Simpsons

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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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.

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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

Simpsons

If I were to base my opinion on Simpsons purely by the service provided in the first half of the meal it would be a shocker. They failed to account for the two vegetarians I had mentioned when booking, messed up the wine order, brought starters to the table with no real idea who they were for and gave a lamb main to a friend that had ordered hake. I was fuming on the inside, glad that we had gone with mates instead of subjecting this to the mother-in-law. From there a nice chap called Nick took over, apologised sincerely in the correct manner and all was right in the world.

Fortunately for them, it was hard to remember the dodgy start once the food started flowing. Every single nugget offered was glorious. From the amouse of parsley pannacotta with crispy onions and bacon foam, every ingredient was pronounced and yet harmonious with its plates partners. A duck leg starter had been given the right amount of time and heat needed to fall apart on the fork, came with perfectly crisp skin and was paired with peach, mouli and sesame. The whole plate having just enough acidity to balance the rich meat.

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 Lamb for main, a meat which so many establishments make a mockery of, was perfect. Here the pink rump and caramalised scrag were served with wild garlic gnocchi, asparagus and grilled onions. It was spring on a plate personified, held tightly with a deep sauce made from the lamb bones that was mopped up with the last of the bread and then with my finger once that had gone.

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Desserts, so often now a further collection of vegetables and greenery, were equally classical and impressive. There was a pre-dessert of cassis granita that sat atop of a vodka jelly with frozen seeds, followed a raspberry mousse and lemon sherbet sorbet elevated by the most buttery of sable biscuits. Take note, fellow foragers, this is how sweet courses should be made.

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 This was absolutely the best meal I have had to date at Simpsons and was, in my humble opinion, every bit as good as some of the two star restaurants I have eaten in over the last year. There was a careful editing process to each dish, with every ingredient fully deserving its place on the plate. Sure, there were service issues that need tweaking, but these were handled with the professionalism expected. Make no doubt about it, this is the best cooking in a city that a has a food reputation growing by the day.

 9/10

 
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