It’s the second time in three weeks I’ve attended a venue that I can describe as “in close proximity to a sex place”, the first being OPM which is a stone’s throw from Taboo Cinema, and the second being the new more permanent home of Nomad restaurant on Dudley Street, opposite “Adult World”. Don’t let that put you off either venue, as they’re both extremely close to the Bullring shopping centre and New Street Station, and the change of scenery adds a frisson of quirkiness. Take a date and it will definitely illicit a “where are you taking me?” reaction.
We’ve covered Nomad’s food, prepared by chef-owner Alex Claridge and his head-chef Brian Smith many times as they’ve moved between pop-up venues including the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath and Urban Coffee in the city centre. Call me an unashamed Nomad fanboy if you will, but I still think that the team here offer something different to the other eateries in town.
I’ve eaten ingredients at Nomad that I’ve had nowhere else before or since including wood ants (crunchy lemon), melilot (a weird vanilla flavour crossed with hay, I wasn’t a fan), and sea blight (like samphire). These curios are crossed with more standard fare, and the combinations are showcased at Nomad in a ten course (maybe nine, maybe eleven) for £50. The menu changes very frequently depending on seasonality, and what the team have been able to harvest from their allotment, or collect foraging.
Water is served filtered at £2 a large bottle, with profits going to the Water Aid charity. I’m not a fan of bottled water unless it’s a necessity while travelling, so I think that’s a great idea. Obviously we had booze as well. You can add a wine flight for a reasonable £20, or take wine by the glass (£3/£5) or bottle (£25). However you won’t get winemakers, varietals, and vintages on the menu, you’ll order by description: “herbaceuous, preserved lemon, tropical finish”, or “plum chutney, spiced, big personality”. The team here want dining with them to be a fun and memorable experience – there will be things you like, and things you don’t, and invariably something you’re not quite sure about (mine was the melilot syrup cream).
The exterior of Nomad is unobstrusive, blink and you’ll miss it. You’ll see a bronzed glass door with their logo, just to the left of the phone box. The interior is tranquil, with comfortable seating enabling a lengthy three hour dinner. You can look in to the kitchen at the pass, and see the chefs titivating dishes before they are served. The waiting staff will talk you through the options, suggest wines, and explain the considerable detail of each of the dishes.
Given the number of courses, many are small tasters, but by the time we had eaten the lot we were pleasantly full. I know people worry about leaving hungry from fine dining establishments, but thankfully I think most of the good ones have given nouveau cuisine (big white plates with nothing on them) the heave ho and understand we all want feeding. We started our ten or so courses with what could only be described as a particularly phallic looking carrot. It had been cooked slowly for twelve hours with thyme. It was soft, sweet, and earthy, and mildly comic, presented with a flourish by the waiter.
Two seaside-reminiscent mussels with a little shallot came next on a bed of shiny mussel shells. Then on to a dish of sweetly cooked leek with a bitter burned tinge, with slightly peppery yarrow flowers and grated cured egg yolk. This was followed by mallard breast, salsify, chestnuts, and sprouts. I love sprouts and any bitter flavour, but for those worried, there were just a few of the outer leaves of a sprout dressing the plate. The mallard duck was slightly, but not unpleasantly, tougher than duck I’ve tried before (which would ordinarily be a Gressingham duck which is a Pekin / mallard cross breed apparently – I had to google it). The bronzed salsify added a sweetness to the dish. Then on to a wintery favourite of Jerusalem artichoke with parsley root, and a gentle garlic cream. My partner thought this dish was all too single texture but to me it was comforting.
Next up was the first of the two “mains”. Cornish red-mullet with lacto-fermented ramson, and nori potatoes. A fleshy fillet of golden mullet laid crisp across the potatoes and light garlic ramson. The next of the two mains was a vol-au-vents style pie of mallard, salsify, mushroom and chestnut. Sort of a rework of one of the starter dishes in a different context.
On to puddings, plural of course. A rum and raisin parfait carried strong flavour and a puree of tea infused raisin added a bitter edge to take off some of the sweetness. Second dessert was poached pear with a light almond sponge and melilot syrup cream. The cream had perfume notes of the melilot – as I said above, I’ve still not made my mind up on this, but it was an interesting new ingredient. Final dessert was a bitter chocolate sorbet, with sea buckthorn. I wondered how chef would manage a dairy free chocolate sorbet but the chocolate was so intensely rich there was no need for dairy, the chocolate flavour was dark and had hints of red fruit. The sea buckthorn added its slight sourness to the dish.
It’s an interesting offering. The location is quirky, the service fine dining, and some of the dishes are experimental. You’re probably not going to get great hunks of meat but you’ll get delicious curated ingredients and stars like that lovely mullet. Dinner with the wine flight will cost £70 a head, which I think is good value compared to similar quality establishments. Unsurprisingly given the Nomad cult following January bookings are almost full. If you like a different experience, and love unusual food, then get booked in for a special dinner out, romantic or with friends, this place fits the bill and is bound to delight.
I have not talked at all about the craziness of some of the events the Nomad team run, under the moniker “Nomad – No Rules”. They’re known to be a little extreme, in activity, participation, and food. If you attend one of those events, don’t say I didn’t warn you! You can get more information about all of their projects on the website here: http://foodbynomad.com. You can also find out more by following them on twitter here, and by following the chef’s here: @lyndon_alex and @451Brian.
See our reciprocity promise here. Including this review, nine out of ten most recent reviews we’ve paid in full. Unusually we accepted an invitation for a freebie dinner at Nomad, though we paid for drinks.