I have eaten a lot of food in my time (as mean-spirited readers are wont to tell me in the Facebook comments of my stories on budget items), but I am not a connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it took me three times to spell ‘connoisseur’ in that sentence and I also had to Google it to check it was the correct term, so badly informed am I on fine dining.
So when the Michelin guide came out last week, and Birmingham kept hold of its five stars, our neighbors over in Lichfield nabbing one of their own for the first time, I had to wonder what all the fuss was about. Tiny plates of tiny food for astronomical prices, that was my thinking.
I’ve never grown up thinking of food as anything other than fuel to get through the day. I grew up on free school meals (chips and gravy, for the most part). As an adult, celebratory meals out are spent at Toby Carvery, where the all-you-can-eat roasters fill all of my requirements for a happy time.
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But being that I have a new years resolution to be more intrepid and a desire to truly appreciate everything that Birmingham has to offer, I decided to give Michelin dining a go. Could it ever really be worth the expenditure? I thought, rather I find out than you go and be £ 150 down and disappointed. So I called.
I was nervous. A foodie friend of mine had recommended Adams. “It’s close to two Michelin stars,” she’d said, “so they mean business.”
I rang and secured a table – I’d expected weeks and weeks of waiting but they got me in for two days time. Score.
Though it did not feel like a score. I felt really apprehensive. I do not have anything posh to wear and I did not know any of the rules, like what order you use your cutlery in. Heck. Heck. Heck.
But the day soon came and I put on my favorite outfit – a £ 7.50 “Freddie Krueger” T-shirt and some £ 10 black leggings – and set off to Adams. It’s an unassuming spot, given how lauded it is, opposite Purecraft where I’d previously swilled pints.
Man, did I feel posh from the get go. Someone took my coat and asked me if I fancied a drink at the bar before being seen to my table. I made straight for the dining room.
The restaurant itself was beautiful, fairly formal but with no crisp table cloths to be seen. I was shown to a table with one chair and noted what a lovely touch that was. An empty chair can be a bit depressing when you’re alone. It indicates that someone could be there, but they’re not. Adams just got rid of it entirely.
It was the first of dozens of sweet little gestures that made me feel like the most cherished person in the gaff. The second came almost immediately. Two menus showing only the vegetarian food options – they’d noted it down when I called and made sure I did not even have to think about it, or remind them. I never get that service in Nandos, and I’ve been there a million times.
My options were pretty plentiful. Three courses for £ 45, five for £ 65 or the whole bloody menu for £ 110. Of course, it was not called ‘the whole bloody menu’, it was called TASTING and I loved the sound of trying everything, so I chose that.
Then I ordered a £ 14 white peach Bellini on the recommendation of the nice lady who brought over the menu, with the idea being that a) a bit of booze would make me feel less uptight and b) it had prosecco in and that made me feel posh.
So far, so absolutely fantastic.
So the tasting menu featured seven dishes (crikey) and that included no fewer than four starters, a main course and two puddings. At least, I think that’s what they were, it was hard to keep track.
But things just kept coming out that I did not expect or ask for. A wooden box was brought to the table first with a pretty red beetroot meringue inside and some kind of little rice cracker thing on top. Precisely two mouthfuls of food. Here we go, I thought. Little dishes, big money.
God, I loved them. The meringue disappeared on my tongue and gave way to goats cheese and I made a loud ‘MMMM’ sound in the general direction of the people sitting next to me. Wow.
When my bouche was adequately amused, another ‘snack’ was brought to my table. This time it was two pieces of cucumber that the lady who brought it tipped green gazpacho over.
I thought that was my starter (also called ‘cucumber’) but it did not seem to be. It was just another little dish to try. I hoped they were not whacking loads more money on the bill for it (and they did not).
Then my starter did arrive, as did a stack of four knives, four forks and four spoons. Oh god. This was going to be where I came unstuck.
“All of these are just for your starters,” I was reassured, as though they could sense my intimidation. I gulped the Bellini.
The real ‘cucumber’ dish was brought over and it was honestly the happiest thing I have ever eaten. Little tiny bits of finger lime that looked like caviar burst in my mouth in a glorious jubilee while the wasabi played around somewhere near my nose.
My eyes watered, my mouth watered. It was a ridiculous explosion of flavors that sent my senses into overdrive. I could have kissed the chef, if such a thing would not get me barred for life.
“How was that?” asked Janka as she came to clear my plate. “Magical!” I managed. “I wanted to lick the plate.”
“Do it!” she encouraged. “I’ll cover you!” We laughed but I was not joking. I said I could have mopped the plate with my bread, and she encouraged that too.
As dish after dish came out, parts of my gob that I did not know had taste buds had started to come alive.
‘White asparagus’ followed the cucumber, topped with pretty edible flowers. I tasted one and it was divine. How can a flower taste so unbelievable? Then followed leek parcels and Jerusalem artichoke. By that point, a tear had actually escaped and made its way happily down my nose.
The main of ‘wild mushroom’ was just thrilling. Mushrooms I’d seen in books but had never tried were laid before me, including hen of the woods which was stunning. As she was about to walk away, Janka said: “My lady, the sauce there is perfect with our bread!” and she gave me a little smile that said ‘go on bab, mop the plate’. So I did.
I am positive that none of the mushrooms on my plate were magic, but I realized that I had become giddy from the experience. I felt a real and true high as beautiful food filled my tummy and endorphins flooded my brain.
All the ‘my lady’ and ‘for you’ little gestures were just so welcome. My glass was constantly topped up with water without me asking and when I got up to go for a wee, they folded my napkin and someone was there to tuck my chair in when I returned. It was just so, so lovely – I felt like a million dollars.
The desserts were to die for and I even got extra little treats for when I was paying my bill, to sweeten the hit. A little bottle of salted caramel and miso syrup for my afternoon coffee and a ‘gooey salted caramel chocolate’ to take away.
In total, I’d spent £ 149.34 but I barely cared. So what, if that meant I could not have a takeaway for the next six months? It all felt completely and utterly reasonable to me.
While I’d got a few photos of my dishes, and one of me enjoying one, I was aware that nothing could possibly capture that experience. The way that all of my senses had been aroused, it just felt like alchemy.
How many flowers had the chef tasted to know that the little pink one goes best on asparagus? How many tried and failed attempts had gone into deciding just how much reindeer moss goes well with artichoke? What countries had he visited to learn what goes best with the finger lime? Or, in forests filled with mushrooms of every conceivable type, how had the chef decided to choose hen of the woods for me to enjoy today, right here in Birmingham?
Suddenly, they were not tiny little plates of food for big prices. They were experiences, knowledge and expertise, presented in such a way that I could have flown if I was not anchored to the restaurant floor by a crisp table topped with stacks of cutlery.
It was worth £ 150, easy. I walked out of there on a real, true high. If it means never having another takeaway again in my life, I’m saving up to go back to chase that feeling.
And I’m licking the plate.
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