Following a sub-optimal mojito experience (who knew such a thing could exist?) a while back, last month The High Field won me over with a seasonal dish of elegant and confident brilliance. A return journey revealed a new menu written in the same bold hand.
Ingredients lead the menu, trios revered and knitted respectfully together with simple, solid cooking. Heritage tomatoes, mozzarella, basil. Duck, beetroot, orange. Lemon sole, cockles, brown butter. Best of all, great, buttery artichoke hearts that slice like a perfectly velvet peach, their heavenly floral nuttiness softening and enveloping the tapenade inside them. There’s not a hint of grease, not in their crisp coating nor in the accompanying pesto mayonnaise, which dances deftly around pesto’s garlicky heft.
Faultless too is the warm lamb couscous. Pubs all too often reduce spiced dishes to a distant, lacklustre etching, a meal put on mute; this gushed with flavour: jubilant apricots; generous chunks of fudgy feta, their sharpness softened and rounded by the dish’s warmth; winding threads of melty, slow-cooked lamb weaving in paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and more. All blissfully drunk – after a thorough soaking, down to every last cous – in the lamb’s juices. It’s a plate that conveys, more than anything I’ve ever eaten, the perfect, chalky kinship of lamb and goat’s cheese. Days later we’re still dreaming of it.
Perhaps 4.5 is too generous a score. In our other main of pan-fried hake fillet, chorizo-infused sauce nuzzled softly against fish and broccoli but huge semi-circles of full-bodied, peppery sausage trampled a little too callously. And there was disappointment: thickly gummy mackerel paté with rock solid toast that could have come from the kitchen table of a living museum, and a strawberry and buttermilk panna cotta that was disappointingly wobble-free and somehow simultaneously a touch too ‘petit filous’ and dubiously cheesy.
But the misses were daily specials, and perhaps this is the risk that should be taken with a special. In fact, daily special or not, The High Field belies its mistakes with bold, exciting cooking with flavour at the wheel. Absolutely nothing was bland. Even the mackerel paté was enjoyable to try, to think about, to talk about. And we still ate it all.
What’s more, it gets its setting spot on. It’s endless summers in the middle-class family home that this generation will never be able to afford. It’s not Birmingham; it’s a Kent village, the material and mannerly best of conservatism with a small c. No visiting arse meets a sub-standard dining chair. The staff make hearty approvals of your menu choices and between every course check if you’re warm enough outside. Cocktails evoke corresponding scenes: ‘English Garden’ nostalgic British Summertime and ‘Marmalade Mule’, with its throaty, dusty richness, seventies suburbia.
Oh, and one final note in the case for four and a half stars. A gift for those who eye up their friends’ food ‘just to have a taste’. For those who find themselves staring into the fridge at 11pm, spoon brandished. For those who go for one last morsel of dessert, then – just to enjoy a few more seconds of sensory heaven – back for one final bite of dinner, then back again for the dessert…
To the obsessive tasters, casting around for the perfect morsel to wedge into the last available corner of their full bellies, The High Field offers a Single Smidgen of Cheese. Five to choose from, all interesting iterations of classic breeds, with pear-drop pear jelly and rye crackers. The true nature of greed understood and indulged.
All this luxury, of course, comes at a price. But, paradoxically, expense is sometimes correlate with value for money. What you pay is not a whole lot more, really, than at Pizza Express or Cafe Rouge, but it yields exponentially more value – not to mention getting to put on your nicest garms and pretend you live in the leafiest streets of Edgbaston.