Born-and-bred Birmingham chef Brad Carter is winning national recognition for his ingredient-driven cooking. Just don't ask him for an amuse-bouche, says Richard McComb
The move has clearly paid off. Carters may have lived in the shadows of Birmingham's Michelin-starred big-hitters, such as Simpsons and Purnell's, but the menu revamp and subsequent clarity of delivery has helped it win the crown of The Good Food Guide's UK Readers' Restaurant of the Year for 2015.
Judges praised the restaurant's "exceptional friendliness, sheer professionalism, value for money and food that is not only delicious but also properly prepared, seasonal and locally sourced".
Carters, which launched in 2010, is a 32-cover neighbourhood restaurant and the combination of the Á la carte and tasting menus - plus lunch menus, Sunday lunch, Sunday supper, and other specials - had led to a war of attrition at the tiny pass.
Carter, 32, runs the kitchen with just one other chef, Peter Jackson, who is the brother of Carter's partner and front of house manager Holly Jackson. If it made sense to streamline the menu from a logistical and budgeting point of view, it has also allowed the kitchen to play to its strengths and improve consistency.
Carter says he never cooks for the guides, but the accolade from The Good Food Guide is vindication for his menu reboot. Talking to the chef, you soon get the impression it has been a liberating move.
"The new set menu comes from confidence," he says. "People travel here for what we do and I have got more of a feel for what I am doing now."
How has the set menu affected the quality of the dishes? "Astronomically," says Carter, without pretension. In fact, you would be hard-pushed to find a more self-effacing, honest professional in an industry not unfamiliar with bombastic egos. "All we do is cook dinner. We ain't rock stars, none of us.
We just cook," says Carter. His new-look £45-a-head dinner menu ("I always want to be affordable") starts with three bite-sized snacks.
Amuse-bouche and canapés aren't really me - I prefer snacks." The preparation is meticulous. A small bowl of "chicken liver cereal" comprises a rich chicken liver mousse (fresh livers, eggs, butter, shallots, Madeira and port) generously sprinkled with a novel savoury granola. The granola is cooked in goose fat before golden raisins are folded in.
There is great flavour and humour, in a devilled crab vol-au-vent. "It's a nod to going to the Legion as a kid and having crap buffets," says Carter. The shellfish meat is light and spicy, the pastry crisp - a mouthful of 1970s heaven.
The chef spent 18 months working in Menorca, followed by six months in Marseille - he is a devotee of Spanish simplicity and Mediterranean zing. Raw heritage tomatoes are tossed in lovage and served on a light pulp of tomato, seasoned with sherry vinegar and paired with flakes of Manchego. "Tomatoes and Manchego - that's the definition of Spain - I love how unfussy and ungarnished it is."
The three mains lead off with a statement of intent: "Bone marrow, mash & gravy", which is just what it says it is. The bone marrow, supplied in discs by Aubrey Allen, is soaked in salted water until the marrow pops out, then re-soaked to remove any excess blood. It is then poached in the beef gravy. The dish wouldn't see the light of day on a menu dégustation.
Carter explains: "By doing a tasting menu, you are going to miss out on some of the best foods in life. When you have a steak in a French restaurant, and you have green beans and dauphinoise, it's amazing, but it doesn't lend itself to a tasting menu. "Mash and gravy, to me, are two of life's finest pleasures."
Carter prefers to finish with a fruit dessert. "I hardly ever do chocolate desserts. Chocolate is fine at the end of the meal with coffee."
His wild damsons mix English fruit with a hug of early autumnal comfort and a hint of granny's baking - quintessential Carters.
From the menu
•Chicken liver cereal
•Dorstone, poppy seed cracker
•Devilled crab vol-au-vent
â¢ Bone marrow, mash & gravy
•River Tweed wild salmon, English peas, Indian-spiced butter
•Cotswold hare, celeriac, pickled walnuts
â¢ Buttermilk mousse, wild damsons, brown butter cake
Carters of Moseley, 2c Wake Green Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 9EZ
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In