Being a huge advocate of Birmingham, I find it a hard pill to swallow when critics from the capital fly passed the city in some kind of childish frenzy on their way up North and throw a bad review of a Birmingham restaurant in for good measure. It usually comprises no mention of the ethics of the restaurateurs, their culinary skill and the breadth of dishes that come in a heartfelt selection of menus. They don’t know the city, and for reasons I can only describe as prejudice, they don’t want to. Their watery reviews have no depth, listing their mood that day, the state of the traffic, and their own insecurities at eating somewhere where they’re not entirely familiar.
Knowing the city inside out I felt it high time to take the Gazette on a mission. A personal quest for 2013 to map out and highlight the very finest, the best of best of Birmingham’s most loved restaurants.
Tonight we were in for a treat at Opus, starting with a warm welcome from our waitress who offered us a drink at the bar before we sat down for our meal and then a greeting by another waiter who brought a delightful selection of fresh bread to the table, still warm from the oven.
Browsing the menu I always start from the back, it’s been a trait of mine for some years as I find it more exciting to start with the desserts (sweet tooth you see) and then gradually work through the plethora of stunning perfectly aged meat mains before getting to the opening starters.
At Opus, it was immediately impressive to view not simply a selection of mouth-watering desserts but a thoughtfully selected glass of wine to accompany the flavours of each dish. This is a fantastic indication that a restaurant understands customers with an appreciation of excellent food, and wine – but more that it matches those restaurants which earn Michelin stars for taking the flavours of the their restaurant to the top of the list of priorities. Something which I think should never be underrated by critics, from any hierarchy of newspaper pomp and circumstance.
Opus delivers on service too, each table seemed very content, engrossed in the kind of conversation you only have when it’s a special occasion, and the staff at Opus make everyone feel that sense of occasion.
The interiors are open and free thinking, with clean lines and a sharpness which is refreshing. There’s nothing worse than feeling as though you’ve been packed up with other guests as tightly as possible as though you’re part of the battery farm. Opus has a grand interior and this allows diners the freedom to think, relax and take your time with the abundance of stunningly prepared food.
We found the wine list to be superb, not flooded with endless pages of wines that can be overwhelming, but far more homed in. The selection was extremely varied by origin too, with whites, reds, rosés and Champagne spanning the continents and also served by the glass to give each diner their own unique journey – matched to each dish if that was the preference.
If like me, once you find a restaurant packed with an endless range of your favourite foods, you’ll probably start becoming a regular. The best bit with Opus is that there is a daily changing menu, providing a lifetime of surprises and treats to keep you content.
My guest started her meal with the squid on a light salad. The squid was tender and succulent – an ideal starter leading up to the perfect main course for a cold winter night.
This was a suet pudding of succulent Cornish lamb which was reminiscent of childhood dinners…… but with the wow factor. The lamb was tender contained in delicious gravy and was definitely comfort food but with a great deal of added sophistication. The suet pastry was light, and creamed cabbage with bacon, and wilted greens set the dish off perfectly.
I opted for the Ballotine of rabbit, chicken and chantrelle mousseline coupled with a poached quince salad that was bursting with flavour. This was a cold starter which is unusual for me but I just had to sample the mix of meats. The tastes were delicate and this dish left plenty of room for the sea bass main. A fabulous line caught bass finished with a crisp and fluffy chorizo and potato cake, braised salsify and a bay infused cream. The spiced chorizo and lightly fried potato worked well with the delicate flavours of the fish, I ate every mouthful including the skin which if you don’t usually go for, this is a must with sea bass prepared at this quality. The wilted winter greens were a welcome side alongside the savoy cabbage and bacon.
My guest decided to pass on dessert but opted for a pot of Earl Grey tea – the best she had ever had. I on the other hand had chosen carefully so there was still plenty of room for the stunningly sublime Caramel panacotta, milk chocolate ice cream. A gorgeous crispy tweel worked well to satisfy my guest who had opted for the tea and as I gleamed with joy at the panacotta the sweetness from the pieces of peeled orange or mandarin set the whole dessert off.
Opus is a fantastic foodie heaven, and one that I can’t wait to explore again soon.