Kristian Curtis has pedigree. The kind of pedigree that makes it worth driving for 50 minutes to eat on a cold Wednesday evening, and the kind of pedigree for two of the six here tonight to do the same but with an £80 round taxi trip. Ten years ago, whilst working at Simpsons, he competed in the Bocuse d’Or – the global cookery competition founded by the late Paul Bocuse – along with then boss Adam Bennett, as the duo which made up the UK team. They placed in fourth; to this day the country’s highest placing, winning the Best Meat Platter and Kristian winning the Best Commi Chef in the world. A couple of years prior he was the British Culinary Federation Young Chef of The Year. He would follow Adam Bennett to The Cross in Kenilworth, becoming Head Chef in the process before going to work for a business in Warwickshire’s Chadwick End, fronting a kitchen team for some exceptionally lucky staff.
We are at the Chadwick End office tonight, and had I not carved out a living eating and drinking I’d be begging for a job here. The offices are great, the bogs better than most starred establishments. They have a special blend of coffee made just for them, and the boss has a favourite bottle of champagne that they are quick to crack open. In the kitchen Kristian and fellow chef Theo have access to the best in equipment and ingredients, turning out breakfasts and lunches with the occasional dinner. I ask if those dinners are for entertaining clients to be told no; the gaffer invites the staff and doesn’t hold back on the hospitality with them. It’s very much what we are getting tonight. Despite eating and drinking for a living I have submitted an application to work there. Chadwick end isn’t that far away.
Champagne to start with a little cornet of chicken liver parfait topped with elderflower gel. Then a potato terrine chip with caviar, sour cream and wild garlic, introduced as a Bocuse d’Or memory when both chefs ate caviar for a late dinner with sour cream Pringles. I could eat sixty of these. Maybe seventy. More champagne. Langoustines from Kylesku in the most northern point in Scotland; fat juicy things, grilled and basted with a reduction of the very bisque that sits to the side in a cup. It comes with the lightest of langoustine scampi and a rhubarb hot sauce. I can’t recall eating better langoustines than this in Birmingham, ever. Textbook bread and butter before an Wagyu/Angus crossbreed tartare comes in an oyster shell, the bottom of which containing a trimmed slither of the bivalve. The balance is impeccable, the basic understanding of keeping things simple and concise. At some point a rosè from Provence was drunk, followed by a Gewurtraminer from Alsace. They have not skimped on the wines.
A hefty scallop is cooked to just about medium and cut into three. One piece is tiled with discs of apple, the other two some token greenery. There are gels of ginger and another of more apple, and a puddle of a lucid bumble bee yellow which has at its core more exotic notes of lemongrass, lime and ginger that reference Thai Green curry. It’s layered for big flavours and though it threatens at times to overpower the scallop, it just about straddles the line. We get a crozes-hermitage to drink whilst a duck crown is presented, travelling in colour from blonde to brunette with the skin scored like tramlines as it nestles on hay. A consume of the bird arrives, deep, smoky, and a little fatty with a hint of what I think is madeira in the background. What follows is a perfect strip of pink breast meat on a scruffy circle of lovage emulsion. On the opposing side is baby turnips – a veg I can no longer eat without thinking it was drafted in as a government approved replacement – with a sauce of duck and truffle filling in the void in-between. The dish is beautiful, the flesh cooked with total precision and the sauce so classically French it walks to work holding a warm baguette.
Two desserts left and I might be a little drunk by now. There is an orange on my plate that when lifted reveals a drift of pine granita, citrus, and I’ll be really honest, I don’t remember, possibly due to the amount of sauternes I’d just drank. I’m not going to be much help with the last dessert either than to say I ate two of them, and would have attempted a third had it been on offer. If memory serves me correct it was a kind of giant Ferrero Rocher with a mousse centre and lots of hazelnut. It was gorgeous, with the banyuls the ideal pairing. There are coffee madeleines which I know are great because I have them the following morning. The drive back to Birmingham is a blur from the passenger seat.
The plans for The Table (as the project is now known) is mysterious other than a website that offers little at present. One would guess that the invite to these evenings would mean that Kris is once again ready to cook for the public, either as a supper club or restaurant, though when and where are anyone’s guess. At times the cooking on display was as good as any of the starred restaurants in the city, and if that’s not reason enough to follow where this journey takes him and the team, I have no idea what is. The chef is a serious talent.
The Meat and One Podcast is coming!