A chef wearing a Michelin star is a bit like a sheriff in a Western. All the decent folk respect what he stands for, but there’s always some punk wanting to take a shot at him. Well, let’s see what the sheriff with the Michelin star at Simpsons has to offer.
Purple flock wallpaper, is that a knowing ironic twist on Birmingham’s signature cuisine? Probably not, but it looks very sumptuous inside the Edgbaston villa that houses Simpsons. On a reassuringly busy midweek evening the people in attendance include suited and booted silver diners and well dressed couples, including a sweet, barely twenty-something pair.
After Champagne, it is time to be seated at a table in a corridor. It is a very nice corridor, with a splendid view of the twinkly garden and very well furnished, but it is still a corridor.
The service is heavily larded with Gallic charm until the main man arrives with his well rehearsed apology for being a Brummie in a French restaurant. He manages to balance relaxing chumminess with real knowledge about the food. He knows the provenance of the butter; the stock the cracked wheat was cooked in, and how they got the smokiness into the mayonnaise. The news that there isn’t any special occasion to celebrate tonight, other than to enjoy the food, is the only time he shows any sign of being fazed - Simpsons clearly expects occasions.
The menu is relatively short, clear and makes fascinating reading, though it is not obviously French in style.
What is the difference between canapes, hors d’oeuvre and amuse-bouche? That’s the million dollar question. Here, you will receive celeriac crisps, smoked mayo, salmon on wasabi toast, goat’s cheese with a reduction of port, a shot glass of duck soup with truffle foam, and a beef consommé reduction ad absurdum. All flavour and no substance. Perfect.
Following on from that there is a dish of crispy duck egg on a risotto of morels with chicken wings (£13.50). Alternatively, you might want to consider the Gilthead sea bream (£11). The risotto is superb but the star is the egg’s rich yellow yolk that flows from the crumb coating. More Scotch egg than French though. There’s very little conversation during the bream dish, conclusive proof of its excellence.
The subsequent lamb dish (£23) is fine, with perfectly cooked lamb and accompaniments that are a subtle, modern interpretation of the Levant. Another dish that surprises is the turbot with ox cheek (£23). The piece of carefully roasted turbot is from a good sized fish (size matters with turbot). The ox cheek however, is almost not there. It has been cooked so long and so slowly that almost nothing remained but the intense beef flavour. It is an unusual dish that absolutely works.
Desserts include toffee souffle, a triumph of sticky meets fluffy. The waiter scoops out the centre and pops the ice cream inside with strict instructions to wait 20 seconds before eating. You may find that 10 seconds is as long as you can wait.
You can enjoy a very pleasant bottle of house white for a little over £20 and there’s a bible of more expensive options for the connoisseurs. Also recommended is a glass of the Californian dessert wine to go with the souffle.
The Last Word
The meal for two with one bottle of wine costs a little less than £200. By the end of the evening the sparkly garden is a dramatic backdrop to an evening of elegantly theatrical dining, of which the food is the undoubted star. Simpsons is the place to go for an occasion, but at those prices, only occasionally.