We all need tapas in our lives, so when I was invited to the launch of Ocho in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, my brain and belly did a little dance together at the thought of what promised to be a more modern approach to this family style of Portuguese and Spanish dining.
On approach to the restaurant you have Brookfields Cemetery lingering to the left which added atmosphere to the cold and windy night, making the warm light beaming out of Ocho’s old tiled façade very inviting. We were greeted by friendly and enthusiastic staff and sat at a table for two in the corner of the restaurant, allowing an overall view of the space that is equally split into two dining rooms. There’s a simple yet effective layout of indigo blue walls, broken up by rustic wooden wall cladding and curious pictures of street scenes from Spain and Portugal.
Head Chef, Tomek Iwanicki (formerly of Purnells) has pulled together a perfect little pop up that takes you to an atmospheric and modern Mediterranean place with a team of staff that do him proud.
The dining rooms are intimate and tables are placed near enough to each other that you feel you’re sharing the experience with other diners, yet just perfectly far away that your conversation is not overheard. The tables are painted custard yellow with splatters of blue paint adding to the verdant vibe of the place and the kitchen is partially exposed allowing customers a connection with the chefs and the aromas to spill into the room.
We were offered a choice of two draught drinks being the new recipe Japanese Asahi lager which was crisp and refreshing with a certain subtle sweetness and London based Meantime Brewery’s Yakima Red with its lovely ruby red colour and fruity, citrus flavours. There was also a delicious Merlot Reserve available by Healy and Gray that had irresistible cherry notes. Whilst we were waiting for our dishes, I could feel a good chemistry in the room. Everything felt relaxed, the service was on point but discreet and a soundtrack of 90’s acid jazz brought a soulful edge to the ambiance, met by the fragrance of garlic and herbs rippling like waves out of the kitchen.
Once our dishes arrived we were talked through each plate’s ingredients and left to indulge in the immaculately rustic presentation of each item, all decorated with colour and vibrancy. The Merguez Sausages, handmade in the kitchen, had a lovely texture of minced lamb with cumin and paprika cutting though perfectly, complimented by the most delightful mango, pink pepper and mint salsa.
The heat of the sausage and the sweet coolness of the salsa, to me was a brilliant combination and the different temperatures created a very enjoyable taste experience.
The heat of the sausage and the sweet coolness of the salsa, to me was a brilliant combination and the different temperatures created a very enjoyable taste experience. After trying the beautifully tender and succulent Beer Braised Pork Cheeks in a beer and vegetable reduction I needed to balance things out with a side of the Spicy Arabiata Potatas Bravas, where the potatoes were crisp and the sauce was sharp and spicy, lifted higher by salty shavings of Grana Padano cheese. We had Vino Tinto Chorizo, pan fried in garlic, red wine and rosemary, and though I felt there could have been more liquid in the fusion, the chick peas added a great touch and texture.
The Grilled Lemon Sardines were attractive and had that perfectly fresh grilled taste, with hints of lemon thyme and simple seasoning of salt and pepper to let the fish flavour shine though. These were complimented by the Chilli and Coriander New Potatoes adding the perfect kick to the humble spud, with the green chilli wrapping colour and spice around the potatoes and the coriander adding culinary perfume. Having tasted the meat dishes and sides presented to us I was surprised to find so much flavour in one of their three vegetarian offerings; the Red Pesto Courgette Tagliatelle had the most lovely creamy texture and the flavours of red pesto coated the courgette strips beautifully creating a really satisfying plate.
Each dish is a perfect sharer for two and after working through five dishes and two sides between us, there are still four more tapas choices on the menu that we didn’t get to experience that evening that all had as much appeal as the ones we did taste. However at this stage there was only a little room left in the stomach for sweets and on offer were the Orange and Lime Cheesecake, which had that lovely New York oven baked texture with zings of orange and lime zest, and a delicious caramel sauce that only enhanced the creaminess of the cake as well as the Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Puree that though I found a bit rich for my palette, left my dining partner silent whilst eating it and cleaned the pot.
Head Chef, Tomek Iwanicki (formerly of Purnells) has pulled together a perfect little pop up that takes you to an atmospheric and modern Mediterranean place with a team of staff that do him proud. The dishes are reasonably priced fluctuating between £6 and £9 and the intimacy of the space really lends to a food experience that has the edge on typical tapas. Overall a lovely relaxed experience that was very satisfying and felt alive.
Review by Ollie Lloyd for Grapevine Birmingham