Purnell’s – Fine Dining – Birmingham
A couple of weeks ago I visited another Michelin starred restaurant, Simpsons, and had a very nice, if unremarkable, meal. Arguably Birmingham’s biggest food personality of recent years is Glynn Purnell, a common fixture on the many TV cooking programmes we have. He has 2 restaurants in the city, a bistrot and fine dining restaurant that commands 1 star.
On a quiet street amongst offices you stumble across his flagship venue, entering to a large area where you can have a pre-meal drink. I really liked the decor here; some particularly fashionable industrial stylings are fused with a traditional drawing effect. Think leather and metal. Of an evening the menu choice is between 6 or 9 courses, a smaller set option is available at lunchtimes. There are some fiddly potential substitutions that you can make, dishes from the chef’s successful journey on the Great British Menu. We chose 9 courses with one exchange of dishes.
The dining room is a touch more stereotypical fine dining than the drinks area, though still contemporary, you won’t find any white tablecloths here. There is also a window into the busy kitchen where we had sight of the man himself at the pass, always good to see. Canapés and bread (plenty of it ) were enjoyable, though I did wonder if we could have had them with our pre-dinner drinks. The first ‘proper’ course came in a small package of a hollowed out egg nestled amongst some hay. The yolk remained from the egg; beautifully rich combined with cauliflower cream and black pudding for a few earthy, comforting mouthfuls. Chicken liver parfait had cleverly been constructed to look like a little tree, red wine braised salsify acting as the truck. The parfait was deep in flavour and luxuriously smooth, a classic done well.
“Mussel Chowder” appeared in the menu in those speech marks which had already get us talking as to what their take on it would be. As you might imagine it wasn’t quite a steaming bowl of thick soup but a deconstructed plate of food. A few plump mussels sat on top of colourful purple potatoes, a glug of smoked eel veloute completed the chowder effect. I can’t fail to be a fan of a good mussel but this was a clever combination that you appreciate as much as you enjoy the flavours of. By contrast sashimi of tuna kept things supremely simple. The fresh fish was wrapped around samphire and sea purslane, the greenery added a little texture but didn’t bring too much to the subtle flavour of the fish.
Here we deviated from the evening’s menu to have one of the chef’s signature dishes, monkfish masala. The pearly white fish was expertly cooked, the outside coloured with the yellowy brown of spice. The marinade, fragrant rather than hot, seemed to pervade every sinew of the fish. Skilful stuff. The meaty portion of the evening provided venison, a rich red wine sauce and pomme dauphine. Despite no veg in sight the sauce made the dish lively and three dimensional, having said that the dish still could have benefited from an added freshness.
The main dessert, similarly to the monkfish, had roots in Glynn’s successful Great British Menu campaign. A egg of custard was served alongside a little rhubarb trifle and was one of my favourite desserts in recent memory. Was there more to it than met the eye? Actually, no simply the best custard I think I have ever had, the luxurious texture and taste surpassing any custard I have had previously. The final course started with some theatre, a minty dry ice infusion got the senses going before a little chocolate bowl turned up. That tried and tested combination made for a good dish here, two mousses with chunks of chocolate throughout. Enjoyable, but not at the level of the other sweet course.
My barometer of a successful Michelin starred meal tends to be whether you eat something memorable. At Purnell’s the custard course, and to a lesser extent the monkfish, certainly delivered on that. The wider menu was on solid ground too and at £88 it is clearly a luxury but you can appreciate the work and skill the chef has employed in each course. I felt it was a more enjoyable experience overall than the local rival Simpsons, those excellent aforementioned dishes elevating it. Service was good though a little less polished and informal than you might expect at this level, but certainly nothing to complain about. There is still a little gap between Purnell’s and the likes of the 2 Michelin starred restaurants Sat Bains or Nathan Outlaw but it is near the top of the UK’s 1 stars.
Restaurant website: http://www.purnellsrestaurant.com/michelin-star-birmingham