Crossing the channel into Lichfield
Restaurant Review by Neil Connor
Chandlers Grande Brasserie * * *
The Corn Exchange,
Conduit Street, Lichfield.
Tel: 01543 416688
There was nothing I could do about it. I mean, how could I, they had only moved in the week before.
The new neighbours, that is. Partying until 4am. It's not that they were particularly loud, and there weren't any cars revving engines, and there wasn't even the obligatory (in Birmingham anyway!) early hour argument between host and hostess.
But what there was on that night of nights was worse - and it was all to do with the music. More specifically, the style of music - reggae.
Now I don't hate reggae music. Birmingham has a proud history in banging Caribbean drums and blowing saxes.
And let's be fair. When reggae is the end result of a house party in Birmingham, it obviously means things have gone well.
The vision probably entails mom and dad treading on stray Pringles and ashtrays in the front room while groping each other, slow dancing to UB40's Kingston Town.
This is far better than 4am driveway squabbles between siblings accusing each other of pinching ex-girlfriends while they were at borstal.
But I was rolling over again and again in my bed, constantly trying to guess from the basslines what each UB40 song was. This is where the insanity of it all becomes clear. Like a Name That Tune starring Balsall Heath simpletons instead of Tom O'Connor.
Waking with a cold sweat and a dense head I knew I had to find the easiest route away from the city that I possibly could, and experience something as un-Birmingham as I could find.
Looking at a map there was plenty of options. Worcester? Hmm too obvious. Wolverhampton? Too similar to Brum. Stratford? Too many people trying to escape their own cities.
And so it was that I decided to spend an afternoon in France.
Of course, not the country. But in one of those restaurants where the experience would help transport me to the land of Beaujolais and body odour.
The route to my Gallic adventure took me through Sutton Coldfield and into the historic city of Lichfield.
Chandlers - twice winners of the Staffordshire Good Food Awards Brasserie of the Year and Lichfield's proud entry in the Michelin Guide 2005/6 - is not strictly a French restaurant. But what the heck, there are enough French-style dishes on the menu to even trip up Zinedine Zidane.
I was searching for adventure and panache, and Chandlers has built up a reputation through its daring menu in recent years.
But I was not speaking from experience as it was my first visit to the restaurant - and it almost seemed like the same was true with the waiters.
"Could you tell me about the crispy duck confit with spring onions and water chestnuts with plum sauce (£10.95)," I asked when I sat down.
"Certainly Sir, it is a crispy duck with spring onions and water chestnuts with plum sauce," came the less than revealing reply.
"Oh, and would you recommend the roast rump of lamb, white bean and thyme cassoulet, pesto rosso?"
"Yes, that is a roast rump of lamb, white bean....."
"Yes, yes, I get the picture," I responded, thinking I was talking to a Dalek in an apron.
But myself and Lady G opted for both the above (more to avoid to obvious consequence of asking for guidance on another dish than anything else).
And we were more or less satisfied.
The lamb was less tender than I would have liked. But that might have been my fault for declining the 'pink' option - which I heard from colleagues was as pink as Liberace's wardrobe.
Nevertheless the sauce was superb, as was the flavour with Lady G's duck.
For starters, the sweet chilli dressing that came with the salmon and smoked haddock fishcake was also wonderfully tangy. The Parma ham and asparagus was devoured by Lady G quicker than it takes one to surmise why a Staffordshire brasserie is named after a character on a popular New York rom-com series.
However, we still felt slightly under-nourished until we ordered our second portion of bread. The chips and vegetables came in beautifully warm dishes, but were not sufficient to fill up a hearty Englishman who had travelled so far.
Nevertheless the Belgian chocolate truffle torte, panna cotta ice cream and fudge sauce helped to keep me topped up all the way back to the land of industry and reggae music.
With a bottle of wine and two pre-dinner drinks, the total bill came to £70 - which, when taking into account the money I saved on the air fare, was quite reasonable.
Altogether the escape from the city was of sufficient quality to help me forget about the night before, but if it wasn't for all that bread, I might have been feeling a bit peckish by the time I arrived back home.