Have you ever had a dining experience you wanted to share?
Two weeks ago, I was visiting family with my husband in his hometown of Birmingham, England. My husband had a birthday during our visit. I researched local restaurants so we could celebrate with a nice dinner together.
I find mediocrity is alive and well, so my hopes were high and expectations low. More often than not, an evening meal out can be pleasant, albeit nothing special, with inconsistent service and a higher than warranted bill.
On October 19, that was not the case. I selected a restaurant in a suburb of Birmingham, called Harborne, about three miles from the city centre. It described itself as bold, inviting and exciting with playful, contemporary cuisine. I checked the reviews and was intrigued. I booked the last table available and arrived at the restaurant called Harborne Kitchen at 7 p.m.
We were seated at a table at the bar for an aperitif. We each enjoyed a glass of English sparkling rosé wine, available by the glass.
When seated at our dining table we both decided to try the Five for £55 Tasting Menu ($92 Cdn).
The impeccable service quickly began. I chatted with the sommelier and selected a blended white wine, which I had never heard of, from South Africa. Called Moment of Silence 2022, it is an unusual blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. It was first-rate and had a unique story. I discovered that critically acclaimed winemaker Pieter Walser made Moment of Silence 2022, at his BLANKbottle Winery. The winery is located on a farm outside Somerset West in South Africa’s Western Cape. Walser does not own a vineyard.
Pieter was coined “The man making mind-bending wine” by The Telegraph Newspaper and BLANKbottle wines are getting better and better. When Pieter was starting out, he made a small parcel of Shiraz and was left with a few unlabelled cases. One day, a woman wanted to buy a wine – “Anything but Shiraz,” she told him. Pieter shrugged and sold her the unlabelled Shiraz, neglecting to mention the variety. A few weeks later she returned demanding more, saying it was the best thing she’d ever drunk. For Pieter, it was a lesson on the gap between what people think they like (or dislike) and what they actually like (or dislike). After that, he decided not to list the varieties on his labels.
Every one of Pieter’s wines is a story, rather than a grape variety, and it’s the juice inside the bottle which reveals that story. He doesn’t own any vines, but instead scours South Africa’s winelands for top-quality fruit that has somehow slipped under the radar, now sourcing from nearly 70 sites. Some years he’ll make 40 wines, other years 50. With the benefit of anonymity, variety and regional identity take a back seat while parcel expression does the driving. These are some of South Africa’s most original wines, made by one of South Africa’s most original winemakers.
Back to the Harborne Kitchen. The restaurant has an unassuming entrance that opens up to a simple dining room as you pass by the very active the kitchen.
The diversity of the menu items impressed us. Homemade butter with their house sourdough bread was delicious! I wondered what British sweet corn would be like.
For the main course, I asked to substitute duck from a different menu. My request was quickly accommodated and at no extra charge.
Without exception, each of the courses represented a new highlight! The quality and presentation of each menu item was remarkable.
Our service was professional. Plates were delivered and removed in unison. The experience was exceptional and exceeded our expectations! My husband was pleased with his complimentary birthday treat at the end of our meal.
I cannot say enough about our dining experience at this first class restaurant. Thank you Chef and owner Jamie Desogus. Harborne Kitchen restored my faith in dining out. I will be back! If you live in the area, know someone who does, or plan to visit Birmingham, give Harborne Kitchen a try. It is special.