Simpsons Restaurant, in Edgbaston near Birmingham, offers special occasion dining worth a journey from anywhere in the Midlands.
And once you're there, studying the tempting menu, you can start planning the dishes you'll cook at home after attending one of Simpson's popular weekend cookery classes.
If you're a first time visitor to the UK and you still believe the hoary clichés about British food, you're in for lots of surprises as you travel around the country.
Simpsons is one of them. The restaurant, just a few miles from Birmingham city center, has held onto its Michelin star for at least 16 years, It spreads across several rooms of a substantial Victorian villa in the leafy suburb of Edgbaston. Restaurateur Andreas Antona, Chef Director Luke Tipping and Head Chef Nathan Eades are a team at the top of their game. Antona and Tipping have worked together for years. Before opening in Edgbaston, they set up Simpsons in the Warwickshire town of Kenilworth and earned a Michelin star there in 1994. It only took them one year after their move to Birmingham to earn another.
Relaxed and Romantic
The restaurant's rooms are stylish yet relaxed. Diners can choose a cosy, intimate atmosphere, a light and airy room for seeing and being seen (with windows onto the bright and efficient kitchen), or a conservatory with garden views.
There's a terrace for warm weather dining and two gazebos for romantic private dining that overlook a beautifully maintained garden. A massive wall of rhododendrons that bloom in season is salted with the tiniest scattering of twinkling fairy lights at night.
The staff manages to pull off the trick of creating an atmosphere formal enough for the ambitious, serious cuisine without being stuffy. The dining rooms have soft yet festive buzz and service is impeccable - attentive, knowledgeable and friendly.
A Champagne Opening
Before entering the dining room, diners are offered a glass of chilled champagne while they study the menu in a brown and cream sitting room furnished with deep leather armchairs.
The restaurant tries out different champagnes and different vintages every week, with that week's bottles chilled in a punchbowl full of ice surrounded by champagne tulip glasses.
The waiter takes your order in the sitting room and shows you to a table when your dinner is ready to be served.
Courses and between-course treats
Once ushered into the cool, white dining room, washed with subtle, creamy lighting, we were offered an assortment of tiny amuses bouches or hors d'oeuvres and a selection of interesting brown, white, flavored and seeded breads.
Our first course of hand-dived scallops were sweetly sea flavored and dressed with a tracery of sauces and a taste of parsnip purée. Before the second course of Gressingham Duck came to the table, tiny cups of delicate pumpkin soup appeared.
The duck itself was surrounded with tiny roasted carrots, carrot and ginger purée, a tiny square of gingerbread and a lightly liquorice flavored foam. An unusual touch were the two, triangle shaped pastillas - filo pastries filled with duck leg meat.
Leave room for dessert
We ordered the dessert soufflé in advance. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare and is worth waiting for. Mine, a pecan soufflé served with banana ice cream, was as light as a meringue - like a whisper on the tongue. My only complaint was that my overly helpful server suggested I bury the banana ice cream inside the soufflé to melt. As a result, I did not really taste it and I think I would have preferred the contrast of the cold ice cream with the hot cloud of the soufflé rather than the warm melted sludge that resulted. Fortunately, some of the souffle escaped this treatment so I was able to enjoy its separate qualities. I don't mind a knowledgeable server offering advice but I really don't like the advice being forced on me as this was.
After dessert, a selection of English and Continental cheeses was presented. A tray of pretty handmade petits fours and a dish of hand made chocolate truffles accompanied coffee.
I'd read that portions at Simpsons were too small (one amateur critic reported that his wife had to fill up on the delicious breads). Nothing could be further from the truth. Although each dish is served in a modest portion, this is food to be savored slowly. Besides, the between course treats and extras more than justify the price and would satisfy all but the most greedy trencherman.
The restaurant has four ensuite bedrooms for diners who want to enjoy their wine and stay overnight. The rooms, which are luxury priced ($$$), are themed - Oriental, Venetian, Colonial and the sweetly romantic French. Read more about overnight stays at Simpsons.
Learn to Cook Like a Michelin Chef
If you've ever aspired to try your hand as a Masterchef contestant, the Saturday or Sunday cooking classes at Simpsons could get you started. These are great courses to take with a small group of friends and if you are a solo traveler the classes are a very good, non-intimidating way to sample Michelin-starred cooking on your own.
The one-day courses, from about 9:30am to 4pm are taught by the restaurant's chefs and are designed to equip you to prepare a dinner party for 12 or 15. They interpret the Simpson's approach to flavors and ingredients, simplified for the home cook. Classes are limited to 10 or 12 participants, so booking is essential.
The day includes:
- morning coffee
- a cooking demonstration that includes preparation of a three course menu
- a behind the scenes tour of the restaurant's kitchen
- hands on cooking experiences
- lunch with wine from the restaurant's full menu
- an afternoon tour of the wine cellars with the restaurant's sommelier.
Specific course details and bookings are handled by telephone only, at least a month in advance, through restaurant reception. Gift vouchers for the courses are available.
- Where: Simpsons, 20 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3DU
- Contact: for bookings and cookery school details +44 (0)121 454 3434. Reservations are taken between 9am and 6pm and not more than three months in advance.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.