When you eat out a lot, menus can get quite similar. There’s usually a steak, probably a chicken dish and another meat dish, some fish, a veggie option or two. They’re often similar, driven by trends, seasonality, popularity.
This isn’t a criticism, and it’s not something that bothers me – there’s plenty to choose from. But when a menu pops up that is nothing like the norm, whether that be a Michelin-starred tasting menu or somewhere simple, but different like Land, it’s a treat.
Tucked away in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham City Centre, Land is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant whose name gives away the inspiration for its dishes. The site was once home to 1847, also a vegetarian restaurant, but this is a different bunch of people I think.
The interior reflects the ethos of the place and somehow manages to feel rustic and chic all wrapped up in one. If you’re thinking that vegetarian restaurants are all about weird stodge made of spelt or strange meat substitutes then I’d urge you to think again.
Land is about making vegetables the star of the show. Allowing them to sing for themselves as a good cut of meat would, and showing us that for most of us, fake bacon or a ‘bleeding’ plant-based burger isn’t what’s going to convince meat-eaters to reduce their consumption of meat, but making vegetables the main event and showing them off for what a treat they really can be.
You’ll be pleased to know that while Land is virtuous in many ways, it doesn’t come across as sanctimonious or holier-than-thou. And that means there’s a pretty appealing cocktail list and wine list for those of us that are happy to steer clear of meat for a night but still want to sup on the devil’s juice.
I started with a saffron negroni from the cocktail list as we tried to decide whether to go for the set menu (two courses for £22 and three for £28 at dinner time – less at lunch) or the chef’s menu of six courses for £40 with optional drinks pairing for an extra £30. We opted for the former but not through lack of appealing dishes on the chef’s menu – more because of how much we thought we could squeeze in.
First up came some cracking little amuse bouches, including a brilliant potato skin topped with wasabi and black sesame gel. Imaginative, aesthetically pleasing and the perfect tease for what was to come.
If that wasn’t enough we also filled our faces with another surprise course of cumin bread and vegan butter – again a delight and proof that sometimes it’s the simple things that work best.
To my surprise, it was tough to decide what to order, given that every dish was something I reckon I haven’t seen on a menu before. No more easy option chicken dishes, or standard steaks. From a roasted swede starter to braised tofu, or a sweet potato massaman curry for main, or carrot with black bean sauce and five spice fritter, each piqued my curiosity and offered something out of the norm.
I eventually decided on charred hispi cabbage to start. Topped with miso, panko breadcrumbs and served with an apple compote (I think it’s a compote, maybe it’s a sauce, but you get the gist).
It was a good dish. I love hispi cabbage at the best of times and the slight bitterness of the charring along with sweetness of onion powder, tang of the apple, earthy umami of the miso and a crunch courtesy of the panko was a great combination. I would perhaps have liked the cabbage itself a tiny bit less cooked so it retained the crunchiness, though perhaps that’s personal taste.
My friend had gone for the braised tofu – not something I’d ever choose because I’m not a fan of the texture of tofu – and again I felt the broccoli it was served with could have been crunchier and provided more of a texture contrast, but it has to be said that teaming it with blood orange, black sesame and chilli was again a great flavour combination.
For main – again a struggle to choose – I went for salt bake celeriac, served with polenta, peppercorn sauce and tarragon. One to appeal to steak lovers without trying in any way to be some knock-of copy of a real sirloin.
I have to say, it really was good and I think when I go back to Land I’ll find myself in a bind as I struggle with feeling I should try something and wanting to get back to this dish.
The firmness of celeriac makes it just right for a ‘steak’ substitute and the searing on the outside added a bit of bite to an already meaty texture. Add crispy onions, soft, yielding polenta and a peppercorn sauce to rival any I’ve had in conventional steak restaurants and you have a great dish.
Like everything else at Land, it didn’t just look good but tasted good too. The kind of dish that makes you want to surreptitiously mop up the sauce with your finger until it’s hard to believe there was ever a dish on it.
We hadn’t planned to have dessert but so won over were we by the first two courses, we decided to go all out (maybe the chef’s menu would have been a good idea after all!).
Chocolate mousse for me, topped with chocolate puffed rice (yes, a posher version of coco pops) and served with peanut ice cream and lime. What a finish hey. If anything shows the thought, imagination and effort that goes into the food at Land, I think this one does.
It was sweet without being too sweet, interesting without being off-putting, and brilliantly executed. My friend was tempted by the poached rhubarb which of course had its own ‘Land’ twist and came served with Earl Grey custard, rhubarb and granola. Another triumph so I’m told.
In case you haven’t noticed, I was impressed by the food. It’s not just different, it’s done well. Yes, perhaps in my humble opinion one or two elements could have done with a few less minutes cooking, but who am I to criticise – especially when a chef is dealing with a full restaurant on a Tuesday night (testament in and of itself).
On top of great-tasting dishes, put together well and presented beautifully, the service is brilliant. Not only was I looked after like a Queen while I waited for my friend to arrive (which took 45 minutes, so could have been rather uncomfortable) but when she did we both found the service five-star, from making up mocktails on the spot for her to producing our bill in super quick time so I could race for a train. All what you should expect from a decent restaurant but is so often lacking.
On top of that, it’s excellent value. We walked out with a more than reasonable bill thanks to their brilliantly-priced set menu and at six courses for £40 I think the chef’s menu is keenly priced too.
So yes, I think for anyone who appreciates we could all probably do with curbing our carnivorous habits a little bit but can’t quite see the same joy in vegetables, you should get yourself to Land. This place will remind you of the glory of what comes from the Land and prove that it can be tasty, imaginative, chic and different, all wrapped up in one. Try it, you won’t regret it.
We paid in full at Land. They didn’t know I was a blogger.