There was a lot of buzz about the opening of Opheem so we waited a little before we went to try it out, wanting to get past any early snagging points or busy dining rooms so last month we booked a midweek table for a birthday meal. Having read a tonne of reviews by this point I was itching to go and its fair to say we were not disappointed.
If I was one of those people who went for ‘after work drinks’ or ‘pre-drinks’ then I would want to hang out in the bar at Opheem. The room is a glorious display of elegance, rich, plush textures mix with bold lines and statement pieces. If you were to Google ‘Fancy bar’ this is what you would expect to see. It’s lavish, stylish and indulgent and it takes a lot of effort for me not to go around touching everything. Its sensuous.
The dining room is equally spectacular, the open plan kitchen like a beacon at one end of the room, its hard not to be drawn in and find yourself watching Aktar and his brigade at work. I love being able to see in a kitchen, I’m excited by my food and this adds to that experience.
We battle with the menu, I’ve stalked many an Instagram feed and have seen some amazing looking dishes so I struggle to decide what I want, we have the classic ‘what are you going to order’ discussion so that we can make sure we order different things to maximise our tasting options.. Our meal kicks off with a selection of snacks and instantly sets the tone for the rest of the evening. This isn’t your typical Indian fare- this is precision Fine Dining and they want you to know it. We devour our snacks. We salivate. This is going to be good. Bread goes quickly to be followed by a lamb pate and a cured sea trout ice cream with petit pois ice cream.
I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to eat soft shell crab, on the menu it states this was a winning dish when Atkar appeared on Great British Menu and I dimly recall that the cookbook from that series is on our shelf at home and make a mental note to have a look at it again. Jordan orders the hoggat cutlet and as the dishes arrive at the table we both give each other a look that says ‘I don’t want to share this’ Everything is beautifully presented, precise and not overly fussy. The crab is served in a fermented rice pancake similar to Dosa which offset the sweet meat. The lightly spiced batter is crisp and there is plenty of crab, it is served with raw mango and edible flowers and I almost didn’t want to eat it for fear of ruining the presentation. This is a very elegant dish but its roots are still obvious it’s not too fussy that it loses its authenticity. The lamb is equally impressive, served with globules of vibrant green puree and diced vegetables, it’s very much a celebration of the meat with some complementing touches. The lamb is as you would expect, blushing pink, full of flavour and slightly charred on the outside. We picked well, but the octopus starter remains very much on my list of ‘must try’ dishes.
If choosing a starter was hard, then the main is even more difficult and I apologise several times to our server for my obvious indecision. In an unexpected turn, extra dishes arrive and we realise that this is not just a ‘take your pick menu’ this is a mini tasting menu.
Samples completed and It’s on to the main event, my plate is a surprise, I assumed braised ox cheek would look rustic and ‘simple’ but it is just as extravagant as the previous courses. Bright yellow Kichdi made with millet forms a slightly sweet and filling base for unbelievably tender ox cheek and an unexpected slice of what I assume to be fillet. The giroles are probably lovely but I avoid mushrooms wherever possible, the kale is well seasoned and the sauce served in its own little pan is so good I find myself dipping my finger in it when nobody is looking.
More lamb for Jordan but this time served with tongue beignet, Punjabi aubergine caviar and a smoked chilli and bone marrow sauce, another ‘famous’ dish which appeared on Gordon Ramsey’s The F-Word, the lamb was beautifully cooked and packed full of flavour. Again, the sauce is excellent and is lavishly poured over the potato and lamb.
Whilst not entirely necessary our sides are equally good- the spiced grains and quinoa with peas a nice change, roasted spiced beetroot topped with coconut is an unusual dish to find on the ‘traditional’ side of the menu but delicious nonetheless and no self-respecting Birmingham resident can order Indian food without some form of Naan or roti which, given the delights found in the sauce pots turns out be an excellent idea.
Our servers are polite, informative if not a little timid, the weight of expectation in such early days clearly heavy on their shoulders. They are lovely, but formal and probably a little put off by our levels of enthusiasm and desire to ask questions. Give them 6 months and they will be gliding across the floor like proud swans but for now, they are ducklings taking their first brave steps into the water. Opheem is tipped for a star and will no doubt get one as soon as the initial fears that come with any new venture dissolve.
We are no longer hungry but can’t resist a peek at the finale and as is often the case, the dessert menu proves too tempting and we order anyway. We are celebrating so why not push the boat out. I decide instantly: Dark Manjari chocolate, fennel, blood orange. I have no idea what the dish will be but I am sold on the ingredients. What arrives is a sphere of chocolate filled with a light chocolate mousse surrounded with colour. The fennel and blood orange are powerful flavours but perfect partners for chocolate, the combination of textures and satisfying crack of the chocolate shell are uplifting. It doesn’t matter that I am full, I wipe the plate clean and congratulate myself for making yet another good choice.
Jordan orders the fresh pineapple parfait served with roasted pineapple and coconut sorbet. The sunshine yellow and creamy textures a contrast from my dish. A ray of dried pineapple reminds me of yellow sunfish and the roast pineapple a wonderful caramelised element to offset the creamy coconut sorbet.
We delight in watching the kitchen, Aktar leading the pass and don’t notice an extra addition making its way to our table, a final treat of truffles and macarons to finish of the night.
Normally, I’d be inclined to head home and pat my belly with satisfaction but instead we head to our favourite Gin bar for a nightcap and chatter about our dinner. Birmingham is full of interesting places to eat but this is special, a new little bud of what will undoubtedly blossom into a landmark in the city. It’s not often I walk away from a dinner planning when I will next visit but I am truly impressed by Opheem, all of those pretty pictures on Instagram are to be believed, it really is an experience to bask in and enjoy.
I am a fan. I will be back and have that octopus set in my sights.
48 Summer Row, Birmingham B3 1JJ
N.B- I am pretty sure I got our snacks in the wrong order.