Solihull town centre. I won’t tarnish it’s name, but it needs Toffs. Like really needs Toffs. Prior to Rob Palmer opening if you wanted a great meal, you’d hop down Hampton Lane to his old place of work. Solihull has good curries and mixed grills, they have the kind of stuff in shopping centres that you deserve if you choose to eat in shopping centres, and they have good street food. But real meals worthy of special occasions has eluded them for some time. An old boss of mine, a degenerate excuse of a millionaire whose hobbies ranged from squash to racism, once took his wife to a buffet for Valentine’s day and then afterwards went to Popworld. It’s that kind of place. 
You can finally breathe easy for there is now an option and it’s a bloody good one at that. Toffs has arrived in Mell Square, knocking out the same assured cooking that Rob won a star with at Peels, at a price that is either an affordable treat or a regular haunt, depending on where you sit on the local affluency line. Lunch starts at £55, dinner £75 raising to just over a ton all in. It’s excellent value. The room, metallic and sleek, giving the impression of a bigger space than the 26 covers, with a counter that runs along the length of the kitchen. This is where the action is; where the plates are prettied and the chefs are on hand to explain them, gently nudged over the pass rather delivered to the table. It’s where Gordon and I are sat along with the good and the great of Birmingham: the wine supplier and the editor who has chosen to choose Solihull for an evening over Birmingham. 
The food is familiar, but that is fine with me. I have always been a fan of Rob’s ability to not overcomplicate things whilst punching through the big flavours with complete clarity. Nibbles of crisped up cod skin with cod’s roe mousse and beetroot join linseed crackers dotted with Old Winchester cheese that has been transformed into a pokey spread and topped with onion powder and pickled onion. Had both before and will never tire of eating either. Then the bread. I’ve always loved his bread. Sourdough just how it should be; chewy burnished crust, light, soured crumb, with butter that urges you to ignore the arteries and apply one inch thick. The first course of coins of baked celeriac with chicken butter sauce and chicken skin is understated, humble even. It lends on the light touch of thyme for the subtle nuance you’d expect from such a chef. Then potato with XO sauce, loud and heady. The humble spud with its spikey shrimp sauce. The wheel hasn’t been reinvented but it has been fitted with a fresh tyre. 
Dish of the night is the monkfish. A fish so often under or overcooked, he has nailed it on the barbecue of all places. Gently lounging on some carbs, its simplicity is its beauty, casually dressed in a smoked butter sauce made from the bones and finished with samphire. The biggest compliment I can pay is that the sauce reminds of one that Clare Smyth cooked at Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road; the depth only achieved from browning bones directly over heat, with the levels upon levels of flavour only achieved with both time and patience. I use the last of the bread to chase the last of the sauce around the plate like Benny Hill in a park. Duck follows in two parts; first a doughnut with ragu, then as a breast cooked on the crown with carrots cooked in duck fat, a textbook puree of the same veg, and a salsa verde of sorts made from the tops. It’s sweet, but the pokey greenery of the salsa verde just about keeps it in check. What’s not in question is the cookery of the duck, which is just about perfect. 
We finish with Rob’s familiar pairing of chocolate, vanilla, and sherry which I once drunkenly begged him never to stop doing, but can subsequently now see has been moved on in favour of more seasonal offerings. And that pretty much sums Rob up as a chef and Toffs as a restaurant; a month after I ate here and the menu is barely recognisable. He is a chef driven by the season and ambition, one who I can honestly say I never really fancied his menus until I started eating them, understanding them, and ultimately loving them. The team here was superb. The chefs and front of house full of charm and warmth, with Rob’s partner working on the night with the kind of giddiness that this is really happening to them. Their own restaurant and his own dishes. And it’s excellent. The restaurant that Solihull town centre desperately needs. I’ll be making the trips to see how he progresses, my guess is that a certain guide will be doing exactly the same.