The Asquith, under head chef Jason Eaves, offers a more affordable version of owner Glynn Purnell's Michelin-starred cooking. Katherine Alano reports
One of Birmingham's best-known chefs, Glynn Purnell, whose Michelin-starred restaurant Purnell's is one of the city's most celebrated, expanded his empire nearly two years ago with the opening of sister restaurant the Asquith.
The restaurant was located on the former site of Pascal's, in Edgbaston, which was previously Jessica's, where Purnell had gained his first Michelin star in 2005. But a dispute with the landlord forced Purnell to shut the Asquith just six months after opening in April 2011 - only to reopen six months later in a new location, around the corner from Purnell's in the heart of Birmingham city.
Taking on the role as head chef of the Asquith is Jason Eaves, whose CV includes stints in some of the UK's top restaurants, including the two-Michelin-starred Midsummer House in Cambridge, Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, and Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in London. Eaves also worked with Purnell at Simpson's restaurant in Kenilworth and Jessica's.
"I was working with my brother Marcus at L'Autre Pied and had mentioned to Glynn that I was looking to move back to Birmingham. He said he was interested in opening a new venture, and it was a perfect opportunity to take on my first head chef position," explains Eaves.
The 36-seat restaurant occupies the ground floor of a modern office development and shares its space with Purnell's cocktail bar, Ginger's. Taking inspiration from the 1940s and 1950s, the design follows that of the bar, comprising a bright, modern space with wooden floors and bare tables. An injection of colour throughout gives it a cosy feel.
The Asquith offers a less formal, more affordable version of Purnell's style, with a set lunch menu priced at £19.95 for three courses, the à la carte menu with five choices for each course, and a five-course tasting menu (£42.95), as well as a vegetarian à la carte.
"The menu prices are not overly expensive and aimed at everyone, and customers can spend as little or as much as they like," says Eaves, who works closely with Purnell to develop the menu.
Purnell describes the food as modern British. "We use recognised ingredients, drawing on influences from all over the place. The menu reflects the kind of people cooking and those who come to eat - classic and modern," he says.
Meanwhile, Eaves adds that he likes to keep the flavours classic with natural combinations. "But I try to create different textures to make dishes colourful and interesting."
One of the more popular dishes on the menu is the crispy hen's egg, cheese on toast foam, bacon crumble (£6.95), and it is also one of Eaves's favourites. "It's a poached egg, pannéed, coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It is served sliced in half so you can see the nice and runny yolk," he explains. The cheese on toast espuma is made by making cheese on toast, which is then infused into cream and blitzed into a purée before being put into an espuma gun. Meanwhile, to make the bacon crumble, Eaves caramelises the bacon, blitzing it with breadcrumbs to make a fine powder which is then sprinkled over the foam. "It's a dish with clean and fresh flavours that match, which is simply executed," Eaves says. Another popular starter is the Brixham scallops, pear and vanilla purée, spiced walnuts, celery jelly and pickled mooli (£10.95).
Main courses on the à la carte include suckling pig belly, apple, lemon, tarragon purée, creamed Savoy cabbage, Parmesan gnocchi and roasted apples (£14.95); and Cornish lamb, braised shoulder and roasted saddle, parsley and mint crumb, carrot and potato gratin, baby carrots and coriander (£17.95).
For desserts, a favourite is Eaves's nod to the classic banoffee pie with his caramel chocolate crème fraîche truffle, banana sorbet, caramelised banana (£5.95). Other desserts include lemon meringue parfait, chocolate sorbet, sour lemon jelly; and vanilla panna cotta, poached English rhubarb, rhubarb sorbet, sable biscuit (£5.95 each).
"The Asquith gets a lot of trade from Purnell's, so there is an expectation from diners because of the attachment to Glynn," says Eaves. "It's a good thing, because you always have to be on the ball."
Sample dishes from the menu
Poached quail, sweet corn and chorizo mayonnaise, poached egg yolk, crushed hazelnuts £7.95 Ballotine of foie gras, toasted brioche, red wine cherries £8.95
Braised ox cheek Rossini, lentils du Puy, pomme purée, foie gras, wild mushroom ragoût £16.95 Poached and roasted lemon sole, Jerusalem artichoke purée, glazed baby onions and Baby Gem, hazelnut sabayon £14.95
Pistachio frangipane tart, iced cherry yogurt, griottine cherries £5.95 Lemon meringue parfait, chocolate sorbet, sour lemon jelly £5.95
The Asquith 11 Newhall Street, Birmingham B3 3NY
Tel: 0121-200 1588
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