I’ve been talking a lot about comfort food recently. It’s not really surprisingly, given the recently dip in temperature, the dark nights (which I actually like) and that time had three hours sleep because I stayed up for my traditional watch a Big Thing happening in another country. I think anyone would be forgiven for craving comfort. But what I didn’t expect was to find it at a vegetarian restaurant.
I’ve posted about 1847 (which used to be called Bistro 1847) before, several times in fact. It does vegetarian and vegan sort of fine-dining style, in a bistro in the heart of the Great Western Arcade, which is rapidly becoming quite the go-to place for those who like to excite their taste buds. It’s a bit crass and overdone to say that as a meat eater I like the place, because that would be like going to dessert parlour and talking about dinner; it’s not about what’s missing it’s about the ingredients they use taking centre stage. And whilst vegetarian options are now pretty standard on most menus they’re not always the most inspired, whereas at 1847 they’re the stars.
This time round I pitched up for a taste of their new autumnal menu, which already tells you there’s a transitional move into comfort food, but it’s not heavy and bloating. The menu picks up lots of the flavours and ingredients of the season – cauliflower, mushrooms, sage and butternut squash, but with some extra flavours for colour.
To nibble on whilst we waited for everyone, we had focaccia with shakshuka hummus and if this was as good as it was to get (spoiler, it wasn’t) I’d have been happy; lightly toasted but still warm bread, drizzled with oil and a shakshuka hummus which was smooth and salty. It was simple but delicious.
For starter I went for maple roasted parsnips, parsnip cream, apple and pumpkin seed, because honey-roasted parsnips are an absolute winner in a Sunday roast and I wanted to know what a maple version would be like. They’re delicious; cooked well so that the parsnips are soft but not mushy and the naturally sweetness of the vegetable is heightened by the maple syrup. Sure it’s sweet but it’s just the right sized dish that it doesn’t become sickly.
For main I went for spätzle, roast squash puree, smoked mushrooms and whipped feta. I have a soft spot for spätzle ever since my German university housemate Barbara showed me how to make it. The knöpfle variety is a German pasta which is like little droplets. To make it, I used to comb the dough through a colander and cover with grated cheese once cooked, but the roast squash puree and smoked mushrooms gave it a really interesting flavour. I wasn’t sold on the whipped feta, the tanginess of it seemed at odds with the other flavours, but then I’m not a massive fan of feta.
Sadly, the only real misfire of the night was the dessert for me. I went for the coconut malabi with apple rice donuts and caramelised pear because it felt like a nice comforting, lighter dessert but just didn’t quite work. The coconut malabi felt a bit lacklustre; I’m not keen on overly sweet things but this dish felt like it needed more sweetness, perhaps more caramelised pear and it was hard to know whether you were supposed to swipe with the sauce with the anarachni-like donuts. That said I did try some of my friend’s chocolate brownie with my coconut malabi and the creaminess worked well with the richness of the brownie, so it’s not bad it just didn’t seem to come together as a dish quite as I’d have liked.
Overall it was a really enjoyable meal, even with the slightly disappointing end. There are still some well loved classics on the menu like the battered halloumi, but the autumnal dishes really are a delight. Once again 1847 have proved that vegetarian and vegan dishes don’t need to be the poor-man’s meatless afterthought but can be hearty, comforting and yet delicate.
1847, 26 Great Western Arcade, Birmingham B2 5HU
Disclosure: I was invite for a complimentary meal by Brumderland in exchange for my views, but wasn’t required to be positive. Which is just as well because after three hours sleep I’d struggle to lie anyway.