Selfridges

Fumo, Selfridges, Birmingham

The fit-out for Fumo at Selfridges is said to be one million sterling. A crazy amount of money for any restaurant, but a particularly obscene sum given (and yes, the clue is in the name) that it is within the confines of a shop. When I initially heard the plans, I thought the owner had lost his marbles. And now that I’ve sat inside the fourth floor restaurant, it is clear that someone else has found them and sold them back to him at a massive profit. It is a mass of polished calacatta, the kind that I sell for a day job and wonder who is buying it at the sort of money it commands. Answer: Here. It smells of money. Of high heels with coloured soles, of oversized handbags with padlocks, and of perfume made from the tears of Romany gypsies. I may have made the last bit up. Even the tables are thick marble, ours a large disc in the centre of the room big enough for six big gents and six bigger egos.

In the ninety or so minutes that we take to have lunch the queue outside would grow substantially. It is clearly working. The format is small plates, intended for those who can share. I can’t. The cuisine is Italian in the friendliest of senses – all prime cuts and smiles and things on toasted bread. There is no offal to be found here. I do wish I could find working organs in an Italian restaurant in Birmingham. Even if I do have to walk through Juicy Couture to get to them.

I get over myself with a bulb of burrata that has been marinated from the inside-out with black truffle, in the same way I like to marinate myself inside-out with red wine. Its more odour than flavour, just like the girl outside the doors waving cardboard strips of Channel no.5, though it works well with folds of Parma ham with glistening fat. I have pillowy gnocchi in a Grana Padana sauce, served in a basket made from the same cheese. I’ve had it before at other restaurants in the same group. It’s kitsch, but it is also tasting better than it ever has before. The basket has textural purpose as opposed to purely presentation.

Pork belly is substantial value for £9, roasted until the fat and meat knits together and the skin crisps up. On the side is an out of place wedge of charred cabbage from a chef who has been watching too much Masterchef, and a puddle of gravy that has a hit of balsamic and happiness. Next time I’ll know what to expect and order this alongside the mash potato with truffle. There is a polite ragu with clusters of beef mince that clings on to lengthy strips of pasta like a failed relationship. The last dish to arrive (this is small plates – they come when they are ready) are delicately fried prawns. The heads come away from the torso with the lightest of tugs and we savour both; dunking the body meat into a mayo sharpened with lemon and sucking in those lovely head juices. Not advertised are the courgette fries which come with it. These are superb, equally light and moreish.

They don’t have the dessert I want which we take as a signal to finish up and head off. Dinner with wine works out to be £40 per head, which seems very fair given the opulent surroundings and quality of food. I honestly wasn’t expecting much at Fumo, it’s in a shop and the menu seemed a little identikit, but I’m happy to stand corrected when I’m wrong. They cook with skill and there wasn’t a dud dish to be found. I’ll gladly brave the shopping crowds to eat here again. I liked it, Fumo. I liked it a lot.

8/10

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Fumo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tonkotsu, Birmingham

Tonkotsu comes to this city on the back of high praise, beloved of paid food critics and those pesky bloggers alike, throughout the six locations across London.  The groups first steps outside the capital is a curious one; being the food hall of Selfridges, where shoppers presumably show what taste they lack by going between Yo Sushi and Krispy Kreme.  We go three days into the launch and already the fifteen or so counter chairs are almost full.  Either Birmingham has a very knowing food crowd or I have underestimated just how hungry shopping for a Michael Kors handbag makes you.

 

The name Tonkotsu apparently translates as “pork bone”, which makes up a large portion of the menu – a long simmered stock of piggy bits that would normally be discarded as waste.  The result of this process is the backbone for this type of ramen; a stock soup with noodles and a few added bits and bobs that the Japanese have been chowing and slurping on for decades.  Ramen verdict later, we start with pork gyoza and chicken kara-age.  The gyoza’s are a disappointment, watery and flat on seasoning, only springing to life when dredged through the soy sauce.  Much better are the kara-age, crisp bits of deep fried chicken thighs, with a batter that snaps like fortune cookies when tore apart by hand.  They do a burger here with this chicken which on this form will be the sole reason for my return.

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The Tonkotsu arrives in branded bowls.  The signature bowl is a murky off-white colour of pork stock, creamy in texture with thin bouncy noodles that they are rightly proud to say they make in-house.  There are thin slices of pork belly, half a boiled egg that has discoloured in the stock, spring onions and bean sprouts.  The first slurp is comforting, thereafter it is too salty.  I persist in the name of gluttony and awake the following day so dehydrated I feel hungover, despite sticking only to the yuzu lemonade that evening.  Another bowl with a pork and chicken broth is cleaner in taste and vibrant with a homemade chilli oil that first smacks the mouth and then the lips.  The chicken portion is meagre and we find it difficult to get excited about.  It reminds me of a similar dish at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York which punched well above its weight.  This version was only just treading water.

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We play it safe and go for dessert elsewhere, not before being passed an incorrect bill which requires amending.  I welcome London’s finest coming to our city, though it needs to be done with the same quality.  No doubt others will love it, but crispy chicken aside, Tonkotsu left me underwhelmed.

5/10