lichfield

The Boat Inn, Lichfield

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

The Wine House, Lichfield

The Wine House stands on the site of what was Joe Delucci’s, an horrific sounding place where, I am told, barbaric things happened to cows that should be punishable with a lengthy sentence in one of Her Majesty’s hotels.  I never went to Delucci’s, but I hear that grey steaks and frozen chips were the norm.  It sounds like hell.  Or Beefeater.  Either way, its not for my taste, or, it appears, that of the locals.  Its gone.  And good riddance, too.  The people of Lichfield deserve better.

In its place we have the aforementioned The Wine House, a bare bricked, wooden floored, restaurant that looks the part.  Its ambitious – overly so at times – giving the impression that there is a very good restaurant lurking behind one that is still finding its feet.  The menu is a large offering that extensively covers both land and sea, with plenty of room for impulsive splurges, such as a 7oz wagyu fillet at a pokey sixty five quid.

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A starter of beef carpaccio is well conceived.  The thinly sliced fillet is of obvious quality, lifted and seasoned by a little grated horseradish and slithers of parmesan.  There is further complexity with well dressed rocket and dots of pickled cauliflower. Yet at £8.00 for three slices, the value is debatable.  There was no doubting the value of spring rolls, vivid in colour due to its generous filling of beetroot and goats cheese.  Its all technically correct – the brik pastry is crisp, its interior properly seasoned – and we pile high the broken off shards of pasty with the last of the chilli jam, addictively hot and sweet.  A take on yuk sung with duck is a success, though they may want to calm it down a little on the star anise.  I liked it more with the chilli jam, but then I’d like most things more with it.

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Mains dropped the standard a little.  Least notable was a pretty filo pie, generous in size yet unremarkable in flavour with its filling of halloumi and roasted veg.  A lamb dish saw the rump served on the cusp of nearly being too rare, the meat magenta in colour and deep in taste.  There was a second cut of braised belly and a fricassee of peas; the two elements providing the needed shade and light on the plate.  I would have liked more of the sticky sauce, but that’s me just being picky; this was solid, assured cooking.  A short rib pie was nothing of the sort, consisting of two whole ribs which required longer in the pressure cooker, mash, peas, and thick gravy with bacon and shallots.  It encompassed everything that frustrates me about deconstruction.  If the menu says pie, I want pie.  At the minimum I want pastry.  This was a homely dish that needs a little rework and a lot of rebranding.

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Too replete, we skipped dessert, though I was tempted by the black cherry panna cotta which appealed to me on every level.  The bill, with too much to drink, was a very reasonable £40 per head – undoubtedly good value for the quality served.  False promises of pie aside, there was little to dislike about the food we ate and a lot to admire.  I’ll be back in time to see if The Wine House has grown into the restaurant that I hope it will become.

7/10

The Wine House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Pizzeria Margheri, Lichfield

Today I find myself north of Birmingham in Lichfield – a phrase I haven’t been able to say too often in the past. I am here for the holy grail of good company, good beer and good food. It is the food which I find most intriguing; I have come on the lure of a family run Italian restaurant where good pizza can be had. I have often bemoaned the state of Italian found in Birmingham – it’s the most poorly represented cuisine in the city and I am yet to eat in any in my home town that I would recommend to others. In Birmingham if you want good pizza you go to The Plough in Harborne. If home made, silky pasta is your thing, then I am sorry to have to break this to you, but you are in the wrong city.

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Pizzeria Margheri doesn’t look much at first. It’s a small room, with tired beige tiles on the floor and exposed brick walls. There are too many wooden tables for the cramped space and I imagine at full capacity the conversations of nearby diners become very much your business.  It is a good thing that they take the food so seriously:  They import as much as possible from their native Italy, from buffalo mozzarella through to hunks of cured meat which is sliced onsite.  Its an expense that pays off; the mozzarella is young enough to still threaten your chin with its milk, whilst the proscuitto has a depth of flavour and glistening fat that we rarely find on these shores.  With no cooking required the plate is an exercise in ingredient sourcing.  They pass the test with aplomb.

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The aforementioned pizza is made with a sour dough base which we try in a couple of forms.  First up is dough balls which are world away from the spongy tripe that they serve at Pizza Express.  Here the dough is deep fried and non-uniform in size.  There is a pleasingly high salt content and a chunky tomato salsa which pays thanks to the quality shopping again.  Think savoury donuts for grown ups and you’re just about there.  The pizza was a delight.  Everything above board was well sourced, from more of the mozzarella to the discs of salami, but it was below decks where the hard work was done.  The dough had been treated to a blitz through an oven which rendered leopard spots of char on the base.  The crust was chewy, the centre correctly soupy.  It is up there with a certain Franca Manca in London as the best pizza in the country.  And all of this on a side street in a city that only qualifies as one because of a cathedral.  The thirty thousand residents of Lichfield don’t know how lucky they are.

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Did I mention that they have a constantly changing pasta menu which I’ll be going back to try?  Or that it is seriously cheap? Throw in a starter, main course and a few beers apiece and you’ll struggle to reach the dizzying heights of twenty-five quid a head.  All of which makes the fact that we dined in a half empty restaurant on a Saturday evening all the more shocking.  Maybe they need a fully-functioning website, or maybe they just need to relocate to my street so I can single-handily keep them ticking over.  In a country full of chains serving faux-Italian, independents such as Margheri deserve to thrive for serving authentic food at a fair price.   At last I have an Italian which I can recommend.  Go try it for yourself, even if like me it is forty minutes on a train away.

8/10

Margheri Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato