Edgbaston

Laghi’s Deli, 2019

At 5.45pm on a cold Wednesday evening, Laghi’s Deli is rammed. There are people in the bar area discussing work over large glass domes filled with red wine, whilst the restaurant area is packed with those elbows deep in plates of pasta. It’s great to see: some two years after I first stepped foot into here it appears that Laghi’s has reached it’s full potential, one where it has correctly cemented itself as the true authentic Italian in Birmingham. Sure there are others that rely on the same identikit menu with the same tricks and over reliance on a giant pepper grinder, but for real Italian food, for it’s silky pasta, it’s heart, it’s familiarity, you come to Laghi’s.

I’ve been coming fairly solidly since I first wrote about it. The food has got stronger and stronger, with the kitchen cooking more regional dishes from Bologna over what we are told that British will enjoy. This is not the place for spaghetti with your bolognese, nor cream with your carbonara, though if you are the kind of person who expects the above perhaps you’re reading the wrong Birmingham restaurant blog.

On a visit we take full advantage of a recent delivery of truffles from Tuscany. We have little crostinis topped with scrambled egg and black truffle, and taglioni with a lightly smoked cheese sauce and white truffles; a dish that seems very popular in the room, perhaps due to it’s perfume, or the extremely fair price of £30 to try the most prized of ingredients. There are sticks of fried pasta dough to dip into an arrabbiata sauce the right side of fiery, and deep fried bits of cardoon and artichoke, the quality of which are really quite something. I’m told that Luca personally picks the veg via skype from a buyer in Milan’s vegetable market. The mass consumerism of Bella Italia this is not.

The real stand-out moments here are with the pasta. A dish with porcini and coarse sausage meat is dressed in a sauce that contains a touch of cream that bites with lots of black pepper. The rolled pasta has integrity amongst such great company, being the texture it needs to bring every together en masse. Even better is the white crab meat wrapped in a ravioli of jet black squid ink, with onion jam, and a scamorza sauce that threatened to over but actually just gently lifted everything. This is a killer dish; the work of a chef not afraid to play the bold and delicate together, showing a skilled touch at balancing flavours. It might just be my favourite dish on the menu.

I returned again last week for a Sicilian wine dinner, where the kitchen showed they are far more than capable of turning their hand to an entirely different style of cooking. The food was mostly reminiscent of what we ate a couple of months back, with lightly fried panelle, oily fleshed sardines with plump sultanas and pine nuts, and ricotta frittas that leak soft cheese with every mouthful. When it is good – like the perkily dressed octupus salad, or the mussels gratin – it is very, very good indeed. We finish on cannoli better than any we personally ate in Sicily, including those from the reveered Pasticceria Maria Grammitico in Erice. The wine too was superb. But then it was handpicked from the Tenuta estate so it would be.

Now the disclosure bit. I’ve gotten to know Luca since he opened the restaurant and consider him a friend. We’ve been for lunch together and shared a glass of wine on numerous occasions. I say this because I have no need to hide it; we’re friends because because we share a mutual passion and when I eat at his restaurant my card always leaves my wallet. And the reason why I eat at Laghi’s as much as anywhere else in the city is not because he owns it, but because it is the first place I think of when I think of the rustic and bold cooking of Northern Italy.

Take an A2B and treat yo’self

Top Ten Dishes of 2018

I’ll be sad to see the back of this year. Unlike the personal life chaos of 2017, this year has been one of balance and progression. I’ve had a promotion at work, been on several lovely holidays, and changed the tact of this blog. We’ve eaten a few shocking meals, and many, many, many good ones. With the rest of this year’s posts eaten and all but written, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the very best dishes of the year. It’s been a tough one to collate, and honourable mentions must go to Daniel et Denise, Purnell’s, and Maribel who have just missed out on this list.

10) Pain de Epice Soufflé, Bergamot ice cream at Cheal’s, Henley-in-Arden

The only dessert on this list and for good reason. A gingerbread soufflé that harks back to my first visits to Simpsons; textbook in flavour and texture, and bought up-to-date with a bergamot ice cream that works harmoniously with the spice.

Read the full review here.

9) Stone Bass with courgette and crispy caviar at The Wild Rabbit, Kingham

I have no issue in saying that on paper this was the course I was least looking forward to during a lengthy lunch at The Wild Rabbit. It proved to be a beauty, with fish that flaked at the nudge of a fork, and the genius addition of crispy caviar – a blend of potato, onion and caviar – which elegantly seasoned it. Head Chef Nathan Eades is playing to their strengths here, utilising the vast Daylesford organic farm a couple of miles away. And it shows, with the courgettes on this plate treated with as much respect as the more luxurious items.

