Food critic Richard McComb casts his eye over the Taste of Birmingham menus.
The rocket has been dressed, the fruits have been scented and the marinades have worked their magic.
The phoney war is over and now it is time for the city’s top chefs to don their oven gloves and go into battle at Birmingham’s biggest ever food festival.
Taste of Birmingham, which got under way last night, continues today and over the weekend in a specially erected gourmet village in the middle of Cannon Hill Park. The event features an unprecedented number of leading restaurants from Birmingham and its environs – there are 17 in total this year – who are all hoping to cement their culinary reputations and win new fans.
There is an eclectic mix of styles and cooking traditions, from classic French to Italian, modern British and pan Asian, and for the first time there is a neighbourhood chippie.
Printed here are the menus being offered by the restaurants. The festival is now in its fourth year and the wide range of dishes, culinary techniques and ideas means this is without doubt the strongest line-up seen so far, exemplifying the city’s increasing strength in depth when it comes to dining out. There are one or two absentees from Birmingham top table – Opus, a previous participant, and Pascal’s, an impressive newcomer, are not be represented. Taking part in Taste requires a huge commitment in terms of logistics and manpower and no one can be criticised, particularly in the current climate, for taking a step back.
That said, Taste of Birmingham 2009 really is what it set out to be: a showcase for the best of the Second City’s restaurant scene.
In some corners, the inclusion of the Great British Eatery, a fish and chip shop celebrating its first birthday this month, has been controversial. Any culinary sniffiness is misplaced. The GBE, run by Conrad Brunton and Andrew Insley, harks back to the best of our national cooking heritage. They use only fresh fish, cooked in traditional beef dripping, and offer the perfect antidote to the chav kebab chippies that blight our high streets.
Fish and chips, cooked properly, is part of Britain’s culinary DNA, as important to this sceptred isle as foie gras or bouillabaisse is to the French. Would crêpes be banned from a Breton food festival on the basis that they are everyday nosh? Zut alors! I predict brisk business at the GBE kitchen, where Conrad says: “We are truly honoured to be the first restaurant of our type to be offered a slot at the Taste festival. We hope that the people of Birmingham will see we have a fish and chip shop that they can be proud to visit and one which takes huge care in the execution of our national dish.”
I can also say, hand on heart, that my mouth started to water as I worked my way through the festival’s menus. The fact I am writing this late morning, when pre-lunch stomach grumbles kick in, may be significant. But by far the biggest factor in spontaneous salivation is the array of savoury treats and sweet delights on offer.
Chefs taking part in the show always talk of their camaraderie and their “we’re all in it together” mentality as they are attempt to serve restaurant-standard food on makeshift stoves under canvas. What they don’t mention is that they are notoriously competitive and will be looking around to see where visitors are spending their crowns, the currency that is used to buy meals.
Food-lovers have the opportunity to put these top cooks on the spot and see how their dishes match up to their rivals. There will be some interesting mini skirmishes. How will the roulade of ham hock – with a piccalilli dressing, rustic crouton – from Aria’s Brett Sandland compare with Richard Turner’s terrine of ham hock – with organic chicken, foie gras, English peas, broad beans, summer truffle and sour dough melba toast? Both cost 8 crowns (or £4). Will simplicity triumph over Michelin-starred elaboration? You decide.
For the sweet-toothed, both Cielo and Filini are serving their own versions of tiramisu.
And my favourite pud? Well, I haven’t tried any as yet but can’t help being drawn to Purnell’s marinated strawberries, honeycomb and English custard and Simpsons’ mousse of Manjari chocolate, Manor Farm raspberries, almond espuma and crystallised almonds, not least because the later bears the hallmarks of the Edgbaston restaurant’s cocoa queen Jacqueline Keenan.
Then again, both Turner’s and Andy Water’s Edmund’s are doing version of jelly. And who can resist jelly in the summer?
Lamb takes the prize as the most popular choice for main courses, with no less than seven restaurants using one of the summer’s finest and most versatile products. It will be variously curried, confit’d and chargrilled.
Vegetarians won’t be able to whinge – a first at a food festival? – as there are several dishes to satisfy the flesh dodgers. The curried vegetable dishes at some of the Indian restaurants sound lovely.
* Taste of Birmingham runs until Sunday. Tickets can be purchased online at www.visitbirmingham.com/taste and in the Birmingham tourism centres at the Rotunda and New Street. Standard tickets are £10 in advance, £12 on the day.
* The full list of menus for Taste of Birmingham.
Dishes are purchased using crowns, which are available at the show. £1 = Two crowns.
