Restaurant duo reach semi-finals of prestigious hospitality awards

Two catering professionals at city-centre restaurant Opus at Cornwall Street have been announced as semi-finalists in this year’s Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Annual Awards of Excellence, the most prestigious award available to young people in the industry today.

Opus Kevin Steele and Gabriella Murea pic 1This year has seen the awards receive an unprecedented number of entries of an extraordinarily high standard and Gabriella Murea, waitress, and Kevin Steele, sous chef, have reached the semi-final stage of the service and kitchen awards respectively, alongside candidates from celebrated London restaurants such as Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Claridge’s. With a high-profile judging panel including celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, the awards are designed to encourage young people to achieve the highest possible standards in their profession.

Gabriella, 26, has worked at Opus for just five months whilst studying hospitality and events management at UCB, and has already taken part in the service semi-final, which took place at The Ritz on Saturday 21st March. Speaking about the day, she said: “I spent two weeks preparing and studying hard for the semi-final. I sat a written test of 75 questions, which asked everything from which countries different bottles of water are from to which glasses to use for various wines, it was very thorough. I think it went well and now I’m just waiting to hear if I’ve passed.”

Kevin, also 26, has worked at Opus for nearly three years and will be taking part in the regional kitchen semi-final on Wednesday 8th April at UCB, where he will be required to undertake a challenging theory and practical skills test.

Ann Tonks, managing director at Opus restaurant, said: “To have Gabriella and Kevin shortlisted is a huge achievement for them both. The majority of their competitors are from top London restaurants and to have the pair flying the flag for Opus, Birmingham and the industry as a whole is fantastic. We are committed to developing our kitchen and front of house teams and this competition gives them a great opportunity to develop their skills further. We couldn’t be more proud that they have reached this stage in such a demanding competition and they have the support of all of their colleagues.”

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Emporio Maria

Out In Brum - Emporio Maria - Interior FrescoIt’s been a while since I’ve dined under a cypress tree fresco, I think it was 1997 in fact when the world was going Changing Rooms mad, but we did so at Emporio Maria Italian Restaurant on Harborne High Street just a week or so ago. The décor is rather odd with cow hide chairs in the window, frescoes of Italian landscapes on the walls, a chinese paper screen, a Moorish lamp, and some draped fake ivy, but all in it has quite a charming effect. I was half expecting the fake ivy to be caked in dust as fake flowers are usually the go-to product for those who can’t be bothered with real ones, but the whole place was scrupulously clean – not a speck of dust in sight, it all feels very well cared for. That feeling extends to the service; polite and chatty waitresses are happy to explain the dishes or to recommend a wine to go with something.

For starters we had the Calamari Fritti (£6.55), deep fried squid, dusted with egg and Out In Brum - Emporio Maria - Polpeta di Melanzanesemolina flour, served with tartar sauce. It was a very large portion, the batter was crisp, and the squid soft and not at all chewy, and the dish was served with some lovely olives and some dressed leaves. Great dish all in I thought. We also had the Polpeta di Melanzane (£5.95), aubergine balls with chillies, breadcrumbs, sundried tomatoes, and basil, served with spiced tomato dip. In contrast to the calamari I thought this dish was a little undersized and that the aubergine balls were bland, though the spicy tomato sauce was nice. It was also served with undressed leaves, which is a pet hate of mine.

For mains I had Vitello Saltibocca (£15.50), veal escalopes served in a marsala wine, andOut In Brum - Emporio Maria - Vitello Saltibocca sage sauce topped with Parma ham. I loved this dish, it took me back to being in a Tuscan farm house. Sage isn’t en vogue at the moment but it’s one of my favourite herbs, and it suited the veal perfectly. The veal wasn’t quite trimmed enough for me and the fat on it was not edible, much too chewy. We also had the Petto di Pollo al Miele (£11.95), breast of chicken, in a honey mustard cream sauce. The chicken was moist, the sauce rich, and the chips crispy, pretty much as I would have expected.  We were a bit surprised that the chicken was served on the side of the sauce, the dish wasn’t a looker.  For dessert we had the tiramisu, obviously, which we really liked.

While overall the dishes were enjoyable, they suffered from rather mediocre presentation. Out In Brum - Emporio Maria - Petto di Pollo al MieleI can’t help but think that if I’d have had a £15 main from The Pickled Piglet or other venues that it would’ve been presented better. It was reasonably busy on a Friday evening when we went but I do wonder whether an update to something a bit more modern would make it busier – both in terms of the interior and the food presentation.

We will go back because we enjoyed the evening, but it feels like one of those places not quite living up to its potential.