Read the full review here.

8) Tortilla at Bar Nestor, San Sebastián

The fabled tortilla of Nestor for which crowds form an hour before he opens for one of the sixteen slices. It is so worth it. Where the key ingredient is love (and maybe caramelised onions). There is much to love at this little spot in the old town, like the Galacian beef for two, but this stands out by itself. The best tortilla in the world, where it is impossible to believe something so good can come from just eggs, potato, onion, salt and pepper. Once seduced, we had it every day of the holiday.

Read the full review here.

7) Turnip, parmesan, autumn truffle at Folium, Jewellery Quarter

Lots of people I respect told us to go to Folium, so we knew it was going to be good, though neither of us really expected it to be that good. This dish was the star; a loose take on a carbonara, with ribbons of the root veg standing in for pasta. The additions of mushroom, parmesan emulsion, lardo, and truffle add huge amounts of umami. Utterly brilliant stuff.

Read the full review here.

6) Lobster with sauce American at Azurmendi, Bilbao.

A true three star experience at one of the finest restaurants in the world. Technically perfect with innovation running throughout, the highlight was this poached lobster which ate every bit as well as it looked. The balance between the acidity of the sauce and richness of the coffee butter was impeccable. Seriously classy stuff.

Read the full review here.

5) Taglioni with butter and white truffle at Laghi’s Deli, Edgbaston.

The discovery of Laghi’s has been a personal favourite of mine this year. They shine most when the quality of the ingredients are allowed to sit at the forefront, with no dish showcasing that better than this off menu dish. Taglioni made by the fair hands of mother Laghi, dressed in melted butter and plenty of white truffle from Alba. The pasta at Laghi’s is a joy, matched only by the sense of hospitality from this family restaurant.

Read a review of Laghi’s here.

4) Lasagne of wagyu beef and celeriac at Harborne Kitchen, Harborne.

Want proof that a restaurant can be a fun place to work? Go Harborne Kitchen, where everyone looks like they’re enjoying being there. The results of this freedom are best demonstrated by this dish that takes the homeliness of lasagne, swaps the pasta for celeriac, adds a rich wagyu beef ragu, and finishes with an indulgent cheese sauce. It’s comfort food of the highest order from a kitchen that continues to progress and innovate. I’m going back for it next week before they take it off the menu.

Read a review of Harborne Kitchen here.

3) Langoustine and sweetbread at Core by Clare Smyth, London

Core feels like the end product of a chef who has travelled the world, working and eating their way around the very best kitchens. The two stars they recently received appears to be just the start, with Clare Smyth striking me as someone who won’t stop until her restaurant is talked about in the same breath as the very finest in the world. The lunch we had was nigh on perfect, with this starter the pick of the bunch. Two proteins and two sauces equate to one cohesive dish full of nuance and control.

Read the full review here.

2) Soft shell crab at Opheem, Jewellery Quarter

I very nearly chose the pork with vindaloo sauce, but I’m sticking this in because it demonstrates how Aktar Islam has progressed as a chef. I’ve eaten this dish of his in various guises about half a dozen times. Each time I marvel at how it has improved, and consider that version to be the ultimate. Now the dish feels perfect; a marriage of modern technique and classic flavours. More importantly, it is a tribute to the crab, to the delicate bits of white meat and the more pungent brown meat. Aktar is redefining Indian cuisine in a way we have never seen before in the UK.

Read a review of Opheem here, here, and here.

1) Pork Char Sui and Crab Katsu at Ynyshir, Wales

I know I’m cheating, but this is my blog, and frankly I don’t care what you think. I can’t choose between these dishes so they get joint top spot, and they absolutely deserve it. Ynyshir has stepped it up another level this year, delivering full-on unadultered flavour that smashes you in the face continually over four or so hours. These two dishes were new to me and both blew me away for the clarity of flavour. That pork char sui melts away in the mouth leaving a finish that dances between sweet and savoury, whilst the crab katsu manages to still put the delicate crab at the forefront whilst the katsu ketchup lingers in the background. Gareth Ward continues to churn out future classics at what I believe to be the UK’s best restaurant.

Read this years posts on Ynyshir here and here.

And the top one taxi firm of 2018 goes to A2B for continuely ferrying my fat arse around.

