Richard Turner’s Birmingham restaurant has a new look and a new menu of classic French food, says Richard McComb
Don’t ask chef Richard Turner about canapés and pre-meal snacks – they are off the menu. “They’re Scooby snacks,” says the chef-patron of the new-look Turners at 69. “If I want a snack, I’ll go to Greggs.”
The 46-year-old is six months into Turners mark II, a stripped-back, French-fuelled remodelling of the restaurant he opened a decade ago. The small, suburban site in the affluent Birmingham district of Harborne picked up a Michelin star in 2009 and has retained it since.
So why mess with a formula that made Turners one of Birmingham’s go-to places and elevated it to the status of national dining destination? “I was bored,” says Turner, referring to the canapé/tasting menu/petits fours template, at which he excelled. “I was bored of eating it and bored of cooking it. I was doing exactly what I would criticise other people for doing. That’s not the kind of cook I am.”
So in August last year, he closed the doors and reopened a fortnight later as Turners at 69. (The titular reference is to the restaurant’s address – 69 High Street. Anything else is purely coincidental, insists the chef.)
Turner says his new Monday to Saturday lunch menu – £18.50 for two courses, £25 for three – is probably the best value in the country for a Michelin-starred restaurant. He uses it as a test-bed for the à la carte; evolving dishes and gauging customer reaction. The à la carte is a classic choice of five starters and five mains, although one of the mains includes three aged Longhorn steaks – sirloin (£28.50), fillet (£35) and chateaubriand (£75 for two).
The menu is preceded not by snacks but by a choice of oysters – Colchester rock (£2.25 each) and Cornish native (£2.95). Bread, once part of the tasting package, is charged separately, at £3 for sourdough with Brittany butter, or bacon and onion bread with pork fat.
Starters are riffs on classics – smoked salmon, duck liver parfait, venison tartare – but the descriptions belie the fastidiousness of the preparation and the spectrum of flavour. Take duck egg, bacon, onions, mushrooms, bone marrow and garlic (£9) – Turner’s version of classic oeufs en meurette. Here, the egg is cooked at 62ºC for 90 minutes before taking centre stage in a bowl of rich bourguignon sauce, wobbly pieces of bone marrow providing extra punch. The dish is served with lightly toasted garlic bread and confit garlic.
“It’s a classic peasant dish,” says Turner, who clearly revels in this style of cooking. “I am a classically trained French chef – why should I take ideas from Scandinavia?”
Main courses include lemon sole meunière with herb butter and Anjou pigeon ‘Wellington’ shot through with rich duck liver and encased in polenta. With sides including leek gratin (£4.50) served in a copper pan and duck fat chips (£5), this could be an upscale brasserie in Lyon or Bordeaux – although an English edge is maintained with bread sauce.
Franglais desserts include a duck egg crème brûlée with Yorkshire rhubarb; a creamy, light rice pudding with blood orange purée and sorbet and a sprinkle of caramelised puffed rice; and an indulgent apple tarte tatin. On trial, and excelling, is a rum baba with raisin purée and vanilla ice-cream.
Although Turner’s food now may be (slightly) simplified, that has brought its own pressures. Three courses means there is less to be judged on. With a nine-course tasting menu, a chef might get away with one or two so-so dishes, but with three, it is all or nothing.
“To an extent, we have to be better at what we do, because there is nowhere to hide,” he admits. “Technically, we have to be better. I am not trying to impress with card tricks. We have to make sure the whole kitchen is on point.”
Head chef Romel Best has returned to the six-strong brigade after a spell at the Birmingham Hyatt and the team has increased by one chef to deal with the new seven day a week operation. But the big question is will the new offer satisfy the inspectors working for that French guide? The chef says Michelin has been supportive. “They have always said you have to do what is right for your business, not what you think is going to impress us,” he says.
“At the end of the day, you have got to be true to yourself. Everything has become one big formula: one day everyone is using a water bath; the next day everyone is cooking on a wood fire. I don’t want to be cutting-edge for the sake of it. You find your own niche.”
From the menu
Duck egg, bacon, onions, mushrooms, bone marrow and garlic £9
Venison tartare, heritage beetroots, chestnuts £10
Rare-breed pork, mustard, prunes apple and marjoram £23.50
Anjou pigeon ‘Wellington’, bread, Madeira £24.50
Apple tarte tatin, caramel, bay leaf £18 for two
Savarin, raisin, vanilla and Pedro Ximenez (from the set lunch menu)
Turners at 69
69 High Street, Harborne, Birmingham B17 9NS