A taste of luxury awaits the diner in the buzzing heart of this famous cathedral city.
LOGICALLY, it is hard to justify visiting a restaurant because it offers a dish I have no intention of ordering. But as regular readers will know, logic is never something I have spent too much time worrying about, writes the Star's food reviewer The Insider.
Quirkiness, character, eccentricity, I love them. But if we allowed logic to dictate our lives, we would all stay at home with a salad.
Anyway, two things drew me to this ultra slick restaurant in Lichfield’s buzzing Bird Street. First, Cathy Dobbs dropped me a line telling me that for all the numerous restaurants in the city, The Wine House was the stand-out place for a classic English dinner.
The other thing that drew me to The Wine House was its Wagyu “Kobe”-style beef, which is claimed to be “the most tender and succulent steak in the entire world”.
Genuine Kobe beef can only be produced in Japan, but the Wagyu is as close as you can get without making the trip to the Far East, produced from special herds which are massaged from birth and reared on a diet of beer.
Come to mention it, I wouldn’t mind being massaged from birth and living on a diet of beer, but we had better not go there.
The Wine House is in Bird Street, a partly pedestrianised Georgian thoroughfare packed with restaurants, bars and hotels. The disadvantage is the lack of a customer car park, although the public car park across the road is free at night.
It looks imposing on the outside, but is quite small and intimate inside. A huge glass cabinet leading down to the cellar dominates the restaurant, displaying hundreds of bottles of fine wine.
The decor is distinctive and slightly retro, with funky button-back bucket seats offering a tasteful hint at the 1970s.
It is very popular with young professionals, you know, the sharp-suit-and-no-tie brigade who probably work in IT and always have the latest ePhone, or whatever they call them.
But don’t worry, if you don’t fit into this category. As probably the most uncool person imaginable, I experienced the friendliest of welcomes and felt totally at ease.
As you would expect given the name, the wine list is superb. Many of you will know that I do, on occasion, complain about the difficulty of buying a decent wine by the glass, but no such problem here.
A sign explains how a new gadget means it is able to offer wines by the glass without compromising quality. Thirteen wines are available in such measures, including Cuvée Jean-Paul from Gascony, a smooth, gentle white for those with a delicate palate, the Mirabello Pinot Grigio rose from Venice for those who fancy something tangier, and Los Espinos, a plummy merlot from Chile.
There is also a very decent Champagne for £6.95 a glass, but you know what? After weeks of moaning about not being able to buy wine by the glass, when the opportunity finally arose I decided to go for a bottle. Told you logic wasn’t my thing.
I briefly considered Peter A Sichel’s Chateau Palmer 1986 at £245 a pop – very briefly – but in the end I settled for a £21.95 bottle of Morton Estate sauvignon blanc, from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.
I know I keep banging on about Marlborough wines, but if you like a bit of flavour, they are hard to beat. Passionfruit, lemon, grapefruit, pepper, take your pick, it is just bursting with taste.
Now back to the food. I really, really would like to have tried that Wagyu, even if some of you think I eat too much steak. Actually, it would be only my second steak since July, but unfortunately there was another reason why I wasn’t going to be trying the Wagyu. It costs £60.
Yes, that’s right, £60 for a 7oz steak. That’s £8.57 an ounce. You can buy silver for less.
Now I don’t doubt it is the finest meat you can buy, but let’s just say I don’t think it would have won me many friends in our accounts department. However, if you do want to experience this special steak without breaking the bank, it is available as a starter at £20 for a 2oz portion served with a king scallop.
Fortunately, there are more affordable items on the menu – a Packington pork fillet with parmentier potatoes, creamed spinach and apple crisps for £14.95, and pan-fried king scallops with mint risotto are £16.95.
I decided on the fillet of Dexter beef, on a bed of Lyonnaise potatoes in a claret sauce.
Dexter cows are much smaller than normal cattle, and produce darker, more tender cuts, with superior marbling.
The meat has a distinctive, buttery taste, and while it might not be in the same league as Wagyu, it is a good alternative for those of us with limited funds.
Lyonnaise potatoes always seem a guilty pleasure, and their rich, creamy flavour went well with the Dexter beef. The claret sauce had a gentle, understated flavour, which allowed the taste of the beef to come through, but I like my sauces with more oomph.
My companion enjoyed a 7oz fillet steak with garlic butter, and the thick-cut chips cooked in beef dripping were very good.
To finish, I had a bread-and-butter pudding soaked in Cointreau, giving it a very rich orangey tang, and my companion’s chocolate torte had an equally powerful flavour.
The bill, for two courses each, a bottle of wine, an orange juice, tea and coffee came to £89.65, so there is no escaping the fact The Wine House is operating at the high end. And we were modest in our choices; had we gone mad on prime beef and fine wine, it would have been easy to have spent £300 or £400.
But if you are in a position to pay extra for something special, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
And if any of you have tried the Wagyu steak, I would love to hear about it. We can all dream.
27 Bird Street Lichfield WS13 6PW
Tel: 01543 419999
Seared king scallops, grilled black pudding with crispy pancetta and garlic oil £8.50
2oz Wagyu Kobe-style fillet, sashimi king scallop, wasabi and lemon grass oil £19.95
Smoked paprika and feta salad, chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables, date and almond cigarillos £5.95
Fillet of sea bass with tiger prawns, new potatoes and tarragon-sautéed samphire £15.95
Rack of lamb with garlic and rosemary fondant potatoes and ratatouille £16.95
Red pepper, spinach and garlic potato gratin, summer vegetables and a red pepper reduction £13.95
Selection of home-made ice creams and cookies £5.50
Amaretto crème brulee with vanilla shortbread £5.95