Jay and me were introduced to En Place for the first time last night when we attended their pop-up restaurant event at the new 6/8 Kafé in Millenium Point.
The business, run by chefs Mike Crew and Josh Porter, has been running for about a year now, and provides a private catering service as well as the pop-up restaurants in Birmingham and the surrounding area. Their aim, with the pop-ups at least, is to provide a fine dining experience at an affordable price. In order to do this they carefully manage costs by organising, designing, cooking and serving each meal themselves. This approach firstly enables the chefs to maintain a tight control on quality and vision, and secondly enables diners to enjoy a (to the best of my knowledge) unique dining experience in which they can talk to the chefs and find out about the items on the menu from the very people who created it.
While the menu had been designed before the day of the event, the purchase of the supplies and cooking all took place on the day.
The menu began with snacks, followed by starter, fish course, main, dessert and ended with sweet treats, and each party of diners was served individually rather than all at the same time.
There were three distinct snacks, served one by one.
The first was an interpretation of ravioli, with a tomato water jelly representing the pasta, a filling of beef tartare and the whole topped with caviar. It was highly photogenic; a quality which would continue throughout the evening. I’m not a fan of beef tartare and sadly my stance didn’t change this evening, but the real star of this dish was the tomato jelly ‘pasta’ which was packed with the taste of tomato. The caviar garnish was also a nice touch and provided just enough saltiness to compliment the jelly.
The second was an interesting twist on cheese on toast, made from cheese on toast flavoured ice cream, tomato and strawberry sauce and garnished with a tiny portion of sourdough toast. Jay was particularly fond of this one, and I very much enjoyed my first taste of savoury ice cream. The experience was slightly bittersweet however, as it needed to be eaten up quickly before the ice cream melted. I was initially a little nervous about the inclusion of strawberries in the sauce but they contributed fruitiness rather than misplaced sweetness.
The final snack was introduced as a palate cleanser, and was a shot of elderflower based drink with strong mint and lime flavours and a more subtle one of apple.
The starter course was a smooth and vividly coloured pea velouté with goats curd, garnished with wasabi peas and mint. It was served chilled, and Jay commented that the taste was akin to peas picked straight from the pod on a summers day from Nanna’s allotment. I liked the combination of the hot and crunchy wasabi peas, soft goats curd and sweetness from the peas.
The fish course was a delicate mackerel ceviche garnished with cress and surrounded by pickled cucumber, a dressing made from smoked vodka and lemon sherbet and a sprinkling of red amaranth. The pickled cucumber was the most strongly flavoured element of the dish, though I also enjoyed the slightly floral taste of the red amaranth, which I hadn’t tried before. The fish provided more texture than taste, but it all set us up nicely for the main course.
For the main course, the star of the evening for me, we were served with a fabulous dish of belly pork on top of toasted lentils, with carrots cooked three ways; puréed pickled and roasted. Small dots of puréed apples and smooth piccalilli completed the dish. The belly pork was delicious, with a moist texture and surprisingly little fat. The chefs explained that it had been slow roasted for about 5 hours then pressed. The pureed carrot was a bit too much like a mousse for my taste but the roasted and pickled variants were excellent. The lentils too had a pleasant spiciness to them, and it was clear that as much thought had gone into their preparation as the other items on the plate.
The dessert was a banana parfait sprinkled with Nutella powder and served with candied almonds, cherry sauce and sweetened sourdough. This certainly hit my sweet spot and the use of the sourdough, another experiment that I was nervous about trying, worked nicely. It had been toasted, which was definitely the right way to go with it, and it went down very well topped with a slice of the parfait.
I also enjoyed a second helping of the parfait, owing to Jay’s aversion to banana.
A trio of treats completed the meal. These were served together on one plate and consisted of a soft and tasty homemade marshmallow, a chunk of apple poached in thyme on a caramel base, and a toffee and pecan biscuit topped with icing and candied walnuts.
I was pleasantly surprised with the apple and thyme combination, as I really didn’t expect this to work. The quantity of thyme used was just about right to ensure that it didn’t overpower either the sweetness of the caramel or the fruity tang of the apple.
The toffee and pecan biscuit was gone in a mouthful, dare I say too quickly to comment on it?
At the end of the meal, Mike and Josh came out of the kitchen and sat and chatted with the diners, keen to hear feedback and discuss the evening. A ‘black book’ of recipes was mentioned during the conversation but I didn’t ask for any of them. Home cooking this was not. It was formal dining in a more informal setting.
At £35 a head, the price was very reasonable for a four course meal prepared by experienced chefs who had worked in the kitchens of Michelin starred restaurants. The pop-up arrangement and ‘bring your own drinks’ policy certainly helped keep costs down, but most importantly, En Place had achieved their aim of bringing fine dining to a wider audience.
As to the future of En Place, Josh and Mike expressed a desire to set up a permanent restaurant in time, but for now the pop-ups will continue. Venues are likely to vary, but this can only expand their profile, experience and versatility, so that when the time comes to open the restaurant, there will be an established customer base.