Andrew Sheridan

8, Birmingham

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8 is a restaurant which needs to be seen rather than read about. On paper the 16 seater restaurant where all of the 8 courses are based around the number 8 might seem a little gimmicky, until, that is, you are on one of those stools, with those plates in front of you eating some seriously good food. It is here that you see a chef unleashed; his own food and ideas on a plate, following a career of cooking to other people’s briefs in high profile restaurants.

Cards on the table, I have had a tiny amount of involvement in the restaurant. I arranged a couple of launch events – one for chefs, the other for press – and gave my opinion at a drinks tasting, and I suggested the services of someone to make the mixed drinks a little better. I’ve received payment for some things and have done others purely out of wanting to see them succeed. The meal you are reading about is from a press night I helped organise. Whilst it’s important to establish facts, it’s also important to remember that I’ve been critical of dishes before they reached this stage. I’ve eaten almost all of them in isolation, though this is the first time I’ve had them as one cohesive dinner.

But first the dining room, which is unlike anything in Birmingham and has very few reference points outside of the city. A kitchen table of 16 seats, each lit individually by a spotlight that beams on to the logo set upon the oxidised concrete. To one side of the room is a neon infinity wall, to the other a large screen which plays the media for each course. It’s ballsy and in your face. It’s full of talking points. It’s the room which is going to be all over your social media for the rest of the year.

Spelt bread arrives first clad in a sticky apple caramel glaze, to be torn apart between two and clad in butter. Then ‘V8’, the first course proper and named after the juice, a tart of mostly tomato and beetroot, with a warm consommé from the same veg. Delicate pastry, almost sweet filling offset with parsley. It’s a cracking start. It’s followed by ‘oxidised’, a fairly classic tartare of dairy cow with mushrooms, truffle, and a gooey yolk, set between two discs of pressed brioche. Well balanced and rich, it continues to set a high standard. ‘Square Root of Eight’ sees a cube of roasted celeriac share a bowl with a dice of the same veg pickled and a broth of the off-cuts, with little more than a grating of hazelnut for adornment. It comes alive thanks to an incredibly clever drink pairing that contains bourbon, Hungarian sweet wine, and toasted barley oil. I’m biased, but those drink pairings are up there with the best in the country.

From here it gets very, very good. ‘Lucky 8’ is a naughty double mouthful of bread, pork liver parfait, a riff on a famous pickle, cheddar cheese, and lardo. It’s big and moreish. A very famous chef may have eaten three of them. Then a light tartare of scallops and apples, bolstered by a bonito infused cream, which forms the ‘8 Days A Week’ course. We finish the savoury courses with ‘Resurrection’, a venison Wellington studded with foie gras, sauce and that’s it. It doesn’t need anything else. Stellar work, it’s up there with my favourite things to eat in the city. On a side plate is pastry ends. What’s pissed off a kitchen of chefs only adds to the happiness in the dining room.

The first dessert happens to be the first dish that Andrew learnt to make. ‘8-10-2006’ is the date he started as a chef, knocking out carrot cake for afternoon teas. This carrot cake is given an upgrade; one between two, with cream cheese and carrot jam. It’s a stunner. With this a drink that contains carrot vodka. Turns out I like carrot vodka. Last course is ‘8.01’; After Eight, if you like. There’s a chocolate ganache with a puddle of minty chocolate grappa, covered in a spikey alpine of chocolate tuiles. Given the complexity of the work gone into the previous courses, it’s nice to finish on something more simplistic.

The price for the food is £88, more if you go for the drinks pairing, which you really should. I dined in 8 three nights in a row this week prior to the official launch today, and already I have seen minor tweaks and improvements. Given that Andrew describes these as “the eight courses of his career”, it only seems fitting that the dishes continue to evolve, much like him as a chef. As far as experiences go, 8 is as cinematic and widescreen as Birmingham has ever seen. It’s bolshy and ambitious. It demands to be experienced.

You’ve probably correctly guessed I didn’t pay for this.

Better pictures by Where is Claire. Best taxis by A2B.

Craft, July 2020

I booked a table for one at Craft with the best of intentions. They had launched a new menu with a ‘picnic’ section that I wanted to try; £25 for five small plates seemed a bargain lunch, throw in a glass of wine and I’m back within the hour, fed and watered for £35. Sign me up. Except life doesn’t always go to plan. Let’s be honest, it never goes to plan. Well not mine, anyway. I turn up, take to my table, and two of my friends, who I had no idea would be there, do the same. They offer a seat at their table, I take the seat and that in and out quickie ends up five or six bottles later, with a headache that keeps on giving well into that weekend. I still need to try the picnic meal.

I knew the food was going to be good. The two weeks we do ‘Craft At Home’ over lockdown turn out to be two of the tastiest meals we have. Two pies; one ox cheek with a deep gravy, the other a chicken, ham hock and leek number which is at once creamy and rich, with notes of fennel from the seed and tarragon. Is this a sign of a simpler new direction? No, not really. The only new direction is the entrance, which comes straight off Brindley Place, through the ‘garden’ that houses the pods, past the bar and down the steps into the restaurant. Inside there are less covers, the space more intimate. It’s leaner. Lockdown has done them good.

