People react very strangely when you tell them you've been to a vegetarian restaurant. They are missing out.
Telling people you've been to a vegetarian restaurant deliberately, with a view to eating dishes that contain no meat on purpose elicits a response as if you've told them you've married your dog, or had a swim in Birmingham's canals. It's a "why would you do that" face, followed by something like "Are you mad?" or "No meat at all?!". Admittedly I did joke about taking a packet of ham with me just in case...
I'm pleased to say that thanks to a 50% voucher I obtained from a networking event, I was able to try a wide selection of dishes from 1847 which have educated me to the possibilities of meat-free dishes, and left me more impressed than I've been at any restaurant in a long time.
Bistro 1847 is a small part of an ever-growing empire of vegetarian restaurants. Starting in Manchester and adding Bristol to the chain soon, the Birmingham location is in the cute Great Western Arcade opposite the main entrance of Snow Hill station. It's found its home alongside artisan bakers, cheese & meat shops, Mediterranean delis, barbers and specialist wine, pen, whiskey and tobacco outlets.
It's a quirky little haven for independent places like this, away from the bustle of central Birmingham, and a lovely calm oasis in which to enjoy incredible food without distraction. The interior of 1847 is kept minimal so as not to detract from the colours and flavours of the feast in which you're about to indulge, but a suspended forest in the front window and cool sciencey condiments are lovely quirks.
The menu is unusual, and contains flavour combinations and concepts that may seem alien at first, but we decided to take the plunge and order a selection.
To start, I had ricotta mille feuille with black olive tapenade, courgette and cherry tomatoes and John had Quinoa falafel with burnt baba ghanoush and yoghurt.
My mille feuille (think savoury custard slice!) was incredibly light. Crispy pastry slices either side of mild but tangy, cool, whipped ricotta. Mixed with the tasty olive tapenade underneath, it was a great introduction to what was to come. John's 3 falafel balls were smoky, moist and satisfying and served with an unusual baba ghanoush which added an amazing depth of flavour and other-worldly purple/green colour.
For main course the lovely, friendly waitress had NO hesitation in recommending a caramelised cauliflower dish, served with creamy, wild rice and crispy hens eggs ( think scotch eggs but without the meat). Sadly the dish appears to have been removed from the online menu, but it was delicious and filling nonetheless. I can only imagine she over recommended it and has exhausted the supply! John opted for the battered haloumi (tofu option also available) with pea emulsion and lemon curd. The salty cheese, sweet and creamy pea and tangy lemon combination is a stroke of genius, personally I'd have liked it to have a bit more heat to it but is a great example of how vegetarian food can offer the textures and satisfaction of eating meat, whilst excluding it entirely.
The dessert menu is awash with nuts and fruit and fancy sauces... After MUCH deliberation I went for the earl grey cake, served in cubes with beetroot jam, fresh raspberries and passion fruit. As with the previous dishes the flavour combinations here are absolutely awesome. The beetroot jam swirled underneath was a revelation and again the sweetness of it, with the sharp raspberries and moist, almost savoury cake was just brilliant. John's brownies with pear, orange and popcorn cream ("cremaux"!!) was similarly clever.
We were honestly blown away by the range of flavours on offer, the beautiful presentation and, most of all, how full we felt! I do think some of the descriptions (but not the dishes themselves) could do with being made more accessible. Cremeaux with that? Emulsion anyone? The food is faultless though. Even without a packet of ham. Give it a go, you won't regret it.
We ate from the set menu which is 3 dishes for £25. 5 and 7 course tasting menus are also available.