Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tony Naylor and reader Lisa Wood compare notes on Adam’s restaurant in Birmingham.
Tony Naylor is a Manchester-based journalist who regularly writes for Olive, as well as Restaurant magazine and The Guardian. You’ll also find him blogging for The Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog.
Lisa Woodis an accountant from Balsall Common in the West Midlands. She eats out around twice a month and her best eating out experience was at Purnell’s in Birmingham.
Adam Stokes was formerly head chef at Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, where he earned the restaurant a much-coveted Michelin star. His new venture is Adam’s, a fine-dining restaurant in Birmingham’s city centre. The restaurant will initially exist as a two-year pop up before moving to larger premises also in the city centre. There are two tasting menus, as well as a set lunch. Dishes might include pig’s trotter with bacon jam and smoked eel; pork with rhubarb and morels; and milk chocolate with Espelette pepper and coffee.
Adam Stokes wants his restaurant to be a modern, informal take on fine dining. That would explain the MOR background music, but also distinct plusses, such as no table linen and no draping of napkins. The staff were drilled and well informed. When the manager catches us wiping sauce from a plate with our fingers, he laughs: ‘Don’t worry.We don’t judge.’ But the pace should have been more leisurely.Three amuse bouche arrive like machine-gun fire. *I was not recognised.
The service here is very good; throughout the evening each dish arrived at perfectly timed intervals, and we never felt that it was rushed or slow. We were provided happily with tap water for the table. Both menu choices can be accompanied by tasting wines, which my friends all chose. I only wanted a couple of glasses of wine, and was disappointed that our waiter didn’t offer to help choose a suitable wine to match the menu choice.
In so much as you can make a case for fine dining’s continued relevance in 2013, it must, above all, make your mouth go, ‘wow!’. Forget bells and whistles service. I can pour my own wine. What I can’t do, is recreate Stokes’ breaded balls of liquid roast chicken. When shelling out ludicrous sums for a meal, we should demand intense flavour experiences. Including the breads and amuse, the hit rate across Adam’s five- course menu, was impressive. The components in a dish of peppered tuna, including incongruous new potatoes and broad bean flowers, didn’t quite gel. A champagne jelly with raspberry sorbet and lemon curd was more palate cleanser than taste explosion. However, the best courses were pretty astonishing. Pairing an ultra-elegant chocolate mousse with yoghurt ice cream served in an Espelette chilli pepper-encrusted sugar glass, so that clean, hot, zippy notes danced at the edge of each mouthful, is typical of Stokes imaginative cooking. A plate of pork loin is scattered with Rice Krispie- like crackling puffs and comes with a cromesquis (think best ever Findus Crispy Pancake), but it’s the addition of (curveball!) rhubarb and soused onions and sage, the sharper flavours offsetting the pork’s sweetness, which makes the dish remarkable. That clever interplay of savoury and acidic flavours peaked in a dish of Wye Valley asparagus, quail’s egg and garlic toasts, dressed in a salty, tangy hot mayonnaise. Sounds great already, eh? But dressed with hazelnuts and grapefruit, it delivered unexpected dimensions of flavour.
We chose the nine-course tasting menu, which has to be taken by the whole table.This is not the type of place to go if you just want one or two courses, or more varied or vegetarian options.We were asked if there was anything that we didn’t eat or wanted changing – which I thought was a nice touch. We were brought three ‘snack’ dishes in addition to the nine courses listed on the menu, and each dish was beautiful – there were no dishes that didn’t please both in flavour and presentation. Each dish and accompanying wine were explained by one of the waiters or by Adam himself. The standout dishes of the evening included the ‘liquid chicken dinner’ which looked like a mini scotch egg, literally melted in the mouth and tasted exactly like a roast chicken and the pig’s trotter that had been combined with smoked eel and bacon jam – well-matched flavours that enhanced the pork. The two desserts were also highlights; the first, a chocolate one, combined dark and milk chocolate with coffee and caramel, and a contrast of textures, it came accompanied with a crunchy Espelette pepper crisp.The second dessert, a goat’s curd one (or cheese course) was enlivened by cherry pieces and a cherry sauce. The whole menu and each dish were skilfully constructed and presented.The flavour combinations could not be faulted; for the stunning quality of the food, we thought the price was fair.
the bottom line
Quibbles aside (elements of the interior design felt a shade bling; and the restaurant could be better cocooned from the street), Adam’s has a good feel. More importantly, Stokes’ assured cooking is as exciting as it is readily enjoyable. Which is a rare feat. Is Adam’s set to be Birmingham’s fourth Michelin-starred restaurant? Don’t bet against it.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 8/10; TONY’S TOTAL: 23/30
The small and tastefully decorated space provides the perfect backdrop for a restaurant experience that is all about the food. It is slightly let down by thefactthatitbecomes too loud when full and by the limited menu choice.We probably won’t return until the menu has changed or provides wider options.
FOOD 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 8/10; LISA’S TOTAL: 25/30
Adam’s Sustainable Restaurant Association rating:
Adam’s puts real care and thought into sourcing its food. Meat, including that used in the liquid chicken dinner and the pig’s trotter, is all free-range and from the Southwest. Asparagus is from a Wye Valley company that goes to great lengths to be sustainable. Even the chocolate is from a company with excellent sustainability credentials.The SRA believes eel to be critically endangered, and would advise Adam’s to remove it from their menu. However, it’s worth noting that Adam’s sources it from the Severn and Wye Smokery a member of the Sustainable Eel Group (sustainableeelgroup.com) and Tanks in Schools scheme. Adam’s recycles almost everything, including food waste, and has smart meters to help reduce its energy consumption.