Adam’s Restaurant, 21a Bennetts Hill, Birmingham, B2 5QP. 0121 643 3745. firstname.lastname@example.org
My first experience of a Michelin star restaurant came at the foothills of the Jura mountains.
It was a two-star joint where the waiter served up an amuse bouche in a shotglass – foie gras mousse topped with a mussel foam.
We were bestowed with tiny teaspoons with which to shovel this into our bemused bouches before the evening advanced with several more experimental courses served in odd receptacles while plates were replaced with floor tiles and roof slates.
Subsequent Michelin star meals have convinced me that the rules of fine dining demand at least one appearance of either foam or slate.
So when the waiter at Adam’s delivered the first amuse bouche to our table perching upon a bowl of slate shards I knew Birmingham’s newest Michelin star restaurant was not about to rewrite the rule book.
I won’t pretend to get the slate fetish. There’s plenty about “fine dining” that I don’t get: the invasion of personal space as waiters push in the chair before your bottom meets the seat, the unseen and unnecessary folding of your napkin while you’ve nipped to the loo, the hawkish refilling of water glasses when anyone but an idle swine would be happy with the DIY approach (the waiting staff at Adam’s committed only the latter two fine dining sins).
But none of this matters to the Michelin inspectors who awarded the restaurant its star last week.
They claim to judge only the food on the plate.
And that’s where Adam’s stands out.
A dramatically different trio of amuse bouches make a strong start.
There’s a miniature cube of steak tartare, served on a silver spoon with tiny balls of egg yolk sitting on top like caviar. I could happily tuck into this as a main.
There’s a little lollipop of spherical crispy breadcrumbs encasing a rich chicken bouillon that, on first bite, explodes in your mouth. Freaky but fun.
And – served on the obligatory slates – two beetroot meringues, sandwiching a cream filling, like a French macaroon.
There is no a la carte option, just two set tasting menus with either a nine (£75) or a five-course (£45) option. It’s a fairly brash way of showcasing what the restaurant is about, rather than catering to the diner, and for me the tasting menu is as tantalising as it is frustrating. None of the nine dishes is large enough to be satisfying but several are an all-too seductive sample of something you can’t get more of.
A list of dishes is left on the table so you can look forward to what’s ahead (a nice touch) and each plate is presented with a well rehearsed soliloquy from the waiters (who seem to take turns serving each of the 11 tables), explaining what’s what.
First up: Jerusalem artichoke puree opposite little dollops of egg yolk, with chorizo, root veg crisps, garlic, broccoli and morels.
The presentation is stunning. The ingredients are a riot of colour, shape and texture, and the flavours dance around the plate.
The artichoke, however, is not to my dinner date’s taste. And nor is the pollock in the next dish, cooked sous vide retaining its natural jelly texture rather than the standard white, flakey meat she’s used to.
Course after course, she struggles with the seasonal menu, which currently features grouse, fallow venison and hare – challenging for some.
I can highly recommend taking a fussy eater out to dinner as the upshot of all this pickiness is that I get to eat twice while the waiter supplies her with extra sourdough – which she happily tucks into, reckoning it’s good enough to constitute a main course.
The service is seriously slick and, for the main part, seems to be tailored to each table, with staff delivering the fine-dining formalities to those who want them (who ARE these people?), while taking a more relaxed approach with those of us living in the 21st century.
This tiny venue on Bennett’s Hill, which was a Trenchers sandwich shop before Adam’s opened six months ago, has just 22 seats, many snapped up tonight by diners taking advantage of a Groupon offer for the five-course menu, filling the restaurant for the duration of a Tuesday night.
The restaurant is too small and quiet to be convivial and I find myself stifling my trademark belly laughs.
We were among the first to arrive and at the end of our nine-courses are the last to leave.
“I feel like I’m coming to the end of a marathon,” I sigh, as the final in a long line of dishes is set down before me.
“It’s a journey,” replies the waiter, “and we hope it’s an interesting journey.”
It has been. And at the end of our four-hour feast there have been dishes I’ve liked and dishes I haven’t, but the experience has made me think differently about taste combinations and textures.
I’ve gone on an off-piste adventure, giving my tastebuds a workout rather than the usual massage. And that’s no bad thing.
With the bill (£209 for two nine-course menus, a mineral water and a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc) comes the fun finale of an after-dinner chocolate, with a hidden kick of chilli and popping candy.
Fine dining squibbles aside, this is imaginative, distinctive and precise food, challenging preconceptions and rewarding open minds and mouths. And it’s everything a Michelin judge looks for.
The rigid set menu does make me yearn for more choice (and denying me the pudding of whisky and cream with chocolate and honey is nothing short of criminal) but it’s a reminder that this is a temporary showcasing venue for Adam Stokes and leaves me looking forward to his bigger, more permanent venture which we’ll hopefully see up and running by the end of next year.
I want to see more of his hearty dishes that really let their ingredients sing – the grouse with bread sauce and cabbage; the venison with blackberry, walnut and beetroot; the apple with ginger, cinnamon and vanilla. And I’m hoping for a taste of the whisky and cream. Even if it’s served in foam form. On a slate.