With plant-focused menus which are nothing short of culinary wizardry, Birmingham restaurant Land is enough to tempt even the most ardent meat-eater to go vegan, as Amy Norbury discovers…
Every time January rolls around, I’m tempted to take on the Veganuary challenge. But with a committed meat-eater for a husband, and two kids who’d happily eat their own bodyweight in ham, bacon, sausages and the like, my attempts to foist entirely vegetable-based meals upon them more often than not go down like the proverbial lead balloon.
Me, well I enjoy a good fillet steak as much as the next person, but I’m often just as happy with vegetarian options. Although I’m less of a fan of things masquerading as meat; I’d rather just enjoy veggies for veggies’ sake. So a fine-dining restaurant which offers purely plant-based, seasonal tasting menus sounded right up my street.
Based in Birmingham’s pretty Great Western Arcade, Land bills itself as a ‘modern, plant-focused, casual dining restaurant’. Taking inspiration from around the world, Land’s menus showcase the very best produce from, well, the land.
Leading culinary critic Jay Rayner – you know, the one who puts the MasterChef contestants through their paces -called Land’s offerings ‘vegan cooking to file under thrilling.’ Which boded well for a meat-free meal to write home about. In an age where wild mushroom risotto too often still represents the heights of vegetarian culinary excellence – and god help you if you’re vegan and want more than a plate of salad! – Land’s offerings could be classed as a veggie manna from heaven.
So when J’AIME was invited over late last year to give plant-based a go, I was all for it. The hubby, a rather more carnivorous sort, was less enthused about seven courses of plants, but remained open to having his mind changed. So off we went.
Overflowing with Victorian charm, Great Western Arcade is home to an array of small independent shops and boutiques, eateries and bars, making a lovely destination for an evening out in the heart of Birmingham, yet away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Land itself is an intimate, stylish affair with an open kitchen at the back where you can spy head chefs Adrian Luck and Tony Cridland working their magic.
We arrived for an early Friday evening slot to find the restaurant already in full swing. The welcome was warm and the vibe relaxed as we were shown to our table – a prime window seat perfect for watching the world go by. Rather than paper, the menu was a QR code which zapped you straight to Land’s website – to ensure the best seasonality, the menu changes frequently so going paper-free is the sound environmental choice.
If the menu is designed to take you on a culinary journey, the wine list, too, encourages diners to step out of their comfort zone, offering alternative grape selections for popular choices.
The tasting menu started with a couple of delightful chef’s snacks; a miniature feast of mushrooms snuggled in the crispest of pastry shells which packed a wonderfully earthy punch, and a delicate celeriac remoulade atop a seaweed cracker which was just divine.
The standard was set, and what followed was course upon course of breathtaking deliciousness.
A rice porridge fragrant with onion and thyme and adorned with beautifully iron-rich spinach was the perfect winter warmer; hearty, robust and deeply satisfying. A terrine of squash, wonderfully sweet, balanced with a fair whack of chilli and accompanied by sunflower seeds transformed into an indulgent cream with a liberal sprinkling of seeds adding a bit of crunch. Just delightful.
And then there was the potato. Oh, how the humble potato was transformed. In a pool of dashi buttermilk broth with salty samphire and sweet, crisp green grapes, it was nothing short of majestic. I’d sail through Veganuary in a breeze fuelled by this dish alone. No word of a lie.
The main course, so to speak, was a riff on a massaman curry, with silky aubergine ribbons, crunchy peanuts and an almost sculptural fried rice noodle adornment. Perfectly spiced, perfectly balanced.
The final savoury affair arrived, and it was the turn of that British favourite, the carrot, to receive the five star treatment. Generous hunks of sweet roasted carrot perched on a slather of indulgent almond cream – nuts doing all the heavy lifting of a dairy addition nicely. A generous dressing of zhoug, the Middle Eastern cousin of Argentinian chimichurri packed fragrance and heat, while delicate charcoal crisps brought the umami goodness.
Desserts of banana and coffee creams with sweetly tangy tamarind, and a beetroot cake with rich oat ice-cream and cherry, were delightful, as was the wonderful roast on the coffee for a perfect flat white.
Jay Rayner called Land’s cooking ‘thrilling’ and I can only concur. It was a meal which surprised and delighted with every morsel, leaving huge question marks over what meat would actually bring to the table when plant-based cooking can be this good. It was, I’d go so far as to say, a strong contender for our best meal of 2022 – what a way to round out the year in style.
And at just £45 a head for a seven-course tasting menu, it represents superb value for money; a superlative culinary experience for not much more than your average three courses of good pub grub.
So if you’re inspired by Veganuary to go more plant-based in 2023, then Land should be right at the top of your list. And if you’re a dedicated meat eater then get out of your comfort zone and go anyway; we guarantee you won’t regret it.