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Familiarity breeds content; An established restaurant proves it can still give Birmingham's Johnny-come-lately eateries a run for their money, reveals Alison Davison.

Byline: Alison Davison

The Mill is one of the old stand-bys of the Birmingham area's eating out scene, a handsome and imposing redbrick building close to Alvechurch's bustling centre whose faithful crowd of regulars ensures a steady-as-she-goes trade.

It's a family-run affair, with mother and son McKernon creating a friendly and homely front of house, but it has the feel of a place frozen in time, the time being some point in the 80s. Dark beams and white artex dominate the interior with pastel tablecloths and bead design steel cutlery on the tables.

It is not quite as impressive as the exterior leads you to expect but it is light (rather too brightly-lit perhaps) and airy. Not perhaps the venue for intimacy but it clearly goes down a treat with groups, as one happy clan gathering near to us bore witness.

But as you perch on a sofa in the little lounge area, the sight of the menu is very reassuring. Here is a good range of appealing and interesting dishes and at sensible prices - two courses are pounds 17.50 and three at pounds 19.50, Tuesday to Friday (bit more on Saturday). There's a pounds 3 supplement for fillet steak with Madeira and mushrooms though.

Starters include escalope of salmon with poached egg, vermouth and chives, Mediterranean fish and shellfish soup and mixed salad with marinated chicken in lemon and garlic.

I only wanted two courses and decided to miss starters so I could enjoy dessert. An iced honeyed nougat with dried apple wafers and raspberries had already caught my eye and appealed more than goat's cheese with roasted veg which was the veggie opener. Although I love goat's cheese, so many of my meals out feature it that if I eat much more, I'll be growing horns and getting worried about trolls under trip-trap bridges.

But my friend sampled the starters' list with duck liver parfait with red onion marmalade and brioche toast. The good-sized tranche of pinkish pate was so incredibly smooth, it looked like you could skate on it. This was rich fare and she felt the marmalade needed to be more astringent to balance the sweetness of the brioche and the 'fabulous' pate. Still, there was a remarkably clean plate pretty quickly.

After this spectator sport, I was certainly looking forward to my main course - asparagus and ricotta ravioli. This arrived in the form of two sombreros swimming in an indulgently buttery sauce. The filling was delicious, the asparagus chopped mighty fine and looking rather sparse but nevertheless giving lots of flavour to the curdy ricotta.

The generous golden sauce was speckled with something mysterious and slightly vinaigreitteish (horseradish, perhaps?), very good at cutting through all the butteriness. I asked Mrs M what it was. 'I don't know,' she said. And that was that; she never went to find out so I remain unenlightened.

Three small roast potatoes and some well-cooked, but again buttery, green beans were the vegetable accompaniments. The same veg were served up with my friend's main course, fillet of brill with leeks, white wine and saffron.

Unfortunately, she considered the brill not so brill and was surprised by its blandness. 'Rather ordinary,' she decided although it was all well-cooked and attractively presented (as were all the dishes). The finely-chopped leeks added flavour but the sauce had no visible means of saffron in support, either in colour or flavour.

It too was very buttery. There's certainly none of that low-fat malarkey here.

Other main course choices were duck breast with black pepper, red cabbage and port wine sauce or chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto with tomato and red pepper sauce.

We failed to do justice to the Mill's excellent wine list which specialises in the Lebanese wine Chateau Musar. We stuck to a couple of glasses from a bottle of New World sauvignon blanc at pounds 12.75, which was OK.

My iced honeyed nougat which had sounded so good and looked so pretty was disappointing, having too much about it of that mustiness which honey sometimes has. The apple wafers were mouth-clammingly chewy but the raspberries were lovely.

Having beaten her to the nougat, it was perhaps only fair that my friend should come up trumps with her panna cotta. All soft and wobbly (the panna cotta, silly), the velvety pud was well-matched by some juicy yet tart rhubarb and sweet vanilla. She had never tried panna cotta before and loved it.

The other dessert choice, apart from cheese, was rich warm chocolate cake.

The Mill's efficient operation meant excellent timings. We'd had a good midweek catch-up chat, an indulgent meal and we could still get home in time for Sex and the City. Perfect.
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Title Annotation:Post Style
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 27, 2002
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