pate en croute

Calum Franklin vs Brad Carter, Carters of Moseley

Brad Carter has a cookbook coming out in a couple of weeks. I say cookbook loosely; the recipes are of the staff meals they cook in between shifts, intermittently placed between pages of Brad’s friends, his inspirations, and his producers. I’ve had a quick look and it really is unlike any cookbook I’ve seen before; it’s going to look great on my coffee table. The pages that matter to me are around halfway through, jet black and with ‘Birmingham’ emblazed across the widest points. It is everything you need to know about Brad in a one-word synopsis.

Part of that love for Birmingham extends to the occasional Sunday evening collaborations with friends of his. There have been recent voyages into Chinese and Thai cuisine which I cant tell you about because I never went, and this one with Calum Franklin which I was given no choice about. Mr Franklin of Holborn Dining Room is well known for his pastry skills, a food type that is effectively heroin to my Northern girlfriend. I’m not saying that she was determined to go, but I was sent a calender event for when booking opened, and we had two alarms, three phones and a laptop ready. She may have lost her shit a bit when it wouldnt let us on to the booking screen, and she was elated when we secured a table. Want Claire anywhere? Promise her things that remind her of home like pie, rain, and the decline of the coal industry. Gin also works, but gravy works better.

What follows is three hours of food that I’m still trying to walk off two weeks later and Claire would describe as the most enjoyable night she’s had in a Birmingham restaurant. The first course is listed as a tart, but is really a vol-au-vent of puff pastry filled with the components of lobster thermidore. The luxurious touches come in the form of a breaded claw, rising proudly from the pastry, and a little Exmoor caviar for salinity. It is cheesy, yet with a whack of the ocean. If seventies dinner parties tasted this good I’d gladly wear flares and grow my pubes to travel back in time.

The showpiece was up next, paraded by Brad throughout the dining room like he was in a beauty pageant for bearded men in shorts. A patè en croute bearing the words ‘Carters vs HDR’ the along the length, which when sliced contained a centrepiece of the acid house smiley face – a tattoo that Carter has on the inside of his bicep. To me, this was the strongest course; the filling of rabbit, pork, and pistachio distinct, lightened by the turmeric coloured chicken mousseline that makes up the face. The pastry is rich, though not as rich as the decadent rabbit jelly that has been fed into it all day. On the side are fermented mushrooms cooked in butter, and mustard seeds sweetened with local honey. The acidity is gentle, leaving the pastry as the king. It is the complete dish. Last year we tried a world championship winning patè en croute at Daniel et Denise in Lyon: this was better.

And without wishing to sound like a press release, the fun didnt stop there. A scotch egg was executed perfectly, the filling of white pudding and pork highly seasoned, the bright yolk oozy and luscious. What we really love is the buttermilk and wild garlic sauce that is sharp and has the astrigency of white garlic thanks to last years pickled garlic buds. A pithivier of mutton finishes off the savoury courses, with the suprise of a top-half of layered spuds on entry. It is, as the table next to us point out, essentially a cottage pie encased in puff pastry, and if the sound of that doesn’t turn you please take those eyes of yours elsewhere because we don’t want you here. The asparagus spears cooked in lamb fat are just plain naughty, too. Shout out to my girlfriend who shows the dining room just how Northern she is by filling one half of the pastry shell with gravy. Her mother would be so proud.

Dessert is a Paris Brest – 2019’s most on trend pastry – filled with raspberry creme pattiserie lightly scented with rose. It would have been easy to kill this with floral notes, but they hold on to the essence of those lovely raspberries and choux pastry. I have no idea how I fit it in, but I do. It’s been a long night.

The menu ticks in at £75 a head and we add a considerable amount more tucking into far much pink wine and then red wine and then more pink wine and a little more red wine. It’s not a cheap Sunday evening, nor should it be. Birmingham needs nights like this; chefs of Calum Franklins ability showing us something entirely unique – we’re booking in to Holborn Dining Room to try more of his work as a result, so it’s worked from that perspective. It was a fantastic night, one that makes me smile thinking about it even now. Brad Carter lives and breathes this city. We should all be very thankful for that.