Posted in Area: Harborne, Cuisine: Italian, Price: Average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Soul Food from Big Papa’s B.South

Out In Brum - Big Papas B South at the Sunflower Lounge - Cola Beef BrisketWe all know the feeling of waking up on a Saturday with a dry mouth and pounding head, and insisting that “the last pint was off”.  A sure fire solution to that rubbish feeling is a fry-up, and we always advocate brunch at JuJu’s for those afflicted with B.R.Y. (Booze Related Yuckiness).  The lads at Big Papa’s aren’t offering breakfast, but definitely offer food for the soul that will sort that griping stomach right out before you get back on it on a Saturday afternoon.

Think New Orleans southern flavours, spicy fruity chutneys, utterly crispy fried chicken, and unctuous slow cooked beef and pork.  Although they’re a street food venture, presently they have residency at The Sunflower Lounge on Smallbrook Queensway.  That venue isOut In Brum - Big Papas B South at the Sunflower Lounge - Buttermilk Fried Chicken no doubt familiar with many of you as it’s been serving up the best of indie live music for a decade.  It has been recently refurbished and while it’s lost none of its edgy charm it’s now somewhere you wouldn’t mind eating in!  The Sunflower lounge also take part in the Independent Birmingham card which gave us 10% off food and drink (check website for details, we’re not affiliated, we just happen to use it).  We went along for a Saturday lunch ahead of some afternoon shopping and drinking.

We knew the portions were large so skipped the starters, but on offer were blackened shrimp, spicy fried okra, and buttermilk hot wings, all £5.  The mains are served with two sides, all for £10.  I had the buttermilk fried chicken which was truly the crispiest most Out In Brum - Big Papas B South at the Sunflower Lounge - Sweet Potato Friessucculent bit of chicken I’ve ever had.  It was served with a lip tinglingly spicy mango chutney, coleslaw, and a lime wedge.  I had two carbtastic sides with mine though one would’ve been plenty for all but the most ravenous.  The sweet potato fries were the best I’ve ever had, golden and crisp on the outside, sweet and soft on the inside.  My other side of mac’n’cheese was a meal in itself – al dente large pasta tubes (maybe gomiti – there are too many pasta names to know them all) lightly coated in a rich cheese sauce topped with smoked paprika.  If that lot won’t sort a hangover out, nothing will.

The other main we tried was cola cooked pulled beef brisket on a brioche bun.  The sweet savoury flavour of the meat was delicious with the spicy fruit chutney and cool coleslaw.  If you’re hungry after all that lot then they offer some desserts including Mississippi mud pie, or blueberry pancakes – all a fiver.

For £20 here you can have three courses of great quality tasty grub.  I’m not really sure how places like Five Guys can be busy when this superb offering is just 5 minutes away.

Well done guys, I suspect there are more great dishes to come out of your kitchen.

Posted in Area: Central Shopping, Area: China Town, Area: City Centre, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Cuisine: US Southern Soul Food, Price: Cheap as Chips - Inexpensive, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Entertainment, Venue type: Pub | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Extravagance at The Edgbaston

Out In Brum - The Edgbaston - Downstairs Interior“A chauffeur in a uniform of robin’s-egg blue crossed  my lawn early that Saturday morning with a surprisingly formal note from his employer: the honour would be entirely Gatsby’s, it said, if I would attend his ‘little party’ that night”.  A Gatsby invitation it may not have been, coming as is usual nowadays via Twitter, but the feeling of pending extravagance was certainly apparent when we were invited to the launch of The Edgbaston’s first full menu.  We were to sample the six course taster menu, with matched cocktails.

The Edgbaston is still little known considering it’s been up and running for a while now – I see this not as a failing but as a reflection of its niche clientele who want to keep the byzantine 1920s glory to themselves.  Richly shining golds and blacks adorn every surface; coupes, flutes, and highballs are filled with smoking many-coloured cocktails.  From the understated frontage of the beautiful Georgian building to the chandeliers and Out In Brum - The Edgbaston - Upstairs Interiorcheckerboard tiles of the entrance hall, the place feels special.

Chef Ryan Swift has recently joined the team which completes the epicurean triumvirate for The Edgbaston – rooms, booze, and now food.  I’ll try and summarise their food offering, but like many places nowadays you may need a sliding rule and a spreadsheet.

In their fine dining setting they offer an a la carte menu, bar snacks, or taster menus.  For the taster menus there’s a 4 course (£40), or a 6 course (£60) taster menu which can be accompanied with either a cocktail flight (a cocktail with each course, £45 for the 4 course and £55 for the 6 course) or wine flight (£50 for the 4 course and £60 for the 6 course).  It’s pitched at about the same price point as other fine dining restaurants in Birmingham.  We’re not aware of another restaurant, anywhere, that offers a cocktail flight with food and we weren’t sure whether we’d be sozzled by the end of dinner, nor whether the pairings would work – needless to say, they absolutely did.  The cocktail manager, Robert, also ensured that the cocktail flight was within 1 alcoholic unit of the corresponding wine flight, so although you woOut In Brum - The Edgbaston - Smoked Eeln’t leave sober, you won’t fall unconscious during pudding either.

Down to the nitty gritty, the food!  While we waited at the bar we tried feather light earthy beetroot meringue with whipped goats cheese, and also salmon with baked lemon and cucumber pickle on rye bread.  Then on to the first of our six courses – Smoked Eel which was served with cubes of apple, apple and lovage purees, and a tube of eel mousse.  The eel was delicate and tender, and didn’t have that overly fishy taste that cOut In Brum - The Edgbaston - Foie Grasan ruin a meal.  I particularly liked the delicate mousse.

Our next course was Foie Gras, a personal favourite.  Served with texturally different pain d’epice toasts the buttery foie gras was also accompanied by Yorkshire rhubarb poached, jellied, and pureed.  This course was served with a Rhubarb and Raspberry cocktail with Ginger, that cut through the foie gras and lifted it.

Out In Brum - The Edgbaston - ScallopWe moved on to sweet hand dived scallops that were burnished from the pan.  Served with wafer thin slices of cauliflower, and dollops of caviar, and an unusual white chocolate sauce.  The cocktail for this plate was a Yuzu liqueur with fennel and lovage.  A very pretty plate, and luckily the other half has a shellfish allergy so I got to eat some of his too.  I think this was my favourite course of the night.

My favourite drink of the night though was the “Chateau Edgbaston” cocktail, served in a Out In Brum - The Edgbaston - Beef Sirloinlabelled red wine bottle and looking just like red wine this was a heady mixture of sloe gin, dubonnet and creme de cassis with an oak smoke.  It accompanied a filling beef sirloin with white onion and garlic, laid on a flat blanket of strongly flavoured beef.

We then had a pre-dessert of an “Edible Cocktail”.  This was a liquid nitrogen frozen block of cocktail.  I like theatre in my restaurants and the smoky look of dry ice cocktails and nitrogen frozen food.  I’m not sure though that eating nitrogen frozen stuff is for me!  I don’t think I get it.Out In Brum - The Edgbaston - Valhrona Chocolate

Our final course was Valrhona Chocolate with a Parma violet ice cream and cookie crumb.  The Parma violet was just right, and worked well with the deep chocolate flavours, it could’ve been so easy to overdo it.  This was matched with a Rubis (chocolate red wine) and espresso and wild berry cocktail.

Certainly a marathon not a sprint of a meal!  If you want that luxurious place for a evening of fine food and drink, then this is the place for you.  If it’s an extra special occassion splash out on one of their beautiful rooms and make a night of it, serious boyfriend/girlfriend points to be had!

Thanks to The Edgbaston for a wonderful evening.

See our reciprocity promise.

Posted in Area: Edgbaston, Area: Harborne, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: My eyes are watering - expensive, Venue type: Bar, Venue type: Cocktail Bar, Venue type: Restaurant, Venue type: Wine Bar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Turners – New Year’s Eve – 10 Courses

Out In Brum - Turners - Sea BassSome people look at New Year’s Eve as a night to remain firmly on the sofa in front of Jules Holland. Not so us. It’s one of our favourite nights of the year, and we usually start researching it in August, and “research” really is the only verb that gets across the amount of effort that goes in to working out where we will be dining and drinking when Big Ben bongs twelve. Over the past couple of years we’ve greeted the New Year from One Horseguards hotel’s terrace opposite the London Eye, and from a hot tub with bottles of champagne in mid-Wales. This year we wanted to stay close to home but our go to restaurant, Adams, was closed. In fact lots of our normal places were closed – apparently chefs also like to celebrate on New Year’s.

Our most local Michelin starred venue, Turners in Harborne, was open so we booked there. We were not disappointed. The restaurant is nestled on Harborne High Street between some random shops and is best described as unassuming, a grey frontage with white moniker. The interior is cool and intimate, although I note they’ve had a refurb since we went, I am assuming they won’t have had a dramatic change in the interior décor and switched to rag-rolled Mexican.

We didn’t have the most auspicious start unfortunately as one of our group of four was fine until late afternoon and then became violently ill, I’ve christened the yuletide period in 2014 as #sickmas – everyone was ill at one point or another, including me. Graciously the Out In Brum - Turners - Curdrestaurant waived the cancellation fee, which given we couldn’t cancel the place until we got there they would have been well within their rights to charge. When we booked they were also brilliant about the fact that of the four of us, one had a dairy allergy, one had a nut allergy, and one had a shellfish allergy. I’m the easy one, and can confirm that catering a dinner party for those dietary requirements can be a bit of a pain.

Usually the restaurant offers á la carte as well as taster menus, but NYE is a special menu just for the evening, and this year as it’s coming near to its tenth anniversary there were nine courses, one for each year it has been open. Although if you include the “snacks” and mignardises there were eleven courses all in. We opted for the wine flight rather than having to pick and choose bottles for just the three of us. As it was rather an extensive menu, with wines to accompany each course, I thought I best give you the full menu with paired wines. Read it and drool.

Ox cheek doughnuts
Smoked haddock croquettes
Brown shrimp cracker, salmon, avocado, soy and coriander
Out In Brum - Turners - Snacks
Native Oyster, potato, horseradish, and caviar
+Pierre Gerbais Cuvee Reserve, Champagne
Out In Brum - Turners - Oyster
Duck liver
Smoked, variations of onion, thyme granite
+Carmes de Ruessec, Sauternes
Out In Brum - Turners - Duck Liver
+Marina Cvetic Trebbiano
Out In Brum - Turners - Squid
Baked, puree, broth, and Winter truffle
+Lucci, Sauvignon Blanc
Out In Brum - Turners - Celeriac
Sea Bass
Roast, sardine, feta, sea vegetables, and kohlrabi
+Saint Claire block 18, Sauvignon Blanc
Out In Brum - Turners - Sea Bass
Cep, salsify, and pine
+La Crema, Pinot Noir
Out In Brum - Turners - Venison
Billat Truffe
Creamed, quince, walnut and celery
+Les Clos de Paulill, Banyuls Rouge (I think, as this is the only one I was unsure about which wine we had).
Out In Brum - Turners - Cheese
Flavours of Beer
+Chateau Theulet, Monzbazillac
Out In Brum - Turners - Chocolate
Curd, black sesame and yoghurt
Out In Brum - Turners - Curd
Mignardises Out In Brum - Turners - Mignardises

It was all excellent, but if I rave about everything we’ll be here all day so I shall highlight those things I thought particularly exceptional. Firstly, the oyster. Served in the shell which had a sort of set potato and horseradish buttery terrine with a silky mouth-feel. Then on to the smoked duck liver, served with frozen thyme granita which really worked for me because I like the contrast of temperatures, and I like duck liver and thyme. The squid “carbonara” was a technical feat – foam as light as air with the cheesy intensity of parmesan covered thin ribbons of squid which was the “carbonara” (i.e. no pasta in this dish, just the squid) in a delicate sauce.

Out In Brum - Turners - VenisonThe celeriac is baked, whole, in a salt crust (I think) and was carved and plated at the table by the eponymous Chef Richard Turner. Table theatre like this really turns the evening in to an event. Theatre on its own isn’t enough though, the food has to be spot on, the celeriac was tasty and served with a glossy consommé and a decadent amount of shaved truffle.

Sea bass was served with a crackably crispy skin and snow white soft flesh. I love venison and it was served rare and tender, and I particularly liked the strong flavoured venison sausage.

I’m a big fan of French ordered menus, that is having cheese before the sweet, and the Billat Truffe was very nice ahead of the chocolate with flavours of beer which I could sit and eat all day. The last dish on the menu was Kalamanis, a cheese curd and yoghurt on a savoury sesame base. Then followed mignardises.Out In Brum - Turners - Mignardises

I don’t think you want to know how much it was, but it’s the same price as any other Michelin starred restaurant on New Year’s Eve. I’d thoroughly recommend it and I’m sure we’ll be trying it out over the coming year for lunch or dinner. Thanks to Chef Richard Turner and his team for some very memorable food.

Posted in Area: Harborne, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: My eyes are watering - expensive, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epi at The Courtyard

Out In Brum - Epi at The Courtyard - ExteriorWe’ve reviewed the food of Chef Nathan Eades before, having eaten at his pop-ups in The Kitchen Garden (review here) and The Pickled Piglet.  We’ve been meaning to try his more permanent home, Epi at The Courtyard, for a while and a couple of weeks ago we were invited to try the current lunch menu at his fine dining restaurant.  Being greedy we decided to upgrade to the five course taster menu instead, and added on several bottles of wine and a couple of gins.  There’s no such think as a free lunch when we’re around and feeling in the mood for a boozy one!

