The Single Gourmet Traveller went travelling up the M40 yesterday to spend Mother’s Day with her daughter. OK, that’s hardly ‘travelling’ you may say, but Birmingham has long been regarded as the UK’s second city and despite it’s rather dubious reputation (especially by Londoners), being known mainly for its strong regional accent and nightmare motorway junction – Spaghetti Junction – it has a lot of good things to offer. I’ve come to know it quite well in the last three years, since my daughter moved there. The centre has a great shopping area – the Bullring boasts all the usual chains you could think of, plus a Harvey Nichols too; there’s the Birmingham Royal Ballet and of course the NEC Centre. But away from the centre, small suburbs thrive and it’s possible to combine a life near a great city with easy access to rural places. King’s Heath, for instance, has quite a strong community and around this area there are lots of good independent restaurants. I love arriving and seeing buses headed for places like Druid’s Heath. Nearby is Edgbaston, famous as a cricket venue and Bournville, home to Cadbury’s.
The sun came out at just the right time yesterday. After a snack lunch we headed off to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for a walk and to enjoy the spring bulbs. They had a special Mother’s Day offer of one free ticket for a paid entry. The gardens aren’t especially large (though I admit living near Kew Gardens, as I do, rather spoils one), but there were plenty of beautiful bulbs; areas of gardens laid out in Roman, Medieval and Tudor style; a woodland walk and a rock garden and lots of other things to see. Of course, many of the shrubs and trees were barely recovering from their winter hibernation and were still fairly bare, but, apart from the brightly coloured bulbs, there were some magnolia trees in glorious bloom and some early rhododendrons were flowering.
My daughter had offered to take me out for a meal in the evening but in the end we decided to eat in and she would cook for me. As she’s an excellent cook I knew I’d get something very special – and she certainly pulled out all the stops to produce a wonderful meal. She also had champagne for us.
Daughter disappeared to put some tomatoes in the oven to slow roast soon after our return from the Gardens but what we were to eat remained a secret till the end. When our starter was put before me I was hugely impressed: it looked amazing. And it tasted amazing too. It was a ‘Salad of Lentils, Avocado and Goat’s cheese’ from Skye Gyngell’s A Year in My Kitchen.
It’s a combination of earthy Puy lentils, creamy ripe avocadoes, sweet slow-roasted tomatoes and red onions, and a tangy goat’s cheese. Over the top a home-made basil oil – fresh basil leaves ground in the mortar and pestle with olive oil – is drizzled over the top. I thought it would make a great supper dish too.
To follow came a roast French rack of lamb with ‘Tagine of Sweet Potatoes, Shallots, Carrots & Prunes’ from Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous. Lamb, simply roasted and still perfectly pink in the middle, was a perfect accompaniment to this softly spicy, sweet caramelised vegetable tagine.
There was pudding to come as well. But we were taking things nice and slowly with plenty of time for talking too. Nicola had bought some chocolate fondants that – after a suitable break from our first two courses – went into the oven. She served them with a good spoonful of creme fraiche on top and a ripe fig, sliced open, which was a brilliant way to enjoy them.
Mmm … what a fabulous Mother’s Day … a great day out with my daughter and a wonderful meal.