Call me shallow, call me easily bought, but if someone said: “Come to Walsall for a curry”, I’d probably politely decline. Not because I’ve got anything against Walsall, just because it’s on the far side of Brum from where I live, and I can get a bogstandard curry that’s probably as good, with less travel and far less faff.
But if someone says: “Come to Walsall to enjoy a meal an award-winning Indian restaurant, paired with Laurent Perrier Champagne”, it’s a bit of a different story. Not just a bogstandard curry, but dishes produced by a place that’s won British Curry Awards, was recently included in the Telegraph’s top 20 curry houses in Britain, and whose chef has cooked for Bill Clinton. Not to mention the invitation included the irresistible lure of bubbles to seal the deal. Surely you can get where I’m coming from?
And so that’s how I ended up at out Five Rivers restaurant in Walsall on a Thursday night, champagne glass in hand, nibbling on the best sheekh kebab I’ve ever tasted and looking forward to an eight-course banquet, each course accompanied by a different wine or champagne, with a bunch of bloggers, journalists and high-flyers. Talk about surreal!
Five Rivers has kind of come out of nowhere for me. Until the rather swanky invitation to the Laurent Perrier evening arrived (literally) on my doorstep, I hadn’t heard of it. But a bit of brief research, and it soon became clear that I’ve been missing out on something rather special.
The outside’s fairly understated and enigmatic. Inside waited an army of staff, all impeccably trained, dark and moody decor, with just the right touch of sparkle and bling. And upstairs, the beautifully-laid banquet table that was to be the scene for our feast.
As we supped on champers and mingled in the civilised way that these things start (but rarely finish), we were brought flavour-packed tasters to whet our appetites. The sheekh kebab, an aubergine roll, and a crispy ‘Manchurian’, covered in tangy sauce.
Once seated, after a brief welcome, we set to the task of the evening. Eating, drinking and being merry. I promise I’ll try not to go on too much – after all, eight courses is a lot of words and I definitely don’t want to risk you not making it to the end.
First up – Mitha Aloo Tikki, which looked similar to a thai fishcake, but was a completely-different tasting cumin-laced patty of sweet potato with warmth of chilli and sweetness of fig. It was served with Laurent Perrier Vintage 2006. Champagne to most of us, I know, but I also know for a fact that there are a few people who will read this who will appreciate knowing the Make, Model, and Year (yes Cath and Rob, I’m looking at you :-))
We were lucky enough to have someone from Laurent Perrier talk us through each of the champagnes and wines. Far too much info for my small brain to either remember, or manage to relay to you, but it was definitely interesting. We learned about how the champagne’s made, why certain types taste a certain way, and all that stuff that you vow to remember but somehow can so easily get lost in a sea of bubbles, vino and food. Sorry guys.
Fortunately I don’t seem to have the same memory issues when it comes to food. The second course was the theatre of the meal. Dry ice isn’t an unusual appearance in swanky restaurants – you might remember the mint choc chip creation I enjoyed at Purnell’s.
At Five Rivers, it was the setting for a Lobster Broth, a fragrant broth full of delicate lumps of lobster and flavours of coriander, garam masala and lemon. It came with pink bubbles – Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rose, in case you wondered.
Next up was Tandoori Monkfish. I’m a glutton for tandoori dishes – they’re usually the dish I aim for when I’m trying to be virtuous, because the tandoori stuff is probably the most healthy on the menu. It helps that it tastes blimin good, and this was no exception. Chunks of monkfish, smoked and tender with a hint of chilli and artfully arranged on a slate with accompanying mango sauce.
With this we were treated to a taste of Chardonay/Gewurtztraimner 2015, from Chile, another new wine to add to my list.
Lucky for me, we stuck on the tandoori theme for a Tandoori Duck course. Dark red, presented on a bright yellow plate that made for a striking dish, and a well-executed version of tandoori, complete with the classic Indian tastes of garam masala, cumin, ginger and garlic.
With this, a Carmenere 2012, from Chile. No, I can’t tell you lots about that. It was nice.
At this point, it was time to cleanse the palates with a refreshing lemon and lime sorbet, prettily presented in a flower-lined glass, and a delicate contrast to the bolshy duck we’d just enjoyed.
After this came, for me, the best dish of the night. Chicken Saag Wala. I’m a massive fan of saag (spinach, for anyone who doesn’t know) and I’d heard good things about the saag dishes here. I’ve only ever known saagwala to be a balti-style curry of meat or chicken in a sauce with spinach.
Not so at Five Rivers. This was saagwala, gourmet-style. A big, tender chicken breast covered in a orangey sauce. An eager cut into it revealed it had been expertly stuffed with perfectly-spiced spinach. Deeeeelicious.
It was served with something I’ve never come across before – Kichdi, basically a combination of rice and lentils, flavoured with turmeric. And all washed down with a 2014 Pouilly Fume from the Loire. Definitely the winning course for me.
The saag wala was always going to be hard to follow, but we enjoyed two great Indian desserts that were a far cry from the usual bought in, frozen things you usually get in a curry house.
First up was a Mango Finni. Think rice pudding, flavoured with cardamom, rose water and passionfruit. It came with a sweet shot of something alcoholic. As if we needed any more booze!
Next was a Spiced Ginger Creme Glace – a deep fried ball of ice-cream, flavoured with (as the name suggests) ginger, pineapple and served on a slice of scorched pineapple. Another nice dessert, but as I say, for me the sweets were utterly outshone by some of the earlier courses.
Needless to say, everyone was in rather high spirits by the time we left, having enjoyed an evening of wonderful food, fabulous wines and champagnes, and impeccable service. The waiting staff were a military-run operation, serving dishes with an old-school uniformity in style and timing that’s been replaced in so many places by a far more casual stance.
It works here. The fine food is served with a reverence that adds to the feeling that reflects the clear thought, passion and time that goes into the dishes created in the kitchen, and into the running of the restaurant as a whole.
During the night, I met several people who travel from Birmingham to Walsall just to eat at Five Rivers. And I can understand why. So the next time someone tells me: “Come to Walsall for a curry”, I probably will. As long as it’s here.
I was invited to Five Rivers for an evening organised in partnership with Laurent Perrier. My meal was free, as was the champagne. I wasn’t asked to write a review, let alone a positive one. It’s just easy to do when it’s something as stand out as this.
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