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Eating Out: La Plancha, Birmingham

113 Alcester Rd, Birmingham, B13 8DD
0121 449 5303
Cuisine: Spanish
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Succulent king prawns basking in garlic oil, pork perfectly grilled in a sweet dark Malaga sauce, chunky and tangily robust chorizo slices pan fried in wine, and the deservedly popular homemade meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. Mike Davies goes to Spain via Birmingham
 
 
Situated in the urban – some might say bohemian – village of Moseley, La Plancha has carved itself an enviable reputation for the quantity as well as the quality of its food, not to mention the conviviality of its atmosphere.
 
Owned and managed by Karmal Krishan, who took it over from her brother and his business partner shortly after it opened, almost nine years ago, it’s perhaps more bar than restaurant. Certainly the locals have adopted it as a favourite after work and early evening watering hole, not least, one suspects, on account of the cocktails (the strawberry and basil kiss sounds tempting) which, using only fresh ingredients, have become something of a neighbourhood legend and subsequently aped by others in the area.
 
Its attractive entrance (which has won several ‘best-dressed’ awards) is matched by the interior. There are three floors; downstairs being the long, narrow barfor relaxing with a drink and tapa. The main dining area is on the second floor where the wooden tables and orange and green décor offer a traditional Spanish feel (the window seat, affording a perfect people watching opportunity over Moseley’s high street, is much in demand when booking) while the third floor, the intimate pew room (so called because of the pew bench seating) is perfect for private parties.
 
As you  might guess from the name, Krishan isn’t actually Spanish. But there’s no faulting her (or indeed her chef’s) passion for, knowledge of and commitment to Spanish cuisine; indeed, the Independent voted it one of the UK’s Top 10 Spanish restaurants.
 
Three floors bring three menus: bar, restaurant and gourmet, the first being a small (as in number of dishes) version of the second and the third a set selection, with a daily specials blackboard adding to the choice.
 
Being a party of four, we were able to sample a wide variety from the main menu (though I’d have found it hard to resist doing so even on my own) and, tapas being what they are, everything comes at once so you can get on with the meal.
 
Despite being accused of being unadventurous by my wife, I wanted to try the manchengo with quince jelly, a respectable number of slices (suitably thick enough that you couldn’t see the light through them) with a robust flavour complemented by the piquancy of the quince. Every other choice was hot, among them succulent king prawns basking in garlic butter, slices of pork perfectly grilled in a sweet dark Malaga sauce with pine nuts, chunky and tangily robust chorizo slices pan fried in wine, and the deservedly popular homemade meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.
 
We also felt duty bound to give the specials board a work out with the butternut squash and wild mushrooms (a combination of textures and tastes that proved better than I’d imagined) and a couple of fabulous monkfish steak parcels folded into Serrano ham, the saltiness of the latter the perfect foil for the fish.
 
My wife was especially taken with the chicken pan fried in chilli, wine and tomato, but then she tried the fresh scallops in garlic butter and was transported to another plane of  gastronomic ecstasy entirely. Soft, tender, full of flavour and seared to perfection, they were, she declared, the best scallops she had ever tasted (and she’s tasted a fair few!), a judgement with which, having myself had the scallops and chorizo (you can never have enough chorizo), I could only agree.
 
After all this, much as I would have liked, I had to forego the chocolate lumpy bumpy (basically, chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate) and opt for something a little lighter with one of the Henley Ices (pistachio for me) on the dessert menu. Mind you, we still found room to share a plate of churros (with an authentic salty edge) to be dipped into hot, bitter Spanish chocolate sauce.
Though obviously the bill mounts up if you insist on a vast selection (which is why it’s good to go as a group), individual prices are very reasonable (especially given the portions) with hot tapas ranging from a £3.95 vegetarian paella to £9 for the fresh mussels in creamy white wine (though you can only have those at weekends) and desserts all around £4.50.
 
There’s a modest wine list with bottles (half a dozen of them Spanish) mostly around the standard £15/£16 mark with glasses averaging £4.50, my wife notably excitable about the organic Pino Grigio while drinks include San Miguel, Grolsch and Guinness on draught and a selection of bottled ales, beers and Koppaberg ciders, among them, unusually but welcomingly, a Belgian contingent of Chimay Blue and Red and wonderfully refreshing Fruli fruit beers. As a bonus touch, the selection of hot drinks also comes with a choice of liqueurs.
 
The last to leave after almost four hours, it was a hugely enjoyable and relaxing evening (the restaurant is only open for lunch by prior arrangement) with some truly excellent food and you can see why the place attracts a regular and loyal clientele from well beyond  the immediate area – and indeed why, unlike many restaurants, most of the staff have been there since it opened. Always a good sign.
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19 August 2013
By: Mike Davies
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