I first came into contact with Glynn Purnell’s playful cooking while watching the third season of Great British Menu, where he sailed to the final with a quirky pud of Burnt English Cream served in hollowed-out eggshells. Being a huge fan of prawn cocktails, vol-au-vents, black forest gâteau and the like, his witty interpretations of retro classics really struck a chord with me and I was thrilled that the journey home from our recent jaunt up North took us through Birmingham, where his eponymous restaurant resides.
We breezed into the city centre locale around midday, just as Purnell was heading towards the kitchen to fire up the stove. Spotting our arrival he paused, flashed us a cheeky grin and proffered a warm welcome before sauntering off to commence service.
Mindful of the two hour limit on the parking we immediately ordered upon taking our seats, choosing the 8 course “Purnell’s Tour” which featured a fair few dishes that appeared (in some incarnation) on the BBC series, most notably the dessert that scored a perfect 10 from all the judges to claim its place at the banquet held in the Gherkin.
Aware of our time constraint, the kitchen obligingly sped out our courses. The amuse bouche, served in a martini glass, was a modern adaptation of Vichyssoise sprinkled with puffed Japanese Black Rice, Potato Crisps, Natural Yoghurt and Ras el Hanout Oil. Although interesting conceptually it failed to dazzle, being too muted in flavour and lacking cohesion.
Everything the opening act lacked, the next course of Poached Egg Yolk, Smoked Haddock Milk Foam, Cornflakes and Curry Oil made up for in spades. The glossy yolk perched on a cornflake-encrusted mound of haddock foam split open seductively as it met my fork, oozing into the frothy fish-infused “whites”. The crunchy golden flakes and delicious accompanying Smoked Haddock Croquette added textural variation to the fun homage to breakfast – an amalgamation of kedgeree and cornflakes with milk.
The Royal of Goat’s Cheese and Pineapple on Sticks with Watercress Purée was an elegant humourous take on the 60s party staple. Smooth cheesecake-like cubes of mild goat’s cheese sandwiched between thin squares of candied pineapple and wobbly pineapple jelly, perked up by grassy watercress purée. Not a flavour combination I’m usually drawn to, but I did quite like it.
The intricate salad of Devonshire Crab, Apple, Celeriac and Smoked Paprika Honeycomb that followed was a thoughtful assembly of complex yet delicate flavours – sweet crab meat, tart granny smith and an unexpected dusting of smoky honeycomb. The brown crab meat, prettily piped on crisp wafer thin toast, gave a deeper edge to the otherwise light fresh-tasting dish. Clever without being overdone.
A course I could have done without was the Carpaccio of Beef, Breasola, Home Corned Beef, Textures of Peaches, Schezuan Pepper and Basil. I found the bizarre pairing of white peach jelly and stewed peach with a mix of fresh, cured and dried beef confused and it didn’t gel on my palate.
Much more successful was the Masala Monkfish with Indian Lentils, Coconut, Coriander and Pickled Carrots. The deftly-cooked medallion was moist and authentically spiced; a lovely nod to the heavy Indian influences in Brummie cuisine. The updated traditional garnishes were equally well-executed: tender curried lentils that still retained a bite, sharp pickled carrots and a refreshing minted yoghurt sauce.
Our meat course was an impossibly tender rose pink Breast of Duck with a thin layer of well rendered fat, rolled in Liquorice Charcoal and plated with Pea Terrine, Pea Salad and Tamarind. The velvety terrine and viscous tamarind glaze lent a beautiful sweet edge, but I wasn’t keen on the pea shoot salad which overpowered the subtly-flavoured duck.
Both puds on the tasting menu were suitably comforting and indulgent. First was a Mango and Rosewater Sorbet with Mango Leather, enrobed in warm Dark Chocolate Mousse, perfectly paired with a vintage brown rice sake (Akashi-Tai, Genmai 2002) with caramel notes. The contrast in temperatures was delightful, but I would have preferred the fluffy chocolate mousse on its own. A chocolate-dipped passionfruit parfait ice lolly served on the side was nice, but a disparate addition.
Glynn’s signature Burnt English Custard Egg Surprise didn’t disappoint. Luscious runny vanilla bean-flecked custard under a thin hard caramel shell with syrupy tarragon-infused strawberries and refreshing honeycomb-strewn sorbet. Glorious.
This was a whimsical and thought-provoking meal boasting an array of bold flavours, surprising elements and pleasing textures. Despite the somewhat stilted interiors, the friendly service and well-versed sommelier set us at ease the moment we set foot in the Michelin-starred environs. If you happen to find yourself in the Midlands be sure to make a stop at Purnell’s, the burnt cream alone is worth the detour.
55 Cornwall Street
t. 0121 212 9799
~ by gourmettraveller on September 22, 2010.