I’m going to start this piece on Verbena by saying that my girlfriend Claire wanted me to score this a nine, and is planning on taking her friend Louise there, which is the biggest indicator that she thinks it’s ace. In fact she’s already planning a trip to Stirchley the next time Louise boards the train from York, with brunch at Caneat, cocktails at Couch, and dinner at Verbena, so if you want to know where a girl with impeccable taste takes a girl with equally (and annoyingly) impeccable taste, stop reading this right now and go book a table at Verbena. Goodnight and thank you for the click on this page.
Except I’m going to disagree, albeit very slightly. I really enjoyed the meal, though there’s a couple too many errors for me to get to a nine. From the off the treacle bread is excellent, possibly some of the nicer bread to eat in Birmingham, but I don’t think the sweet dough needs the sweet bee pollen on the butter, however pretty my other half thinks it is.
The offering is concise; three courses, each with three choices, for thirty pounds. Bread and petit fours thrown in. Similar amount of options for wine. A starter of lemon ricotta with tempura courgette is fresh and with lots of acidity running through it thanks to ribbons of lightly pickled courgette, and the tempura gently cracks in the right places, though the inside has gone a little soggy. The other starter has mozzarella with a gentle funk of ageing, with tomatoes and basil oil. It’s simple and delicious, though in need of a pinch of salt. Neither is perfect, but at this price it doesn’t need to be.
Mains up the ante. My gnocchi might have a touch too much flour in the mix, but the squash sauce is wonderful stuff; properly seasoned and with a back note of fennel seeds. And no qualms at all with the lamb rump; accurately medium, fat rendered, with a fried potato terrine. That terrine is the highlight of the meal, maybe the week, possibly the month. Decadently ovine, burnished layered spuds heavily dusted in sea salt, it could stand alone as a starter, yet here with the lamb and the sauce lightly spiked with tarragon it’s properly glorious.
They have a good pastry section here. An ice cream sandwich of sorts sees strawberry ice cream wedged between a kind of wholegrain shortbread, with a salsa of the same fruit on the side. Better was a chocolate custard tart, as silky and short as Lionel Messi, with a whipped caramel cream to boot. Was it a touch sweet? Yes. Do I care? Not one bit. Petit fours from Bloom disappear before the bill for £87 (we paid £20 deposit prior) is paid. Finish the drinks. Done.
Now I’m going to exercise caution in my excitement because we’ve been here before. Occasionally a restaurant comes along that is perfect for the neighbourhood it sits in, offering food at the right value to entice customers in for casual dinners. Sometimes they are very good, though equally they occasionally get ahead of themselves – a little restaurant in Moseley springs to mind – and find themselves losing custom because they incorrectly think they’re good enough for a star and start charging for tasting menus only at the weekend. I really hope Verbena doesn’t do that. It’s perfect for Stirchley and is exactly what Birmingham needs right now. In fact I’d personally like to see them charge for the breads and the petit fours to hit the £28 criteria required for a Bib Gourmand, as I genuinely think it’s good enough to be Birmingham’s first. In writing this last paragraph I’ve realised Claire is right. The pinch of salt or sugar here and there really don’t matter. Verbena is rather wonderful. The people of Stirchley have it so good right now.