Menuwatch: Harborne Kitchen

07 April 2018 by
Menuwatch: Harborne Kitchen

Former drummer Jamie Desogus is hitting the culinary beat in his friendly Birmingham restaurant, says Richard McComb

Standing in the bar in Harborne Kitchen, it is impossible to visualise the high street butcher's shop that once stood here. There is still a counter, only this one has 10 stools that overlook an open kitchen, where precise, vibrant food is prepared by a confident team whose assurance and verve belies its youth.

When the big break did not materialise, Desogus applied for a chef de partie role at Gordon Ramsay's Pétrus under Mark Askew. The two-day trial was at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, London. "I'd never cooked in a three-rosette restaurant, let alone a three-Michelin-star one," says Desogus. "I got my ass kicked and I loved it."

Jamie Desogus

e was offered the job but was worried whether he had sufficient experience. He told Askew he was happy to work as a commis chef, but was thrown in at the deep end, moving from garnish to main fish in four months.

Returning to the West Midlands to start a family with his wife, Sophie, his 16-month stint at Pétrus ended, and after some freelance work, he acquired the Harborne Kitchen site. While planning permission was secured for a two-storey extension, Desogus and his partners held a one-night "beer and wings" event. People queued round the block and Butcher's Social turned into an eight-month project.

Desogus's initial plan was to launch an Italian-style deli serving fresh pasta, "but I got carried away," he says. A meal at the Clove Club in Shoreditch was the "lightbulb moment" that changed his mind: "I had a fantastic experience. It was chilled out and they did really good food. While I enjoyed cooking at Pétrus, I hated the fine-dining stuffiness. I wanted Harborne Kitchen to be informal; the best food we could do, built around a kitchen."

There is a small bar menu (including an £8 "Eggs Benny", comprising pork belly, kimchi, a sourdough crumpet, eggs and Hollandaise) but the 50-cover restaurant is the star attraction.

Cod curry
Cod curry

ogus, who has three-year-old son, is acutely aware of the pressures of a work-life balance and so he is open for dinner only on Tuesday and Wednesday and for lunch on Thursday through to Saturday. Eight staff are led by general manager Kingsley Crocker, who at 24 is an undoubted rising star. Desogus is supported by six chefs, including sous chef Darren Meacham, "and don't forget super Colin on pot-wash," he says.

The menus range from the three-course set lunch (£23) to the six and eight-course tasting menus (the Chosen 6 is £55, the Chosen 8 is £70 or £120 with wine pairings).

Desogus says: "The vision is value. That is incredibly important - making people feel comfortable about eating good food." The three-course set dinner is "ridiculous value" for £28.50, but Desogus champions accessibility and believes new customers will try the set menu and return for the fuller gastronomic experience. It is some experience, too. Two courses on the Chosen 8 are "all about the ingredient," such as a piece of matured Brillat-Savarin showered in Périgord truffle.

Desogus loves acidity and kaffir lime lends a citrus fragrance to a cod curry, the flavours balanced with shrimp paste, palm sugar and plenty of ginger. In a similar way, the buttermilk with the mi-cuit salmon is cut through with grapefruit.

Mi-cuit salmon, Swiss chard, grapefruit and buttermilk

re does he get his ideas? Desogus replies: "I often relate things to music or how you make songs. Things don't just come into your head, you develop them. It's not crash, bang, wallop!"

One of the most popular dishes, a take on traditional roast beef, exemplifies Desogus's philosophy of using classic components with a modern spin. An umami-packed brisket of Welsh wagyu, sourced through Alternative Meats, is cooked sous vide for three days, lightly seared on a plancha and served with a red wine glaze. Fillet of Longhorn from local Harborne butcher Roger Brown is also cooked in a water bath with garnishes including pickled mushroom purée, king oyster mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Welsh wagyu brisket, Longhorn fillet, mushroom and chive
Welsh wagyu brisket, Longhorn fillet, mushroom and chive

t's as British as you can get, only it isn't. And that is what makes Harborne Kitchen such a compelling, exciting and satisfying place to eat.

From the Chosen 8 menu (£70)

Chicken liver parfait, white chocolate, blood orange and hazelnut

Mi-cuit salmon, Swiss chard, grapefruit and buttermilk

Welsh wagyu brisket, Longhorn fillet, mushroom and chive

Cod curry

Baked celeriac, blue cheese mousse, pickled quince, celeriac broth

Forced Yorkshire rhubarb, ginger ice-cream

Carrot and parsnip dessert
Carrot and parsnip dessert

175-179 High Street, Harborne, Birmingham B17

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