A good test for any chef is how exciting they can make vegetarian food.
Without the focus of fish or meat, plates can appear incomplete and uninteresting.
Many of the classic veggie recipes – daal or pasta al’arrabiata, for instance – are wonderfully satisfying, but can seem one-dimensional.
So, visiting the training restaurant at the excellent University College Birmingham, I decided to see how its culinary students would rise to the challenge.
The answer? Very well indeed.
Portions of goat’s cheese had been fried so that a crisp, light coat opened up to a yielding, rich interior.
The cheese itself had a nice twang of acidity to counteract its almost mousse-like creaminess.
Roasted and puree butternut squash added earthy sweetness and perfectly-cooked broccoli gave a green freshness to the dish.
Hazelnut pesto added new notes to what was a well-presented and interesting main course.
Opposite, my carnivorous companion ate honey-glazed duck breast that was ever so slightly overcooked, with a succulent croquette of leg meat, apricot puree, a glossy jus and beautifully verdant ribbons of spring greens.
This was another dish that showed there are some promising young chefs learning classical skills at UCB.
I’d begun the evening with a starter I’d truly love to eat again.
Pork cheek was soft and moist and shiny with a deeply savoury glaze.
There was a zingy apple slaw and roasted peanuts that nodded towards the dish’s Far Eastern influences.
Far more English in heritage was my guest’s starter of precisely cooked asparagus with a crisp hen’s egg and a very well made hollandaise sauce.
My meal concluded with a gorgeously-presented dessert of milk chocolate mousse with ice cream, a refreshing mango and passion fruit compote and some delicately worked and eye-catching chocolate garnishes.
This was a plate that showed great skill.
As did the lemon brûlée, lime sponge, shortbread, meringue and sorbet served opposite.
The level of cooking from the young people in the kitchen was extraordinary and the service from student front-of-house team was welcoming and polished.
At night, two courses at the restaurant cost £26 and three cost £30.
There’s a less extravagant menu at lunchtimes.
The wine list is well-balanced and very fairly priced, with a gentle mark-up.
The Beaujolais-like Turkish wine that I drank, by the way, was versatile and very enjoyable. It’s available retail from Connolly’s nearby in the Jewellery Quarter.
Give this place a go – to support tomorrow’s chefs and waiters but also to enjoy some fantastic food and service,
University College Birmingham
Birmingham B3 1JB