A man who cut his teeth in the fire of Claude Bosi’s two-Michelin-starred Ludlow restaurant, who earned Birmingham’s first new Michelin star since time began, and who catapulted the region’s cuisine into the popular consciousness courtesy of a slew of prime time TV shows, Purnell has been imperious.
His eponymous restaurant, Purnell’s – just in case he ever forgets his name and needs to ask for directions – is a beacon. A place of fun and laughter, of exquisite food and magnificent service, it remains one of the must-visit restaurants in England’s Second City.
And now, just around the corner, there’s a casual, easy-on-the-wallet, eaterie – Plates – that specialises in tapas. And, frankly, it’s brilliant.
Marco Pierre White, a man who knows a thing or five about food, has a tao, and it’s this. Great food is about the environment, about service, and about food, in that order.
And if that’s true – and, surely, it is, for who doesn’t enjoy sitting around a family table for Sunday lunch, where it’s all about the sense of place or, alternatively, eating fish and chips while sitting beside the sea – then Plates has nailed it.
Located in Birmingham’s business district, it’s a funky little restaurant that sashays its way onto the culinary catwalk. Fitted out inexpensively, but with no little style, it’s a casual, no frills, relaxed and inviting room in which to eat.
The staff are great, too. A bunch of kids with a point to prove, they’re keen and eager, just like mustard, as they focus on customer enjoyment, putting guests at ease, and delivering with a smile. Efficient and attentive, bustling and brisk, they’re a credit to the guy who put Birmingham on the map with his inventive and no-holds-barred style of cuisine.
If the environment is great and the service is smoother than polished glass, what about the food?
It dazzles, simply. My partner and I ate eight plates – six savoury, one cheese, one dessert – and all were flawless. They were dishes that made us grin as Purnell demonstrated his playful nature along with his undoubted ability and panache. Restaurant openings are typically fraught, though the kid from Chelmsley Wood has been around longer than the much-loved host of Match Of The Day and his food also hit the back of the net.
We booked a table at the last minute, having missed out a few days earlier – showing us how popular Plates has already become.
Staff were quick to greet us and we sat at a window, looking out at the thrum of a Saturday evening while enjoying pre-dinner drinks. She ordered three plates, I ordered the same, and they were delivered as-and-when, giving us the opportunity to eat a little, talk a little, drink a little, and soak up the warm ambience. It doesn’t get much better.
Purnell’s intention when he opened Plates was to recreate the sort of casual dining experience that he’d enjoyed while visiting Spain during his formative years.
As a chef, he’d piled on a stone in a month while eating and drinking his own bodyweight across Southern Europe. He’d been dazzled by the casual, no-fuss style of his Spanish hosts, and wanted to do something similar in his home city. Happily, he’s nailed it.
My partner started with cheese croquettes, which were delicious. Mostly, croquettes seem to be an excuse to sell mashed potato masquerading as cheese. These were from a different planet. Molten and gooey – like the filthy, deep-fried cheese you can buy at Pizza Hut – they were in another league. Served with a spicy chorizo mayo and deep fried to some sort of golden perfection, they made for the perfect start.
I opened with a plate of calamari, crispy squid that put the lower quality stuff available at other restaurants in the shade. Thick chunks of tender squid were wrapped in a crisp, breadcrumb coating, making for the happiest of eating. They came to the table practically still sizzling and were gone in an instant.
The special was a bowl of slow-cooked beef brisket that was intensely flavoured and meltingly tender. A bowl of still-crisp patatas bravas accompanied them – meat and potatoes has seldom tasted so good.
The beef was as tender and flavoursome as butter, though with a lightly spiced marinade that lifted the flavours to another level.
The potatoes were fabulous – pimped with a great tomato-based, peppery sauce and more cheese than Cathedral City.
Both dishes were heavenly, the sort of comforting, hug-in-a-bowl stuff that makes you grateful to be alive.
My partner, meanwhile, was eating the tenderest bowl of octopus ever cooked, alongside a brilliant assemblage of aubergine chips with truffle.
The octopus was divine, cooked with real skill and a showcase of an under-used ingredient. The aubergine chips were other-worldly. Vegetal and earthy, they were wrapped in a fantastically crisp batter and within moments they were gone.
We’d left room – just about – for a dessert, and opted for a crème Catalan alongside a Spanish cheese selection.
The crème was magnificent, light and aerated, providing a deliciously feather-light end to dinner. The cheese, blue, mild, and Manchego, came with quince cheese, authentic Spanish crackers and a didn’t-go-unnoticed smile from a waitress who made our supper a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
There was no formality, no discomfort, no standing on ceremony – just a happy, relaxed, and carefree evening of great food, good vibes and a sense that we were thoroughly welcome at a cool and funky new restaurant.
Purnell has nailed it. He’s hit the sweet spot, creating a thrilling experience at an affordable price in a desirable location for people who want to pop in and hang.
Business types and couples, shoppers and mates, loved-up honeybunnies and girls-on-the-razz; it’s a placed where all-comers can forget about the world and enjoy brilliant hospitality from the Prince of Birmingham.
Book it – NOW.