Laghi’s Deli, Edgbaston

Once a week my Dad goes to see a covers band at his local pub. I’ve never been with him; I have no interest in seeing Fred Zeppelin, however good their version of Kashmir is supposed to be. I just don’t get the point. I want the real thing or I don’t want it at all. I don’t want to watch the simian stroll of a parka wearing Gallagher wannabe when there are two presently touring and doing a good enough job of murdering their own music. And I can’t be sure if Blobbie Williams is a tribute act or a tabloid attributed nickname. For all of the fake swagger and choreographed movements, they are nothing but homages to the real thing. Anyone can pout their lips, wear a sparkly jacket, and put on a mockney accent, but it’s nowhere close to seeing Jagger arch that back of his and thrust out the pelvis in the flesh. Any woman, man, or horse can put on a blonde wig. conical bra, and gash-flashing leotard but it doesn’t make you Madonna. In my younger years I wore cardigans and could play you the opening bars to ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, yet I never said I was Kurt Cobain. Or Lead Belly if you closed your eyes. Impersonators simply don’t have the magic of the real thing; they are imposters in dress-up.

I felt the same way about Italian food in Birmingham. We have Italian restaurants but none ever felt real to me; they are homogenized tributes to what we think is Italian food – a tour of an imagined Italy with dishes reconstructed for those delicate Anglicised palates of ours. Our ‘nduja has been stripped of the searing heat and offal that bangs down doors, to be replaced with a more polite neighbour that goes to bed at 9pm, whilst our carbonara has cream added because we are fed the lies that eggs have be completely cooked. This isn’t an issue; there is clearly a market for this, but I want the real Italy.

In a way Laghi’s Deli is more a project of love than business. Luca, the owner, comes from a family of restauranteurs back in Bologna and wanted to bring a Northern Italian slice of pizza back to Birmingham. And it is a resounding success, easily delivering the most authentic take on that cuisine I have eaten outside of it, backed up by a wine list that punches with hard-hitting reds and zesty whites. From the three starters we take it is the quality of the ingredients that shines through, nowhere more so than on a Caprese salad. As a dish it is a simple sum of its parts, yet here it speaks loudly of a real Italy; one that gestiticulates with every word. Everything is imported, from the young mozzerella to the olive oil that adds a peppery summeriness to a grey September evening. It may not have the best of carbon footprints, but frankly who cares when it tastes this good.

Our other two starters are big hitting. A parmesan cake with pancetta is an oozy umami bomb which cleverly shifts textures between a molten centre and crisp ham that guards its walls. It is a beautiful example of how when done correctly, this style of food doesnt need a handful of salt to get going; the seasoning is already embedded in the ingredients. A scallop the size of a baby’s fist is gratinated under breadcrumbs, served simply in its own cooking juices alongside a lightly dressed salad. At £7 for the special it feels too cheap, though they taint the perfectly cooked shellfish by leaving the less-than-perfectly cooked roe on.

For mains we take pasta, the hallmark of any Italian restaurant worth its dusting of parmesan. Yes they do pizza, but I can get great examples elsewhere. There is nowhere – I repeat, nowhere – that does good pasta anywhere in this brilliant city. Laghi’s is made fresh (rumour has it by Momma Laghi) and is properly lovely. We have egg and flour transformed into silky ribbons of tagliatelle with a loose ragu of beef that draws silence across the table, and parcels of ravioli that deliver verdant flavours of spinach and ricotta in a puddle of melted butter scented with sage. Oh, how I’ve waited for this moment. Even when the pasta isn’t made fresh it still trumps its competitors. The penne for the carbonara may be from a packet, but it is cooked to a careful bite that won’t have you screaming out the safe word. This is a real carbonara; one with salty guancialle ham and a sauce of warmed yolks that is mercifully cream free. It has been made by someone who understands the principles of the dish.

Desserts are a chocolate molten cake and an affogato. Both have good stuff going on, in particular the raspberry and gin sorbet with the cake, though I happen to have the sold out donuts on my mind for next time. A quick word on the service: I had heard murmurs about the service being occasionally poor, and, truthfully, this had put us off going. I can only comment on the evening we eat when it was faultless; dishes come out of the kitchen correctly and well-spaced, numerous orders for glasses of wine are swiftly taken and delivered. With mains hovering a little over a tenner, the bill for this would usually sit around £30-40 per head, which is super value, though we indulge in far too many dishes and drinks. Regardless, it was a great meal in presently the stand-out Italian offering, only missing out on the top marks because the menu feels a bit safe (being September I would have loved to have seen rabbit or wild mushrooms for that true Bologna experience), but this is just a small detail to a neighbourhood restaurant I can see us constantly returning to. Finally Birmingham has an authentic Italian that I can recommend. And without wishing to sound like an Etta James tribute act. At Last.

