a successful pile of lightly dressed crab meat shrouded by pickled kohlrabi, with dots of a puree of apple and another of soy mayonnaise. It is precise in the balance, a light yet punchy dish to properly start the show with.

And then comes the only technical error of the meal. A veal sweetbread with finely sliced raw mushroom blanketing a mushroom ketchup, and a cup of shitake broth on the side. The umami rich mushrooms are the perfect foil for the creamy sweetbread had mine not been undercooked and gummy in texture. It is worth pointing out that Claire’s sweetbread, smaller in size and with a requested black pudding dish from the a la carte, was perfect, and I watched in envy as she demolished it with pleasure. We move on to a thick fillet of monkfish, the fish meaty and pearlescent, with crayfish and bisque. The bisque was astonishing; bold and with a good acidity level from vinegar and lemongrass. Ginger provides a sophisticated background heat that lingers.

We share an optional course of lobster with peanut satay. I say share – the cold chunks of crustacean disappear so quickly I only get one piece. The bit I try is superbly cooked without a hint of chewiness, the satay an unusual match that seemingly bolsters the meatiness of the lobster through the use of umami. Indeed, much of the food here relies on an almost Japanese use of vinegar and umami to give clarity and depth to dishes. This is again apparent with a pigeon dish that has another unique pairing of Colton Bassett and brambles. Who knew that pungent blue cheese went so well with the gaminess of pigeon? Not me, that’s for sure. Yet they sit side-by-side with one another, separated only the tart flavour of the berry. It’s really very clever.

The following course is without doubt my favourite of the night. Scallop, seared heavily and opaque in the centre, with a various onion preparations and a tempura of eel. It’s up there with the best dishes I’ve eaten this year, true to the scallop and perfect in balance between the sweet and acidic elements. We love the lightness of the tempura almost as much as the purée of white onion that showers everything in acidity. It overshadows the duck that comes afterwards. The rectangle of breast meat is perfectly tender, the heart of the bird an accurate blushing pink. We finish it, of course we do, using the last of the bread to mop up the last of the light jus, all whilst talking about the dish that came before.

If I remember one thing about our first dessert it’s how quickly it was eaten. The tart plum only marginally tempered by the sweeter elements as a transitional course into the final sweeter moments. The pistachio sponge (microwaved, El Bulli style?) threatened to disappear into thin air whilst the brown butter added a wonderful nuttiness to the plate. This is a grown up dessert, which is great, because I think I am one, though I’m not sure that Claire’s age qualifies her to be one yet. The last course is listed as ‘raspberry, lemon curd, clotted cream, sherbet’. I could probably stop this right here and leave you with that. It’s brilliant, a riot of the sharp and the sweet and the playful, the star being the raspberry sorbet that had astonishing depth of flavour. It’s everything a dessert should be.

This being a birthday treat I’m not going to say how much it cost, other than pointing out that with a good bottle of champagne and a nice bottle of red it would be a mortgage payment to some. Sweetbread issue aside, if was for me a clear indication that Adams is up there with the absolute finest in the city, with inventive cooking that nudges the boundaries without trampling all over them. Some of the dishes, like the crab, the tartare amouse, and the scallop were truly outstanding and as the seasons change it will be a place that we will come back to soon. And for Claire, she loved every second, grinning for days on end and sharing pictures of the meal with anyone who feigned interest for more than a second. That is all the reaction I need to tell you that Adams is worth every penny. It’s a special restaurant worthy of any special occasion.

9/10

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