We all know the story; vegetarian food has had a bad reputation as being stodgy plates of food either gracing the righteous movement and full of lentils or being distinctly ordinary food minus the meat. Then along comes along chefs who actually seemed to know what they’re doing. I don’t know about you, but I’m bored of the cliche. And that’s where Bistro 1847 comes in. Since opening in Manchester, and then in Birmingham last year, they’ve joined a wave of restaurants redefining what we know of vegetarian cuisine. And thankfully so.
When they first opened in Brum their menu, a standard a la carte affair, was playful, quirky and the meat wasn’t so much missing as never really invited to the party to start with. However their new concept has gone a little further with two menus. The ‘Grazing, Sharing and Exploring’ menu has a range of smaller dishes which are designed to encourage a more communal dining experience, similar to tapas. The First Date – Taste of 1847 menu is, as the name suggests, a taster menu which compromises of five courses during the week and seven course taster menu on Fridays and Saturdays.
Eager to see what Bistro 1847 had up their sleeves, I went down mid-week and samples some dishes from their Grazing, Sharing and Exploring menu. It’s recommended to have 2 – 3 dishes per person, so my guest and I tried six of them between us: Tarragon polenta crisp, pickled wild mushroom, goats’ curd, baby aubergine, tahini and petals; Baby heritage potato, crispy bean curd skin, carrot seedlings, breakfast radish, onion ash and textures of coconut; Crispy potato & Old Winchester dumpling, herbed sauce, toffee apple, mead reduction, caramelised celery and foraged herbs; Heritage tomato & preserved lemon, pearl barley with Yorkshire fettle; Beer-battered halloumi, seashore herbs, mushy pea emulsion, smoked lemon curd, gin pickled shallots; and Garden pea mousse, broad bean, Yorkshire fettle and sesame filo shards.
Each of the dishes was beautifully presented, think more a molecular-gastronomy and fine-dining than soggy mushroom pastry. A particular favourite was the baby heritage potato, crispy bean curd skin, carrot seedlings, breakfast radish, onion ash and textures of coconut, which had a delicious laksa style taste, moreish yet satisfying. The Tarragon polenta crisp, pickled wild mushroom, goats’ curd, baby aubergine, tahini and petals dish was truly lovely, but somewhat confusing as it felt like a dish which straddled main course and pudding, being quite sweet and therefore somewhat confusing on the palate.
We spoke to Bistro 1847’s development chef, Alex Claridge, who said that the menu had been designed, with careful consideration, to take advantage of seasonal and foraged produce. Each dish had a number of components which were designed to complement each other and for the most part they did superbly. The only item we found that didn’t really seem to add much to the overall dish was the toffee apple, which didn’t have much apple flavour, though with the crispy potato and cheese dumplings were delightful by themselves.
The puddings have a similar sharing element to them, suggesting 2 – 3 dishes between two people. We were quite full after six dishes for dinner so opted for two between us; the Peanut brittle, slow-roast pineapple, Hoxton gin snow, white chocolate crème fraiche; and Foraged blackberry & almond sponges with hay cream. The peanut brittle and white chocolate creme fraiche were delightful, interesting and unusual and very in-keeping with the innovative new menu. The blackberry and almond sponge was a little more conventional, something you might expect to see on a standard menu but still perfectly pleasant. Although we were too full to order it, we saw an Allotment Aero pass by, which looked high on the whimsy scale and definitely worth trying next time.
I was already a fan of Bistro 1847’s stellar efforts to showcase vegetarian food as a cuisine in its own right, but their new menu is something else. Whilst the taster menu might have the moniker First Date, this is a place to savour and enjoy over and over again…we certainly fell in love again like it was the first time.
Bistro 1847 invited us down to try the new menu free of charge in return for an honest review – we were not obliged to write a positive review but were pleased to do so. The views expressed here remain my own (with some input from my guest) and the photos are mine too.