Purnell’s: has it stood the test of time?

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Many years have passed since I first ate Glynn Purnell’s food.

First at Simpson’s when it was still in Kenilworth. Later at Hibiscus in Ludlow. Then Jessica’s in Edgbaston. And numerous times at his eponymous restaurant in the city centre.
You’d think that such familiarity might dull any sense of excitement.
To imagine that would be do Birmingham’s most famous chef a disservice, for his cooking is constantly evolving.
So much so that I judge the dinner I ate this week at Purnell’s to be the most stunning yet.
It’s inconceivable that Purnell won’t get a second Michelin star soon.

The decor

The restaurant itself underwent an extensive refit during the summer.
A more spacious lounge and bar now opens directly into the dining area.
The decor is funky and bold, but the space is welcoming and relaxed.

The food

The nine-course tasting menu that I ate features dishes with names and ingredients that are familiar to those who know Purnell’s cooking.
But he’s a chef able to reinvent dishes in new ways so that they deliver surprise – but, more importantly, even greater pleasure.

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He mixes flavours and textures with great skill, often adopting contemporary cooking techniques, alongside well-honed classical skills, to reveal aspects that are fresh and thrilling.
This is food that evokes memories and raises a smile with its playful nods to the past.
Thus a cheese and pineapple first course – a combo I first sampled at Purnell’s with Matthew Fort during filming for Great British Menu – now arrives veiled by dry ice and has been reconstructed so that it mixes soft and crunchy textures whilst delivering impressive clarity of flavour.

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Poached duck egg with cauliflower, black pudding, bacon, birch syrup and a kind of sophisticated cheesy straw is comfort food of the highest order.
A silky chicken liver parfait – beautiful beneath a jelly-like glaze of redcurrant – came with wafer-thin slices of turnip braised in port and with toast oats and grain that added real substance.

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Turnip – this time pickled in cider – featured too alongside a seared scallop with smoked eel and Oscieta caviar.
No cod could have come to a better end that that which featured in my next course.
It was precisely cooked and pearly white and are gorgeously with green leek puree, a scattering of deep-fried leek strands, sauerkraut and spuds cooked in beurre noisette.

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The meat course packed a proper punch – a rare chunk of venison served with roasted salsify, a nicely-judged chicken fat hollandaise and mushrooms given real oomph by yeast extract.
My palate was perfectly cleansed by a mango and passionfruit pre-dessert topped with white chocolate, lemon verbena gel and flowers.

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Burnt English egg custard – another Purnell classic – was silky smooth and luxurious with vanilla but is now enlivened by blackberries.
The meal ended with pure theatre – clouds of mint-laden dry ice wafting over the table and adding a new dimension to a grown-up and perfectly executed mint and chocolate combination.
This meal was the culinary highlight of my year.

The service

The small army of young and friendly waiting staff was well informed, poised and efficient.
Dishes were paced wonderfully well so that each was anticipated eagerly.
Glasses were topped up unobtrusively.

Need to know

The nine-course menu costs £88 a head, the six-course costs £68.
A three-course lunch menu is available for £35.
A ‘Brummie tapas’ menu is available in the lounge for £55.
The place is accessible for the disabled.

Purnell’s
55 Cornwall St, Birmingham B3 2DH. 0121 212 9799.
http://www.purnellsrestaurant.com