69 High Street,
Tel. 0121 426 4440
Food type: Modern British
Food rating: 5/10
Nearest tube: University Station
Last weekend, I was in Birmingham to watch the All England Badminton Championships and try out a few restaurants here. Outside London, I originally wanted to dine at Purnell’s (amazing the brain-washing effect of TV) but was unable to secure a booking with only 2 weeks notice. My alternative – Turners was another newly crowned, one star restaurant in the 2009 Michelin Guide.
Turners restaurant, owned by Birmingham’s own Richard Turner opened its door to Harbone in 2007, an area in Birmingham more famous for charity shops and Botanical Gardens than haute cuisine. When interviewed about receiving his first star, Turner said: “What this proves is that everyone has a misconception about Michelin, that it is poncey. This proves you can open a little restaurant and if you offer good food at a reasonable price and do the things a restaurant is meant to do, then Michelin will reward you.”
The restaurant is small and cosy with mirrors on both sides to create an illusion of space. The tables, draped in white cloth and fur-like chairs seem a bit out of place on the brick tiled floor. Wines are proudly displayed on the wall behind.
Born and bred in Birmingham, Richard Turner has never ventured beyond the Midlands when it comes to work. He has worked in Thrales in Lichfield, Saints in St Paul’s Square and Fawsley Hall around Northampton. His last venture was a restaurant called Paris at the Mailbox (shopping centre) where he garnered 4 AA Rosettes. He was awarded ‘Midlands Chef of the Year’ in 2004. As a chef, Turner has been very vocal about educating Brummies about good food.
“But working in the Mailbox I see people who will go into Armani and spend £300 on a pair of jeans and yet they won’t spend £22 on a main course.”
I have to agree with Turner – the average Brit is not well educated when it comes to food. Unsurprising for a nation which would coat a lovely piece of cod in batter and deep fry the tar out of it. For some reason they have no qualms of spending £20 or so eating rubbish at Pizza Express but cannot afford to do the same at a restaurant serving proper food because… it is too stiff?
“Well, we have to set out our stall, be accessible and not put people off. I never wanted to run a restaurant where people felt uncomfortable. The days of temples of gastronomy are gone.” – Richard Turner
The prices at Turners reflects his philosophy. The dinner menu is priced at £32 for 2 courses, £39.50 for 3. Their 7 course tasting menu is £49, probably the cheapest in the country and this was what we opted for. Lunch is £13.50 for 2 courses. The wine list is equally sensible with a small list arranged according to the type of grape. Mark-ups are tolerable.
Baguette, Cereal Roll
Bread was brought in a small basket, baked fresh on the premise and served piping hot, which is highly appreciated. There was initially some confusion as to the origin of the bread and I was told that the restaurant just started making all their bread themselves in the last week or so. A mini baguette was crisp, moist and soft while the cereal roll had good texture albeit suffered from being a bit heavy. (6/10 for bread) This was served with some unsalted butter which is supplied by Premier Cheese.
Carrot Veloute, Coriander Foam
An amuse bouche was a carrot veloute, served in a shot-glass, topped with some coriander foam. The veloute was creamy and well seasoned but the distinct carrot flavour was overpowered by the strong tasting coriander foam. (4/10)
Terrine of Rabbit, Ham Hock and Foie Gras, Agen Prunes, Mustard Vinaigrette, Tarragon Salad, Toasted Sour Dough
Our first official course was a terrine composed of shredded rabbit and ham hock, layered with some foie gras mousse which had good flavour – the terrine was well balanced with each component having its distinct flavour which did not overpower the other. A baby pickled carrot gave the dish some acidity to complement the richness of the foie although the foamy (why?) mustard vinaigrette lacked a certain kick. In my opinion, foams for the sake of foam is just pointless (5/10)
Tartar of Diver Scallop, Avocado, Beetroot, Oscietra Caviar
A tartar of scallop was a well thought out dish – the natural sweetness and freshness of the diced scallop was highlighted by the saltiness of the caviar bursting in your mouth. An illusion of richness was defined with the avocado and soured cream, which gentle flavours served as the perfect background for the scallop. (6/10)
Pave of Wild Sea Bass, Baby Squid, Confit Tomato, Black Olives, Chorizo, Cous Cous, Artichokes, Red Pepper Coulis
The fish course, a picturesque dish of sea bass was correctly cooked with a crisp skin and moist flesh. For once, the Sea Bass actually was full of flavour (unlike a lot of the versions I have tasted in London). The Spanish influenced combination of tomato, olives, chorizo and red pepper is not an alien idea (see Maze review for a similar dish with hake) and all components were prepared well. In particular, the chorizo was soft and moist. (6/10)
Main course was a loin of venison, seared then roasted, coated in chocolate (a classic combination) which gave the gamey meat a bitter edge. A very good spiced red cabbage had hints of woody cinnamon which was in contrast to the grand venuer sauce (aka huntsman sauce). The sauce, a peppered game sauce finished with blood (usually from hare) and red currant jelly, had immense depth in flavour. One small nitpick was in the presentation of the chestnut puree which, along with its colour, resembled something you would more likely find in the toilet. (6/10)
Cheese is a pre-selected plate of British and French cheese, served with some walnut bread. For some reason unknown to me, cheese was pre-selected for us despite them having a small board, and even more annoying because I decided to have cheese because they had Epoisses on their board. The cheese were in decent, but not stunning condition. For example a tasting of Green’s cheddar was fresh but was not fully ripe and full flavoured. Overall 5/10 for cheese.
Frozen Apple Crumble
A deconstructed ‘frozen’ apple crumble featured individual layers of apple puree, clotted cream, almond crumble and an apple sorbet to finish. This was a pretty fun dessert although the puree could have done with a more intense apple flavour. (5/10)
Bitter Chocolate Tart, Peanut Butter Ice Cream, Salted Caramel
We finished on a high with a chocolate tart which had good pastry and deep, rich, gooey bittersweet chocolate matched with a peanut butter infused ice cream. This was a clever play on peanut butter and chocolate. A little chocolate rice krispies and popcorn added different textures to the dish. (7/10)
We finished with a final flourish of petit fours. The best of the lot was a dark chocolate truffle which was almost liquid and melted upon touch (eating it was tricky indeed), dusted with a bit of cocoa powder. Also enjoyable was the blood orange jelly with a distinct citrus flavour and sweetness carefully balanced by its acidity. (5/10)
Our meal at Turners was a pleasant event. Staff were friendly and attentive while Richard Turner himself would pop out from the kitchen from time to time to… cut the cheese!
In terms of the cooking, you will not find much innovation or a sense of adventure. Instead, the food here focuses on well sourced, quality ingredients which is cooked well with good technique. This indeed was a good meal and the denizens of Birmingham should be proud to have such a restaurant. I will be happy to return should I happen to be in Birmingham but I don’t think I would travel up specifically to eat here.