It’s fairly typical of me to do things arse about face and go to a wacky side project event before getting round to the real deal. Which is exactly what happened with Nomad – I went to the first No Rules event back in April (I’ll get round to reviewing it eventually), which is when Alex Claridge and his team also started their residency at the Kitchen Garden Cafe.
From Warehouse Cafe via Bistro 1847, Alex has finally gone it alone set up his own pop up restaurant, Nomad…with the help of some talented collaborators. Building on the idea of using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, Alex and his team have made this less about a new fad and more about binding the evening’s menu with its location. If nomads roam from place to place, taking little with them and living off what the land has to offer, then Nomad aims to do this with its menus. It’s an incredibly simplistic concept, at heart, but it takes a brave chef to throw themselves at the mercy of mother nature – particularly in Birmingham.
In some ways the Kitchen Garden Cafe is pretty perfect for Nomad’s first incarnation. The earthy, secret garden venue in the heart of a suburb lends itself to a menu that relies heavily on locally sourced ingredients. In fact, as the night goes on we’re told that one of the dishes will not be on tomorrow’s menu due to the integral ingredient dying back in the summer heat.
The first dish is listed simply as tomato, which worries me because the texture and flavour of raw tomato is just something my brain can’t quite reconcile. Thankfully we were presented with a small bowl and a teapot with what can only be described as a clear liquid which tasted more tomato than most tomatoes I’ve eaten – in a good way. The broth had a love salty acidity to it which really brought out the flavour of the tomato, without overpowering it and counterbalanced the sweetness perfectly.
The next dish was hay smoked rabbit and carrot cake. For me these were two delicious ingredients, the subtle sweetness of the carrot cake and the smokiness of the rabbit were delightful separately but just didn’t work as well for me together. To remedy this, I ate the cake first and then finished off the rest of the rabbit. Which was delightful.
By far the simplest dish of the night was the globe artichoke, seared lettuce, egg yolk and nasturtium. But simple dishes require the most precision and this dish had perfectly balanced flavours.
The main course, as far as tasting menus go, was wild sea trout with broad bean, pea and pearl barley risotto. Pearl barley is a criminally underused ingredient, in my mind, and the lovely vivid green colour of the risotto with the light flavours really complimented the fish. It was the perfect summer dish.
If you’re not used to eating anything you’re told is food, then the palette cleanser of sorrel and raspberry with wood ant massacre might’ve put you off. I’ve (knowingly) eaten ants a couple of times before and their pepperiness has always been an interesting flavour. Along with the sorrel and raspberries this made for a nice crisp, yet tart set of flavours to reinvigorate the taste buds for pudding.
Until this dish arrived I was ready to call the trout and risotto my favourite dish of the night. But this for me was just something else. It’s the first time I’ve ever eaten sea buckthorn, a miracle ingredient if some naturopaths are to be believed, but for me this is one, if not the, best puddings I’ve ever eaten. Our waitress, who had been brilliantly helpful all night, recommended we try a little of everything together and this was without a doubt the perfect way to eat this dish. The slight sweetness from the carrot and cumin terrine with the creaminess from the meringue and crunchiness from the cocoa nibs satisfied all textures and the flavour was just something else entirely.
Just as I thought we were done, we were presented with chocolate soup and a doughnut. The soup was light and full of delicious bitter chocolate flavour, teamed with a lovely simple sugar doughnut. One one hand it felt like someone’s nan making sure you weren’t leaving hungry, but in some sense it also entirely played up the idea of fine dining’s notorious small portions. Or maybe I’m over thinking it. Either way, it was a lovely end.
It’s clear the Nomad team are passionate; from the kitchen team presenting unusual yet well considered dishes, to the waiting team who are attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. Nomad won’t be sticking around Kings Heath for long, they’re due to move on at the end of August and tables are booking up quickly, so get in whilst you can – you won’t regret it, Nomad are producing some of the most interesting dishes you’ll find in the city at the moment.
Disclosure: I was invited down by Nomad as their guests to try their food. I think it was an ruse to see if I’d eat ants; frankly the thought of raw tomato was more horrifying. As ever all opinions are products of my own twisted little mind and remain honest.