Much has been (rightly) heralded about Turners of Harborne, especially as it’s one of three restaurants in Birmingham awarded with a Michelin Star. Turners has certainly helped to raise the profile of Birmingham (especially in culinary terms) and it’s really exciting to have a restaurant of this calibre in this city I call home. Having been several times now, I love how Richard Turner cooks with great assurance of his skills so that not only is food here technically well executed, but also damn tasty. Sadly, after an unfortunate incident last year where I was completely let down (and then felt angry) at the service I received, I hadn’t been back since. However, that was a year ago and I was willing to give them another try – Life’s too short to deny myself such good food. Thus, in an extension of my Birthday celebrations, RH and I decided to go for lunch there.
For those whom have never been to Turners, you would be forgiven for missing it completely and drive right past it as it’s tucked away from the main road hiding under a long canopy in a row of shop fronts. Literally, blink and you would miss it. I like to think of it as being an unknown gem amongst the normality of Harborne High St. Step inside and there still isn’t anything too revealing about the food here; A fairly small room that can barely hold more 30, they use mirrors to deceive you into thinking that the room is bigger than it actually is. Still, let’s get to the important part: The food.
Taking full advantage of having a voucher + a round of drinks for the table, we opted to go for the a la carte menu with a glass of wine each, paired with our starters. We both would have been more than happy with the set lunch menu (fantastic value at 3 courses for £29.50), but the dishes on the ALC menu took our fancy more. Plus, this was a Birthday treat from RH so with the voucher and drinks, it made more sense to go for the ALC.
To begin with (I think they called it a taster) were 2 spoons, one with a beef tartare and one with a salmon equivalent. The salmon tartare was delicious; tangy and tart with the salmon melting in your mouth. I thought the beef tartare had a touch too much Worcester Sauce, but RH thought they were both delicious
Next was the proper Amuse Bouche; Usually, I would choose something that had beetroot in it but given that I knew I was having beetroot at another meal out a couple of days later, I decided not to order the beetroot dish from the menu. That was fortunate as what came out was like a beetroot soup with a malt foam; The taste was slightly pickled but (if the colour wasn’t enough of a giveaway), it had a strong beetroot taste and was full of mineral goodness that can only come from a beetroot. The malt foam on its own was delicious and even if you wouldn’t automatically put the 2 flavours together, they worked very well and we both lapped up every drop.
A few words about the bread and butter here: This is the only place I know of that gives you a choice of butters to go with your bread – Salted, unsalted and seaweed. That’s right, seaweed butter, if you want your butter with a umami punch then you should go for this butter. I remembered it very fondly from previous visits and was very happy to see that it was still offered. It’s such a simple thing – Butter mixed with roasted seaweed, but it’s utterly delicious and I could happily eat nothing except bread with seaweed butter spread on it (OK, perhaps with a bottle of wine… Or a jug of water). The bread itself was warmed in the oven but it wasn’t anything special, other than being a vessel to smear the seaweed butter on and then gorge myself.
For starters, I chose the Scallops Ross-shire hand dived scallops, avocado, soy jelly, coriander and lime which was divine; The scallops were plump and sweet, the soy jelly was unusual (I was wondering expecting something more like a soy-milk jelly rather than a soy sauce jelly) but still worked very well as a contrast to the sweet scallops and added a savoury hit, but you needed to add the tart lime to both for the dish to come alive. The after-taste of the coriander was an unexpected surprise but very welcome. RH chose the Loin of French rabbit, rillettes of confit leg, crayfish, baby onions and vanilla which was sensational; the tiny cubes of intense vanilla with the rabbit was absolutely knockout. Again, perhaps 2 flavours that you wouldn’t normally pair together but they work incredibly well together. Empty plates from us both again..
Mains-wise, I opted for the Fillet of monkfish, chorizo cous cous, baby squid, artichokes, aioli, red mullet sauce (breaking my no-same-types-of-protein rule) because the red mullet sauce and chorizo cous cous intrigued me. The monkfish itself was ever so slightly over-cooked and the red mullet sauce was more of a foam and didn’t really taste that much of red mullet, but the star of the show was the chorizo cous cous with its giant pearls (which I’ve since learned was Ptitim – Thanks Nick!) and the chorizo giving it a nice piquancy. It was nice, but it could have been superb. RH’s choice of Roast loin of veal, croustillant of cheek and white asparagus, morels and new season garlic was another top selection – tender chunks of veal combined with all the other elements in the dish were absolutely a joy to eat. I think we both could have happily eaten that all day..
I didn’t catch what the Pre-dessert actually was, but it appeared to be a sweet doughnut hole with passion fruit, Alphonso mango and sorbet and a coconut crème which was an explosion of tropical fruit flavours in the mouth – A lovely way to cleanse the palate and ready ourselves for dessert.
Given how I go a bit weak at the knees whenever I see the words “Salted Caramel” together on a menu, it was inevitable that I would choose Bitter chocolate tart, popcorn pannacotta, salted caramel ice cream for dessert. The Bitter chocolate tart is Richard Turner’s signature dish and it’s very easy to see why; thin, crisp pastry filled with a decadent dark chocolate filling which is almost mousse-like but so very good to eat, the edible gold leaf gave it an extra touch of decadence. It’s the kind of dessert that you feel can’t help but smile at from eating – It’s probably very bad for you but it feels good to eat! The popcorn pannacotta was a bit too gelatinous so was disappointingly a bit rubbery and the salted caramel ice cream didn’t really taste that much of salted caramel. However, redemption was in the salted caramel sauce which, when combined with every else, really made the dish.
RH opted for the Rhubarb soufflé, rhubarb sorbet and the soufflé itself was very impressive given it’s height. There was an extra bit of theatre when they added the rhubarb sauce into a well in the centre of the soufflé which it needed because without it, the soufflé was quite bland. In fact, there wasn’t really enough of a rhubarb flavour to the soufflé which was a bit disappointing. Redemption here came from the rhubarb sorbet which in contrast to the soufflé, was packed with rhubarb flavour and there was a slight crunch (from some crushed biscuits I think) which gave it a textural lift making it almost like a rhubarb crumble. It’s no exaggeration to say that the sorbet saved the course for RH.
By the time the coffee (well tea in our case) and petit fours came, we were both very full – not bloated – but full to the point of feeling very satisfied. There were mainly highs in the cooking and more to the point, nothing to put us off going back. I should point out that I think my mains were overcooked slightly because I needed to take a loo break in between courses and on my way to the loo, I overheard the waiter tell the kitchen to hold on the mains for 5mins on my way to the restroom. My guess is that these extra 5mins caused the monkfish to be (ever so slightly) overcooked. That said, I love how our choices of pre-dessert were based on what we had actually chosen for dessert – The table seated next to us were given a different pre-dessert so that it didn’t clash with anything they had chosen for dessert which I thought was particularly attentive. Service was on the whole attentive, but there were the odd occasions where I was left with an empty water-glass and I had to ask for more water. However, these are minor quibbles in what was a very nice, leisurely weekday lunch. I’ll certainly be going back to Turners and you should go too, it was disappointing that the room was barely half full when we went and I can’t help but wish that a restaurant of this calibre does well ALL the time. Turners deserves all the plaudits it receives and I would highly recommend it – Especially for the seaweed butter.
You can view the full set of photos on my Flickr