[Disclosure: I was asked to review Black & Green for Nat Geo Traveller Food, but how could I not write something for here too?]
I grew up about ten minutes from Barnt Green, a rather lovely village about half an hour out of Birmingham (on the train line to Redditch, which is slightly less salubrious, as was the estate next to a prison that I lived on). There wasn’t much in Barnt Green back then – a couple of shops, a train station, and the Barnt Green Inn, which got ‘done up’ and became the place for first dates and special occasions.
As with anything, a lot can change in 20 years. The centre of Barnt Green is now home to a lovely cafe, a bar, a pizza and wine place and, as of June 2022, Black & Green – a neighbourhood restaurant from Andrew Sheridan.
For those of you who don’t know, Sheridan is the man behind three venues in Birmingham – ‘8’, ‘Divide’ and ‘Craft’. I’ve been to two of the three and they’re great – very different, highly memorable, and with an air of city cool that makes me feel slightly awkward but also gives that heady glow of a special occasion.
Black & Green is different. Yes, there’s still an air of ‘special occasion’ about it – from the chunky high tables complete with wooden wine bottle holders to the carefully-crafted cutlery holders and impressive art on the walls. But there’s a comfortable feel too. A cosy, relaxed atmosphere – helped by the size (there are just 16 seats) and a decent soundtrack (no tinkling muzak here).
The warmth is helped by the family focus at Black & Green. We’re greeted by Sheridan’s own dad, and the chef himself seems more relaxed than I’ve seen him before in his other settings. His kitchen is right there at the back of the restaurant. There’s a chef’s table, but the size of the restaurant and the small number of covers – which allows him and his team to explain each course to every table – means that realistically we’re all at the chef’s table.
Black & Green offers a ‘micro seasonal’ tasting menu that changes weekly, priced at a reasonable £65 for food this good, and an optional drinks pairing of UK wines, many of which you’re unlikely to have heard of until you come here.
We start with delicate but familiar ‘snacks’. Fat, fruity Gordal olives, smoked almonds, and a dainty goat’s cheese and caramelised onion tart. Something to whet the appetite while we settle into the experience, supping on our first paired wine – a Camel Valley brut that has all the decadence of fizz, with the familiarity of summer days in Padstow.
And then we’re right into it. A5 wagyu. Pink, melt in the mouth slices, served with a concentrated broth that makes your eyes widen and your words stop in your mouth. It’s as much about texture as flavour. A course to remember.
Next is cod and caviar. The cod is clean tasting, perfectly textured. It’s pearlescent hue contrasts with the pile of black caviar that sits on top, as well as the lake of shiny black truffle cream around it.
There’s a saltiness, an earthiness from the truffle and a slight sweetness. It’s nothing either of us would ever order, but it’s perfect tasting menu fodder. Interesting, challenging and tasty as hell.
Back on familiar turf, the next course is homemade soda bread with cultured butter. Because sometimes the simplest stuff is best. It’s mildness contrasts with the big hits we’ve had so far, giving our tastebuds a comfort blanket in terms of flavour and our minds a breather from what has been a pretty exciting experience in just a few courses.
Alongside the great food, the night has us taking in wines we’ve never heard of, let alone tasted, each of which are explained knowledgeably and evocatively by Sam at the table.
Next up is my favourite. Gressingham duck breast, cooked pink with the perfect crispy skin. It’s not alone on the plate, with crispy duck leg covered in a blanket of pickled beetroot, and a quenelle of beetroot puree.
On top of the duck breast are jewel-like wild garlic capers that have been fermented for three weeks and there’s a duck sauce to pull the whole plate together. It’s a delight. Each element cooked perfectly, and all brought together to create the perfectly-balanced plate. There’s sweet, savoury, sour, and salty. It looks pretty, it tastes pretty, and I don’t want it to be over.
Dessert looks less pretty. But we all know by now that we shouldn’t be deceived by appearances – in food or in life in general. The innocuous looking custard-like bowl hides passionfruit, chocolate, and a crunch inside. Sheridan may push the boundaries at times, in concept and in flavours, but he hasn’t forgotten that there are a few basic things we want from dessert. Indulgence, sweetness, and comfort. This has all of them in abundance.
The last hurrah is a cheese board. There’s a goat’s, a cheddar and a blue. If I was better at this I’d have written them all down, but I was too busy asking Jamie when we could come back to Black & Green. Instead of bread and chutneys, they’re served with a pressed cube of onion marmalade and a homemade fruit loaf.
It’s simple, and we could be anywhere. A reminder that while Black & Green has Sheridan’s own unique stamp on it, he gets that Barnt Green isn’t Birmingham, and a neighbourhood restaurant isn’t a chic city hotspot. And while we all love a decadent tasting menu that challenges and delights, we also love a decent cheeseboard with a chunk of cake and a good glass of port or dessert wine.
As we wait for the bill, there are homemade sweets to send us on our way. It’s been a special – but manageable – meal in both length and price, something so often lost these days when it comes to eating out in nice places. We’ve felt comfortable yet special, relaxed yet excited, and have a long list of people we want to take back to Black & Green before we’ve even got back to the car.
It’s a great night. Better than we had anticipated and a heartening reminder that great restaurants aren’t just found in big cities or well-known food destinations, but can pop up where we least expect them. Which means all sorts of places like little old Barnt Green get to join in the fun.