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UP-STARS ///

Michelin works in mysterious ways. The annual guide, originally founded by the French tyre company to show the best places to eat and refuel during car journeys, has covered Britain since 1911 with very little explanation of how they operate. The inspections are anonymous, usually visiting multiple restaurants in one area over a short space of time. They eat, they leave, and occasionally post retrospectively on the social media accounts. Chefs turn into sleuths, looking out for sole diners who could change the success of a business overnight with the awarding of a star. For many, most, practically all chefs, it is seen as the pinnacle of a career of long hours in the kitchen. Yet nobody truly knows how to achieve one. The criteria are vague, and the stars themselves still refer to bygone days when cars were a scarce commodity: simply put one stars denotes a very good restaurant, two worth a detour, and the ultimate three stars (presently held by just eight restaurants in the UK) is worthy of a special journey. 

Upstairs by Tom Shepherd has just been awarded a star after just four months of opening, an extremely short period of time given Michelin's generally pedestrian speed at handing them out. He's guessing, but Tom thinks the first visit was just two weeks into their opening, and the second – judging by the pictures they posted on Twitter – a few weeks after that. "Our mindset at the time was to build confidence within the team" Tom tells me. "It was a testing field for the first couple of months. We weren't expecting to be singled out for visits so soon". I know this to be true myself given that my attempts at booking were politely pushed back until they had fully settled. When I did eventually get there, it was sensational. Lichfield's first Michelin star followed shortly, but why this location? "We opened here because my father is a third-generation jeweller with his business downstairs, and the idea of continuing craftsmanship upstairs was important to me".

With reservations full until May and a waiting list of 27 for the 11 table restaurant this Saturday, I wonder what they are going to do about demand, particularly in the local area. The answer is expansion. On the morning we talk, a survey has been conducted to move the kitchen over the terrace, along with the chef’s table, freeing up more covers and a wine room in the existing space. It's a big move for a restaurant that had barely made a profit by January due to a desire to keep prices as low as possible and the produce the best it can be. Tom's CV is suitably brimming with stars; The Laytmer when it was two stars, Sat Bains, and then head chef at Adam’s. He's run kitchens before but never his own business. It's inevitable that prices are going to go up, he says, but not by much. "The sense of community in Lichfield is amazing. Everyone has really got behind us". It's something he doesn't want to lose by pricing them out of dinner. 

And finally, I ask, what is the key to obtaining a star so quickly? "I've personally never understood why chefs say they are pushing for a star. How can you push for something you have no control over? We push every day to better ourselves. I firmly believe we're just getting started".  He makes it sound so simple. Website →

&whilst on the subject of Lichfield...

The Boat Inn is a fine dining restaurant from Liam Dillon of Great British Menu fame. Liam has worked under some of the world's most renowned chefs, including Marcus Waring and Noma's Rene Redzepi, and it shows: think dishes rooted in classic technique with playful modern touches. The lunch deal is fantastic value but I am booking in for dinner to have the barbecued prawn with chestnut puree and bisque. 
 
Otto is where the dough aficionados go for their pizza fill. Consistently excellent, using only the best produce, their chorizo and 'nduja pizza is rarely bettered. Also home to one of the best Negronis found in the country.
 
I have it on good authority (thanks Kate) that Bore Street Bakery is the place for densely packed sarnies and sourdough loaves and cakes. So just about everything. Likewise, the new Jungle Street Kitchen comes recommended by my friends north of the wall. I'll be checking out its vast street food menu and bubble tea very soon.  

&whilst on the subject of Michelin stars...

L'Enclume is the latest of the three-star restaurants, and the first to show that those pesky inspectors will award the top marks to anywhere north of Watford. I had this extremely good lunch not that long ago, got drunk, and lost the car the following morning. True story. Blog post here →
 
On a more personal note, my favourite restaurant in the UK got promoted to two stars, arguably three years later than it should have been. Ynyshir is Wales's first two-star restaurant; you can bet your pocket money it will be its first three star in the not too distant future. Blog posts here →

THE ORIGIN FOOD BOYS (SORRY) ///

Ignoring the tenuous jungle music link, everyone's favourite private chef duo Ox and Origin are popping up Harvey Nichols this Sunday with some slots still available. £60 buys five courses of this extremely dreamy menu. Book here →

Each week I'll be sharing an insight into my food and drink highlights. 
Grace and Savour

Went for a meal at Grace and Savour, the new (and third!) restaurant at Hampton Manor. I'll be writing it up soon, but suffice to say it was superb. This beef shin dish was particularly dreamy. Find out more here →
 
Purecraft

Purecraft are cooking what I consider to be the best they ever have. Go, eat whatever you like, but under no circumstances leave without having the deep fried Jerusalem artichokes with truffle mayo. Website → 
 
QBox

Had a special from QBox of chicken with truffle gnocchi, braised leeks, and chicken sauce. Fought over the last of the sauce (I lost). Is this Birmingham's best takeaway? Answer; yes, it is. Website →
Laghi's

Went to Laghi's and ordered cheesey garlic bread, a plate of Mortadella, and a negroni. I think I've nailed the perfect order, lads. Lets not talk about the wine club meet-up we had there the following week ever again. Book a table →
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