Lockdown food review: Pulperia, by Aktar Islam helping you create the 5-star Sunday lunch
Andy Richardson enjoys quality meat from a click-and-collect, cook at home service from a Michelin-starred chef.
Prior to lockdown, the most exciting chef in Britain’s most exciting gastronomic destination (not including London) was Aktar Islam.
Having earned his first Michelin star for the brilliant contemporary Indian restaurant, Opheem, Aktar had also created Birmingham’s best and most thrilling Italian restaurant, Legna.
Though Legna closed because of a landlord dispute, Aktar began searching for a new site in the city while also focusing on opening a further two restaurants: Pulperia in Brindley Place and Pulperia in Edgbaston.
Pulperia promised an authentic Argentinian menu that changed with the seasons. The finest Argentine steaks, alongside rare cuts of beef from around the world and ‘parilla’ were to be the highlights of the menu. It wasn’t just going to be about the beef, either. Seafood would be treated with love and care while Aktar and his team would add theatre to their offer by cooking meat on a unique Argentinian v-shaped, charcoal and wood-fired grill. Delicious. And then lockdown hit and while Aktar’s accountants probably began to convulse, the chef focused on ways to trade.
With a brand-new restaurant, lovingly conceived and full to the brim with investment, he’s gone back to basics by offering Sunday lunch. Aktar doesn’t do things by halves and he’s created Britain’s Best Sunday Dinner.
Pulperia have an exceptional range of beef. From ribeye to sirloin, from chuck to fillet, it offers the best steaks in the region. There are also Basque Cider House Steaks, which are butchered from retired UK dairy cows that live to 11-18 years old. There are also Galician Blonde steaks, considered among the best in the world, which hail from Spain. The retired dairy cattle live to 14-17 years old and their meat ages like an oak-aged red wine. As the cows become older and fatter, their meat marbles with streaks of fat that give it an exquisite flavour. Once slaughtered, the meat is aged for 50 days so that it loses any residual moisture and so that the flavours intensify.
When Pulperia opens, a 1kg Galacian Blonde Prime Rib will set you back £85. But with Aktar’s click-and-collect service, the price drops to £60 and he throws in roast heritage carrots, roast potatoes, light and fluffy Yorkshire puddings, cauliflower cheese, gravy, seasoning and cabbage with Pommery mustard. Winning. At. Life.
The rules of engagement are simply. Email Pulperia, place an order then collect two bags of prepared ingredients during a Saturday afternoon slot. The following day, hit the kitchen for 20 minutes of wonder et voila, the perfect Sunday roast.
It’s worth reflecting just a little more on the quality of Galacian Blonde. It is the most premium cut from the Pulperia menu and the beef itself has a good bite plus tonnes of flavour from the fat within. Just as humans become rounder and fatter over time, so do cattle. And that translates to maximum flavour. It also means the cattle lead the best lives possible. Having been exhausted by the round of milking during their earlier years, they spend a long retirement grazing on pasture.
Pulperia offers an authentic Argentinian menu that changes with the seasons. The finest Argentine steaks, alongside rare cuts of beef from around the world and our ‘parilla’ are the counterpoints of the menu, with everything prepared freshly on the day, seafood treated with love and care, and meat cooked on unique Argentinian v-shaped, charcoal and wood-fired grill that are not so fortunate are dispatched at an earlier age.
In the restaurant, Galacian Blonde is cooked over an open fire grill but searing and cooking in the oven at home produces similarly good results.
And so the fun began. Sunday lunch comes complete with an idiot-proof guide of what to heat and when. We took our beef and cauliflower from the fridge, allowing it to come to room temperature, before adding butter that had been provided to the pan. As that began to foam and sizzle, I seasoned the beef and seared it in a hot pan until both sides – and the edge – had become deliciously caramelised. Garlic, thyme and rosemary were also provided with the butter, giving the beef additional flavour and filling the kitchen with the wonderful aroma of Sunday lunch.
The roast potatoes and cauliflower were popped into the oven and the pre-cooked heritage carrots and seared beef were added after 10 minutes. The beef was given ten minutes to rest in foil while the vegetables finished off and the crumb on the cauliflower cheese became deliciously golden. A sticky, intensely rich gravy was simmered, Yorkshire puds cooked through in three minutes and then the beef was carved and placed on hot plates.
The results were astounding. Sunday lunch is such an easy dish to mess up; there are so many ingredients and it’s all too-easy for some to become tepid while others are being dished up. Aktar and his instructions ensured the dish was nailed. The carrots were deliciously sweet and buttery, the potatoes crisp and brilliantly fluffy within. The Yorkshire puddings were as tall as a tower block and the batter was a fabulous golden yellow colour; the result of using great ingredients. The gravy was so good that I scraped the inside of the pan, where it had condensed and become as sticky as wet tar. Fabulously flavoursome and intensely rich, it was utterly beguiling.
And then came the beef. Wow. It’s one thing to read about a fat old dairy cow and its reputation for being delish. It’s quite another to find that to be true. Buttery and with a deep, intoxicating flavour, it was lip-smacklingly good. The garlic, butter, rosemary and thyme in which it had been seared gave it a meadow-ey quality while the meat itself was rich and buttery. Aktar’s instructions allowed for a perfectly rare cut of beef while the size of the portions meant it leant itself to three, rather than two, plates: £20 a pop for some of the best beef in the world – bargain.
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Sample menu when open
Molleja – charred sweetbread, burnt lime chimicurri, chicory, £10
Gambas – wild Argentine king prawn, tomato confit, aji molledo, £14
Ceviche – bass, citrus, shallots, avocado, radish, £10
Sirloin steak, £24.95
Crosscut of rib, £23.95
Fillet steak, £19.95
Roasted heritage carrots on chicken butter, £5
Charred broccoli with olive oil, £5
Bone marrow pomme purée, £5
Pulperia, by Aktar Islam
Tel: 0121 546 0594
Star rating: 5/5