9/10

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Simpsons, April 2018

Given the chance to treat a friend to their first Michelin starred meal, the choice of venue was an easy one. Simpsons has it all; a beautiful restaurant in lovely grounds, food that pushes on without the need to challenge, and importantly, as we are paying, a very affordable lunch offer at the weekends of three courses for £45.00. I couldn’t be more happy with our choice, they were on top form yet again, cooking cohesive flavours with flair and hints at wit that to me is closer to 2* than its present one in the Michelin guide. I make no excuses for my love of Simpsons. I have come on dozens of occasions over the last decade and long may that continue. It is my personal favourite in Birmingham. I’ll keep this brief as I not so long ago wrote about Simpsons here.

After the usual snacks and bread offering we move to a bowl with cubes of beef cheek, pickled onions, little pickled mushrooms, crowned with a flurry of deep fried mushrooms. Into this is poured a mushroom broth, thick and rich like a Tory backbencher, balanced out by the light acidity from the pickled veg. A disc of cured salmon follows, dotted with kolrabi puree and little balls of the same veg. We get another sauce poured tableside, this one a split buttermilk milk that has a lovely tang at the finish.

The main of chicken ate so well. The meat cooked just as I was taught at their cooking school, the perfect example of how to treat poultry. Cheers, Nathan. I think what makes the dish is the undercurrent of black garlic that adds a brooding quality to the plate. Combine that with salsify, cabbage, and a jus that just holds on to the fingertip and you have a dish that is singing with Springtime flavours. I reserve the best bit until the end; a nugget of thigh meat with the skin that cracks under the fork. A pre dessert of lemon curd and oats comes hidden under a drift of sorrel granite. It’s fresh if maybe not my favourite pre dessert I’ve eaten here – can we have the vodka jelly back please, chef?

Desserts today are tremendous spelt with a capital T if that wouldn’t already add to this posts grammatical error count. Fermented blackberries lay underneath skyr yogurt that somehow tastes of cream cheese. It eats, with the help of an almond crumb and a little squeeze of grapefruit, just like a cheesecake. Pretty astonishing. Likewise a carrot cake, sweet and cinnamon spicy, with a decadent praline and pecan ice cream. I want to say they’ve hidden the acidity this time around in the carrot gel which tasted faintly of orange to me, but I’m probably talking out of my arse. We finish on a textbook soufflé of rhubarb with a crumble topping into which a custard ice cream is nestled. The soufflé is one of the lightest I can recall eating, almost cloud-like in texture. It eats like a dream.

The bill for three with two bottles of wine and a glass of the sweeter stuff hits £80 per head, though it goes without saying that you could spend a lot less with a more modest drink spend. The lunch menu is a bargain, available on the weekend when the other starred restaurants offer only long tasting options. Afterwards we saunter a hundred steps or so to The Edgbaston, perch at the bar and drink some of the finest cocktails to be found anywhere. Two of Birmingham’s finest and almost the perfect afternoon. Life really doesn’t get much better.

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Don Diego, Edgbaston

I don’t write about every meal I have. Sometimes I leave the ego at home and enjoy food with the other half for exactly what it is; a meal cooked by someone else that I am paying for. Plus, nobody ever wants to read about the Pret salad I ate for lunch. Don Diego was supposed to be one of those meals. We ordered and I started drinking red wine for the two of us, whilst Claire is telling me off for staring at my phone. Out walks Alfonso the chef, a burly balding man named after my favourite mango. He outstretches his hand, I shake it saying my forename in the way that you do the first time you meet someone. “Yes, Simon Carlo” he says in a deep Spanish accent. I don’t know how he knows me, but in hindsight maybe it was the awards on the table that I take everywhere with me which gave it away. Then it clocks, this is the man who was front of house the last time I was in this building, when it was The Epicurean, a place I was less than polite about. I really should learn to be nicer. He is kind about my opinion and apologises for the chef cooking here over two years ago, which is unexpected and not at all necessary. He asks if I will be writing about our meal tonight. “Err, well… of course I am”. I am weak and pathetic.

