During the past couple of years, a buzz has been growing around a small, neighbourhood restaurant run by chef-patron Jamie Desogus.
The former drummer in a rock’n’roll band opened Harborne Kitchen after working under the brilliant and inspirational Mark Askew, at Petrus, in London, back in the day.
He learned well from his highly talented mentor and Harborne Kitchen embodies many of the starry qualities for which Askew is renowned.
Seasonal, produce-led, elegantly-presented food that is brimful of flavour, is presented playfully and executed with precision.
Desogus has his sights set high in a city that already boasts five Michelin-starred restaurants. He, along with Alex Claridge, at The Wilderness, are the best of the chasing pack, streets ahead of their competitors, who trail in their wake.
It already boasts a Michelin Plate, denoting good cooking, though its sights are clearly set higher as the personable and affable Desogus looks to compete with those with bigger reputations.
It is on the right track. A staple of Hardens, The Good Food Guide and The AA, it’s been picking up regular positive notices from customers, critics and inspectors. Ambitious and self-assured, Harborne Kitchen is going places – and fast.
Harborne is, of course, no stranger to Michelin stars. Formerly, Richard Turner held one, before moving on. Desogus survived his sometimes erratic kitchen and now provides a more enjoyable dining experience than his old boss – and also avoids the public flashes of temper.
At times, Covid-19 feels like Darwinism made real. The fittest will survive. Businesses are undergoing a frequently brutal process of natural selection. Harborne Kitchen has already proved its mettle.
Forward-thinking, quick to adapt, successfully embracing new norms, it has returned from lockdown with renewed energy, enthusiasm and hunger.
The restaurant is fit for purpose in this Covid-secure age.
Guests are invited to wait in a small lobby before sanitising their hands as they enter the restaurant. They are politely asked to follow a few simple rules, in essence, showing care for other guests by maintaining social distancing and hygiene. Staff are transparent, charming and clear.
The restaurant has been given a make-over during the pandemic with the space being re-imagined to suit the new normal.
A small, tapas-style menu is available in a bar area to the front of the restaurant while new booths have been constructed to the rear, beyond an open-plan kitchen, so that guests can enjoy an intimate experience.
The post-Covid dining experience has been carefully considered. Instead of printed wine lists, drinks of available using a QR code to avoid the risk of many hands touching one menu.
Similarly, cutlery is placed onto tables in mini racks, so guests can pick up their own knives and forks rather than staff needing to do so for them.
It’s the little things that count as customer confidence is rebuilt and customers start to relax in the post-pandemic world.
The menus at Harborne Kitchen are eminently reasonable, too. In an age where many of the Second City’s Michelin-starred restaurants are now looking at upwards of £100 for dinner, Desogus offers decent value for a fine dining experience at £60.
Portion size is spot on, with plenty of small, perfectly-formed courses that are packed with flavour and intent.
My friend has eaten at Harborne Kitchen on several occasions and bent my ear about just how good it is. Happy to report, she’s right.
We managed to bag a midweek table, which was no mean feat. Since restaurants have been allowed to trade, Harborne Kitchen has literally been full every single night.
Located in one of Birmingham’s more affluent suburbs, it has a discerning clientele who have been eager to enjoy the work of Desogus and co.
We started with three tiny snacks. Each was delicious. A 24-month mature cheese amuse bouche was a flavour bomb that jolted the senses like a Mayweather jab. A one-bite taramasalata follow-up was pitch perfect, with nice acidulation, while a crunchy, more-ish cube of pork provided crunch and more than a little umami. Bread was exceptional, with whipped butter providing a light, creamy accompaniment.
A velveteen chicken liver parfait with Makin strawberries and white chocolate made for a spectacular first course.
The parfait was rich and dreamy, a happy combination of unexpected ingredients that worked beautifully. Chicken and strawberries is one of the gastronomic world’s seemingly peculiar combos – Desogus’ new interpretation was better than the original; Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt, rather than Nine Inch Nails’ original.
The next course, allium, was exceptional, a 10/10 dish that could grace any menu in any restaurant across the Michelin-starred Second City.
Comprising layers of deeply caramelised onion, alongside crisp dehydrated slices, crispy deep-fried rings, blue cheese mousse, chives and more, it was a standout dish. Neither too complex nor too fussy, it showed high levels of technical skill and a solid understanding of complimentary ingredients.
A Loch Duart salmon dish was elegance itself. Beautifully cured and served with wild horseradish, sea herbs and Arenkha caviar, it raised our dinner to a higher level.
Angels danced on our tongue. The main followed, a perfectly tender rump of Salt Marsh hogget with a crisp round of slowly rendered belly alongside lovage and courgette. Deep, rich and intense, the flavours and textures showcased a rare skill.
The pace slowed as we transitioned to dessert with a British raspberry course featuring buttermilk and wild nettle before Desogus completed his bravura performance with a passion fruit meringue with scintillating coconut ice cream. Sharp and sweet, creamy and delicate, it was a perfectly balanced dessert, gone in just a moment.
Harborne Kitchen is one of the region’s most exciting kitchens, well led by a chef-patron with enviable skill. It’s ahead of the game in our post-pandemic age, already putting into practice measures that others are only now contemplating.
Desogus is operating at an elite level while being ably supported by an engaged, professional supporting cast, who operate at the highest standard. Good company.
Good food. Good hospitality. Good value for money. Harborne Kitchen justifies the hype.
Six course, £60
Nine course, £80
Rock oyster, ratte potato, shallot
Chicken liver parfait, gariguette strawberries, white chocolate
Orkney Island scallop, gazpacho and kombu water, lardo
Allium, caramelised onion, blue cheese, chive
Loch Duart salmon, wild horseradish, arenkha caviar
Salt Marsh lamb, broad bean, Old Grenadier, lovage
British raspberry, milk, wild nettle passion fruit, extra virgin rape seed, coconut
Six course, £100
Nine course, £130
175 High Street, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 9QE