Issue 370
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"I was anxiety ridden," says Ann Tonks. "It would sit like a ten ton weight on my chest. So tight it would wake me up at night."
Ann's casting her mind back, reluctantly and I don't blame her, to last year when COVID closed one of the city's longest serving and most beloved independent restaurants. For 16 years Opus had spearheaded the city's fine-dining scene, sitting in that sweet spot where epicureanism met affordability. If the food was heralded, then the hospitality was second-to-none. Ann and business partner Irene Allan were setting the bar for how other restaurants would welcome diners. And then, overnight, it was gone. 
With a slight shake of the head, though, as if snapping back into the present, Ann's infectious zeal returns. And why wouldn't it? Irene, chef director Ben Ternent and her are sleeve-rolling sorts. Doers. And although she wouldn't quite put it this way, I would — the closure of Opus might just be the best thing that could have happened to them. Horrendous, no doubt, but in Chapter, their planned new Edgbaston Village restaurant, they've re-invented themselves. Opus, almost cavernous in size, was heavily reliant on business lunches and could feel somewhat sparse at quieter times. On Greenfield Crescent where, all being well, they'll be opening Chapter in December, they have community. Buzz. Brunch, lunch and dinner diners ready for the wooing. With 65 covers inside (plus outdoor dining options that Opus didn't have) Chapter is about half the size of its predecessor — a positive thing and no mistake. A dedicated bar area will appeal in ways Opus never could, to those just out for a coffee or a Cabernet. It's almost as if they've taken every weakness Opus had and rewritten their approach. Which is exactly what they've done.     
And the designs? Oh the designs. Brummie Suzanne Barnes has delivered younger, more energised but no less elegant restaurant interiors, while Ben's kitchen, hidden from view at Opus comes with two giant island workstations, visible through the large pass. One will deliver on the lighter bar bites and brunch options, the other dealing solely in the finer dining delights. The menus, though not set in stone, read divinely. Everything from porridge bowls, through to royal benny has brek and brunch sealed off. A homemade brisket, potatoes and duck egg number jumping off the page while mackerel caesar, pork cheek, scallops and venison all, as with everything these three do, is sourced locally, ethically and with freshness paramount. This will let Ben and his team really stretch their legs if you're making a night (or day) of it. The price points, though I'm told not to commit them to, read at unbelievable value, while a kids menu that's under-development promises families an experience that, again, Opus simply couldn't or, more likely, shouldn't. At any one time there might be a lone diner at the bar eating a quick bite in his tennis gear after a knock about, while an extended family might have a table for eight, dressed to impress. This is what communities want, and what Edgbaston needs. All within striking distance of the city centre, a 10 minute tram ride from New Street.
But it's not a done deal. Not yet. "We want to ask guests to come onboard early," explains Ann. "To help us get Chapter over the line, we're offering memberships and vouchers that bring those that want this to happen most, into the family." The Premium Membership might really resonate with readers. For a fee of £1500, which lasts for three years you'll receive 15% off your bill for up to 8 people each time you visit. An additional nominated person will also hold the card, so two of you can take advantage of the deal, plus guests of course. The deal covers everything on the menu from Sunday roast to Champagne — no tricky clauses whatsoever, a blanket, across the board discount, every day. There's also a pre-opening drinks reception and an exclusive invitation to a relaxed weekend brunch for two in the first two months of opening, covered off by the fee. When you think of it as £500 per year you don't need to be Stephen Hawking to work out the membership can pay for itself.
If £1500 is a little north of where you're at, firstly fair enough! It's not exactly a sofa-finding fee. Secondly, that doesn't have to rule you out of being part of making Chapter happen. Their more accessible experience vouchers include a weekend brunch for six with bottomless bespoke cocktails (for a two hour period) for just £250 or, for £175, how about a five course tasting menu for two, with curated wine flight and champagne on arrival? Available Saturday nights the dishes will give you an introduction to Chapter’s style – an emphasis on the flavours of gorgeous seasonal British produce. Chapter won't be doing taster menus — except on this offer. 
"We’re bowled over by the enthusiasm for Chapter and the support from our loyal customers has been astounding," says Ann. "They understand what is needed to get an independent business up and running again. We’ve funded Chapter through personal equity and loans and are supplementing our investment with these memberships and vouchers. We're hopeful enough people will see the benefits of this community restaurant that they can help us turn it into a reality and we won't need to take on further debt." She's smiling as she says this, but Ann's always smiling. She wants debt no more than any independent operator wants it. But, where we lost Opus we stand to gain Chapter. And though I personally can't stretch to a membership, I've bitten their hands off on the brunch voucher. I didn't get to celebrate my 40th or 41st birthdays. Forty two is going to be big and it will, in a small way, help this new Chapter.
The Chapter website launched today. Membership options can be found through the homepage with voucher options here. You can find a brief video chat with Ben Ternent here. Follow Chapter on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram    


By day you'll find designer Ben Ryan at Stirchley's Printigo, but by night... Oooh by night you'll find him in front of his telly, rolling up paper. Then rolling up more paper. Then he'll stick the lot in a frame and it will look completely and utterly brilliant. The Northfield-based former BCU student is quite the multi-talented artist. From pumpkin carving to wood-burning, Ben has even been known to forge a convincing Mona Lisa before plastering it with Bitcoin as a one-off commission. In short he's one of those horribly skilled sorts who mainly keeps himself to Instagram, quietly getting on with some of the most creative and inventive pieces he can dream up. If you're not on Insta maybe keep up to speed on his Facebook page where you'll find some particularly adorable mini plant pot park benches. Lovely man, going places. More paper rolling to come.       


