Birmingham’s leading celebrity chef Glynn Purnell has confirmed he has pulled the plug on Purnell’s Bistro and Ginger’s bar on Newhall Street after letting the lease run down during Covid.
Now, having got his flagship Michelin-starred restaurant Purnell’s “flying again” after surviving three lockdowns, he’s looking at new opportunities elsewhere.
- a city centre tapas bar
- taking on a pub in Warwickshire
- opening a find dining restaurant in a former Coventry monastery, and
- helping to give young people who want a career in hospitality a break.
In a wide-ranging interview to support the first National Hospitality Day today (Saturday, September 18) Glynn Purnell talked about everything from…
The challenge of surviving in the Covid-19 era to why ‘Two Tikkas’ Tom Cruise should have paid him a visit in August when shooting Mission: Impossible 7 and staying yards away at the Grand Hotel.
But what about Purnell’s Bistro which first opened nine years ago on September 5, 2012?
“Oh, you’ve kicked me straight below the belt, there,” said Glynn.
The bistro had a distinctively different menu to his Purnell’s restaurant around the corner on Cornwall Street which he’d opened in July 2007 ahead of winning his Michelin star 18 months later in January 2009. Burgers were a speciality.
The bistro’s Facebook page had not been updated since March 1 and the place looks empty when viewed from Newhall Street.
Once Covid struck and the lease was running down, Glynn said he had regrettably decided to close it – even though the giant 103 Colmore Row tower opposite its front door is close to being completed.
“Having to close before Christmas (because of government restrictions) meant we got to the point where we decided to just let the lease run down,” said Glynn.
“The plan had been to move that business to Knowle, but we didn’t get the agreement we wanted with the landlord there.
“We kept our staff on to the end – some have moved over to Purnell’s, others have gone on to work for Amazon and Tesco.
“Suppliers and everyone got paid.”
Having started out with nothing, though… Glynn was keen to show he’s still got the fighting spirit to find new challenges ahead to inspire the next generation of hospitality workers he says should see catering as a genuine skill.
To that end he joined fellow leading chefs Aktar Islam (Opheem) and Alex Claridge (The Wilderness) at a meeting this week with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
“I think we’ll look back on this period as a kind of silly nightmare,” said Glynn.
Glynn said it was too early to reveal the details of his forthcoming plans. But he said: “(Going forwards) is all about timing and opportunity given Covid.
“We are hoping to open a tapas bar in the city centre – I’m a big believer in the city and want to be a part of it. Just can’t say where it will be yet because the deal isn’t done.
“I’m also going to running the menus at a Warwickshire pub that someone is buying. Again, we can’t say which one that is because it’s not fair to the staff working there, but that deal is almost done.
“I can’t say too much at this stage because you never want to end up with egg on your face.
Glynn said although his plan to open in Knowle had fallen through, his ideas for Coventry were still in development for “way into next year” to open at the Grade I listed Charterhouse – a former monastery – in the hope that people in Coventry would be encouraged to come to Birmingham and vice versa as both cities are “only two stops away” by train.
As for Opus closing down opposite earlier this year (they’ve since announced they will reopen in Edgbaston Village), Glynn said: “I’m a little bit sad about that.
“If anyone wants to open a restaurant there, they would be welcome but it’s a massive place – too corporate and too big for me, just not my bag. I think it will end up becoming office space.”
Brexit and Covid have provided twin challenges to the hospitality industry, but Glynn said all young people should still consider it as a career.
“I am a lot more skilled than Boris Johnson is, I would imagine,” said Glynn, now 46. “I was a little bit frustrated when he called it a ‘low-skilled job’ – I left school with no qualifications, but have got a Michelin star through skill and hard work.
“If I want to do something, I do it.
“I’ve also written five books, two children’s books and have three amazing kids and I’ve given opportunities to every person who has ever come through my doors.
