Pure Bar

Leo’s Modern Greek Food Night, Pure Bar, Birmingham

If you’ve been watching Masterchef the Professionals you’ll probably recognise Leo Kattou of Simpsons restaurant. The softly spoken and impeccably mannered Greek-Cypriot from Coventry has a distinctive look that would be described as a Bear in some circles. A man bun, big beard and bigger smile about sums up that large, rotund head of his. Now before I proceed and the observant of my Twitter feed protest, I will disclose that I know Leo; I have feed him my beef ragu at 4am and he has beaten me at pool, so I was personally super chuffed to watch him reach the Semi-finals of Masterchef. He’s one of the good guys of the local scene and deserves all the success it brings.

Part of that increased public exposure is tonight’s sell-out pop-up for which we’ve shelled out £55 each for in advance for five courses with matching beers. The first course is familiar to anyone who has dined at Simpsons. Tapioca crackers dyed with squid ink and a splodge of the creamiest of Taramasalata to dredge through. Bread and butter is served at the same time. The crust is taut, the crumb loose. It’s a simple, yet effective start to the meal.

This wouldn’t be a homage to Greek food without halloumi. We have a Jenga stack of them fried to a Midas crisp, with a crown of olive tapenade, smoked aubergine purée and the nights only mis-step, a fat slice of tomato that tastes of very little. The rest is a composed collection of stuff that transports us from a rainy evening in Birmingham to far sunnier climes.

The fish course is a nod to his parents owning a chippy in Coventry of their own. It’s simple enough; panfried cod with tartar sauce and ‘chips’. The chips are really puffed potato pieces seasoned with salt and vinegar powder, the tartar closer to a bearnaise with chopped caper and fresh peas running through it. You could argue whether or not the peas needed to be there, which we did and I lost, but it’s a clever bit of cooking. Obvious enough to be a direct reference point, yet light enough to sit within a five course meal.

I know all is going to be well with the lamb kleftico main the second I slide the bone clean out of the shank. Ooh, Matron. The meat breaks down at the nudge of a fork, it’s inherent fatty qualities tempered by some smartly dressed bulgar wheat and kale. An anchovy emulsion seasons it all and is textbook in delivery. It’s hard to believe that this has come from the same man who messed up a lovage emulsion so badly on national telly. But he did, and it makes great viewing on iPlayer if you need a laugh.

Dessert is, to quote a food critic often found on Masterchef, a bunch of creamy things with some crispy things on top. But what creamy and crispy things they are. Layers of aerated honey and yogurt hide a sticky reduction of cherry juice, whilst shards of crisp filo stick out like Leo on a police line-up. This man understands that if the menu says cherry then we want physical cherries and they are here, boozily macerated in Kirsch and obscured under those creamy bits. A word now on the beer pairings from the manager Matt. Properly clever and well considered, these varied from using the less-than-obvious citrus back notes of an unfiltered lager, to the cherry beer that went with this course. Truly excellent work from top to bottom.

Now back to Leo. A few things were very obvious from the dinner. Firstly, his tenure at Simpsons has grounded him within their principles – respect for ingredients was obvious, in most cases simplicity was key. Somewhat more importantly for Leo it showed his true potential; a chef capable of taking the classic technique associated with the French and apply it to a more rustic Greek cuisine. He has shown a wit and playfulness, delivering plate after plate of well conceived and precisely cooked plates of food. He’s young and hungry. His role of senior sous at Simpsons is the perfect job for him at present, but every one of the packed-out dining room earmarked Leo Kattou as a star of the future.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

Pure Bar and Kitchen, Birmingham

Unlike most of my culinary ramblings, the post that you are currently reading is not based on my first reaction. There is no need for me to type whimsy about the décor into the notes of my iPhone for later reference, nor did I need to study the menu on-line prior to eating. I knew exactly what I was getting before I sat down in the sparse landscape of bare concrete and metal that is Pure Bar and Kitchen, because I have been eating there well before this blog reared its ugly head. I should have wrote about its virtues long ago had I not been drawn into the blackboard listing endless beers time and time again. It’s the place I always start with the best intentions and leave disappointing myself.

I go frequently because the food seldom disappoints. The menu has clarity, though it should having been designed by the man behind local Michelin triumphs Simpsons and The Cross. There are nods to ales on taps and suggestions for what beers to drink your food with that all tie in nicely with its links to Purity. A small plate of barbecued chicken sees cuts from the breast, leg, and wing cooked accurately. The bird is of obvious quality, the skin crisp and with a back note of Dunkel lager that sits well without overpowering. Soured cream provides the little amount of acidity needed to level it all out.

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I always turn to the scotch egg here. The runny yoke glistening against the still warm layer of minced pig never fails to disappoint. Here was the worst example I have had at Pure Bar, with the yolk all but missing from one half, which still makes it the best scotch egg in the city. What sets it apart from its competition is the beer ketchup, full of umami savour, which should be bottled and sold on every street corner. A thick slice of toasted sourdough with haricot beans steeped in a spiced tomato with pancetta was good, though all it succeeded in doing was make me remember how great the version at Lewis’s was.

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Scotch eggs, beans on toast and bbq chicken.  The more deft of you more may have noticed that the small plates all reference classic pub grub, a theme that continues into the mains.  Chicken Kiev stayed true to its roots with a breast that oozed a garlic heavy sauce when carved.  Its richness countered by a well dressed salad.  Best was the fish, chips and mushy peas.  The firm Fish of the Day (Coley, I would guess) flaking apart at the suggestion of a prod, with good crisp batter.  The peas had enough texture to create interest, whilst the tartar was piquant and sharp.

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We have no room for dessert, though I can tell you from previous boozy excursions that they never fail to deliver on a sweet hit of sugar.  If ever there was a bar and kitchen that was ready to expand its Pure Bar; the food and drink set-up makes All Bar One look like a Weatherspoon.  The food is well judged and deserves a wider audience.  In a market littered with sub-standard chains, it is a refreshing change to see thought gone into every process.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Pure Bar finds its way to other major cities, which, quite frankly, would be a good thing for everyone.

8/10 

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