Annexe the restaurant had been open for a while, but as of January 2012 I hadn't yet managed to visit, so as it seemed to keep rising to the top of the Tripadvisor ratings for places to eat in Brum, it was high time I went to check it out, and had put it on my list of 'Must Visit' places.
I had enjoyed the previous restaurant that had been on this site for many years – Michelle's La Bastille – which had served very reasonable bistro-style food with mussels and prix-fixe menus in the bar area at the front, and more sophisticated dining and special event nights in the main room. So I was sorry to hear it had closed rather abruptly in early 2011, but intrigued to hear that Annexe had opened in it's place a few months later. I still can't work out if it's under completely new ownership or if some of the original team are still involved, but it was a departure menu-wise from the traditional French of La Bastille to a more modern European flavour.
I wanted to eat slightly early on a Saturday, to give time to meet up with friends afterwards, so when we walked in for our booking at 6.30pm (after a pre-dinner cocktail in the Jekyll and Hyde round the corner), we were the only customers, and I was a little worried it would be a strange atmosphere to be dining in the empty restaurant, where you inadvertently resort to speaking in hushed tones so you don't disturb the silence (or have your every word overheard!).
But we were soon put at ease by the main front-of-house person – I wasn't sure if perhaps she was a co-owner – and given the beer and wine list to browse through. It's interesting to see they have continued La Bastille's tradition of offering a decent bottled beer list – several Belgian ales – plus added some draught from Purity beer and Hogans Cider. We settled on a Abbaye des Rocs La Nounnette, a Belgian blonde, and some Purity Mad Goose – both lovely beers and with the cask ale in good condition, and bought us enough time to give the menu a read-through.
The décor inside is a little warmer than I remember Michelle's being, with tables arranged at angles to break up the open room a bit and give a more relaxed feel to the space. A black and white film was playing silently but unobtrusively on a large screen, which had sounded odd when I read about it in earlier reviews, but actually worked as a subtle backdrop by giving a little movement to the room.
|Pretty scallops - and very tasty|
We soon got to ordering, and as I love scallops it was an easy choice to go for those as a starter. A very pretty plate arrived, and the scallops were well cooked – that is, wrapped in pancetta, juicy and not overcooked. They were arranged around some roast vegetables, very flavoursome without overpowering the scallops. My dining companion opted for filo parcels filled with lamb mince. These initially looked a little small but with the chilli jelly they were intensely flavoured while remaining light, and definitely left us ready for the main courses.
While we were engrossed in our starters the restaurant had started to fill up quite a bit – and by the time our mains had arrived, every table was full which was great to see and there was certainly a liveliness to the room. I enjoyed the pan seared duck breast – again, nicely moist and not overcooked, served with a shallot tarte tatin – which was as good as I hoped it might be: rich, unctuous and decadent. The madeira sauce was served separately in what looked like a rather large amount, but I have to say it was so tasty (sweet but in the right amount to complement the rest of the plate) that I finished every bit of it. I also tried some of my companion's seared sea bass fillets, which worked very well with some juicy and slightly spicy chorizo and peppers. We'd chosen a light red that went fine with them both (possibly a Beaujolais, but I was too involved in dinner to take notes by this stage!). On balance, the starters were more elegantly presented than the mains, but the portion sizes were well judged (not to large, not too small) and the fish and meat cooking was spot on, so it was certainly a meal polished off with gusto.
As the evening was still early-ish we stayed for coffee and a shared desert – a subtly-flavoured Earl Grey crème brulee with cardamom and pistachio sable biscuits – and as I'm not keen on heavily sweet or chocolatey things this provided a cleansing and light end to the meal.
For some reason I was hesitant about how much I would enjoy Annexe – maybe it was the amount of praiseful reviews I'd read, meaning I took them with a pinch of salt, but it had such a buzzy yet relaxing ambience, good food & wine, and owners/staff who really went out of their way to give a friendly welcome, that I had a great evening and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Bonus points for having a decent bottle & draught beer and cider offering too!