It's a fried egg. Well, it looks like a fried egg. The yolk is actually very gently poached, and the "white" is a delicate foamy cloud, created by emulsifying smoked haddock-infused milk with xanthan gum.
At the rim, a dribble of deeply aromatic curry oil adds an unmistakable note of kedgeree, while a scattering of crisp, crunchy cornflakes press even more buttons in the memory banks. What is it about the humble egg that so intrigues the modern chef? Spain's Adria, Italy's Cracco and Britain's Blumenthal have all bent it to their will, as if offended by something so simple and so perfect. Oh, the hubris.
Then the yolk runs like Linford Christie through the foam and the curry oil, and it is as if all my breakfasts have come at once. Unexpectedly and quite illogically, it actually works, creating an inspired opening statement at Glynn Purnell's new restaurant in Birmingham. The delicacy of execution and simplicity of presentation is matched by the layered complexity of tastes and textures. (Try visiting www.purnellsrestaurant.com to see it for yourself).
It was obvious when I ate Purnell's cooking at Jessica's in Edgbaston in 2003 that he had the nous, the ideas and the ambition to go places. Michelin agreed in 2005 by awarding Jessica's one star, bringing the sort of fame that makes a chef wonder why he's working so hard making money for someone else. So Purnell grabbed a former furniture emporium in the city centre, and turned it into a chic/bleak environment for his modern, minimalist cooking. Where Jessica's was French-cottage, Purnell's is smart-modern, with urban grey walls, honeycomb chairs, clothless dark wood tables, and architectural portraits of Birmingham by photographer Lawrence Roper.
The cooking is just as on-trend, using the foams, froths, gels and saucy streaks that are the language of the contemporary chef. Thankfully, he uses them as they should be used – to deliver flavour in a lighter manner. So a slab of shreddy rabbit and ham terrine gets a fragrant marjoram foam and Twister-dots of olive and pea essence. Next, a perfect disc of full-flavoured, fork-tender lamb shoulder infused with orange and saffron runs off to Morocco with roasted sweetbreads on cracked wheat, spring onions that taste of preserved lemons, and a dome of yoghurt foam. Brill is gently poached in coconut milk and served with baby spinach, red lentils, and toffee-sweet spiced carrots.
The room has a young, well-informed team led by the charming Jean-Benoit Burloux, who has the gift of making you feel you have made a great choice without ever using the words "great choice". As much at home with the wine list as the menu, he steers me to a ripe, fresh 2004 Givry La Grande Berge (£37.50). Great choice.
It's all very polished and assured, with plenty of complimentary befores and afters to make you feel spoilt. So far, only an appetiser of melon soup with feta and black pepper has been less than seamless, but with desserts, I start to see a few joins. A croustillant of malt bread with banana ice cream feels like a gussied-up banana fritter, and I'm not convinced by a pairing of green tea cream and raspberries.
Business-like by day, the place softens at night into a foodie destination. At one table, a couple of interior designers bitch about the lighting track, while at another, two high-profile chefs – Nottingham's Sat Bains and Ludlow's Claude Bosi – are clearly enjoying themselves.
The intriguing thing about Purnell's is that not only is it in Birmingham, it is very Birmingham. By using childhood influences like his council-estate breakfasts and balti suppers, Purnell is virtually developing his own modern "regional" cuisine, as full of taste memories as new techniques. For a local-boy-made-good to open a restaurant like this in a city like this is surely more important to the evolution of British gastronomy than any number of million-pound Mayfair launches.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Purnell's, 55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 212 9799. Lunch Tuesday to Friday; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Three-course menu £38.95pp
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