Chef Glynn Purnell brilliantly combines culinary sophistication with the flavours of his Birmingham childhood
Reviewed by Terry Durack
Published: 02 September 2007
a fried egg. Well, it looks like a fried egg. The yolk is actually very
gently poached, and the "white" is a delicate foamy cloud, created by
emulsifying smoked haddock-infused milk with xanthan gum.
rim, a dribble of deeply aromatic curry oil adds an unmistakable note
of kedgeree, while a scattering of crisp, crunchy cornflakes press even
more buttons in the memory banks. What is it about the humble egg that
so intrigues the modern chef? Spain's Adria, Italy's Cracco and
Britain's Blumenthal have all bent it to their will, as if offended by
something so simple and so perfect. Oh, the hubris.
Then the yolk
runs like Linford Christie through the foam and the curry oil, and it
is as if all my breakfasts have come at once. Unexpectedly and quite
illogically, it actually works, creating an inspired opening statement
at Glynn Purnell's new restaurant in Birmingham. The delicacy of
execution and simplicity of presentation is matched by the layered
complexity of tastes and textures. (Try visiting
www.purnellsrestaurant.com to see it for yourself).
obvious when I ate Purnell's cooking at Jessica's in Edgbaston in 2003
that he had the nous, the ideas and the ambition to go places. Michelin
agreed in 2005 by awarding Jessica's one star, bringing the sort of
fame that makes a chef wonder why he's working so hard making money for
someone else. So Purnell grabbed a former furniture emporium in the
city centre, and turned it into a chic/bleak environment for his
modern, minimalist cooking. Where Jessica's was French-cottage,
Purnell's is smart-modern, with urban grey walls, honeycomb chairs,
clothless dark wood tables, and architectural portraits of Birmingham
by photographer Lawrence Roper.
The cooking is just as on-trend,
using the foams, froths, gels and saucy streaks that are the language
of the contemporary chef. Thankfully, he uses them as they should be
used – to deliver flavour in a lighter manner. So a slab of shreddy
rabbit and ham terrine gets a fragrant marjoram foam and Twister-dots
of olive and pea essence. Next, a perfect disc of full-flavoured,
fork-tender lamb shoulder infused with orange and saffron runs off to
Morocco with roasted sweetbreads on cracked wheat, spring onions that
taste of preserved lemons, and a dome of yoghurt foam. Brill is gently
poached in coconut milk and served with baby spinach, red lentils, and
toffee-sweet spiced carrots.
The room has a young, well-informed
team led by the charming Jean-Benoit Burloux, who has the gift of
making you feel you have made a great choice without ever using the
words "great choice". As much at home with the wine list as the menu,
he steers me to a ripe, fresh 2004 Givry La Grande Berge (£37.50).
It's all very polished and assured, with plenty of
complimentary befores and afters to make you feel spoilt. So far, only
an appetiser of melon soup with feta and black pepper has been less
than seamless, but with desserts, I start to see a few joins. A
croustillant of malt bread with banana ice cream feels like a
gussied-up banana fritter, and I'm not convinced by a pairing of green
tea cream and raspberries.
Business-like by day, the place
softens at night into a foodie destination. At one table, a couple of
interior designers bitch about the lighting track, while at another,
two high-profile chefs – Nottingham's Sat Bains and Ludlow's Claude
Bosi – are clearly enjoying themselves.
The intriguing thing
about Purnell's is that not only is it in Birmingham, it is very
Birmingham. By using childhood influences like his council-estate
breakfasts and balti suppers, Purnell is virtually developing his own
modern "regional" cuisine, as full of taste memories as new techniques.
For a local-boy-made-good to open a restaurant like this in a city like
this is surely more important to the evolution of British gastronomy
than any number of million-pound Mayfair launches.
1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14
good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go
back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 212 9799. Lunch Tuesday to
Friday; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Three-course menu £38.95pp
Article from The Independent
2 September 2007