Thursday, 14 November 2013

In which we go to Birmingham and have dinner at Purnell's

Purnell’s is not a restaurant that I ever had particularly on my radar - chiefly because it is in Birmingham and I am not.  But, D, much to his disgust, not only had to work on his birthday this year but, what is more, had to do so in Birmingham. So we decided to make the best of an unfortunate set of circumstances (work may be dull but it is the means by which we get money to play) and hit the town.  Although not to paint it red because I am incapable of painting anything any colour but the palest shade of baby pink these days – I blame being in my fourth decade.  In fact, we confined our pre dinner drinking to a couple of sneaky halves in Brewdog.  I think I’ve mentioned that D has, in the last few years, developed a real interest in real ales and Brewdog is a favourite of both his and my brother (who, like Remmington Steele, liked it so much that he bought shares in the company).  Incidentally, the Birmingham branch is particularly fabulous – or whatever adjective is more appropriate to the carefully cultivated, industrial style grubbiness of the interior.

But Purnell’s.  We had the tasting menu, of course (here called “the Tour”) with the matching wine which pushed the price up into what I like to call “Eeep” territory.  Which is ok for birthdays.  And they do have a set 3 course lunch menu for £30 which looks very nice indeed.  For I would heartily recommend that, should you ever find yourself in Birmingham, you pay Purnell’s a visit.  The food was delicious, the wines thoughtfully chosen and interesting, the staff a delight, the atmosphere relaxed and unstilted.

Bread arrived at the table shortly after we did and throughout the course of the evening we demolished nearly an entire loaf of this pain de campagne, which came, as unprepossessing as you like, with whipped butter and a little pile of rock salt crystals.  While appearing plain when compared to the elaborately flavoured bakes that some places send out, it was crisp and light and utterly delicious – perfect for plate mopping purposes.  And, apparently, baked in house daily.  We were off to a good start.  A good start that continued when we were presented by an amuse of miniature baked potatoes and watercress mayonnaise.  The chef advised that we use our fingers.  We were more than happy to do so.
Simplistic, almost rustic, presentation was not a constant.  Some of the courses were more elaborate: the “Remoulade 2012”, for example, came as three individual constituent parts with instructions as to how to eat them (I know that some people hate this kind of faffy eating but I generally find it amusing).  However, the stand out dish for both of us was the monkfish with red lentil dahl and coriander and coconut cream, which was back at the plainer end of the spectrum.  The combination of the peppery plump flakes of fish with the soft, yielding spice of the lentils was utterly delicious.  I believe that this dish won the fish course in an early series of Great British Menu and a recipe can be found on the BBC site here.  Expect to see it popping up in a menu plan soon.
The only course that was slightly underwhelming was the cheese.  It was fine, just a little unexciting.  Perhaps we have cheese ennui?  How terrible, if so!  But the first of the two puddings, “Mint Choccy Chip” tasted like a Peppermint Aero as made by angels, and the second included the richest, sweetest, silkiest vanilla crème brulee that I can ever remember eating – served in an egg shell.  So I was perfectly willing to forgive and forget.
Mint choccy chip - complete with minty fog
I can’t imagine we will find ourselves in the vicinity of Purnell’s again in the near future which is a shame because the food and, indeed, the experience, was a pleasure from start to finish.  I shall content myself by attempting to recreate the masala spiced monkfish and staring intently at eggs in the hope that the power of wishful thinking can insert vanilla custard into the shells.  In the meantime should you, gentle reader, be celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or a Tuesday in Birmingham, I would highly commend it to you as a destination.

55 Cornwall Street
B3 2DH

0121 212 9799


  1. Oh god, on a starve day and yet I HAD to finish reading this once I'd started. Apart from being somewhat alarmed at the thought that cheese could be boring (in this continent at any rate) I loved the sound of this. I LOVE a tasting menu too.


    1. I know - I was alarmed too. Fortunately the cheese ennui, such as it was, seems to have passed and we are in the throes of planning our Christmas cheeseboard. Relief abounds :-)

    2. Oooooh, surely that warrants a post in its own right?