Restaurants are open again! Hurrah!
What a treat to be able to go out again to restaurants. To enjoy that convivial atmosphere, to pore over the wine list looking for something unusual or interesting, to have friendly discussions with knowledgable and personable waiting staff, to taste the exquisite craft of the highly-skilled chefs, to not having to wash up after dinner (!), to share this experience with friends and family. Everyone knows that the restaurant trade has had a terrible year, truly an annus horribilis with no real vestiges of support from the government. This isn’t the place for a thorough analysis of all of the errors that have been made, but I hope that everyone who is reading this would join with me in raising a glass to the hospitality trade and committing to doing our bit to supporting them as we emerge from this awful pandemic.
So it is with a full heart that I am writing a short blog to cover a joyful restaurant visit I made last weekend to a restaurant that holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in Moseley, Birmingham – including going to primary school there. A beautiful south Birmingham suburb that is known for its slightly bohemian atmosphere and great bars and restaurants. We were thrilled when an exciting Birmingham chef, Brad Carter, established Carters of Moseley in 2010 looking to bring fine dining to Moseley with his partner Holly. My parents visited the restaurant in its first week of operation (before they’d even got their licence!) and have been visiting ever since. I visited the restaurant in 2014 (and wrote this piece on it) where I confidently predicted that it wouldn’t be long before Carters would be awarded a Michelin star, which it duly was in 2015.
Over the last few weeks my little sister has just bought a flat in Moseley, which we are delighted about as it means that we still have a family member living in Moseley (others of us having moved away over the years). So there was only one place that I could take my sister for a celebratory lunch to congratulate her on her acquisition – back to Carters!
We were having their lunch tasting menu and boy it was a treat!
We started off with a series of small plates as nibbles (see photos above). We had a sushi-style trout bite that had a little bit of tomato water around it, an oyster that was served with local oyster leaf and a chicken oyster that was fried with a lovely crispy coating and served alongside an aged soy sauce – which was smoky, salty and absolutely delicious. Each of these bites were wonderfully conceived and perfectly execute.
Next up we started moving into the main courses with Evesham Tomatoes served with a Chilled Shrimp Broth and Exmoor Caviar. Evesham is a local area to Birmingham, and the use of locally sourced ingredients with suppliers that the restaurant has developed a relationship with is a constant theme through the menu. The broth was absolutely delicious and had a beautiful flavour, the caviar is sourced from a sturgeon farm on Exmoor that holds a royal warrant for production of caviar. They used microflowers and attractive herbs to really bring this plate to life. All of these parts made for a great match up against the sweet, juicy tomatoes – which makes me excited for my own crop of tomatoes that I’ll hopefully be enjoying in a few months’ time (British summer dependant…).
We had a round of bread and butter in between the courses next, before moving on to the enigmatically titled “Birmingham soup”. I mentioned before that Brad is a proud Brummie and this really comes through in his selection of this dish. We were told that it was inspired by one of Birmingham’s most famous sons, Matthew Boulton, who committed to providing a hearty and wholesome soup for local Birmingham poor for a penny a serving. Brad said that he had followed Boulton’s recipe focussing on the use of turnips, beef heart and a beef broth. The broth was absolutely divine, so rich and flavoursome. All of this was offset with a potato crisp designed to look like the façade of Birmingham’s iconic centra library. This is very clever cooking, but it also makes a point. The importance of looking after the poor within your community is a message that transcends time.
After this we moved onto a fish course with Gigha Halibut (Gigha is a Scottish island), Drawn Butter and Seaweeds. You’ll see from this picture that the first thing you notice is what an attractive plate of food this was – especially the plate itself! The halibut was exquisitely soft and delicate, but still managing to have a meatiness to it that gave a great texture. The butter sauce was offset wonderfully with vestiges of seaweed oils, purées and garnishes. There were so many layers of flavour to this dish that it forced you to eat it a little more slowly to really savour the experience. Once more the little additions of micro-herbs and garnishes helped to give the dish a little more flair.
Time for a meat course! This was in the form of “Holstein Friesian and Grass”. This was a real stunner of a dish. The beef should have been the showpiece and it kind of was. It was beautifully pink on the inside, which gave the plate a real vibrancy when you compared it to the bright green of the garnishes and sauce, but the cooking of the meat on a BBQ gave it a really smoky flavour and texturised crust. However, the beef for me was overshadowed by the inclusion of a side of grains that Brad said were cooked to be an alternative to rice given that rice wouldn’t have been a staple for the British diet until relatively recently. These grains are cooked over many hours and had both a beautiful flavour and a texture. The grains were shared on the table, which led to a little jockeying to ensure you got a good portion!
Time for the sweet and Brad showed his playful side here with a Meadowsweet Smiley with Lichfield Strawberries. Again you see the use of local ingredients, but the centre point of the dish was the smiley which was a reference to the fact that in his youth Brad was involved in the Acid House rave scene and the smiley was a beloved symbol of that movement. I really like little touches like this as they really help you get the feeling that you are getting to know the character of the restaurant and its ethos. This isn’t food that’s just designed to look and taste good, it also tells a story and wants to entertain. That’s the kind of restaurant that I like to eat at.
Now, we’ve gone through all of this without mentioning wine. Needless to say, there was wine! The wine list is made of biodynamic and natural wines, which is very much in keeping with the rest of the ethos that the restaurant is based on – minimal intervention, strong sense of local identity, production based on passion. I am not the greatest fan of biodynamic and natural wines and find them quite challenging. The wine list itself is a little hard to navigate as someone who has a decent knowledge about wine. However, they have very knowledgeable and passionate staff on hand to help you with your selection, which I took full advantage of!
We started with Gusbourne’s 2016 Estate Sparkling Rosé as this was a celebration and what better way to celebrate then with some bubbles. This wine had lovely bite and structure, offset with nice red fruit notes. A great aperitif wine.
As we moved through the menu we went on to white and had a 2019 Wasenhaus Gutedel (Baden, Germany). Gutedel is a grape not widely known, which is also called “Chasselas” in France. This is where we get the trickier aspects of biodynamic wine – the aroma of this wine can only be described as funky. Amongst the table people viewed it with an element of suspicion. On tasting the wine had a nice acidity to it and a decent green / stone fruit profile. As we gave it more time in glass and had it as a match against some of the dishes, this wine started to improve more and more. A decent wine, which also had the added benefit of being produced from a village that was next door to where my wife’s grandparents lived in Germany (which was why we picked it!).
For the second half of the menu we went for a Greek red, essentially because I am having a bit of a moment with Greek reds, a 2018 (I think!) Xi-Ro from Ktima Ligas on the northern part of Greece near the Macedonian border. This is an interesting wine as it is a blend of a red grape – Xinomavro, and a white grape – Roditis; which is where the wine’s name comes from! Overall it was much more of a hit on the table than the white, the aroma was low on the “funky level” and the palate was beautifully delicate and fresh. This is the kind of red that would be best served a little chilled in my opinion and went well with both the halibut and the beef.
This was a wonderful occasion for so many reasons. Celebrating with loved ones; being back in a restaurant, enjoying delicious food and great wine; being entertained by highly-skilled hospitality staff; feeling a little bit normal again. Thanks to Brad, Holly and the team for a lovely afternoon.
Here’s hoping that now that restaurants are open again that they are going to stay open. They are such an important part of our country, trust me we would really miss them if they are no longer there. Cherish and support them in any way you can.