The Asquith, 11 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B3 3NY. Tel: 0121 200 1588
Certain names create certain expectations and in Birmingham food circles “Purnell” is as potent as it gets.
Cocky Southerners have tried to muscle in on the Chelmsley Wood maestro’s manor, including Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White, who is actually a Northerner but found fame by wooing diners dan sarf.
Oliver has been sent packing, critically speaking, with his tagliatelle between his legs. People still flock to his place at the Bullring rather than spending their money at one of the city’s better value – and, basically, better – independent restaurants. More fool them.
The jury’s out on MPW, whose new steak joint at the Cube has been packing them in. I’ve heard good things and bad things but have yet to visit. I will go with an open mind, as I always do.
But you haven’t been to Marco’s yet, I hear some of you ask? What do you mean you haven’t been? You call yourself a food critic and you haven’t been to MPW’s new place? You’re a ruddy chump, that’s what you are.
And you may be right, should you subscribe to the view that you have to go to a new restaurant as soon as it opens. There is merit in this approach. People want to know what is “new” and “happening”. They want to know where the food buzz is at.
The problem with this is that the people who desperately want to know what is “new” and “happening” aren’t necessarily bothered about where they can get the best plate of food.
And in any case, so-called “food lovers” are perfectly capable of making up their own minds without amateur chompers like me throwing in our petit pois’s worth.
I don’t want to do myself out of a job, but no one really needs someone else to tell them whether food is good or not. it’s not that tricky an assessment.
If you watch a football match, you don’t really need a sports writer to tell you if it was a thrilling game, or if the No.9 played like a donkey.
It is rather that journalists, particularly restaurant reviewers, hope their readers enjoy coming along for the ride, as it were. I hope you might enjoy, or possibly loathe, being a proxy guest at my table. I’m Richard – fly me.
Which is why, rightly or wrongly, I tend to give new places the benefit of the doubt – doubt, in this context, being time.
Any new restaurant needs time to bed in, time for the maitre’d to tick off the staff for not wearing deodorant, time for the chef to get the correct style of Birkenstock flip flop and the right Pacojet puree machine. Time for the sommelier to sober up.
So I like to give restaurants a bit of breathing-space before making a reservation. I want to give them a fighting chance. Some times this can work against you.
I gave the first incarnation of Glynn Purnell’s The Asquith so much of a fighting chance that it closed before I reviewed it.
I effectively knocked myself out. Fortunately, Purnell found a new venue for his second opening after The Asquith’s initial stay in Edgbaston was curtailed by an acrimonious row with the landlord.
The restaurant’s new home is in Newhall Street, slap bang in the city centre, just round the corner from Purnell’s flagship Michelin-starred restaurant, Purnell’s.
The 37-year-old chef (it was his birthday last week – he gets younger every year) continues to cook at Cornwall Street and has declared nothing will compromise standards at his temple of British gastronomy.
He has once again entrusted the stoves at The Asquith to one of his former apprentices, Jason Eaves, brother of Marcus, of Pied à Terre in London.
It’s a bold move but it reflects Purnell’s faith in, and determination to support, the next generation of culinary talent, both in the kitchen and front of house. For this reason, Julie Tonsgaard continues in her post as restaurant manager.
The Asquith is in a separate space at the back of Ginger’s Bar, which has been created by Purnell and general manager Chris Hoy as cocktail bar. The idea is that is oozes the glamour and glitz of a 1930s-1940s Hollywood (the film studios, not the Birmingham suburb).
As they say in sports commentary, that’s a “big ask” in central Brum but the place was doing a decent trade on an otherwise dead Thursday night in early January.