We hoped for the best but anticipated something less than brilliant. After all, Andy Sheridan, the chef-patron of 8, in Birmingham, had delivered our most memorable dinner in 2020 on the last occasion we ate at 8, in Birmingham.
It would be expecting too much for him to repeat the trick. Surely, post-lockdown, he’d be out of ideas and unable to recreate the sheer brilliance we enjoyed on our first and only other visit.
We weren’t the only ones who’d been dazzled, I might add. The Michelin inspectors, apparently visiting in his opening month or so, were so bowled over that they’d awarded him a Michelin Plate. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen too often; usually venues have to be open a while longer to register on the radar for the food lovers’ bible.
And yet when my partner and I left 8, we did something we very rarely do. We arrived home, logged on and booked another table. Putting our money – and a fair chunk of it – where our hungry mouths were, we’d been so bowled over that we instantly decided to return.
For the thing that Sheridan has that so few other chefs have is this: his food makes you smile. He’s a pleasure-giver, a man who provides happiness as well as sustenance.
His food is evocative of simpler times, of childhood, of the deliciousness that both he – and we, the guests – have enjoyed before. Beef and mushroom, cheese and pineapple, lemon drizzle and cream… All classic combinations that are re-imagined for the 21st century in the hands of one of our region’s great young chefs.
Sheridan has been around the block, of course. He’s done his stints on TV’s Great British Menu, he’s built his own profile as a head chef and he’s had the usual gastronomic ups and downs before settling on Birmingham.
The Liverpool-born chef isn’t the only star at 8. His co-owners, Sam and Emma Morgan, are smart operators. Investing in a chef with considerable talent and giving him the autonomy to re-imagine a wonderfully-located restaurant has been their masterstroke.
The best co-owners find the right people and let them get on with things. Such a dynamic accurately describes the relationship between the Morgans and Sheridan.
Lockdown, for most restaurants, has been a period of stasis. In the hard 15 months since March 2020, most have been glad to simply keep afloat. Expansion plans, relocations and similar have been on hold.
Not at 8. The venue has been refurbished, there’s a new entrance, a new bar for pre-dinner drinks and soon there’ll also be a further mini dining room added.
8 has been busy while others have, by necessity, decided to let the grass grow.
The proof, of course, is in the pudding – and Sheridan’s service and food were a level above that experienced on our earlier visit.
Classy front of house from an excellent drinks waiter, good work from his two senior chefs and a masterclass from Sheridan made our experience thoroughly delicious and a theatrical delight.
We started in the new side-bar, where a brilliantly shot video whetted our appetite for what was to come. Then we were shown into the neon-lit dining area, where we sat around a large, oblong table and listened to Sheridan’s introduction to the evening.
The chef-patron frequently explains dishes, in a restaurant that relies on a concept of 8. And while space limits the extent to which that idea can be unpacked, suffice to say Sheridan has found a hook on which all things hang.
We started with a trio of snacks, a beef crisp featuring luxurious tartare and a cheese and pineapple-stuffed cone being the highlights.
A country-style loaf with decadent soft butter was exceptional before we settled down to the menu proper.
It began with a mini vegetarian tartlet, filled with a beetroot relish, hydrated slices of sweet tomato and a shot of warming and minerally vegetable juice. It was like a hit on an oxygen tank. A brilliant way to start.
Next up was a luxurious fish dish. A beautiful, tender piece of cod had been roasted before our eyes in foaming butter before being topped with Exmoor caviar and served with a creamy sauce.
Umami rich bread followed, all the better to mop up the sauce, as Sheridan began to dazzle.
His food is inspired by his own memories. Quite simply, he has re-imagined the dishes that made him happy as a kid, refined them, brought them into the modern age and conjured new versions.
And so on a dish called Lucky 8, he hits the high notes. A dish featuring a pork parfait on treacle bread with a slice of bacon lardo, melted cheese and relish, it was, in essence, a really, really posh bacon sandwich; Sheridan-style. And boy did it taste good. Messy, indulgent and with the lightly acidulated chutney cutting through the rock’n’roll flavours, it was spectacular.
An apple and scallop dish, with plenty of citrussy sorrel, was a touch of class. Sheridan is all about refinement, though refinement with a smile, and his light, refreshing fish course was a revelation. Rooted in the classics, it was heavenly.
The headliner was an A5 wagyu beef number with truffle and a thick, sticky, rich beef sauce. Frankly, it doesn’t get any better. Perfectly cooked, delightfully seasoned and rested just so, it was a celebration of the world’s finest ingredients in the hands of a skilful chef.
The pre-dessert was a mini lemon drizzle cake with clotted cream and homemade marmalade; again, harking back to memories evocative of childhood. The final dessert was a neat, light and refreshing take on an After 8, with the lightest mint and a wafer-thin chocolate disc.
Sheridan is one of two Birmingham chefs making national headlines at present – the other is Aktar Islam. There may be others with more accolades, but he’s creating more of a buzz. Dinner at 8 was a potent reminder why. We left with full tummies, broad smiles and had been the fortunate beneficiaries of a sumptuous night’s dinner.
8 is more than just a restaurant. It’s a night out, as though visiting a cool club, a bar and a high-end restaurant in one. There’s a dish on the menu called V8 – and Sheridan is fully charged.
ADDRESS: 8 at Craft Dining Rooms, Unit 10 & 11, Thge International Convention Centre (ICC), 8 Centenary Square, Birmingham B1 2EA 0333 772 9329 weare-craft.co.uk