So here is my opinion on Don Diego, a place I had no intention of writing about, but am happy to now the meal is over. It is an upgrade on Epicurean, one built around sturdy Spanish flavours and hefty portions. There is nothing nuanced about the food; it is about as subtle as my writing style and thankfully punctuated with less errors. A king prawn starter owes its success to the velvety bisque that coats everything and puddles in the bottom of the bowl. The big flavours are found in the bits that we discard, here those heads and shells are roasted and flambéed in a little booze to form the base of the bisque. A salad of mozzarella, tomato, and red onions owes its character to the lick of vinegar and garlic heat works on to every forkful. We’ll gloss over the bought in garlic bread that hasn’t sufficiently been heated through so that some of the butter remains set in the centre.

Main portions are set to massive. There is a breaded chicken main that looks massive until the even bigger pork belly arrives. The chicken is accurately cooked with a clever sauce that has plenty of chorizo running through it. The pork has not been pressed so that the layers of fat and meat are still distinguishable. It’s on a puddle of warm apple sauce, with a smaller puddle of tomato. In hindsight, a more equal ratio of the two would work better. With mains you will need a side and you should take the chips, all crispy rosemary edges and fluffy centre.

After this did we need dessert? Probably not, but I am now committed to tell you about dinner and therefore order them. A chocolate semifreddo eats better than it looks, the flavour of Baileys coming through strongly, with a berry compote to cut through the richness. A better option is the almond tart. The pastry is short and buttery, the frangipane rich. It needs the apricot purée for relief. This is a solid bit of dessert work.

And with that we’re done. An enjoyable meal, from a little place ran only by two brothers. It deserves to be busier than it is. It’s affordable and warm, offering a short menu of dishes that you want to eat. We’ll be back to explore the rest of it soon, tucked away in the corner with a nice bottle of Rioja. I might even take the night off from writing. I’ve earned it.

7/10

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Fiesta del Asado, Edgbaston

A full midweek dining room is a sight that makes me happy. Those who eat on school nights are committed gluttons, a different breed entirely to those that only go out on Friday and Saturday evenings. They know where the good stuff is at and they don’t want the hassle of waiting six weeks for it. They are the beating heart of the trade, the key to a sustainable business. If you can put bums on seats on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, you’ve succeeded. I doff my cap to you.


We arrive on a Tuesday night when winter is flexing its muscle. It is dark, with wind and rain beating against the windows. On an evening when I really don’t want to leave the solace of my sofa, Fiesta Del Asado is full, turning away those who have chanced it without reservation. Those fools. What impresses most is this is not a location suited to passing trade; it is on a stretch of the Hagley Road where intermittent hotels are joined by a healthy prostitution trade, and, even worse, TGI Fridays. Eating at Fiesta Del Asado is a deliberate choice that evidently requires pre-planning whatever day of the week.


It is a handsome dining room where large wooden tables are adorned with little but candles. The restaurant focuses on the Asado style of Argentina with hunks of meat cooked over applewood on the grill that is central to the kitchen. We start with small plates of padron peppers and sobrasada, a spreadable chorizo, with toast. Both revel in their simplicity, the best of ingredients worked as little as possible. We move on to a plate of Iberico ham, with deep flavour and ribbons of soft fat that threaten to disintegrate from the body temperature of finger and thumb.



They do other meats, but we only have eyes for the beef tonight, for which we take two very different preparations. Slow cooked brisket arrives in a thick red wine gravy, almost mulled star anise, cinnamon and clove. It is a classy bit of cooking, more so with the addition of fried potatoes and sweet corn that add body and texture.


It is the bavette that shows off what they really do best here, fired aggressively over the grill so that the steak has a charred crust and the centre a perfect medium rare.  All it needs is a lick of bright acidity from chimichurri and you have a complex bit of cow far more flavoursome than any bit of fillet.

Not even the most charming of waitresses could tempt us into a dessert, leaving us to finish up on a very fairly priced Malbec and vacate our table to those still hoping to get a steak dinner tonight. This was my first trip to Fiesta del Asado in around three years and I’d honestly forgotten how good it is. It’s not cheap, but the steaks here are as good as any in the city. Don’t just take my word on that; there’s a dining room full of people who all share my opinion.

