British

Blake’s Restaurant, Hopwood

Blake’s Restaurant is housed within The Westmead, a hotel on the outskirts of the city I have not been to for over a year. The last time I was here it was for a wedding, a lovely occasion where they made the error of inviting me all day, resulting in my Saturday drinking start time being pushed back two hours to 11am. Unsurprisingly, I was a mess. The hotel has changed a lot since then, undergoing a massive refurbishment since the turn of the year – the bar has been extended, the entire area spruced. The biggest change has occurred within the restaurant area – now Blakes, a handsome dining room of petrol blues, pale greys and copper. If the devil really is in the detail, this room is pure evil. It is proud and cleverly lit, a dining space any food would be glad to grace.


On first glance the menu doesn’t smack of ambition, it looks to be a modest affair that saves the bravado for the plate. Dishes that don’t promise much transpire to be much more elaborate in composition. A crab and prawn pot has plenty of crustacean bound in an acidulated crème fraiche with pickled cucumber at the base. It is crowned with salmon roe that pops with salinity and a delicate squid ink tuile. We’re initially shocked at how pretty it is. On the side is an accurately cooked king prawn and a mini loaf; two very different things to pull apart with fingers and savour. At £7.50 it’s as expensive as the starters get, showing that the kitchen are not only downplaying their talent but the prices, too.


The mini loaf returns for potted pork, the braised and pulled meat hidden under a blanket of clarified butter. It all eats well but needs to tone down the acidity; it’s everywhere. The vinegar in the piccalilli is a little too sharp, and lemon juice is detectable in a winter ‘slaw. Even the pork has an underlying zing. I get the want to freshen everything up but this is a plate of food that would benefit from accepting that it is rich and fatty. It is very nearly there. We still finish the plate because nothing is going to come between me and pig with piccalilli.

They have a wood fired oven here that they use to make pizza and more snacky items, which appear to be doing a roaring trade in the two weeks they have been trading. From the former we take a pizza draped in good quality meat and add olives that have come straight out of a jar. Given the obvious the effort gone to sourcing here, the olives seem a small slip that I can overlook. The pizza is good; supple with a nice char on the crust, and plenty of tomato flavour on the base. It is extremely generous in size and serious value at under £10. Dough balls are generous sides at four quid, which would make a good snack with a pint propped up at the bar.


Pork steak is a grown-up riff on gammon and eggs. At the centre of the plate is a fat cut of tender pig, accurately cooked so that it blushes pink in the centre. A couple of poached eggs provide the rich sauce, whilst a pineapple salsa is a smartly judges mixture of sweetness, acidity, and heat. It doesn’t need the avocado purée, nor do I understand it’s place on the dish, but the chips are serious things that snap and comfort. It is downright delicious.

Our choices for desserts could not be more different. I love the simplicity of affogato, the idiot proof process of pouring shots of espresso and amaretto on to vanilla ice cream. And there’s not much to say about it other than it hit the mark was and keenly priced at £5.50, including the booze. Claire’s dessert on the other hand is on of those that is destined to pop up on Instagram feeds. A peanut butter and chocolate brownie is downright naughty, with a healthy crust and squidgy centre. On top there is a wave of tempered chocolate and a macaroon, both sprayed gold. Elsewhere on the plate are raspberries freeze dried and as gels, pistachio ice cream, fresh passion fruit and again as a gel, and honeycomb. This is a serious amount of pastry work, saving the best course for last. It’s hard to fault and very quickly finished.

It’s hard not to admire what they are doing here, it would be so easy for a hotel like this to sit back and make a living from weddings every weekend, yet they are pitching themselves above that, providing food that looks and tastes the part. It’s not perfect yet, but I wouldn’t expect it to be after two weeks, and we really enjoyed our meal. The kitchen have already landed on their feet and with the smallest of tweaks will be running in no time at all time. I won’t be holding out for the next wedding invite to arrive before I return to The Westmead, Blake’s restaurant is one that I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

7/10

I was invited to Blake’s by Birmingham PR agency, Delicious PR http://www.deliciouspr.co.uk

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download their cashless app at http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Chateau Impney, Droitwich Spa

Whether it be ringing a door bell, looking through a menu on-line the day before, or booking three months prior, a meal starts way before the first plate is delivered. At Chateau Impney it begins when you first see the Louis XIII style chateau from the A38. The long drive leads up through the extensive grounds where the imposing red-brick building remains beautiful, albeit now with a less than beautiful rear extension.

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The chateau was a labour of love, built almost 150 years ago by a salt magnet to satisfy his Parisian raised wife, who sadly did a runner before the building was finished. I wish that we had been able to make a similar dart for it when the food started to appear. The first issue is the location of the dining room, deep in the lower loins of the building. Whilst upstairs is a majestic ode to The Renaissance, the dining room in the basement is a faux art deco mass of monochrome. Sadly, its less Louis XIII chateau and more Fritzel’s Palace. The menu is an unapologetic collection of 70’s dinner party classics, which is fine, just as long they are done well.  A goats cheese soufflé looked fine enough, but had the texture of a tennis ball and no flavour whatsoever.  Around it was a mango and chilli salsa which lacked any heat. If ever a recipe needed re-approaching, this was it. On the flip of this was a ramekin filled with chopped bacon and button mushrooms, topped with smoked cheddar.  Estate agents would describe it as “rustic” looking, though I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on its appearance.  It tasted acceptable in the way that bacon, mushrooms, and melted cheese do, but a starter in a restaurant? Really?  Not good enough.

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Chicken with tarragon sauce had reasonably well cooked poultry in a cream sauce with no aniseed flavour present.  We were the last sitting, so maybe they run out of tarragon, who knows.  The potato fondant was very good, properly buttery and cooked through.  A turkey roast faired slightly better with good roast spuds, fluffy Yorkshire pudding, and a proper gravy.  Vegetables came served separately and varied from well cooked carrots to raw broccoli. 096

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Desserts were a continuation of the frustrating previous courses.  Apple and toffee pie was actually a decent apple pie, topped with a toffee sauce and a bowlful of a custard which I can pretty much guarantee was the powdered variety.  Again, it was rustic looking, but I don’t mind that with dessert.  A chocolate and caramel tart looked a lot better, even if there was little, if any, of the caramel flavour.

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The service was led by a very polite restaurant manager and I felt sorry for her.  She can only deal with what is placed in her hands – it is the kitchens job to ensure it is good enough to go out.  All of this was charged at the very modest twenty-two pounds for three courses, which for some I imagine accounts for good value.  Not I.  A tenner a head extra could have got me a very good lunch elsewhere.  Chateau Impney is a beautiful place, but it is best viewed from the road en route to somewhere else to eat.

5/10