|Bread from French wheat, whipped butter & salt|
I consider Birmingham to be one of my homes, and so I've always been annoyed at not having visited any of its Michelin starred restaurants. I've complained about this before, but as luck would have it I was in town at a good time and got my brother and myself a table at Purnell's for lunch. First impressions during the booking process weren't great, as the website threatened me with a £45 cover charge per person for no-shows and demanded my card details. For lunch. I find these policies faintly ridiculous for reasons I won't get into here, but I wasn't worried that I'd miss lunch so I proceeded to book anyway.
|Photos of Birmingham abound on|
Upon arriving, we were taken through the deserted front bar area of the restaurant to a table in an equally empty interior. It made the original threat of the £45 cover seem even more ridiculous. The decor was modern and tacky, though neutral enough to be ignored. The odd touch of humour (think a naked tree-lady and a reference to Mordor on a kitchen door) made things a little better. We were brought menus and offered water, before the waiter talked us through the non-alcoholic drinks. Purnell's only offers a selection of tasting menus, and we opted for the short three course autumn lunch menu. Our waiter asked us for dietary requirements, and on a positive note I'd like to say he was very proactive in accommodating our request for no pork based ingredients.
|Frittered potatoes covered in herbs and flakes of something with|
On the left, the inside of our fritters - mashed potato.
On the right, our dips.
As we'd gone for the shorter menu I wasn't expecting any extra touches, so I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter not only brought over bread but also followed it with the little amuse bouche above. The bread itself was great - extremely soft and incredibly light, but I am still confused as to why it needed to be served with both salt and salted butter. Our amuse consisted of seeded flakes of something and mashed potato frittered with herbs. The flakes I did not enjoy (I'm not a bird) though the potato was okay. However, the serving was not something I would have considered an amuse bouche growing up. Nowadays it seems like chefs see them as an opportunity to serve more food rather than a chance to make the meal more interesting.
|Parsley hollandaise with clams, capers and pickled apple,|
all topped with crispy cod skin
Thankfully, the experience picked right up as our first course of clams arrived. The dish was extremely fishy, especially with the addition of cod skin, but the parsley hollandaise and odd bit of pickled apple balanced this out quite well. There was silence at the table for the first few seconds as both of us just ate before reconvening for feedback. The fresh parsley in the dish I did not fully appreciate, but that is a personal bias against the herb more than anything. The hollandaise itself was nothing like the rich, thick sauce I've come to expect from eggs at breakfast here in England, and the dish was all the better for this.
|Ox cheek with persillade, celeriac puree, salsify and girolles|
The positivity continued with our mains, where both of my brother and I had opted for the ox cheek. Our waitress set our dishes down on the table, and proceeded to drench one after the other with gravy. We were not asked for any input here. The meat was perfectly cooked - moist and falling apart on our forks as you would hope for from cheek. The persillade and girolles were appreciated, but personally I felt that the celeriac puree was what made the dish great. It was a pity there was so little of it, as no matter how well cooked your meat is, eating it bland without any puree as we had to for our last few mouthfuls wasn't much fun. I've seen this before with other tasting menus, where sauces and dips don't seem to balanced exactly right with the main component of the dish.
|Toffee cremeux tart with poached pear and almond ice cream|
We then settled down to a surprisingly long wait for dessert. Crumbs were cleared away and rings of moisture were wiped down for the umpteenth time, but the wait was worth it. The toffee cremeux tart was the highlight of the meal as far as I'm concerned. The light toffee cream was heavenly, and was matched by correctly proportioned amounts of poached pear and ice cream. I've enjoyed my desserts at all the starred restaurants I've been to, but this has been the best so far - even better than the two starred ABaC.
|Plate of British cheeses|
My brother's cheese course arrived alongside my tart, and I have to say the £4 supplement for the tiny course was robbery. I'm glad that at least my brother enjoyed it. All four cheeses served were British, including cheddar, brie and something blue. Cheese is my brother's forte rather than mine (I forget names and what I like), but I can report back that the blue cheese was less strong than what we're used to from France.
Service was polite and attentive throughout, and actually deserves a better score than what I'm going to give it below (for that - blame the cover charge). Our glasses of water were refilled without prompt and staff always cleared our table of crumbs between courses. The obsession with wiping away the moisture from our glasses was a bit futile though. The three course lunch was £32 each, though I paid a total of £88 including still water, 2 glasses of juice and service. This is not cheap, but still fine for the great food served. Both my brother and I agreed that if we have the chance, we will definitely come back to try the longer menus and perhaps judge more thoroughly then.
Final Score: 7/10
A: 55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham B3 2DH
T: +44 121 212 9799
T: +44 121 212 9799
NB. The final score, while influenced by the sub-scores, is a qualitative reflection of my overall impression of the establishment.