Food Review: Dishes prepared to perfection at Craft
Andy Richardson is forced to eat humble pie as he returns to a restaurant which has upped its game to provide exquisite food and superb service.
Time for a slice of humble pie. I’ll take it with a quenelle of humble ice cream. And better add a scattering of humble crumble for texture. Humble crumble, doesn’t that sound good? If a chef hasn’t yet invented that, they really ought to.
Ahh yes, the tale of when a reviewer says a restaurant is rubbish – in my defence, it used to be – only to return to have his socks blown off by stunning food, remarkable service and a wonderful ambience. This, ladies and gentlegoats, is the story of Craft.
Craft was opened a couple of years ago by entrepreneur-financier-businessman Sam Morgan. It was a donkey. The space was cavernous. The chefs were second rate. The service was chaotic. We wrote about it, with the pay-off line: There are some really good restaurants in Birmingham. Craft isn’t one of them.
We imagined we’d never set foot in it again and, given the honest opinion, we imagined we wouldn’t be welcome either. Yet Morgan is a remarkable man and having canvassed opinion from others – far better qualified than this critic, I might add – he started a quiet revolution. He brought the brilliant chef Andy Sheridan on board. Sheridan focused on a sister restaurant, the perfectly-formed 8 – and if you haven’t yet been, you really should – while overseeing the redesign of Craft and employing a new team.
Unlike the old, the team buy into it and care about it. Their heart and soul is on the plate and, boy, is it good.
Gone are the wide open spaces. Covid forced them to reimagine the space and now drapes separate tables so they have the feeling of intimate booths.
The music is on point, with a low-fi house soundtrack adding to the ambience.
The service is exceptional. Two brilliantly warm and engaging front of house workers were polite, attentive, welcoming and showed plenty of character and a sense of humour.
The food, however, was the star attraction. Cleverly, Sheridan has delegated the running of Craft to an up-and-coming chef, so there’s a considerable point of difference between his menu, in the adjoining 8, and the dishes that are served in Craft. Making them unique and very different means customers have a reason to visit both, for both offer a markedly different experience.
Sheridan’s 8 has all the hallmarks of a restaurant that ought to receive a Michelin star. The level of cuisine and service is a match for that on offer at other starred restaurants in the Second City and considerably higher than some in other parts of the UK. We can only assume it’s a waiting game and that he’ll receive his dues in the fullness of time.
Across the city, there’s a small number of restaurants in the chasing pack. Craft can consider itself among them. It doesn’t quite reach the standards of the Michelin crew, or 8, but then it doesn’t come with a £120 price tag – dinner costs half that. And dinner, this humble-pie-eater is pleased to report – was stunning.
Three courses were executed to perfection, three others were pretty near the mark. The chef in charge clearly has skills, clearly has vision and needs only to relax a little, become more confident and learn the simplest of culinary lessons: less is sometimes more.
We started with an inventive rarebit and toast, with the rarebit being served in a separate eggshell alongside sourdough toast and flavoured butter.
The butter was exceptional, as was the bread. Elements of the rarebit were equally good, though the balance was a little out with too much yolk and not enough rarebit. More strong cheese sauce and the chef would be onto a winner.
Next up was a sumptuous dish of artichoke with goat’s cheese mousse. Artichoke crisps gave it texture, pickled pieces of artichoke gave it balance and mild acidulation while the goat’s cheese mousse worked brilliantly with ingredients that were entirely compatible.
Again, small tweaks here and there – but we’re setting the bar high and for most the dish would have been a triumph.
A dish of beef and oyster was just as inventive and showed considerable imagination. A wonderful beef tartare was served with a beef fat hollandaise – delicious – and a tempura oyster. The hot-cold textures worked well, the tempura was very nearly perfect and the contrast and textures worked well.
The chef ended the way Lewis Hamilton has been ending the F1 season. It got better and better and better, to the point of outright dominance.
A partridge dish served with a risotto of grains was magnificent. Showing great cooking skills, it had perfect balance with deep, rich, umami flavours contrasting with a fantastic sauce and a lightly acidulated ketchup. Brilliant.
The partridge was pink, a leg was cooked thoroughly and the dish was the evening’s real stand-out. Imagination, flair, skill and technique came together to create something very, very special.
The first dessert, a take on apple strudel, was equally good. A thin cigar of pastry had been dusted with crunchy sugar and filled with finely diced apple compote. Served alongside a yoghurt dressing and swish of caramel, it was decadent and gorgeous.
As with the partridge, it would have been entirely in-place in a one Michelin starred restaurant.
The chef showed similar skills with the final dessert, a take on chocolate and parma violets. Jammy flavours, chocolate mouse and a tiny dice of sponge made it feel like the poshest trifle this side of the M6. Again, top marks.
Service was faultless, the restaurant redesign is a hit and Craft offers a unique experience that should endear it to all comers. Morgan deserves plaudits for his change in direction, Sheridan’s oversight and leadership have made the difference and a young, hungry committed team are moving in the right direction.
The over-riding impression was of a restaurant that is already very, very good – but one that’s clearly going to get even better.
Bravo. Well done that team. Now, if you’ll leave me to get on with my humble pie…
The Terrace, The International,
8 Centenary Square,
Birmingham, B1 2EA