Blame it all on Purnell. My food obsession. This blog. It all stems from him. Some thirteen years back I was a slender twenty-year-old with a food knowledge that amounted to knowing what should be ordered at Nando’s (I now know the real answer; nothing). Good food was yet to find a way into my life, along with humility and fitted jeans. It took a girl and a Jay Rayner write-up for me to book a table at Jessica’s in Edgbaston that would alter my view forever. Behind the stove was a young Glynn Purnell, a talented chef with what I now understand to be considerable experience in some very serious kitchens. A main of chicken with gamborini prawn would instantly convert me and slowly lead me on a path that had accumulated in four extra inches on my waistband, forty or so Michelin starred restaurants and, more recently, this restaurant blog.
Mr Purnell soon left Jessica’s to open his eponymous restaurant, a place I visited before it won it’s star, though had not been to in some time. The room is agreeable and modern, carpeted with comfortable chairs and heavy black wooden tables. It feels effortlessly cool, which is reinforced by unstuffy service and a soundtrack which included The XX. Dinner options are a shorter menu at £68 or a longer one at £88 with flexibility over certain courses. We choose the shorter one with the supplement of an additional dish.
The opening gambit was sensational; a witty play (indeed, if ever there were one word to describe Purnell’s cooking it would be witty) of cheese and pineapple on sticks. A fondue covers a fine dice of pineapple with sticks of dried pasta and a crumbly parmesan tuile for texture. On to this a pineapple granita is shovelled tableside, the temperature differential seemingly intensifying the familiar flavours.
A duck egg shell hides a yolk in amongst a cauliflower veloute with teeny bits of bacon and black pudding for texture. Its pretty, refined and elegant, though its hard to get excited about when compared to its alternative, a slow cooked yolk sat proudly on a milk foam flavoured by smoked haddock and drizzled with curry oil. It looks like a fried egg but close your eyes and its kedgeree. A croquette of haddock on the side is there to add fish to the fishless fish course.
Chicken liver parfait is shrouded by a red wine jelly, the deep flavour of the offal checked by its acidity. Its a brilliant bit of cooking that tastes every bit as good as it looks. Red currants and turnip braised in port for natural sweetness, toasted grains for substance and bite. The very best chefs know when to add or detract from a dish, here every element was required. A doughnut filled with beetroot so heavily reduced it could have been mistaken for raspberry sat on the side. I asked for more to come with my coffee at the end. They incorrectly assumed I was joking.
Monkfish masala was one of two dishes that made it to the banquet at Great British Menu’s 2008-2009. The fish is good but could have handled more spice in my opinion, and is overshadowed by the best yellow dhal I have ever tried, all length and character and spice. Lamb neck is braised so slowly a spoon could have easily replaced the meat knife, the lacquer it sits in used to coat the meat to a mirrored sheen. With it comes pumpkin thrice; a silky puree, a caramelised rectangle topped with candied pumpkin and fennel seeds, and a carpaccio marinated in orange. It sings. The combination of slow cooked ovine, anise, and citrus could have been North African, yet here it is modern French in style, perfectly delivered.
The first of desserts is almost unrecognisable from its GBM victory. Burnt custard sits in an egg shell high above a plate containing toasted seeds, a blackberry ice cream and thin shards of honeycomb. The blowtorched topping cracks to give way to a vanilla rich custard that hides a little gooseberry puree at the bottom. As lovely as they are, these ‘signatures’ sat down my pecking order of my favourites when compared to some of the newer dishes, which were cleaner in their approach and bigger in flavour. This comparison highlighted by a lemon meringue pie, golden in colour, with a high meringue dome that released a blackberry sauce when chopped into. The theatrics would mean nothing if the taste wasn’t there and boy it was, all short pastry and balanced acidity from the lemon curd and blackberry sauce. This is a future classic.
We finish up with tart jellies, a chocolate orange bar with popping candy and chocolate domes filled with peanut butter, ending the meal on a suitably sweet note. The bill, with two good bottles of wine between three, working out well in excess of a hundred pound each, which is value for money given the quality of food served over the two and a bit hours we enjoyed. Purnell’s are one of five starred restaurants in Birmingham and much has been made of which one will make the jump to their second. For me, three of them are contenders, though judging on this performance Purnell’s may have just stolen the lead. A superb meal of fun and flawless execution.