8/10

I was invited to dine at Fiesta del Asado

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Fiesta del Asado Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Borracho De Oro, Edgbaston

As we’re waiting outside for our taxi to arrive to take us to El Borracho, it seems fitting that it is already starting to get dark at 7.15pm. Without wishing to get all Game of Thrones on yo’ ass, winter is coming and quickly, too. Soon it will be dark by the time you get home from the office, with the only salvation a duvet to hide underneath and a mug of hot tea to clasp. El B (as it is locally known and herewith referred to as) get this, changing up the menu to reflect needs of a wet and blustery day. Gone are some of the lighter dishes, in comes more wholesome stews and working muscles of animals that need time and love. This is a new take on Spanish food for me, one that you don’t see scattered around the coastal resorts us Brits hanker for in the summer months but one that reflects their cooler periods.


We order entirely from the new dishes with the exception of one. The tomato bread here is the perfect rendition of how it should be. Toasted bread with a mushy tomato mixture on top that is loaded with pungent garlic. It is a must order, the simplest of dishes with the biggest of flavour.


Almost all of the new menu shimmers with confidence. The one that falls short is due to proportions, not flavour. The scallops are accurately cooked, with a crown of crispy ham bits atop of the seared crust. These are sat on rich black pudding and a red pepper purée for which there is a little too much of both. The scallop is lost but this is easily fixable. I find no fault at all with a stuffed pepper with goats cheese and pine nuts that is all mellow sweetness and light touch, nor skewers of chicken that have been marinated in a piquant red mojo sauce. A drizzle of a garlic rich aioli is enough to provide contrast.



With our metaphorical hat and scarfs on, we embark on the properly winter dishes. There is a lamb stew which I’m sure sounds far sexier in Spanish. Everything has been cooked slowly with love so that it is denture friendly and is boldly seasoned. It is rustic in the best possible way. The same applies to a Fabada, which I now know to mean a butterbean stew. The depth of flavour is there with smoked black pudding that makes the tomato base taste almost like barbeque sauce. Fatty lardons and chunks of chorizo add a meatiness. We tip the bowl and chase the last of the juices out with the spoon.

We finish with two stunning dishes that leave no doubt that the finest Spanish food in Birmingham is to be found here. Pigs cheek are so tender we fight to get them to stick to the fork, with mashed potato that spreads like my waistline across the bowl thanks to the quantity of butter which is in it. All of this sits in a puddle of red wine sauce so rich it initially threatens to take over, before stepping aside and letting those porky flavours shine. Potato churro’s are a new idea that must rank in the top five things to eat for a fiver in Birmingham. They are salty and moreish and creamy, almost like the best duchess potatoes in a dippable form. We dunk into a blue cheese sauce that has been preciously tempered to let the potato flavour through.
 Two days later the quality of El B is driven home by a Spanish restaurant that is twice the price and half as good. It makes me hanker for long nights here, elbows on the deep wooden table, quaffing good wine and eating authentic Spanish food with friends. It’s the kind of neighbourhood restaurant that I wish I ate at far more frequently than I do. Outside the weather may be miserable and the nights dark, but inside of El Borracho is nothing but a joy. 

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Simpson’s, Eureka Kitchen

Cookery schools are one of those things I’ve always fancied but never done. A lot like the waitress in my local pub, if I think about it. I can’t pinpoint why, other than a deep ingrained fear that you pay all that money for a morning drinking tea with ageing ladies, whilst watching someone highly trained demonstrating something that you’ll never be able to achieve. But then I would say that, because I am a pig headed fool that feeds off stereotype until I know otherwise. Which I now do. I can now tell you that with all honesty I had one of the best days I have had in many years at Simpsons cookery school.

First, let me be upfront with the truth. Nosh and I were invited to the friends and family day at Eureka, the new cookery school, which is even more astonishing given that we fall into neither category.  The cookery school launches this weekend in an upstairs section of the restaurant that has been given the full makeover.  It’s an impressive space that looks like it cost a lot of money.  After donning an apron that I looked way too good in, we move onto banks of tables facing the gleaming new kitchen headed up by Nathan Eades, the Head Chef here.

This isn’t going to be like a normal post, because the food I’m eating is what we made, and therefore I’m less likely to be a judgemental prick.  On the menu is salmon, roast chicken, finishing with an apricot and frangipane tart.  I wont bore you with the finer details other than we had a hands-on teaching of some important techniques.  We cured salmon, butchered a poussin, made pastry, pickled veg, and plated up food.  We made gnocchi, which Claire would love me tell you that hers were the best.  She’s quite proud of that and has pictures to prove it.  It’s all I’ve heard all week.  She’s shit at rolling pastry though, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

The skill to this school is the approach.  We learnt things at our time, not once rushed, and always assisted when required.  The result is a morning that is as varied as it is interesting.  After the bulk of the cookery is done we take a glass of champagne in the garden whilst the table settings are changed from school to chefs table.  From here we work in groups at serving courses to the standard of a Michelin starred level, pouring wine and eating the food we all prepared.  It’s perfect.  A way to meet new friends over a shared love of eating.

