Wow!! I don’t normally start my reviews with a superlative, but I thought that if you didn’t have time to read the whole article you could just read the first word and it would tell you all you need to know about Opheem. For those of you with a bit more time please read on.
Opheem is the latest restaurant from Birmingham born Chef and Restaurateur Aktar Islam, and is his first solo venture since leaving the Lasan group a few months ago. Many of you may have already eaten Aktar’s food at Lasan, or watched him on one of his many TV appearances on programmes such as Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, Great British Menu, and Saturday Kitchen. This may make you think you know what he is all about but believe me you have only seen half the story so far.
I really should have started the article with three Wow’s. The first wow is for when you walk through the door to be greeted by the very friendly welcoming staff and catch your first glimpse of the restaurant which is decorated in an understated soft grey that is both contemporary and opulent at the same time. The second wow is for when you sit down at the table sipping your favourite aperitif and look across at the open plan kitchen that is separated from the restaurant by a clear glass screen, as you can’t possibly fail to notice the amazing light installation that is a work of art. The third wow is of course for the food.
First up was a grazing plate containing a selection of snacks: Seep - a Porthilly oyster in curry leaf tempura, with Keralan tomato chutney. This was cooked to perfection with a delightful crunch from the spicy tempura batter enveloping the soft creamy oyster within, and I could have eaten at least a dozen of them to myself. Pyazi - onion, fenugreek, crushed fennel seed, and chickpea batter, the easiest way to describe this is for you to think of the best onion bhaji you’ve ever had in your life, and then imagine one even better. Imli Pani - a Tamarind broth shot, with chilli and compressed cucumber. This is essentially a Pani Puri without the Puri, with everything contained inside a thin gel membrane instead, to provide that instant hit of sweet, sour, and heat.
Normally I’d choose Kekda for my starter, which is a soft-shell crab in fermented rice batter with caraway seed, and raw mango. This is not only one of my all-time favourites but was also Aktar’s winning dish on Great British Menu and is absolutely delicious, but instead I went for the Kukkut, which is Goosnargh chicken with basil, coriander, and marinated heritage tomato. This turned out to be an excellent choice, the chicken was moist and tender, with a delicate peppery curry flavour from the marinade. My wife chose the Parai – a fillet of trout, with a cumin and pomegranate crust, and I can confirm that this was also superb from the small mouthful I was able to sneak when she wasn’t looking.
The big surprise of the night is that Mrs Gastro Grazer chose Vindaloo for main course as she is not a fan of anything too hot, but of course this is Aktar’s interpretation of Vindaloo which is Pork served three ways, loin, smoked hock, and trotter, with anise heritage carrots and a pickled vindaloo puree that had so many subtle layers of spice she didn’t even notice it was hot. My Laal Maans was outstanding with a smoked mathania chilli & bone marrow sauce that had to have been created by some form of alchemy, and I drizzled it liberally over the mouthwatering Herdwick lamb loin and tongue beignet.
There is no space left to tell you about the desserts of Firmi – a Bengali rice pudding with Yorkshire rhubarb and basil, or the Doodh – a Curd dumpling with milk sorbet, milk skin, granita, yoghurt shard, and finger lime which is a shame as they were both delicious, you will just have to go and try them for yourself.
Aktar is particularly renowned for his skill and creativity in the use of spices leading many people to call him the King of Spice, but at Opheem he has taken things to a completely different level so make a reservation now by clicking on www.opheem.com or by telephone on 0121 201 3377 and you will be very glad you did.