It’s probably a little further out than some of you would normally travel, but all I can say is it’s dead easy on the train to get to Bromsgrove (just 20 minutes from New Street Station and a 2 minute cab) and it’s such good value you’d be a fool to miss it (this is also true of The Bluebell).  You’ll find Epi down an alleyway off Bromsgrove High Street; the antique building is pretty and the dining rooms are cosy and inviting.

Professional and friendly staff seated us and we ordered a G&T while we perused the wineOut In Brum - Epi at The Courtyard - Pig's Head Terrine list which had a good selection starting from £15 a bottle.  As we intended on not getting too tipsy we declined the wine flight and instead ordered first a bottle of Gavi (£22.50) to go with our first couple of courses.

First up was a Pig’s Head Terrine which was both piggy and heady (in both senses of the word), accompanied by a sweet apple puree and slices of apple.  Some restaurants spoil great food by serving it with Ikea cutlery and dinnerware, not so here, I think a lot of time goes in to deciding which type of plate should be used for which dish and consequently the finished article looks terrific.Out In Brum - Epi at The Courtyard - Carrot

Next up was a “tasting of carrot”, with carrot prepared five ways – sweetly roasted, puréed, as a lightly spiced bhaji, ribboned and pickled, and finally a jus of green carrot over the top.  I like dishes that make an accompaniment the centre of attention.

Out In Brum - Epi at The Courtyard - BeefThen to the main event – slow cooked short rib of beef.  Two words: de, licious.  The tender and strongly beefy ribs were served with a pomme purée and kale, with roasted swede (which is a much underused vegetable in my opinion, I really like it but hardly ever see it on a menu), and a beefy sauce which we had an extra jug of.  We had a bottle of red to go with this but I failed to note what it was.

To accompany dessert we decided on a frizzante Moscoto D’Asti Centeve (£22), which had Out In Brum - Epi at The Courtyard - Chocolate
sweet pineapple and honey notes.  It went wonderfully with the first desert of buttery chocolate ganache with caramelised milk, and equally well with the next course of rhubarb, lemon curd, and spiced ginger cake.

While it may not be everyday dining, it’s a lovely place for a treat and excellent value.  The five course taster menu costs just £35, and I can’t think of anywhere else you could eat food this good for that amount of money.  For the hungry, Chef Nathan offers a seven course taster menu at £40, and for the not so hungry a three course menu at £29.  There are wine flights for each menu for those who want wine matched to each Out In Brum - Epi at The Courtyard - Rhubarbcourse (£20, £25, £30 respectively for three/five/seven courses).  They also offer lunch as two or three courses which cost £25 and £30 respectively.  They’re open for Valentine’s and I think that’s a perfect opportunity to spoil your loved one.

See our reciprocity promise.

Posted in Area: Out of Birmingham, Cuisine: English, Cuisine: Fine Dining, Cuisine: Modern Mixed, Price: Average, Venue type: Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bar Opus says ‘Oui’ to French cooking lesson

Birmingham foodies are being given a unique opportunity to join two of the city’s best chefs for a series of hands-on cookery classes at Bar Opus at One Snowhill.

Kicking off the culinary masterclasses, head chef Gareth Wayt and chef director David Colcombe will be taking a practical lesson on how to source and cook the popular French-inspired dish  Bouillabaisse including how to prepare freshly-caught Brixham Bay fish and shellfish and locally-grown vegetables, as well as creating the perfect saffron turned potatoes to accompany the dish.

GarethBAR OPUS Chefs Gareth Wayt and David Colcombe pic 1, who has been a chef with the Opus family since the age of 21, said: “For some, Saturday mornings are often spent lying in bed watching cookery programmes, but this is the perfect chance for food lovers, diners, or anyone who wants to improve their cooking skills to join us in our kitchen and learn the techniques that we use.”

The hour-long masterclasses, which are being held on Saturday 7th and 21st February between 11am and 12pm, are followed by a two-course specially prepared Bar Opus lunch, and are priced at £25 per person all inclusive. The series will run alongside a number of cocktail masterclasses, starting on Saturday 31st January, in which bar manager Sam Cross will be teaching how to mix cocktails like a professional.

Spaces are strictly limited. To book a ticket call Bar Opus on 0121 289 3939.

Our recent review of Bar Opus can be found here:

Posted in Area: City Centre, Area: Colmore Business District, Uncategorized | Leave a comment