...And I'm not referring to that dancing thief who was ridding people of their Rolexes last week. This Crime Spree is completely above board and far less painful to watch. Roxana Halls is one of the UK’s most exciting artists. Using oil paint, she confronts society’s expectations of women in her new collection (named ‘Crime Spree’) in which her subjects take control of their lives in extraordinary ways. Whether brandishing weapons, leaving a crime scene or gathering for a night out, these women are full of defiance, laughing in the face of what they have done or are about to do. Reuben Colley Fine Art, on Colmore Row, is showcasing the collection to coincide with Birmingham Pride. Running from now until October 21, queer feminist artist Roxana will appear in person on the Saturday of Pride weekend, September 25. Halls expresses in her work the principles for which the Pride movement also stands: resistance in the face of prejudice, and celebration of the right to be whoever you want to be. Roxana Halls has won countless awards, including the Villiers David Prize. More


The best of Harborne will flood into Harborne High Street on Sunday (September 12) for the first ever Harborne Green Village Fete. Eking out the last of summer, local restaurants, bars and traders will be giving their offering an al fresco slant, alongside a live music stage, makers market, arts and crafts activities and fun fair rides. On the F&B side of things Harborne Kitchen are on vino and cocktail duty while Portuguese-Indian newbies Estado Da India will be rocking up with Goan pulled pork (pictured), and lamb or butterbean pao buns. The event will take place on the High Street from 11am to 7pm with the road closed. Live ents will be headlined by local reggae bands, The Heels, while a choir and a Latin American group are also attending. Organised by local businesses alongside the Harborne Village BID, expect cream teas courtesy of Paul@Number 41, free yoga from Barefoot and an outdoor bar courtesy of Hawkshead Taphouse. Fun fair rides are all free and include a ferris wheel, carousel and swingboats. There'll also be a mud kitchen, crown making, and whatnot. More
Venue: Tropea, 27 Lordswood Rd, Harborne, B17 9RP; Website
Choice: Beef shin ragu pappardelle (£11.50)  Chooser: Ben 

Last time I ate here I succeeded in pulling the disabled alarm in the loos thinking it was a light switch, plunging the entire restaurant into a meal-ruiningly whiney siren. So, room for improvement on my part. Back then Kasia and Ben were going under the name Project Food Co, and were only popping up at Harborne's Booboo Cafe. Now they own the place and go by the significantly better name of Tropea — a town in Calabria, Italy, but now also one of our city's best restaurants. Best because it's excellent value, best because the welcome is wonderful, best because Tropea has single-handedly rejuvenated my passion for Italian food, a style of cuisine that so often leaves me wanting. The pair met training as chefs at University College Birmingham in 2010, followed by working and travelling the world, developing their passion for food and grog. During the 2020 lockdown they decided that owning their own permanent premises was their dream, Tropea being an Italian cafe by day and the full blown, must-visit, restaurant by night. Approach your meal with sharing high on your agenda. All three pastas need ordering and at circa £11 per bowl pretty much can be, unless you're dining alone. Pappardelle, beef shin ragu, with 24-month aged parmesan may have been the pick but the ravioli with ricotta (lemony and herby with a pistachio pesto punch) played a perfect foil. Rich gnocchi with gorgonzola, sweet red onion and walnut added a third and no less desirable dimension — all three excellent, all in their own ways. So good was this pasta, so perfectly al dente, light yet homely, that we managed to find two more pasta dishes that weren't on the menu, mainly by threatening Ben with the disabled alarm trick. If the eel and sausage numbers (two different dishes there, not one) aren't available then trust ben (and, mainly, Kasia in the kitchen) to whip up whatever special or extra they may have. The eel dish was the best bowl of the night, the fish sourced from Devon and smoky beyond belief. Divine. The handsomely short menu features wild shell-on red prawns in garlic and chilli — which is hard to do wrong and sure enough they didn't — and an ox cheek in red wine with polenta that you'll feel deep down in your very marrow. Menu 
A design competition to work with Birmingham City Council has been launched, ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The competition is to design bespoke presentation items, which are traditionally offered by the host city to Heads of State, dignitaries and sporting representatives, in the lead up and during the Games. Designers, manufacturers and tradespeople are invited to enter a procurement process to supply bespoke presentation items. More

Pop-up news: Burger bods Patty Dabblers are at Sommar Brewery in the Utilita Arena tonight until Sunday (inclusive). Speaking of the Utilita, Ricky Gervais will perform there, October 6. Tickets go on sale Saturday from £33.   

Be transported to a Caribbean port for DeNada Dance Theatre's reimagining of Puccini's Madame Butterfly as a transgender tragedy and it's a world premiere, right here in Birm-town (30 Sept and 1 Oct). More
The Rotunda candle is a thing of retro beauty. £15 
The University of Birmingham has opened the beautifully restored Exchange building, if you're in the market for coffee and cake. The grade II listed beaut was originally founded as the Birmingham Municipal Bank.

"The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you're hungry again."

George Miller

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WORDS: Tom Cullen

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