‘Modern Greek’ by Leo Kattou at Purecraft, Birmingham

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.

Leo’s Modern Greek pop up took place at the always fabulous Purecraft Bar and Kitchen on Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5TJ. Alternatively, catch him in his day job at Simpsons.

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Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

It’s been a good few months for restaurants. Two ones, one two, one three. That’s Michelin stars, by the way, not me trying to start a dubious music career. Yes, my wallet hates me right now, but man have I eaten some good food.

At Alain Ducasse I was introduced to bacon bread; possibly the best invention since, well, sliced bread. Could life get any better than this fougasse, studded with bacon and smeared with butter? Yes it can, actually. Le Champignon Sauvage kicked off affairs with a bacon and shallot brioche which was out of this world. My mum always tells me off for filling up on bread, but I couldn’t resist going back for a second. Okay, and a third as well.

Equally stunning was the walnut and blue cheese cookie that appeared as one of the two canapés; a perfect mouthful of umami and satisfying textures. The squid and cods roe that accompanies it is less endearing, the texture a little too spongey for my liking. A pre-starter of lovage and courgette set cream topped with parmesan, black olive crumb and flax seeds offers up a huge amount of flavour for such a little bowl. It’s brilliant.

We’re dining from the set menu (which, by the way, at £34 for three courses is outstanding value) but I veer onto the à la carte for my starter after spotting a pigeon dish which has somehow been crafted from my very deepest desires. Get out of my head, LCS. Pigeon breast so rare it almost flies into the dining room is joined on the plate by a pistachio pastilla and cherry in a multitude of forms. It’s a roaring success, as is our other starter; a cauliflower and cumin soup with beautiful, warming spice and the inspired addition of homemade Bombay Mix which I openly admit to nicking handfuls of at every opportunity. Whilst we’re on the subject of confessions, Simon, I had a bite of your bacon bread when you went to the toilet. I hope you can forgive me.

I declare my main of pork belly, served with pear and walnut, “the best plate of food I’ve ever eaten”. And that wasn’t just the Blanc de Blanc talking. It manages to be beautifully refined and skilled whilst simultaneously being a plate of delicious comfort food that you want to eat from the minute your eyes spot it on the menu. The pork is perfectly cooked, the pickling delicate enough to add flavour without dominating affairs, and it’s all brought together with a rich, complex sauce that has us close to licking the plate. Rabbit is another beautiful main, with confit shoulder, leg and a sausage packed with flavour and perfect against the sweetness of carrot.

For dessert I head back to pistachio land, this time appearing with raspberry in a tart. To accompany there are candied pistachios, glazed raspberries, raspberry purée and the pistachio ice cream. God I love this place. Apple cheesecake is delicate in flavour and served with a blackberry sorbet that is deep in both colour and flavour. To finish come the most lovely plate of petit fours, which reduce us to squabbling and bargaining over how to split them.

What I love most about Le Champignon Sauvage (and there are many things) is their ability to craft a menu of food that you really, really want to eat; full of cooking which appears simple but is full of complexity and technical brilliance. It’s little wonder that this place has held it’s stars for so many years. It is truly outstanding and I cannot wait to return.

Le Champignon Sauvage is on Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, GL50 2AQ. WEBSITE.

Le Champignon Sauvage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Simpsons x Sticky Walnut collaboration

A couple of weeks ago I turned 25. And as if I wasn’t already depressed about reaching my first quarter century, the birthday gods also decided to bless me with two accountancy exams on my birthday.

It would have been the worst birthday ever if my lovely boyfriend hadn’t booked us a table at the Simpsons x Sticky Walnut collaboration as a surprise (I say it was a surprise, but I accidentally ruined this one months ago by also booking us a table, forcing him to confess!).

Sticky Walnut is a neighbourhood bistro in Chester with a fistful of accolades & a brilliantly entertaining Twitter account (@stickywalnut). I have family in Cheshire so have wanted to eat there for a while, but Simpsons brought them to me – even better!

Simpsons is tucked away in a gorgeous building in Edgbaston. The décor is elegant and classy with beautiful design features – it’s the perfect setting to sit and enjoy a meal. Here’s me trying to look fancy and civilised..

For the evening, Sticky had put together a 5 course tasting menu. We started with some canapés; lamb tartare (with anchovies, linseed), salmon (squid ink, egg yolk) and calves brain (beef fat beetroot, walnut and verjus). They were all fantastic. The lamb and the salmon were perfect mouthfuls with amazing flavour and texture.

I have to admit I was a little bit terrified of the calves brain at first, especially because I’m not much of a beetroot fan either (probably due to bad school dinner flashbacks). But it turned out to be one of my favourite dishes of the night. It was full of flavour and I loved the crunchy exterior with the smooth, soft inside. It paired perfectly with the rich sweet beetroot  – I think Sticky have managed to convert me into a fan! I also enjoyed the fact that it kind of looks like a chicken nugget..

The second course was wood pigeon, apple, morcilla & savoury granola. I love morcilla (it’s basically the Spanish version of black pudding) but usually just have it on the BBQ in Spain so it was great to try it combined with the rest of the ingredients. It looked beautiful and tasted even better.

Next up was halibut with romesco & gem lettuce. Every part of this dish tasted good but the romesco was incredible. If I hadn’t been trying to behave myself in Simpsons I definitely would have licked my plate clean..

Course number four was lamb rump, scichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice mix – I had to google it as well..), carrot, goats curd and burnt onion. The sauce was super rich, so the goats curd brought a nice freshness to the dish. One of my favourites of the evening.

Dessert was toasted porter, treacle, caramel and chocolate. It didn’t blow my mind but was a solid, tasty end to the meal. We went for the drinks flight with our meal & instead of wine, the dessert came with a chocolate & orange old fashioned. I’m not a big whiskey drinker but this was so good and I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

I had an amazing birthday evening & it more than made up for the fact that I am now officially closer to 30 than 20 (ugh). Big shout out to the boyfriend for treating me – sorry for ruining my surprise!

Sticky Walnut can usually be found at 11 Charles Street, Chester, CH2 3AZ (WEBSITEwhilst Simpsons is at 20 Highfield Road, B15 3DU (WEBSITE).

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato