Harborne Kitchen: the best newcomer of the year?

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Many new restaurants and bars have opened in Birmingham this year but none has excited me as much as Harborne Kitchen.

It’s a place that not quite like anywhere else in the city and one to which I’ll swiftly return.
In the old shop that once accommodated the Butcher’s Social and owned by one of the guys behind that fantastic pop-up, it’s a totally different concept.

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It’s far ore stylish. Far more ambitious.
But it retains the easy, relaxed vibe of its predecessor and struck me as a place more akin to Shoreditch than B17.

The decor

Look out for a blue and white frontage at the far end of Harborne’s charity shop crowded high street.
Venture in and there’s a light and airy bar with lots of pale, polished wood and tiling.
The restaurant section is housed behind around a busy open plan kitchen and is equally understated.
It’s hard to envisage that this was the space that until a few months ago was the likeably ramshackle Butcher’s Social.

The service

The small army of young staff are friendly and welcoming and well informed about the food and drinks on offer.
The New World pinot noir chosen by the barman when I asked for a pre-prandial glass of red was spot on – light and refreshing but vibrant with soft berry fruits.
A glass of chilled white was equally well received.

The food

There are bar snacks, a £55 six-course tasting menu or two courses for £18 and three for £23.
Make no mistake: these are great prices for food of this quality.
Jamie Desogus and his brigade cook with precision, skill, flair and an innate sense of what works.
They respect and understand the material with which they work.
The menu changes frequently and is inspired by the ingredients available.

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My lunch began with a snack of ‘Quavers’ of crisped cod skin served with a spray of malt vinegar, then tiny blue cheese doughnuts and superb sour dough bread.
The first course combined confit salsify with mushrooms and leek – a powerful medley of vegetables all beautifully cooked and brought to a higher level by slicks of parsley puree and a sort of clam chowder, with just the right balance of creaminess and acidity.

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Opposite was eaten a playful riff on a carbonara – strands of that earthy, cabbagy root veg kholrabi served in a creamy, bacon-spiked sauce.
On top sat a crisp of wonderfully parmesan of such maturity that its aroma reached me on the other side of the table. I was envious.
The beef that I ate as my main course came in two forms – gorgeously pink and well-braised and melting. Both packed a punch.

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Smoked mash was luxurious, with just the right degree of smokiness.
Leaves and stalks rainbow chard retained their colour, texture and verdant favour.
Rings of pickled shallot and a scattering of crisp fried onion added extra flavour and texture.

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My wife ate enthusiastically a huge slab of curried cod, its skin crisp, with a Mulligatawny-flavoured dhal, little piccalilli-filled pakora and yoghurt.
The roast red plum, meringue, sweet sherry vinegar and cultured cream to which I progressed was a triumph of sweet and sour flavours and contrasting textures.

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This, again, was a dish that showed technical accomplishment, respect for ingredients and a finely-tuned palate.
I’m assured by Lynn that the combo mango, ginger cake, buttermilk and macadamia nuts she devoured was also a joy.

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The fact that she who seldom orders desserts finished it was an indication that it was a winning dish, especially since she’d eaten such a substantial main course.

The drinks

There’s a fabulous range of craft beers, some enticing cocktails and a sensibly priced wine list that’s short but interesting.
We drank with our savoury courses a bottle of very pleasant Fleurie that was decent value at £33, then with dessert a glass each of that underrated Hungarian sweet wine Tokaji.

Need to know

We spent £100 on a lunch for two with plenty of wine.
Bar snacks and a beer (or glass of wine) would make for a cheaper lunch.
The place is child-friendly and accessible for the disabled.
Vegetarian dishes are available.
Allergies are catered for.

Harborne Kitchen
175 High Street, Birmingham B17 9QE. 0121 439 9150.
http://www.harbornekitchen.com