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Sweet music in Air; BIGBITE Paul Fulford.

ELDOM does mass catering reach a level much beyond the acceptable.

SFrequently it is mediocre and sometimes downright poor.

Sad nights spent eating dry chicken and over-cooked vegetables drenched in salty gravy have done grievous harm to my taste buds.

Thus my hopes were not soaring as, resplendent in the double denim that I thought appropriate for the occasion, I visited the Air restaurant at the LG Arena ahead of the Dolly Parton concert.

Oh how reality confounds us.

I had been looking forward to the aged Dolly's warblings, but was hugely disappointed. Yet the food about which I had misgivings turned out to be a proper treat.

But let's go further than that: this was food I would have enjoyed greatly had it been served at a posh restaurant.

The hospitality package I sampled is called amplify (in the way of modern marketing it's lower-case and italicised).

For that you get tickets to good seats at the gig, a glass of fizz, a four-course meal cooked by the NEC Group's Amadeus catering division and free drinks at a private bar near your seats.

The starter with which my meal began was very impressive indeed.

Duck liver parfait had beautifully light texture, with a gentle but persuasive flavour.

It came with toasted brioche, quince jelly, sweet onion chutney and - the star of the show - thin strips of candied orange rind that added texture and a sweet citrus snap.

Lynn's beetroot and vodka marinated salmon with crab, sesame, beetroot and horseradish was easy on the eye and, apparently, pleasing on the palate.

The main course was also triumph. Monkfish is a notoriously difficult fish to cook - too short a time and the texture over-firm, too long and it's like eating cotton wool spiked with cat food.

Here, I suspect, the medallions had been cooked sous vide - that's a posh way of saying that it had been cooked in a bag in water at low, carefully controlled temperature.

Whatever. It worked and was perfect.

The prettily-dressed plate included cockles zingy with oceanic flavours, nice crunchy cubes of feisty chorizo, confit tomato and parsley and olive oil mash that added to the dish's Mediterranean vibe.

My wife's rib-eye steak medium-rare she had requested but was nevertheless enjoyed.

The accompaniments were classic - a portobello mushroom, tomato, some excellent chips and a well-mannered bearnaise sauce.

Desserts came during the show's interval.

The pineapple tarte tatin that I ordered was laced with rum and was skillfully made, possessing all those squidgy caramel flavours that should The coconut ice cream came with it was a pleasant contrast.

A rich chocolate mousse with a caramel centre indeed, rich and remained unfinished because of though that's no reflection its quality.

A platter of British was largely untouched because we were replete. Service throughout the evening was charming efficient.


The cost... prices vary according to the artiste, but around PS150 with concert tickets, a meal and drinks.

Veggies may like...

. spinach and sweet potato beignets with asparagus, cep risotto and wild mushroom cream.

? Meat eaters would devour... a chargrilled rib-eye steak.

Three places in town.

FUMO: Italian-style tapas in a buzzing, stylish bar. Pictured left. 1 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5PG. 0121 643 8979.

? SHANGHAI SHANGHAI: Check out the wonderful dim sum and Szechuan food at this hidden gem. 1st floor, The Arcadian, Birmingham B5 4TD. 0121 622 6060.

? PURE BAR & KITCHEN: Pub classics done with class and craft ales. What's not to like? 28-30 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5TJ. 0121 237 5666.

'' Monkfish is hard to cook... too long and it's like cotton wool mixed with cat food


Air restaurant at the LG Arena, NEC.

Duck liver parfait, monkfish and tarte tatin at Air.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jun 27, 2014
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