It’s been fascinating watching the progression of Aktar Islam since his early days at Lasan.
There he honed his skills as the award-winning restaurant challenged the nature of Indian food in Birmingham – taking it to a higher level and giving it a contemporary edge without ever losing respect for its roots.
He earned the respect of high-end chefs, who helped his cooking develop.
He appeared on television and was a winner on Great British Menu.
Now he has opened his own restaurant, Opheem.
The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree – his new place is five minutes’ walk from Lasan.
And it’s good. Very good.
Walk in and you enter a spacious and stylish bar with comfortable seating.
The restaurant itself is understated grey, with dramatic lighting overhead.
It’s an open-plan kitchen so diners can watch Aktar and his team prepare dishes.
The waiting staff are friendly, informed and efficient.
Opheem’s menu is concise, the inspiration for dishes drawn from across the sub-continent and their delivery is modern.
Throughout my meal, there were layers of flavour so that individual spices shone through.
Bursts of clove, perhaps. Explosions of cardamom. Fenugreek. A backbone of chilli.
Snacks were flavoursome but delicately done, with lamb pate accompanied by cumin and sweet potato bread a rich and satisfying treat.
Octopus – the tandoori-spiced tentacle served nicely charred and tender, other meat in a croquette – was the core of a tasty starter.
There was pickled mooli with real vegetal depth and enlivening segments of pink grapefruit and orange.
Afterwards came a deconstructed (how I hate that word – but here it’s apt) vindaloo.
Pork came as slices of precisely cooked loin, a smoked hock served in crisp pastry in the style of a spring roll and a disc of beautifully fatty trotter.
There was a well-balanced jus, carrots spiced with star anise, sweet onion and dabs of a punchy paste with vinegary, chilli-hot notes of vindaloo.
Dessert, too, impressed.
Curd dumpling was a riff on ras malai, I think, and served the same palate-cooling purpose.
A milk sorbet, yoghurt shards and granita made this a sophisticated version of an old favourite.
Make no mistake: this is cooking of a high order that may well attract the attentions of those blokes at Michelin.
Aktar learned well during his years at Lasan.
Need to know
A meal for two with wine cost us £120.
There’s a cheaper lunchtime menu.
There are vegetarian options on the menu.
It’s licensed with an interesting wine list.
Opheem is open every day except Monday.
48 Summer Row, Birmingham B3 1JJ. 0121 201 3377.