11 September 2011


To get the full effect of that headline, click here. Well, how else do you describe a meal at Simpsons?  

As hinted in the last post - and painfully bleeding obvious from the current state of the waistline - I've got a lot of food-related things to write up, both professionally and / or here. Simpsons is one that straddles both and I'll come back and link to the "proper" review in due course. 

Thanks to Simon Majumdar's extensive UK research and various Saturday Kitchen personalities, I was aware that the Birmingham food scene was on the up. I also had some inside knowledge, again thanks to Simon, who kindly introduced me to James Day, one of the Midlands' leading marketing and media chaps, on an otherwise disappointing day at the Real Food Festival. James had long been suggesting a day of Birmingham eating - something I mentally referred to as "Brum Yum Yum" but would never admit to that in public - and, finally, earlier this summer, James, Adam and I got collective arses into gear and met for a day of eating. 

We started at the excellent Beef, another venture from Simpsons owner Andreas Antona. Adam has thoroughly dissected this experience here so I'll just chip in and agree with his verdict. It's an excellent spot, tremendous value and can hold its own against pretty much any spot in the UK. I might still give Goodman my first place rosette (if I had one. Which I don't. Yet) if only because of the level of char that Josper grill can give. However, young chef Iain Miller has an infectious enthusiasm, a fine charcoal grill and some brilliantly sourced meat. After the 100 day "vertical tasting" I was lucky to experience, this was a "horizontal" version: three different sirloins cooked in identical fashion. The Wagyu was tender and rich, the marbling on the USDA gave that a deep flavour but, for me, the straightforward Scottish, with its grassy tones and almost old-fashioned beefiness, edged it. The other bits on offer - a cracking gazpacho (the one that inspired this post as it happens), the fries, a black pudding salad, bone marrow... - were also pretty damned good. You're a lucky little borough, Kenilworth. Make sure you look after Beef. 

Anyway, after that little bit of excess - very few carbs were harmed in the making of that lunch - and a canalside beer or two, James took us to Simpsons. It's a smart looking building, but unprepossessing: indeed, at first glance you'd assume it was home to a software firm or architect practice. Step inside, however, and you instantly realise you're in very safe hands. Rooms are airy, service is that oh-so-tricky blend of informality and efficiency and it's shaming that I can't remember the maitre d's name because he can probably still remember mine, and there's only one of his and he's had several thousand customers since. 

As Adam says, a Michelin star can imply horrible formality or, worse, that sense you're there to worship the food. The best thing about Simpsons, aside from the atmosphere, is that, in addition to fancying everything on the menu, there's also nothing there you don't feel you couldn't have a stab at when you got home. That's not to say it's easy or that Simpsons are making money out of old rope, it's just that the flourishes, as clever and delicious as they are, would be within the scope of most reasonable amateur cooks. They'd take you hours, of course, but it's quite inspiring nonetheless (and means the Simpsons book comes highly recommended). 

So, to the food. An amuse of squid ink, Israeli cous cous, squid, Greek lemons and a flash of silver leaf was both pretty and a clear hint of the clever combinations and big flavours that were to follow. The same applies to a small roll of fennel, goats cheese and tomato bread: in fact,  that roll may be the best thing I ate that day. Stunning.

Foie gras terrine, fresh almonds, cherries and chocolate syrup. Nothing there to terrify, nothing overtly "cheffy", but what a combination. Big flavours but all exquisitely judged and beautifully restrained, and the same applies to my main, a fillet of turbot, with confit chicken thigh, sweetcorn ravioli,coconut cream, curry oil and coriander. That's a big old collection of tastes and textures - the exquisite softness of the turbot, the slight resistance of the ravioli, the soft crunch of the confit - but all came together to incredible effect. 

After another dazzling palate teaser - blackberry compote, yoghurt, lavender syrup and granola - Simpsons went up even more in my estimation with a savoury option: a "dessert" salad of warm goats cheese, beetroot "tartar", endive and pistachio vinaigrette. Again, it's a combination that you could easily recreate at home but you probably wouldn't match this presentation. I mean, look at the uniformity of the beetroot discs! I've attempted to make beetroot look pretty and all I've done is turn my clothes, hands, face and kitchen pink. 

A plate of tremendous petit fours later and a good espresso finished everything off in style. Could feasibly have passed on the run for the last train - it's very easy to lose track of time in a good restaurant - but, once the panic subsided, it was a very contented journey...

4 September 2011

Float On

This morning I've been perusing the various photo files on the laptop, and making little whimpering noises as I realise quite how many posts I should write / have already written. There's a lot of them. And I mean a LOT. And some will no doubt be unbearably smug, but hey, you guessed that, right?


There's a weird dinner in Pas de Calais: cardboard pasty served on damp rope anyone? There are wings and things from Florida. Elaborate meals from Estonia, Latvia and Champagne. Sushi experiences in London and beef and Michelin star experiences in Birmingham. There's my attempts to make Buffalo Chicken Kievs (using chicken and pork crackling as breadcrumbs). There's Nobu and Locatelli and one of the best burgers of the year in Dubai. No. Really. There are more adventures in barbecue. A ludicrously good lunch at Mark Greenaway's in Edinburgh... followed by a similarly stunning dinner at Number One. More from Le Manoir, other things from France - an unforgettable afternoon at a snail farm included - and various bits of London dining. A cheeseburger experiment with Yianni and Niamh of, ahem, varying degrees of success...

I WILL get to them, really I will. In the meantime, however, I've just got back from a few days on The Nile which was: a) stupidly relaxing; b) incredibly hot; c) stunningly beautiful; and d) just great fun. It was also e) very well fed. There's nothing like a bit of sun to show off ripe fruit and veg, is there?