* Roulade of ham hock with a piccalilli dressing, rustic crouton (8 crowns)
* Seared hand dive scallops with garlic mash and black pudding (10)
* Rich dark chocolate mousse with a mint foam (6)
* Tandoori Chicken Chat: hand diced tandoori chicken tossed with red onions, coriander and green chillies with mint and tamarind chutney (6)
* Warm pepper garlic prawn salad: prawn skewers with crushed pepper and garlic, summer salad drizzled with strawberry citrus dressing (8)
* Jumbo Prawn Chingli Chaap: Ginger, garlic and lemon marinated prawns, breaded and deep fried (10)
* Parma ham, Mediterranean vegetables & fresh oregano (8)
* Corn-fed chicken with black olive and mushroom sauce (10)
* Tiramisu (6)
EDMUNDS FINE DINING
* Goat’s cheese canut with pain d’epice and fennel seed beetroot (8)
* Cornish lamb with celeriac, red wine and star anise sauce with orange carrots (10)
* Summer fruit jelly with vanilla creme fraiche (6)
* Platter of Italian meats and DOP cheese with Ligurian rosemary bread (8)
* Barolo braise ox cheek with cannellini bean and rosemary brodo (10)
* Filini tiramisu (6)
* Smoked Bibury farm trout cheesecake, dill and horseradish dressing, avruga and keta caviar (6)
* Boneless loin of Hillworth farm lamb, mint and blackcurrant stuffing, ginger scented sweet potato mash, summer greens, Morgan spiced reduction (10)
* Lemon and thyme posset, Evesham Vale strawberry and limoncello coulis, cracked peppercorns shortbread (6)
GREAT BRITISH EATERY
* Home made free range organic Scotch egg (6)
* Home made fish cake, dressed rocket salad & tartare sauce (6)
* Cod & chips (8)
HOTEL DU VIN
* Crispy squid and apple aoli (6)
* Chargrilled rump of lamb, pea, feve, tomato and goat’s curd salad, mint dressing (8)
* Local strawberry and lemon curd trifle, granola crumbs (8)
* Filo Masala Prawns: King prawns in a light pastry encased in a spicy Indo-Chinese fusion batter, served with a garnish of spring onions tossed in green chillies, garlic and soy sauce (10)
* Paapri Chaat (v): Crispy discs of pastry topped with chick peas, onions and potatoes sprinkled with chaat masala and paprika, garnished with coriander and accompanied by sweet yoghurt and tamarind chutney (6)
* Falafel on a bed of rocket dressed with chilli hummus (v) (8)
* Masala aloo dosa (v): Crisp rice pancake stuffed with rustic potato mash flavoured with mustard seed, curry leaves and chilli, served with onion and tomato chutney (8)
* Keralan fish stew with idli: Chunks of fish with traditional vegetables stewed in coconut milk, scented with curry leaves, served with a steamed rice cake (10)
* Hyderabadi dhay walla murgh korma: Chicken breast stuffed with sautéed spinach and fresh fenugreek leaves on spicy cardamom scented yoghurt and melon seed korma gravy, served with pilau rice (10)
* Fishcake, citrus salad (6)
* Mal Burger (8)
* Rosemary brulee, demerara biscotti (6)
* Goats cheese & pineapple on sticks (8)
* Warm trifle of smoked haddock, leek, poached egg yolk and cornflakes (10)
* Marinated strawberries, honeycomb and English custard (8)
* Assiette De Saffron: combination of shish taouk (chicken with capsicum marinated with spices), ground lamb kebab (with homemade garam masala), crispy puffed poories (filled with masala potato), seasoned with relishes and mixed greens (8)
* Saffron Kacchi Biryani: spice-infused basmati rice cooked with Welsh lamb and fresh herbs, finished by dum pukth (Indian cuisine), with cucumber and onion raita (10)
* Apple and banana spring roll with fresh fruit compote, vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce (6)
* Carpaccio of sashimi tuna, summer fruits scented with basil, verjus syrup (10)
* Slow-cooked duck leg, lentils, spring onions, sesame seeds, sauce oriental (10)
* Mousse of Manjari chocolate, Manor Farm raspberries, almond espuma, crystallised almonds (8)
* Thai Edge starter platter: vegetable spring roll, prawn roll, sweet corn cake (6)
* Pad Thai Goong: stir-fry rice noodles, king black tiger prawns, Thai chives, bean curd, bean sprouts, egg and special sauce (8)
* Lamb Penang, jasmine rice (8)
* Malay chicken, satay sauce (6)
* Sliced chicken breast in Beijing sauce with peppers, onions and spring onions and jasmine rice (Can be v) (8)
* Lamb Rendang with jasmine rice: slow-cooked lamb leg served in a thick sauce of toasted coconut, chilli, onions and curry leaves (8)
* Terrine of ham hock, organic chicken and foie gras, English peas, broad beans, summer truffle and sour dough melba toast (8)
* Confit’d belly of saltmarsh lamb with oven roast tomatoes, aubergine caviar and Nicoise jus (10)
* Wild strawberry jelly with vanilla syrup, Pimms granite and cucumber espuma (8)