65 Summer Row, Birmingham, B3 1JJ, United Kingdom

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Aktar Islam was born in Birmingham, his parents coming originally from West Bengal. He started working in his father’s restaurant at the age of thirteen, and opened his first restaurant (Karma) at the tender age of twenty-one. He opened Opheem n 2018, after formerly running Lasan since 2002. Opheem was awarded a Michelin star in 2019 and a second star in 2024. The restaurant has a grey exterior and is quite sizeable, handling fifty covers at a time. You start your meal in the lounge with canapés, walk through to the dining room for the main meal and return to the lounge for coffee and petit fours. The ten-course tasting menu was £155, with a five-course menu at £115 and a three-course menu at £75 available only at lunch.

The wine list had 170 labels and ranged in price from £55 to £1,300, with a median price of £76 and an average markup to retail price of 2.6 times, which is quite reasonable. Sample references were Poderi Parpinello Sessantaquattro 2021 at £60 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £22, Milton Vineyards Te Aria Chenin Blanc 2022 at £75 compared to its retail price of £23, and Geoffroy Cumieres Pinot Noir Coteaux Champenois NV at £95 for a wine that will set you back £36 in the high street. For those with the means there was Gusbourne Estate 51 Degrees North 2016 at £250 compared to its retail price of £196, and Opus One 2013 at £550 for a wine whose current market value is £430. As well as the wine list, corkage was available at a very reasonable £30. 

The dining room has a spectacular display of ceiling lights and a view into the open kitchen, with well-spaced tables. In the comfortable lounge we started with a series of canapés. An apple and cucumber juice chilli broth was quite spicy and lively. Oyster emulsion with red Kashmir chilli broth with sea herbs, oyster leaf and coriander oil was unusual and worked well. Proper hot towels were provided, a nice touch that is very common in Japan but often badly done in the UK. A cold wet wipe in a packet or one of those weird little white nylon things that expands when you pour hot water on it is not a substitute for a proper hot towel. A further canapé was a pretty mango tuile with burnt lettuce gel, mango chutney and fermented chill pearls. The tuile was delicate and the toppings had flavours that complemented each other well. A curried crab crumpet was lovely, served warm with a generous topping of crab, a pleasing mouthful. Apple macaron with date, onion, beef tartare and duck liver was another successful canapé, the richness of the duck liver nicely balanced by the sharpness of the fruit. The macaron itself had very good texture, being crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. A final canapé was cured sea bass with ginger, radish and mango sauce. This was quite spicy and had a pleasing set of contrasting textures (16/20 canapés). 

The main part of the menu was served in the dining room. Kashmir tandoori mutton rib with shallots had very tender meat, served on a lamb bone as a skewer and topped with a few herbs (16/20). A vegetarian alternative of barbecued sweetcorn was pronounced excellent. My next course was chicken wings with chapli (a kebab made in this case from chicken mince), served with Wye Valley green asparagus, green pea salsa and garlic puree. A yakhni whey sauce, a Kashmiri yoghurt-based sauce, completed the dish. This all worked very well, the chicken tender and the spicing quite bold. The asparagus seemed a bit disconnected with the rest of the dish but was nice enough: top quality French asparagus (such as the sublime quality asparagus from Robert Blanc in Luberon) would have improved this element, but the kebab itself and its accompanying elements were very good (16/20).  

This was followed by Orkney scallop with mooli (radish), apple, pickled mayonnaise, almond foam sauce and curry leaf oil. The scallop has good natural sweetness and the acidity of the apple worked nicely with the shellfish (16/20). Achari aloo (literally pickled potato) was the next dish. Pink fir potatoes were prepared in several ways, from barbecued to a crispy crouton, a potato foam and potato crisp. These were mixed together with tamarind and chives. The contrast of textures was lovely and the sweetness and sourness of the tamarind really lifted the flavour of the potatoes (17/20). There was then a frozen sphere of carrot and passion fruit as a palate cleanser. This was pleasant enough but I am not sure whether it really added anything. For me, such a dish makes sense as a pre-dessert, but switching from savoury to sweet and back to savoury never seems to make much sense. 

The savoury course resumed with poached cod with a mousse of cod with prawns, compote of fennel, shallot and gourd with some pak choi, finished with a Keralan fish sauce. I was rather less convinced by the dish, partly as I am not sure that cod is really an ideal choice of fish, while the use of pak choi (a vegetable of Chinese origin) and cod (a cold-water fish that is an ocean away from India) seemed to be stretching the idea of an Indian banquet. The cooking was capable enough, but this dish seemed out of synch with the rest of the menu (14/20). This was followed by a course of pau (bread), in this case cumin spiced bread roll with a pickle flavoured butter. The bread itself had good texture and was accompanied by a little cup of lamb shorba (soup) which had good intensity of flavour (15/20).

The final savoury course was lamb cutlet roasted over charcoal, served with smoked aubergine, mint, shami kebab (minced lamb with spices and traditionally with either chickpeas or lentils) and lamb sauce. On the side was a little dish of fragrant pilau rice. The lamb was cooked pink and had good flavour, though the sauce could have been spicier to my taste (15/20).

The first dessert was kulfi (an Indian ice cream that is not whipped so has a denser texture than regular ice cream) of sheep milk yoghurt and lime with pistachio sponge and a touch of green chilli. This was very successful, the lime bringing pleasing freshness to the dish, the sponge having good texture and the chilli subtle and controlled (16/20). The final dessert was Alphonso mango (a cultivar of Mango that originated in India) parfait with yuzu and kheer, a kind of rice pudding of rice, milk and jaggery. All this was topped with a white chocolate sphere and a pretty tuile. This was lovely, the mango just in season now and at its aromatic best, the yuzu adding a little freshness (16/20).

A canelé with cardamom butter was served warm and was classy, avoiding the chewiness that can often happen with this. An ideal canelé should have a crisp crust that has been caramelised, contrasting with a soft custard-like centre. It is traditionally made with flour, eggs, butter, milk, vanilla and rum, the outside lacquered with butter (and possibly beeswax) and shaped in a copper mould. This was a good version, with a satisfying crunch as you bite into it but a soft centre. Petit fours were a pate de fruit of blood orange, Mango, passion fruit and coconut bonbon, Chai masala tea chocolate bonbon and a lemon meringue pie with cardamom, lemon curd and finger lime. Coffee was from Difference Coffee. Jamaican Blue Mountain was £7 and the superb Panama Gesha (the most expensive coffee in the world at the international coffee auction, hundreds of times the price of basic Arabica) at £12.

Service was very good, the staff being very friendly, and we had a particularly nice Georgian sommelier. The pacing of dishes was fine except at just one point with a lengthy gap, which seemingly was due to my lamb being recooked, which shows that the kitchen cares about what it is sending out. The bill came to £235 per person, with the menu £155 along with some cocktails and a couple of glasses of wine. I really enjoyed Opheem, which has certainly taken Indian cuisine in a modern direction without losing sight of its heritage.

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