On the site of Brum's most successful pop-up of 2015, Harborne Kitchen finally launches in a fortnight, having transformed its high street locale beyond even the recognition DNA testing can provide. Muscling in on a day of steely menu-based decisioning, we joined the team, at executive chef Jamie Desogus' house. And if the monkfish is too salty for your palate come opening, it's our fault entirely.
Arriving at 11am on a Saturday, sous chef Elliott Tibbins had been prepping since 7am, while general manager Kingsley Crocker is loosening the cork on a chilled bottle of Bolney Bubbly. The mood is one of relaxed confidence, mixed with all the perfectionism you'd expect from a restaurant that's headed-up by a Gordon Ramsay protégé. This will be the first time the team's collectively constructed the dishes or tried the wine pairings we're going to be testing out. And there are spots on the opening menu still to play for.
We kicked off with "snacks", which will begin meals in the 50-cover restaurant, and be available to all walk-ins at the 30-cover bar. The cod quavers were a jollying, bite-size beginning, which look all kinds of ace. Modestly described, the pork donuts with a lemon dipped apple crumb were immediately rejected by Jamie, as over-browned, which was a symptom of a domestic kitchen and said nothing of the chef. Next up was a main centring round Jerusalem artichokes and whipped Camembert. The cheese element is patiently plated through a device equivalent to a squirty cream dispenser, the consistency of which the team is still finalising. And all we can add by way of feedback on this one, is that we'll be inciting non-violent riots if it doesn't find its way onto the opening menu.
Not even finding time to pause over a masterful monkfish and pig's ear creation, it was time to talk pud. And to take some big decisions. The mango sorbet element of this combination was already a shoo-in, as was the panna cotta but would the dessert work best with ginger cake or a cracked black pepper sponge? Created by Mike Topping, Harborne Kitchen's pastry chef, both offer contrast in theory but would the other elements of the dish be lost next to such strong flavours?
Though both worked, the dish you can expect to find on the opening menu includes the ginger cake. Sticky, the right amount fiery and with a flavour that endured and enhanced the other components, the dish is finished off with bitter and beautiful leaves, as well as a spun sugar construct (pictured). And though the wine pairing (a Royal Tokaji) left us a bit wanting when tried only with the panna cotta, tasted with the whole shebang, it became a little bit of perfect.
Imagery: Tom Bird
'I Choose Birmingham' is a free weekly email about the best things to do in Brum. Subscribe below.