Lunch concludes with a question and answer session with the main man himself, before us two drunkards take the last of wine back into the sprawling garden sunshine.  A day at Eureka will cost you north of a ton, but that to us seems value that we’re willing to return to very soon.  We’re still talking about it five days on, trying to weave the techniques into the stuff we do at home, thinking about who would appreciate the experience as a present, and who to make that bloody gnocchi for.  My love for Simpsons as a restaurant has always been there; it’s just now added another facet, one that will improve me as a cook and feed me at the same time.

I was invited to try the Eureka at Simpsons.  For details please see here; http://www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk/eureka-kitchen

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Simpsons, Birmingham

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I’ll get the truth out from the start; Simpson’s is a special place for me. It was the first Michelin starred restaurant I took my girlfriend to, the place where we had our first year anniversary, where I celebrated my 30th birthday, and where I’ll be eating on my birthday this year. It’s a distinct kind of place, opulent without ever being flashy, polished without the stuffiness. It used to be much more rigid before the refit, whereas  now it has a Scandinavian vibe, with plenty of natural light bathing the bare wooden elements of tree, tables, and floor. It’s clean and casual, yet still romantic enough for a date night to ask your long suffering girlfriend of seven years for her hand in marriage. The last part is merely a suggestion.

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With the refit came a new Head Chef and a fresh approach. Nathan Eades joins Executive Chef, Luke Tipping, in the kitchen creating food that is identifiable with the old Simpsons, yet lighter and more modern in style. I have eaten here more frequently than any other starred restaurant and can gladly report that the food is better than ever. Not only have they moved straight to the top of Birmingham, they are now competing with the big boys across the country.

The opening act sets the scene for the evening. A tapioca cracker given the Just For Men treatment with squid ink is the ideal foil for the creamiest of taramasalata dip, whilst a delicate cracker made from chickpea flour is topped with truffled mayo and flowers almost too pretty to eat.  Almost.  We save the pigs head until last for good reason. The unctuous meat is encased in tiny shards of pork crackling – try telling me you don’t want that now.   It is as fulfilling as two mouthfuls of food can get. Bread comes as a flaky tapenade roll and a sourdough that is almost as good as that from the Hedone bakery. For those familiar with the latter they know this to be the highest of compliments. The crust has bite, the crumb slightly elastic with large pockets of air. It is dreamy when smeared an inch thick with the salty whipped butter.

We are yet to reach the dishes ordered from the A La Carte menu and had already eaten some seriously good food. A starter of veal tartare exceeds this by being one of the best raw meat dishes I have ever eaten, the entire plate basked in light acidity from balls of apple and slices of kohlrabi.

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A carrot broth jewelled with herb oil is poured tableside onto a slow cooked duck egg with meaty hen of the wood mushrooms, and tangles of crispy pork for bite and saltiness.  Nasturtium add a gentle pepperiness not unlike watercress.  It’s a joy, and a visual joy at that.  Salmon is cured so that the texture firmed up, with sweet raw obsiblue prawns seasoned with a little lemon juice, caviar, cucumber, and a buttermilk dressing.  The dish requires little in the way of cooking and an expert hand in balancing the sweet and the acidity.  It nails it, producing a bowl full of complexity that celebrates the best in produce.

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Beef comes as a rare cannon of rump and a wedge of brisket so softly cooked it concedes at the merest suggestion of pressure.  Add to this a fat spear of white asparagus, petals of charred shallot, mushrooms, potato puree seasoned with crisp bone marrow, and what you have is a plate that produces new combinations with every forkful.  It is rooted in classicism, which is fine by me when it is done as well as this.

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I’ll cut to the chase with the other main course; it is the best lamb dish I have ever eaten.  The meat is a perfect medium, so tender it could have been cut with a palette knife.  Garlic is represented both as subtle wild leaves and a pungent fermented emulsion, with a sheeps curd that seasons and elevates.  The sauce is a thing of beauty which we used the last of the bread to mop up, then our fingers to chase the last dots when that runs out.

