Harborne Kitchen, Harborne

Our first trip to Harborne Kitchen is so good that we book straight back in for two weeks time, when my Mum is in town. My Mum is nothing like Dad; no demands of tablecloths and central heating in the height of summer, just the simplicity of a good dinner. And I know she’ll love it here – as I do – because it’s not stuffy, part of a new wave of restaurants who deliver high-end cooking without all the pretension. We’re Northern, so we like that a lot.

But back to the original meal here. A Saturday lunch on a day when British Summer Time was in full flow. And by that I mean it pissed it down, nonstop, all day. Even on such a miserable day, the dining room is bright and airy; a room big on natural light, walls in blue and white warmed by copper and beech. In case you can’t tell, I really love the decor.

With nowhere to be in any rush we take the full lunch flight of five courses for the far too low price of £35. We get nibbles of hot gorgonzola donuts that are as amazing as they sound, fermented carrots that are not quite as good, and fish skin crisps with a fancy rosemary vinegar spritzer. The latter convert me from fish skin hater to fish skin fan. They are pure salty goodness, and when combined with the vinegar transport me to the seaside. Bread follows; a house sourdough with whipped butter. We have since purchased this bread directly from them to eat at home. As should you. It really is that good.

The first proper course of lunch is my favourite. Jersey royals, wild garlic veloute, soured cream and herring roe. It’s a list of my favourite things to eat, with the exception of the roe which is hardly ever stocked at Moseley Co-op. It’s clean and precise, warming yet refined with every flavour distinct. Salmon next, cooked mi cuit, with lightly pickled cucumber and buttermilk. It’s light and fresh, the perfect fish course for what is already turning in to a lengthy lunch.

Duck liver parfait is gunned on to a shard of cracker and topped with crisp chicken skin. The liver is light in texture and big on offal flavour, with the addition of cherry providing enough acidity to cut through the richness. It’s pretty much perfect in my eyes.

The use of offal follows through to our lamb main which has slivers of tongue, cuts of neck fillet, and rolled shoulder meat. With this is smoked potato, olive purée, lovage purée, radish, sheeps curd and spiced aubergine. Still with me? Good. It’s a lovely bit of cooking, but far too generous in size even for me.

We get to watch some Kitchen wizardry with the first of the desserts. The pastry chef uses liquid nitrogen to turn an orange into flaky bits of frozen heaven in front of us. Along with the yogurt sorbet it’s a perfect palate cleanser for the last course. Milk and honey in various forms finishes us off. It is incredible, especially the honeycomb and the honey parfait, the milk ice cream and the dehydrated sheets of milk. It’s all incredible. Just go and thank me later.

Back into the time machine and the Sunday lunch two weeks later confirms that Harborne Kitchen is my favourite place to eat. Without going into the same detail as above we have an amazing confit chicken dish with black garlic, roast dinner with beef and Yorkshire puddings, all finished off with gooseberries and nettles for dessert. My Mum loves it. Of course she does; you only have to look at me to see she is a woman of taste. Harborne Kitchen can do no wrong; Birmingham is full of great places to eat, but for me there is nowhere better.

Harborne Kitchen is, unsurprisingly, based in Harborne at 175-179 High Street, B17 9QE. Check out their website here.

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Bag-in-Box wine tasting at 1000 Trades

I am the first to admit that the only thing I know about wine is that I like drinking it. So the idea of ‘wine tasting’ has never really appealed to me; it has always seemed a bit snobby and pretentious. However, when I saw that 1000 Trades were running a Bag-in-Box wine tasting for only £5 I was quite intrigued.

1000 Trades are a champion of these natural Bag-in-Box wines and I’ve always really enjoyed drinking them. I was really interested to find out more about them so I took the plunge and booked my first ever wine tasting!

The evening was run by Tom Craven of Vinnaturo and Sam Olive of Wine Freedom. Sam works with importers to supply fine natural wine to bars/restaurants etc, mainly in the Midlands area. Tom sources natural wine from farmers, puts it in bags and pouches and sells it. In his own words he “buys wine he likes from people he likes” – sounds like a pretty good job to me!

We started with a quiz to find out where on a numbered scale our palates lay. We then lined up in order and were given a small piece of paper to taste. Some people (myself included) found the taste absolutely disgusting – like when you leave a paracetamol on your tongue for too long – and some people weren’t at all bothered! The point of this was to show how different people’s palates are and therefore how different people’s taste in wines would be. As I was at the lower end of the scale, I am more likely to enjoy lighter, fresher whites than robust reds, which fits pretty well with what I usually drink.

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Tom and Sam then explained a bit more to us about why they choose to import and distribute organic (no man made chemicals except copper & sulphur) and biodynamic (‘supercharged organic’, using spiritual philosophy) wines which haven’t been messed around with either in the vineyard or the cellar. I was surprised to learn that supermarket wine has 1000s of permitted ingredients and manipulations, and part of the reason you feel so awful after a night of drinking wine is the effect of all these chemicals on your body (I have to admit that I drunk a LOT of organic wine that evening and didn’t feel nearly as bad as I normally would. I happily got myself to work for 8.30 without even needing a coffee!). In addition to being better for the people drinking it, natural wine is much better environmentally for the vineyard land and the people who live around it.

They also explained why they put the wine into boxes and pouches rather than bottles. By using this method they are able to make huge savings on shipping, which can then be passed onto the customer. It’s a great way to make really good wine more accessible to more people. Again, it is more environmentally friendly as it cuts CO2 emissions by around 50% compared to importing bottles.

Most of the wines we tried were from grapes that I had never heard of. As the famous grape varieties – Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon etc – have become more and more fashionable, more vineyards have started growing them over the wealth of other varieties (some of which have sadly now been lost). 1000 Trades are trying to introduce people to some of these other brilliant varieties, using the wine list to give you cues on which ones you might enjoy.

My pick of the evening was definitely the Trebbiano. This was a lovely easy drinking white grown in acidic volcanic soil, which actually makes the wine more alkaline. It’s fresh but also has a creaminess due to a second ‘fermentation’. At the time I said I could happily drink this all day. This was confirmed yesterday evening when I managed to put away about 5 glasses in a couple of hours…

I came away from the evening feeling like I’d learnt so much more about wine, without being overloaded with information. The format of the wine tasting, where we moved around and tried wines at our own pace, having conversations with Tom & Sam rather than being lectured, made the evening really fun and accessible. And as if everyone wasn’t already convinced, they brought out a cheese board and charcuterie platter at the end – HEAVEN!

Bag-in-box organic and biodynamic wines are available at 1000 Trades, 16 Frederick Street, B1 3HE. WEBSITE