It’s Nick’s birthday meal. There are four of us boarding the train from Birmingham to Lichfield City shortly after 10am. Three are fresh – having had this in our diary for weeks – one is not, with just three hours sleep. For once that one is not me. We fill a 35-minute train journey with champagne out of paper cups, and pre-batched negroni out of the same paper cups now tainted with biscuity aroma. How much can four idiots drink in thirty-five minutes, you wonder? Answer, a lot. So much so that we consider opening the journey back bottle now. Yes, Omar has packed a journey back bottle. It’s a burgundy right up Nicks alley. He even remembered to bring the corkscrew. 

Lichfield is dusted in snow when we step off the train, causing one of the group to make a joke about the weather up north. Oh how we laugh. It transpires that most pubs aren’t open before midday here, though we find one which is already full and it’s barely twelve quid for four double g&t’s. One of the group makes a joke about the price of alcohol up north. Oh how some of us laugh. We play pool. We drink another round. We leave for Upstairs by Tom Shepherd, our lunch destination for the day and the reason for us all taking annual leave. Gordon has left his phone and wallet on the pool table and someone who had been drinking in the pub is running towards us clasping it. In Birmingham they would have been running the other way. I like Lichfield. 
Upstairs by Tom Shepherd is unsurprisingly upstairs in a building and even more unsurprisingly a restaurant by Tom Shepherd. I kind of know Tom. He’s a good guy. A good tall, imposing guy with a strong jawline and the kind of rugged looks that make him an outside bet for the next Bond. His CV speaks for itself: The Laytmer when it was under Michael Wignall, Sat Bains, then Head Chef at Adam’s, which is where I first met him. His at-home boxes with Sauce Supper Club were some of the best we ate over lockdown and now here, in a handsome space above his father’s jewellery shop, he has his own restaurant. He has four glasses of local fizz ready for us and looks me dead in the eye. “Have you really been drinking since 10am this morning?”. He knows the answer before I speak. 
In a link to the location on Bore Street, we start with various bits of in-house cured boar which are what the term ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ was invented for, though you’ll never hear me say that. There is whipped and smoked cod’s roe bound in a one-bite shell with trout dressed in ponzu, followed by a red cabbage velouté the colour of your gran’s curtains, with mustard cream and drops of the greenest olive oil. We finish off the pre-menu dishes with just warm bread and a yeasty, marmite-like butter. Omar shouts “umami!”, which in hindsight would have been funnier had he shouted “Omarmi!”. Everything pops with flavour like fireworks in the illegal setting of your mouth. Tom clearly means business with his new restuarant. 
The combination of scallop, apple, and celeriac isn’t new, yet here it feels contemporary given the dashi and the salsa verde inclusions that add a brightness to it all. The scallop is a beast, hand dived and delivered that morning by a monger who has his own key to the building. Cooked to a milky sheen in the middle, it’s one star cooking all day long. A coddled Burford Brown is next which suffers for being my least favourite way to cook my favourite egg. It’s cloaked under a sheet of celeriac with goats curd and a truffle dressing, the outside tiled with shards of crispy bread and more of that cured boar. It’s rich and complex. What I don’t like is that slightly snotty white that you get from an egg that is technically cooked even if it looks otherwise. No qualms at all from the cod course. Perfect fish, plump mussels, a smoked potato puree and a champagne sauce Grenobloise. One of the group says it echoes the flavours of the most indulgent fish pie to which we all nod enthusiastically.
The guinea fowl is a genuine moment of the year. Buttery breast, slightly gamey in flavour, with a kind of jumble of hazelnuts, shitake mushrooms, and bird, lifted by glossy sauce of sherry and carcass. It succeeds in shutting the four of us up – much to the delight of the rest of the dining room. Simply outstanding. Memorable. Sobering, even. Nick thinks the pairing of this and the Nuits-St-George is the best mouthful he’s had in years. Gordon comments that the wine pairing in general is up there with the best he’s ever had, which is funny to the rest of us given that we’re not on a pairing. Venison arrives, crimson prime cut, sausage on a posh cocktail stick. Salsify that’s been jerked, pickled blackberries and one of those sauces which ideally calls for bread but the finger suffices in the heat of the moment. None of us take a picture. We just sit and eat. This man can really cook.
A pre dessert of Thai green curry is unmistakable in its intention; lemon grass, lime, galangal and chilli foam, with a few cubes of mango at the base for sweetness. It is successful in transitioning from savoury to sweet, and for providing a real talking point. Final course is an eclair, with pear, sherry and salted caramel sauce. Exquisite pastry work on the choux bun. Would love to tell you more but by now we’re necking dessert wine like its water. I think there were petit fours but don’t quote me on it. 

At £77 for the tasting menu, Upstairs by Tom Shepherd is a steal. Our bill, with three, maybe four good bottles of wine is about £150 a head, which I would personally consider value given the quality of produce and the cooking. In truth I tried to book when they first opened, but was politely asked to give the kitchen a couple of months to settle before steam-rolling in, loud mouthed and full of bravado. They needn’t have worried; they’ve hit the ground running and are cooking at one star level immediately. This is food worth boarding the train to Lichfield for. May I suggest that you do so with champagne in a paper cup.