In the Premier League
Purnell's * * * *
55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 212 9799
Goal-line squabbles could be a thing of the past in a few years' time if the Premier League goes ahead and introduces the Hawk-Eye ball-tracking device.
Paul Hawkins' wizard technology is widely used in cricket and tennis to settle disputed decisions and is being examined by football bosses.
Traditionalists rightly believe this to be a retrograde step. If Hawk-Eye had been used at Wimbledon in the 1980s, a whole generation would have been robbed of the spectacle of a gobby John McEnroe slamming his balsa wood tennis racket into the turf and berating toff umpires with the cry of: "You cannot be serious!"
Equally, there would be no enduring controversy over Geoff Hurst's crucial third goal for England in the 1966 World Cup final. Did the "Russian" linesman, Tofik Bakhramov, who was in fact an Azerbaijani, really see the ball cross the line, or did he just sneeze and inadvertently wave his flag in the air?
By taking the human factor out of decision making, Hawk-Eye kills off controversy; and life without controversy would be terribly dull. Give it a few years and Hawk-Eye will be fitted with tastebuds and shrunk to the size of an iPod. Restaurant diners will be able to feed their amuse bouche to their hand-held gadget and find out if it is, as they suspect, rubbish.
This would be a bad thing for people like me, obliterating the need for food critics; and it would be a disaster for chefs such as Glynn Purnell, the man holding the undisputed title of Birmingham's boldest cook.
I say this because as I write this review I cannot state unequivocally if Purnell is a culinary seer, a loony, or a mixture of the two. His breathtaking style of cooking, combining extraordinary flavour and textures, puts him in a Birmingham league of one. This makes him stand out - but it also leaves him vulnerable. One is left in the position of loving him, or hating him, rather like Birmingham City, the team he has supported since he first started mixing baked beans with curry powder in his mum Trisha's kitchen in Chelmsley Wood.
What can be said, categorically, is that Purnell, the former head chef at Michelin-starred Jessica's in Edgbaston, is not a Smart Alec. There are plenty of those out there already, merrily fleecing expense-account Brum.
This is a man unflinchingly committed to the noble cause of gastronomy; and many people, me included, are desperate for him to succeed in his first solo venture. If they made "I Love Glynn Purnell" T-shirts, I'd be in the queue at the Bullring.
Purnell's in Cornwall Street had been open for a week when we visited on a monsoon-lashed Friday night. Being so new, you would expect there to be a few bedding-in glitches and there were.
Walking inside the strikingly modern restaurant we were struck by how quiet it was. It wasn't that the place was empty - the bar area with comfortable black leather Chesterfields and tan tub seats was full. But the atmosphere just seemed flat.
Purnell has retained the terracotta building's wonderful slate floor but with the other dark colours, the willow sticks in glass and the clinically bright lighting rig one felt a bit exposed. There was the feeling customers weren't sure how to react.
Maybe it was a case of first-week nerves all around because when we returned to the bar for coffee at the end of the meal, and plunged into one of the big Chesterfields, the atmosphere was transformed. The lighting seemed softer and Sally became amorous.
A word of warning: dining here isn't for the faint-hearted. For pre-dinner drinks, we had a glass of rosé and a martini cocktail, which came to £17.50 but that seems to be par for the course these days.
It's probably considered naff but I do like an olive in my martini, or at least be asked if I want one, and I do like a cocktail glass. I got neither. I've got nothing against teetotalers, but my dull tumbler gave the impression I was on the wagon.
Frustratingly it also took 20 minutes to get a drink. I was gagging and almost offered to help out with a corkscrew. However, by the time you read this I am pretty sure such glitches will have been resolved.
For £17.50, you also get a plate of canapés and olives. The paprika popcorn was splendidly weird but the whopping cheesy choux buns were too big.
The dining room has warm grey walls, set off with a biscuit-coloured wallpaper. It was here that Purnell laid out his stall with his surprise appetiser, a melon and cucumber soup with black pepper oil, feta cheese and tiny chopped gherkins. It was ambitious, giving every taste
receptor in the mouth a wake up call, but I felt it was a pickle too far.
For my starter, I had roast Cornish cod, black olive, smoked eel, frozen passion fruit and marjoram. The dish was a feast for the eyes and the palate and the cod was perfectly cooked. Sally's 70s inspired goat cheese royale and pineapple on sticks sounded horrific but tasted terrific, a real melt in the mouth affair with a zing of understated fruit which was maybe a little too understated. Bob Hoskins would look great eating one of these in a gangster movie.
My main course, which attracted a £5 supplement, summed up everything that is triumphant and potentially disastrous about Glynn Purnell's food. I had (and it takes some saying): tail fillet of beef with liquorice, Jerusalem artichoke, foie gras brick, rocket, pig's trotter nugget and, I believe, some black Japanese style rice.
I always feel mildly embarrassed about ordering beef. It is such a default bloke choice and frankly I can do beef pretty well at home. However, this beef was sensational, the tiny strip of fat running with it enhancing this glorious chomp of carnivorous heaven. The liquorice that I thought would be over-powering went a treat with the gravy and the foie gras brick was beautifully light with a caramel texture.
And the pig's trotter? God, I wanted it to be good. But it just didn't work. I could taste deep-fried nugget but not the milky, gooey trotter.
The Cornish lamb cooked in lavender and honey with apricot, pistachios and lavender milk was over-honeyed for Sally's taste, although I thought it was lovely. The lavender milk was delicious,
the sort of thing Roman emperors were served. It really was sensational.
We put ourselves in the hands of the sommelier and had two superb glasses of Menetou Salon (total £13) with our starters and half a bottle of 2003 St Emilion Chateau Monlet (£24.95) to go with the main courses. The recommendations were faultless but at virtually £25 for a half bottle they should be.
My dessert, it hurts me to say, wasn't what I had hoped for. I had the croustillant of malt bread with banana ice cream, Brazil nuts and caramel. The ice cream was delicious and rarely have I had a tastier nut but the croustillant just didn't hit the sweet button for me. Sally's vanilla parfait, sweet confit rhubarb "Alaska" with hazelnuts and tarragon syrup was beautifully creamy but lacked rhubarbiness.
The bill, including service and some very good coffee, came to a buttock-clenching £163.51. Let me stress, we did not go overboard.
However, I fully appreciate the care and expertise lavished on la cuisine Purnell, which must rank as some of the most daring in Britain.
So what would Hawk-Eye, the modern-day Tofik Bakhramov, make of it all? Did the ball cross the line at Purnell's?
At £80 a head I don't think it quite made it, but if anyone can go into extra time and win on a golden goal it's Glynn Purnell. In a sense he is playing keepy-uppy, and doing it with artistic aplomb; but I suspect that before long he will spin from 40 yards out, take on the very best of the opposition and cream the ball into the back of the net. The boy's a winner.