Leo owes me dinner, technically. Wind the clock back a few months and you’ll find him stood in my kitchen at 4am, my boyfriend attempting to feed his ego by feeding Leo his beef ragu. A bowl of beef ragu that was supposed to be my dinner the very next evening. I would have been annoyed, but Leo is too impossibly likeable for that.
Wind the clock forward again, and Leo has just finished a successful stint on Masterchef: The Professionals, gaining a place in the semi-finals and a horde of female fans which has led to his Modern Greek pop up at Purecraft Bar & Kitchen selling out not only once, but twice after the basement was opened up for extra bookings.
The menu is a fine dining twist on Leo’s Greek-Cypriot heritage, and at £55 for five courses plus beer pairings it’s an absolute steal. We start with smoked cod roe, blitzed smooth and smeared onto squid ink crackers. It’s a classic Simpsons snack, and a perfect introduction to the evening.
The next dish veers firmly towards the Mediterranean, combining fried halloumi with tomato, smoked aubergine purée and olive tapenade. Bar the unseasonal tomato, which reminds me that I’m sadly still in Birmingham, every element is packed with flavour and executed perfectly. It delivers what you always hope a halloumi dish will, but so rarely does in this part of the world.
‘Fish and Chips’ is a wonderfully playful dish that takes all the best of the classic dish and abandons the worst. Gone are the greasy, heavy carbs, replaced by panfried cod with a punchy sauce which references tartar by way of capers, onion and lemon. Peas give bursts of freshness, and the ‘chips’ (essentially a fine dining version of Salt and Vinegar Chipsticks) bring tang and crunch.
So far, so brilliant. It gets better though. Lamb kleftico, brined and then slow roasted so that the bone slips cleanly out, the kind of dish I could never tire of eating. On the side, black cabbage and a salad of bulgar wheat, golden raisins, pine nuts and onion. I could rave about this dish for hours, but really I just want the recipe.
Dessert is equally as delicious; in essence it’s cherries topped with yoghurt, honey, walnuts and filo, made a bit clever. I try and wangle a second portion out of Leo but he’s having none of it, so I settle for nicking my mate’s cherries whilst he’s not looking. I haven’t really talked much about the beer pairings, because in all honestly I know fuck all about beer, but the Bacchus cherry beer that accompanies the dessert deserves an honourable mention for being really rather nice.
The pedigree of those in attendance, and the lovely things they have to say about the dinner, is a sure sign that Leo is one to watch in the Birmingham dining scene. Not only is he a rising star, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Next time he announces a pop up, take my advice and book in immediately.