Monday, 22 August 2016

Adam’s – Birmingham #MichelinStar (& @BarberBarberUK)

Despite my often follicly flawed appearance, my good pal Johnny “The BaBa” Shanahan happens to be one of the *UK’s best barbers (*he’s actually Irish but we won’t get into that).

Pestered by our mutual mate Morgan Leahy (marathon runner, shark fighter and cheese roller extraordinaire), Johnny moved from his native Limerick to Manchester in 2014 to open the first ‘Barber Barber’ in the iconic Barton Arcade.

Marketed to ‘scoundrels’ and ‘gentlemen’ alike, the old school barber experience they provide combines banter and beer with some of the best barbering around. With the demand for the highest quality men’s haircutting, traditional cut-throat shaving and beard sculpting so high, Johnny has since expanded with further branches in Liverpool, Leeds and London’s Shoreditch.

In choosing to open their largest store to date, later this month in the prestigious Link Street in Birmingham’s Bullring, Johnny and his fellow scoundrels have obviously seen the same potential in the city that Chef Adam Stokes saw when he first opened Adam’s Restaurant.

Having been awarded a Michelin star, this year, Adam and his wife have expanded and moved their original ‘pop up’ (here) on Bennett St to a glitzy permanent site on Waterloo St.

In town to check to see how the barber’s was coming together, I popped along to see the ‘new’ Adam’s and have a quick lunch. At lunch, they offer a full tasting menu, the a la carte and what turned out to be an exceptional value set lunch.  

From the set lunch, I chose the sweetbreads, chicken and apricot dishes but the meal started with a series of snacks and excellent breads and butters.

I’d had the Beetroot & goat’s cheese and Steak tartare previously and these were as good as I recall. The Chicken skin & crab and Tempura prawns with béarnaise were new to me and were top notch – the crab was especially enjoyable with its burst of grapefruit.

Beetroot & goat’s cheese meringue

Steak tartare with mini egg yolks

Chicken skin, crab, grapefruit & grilled corn

Tempura prawns with warm béarnaise espuma

Lamb sweetbread, peas, broad beans, hazelnuts – my sweetbread starter was a deftly balanced and cleverly textured dish with spikes of flavour from sweet alliums and pickled capers with milky sweetbreads and the fresh crunch of hazel nuts and broad beans.

Chicken, haggis, girolles, Lincolnshire poacherthe chicken was another example of assured and intensely flavoured cooking. The chicken itself was great quality and beautifully cooked; further flavour came from Lincolnshire poacher gnocchi and haggis bonbons.

Apricot, goat’s curd, earl grey, almond – apricots are one of my favourite fruits and with such a short season, I am always going to order them when on a menu. A fresh, vibrant dish with goat’s cheese, earl grey and almond.

Beetroot & elderflower meringue / Petit fours

With Barber Barber and 5 excellent Michelin starred restaurants in the city, I can see myself making regular trips down the M6 in the near future.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The West House – Biddenden, Kent #MichelinStar

What Michelin say, “Characterful beamed restaurant with contemporary oil paintings and a wood-burning stove - one of a row of old weavers' cottages in a picturesque village. Original, modern dishes display global influences and the occasional playful touch, and top quality ingredients allow the natural flavours to shine through.

The West House’s Chef/Proprietor, Graham Garrett, has just published his autobiographical cookbook, entitled “Sex, Drugs & Sausage Rolls” (see here).  

Rock star to Michelin star / swapping drum sticks for wooden spoons – the cheesy tag lines write themselves, so I’m not going to bother. Instead, I’ll get to the point… the food!  

The first food to arrive was a bowl of perfectly formed breakfast radishes with aíoli; some fab olives and breads (sourdough and hazelnut & raisin, including salted and pork dripping butters) – I love radishes and have decided that a bowl like this with aíoli is how I want to start my last meal on death row (when I’m finally caught).

At dinner, The West House offer a tasting menu and a la carte – with an eye on the time to get back to pick up my wife (who was on a hen do), I opted for the a la carte. Although, after mentioning to the waiter that I particularly liked the sound of the ‘taco’ dish from the testing menu, they kindly sent this as an extra course.

The front of house team have mastered what I call “laidback proficiency” – an “anything is possible” attitude without the fuss and obsequiousness which can be the case with “fine dining”.

I started with Ajo Blanco – a silky white gazpacho with a salt cod stuffed courgette flower. A delightful summery dish.

Next, living up to my expectations, came the Taco – a crisp ‘taco’ shell, topped with sticky braised duck, onion marmalade and finials of duck liver parfait. This was finished at the table with a flurry of cured frozen foie gras. A properly sexy dish!

For my main, I opted for the Beef – two flavoursome hunks of grilled under fillet, charred alliums, carrots and radish came with an intense onion broth. With it’s light fluffy texture, a particularly delightful element came in the form of a meat stuffed steamed dumpling (think ‘baozi’).

For pud, I ordered the Tart – a beautifully crafted work of art in a crisp pastry shell. It was filled with a luscious elderflower crème and topped with slivers of strawberry, strawberry sorbet and meringue. I grew up in Kent (Bexleyheath), and eating this in one of the county’s finest restaurants triggered fond memories of summers filling punnets at a ‘pick your own’.

I don’t get back down to Kent as much as I’d like but next time I do, I certainly hope to return to The West House!





Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Sportsman – Seasalter, Kent #MichelinStar

It’s been little over a year since I last visited The Sportsman (here). In this time, they have once again retained a Michelin Star; been crowned the top “gastropub” in Britain at the Top 50 Gastropubs Awards and named National Restaurant of the Year by Restaurant magazine. Good stuff, eh?

On my last visit, I enjoyed the tasting menu. This time, I rolled with the a la carte.

Rock Oysters were available in three different preparations. It would’ve been rude not to order at least one of each: Hot Chorizo / Poached with Pickled Cucumber & Avruga Caviar / Poached with Redcurrant & Seaweed – I’d say that the caviar one was best but it’d make me sound like a posh twat.

To follow, I doubled up on starters with the signature Slip Sole Grilled in Seaweed Butter and Crab, Carrot & Hollandaise.

Despite being known primarily for their excellent fish, The Sportsman do offer 3 meat based mains as well as 3 fish options, but it was all about the fish for me. Sourced locally from the Thames Estuary, I ordered the Seared Thornback Ray with Brown Butter, Cockles & Sherry Vinegar Dressing – this came with green beans and delightful, buttery spuds.

For pud I opted for the textbook Rhubarb Soufflé with Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream – as I was driving, the bar prepared a gingery ‘Moscow Mule’ (sans Moscow) which paired beautifully with the rhubarb.

Michelin star; Britain’s best gastropub and National Restaurant of the Year… sounds about right to me!

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