“Many parents want their kids to be lawyers or accountants, but working in a restaurant is a rock ‘n’ roll industry and you should be proud of them working hard in that because it serves a great purpose.
“Politicians should never put our industry down because then you are putting people off before they’ve even started.
“The new kickstarter campaign is ideal because it will encourage young people to come into the industry by paying them for 25 hours of work per week for the first six months.
“We can bring skill levels back through colleges and on-site training.
“If you are aged 16 to 19 and haven’t got a job, or are even early 20s, then hospitality is a much better career opportunity than something like being a driver for Amazon.
“It can set you up for life, not just for 12 months – my staff are all highly skilled.
“But it’s not all about Michelin restaurants, so whether you are making sandwiches, carrying a tray, booking a hotel room or whatever, you can still be the best.”
Glynn said he was delighted by the success of newcomers to Birmingham such as Dishoom and the reopening of the Grand Hotel after 20 years which he said was “fantastic for the city.”
But when Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise was staying there at the end of August, he went to Asha’s and became “Two Tikkas Tom” after ordering a second portion of chicken tikka masala.
Why had he not been to Purnell’s where main courses currently include ‘Wiltshire Downlands neck of lamb with butter roast celeriac, green asparagus, watercress and cos lettuce’ and the tasting menu features ‘Scottish halibut with yuzu, roast almond, Mouneyrac pear, ceviche of scallop and pork cracker’?
“I’ll have to have words with anyone who does know,” said Glynn.
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“Tom probably had room service while he was in The Grand and was then probably taken to Asha’s – I’ve taken James Martin there, it’s a good restaurant.
“But why does everyone think they have to have a curry when they come to Birmingham – even though I also love curry?
“It seems that for 20 years, if anyone famous comes they are taken for a curry.
“But if Tom Cruise was staying two minutes’ walk from our restaurant, then I have to say he missed out!
“I’d have expected him to come ‘Cruising’ through the window.”
Birmingham is awash with roadworks at the moment, from the whole of Corporation Street being ripped up again for a new tram track (ditto Broad Street).
The front of Snow Hill Station has been under redevelopment now for a year and work to put paving along a short stretch of Cornwall Street between New Market Street and Newhall Street began in February and still hasn’t finished.
“I’m always a glass half full person so it will be worth it in the end,” said Glynn.
“Equally, I’ll be glad when I don’t have a concrete mixer outside that is so big it looks like it belongs with JR in Dallas.”
Busy, busy, busy – and Blues
Glynn has lost 10lbs this year by paying regular visits to city boxing trainer Jon Pegg’s Eastside gym.
“He trains me for an hour and then we talk about food and films,” he laughs.
Glynn will be attending the Solihull Food Festival alongside Ainsley Harriott on Saturday, September 25.
He will also be cooking live on TV’s Saturday Kitchen on October 16.
There will be another “collaboration dinner” with Tom Kerridge on November 20 before appearing at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC on November 26.
Before all of that Blues fan Glynn is going to a football match to watch… former Villa captain Jack Grealish play.
“I’m taking a rare Saturday afternoon off this weekend and I’d asked my eldest son Oliver where would he want to go to watch a football match.
“So he said the Etihad and, now that Manchester City have signed Jack Grealish, we’ll be watching him!
“Jack donated a shirt once when I contacted him about someone when I was doing things with Cure Leukaemia. Like me, he always tries to help people out.”
Meanwhile, another guest yet to appear at Purnell’s is new Blues’ boss Lee Bowyer and fellow Chelmsley Wood boy made good, Troy Deeney.
Glynn said: “With Lee in charge, Blues will get back on it – it’s such a shame the whole ground is not open at the moment.”
And finally, given that his latest children’s book was an anti-bullying story called Arnold The Alpaca (which keeps foxes away from predatory sheep) did Glynn have any views about the demise of Geronimo after the government said tests for TB meant he had to be put down.
Glynn said: “I don’t know all of the details, but I felt a little bit sad as with any animal being put down.”
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