Food review: Adam's, Birmingham - An experience like no other
The broadcaster Simon Mayo encourages his readers to summarise their day in three words. The former BBC Radio 2 and current Scala Radio jock solicits such pithy musings as: Hot Hot Hot, Shed Painting Blues, Let’s Go Zumba, Drinking French Wine and Saag Paneer Joy.
In the case of the Michelin-starred Birmingham restaurant, Adam’s, it’s possible to condense even further. One word is all that’s required to summarise the qualities of a restaurant that is arguably the region’s best. It is this: classy.
From the moment guests arrive and are ushered into a light and airy dining room to the moment they depart with a small boxed gift – blackberry and honey cordial with a blackberry and honey truffle, nothing is too much trouble. From the moment waiters outline how to use the covid-secure QR code menus to the moment they deliver the amuse bouche – a terrific, Asian-inspired beef carpaccio soft taco – there is wonderment and style.
Birmingham remains the UK’s most exciting culinary destination, outside London. The qualities that Adam’s so richly possesses is a huge part of its success. It is one of five Michelin-starred restaurants based in the city and all offer something unique.
There is the off-the-chart brilliance of the magnificent Aktar Islam and his sensational Opheem; the beautiful Rolls Royce cuisine of Luke Tipping at the classically-influenced Simpsons; then there’s the theatre, unbridled joy, opulence and creativity of Clown Prince (no, that’s not a spelling mistake) Glynn Purnell, a man who has become the Godfather of Birmingham Gastronomy; while the innovation, passion for British ingredients and willingness to push the envelope of Brad Carter makes this a city for all seasons.
Adam Stokes operates in a different space to all of the above. Mixing trend and tradition, combining cutting edge Asian flavours that are rich in flavour with quintessentially classic French dishes, showcasing dazzling British produce with modern techniques and employing staff who radiate charm and quality; his is an Aston Martin restaurant. It’s a cut above, it’s stylish and classy, it’s unphased by the vagaries of fashion or whoever might be the new kid on the block.
Quality runs through every action and deed like the letters in a stick of rock. The public love it. Last year, it was voted the best place to dine out in the UK by contributors to TripAdvisor while also being named sixth best in Europe and 10th best in the world.
It’s not just customers who rate it so highly. It regularly features among critics’ Top 50 in the UK and has earned baubles from the Good Food Guide, Michelin, the AA and more. It’s the closest Birmingham has to a two-star Michelin restaurant and perhaps one day it will ascend to that level.
Adam’s was opened in 2013 by husband and wife team Adam and Natasha in a former sandwich shop. Intended as a two year ‘pop-up’, the couple continued to look for a location for the restaurant’s permanent home, keeping their search local after falling for the charms of the city centre. Patience paid off when in summer 2015 they took on three floors of New Oxford House located just around the corner on Waterloo Street. After a £1.5 million renovation the restaurant was able to move into its new location in January 2016.
Attention to detail is what underpins its brilliance. Its kitchen can be turned up to 30C to leaven bread, or dropped to 12C to make great chocolate. Staff can relax in a basement refectory, complete with 40-inch TV, deep sofas and parquet floor.
Chef Adam Stokes has been cooking at the top level for more than a decade. He earned four AA rosettes and a Michelin star before his 30th birthday while he and his wife have long been a hugely important and valued fixture on the region’s dining scene.
It’s been too long since we last reviewed Adam’s – I checked, it was four years hence – and things have progressed considerably. The team is impressively slick. Knowledgeable, engaged and showing high levels of expertise, they provide the warmest of welcomes, helpful explanations of dishes and make guests feel as comfortable as if they were dining at home.
The dining room remains a stand-out dining space, now colourfully decorated with a dazzling Alex Echo limited edition painting that provides drama and delight. The food remains spellbinding. It is technically brilliant, expertly seasoned, artistically presented and exceptionally well balanced. Adam Stokes is a high quality chef, a man whose skills deserve the highest recognition.
I started with two snacks, a dazzling beef carpaccio taco being the stand-out. Soft and yielding, umami-rich and spiced with peppery togarashi mayonnaise, it served notice of what was to be.
An oyster dish followed before beautifully aerated bread was served with whipped butter and a bacon crumb. Silken and indulgent, it set the tone ahead of lunch.
The first course was sensational; showcasing exceptional skills and an expert understanding of peak season produce. Heritage tomatoes were served with a citrussy ponzo jelly, dashi and shiso. The tomato dashi was overwhelming, a rarefied taste of summer, the presentation was as compelling as the Alex Echo artwork. It was a dreamy, smile-inducing dish.
An Orkney scallop was served raw and pan-seared with nasturtium, lime and salted almonds. The light acidity cut through the sweet, salty scallop flavours, the combination of raw and cooked provided textural contrast while the almond added balance to an exquisite dish.
The main was suckling pig with a creamed, truffled potato, sautéed new potatoes, a mini bacon hash, caramelised onion and leeks. Tiny, half-thumb-nail-sized pieces of pickled onion added light acidulation while the belly and loin of the pig was creamy, moreish and fabulously rich.
A melon soup with compressed melon provided a transition to dessert; a blackberry and pistachio parfait with pieces of soft, moist pistachio cake, tangy yoghurt sorbet and chocolate. Beautiful. Every. Single. Mouthful.
There were more petite fours than the Harrods Food Hall – five in total starting with a stickily gorgeous Caneles De Bordeaux and ending with a fragrant peppermint macaron. Bravo, chef. Bravo, front of house team.
Adams has long been a quality act; for a great many, he’s the most refined and technically proficient chef in Birmingham.
The 2020 incarnation of his restaurant reaches new peaks. My bill, factoring in Rishi Sunak’s £10 Eat Out To Help Out discount, was £41, including drinks, for a dinner for which I’d have happily paid £75.
Mesmerising food and silver service, an exceptional chef-owner and a brilliant kitchen, an inviting dining room and the happiest of experiences – Adam’s 2020 is, in a word, stunning.
Adam's, New Oxford House, 16 Waterloo Street, Birmingham B2 5UG 0121 6433745 adamsrestaurant.co.uk