A visit to one of Birminghams finest leaves us infatuated
Take a turn from Broad Street, leaving the noisy clubs and takeaways behind, and head down Sheepcote Street. Take one left onto Browning Street, over the pedestrian bridge and you’re in Canal Square. It’s a surprising haven of tranquillity in the heart of a city replete with converted warehouses and painted canal barges. And, there in the middle of it all, is Loves.
Loves is, itself, the result of a love match, that of Steve and Claire Love, a husband and wife team who have been running excellent restaurants for over a decade. Steve, who trained with the Roux dynasty, heads up the kitchen. Claire does front of house, although she is happiest stocking the wine cellar. Claire is also aiming to be one of the country’s few female sommeliers, which involves a lot of swilling and spitting of wine and a steely determination to not swallow it.
I headed down for a press dinner and was joined by Paul from the Birmingham Mail and Kerry from Fuzed magazine, along with Anita and Parv, who run Loves’ PR. Claire treated us all to some of her pink fizz, a ‘Fitzrovia Rose’ 2009, a fine testament to how far English winemaking has come over the past decade. Every course thereafter came with a glass handpicked by Claire, and I recommend that if you dine here you ask her advice on what to drink with your meal. We were also treated to a tour of the Loves kitchen, where you can book a chef’s table and enjoy a taster menu.
We started off with a demonstration of what the kitchen could do with beetroot. I love beetroot – it’s full of flavour, colour and aromas, we can grow it by the barrel-load in this country, but all too often we simply through it in a jar with vinegar. Loves serves it every other way; thin and raw, cooked, jellied or as a sorbet and with some crumbly feta cheese. However, my favourite was the little glass of beetroot foam which tickled everyone’s taste buds in a way only a purple vegetable can. There was also some more English wine – a Bacchus Reserve from Chapel Down, Kent.
The fish dish came next, and this is where things got really interesting. Steve made us pike mousse served in a shot glass, I could have eaten three. There was also the ubiquitous seared scallop and a frog’s leg. The French edged out the English for wine this time, with a nice, dry Muscadet. It was all dry, salty and thoroughly continental and, as we lounged in Loves’ private dining room, it was hard to believe that the bustling Broad Street was just a few minutes away.
For main it was Herefordshire beef, slow cooked ox cheek and tongue served with mash and veggies. The meat was as tender as you could hope for and everything was fresh and well seasoned. Serving beef is more about reviving memories than feeding folk. The table went quiet for a brief moment as we all thought of Mom or Nan or whoever made us Sunday lunch as kids, and there was a faint mutter of “mmm – beef”. Some Californian red was offered, accepted and drained while we enjoyed the reinvention of the old Sunday classic.
By the time pudding arrived we had all enjoyed a few glasses. I had a tasty apple and blackberry crumble which is always on the menu. They tried to take it off once but the customers demanded it back on and now it’s there to stay. A glass of Ausssie Riesling was offered and accepted this rounded off a very pleasant evening by the canal side.
I am happy to recommend Loves, which offers two courses for £38 per head, or more sensibly three for £42 – the crumble is worth more than four quid, I promise. The AA gave Loves three rosettes although, so far, the Michelin hasn’t seen fit to give them any stars. I am not the first reviewer to question the lack of stars, as there seems little more they could do to improve in terms of food or drink. Perhaps the dining area lacks the necessary wow factor? But for me, dining out is about the food and, of course, the wine, and in these areas you’re bound to find something to love.