55 Cornwall Street
Birmingham B3 2DH
Tel. 0121 212 9799
Food type: Modern British
Birmingham has come a long way in terms of fine dining restaurants. Whilst Manchester still eagerly awaits their first Michelin starred restaurant, the 2nd biggest city in England has a total of 5 restaurants with a Michelin star, not to mention some other high-end places without one. With a short weekend trip up to Birmingham to attend a friend’s wedding, we decided to sneak in a couple of meals in between. I have been to Purnell’s previously but with the restaurant receiving a make-over I was very keen to revisit. Getting a booking here can be tricky particularly during weekends ever since Glynn started appearing on Great British Menu and successfully got not one but two dishes to the banquet. We booked almost 2 months in advance.
First off, I really love the new interior design of the restaurant. It has a really hip and cool vibe to it, encapsulating the urban spirit of Birmingham. The waiting area (called their Living Room) is also used as an informal dining area where they serve Purnell’s “Brummie Tapas” menu. I’m sure this a great concept, but we were here for the full works. Additionally, unlike many fine dining restaurants, they also keep the lighting levels fairly bright even during dinner service which I am very happy with.
Since I last visited, the restaurant has done away with their a la carte menu and instead there are 2 tasting menus of different lengths. This makes perfect since since most of the customers visiting would opt for the tasting menu anyways so it allows the kitchen to put more focus on to their tasting menu dishes and at the same time keep costs down. When we visited the tasting menus offered were themed ‘Reminisce’ (featuring all of Purnell’s classics) and ‘Now’ (offering newer creations). Looking on their website, this has been now simplified into a 6- or 9-course tasting menu with some overlapping dishes. We opted for the ‘Now’ menu.
If there is one thing I love about Purnell’s cooking it is his witty humour. Take for example the 70’s classic of Pineapple & Cheese on a stick, a dish commonly associated with bad dinner parties. For me this is THE dish with truly captures the spirit of Purnell’s cooking. I mean which chef would be audacious enough to serve this cocktail treat, let alone in a fine dining environment? This is a dish I have tried previously but has gone through a lot of tweaking such that the current iteration is completely unrecognisable from when I first tried it. In its new form, a cheese mousse is coated with pineapple gel with crispy bread sticks sticking out of it to represent sticks. The dish is brought to life by little dots of herb dressing and pineapple gel. On the side are some goujeres covered with a sticky pineapple glaze.
That is not to say that all of his food is about humour and playfulness. When he calls for it, Purnell can certainly deliver some classical cooking. A dish of Turbot with Pomme Dauphine and Bordelaise Sauce would be something you would expect to fine on the menus of classic French restaurants such as Le Gavroche or the Waterside Inn. Yet, here it sits on Purnell’s menu with such immaculate execution you wonder if Glynn had trained under the Roux brothers all these years. For me, this was the dish of the night with a perfectly cooked piece of turbot elevated by the beautifully made and unctuous Bordelaise sauce. Magnificent! This easily trounces the Monkfish Masala which made it to the banquet of the Great British Menu.
I don’t think I should bother spending a paragraph talking about the burnt English custard surprise. There are a plenty of posts on the internet waxing lyrical about how amazing that dish is. Instead, I would rather talk about the finale to our meal in the form of a Mint choccy chip surprise. This is a dish full of theatre with liquid nitrogen used to create a mist of minty clouds while the diner tucks into a bowl of warm chocolate heaven. Oh and there is a chocolate aero on the side!
Revisiting Purnell’s I have found that his cooking has matured but at the same time retaining the humour and fun which makes visiting his restaurant so unique. The service here is excellent and I was very pleased to see that they have gone to great lengths to employ a British front of house team. The pricing here is very reasonable with the full tasting menu priced at £88 which is excellent value for the quality of cooking on display. If you are in visiting Birmingham, then this is a place you should have on your Must-visit list.