Wherever former Roux Scholar and National Chef of the Year Steve Love has turned up, he has impressed. Now hopefully settled in Birmingham, he's starting to make waves. Tom Vaughan reports.
If, 10 years ago, you'd asked those in the know which of England's major cities was first in line for a culinary makeover, Birmingham would have been an unlikely answer. Leeds, maybe; Newcastle, with Terry Laybourne at the helm, quite possibly; Manchester, influenced by Paul Heathcote's growing empire, very conceivably. But Birmingham, well, that was Balti land; a culinary desert. Fast forward a decade and things have turned on their head. While other cities haven't all lived up to expectations, Birmingham has undergone a remarkable transformation.
Restaurants such as Simpsons, Purnell's and Turners have blazed a trail in the city, and next in the roster of culinary destinations is Loves, the new site from former Roux Scholar and National Chef of the Year Steve Love and his wife Claire. West Midlands observers will remember Steve from a recent stint at Cotswold House hotel and, going back further, his site Loves in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and restaurant with rooms the College Arms in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Launched last September, the second incarnation of Loves places the chef's technically adept cooking on the west side of Birmingham. Its seamless entry into the market is largely attributable to the fact that all three of his brigade from Cotswold House followed him to the new site, so his cooking could continue to evolve from his time at the luxury hotel, becoming, as he says, "a lot slicker on the plate". Three courses in the 38-seat restaurant cost £38, with an increasingly popular tasting menu priced at £55.
Love's cuisine is a precise, intricate affair, often playing on the different textures and flavours of one central ingredient. A starter of beetroot and tuna that appeared at Cotswold House, for instance, has since evolved "four or five steps on". It includes candy beetroot, pickled and raw; a thin beetroot jelly rolled around feta cheese and sliced; a purée of beetroot; cooked beetroot and beetroot pearls - little spheres of beetroot juice held together with sodium alginate that burst when pricked. All this comes with sashimi tuna marinated in herb oil and flash fried, and a small touch of lemon curd to cut through the dish with a citrus edge.
It's refined and modern stuff. A wood pigeon starter is made up of leg, braised for six to eight hours, breast cooked on the crown in a water bath (61ºC for an hour) and taken off the bone to chill - then flash fried just before service - blackberries marinated in port, red wine syrup and a touch of red wine vinegar to help counteract the sweetness, potato fondant, pink almonds and 85% Abinao chocolate. The whole thing comes together superbly on the plate: "The sweet and sourness of the blackberries and the slight bitterness of the chocolate comes together with the richness of that pigeon," says Love, helping explain why the dish sells twice as much as any other.
The aim, Love adds, is to find two or three flavour levels, alongside the different textures, in each dish. A main of Herefordshire beef combines rump, cooked at 52ºC in a water bath for an hour, with braised ox cheek and braised tongue, then a smoked mashed potato - the butter and cream he smokes in the kitchen with a small gun - and shallot purée. A pork dish is a mix of fillet, trotter stuffed with a black pudding and wild mushroom mousse, braised cheek and pig's tail braised down, boned and rolled up with pork cheek and white pudding, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.
Lighter options include a ling fillet, cooked slowly in a miso paste, and served with a celeriac fondant cooked in orange syrup and Chardonnay, and a lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf sauce.
Desserts continue the technical flair. A dairy-free coconut and pineapple dish sees the fruit cooked in the water bath with an orange and vanilla syrup, then served with a coconut porridge, coconut syrup and Piña Colada foam - the only foam still left in Love's cooking.
"Fashions come and go," he says. "And I think foams are definitely on the way out."
After a career that has seen Steve and Claire Love fail to settle for more than a few years at any one restaurant, one gets the impression that all they need to really start making waves is a consistency in staff and location. The three AA rosettes gained in January and the packed weekends show that in Loves they have found just such a site, and in Birmingham a city with culinary aspirations to match their own.
The Glasshouse, Canal Square, Birmingham B16 8FL
Tel: 0121 454 5151
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Loch Duart salmon, tomato fondue, Avruga caviar, chive and piquant shallots
- Coddled egg, braised lamb shoulder, butternut squash, wild mushrooms
- Chicken, peanut and lemongrass satay, raw and pickled cauliflower, mung bean dahl, chilli and lime syrup, peanut brittle
- Wild black sea bream, smoked almond gnocchi, glazed chicken winglets, Paris mushrooms, chestnuts, blood orange curd
- Seared haunch of Finneborough venison, braised suet pudding, red wine marinated pear, butternut squash and pearl barley
- Herefordshire chateaubriand, pomme Mont d'Or, wild mushrooms, red wine sauce (for two people, £10 supplement)
- Apple financier, apple crumble, rosemary ice-cream
- Glazed lemon tartlet, red wine marinated raspberries, pink Champagne jelly, raspberry and basil sorbet
- Salted dark chocolate mousse, hazelnut cake, muscavado espuma