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Pre dessert is a clever little ice cream made from buttermilk with lemon gel that evokes a healthy breakfast with its crunchy oats topping, whilst successfully transitioning from savoury through to sweet.  One of the sweet courses is batons of poached rhubarb with a sorbet of the same fruit, shards of muscovado sugar, and a burnt cream that works in a similar style to a crème brulee, albeit in a much more cheffy, modern fashion.

IMG_8814 The other dessert.  My God, the other dessert.  A caramelised rectangle of filo pastry is the canopy for a serious amount of work that riffs on the flavour profile of coffee.  There is white chocolate, aerated, and again as a mousse, chocolate sponge, Nesspresso granite, and an ice cream made from spiced speculoo biscuit.  It is dark and funky.  Creamy and indulgent.  It delivers on every level.   It is one of the very best desserts I have eaten.

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Perfect.  It’s not a word I use too often, but Simpsons delivered a perfect evening.  The bill, creeping in at just over a hundred quid a head including a lovely Hungarian red and a couple of ports, felt very fair for food that was clearly to me at two star level.  It was intriguing, elegant cooking with real personality.  It’s surely just a matter of time before Michelin acknowledges this and elevates it to the level it belongs.  Simpsons is up there with the very best in the country, and we, the good folk of Birmingham, should embrace our finest restaurant at every opportunity.

10/10

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Physician, Edgbaston

If I spent much of last year eating in and around Edgbaston, I did it because it is the most exciting place in Birmingham right now. The leafy suburb has flourished in to an eating and drinking hub, all in and around the bottom part of Calthorpe Road which has housed Simpsons for the last decade and a half. Over the last month or so I’ve popped in to Blue Piano for that carrot cake, had lovely cocktails at both Rofuto and The Edgbaston, beers at The Highfield, and a spankingly good boozy luncheon at El Borracho De Oro. Oh, and I also went to The Physician on Boxing Day, though I’m trying desperately to forget about that.

No one can fault The Physician for trying to fit in. They have the white Georgian building, itself a maze of rooms, hard wooden floors, paintings and soft furnishings. They have a focus on ales, wines, and game. So far, so very Edgbaston. It just happens that whilst all around have their individual niche polished to a mirrored sheen, The Physician are far murkier in their delivery. To use the name of the establishment cheaply, they are in need a heart operation, not a boob job.

I enjoyed the first thing we ate, even if it was an exercise in shopping over cookery. A sharing board features some very good salami amongst the cured meats, a slightly grainy pate, good quality olives,  with bits of veg, pickled, stuffed, blended and deep fried.  As far as grazing goes, it works, and is fair value too at £17.00.  The only other starter was a wedge of brie, coated in a breadcrumb mixture devoid of seasoning and fried until the innards have given up.  The pickled cranberries are not sharp enough to balance out the cheese, whilst pecans are superfluous additions that add nothing other than taking up a third of the plate.

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And then the bit that I’ve thought long and hard about including, now deciding that if its served to me, it should be mentioned.  Two hairs, long, dark, and way too thick to have ever resided on my bonce, nestled nicely in amongst the horseradish mash that came with an ox cheek Bourguignon.  It matters not that the cheek was meltingly tender, nor that the sauce was short of the depth of the flavour I would expect, they are hairs that are not mine.  The plate is taken away with an apology, an replacement is offered.  I am struck with a sudden loss of appetite and decline.  Instead I poke away at my girlfriends decent deep fried haddock and plunge limp chips into a well made tartare.  I try a bit of a game pie where the suet crust is lighter than expected and filling is full of bits of long braised rabbit and venison.  The long wedge of carrot is practically raw.  It sums up my day in one failed bit of detail.

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They take the hair and other contents of the plate off the bill and offer a complimentary dessert that transpires to be one of the better things we would eat.  A cheesecake with a delicate base, a punchy caramel mouse, topped with a layer of chocolate.  A raspberry sorbet has real depth and cuts through the richness.  There is hope here and it is to be found in the pastry department.

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We settle a bill that feels too high for what was served and head to 60 metres down the road to the Highfield.  Inside we enjoy well kept beers and, later on, a couple of snacks.  For once, I stop being such a self-opinionated bastard and seek the views of those in our party.  Was I letting the kitchen mishap ruin a potentially good meal?  No.  All agree that it was lack lustre and disappointing.  The Physician has all of the right ingredient’s to succeed and the wrong recipe to work with.  I simply cant see a reason why I would go back when there is so much more to found locally.

5/10