This restaurant is situated in a parade of shops in the suburb of Mosley, three miles south of the centre of Birmingham. Chef Brad Carter opened it in November 2010 with his partner Holly Jackson, after he had studied at catering college in Birmingham and worked in various kitchens in the UK, as well as in Marseille. The restaurant received a Michelin star in 2015.
The dining room is long and narrow, with the kitchen visible at the far end. There is a wooden floor, tables are reasonably well spaced and music was played in the dining room, though at sensible volume. There was a choice of tasting menus only, a six-course version at £66 and an eight course, which we went for, at £85. The wine list had labels such as El Grano Carmanere 2015 at £39 for a bottle that you find in the high street for £13, Davenport Vineyards Horsemonden Dry White 2015 at a chunky £45 compared into its retail price of £13, and Chassagne Montrachet 2013 from Roux Pete et Fils at £94 for a wine that will set you back around £42 in a shop. We drank the excellent Mas de Daumas Gassac 2010, which was £71 compared to its current market price of £31.
The meal began with some nibbles. A simple wooden bowl contained chicken liver cereal, essentially a chicken liver mousse mixed with assorted toasted grains. This dish did not look much but actually had excellent flavour, the richness of the liver nicely offset by the grains (15/20). A vegetarian alternative had mushrooms instead of liver, and this was also very good. As an aside, this did seem perilously close to a Sat Bains dish “duck liver muesli”. Chefs are inspired by dishes from other chefs all the time, and there can be few truly original dishes these days, nor is there copyright on recipes, but this dish certainly bore more than a passing resemblance to the Sat Bains one.
Next was a tiny queenie scallop with sea buckthorn. The scallop itself was decent enough but the sea buckthorn, a brute of an ingredient if ever there was one, completely dominated whatever flavour the scallop may have had with its very tart, astringent taste. This was an ill-judged combination in my view (11/20).
Fermented turnip roll tasted of turnip but whatever flavour its filling was subtle to the pint of invisibility (12/20). Bresaola (air dried, salted beef) was cured in house and had decent enough flavour, served without any form of garnish (13/20). This was still vastly better than the final nibble, raw kohlrabi with pine and "salad burnet", a perennial herb that tastes vaguely like cucumber. When raw, kohlrabi tastes vaguely like a cross between a turnip and a radish, but the combination with the other elements did nothing for me, and serving a bit of raw cabbage to paying diners seems to me to require a certain chutzpah (hard to score but 11/20 if I am kind). Sourdough bread is made daily in the kitchen using flour from a local mill, and this was very pleasant, a touch dense in texture but having a good crust (14/20).
Mackerel came covered in Tokyo turnips (which taste like a cross between a turnip and a radish) and Yorkshire rhubarb. The presentation of this, on a grey plate, left a lot to be desired, but the flavour was fine, the fish tasting quite fresh and the acidity of the rhubarb working well with the inherent oiliness of the fish (14/20).
English squid came wrapped with Tamworth pig back fat and swede dashi. This was another dish that was not going to win any awards for presentation, but the flavour was fine, the squid reasonably tender and the dashi having plenty of umami flavour (14/20). This was followed by "porridge" of pine mushrooms, which was really more a risotto. This used caranaroli rice, pearl barley, spelt grains and, apparently, matsutake mushrooms from Lapland. These Finnish mushrooms are genetically identical to the ones so prized in Japan, and although I have eaten ones with much better flavour in Tokyo, these were nice enough. The rice itself was carefully cooked and the textures of the grains worked well (15/20).
Skrei cod came with Musselburgh leek and buttermilk, along with pieces of red King Edward potatoes covered in leek ash. The cod was fine and the potatoes were good, but the leeks were disappointingly stringy (13/20). Much better was the vegetarian alternative, cream of chestnut stew with crisp curly kale, the stew having deep chestnut flavour and the kale delicate and delicious (16/20).
Duck with shiitake mushrooms came with monks beard (a Tuscan vegetable a bit like samphire) and a dark sauce made from five year old soy, the leg meat served separately minced up. The duck was cooked properly and the monks beard was a logical pairing for the richness of the duck, the mushrooms also properly cooked. However something went badly wrong with the seasoning, whether it was a function of the dark soy or by salt added to the meat, but the overall effect was grotesquely salty. I actually like my food on the salty end of the spectrum compared to many people, but this was salinity run amok. If I imagine the dish without this problem it would have been around 14/20 level, but it was much worse than this given the scale of the seasoning problem. Either no-one tasted this dish in the pass or, if they did, just shrugged and decided to send it out anyway. I am not sure what is worse.
The vegetarian alternative at this stage was an enjoyable dish of leeks with buttermilk, served with the same King Edwards potatoes in leek ash as featured in my earlier dish, along with capers. The creamy buttermilk sauce was nice, and the leeks in this dish were much better than the ones I had encountered earlier, these showing no sign of stringiness (15/20).
There were three further dishes. Worcester Blue cheese came with overripe pear and a drizzle of Pedro Ximines sherry. This was fine but involved minimal intervention from the kitchen. Cheesecake was made with ricotta with a layer of blood orange and grated kaffir lime suffered from being very dry, despite the citrus elements (11/20). Finally black rice and Cornish kombu was presented as an unappealing smear on another grey dish, vaguely in the shape of an ear. It reminded me of the late AA Gill's great line about a dish he encountered being "the kind of thing sent in the post to hasten a ransom demand". I have no particular desire to eat kelp at the best of times, least of all with rice as my notional dessert; I struggle with savoury elements in desserts, but this was a particularly unappealing combination (10/20).
Staff were attentive and seemed quite enthusiastic, keen to explain the dishes. The bill came to £179 with an unwise amount of good wine. If you shared a modest bottle and went for the shorter menu then a typical cost per head would be about £95. There were some quite good dishes at intervals in this meal, but there were also plenty of missteps and some dishes that seemed to be simply misjudged. The absurdly over salty duck, for example, was an unfortunate lapse. Presentation was an afterthought, the dishes often looking distinctly unappealing. I was surprised at how erratic this meal was, and although there were a few Michelin star level dishes, there were several that were way below this level.Book