Playtime at Purnell’s
What do you buy for the mother-in-law who has everything (including a new kitten) for Christmas? Well, if you’re a selfish pair of buggers like us the answer is a meal for three in a swanky Michelin starred restaurant. I’ve been a fan of Glynn Purnell since he first appeared on The Great British Menu many years ago – and therefore it wasn’t difficult to decide where to go, given that she lives just outside Birmingham. So on a wet, cold January Saturday night we ventured forth into the city centre – not for the faint hearted – to see what he had to offer.
The restaurant interior has a rather eclectic feel: a bold, Moorish inspired wallpaper, striped carpets, dark tables and chairs and plush padded banquettes – which rather reminded me of a three piece suite we had in the ’80’s. As is always the case in fine dining restaurants the number of Front-of-house staff is astonishing – at one point there were more of them than diners. But they were all super friendly, knew their stuff and loved working there.
The Tasting Menu seemed to be the only option that evening, so the only choice we had to make was whether to have 6 or 9 courses. We choose the former. “Gifts from the Kitchen” were delivered first, which included the intriguingly named “Faux” black canary potatoes. These were indeed potatoes (fluffy baby ones), lightly coated in charcoal. Interesting, but not the tastiest thing I’ve ever had. Alongside these were chunks of what I can best describe as black oasis (the stuff you use in flower arranging) – which were in fact meringue laced with squid ink. We were served two of these per person – we all only ate one – which I think tells you all you need to know !! However, alongside the black offerings were a punchy chorizo mayonnaise and some delightful panisse (chickpea fries to you and me).
Next came Emotions of cheese and pineapple “soixante dix” which immediately transported us right back to the ’70’s when of course cheese and pineapple on sticks were de rigueur at any gathering (stuck into a foil covered baking potato of course). This dish consisted of tiny morsels of pineapple cooked in a variety of ways and then covered in a smooth, rich cheese sauce. A nod to the aforementioned foil covered potato was provided in the form of a slither of silver leaf. A playful and joyous dish, which got us all reminiscing about our childhoods.
Fish was the star of the next two courses. Firstly delicate Cornish crab hidden under a smoked paprika wafer with subtle accents of apple, celeriac and oyster leaf. Then (the dish of the night for me) Monkfish masala : a decent chunk of perfectly cooked moist fish served alongside a delicately spiced dhal with shards of fresh coconut, coriander oil and a carrot chutney. All beautifully well-balanced and a visual triumph served as it was on a mottled black plate which made all the colours sing out.
The Fillet of Herefordshire beef came next – and we knew were were in for a treat before we even tasted it. The presentation was simple but stylish and as you would expect the beef was meltingly tender. The confit chicory and compressed pear alongside it were perfect companions, while the cubes of Oxford Blue cheese added a slightly salty element to the meal. Everything was beautifully pulled together by a rich, deep sauce.
I always think the puddings on The Great British Menu are where the chefs have the most fun and it was nice to see Glynn Purnell’s winning dish from the 2008 series still featuring on his menu today. Burnt English egg surprise comprised a delicate egg shell served on a silver egg cup and filled with a luscious creme brulee. Accompanying this was a soft butterscotch baked apple topped with rose petals.
All in all a fantastic culinary experience. It’s great to see a whimsical menu which clearly reflects the chef’s personality and at Purnell’s you really get a sense of how each dish has been inspired by his life.
GO IF: You want to experience fine dining in a fun and playful way.
MDD LIKES: The enthusiasm of the staff. He’s clearly a great bloke to work for.