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A simple earthenware bowl is placed in front of me – smoked haddock concealed in cloudy wisps of milk foam, topped with poached egg yolk, a generous cornflake crunch and a sluice of curry oil – while Glynn Purnell, the Michelin-starred chef with a cheeky grin, tells me about his mother. "As a kid growing up in a rough part of Brum, I'd ask for something to eat before dinner and my mum would give me a piece of bread, so I'd sneak handfuls of cornflakes into my pockets while she was poaching fish in milk. My mother influenced the way I cook, and all my dishes go back to my childhood." The dish is executed at a high level – thickened milk is piped from a siphon around the yolk to resemble a fried egg – but tastes comforting and familiar, like a lazy Sunday breakfast when you have the whole day ahead of you and not a care in the world.

Chef Purnell's signature poached egg-yolk dish using smoked haddock, milk foam, curry oil and cornflakesChef Purnell's signature poached egg-yolk dish using smoked haddock, milk foam, curry oil and cornflakes.

Birmingham, the second-largest city in England, has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other British city outside of London, but it's probably best known for its rich manufacturing heritage: Cadbury chocolate, HP Sauce, Bird's Custard, Typhoo Tea. The former factory town was once called the City of a Thousand Trades, thanks to iron-ore smelting, the automotive industry and banking. (Two of Britain's largest banks were founded in Birmingham: Lloyds TSB and what's now HSBC.) In fact, when most people think of Birmingham, the Industrial Revolution comes to mind – not the hometown of W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Duran Duran and, more recently, Glynn Purnell.

chef PurnellSome things never change: chef Purnell sneaking a bowl of cornflakes out of his restaurant.

Ducking out of his eponymous restaurant early (Purnell's family is waiting for him at home – a group he takes very seriously, closing the restaurant at lunch on Saturday as well as Sunday and Monday – plus the non-negotiable nipping out to pick up his kids from school) he tells me, "I'm a bit like Jesus: surrounded by animals and children. I can't wear sandals for health and safety reasons, and I had to take off my halo because I kept smacking it."

There's nothing angelic about the bread basket at Turners Restaurant – a jewel box of a spot with a handful of tables, flanked by suede chairs and charcoal walls, and sleek menus sheathed in aluminum. I treat the butter – a salty mound whipped with seaweed from Normandy – like an amuse-bouche before popping a piece of what appears to be cinnamon raisin rolls sprinkled with raw sugar into my mouth. (It turns out to be a rolled brioche studded with healthy dose of bacon bits and Welsh sea salt.) And just when I'm finishing my raspberry soufflé – served tall and warm with a side of lemon verbena sorbet, spooned and then plunged deep into its centre – chef Richard Turner emerges from the kitchen and plops down with a beer.

chef Richard Turner - hand-dived scallop with pipérade, Ibérico lardo, baby squid, pesto and bouillabaisse jusThe dishes prepared by chef Richard Turner - think hand-dived scallop with pipérade, Ibérico lardo, baby squid, pesto and bouillabaisse jus - are a cut above the rest.

When the conversation turns to what modern British food means, the chef scoffs in the nicest way possible. "Modern British? We're just making good food. We're from Birmingham and not interested in going anywhere else." When I ask the Michelin-starred chef how the Mediterranean influences appeared on his menu, he explains, "I've learned everything from my mum and from reading books. These days, you can get Mediterranean influences from an iPad. Birmingham's a funny place right now. Price-wise, it's got a lot of food way up here and not a lot down here: nothing in between. Maybe that's next."



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