Turners, 69 High Street, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 9NS. T: 0121 4264440
The first thing to say about this review is that it isn’t a review, not strictly speaking. It is the offspring of circumstance.
This is what happened...
I found myself stranded at home alone, my wife and children having departed for a brief summer sojourn at Mother-in-Law-on-Sea. The initial thrill of having the house to myself and being able to watch violent gangster movies soon wore off. I fended for myself for a few days but there are only so many times you can eat pasta with Loyd Grossman stir-through sauces without ending up speaking like Loyd Grossman.
As for cooking for yourself, as in proper cooking, as in meat and two veg, well it’s pointless, isn’t it? Who can be bothered to cook for one? I can do beans on toast, kippers, cornflakes and a plain omelette, but anything else is a waste of time.
I know a lot of singletons and old people are faced with this dilemma. What a hellish existence. Cooking for one is joyless and ready-done meals taste of cardboard and sugar and salt. If I end up on my own in sheltered accommodation, spurned by my daughters, who will have grown tired with me playing George Michael CDs and wearing leather trousers, I expect I will die of starvation. The death certificate will read: gastro-euthanasia.
There was only one way of banishing these dark thoughts: make a lunch reservation at a good local restaurant.
So I phoned Richard Turner, mainly because he doesn’t have many friends and I thought I’d do my bit. Turner also happens to be a tremendous cook. In fact, he may be Birmingham’s best chef. But is he? Ah, there’s the rub. (Did you notice how I copped out of that?)
By popping into Turners, I would kill two birds with one stone, kick-starting my new care in the community outreach programme for isolated chefs while simultaneously bagging a decent lunch.
Fortunately, Turner said he’d let me in, despite a little local difficulty after I awarded his experimental amuse bouche of peanut soup the 2011 award for the year’s worst dish. (The chef blamed a wayward rising star of the kitchen for the nutty broth. Turner and the protégé have since parted company.)
I was keen to try out Turner’s lunch menu, which is £22 for two course, or £27 for three. The price includes some cheesy puffs to nibble, proper bread, a pre-starter (a delicious cauliflower espuma with summer truffle – I can’t say amuse bouche any more – I’m allergic) and a pre-dessert. None of it was preposterous. For this sort of cooking, it’s remarkable value.
I didn’t want to upset the chef-patron so I ordered a bottle of Evian water instead of tap. Turner thinks eau de Severn Trent taints fine food. He’s bonkers. I also had a glass of slightly chilled Romanian pinot noir. Twenty years ago, the Balkan wine would have obliterated the chef’s hard work but times have changed and this was ideal for a summer’s day.
I had the lunch menu, sort of, starting with a dish that wasn’t on the lunch menu: a perfect cylinder of house cured pavé of wild salmon mi-cuit with avocado purée, soya and honey dressing. At the table, the dish was showered with a mini-snowstorm of frozen horseradish, which is this year’s “textures of beetroot”. Here, the frozen root worked with the components, rather than poncing about like a faddy accessory, and the acidity of the dressing was just reined in.
From this starter, two things became apparent and both were borne out by subsequent courses. First, Turner’s presentation has moved up a notch. This is very pretty, immaculately plated food, backed by the chef’s trademark attention to squeezing maximum flavour from ingredients.
The other thing is the chef’s use of a few key garnishes to accompany the star protein of the show. There are generally two or three garnishes to punctuate and complement the central component, be it meat, fish or a dessert. It’s a style aspiring chefs – and many established chefs – could learn much from.