We start with a croquette specifically requested from the picnic menu, full of smokey chorizo notes and cauliflower. Then a millefeuille of crab and apple, with precise pastry work and lots of brown crab flavour cut through with acidity from the fruit. Two courses in and it’s clear that the flavours are stripped back; two or three core ingredients, strong technique which allows them play off each other.

For main I have pork and pineapple. The loin is beautiful, blushing pink and tender, as is the belly that has been braised until the layers of fat and meat amalgamate. I find a pineapple caramel on the sweet side – the cube of the same fruit provides enough contrast for the rich mangalitsa breed. The mashed potato is glorious. I get to try a lamb dish which is superb. Deep and smokey from aubergine and black garlic, the loin and belly cuts treated with care and attention. Apricots reinforce an almost Middle Eastern feel to the dish. Andrew Sheridan can really cook. I mean really cook.

By now the three of us are on bottle number four and I’m really regretting skipping breakfast. A creme brulee Cambridgeshire burnt cream is spot on for luscious texture, whilst donuts with coffee ice cream hit all the right spots. We leave the table happy and head outside for more wine.

The supreme pontiff of the trio offers to pay the bill and this drunk accepts, meaning I have no idea what the bill is. Craft is lovely, slowly taking things up a gear to the high level it now operates at. I’m a big fan of what they are doing; how the drinks are all British, how the focus is on affordable premium dining using the finest of seasonal ingredients. And I gather there may be a few twists in store for later on in the year. With prices starting at a little over £20 and with them utilising the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, now is the ideal time to check them out for yourself.

Pictures by Conrad because mine were awful.

You can’t drive after drinking this much so we take an A2B

Craft Dining Rooms, December 2019

It’s all change at Craft Dining Rooms. The end of 2019 saw them appoint Andrew Sheridan of Great British Menu fame as Exec Chef, a move probably in line with Aktar Islam adding the restaurant to his portfolio as Chef Director. Even now, as this post goes live, the final touches are being added to their English garden; a series of pods which line the canal from the opposing side of Brindley Place. The restaurant too is having a once-over; the large bar area is being halved with some of the kitchen being moved out to that space, a new PDR is going in, the mustard pillars are gone with flowers and softer lighting coming in.

I know all of this because the owner of Craft tells me so over a gin and tonic whilst my friends turn up for our lunch date. It’s the last Friday before Christmas, it’s pissing down to Biblical proportions and Birmingham’s roads are besieged with various closures. It’s the perfect storm for delays and I’m drenched to the core. By the time the last of our trio rolls in some 45 minutes after our booking I am soaked in more ways than one. Thanks Sam for the gins, I needed them.

The food is now taking a tighter line, more in keeping with the ideals set when they first opened. It’s highly seasonal, not only using the larder of the UK but an easier style of cooking. The bread rolls are still as good as you’re likely to see in the city, but now you have the choice of a more conventional butter and another heavily flavoured with Marmite. The latter divides the table like – well – I can’t think of an ingredient which is as divisive. A fat scallop has been pan fried on one side to a burnished crust, in one of those buttery sauces that has you chasing the last of it with your finger. So far so very good.

We get unctous pig cheeks with potato puree, squash puree, and batons of pickled squash and apple. It’s a miniature take on something far more substantial; wholesome and perfect for the wintery conditions outside the large panes of glass, it has just enough acidity to cut through it. Then cod in a bubble bath of crab bisque, all delicate and warming. Simple and understated, it lets the produce speak for itself.

I can’t remember eating a piece of venison as well cooked as that on the main course, the meat not overly gamey and robustly seasoned. The pairing of blackberries and beetroots an obvious one, given little touches like the addition of rhubarb to the beetroot puree. It’s not perfect; the disc of beetroot is undercooked, and the overall feel of the dish is a little high in acidity, but all of this is forgotten because they have a rectangle of compressed potato slices that have been deep fried to golden on the side.

I happen to be a big fan of the pastry chef, a man who answers to the name of Howing. Dessert on this occasion was a white chocolate orange; a frozen shell depicting peel which contains a caramelised white chocolate mousse, macerated orange, and blood orange. This is on a crumb of salted dark chocolate which had maybe a little too much salt. It’s cold, it’s rich, it’s complex. And I really hope I’ve taken the notes correctly for this because by now we’ve drank a fair amount of wine and are making plans to carry on throughout the afternoon.

I don’t know how much this came to because a friend was picking up the bill, though I can tell you that as before the English wines, in particular an orange wine from Litmus, were delicious. Speaking to Andrew Sheridan afterwards I got the feel for his vision of what Craft should be; a full on celebration of the seasons of the UK, laid out simply and without compromise. I have a lot of time for that. Just two weeks into his appointment we got a sense of that and it really delivered. The future is a bright one for Craft.

As ever, A2B got me from A to B.