A2B love Birmingham almost as much as Brad and ferried my fat arse around as ever.

Daniel et Denise, Lyon

Much like pintxos is the Basque equivalent of tapas, the bouchon is the bistro which belongs to Lyon. Sure there is an emphasis on offal and meat in general, and the twenty or so officially listed as bouchons mark out their territory with red and white chequered tablecloths, but there happens to be no rules, no criteria to call your own restaurant one. We knew we wanted a bouchon experience, one that encapsulated it to full effect, and I turned to many articles and Twitter for help. One place stood out; Daniel et Denise, the micro-chain of bouchons by Joseph Viola. Viola has pedigree far beyond home style cooking; in 2004 he won the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France – an award for Frances best craftsmen – and followed this up in 2009 by becoming World Champion at pastry.

We have that winning pastry dish as a starter, but not before we dredge shards of toasted bread through a soft cheese dip, and munch on some excellent bread with cornichons and tiny pickled onions. And a quick word on the wine; why aren’t there more places in the world like here? We take two carafes, served chilled in branded bottles and equivalent to two-thirds of a full bottle. One, a beaujolais from Brouilly, the other a Provencal rose. Both are ten euros each, a steal for the quality.

Now, back to that pastry, which if you have a Greggs steak bake as your standard bearer is going to be a shock to the system. A 2cm slice of heaven, the pastry being the structure on the plate that dissolves in the mouth. No soggy arse. The filling is an unashamedly decadent blend of foie gras and sweetbreads, protected by a dark jelly only achieved by cooking out the collagen in bones. It is the perfect slab of pate en croute that shows up many others over a long five days, needing only a quenelle of quince in a jam-like state and a well dressed salad to stop it careering over the edge. The other starter is eggs meurette, a classic in French country cooking. Two eggs are poached in red wine before the cooking liquor is reduced down with onions, button mushrooms, and bacon lardons. The eggs are then reintroduced with croutons and a parsley garnish. The mixture of runny yolk and slightly aromatic reduced wine is gloriously rich, the kind of dish that I could eat repeatedly if it were always this good.

I was only ever going to have the Bressé chicken for main, given that you hardly see them in the UK and when you do, it is at a price I simply can’t afford. The chicken is the only one to be protected by AOC, a control on appellations, with Bressé being one of only two meats to be awarded it. Having never eaten it before I was curious to see if it is worthy of the money. Short answer: massively. It tastes like the chicken that your nan claimed she used to eat, even though you know she is lying through those false teeth of hers. The breast meat flavour punches through the creamy mushroom sauce and morels, whilst the leg meat is dark and almost gamey. A joy, and one I felt lucky to eat. Across from me is a rolled veal shoulder, in a sauce of thickened cooking liquor and mushrooms. The knife has no part to play in this scene, the meat folding away like creased paper sheets. With these we get the chips of all chips. Thin, circular discs fried thrice in goose fat. I should also mention the sides of carrots, and macaroni gratin, but those chips! We genuinely fight over them. I win of course, because I am physically stronger.

Dessert course features both the meal highlight and lowlight. A clafoutis tart of sorts is nice enough, but, in a meal that stands out because of quality produce and care, the cherries don’t really taste of anything. But then there is the rhum baba, a favourite dessert of mine. The bastard hybrid of cake and bread is soaked in am aromatic syrup, split down the centre and drenched in rum. When done right, it is one of life’s great things. This is the best one I’ve tried; light and full of flavour. It is better than the revered Ducasse version.

So good was the meal here that we considered coming back the following day, before deciding we should probably try and see what the rest of Lyon was like. What we did agree on was that this is the kind of bistro cooking that totally evades us in the UK for some reason. That needs to change. Daniel et Denise is an oddity; a truly memorable restaurant experience that doesn’t break the bank. Our dinner, with three courses and a carafe of wine each, tips in at £115.00, though with a 33 euro set menu on offer you could easily shave a third from that. We loved it, because it’s honest and the team are passionate and friendly. I gather that Joseph Viola once came to Birmingham to cook in a park at a food festival. I’d give my right arm to have his little group open up in my city on a more permanent basis.

9/10