A few weeks back I got one of those emails that is impossible to turn down. An invitation from Tonic Talent to celebrate one of their own, Liam Dillon, at his first venture, The Boat Inn, in Lichfield. Cocktails in Birmingham, transfer to the pub, and an ambitious menu far exceeding it’s geographical location. Invited for this bijou event was the who’s who of the industry, and me, who’s inclusion I can only assume to be a prop to poke sticks at once the wine started flowing. I say yes, of course I do, half-joking that if something were to go horribly wrong en-route I would be the last name mentioned in the following days newspaper. Looking back at the calibre of starred chefs, restaurateurs, and major industry players, I doubt I would have gotten a mention at all.
We are greeted at the large roadside pub by Liam, a man who’s rugged good looks and gentle charm are offset by the Crocs on his feet. He speaks briefly about wanting to progress within his own space, to create somewhere that is accessible, yet still special. He is far too modest. Mr Dillon has a serious pedigree, having worked at Marcus Wareing’s two star flagship, Tom Sellers’ Restaurant Story, and an unheard of place called Noma, which may have been the number one restaurant in the world during his stage. And let’s be honest, north of Birmingham needs his experience. It is woefully short of good dining options.
We start with nibbles of crispy porks head with burnt apple puree that is good enough to end up a starter, another of a crispy guinea fowl thigh with quails egg, followed by bread with Marmite butter and the lightest of foie gras torchon that packs the heaviest of punches. First course is pigeon with dandelion and a puree of mushroom. It echo’s the cooking of Wareing, rooted in classicism with modern flourishes, the dandelion an interesting addition that adds a lovely bitter note. We move on to a perfect langoustine, sweet and gently cooked, with a bisque that that has the depth of flavour only patience and roasted shells can muster. It’s a top notch bit of cookery.
Venison follows with turnips tops, grains, and a staggeringly good cauliflower puree that stole the night. Credit where credit is due; pigeon, langoustine, venison, all of these require cooking to order and to do that for the thirty or so of us in the room at the same time necessitates far bigger balls than I have. We finish with honey and lemon, two flavours that are always going to work for me. It’s the little touches that make a dish and here it was the fresh honey that made everything else sing.
Wine was plentiful and matched to some serious suggestions from the Languedoc region, that resulted in a very sore head the following day. It was the perfect Monday evening, celebrating a talent who has taken the massive step up to putting his identity on a plate. And celebrate we should; chefs like Liam deserve the support of the city, and as good as the food was, I can guarantee it is only going to get better as he and the team continue to find their feet. The Boat Inn is worthy of a journey to see and support Liam’s new adventure, wherever you may be.
Thanks to Tonic Talent for the invite. They haven’t asked me for a write-up or a plug, but the evening was worthy of both. For hospitality recruitment please visit them at http://www.tonictalent.com. Pictures of the evening can be found here https://www.flickr.com/photos/jassansi/albums/72157678899568213. Liam’s restaurant can be found here https://www.theboatinnlichfield.com/