Those who have followed the recent happenings of my life know that it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. Shaken with uncertainty, and unpredictability, routine becomes a rare thing, and planning things in advance nearly impossible. However, even when travelling almost constantly it is important to stay grounded and remember what’s important in life, and one of those constants is food. With this in mind, I decided to keep my head above the surface of stormy seas and book a table at my nearest, most michelin-starred restaurant.
While many one-star restaurants exist throughout the midlands, there is, to my knowledge, only a single two-star restaurant within easy reach of Birmingham – Restaurant Sat Bains. It turns out that this is actually the name of the head chef. One of the other striking features of the restaurant is that when one arrives, not only is the building far away from any built up area, it is in fact just a large house.
The restaurant even offers packages which include lodging at the premises, for those too full of food to roll themselves out the door and into their car or a taxi (we had originally planned to walk from the train station, an idea which I thought was silly, and I was vindicated when we quickly gave up and ordered an Uber). Even so, the turnoff was easy to miss – easy enough that had we been walking, we may still have missed it (in addition to being late).
In all other important respects, Sat Bains is like any other Michelin-starred restaurant. The service is exemplary, and the food is of a very high standard. My dining companion, who required a little persuasion to even come along, had a number of unusual dietary requirements and requests (e.g. an allergy to garlic) and those were easily and seamlessly accommodated.
The food is not-quite “molecular gastronomy” in the technical sense, but the thinking is certainly there. Ingredients combined in interesting ways and prepared with unusual techniques. Among the many highlights was the duck egg, cooked at 62 degrees for two hours, resulting in a yolk with the taste of a soggy yolk (#winning), but with a consistency that is not-quite spillable-liquid. Even so, that wasn’t even the most outstanding part of the dish – the pea sorbet (yes, that’s not a typo) delivered a unique combination of refreshing coolness along with a savoury pea taste which went surprisingly well with a slow-cooked duck egg.
Squid ink crackers on scallops, frozen bits of duck liver served to look like müsli, potato skin served with mash and truffle puree, and occasionally some plain old venison, came one after the other to deliver an unforgettably pleasant food journey, all the way through to deserts with names on the menu like “grains” and “chocolate”… delightfully understated in a way that only the english can do. Not a single dish matched our expectations of what it might be like, given the menu description. Even the “cheese course” was very unlike any cheese courses I’d ever had before.
I managed to book a Friday night in December from about a month in advance. My first choice (the Saturday) was booked out, and the impression I got was that the restaurant would generally get booked out about a month in Advance. For a Michelin two-star this is unusual, but its slightly remote location as well as the fact that it isn’t “famous” beyond the local dining scene (if it was internationally-famous, I would have heard of it) combine to make it a very accessible fine dining experience.
For those who have never experienced this kind of dining (fixed chef’s menus, 3-4 hour experience, mystery courses and ingredients) Sat Bains is an excellent restaurant in which to dip one’s feet. The tastes and techniques are modern, and the setting cosy enough to not intimidate (a problem that many excellent restaurants suffer from when trying to appeal to the ‘exclusive’ (snobby) crowd), but the experience isn’t too insanely over the top. A course of ants and grasshoppers at Noma might be a bit much for a first time foodie, but Sat Bains keeps everything grounded since he knows he’s not just catering to the internationally jet-setting foodie crowd.
I highly recommend this restaurant; my best dining experience in the midlands. Its menu will appeal to both insane foodies like myself, as well as regular folk who are perhaps unconvinced that this level of fine dining is worth the trouble and expense. (ask for your menu after the meal, we got signed copies!). A perfect antidote to the miserable British weather.