I don’t think I have ever left a restaurant feeling like this…
Early on a Friday evening in December I departed Upstairs with a full belly and the knowledge I’d just experienced something totally remarkable.
Born in Sutton Coldfield (my hometown) chef Tom Shepherd’s dream was to open his own restaurant. Working at various Michelin-starred eateries including Adams, Restaurant Sat Bains and The Latymer, Tom was more than capable of doing this. He chose Lichfield and a modest, first-floor space just above his father’s jewellery shop.
Upstairs opened in October 2021 and I was booked in to go on two occasions but sadly had to cancel. I thought I’ll leave it for a while…no biggy, I’ll get in. Well, what an absolute prat I was! Four months later Upstairs was awarded a Michelin star and became the only restaurant in Staffordshire to boast the accolade. So, of course, everyone went crazy for it and Upstairs was now booked up for most of the year. I tried each time they announced new bookings, but to no avail, until one evening when they announced on social media they had a cancellation. This was my opportunity, I went to the website and booked my spot then waited desperately for the booking confirmation email. It came – I was finally in!
Josie and I arrived for our 1pm booking and received a warm welcome, we couldn’t hold back our excitement and I think the first thing I blurted out was “I have waited a long-time for this, I’m so happy”. The restaurant is pretty neat. They have the kitchen in the round where you can watch Tom’s team work their magic, a chef’s table and bar to the side, and dining tables surrounding. We immediately felt settled and cosy.
The restaurant manager Anthony introduced himself and talked us through the food options. Anthony was fantastic, so lovely and I loved we could have a little laugh with him now and again! We decided to go for the lunchtime menu that consists of four courses plus three snack dishes (£50). We did have the choice to go for the dinner menu however, I have booked in again for May so will try that one then! The drinks menu was pretty impressive with a great selection of cocktails, wine and if you’re not a drinker; mocktails and soft drinks. The Peach Mizuwari cocktail took my fancy straight away – Peach Wine with Yuzushu Sake, London Essence Peach & Jasmine Soda with Lemon twist – light, refreshing and absolutely gorgeous – It could possibly be my go-to cocktail.
“Are you ready to start?” Absolutely yes! Service is sharp yet not overbearing, we were given enough time between each course to prepare ourselves for the next. To begin, crackers and a taramasalata-style dip which was a light and delicious introduction, too delicious as I found myself scooping every inch of that dip up, is it bad to lick a bowl clean in a Michelin starred restaurant? Sod it, I did it anyway.
If I thought that was delicious, next up was the croustade – Oh…my…CRAB. Filled with crab meat, this little tinker was incredible. The flavours were popping off in my mouth like it was the 5th November, it was a powerful morsel of culinary genius! If only, I could have a pack of 50 to take home and devour whilst watching The Real Housewives.
The last snack was the Parker House Roll served with their own cultured butters (2.5% Maldon Salt and beurre noisette butter). Now I am a complete bread snob, I get it from my Mother and the problem is…I have a yeast intolerance, so my belly blows up like a puffer fish. This was worth the aftermath because it was beautiful! Not too heavy, fluffy on the inside and I held on to a good couple of pieces to accompany the next dishes.
The first course “Cauliflower” was all kinds of smokey goodness, dressed in a gorgeous nutty yet sweet sauce with Maitake mushrooms. The second course was the plaice with a Champagne velouté sauce with leek and dill. The plaice had a gorgeous golden caramel crisp texture to it and as I cut into the fish it was gleaming white and just fell apart. Combined with the sauce it melted in my mouth like butter, it was absolutely sensational.
The third dish was the Wooley Park farm pork and for me, this was the showstopper of the evening. Pork is my least favourite meat so it’s clear that I have never had any of the good stuff before. Delicate, succulent, cut into beautifully – I was completely in awe of this dish.
Before our final dish came, Tom wanted us to try his Thai green curry pre-dessert palette cleanser that I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure about. However, one mouthful of fiery spice followed by pops of sweetness, I was hooked. A really clever dish that serves as a reminder to not knock something before you try it.
Another lovely surprise was that Tom delivered our next course, the eclair, and added an extra dessert for us to try which was the Araguani chocolate sweet dessert. Araguani chocolate, crème fraiche, pecan, caramel and sherry filling was utterly gorgeous, loved the hidden surprise in the middle! The éclair was filled with pink lady apples, covered in a rich butterscotch sauce and served alongside buttermilk ice cream, it was delightful and such a wonderful dish to end a perfect meal.
Throughout our meal we felt staff were continuously accommodating and described the dishes perfectly. We were always checked on, to see if we needed more drinks and so on. I noticed that most of the staff were quite young and it’s great to see Tom taking in and training up the next generation of chefs. I am sure many have a bright future after tasting their food.
After dinner Tom showed us his future plans for the restaurant and it was exciting to see all the work taking place behind the scenes. after all the success and media covering this restaurant, it’s great to see that Tom is just a normal guy behind it all. It’s truly inspiring and I think we owe Tom a lot of credit for playing a big part in raising the flag for the North of Birmingham and shining the light on Lichfield again.Taking on board customer feedback and continuing to adapt is a massive part of the Upstairs ethos. It was clear from my conversation with Tom every customer matters and there is always room to learn and improve. This is no doubt part of the success of the restaurant and will ensure its future stays bright.
I left feeling inspired by Tom’s story. As ever he remains humble about the Michelin star but to receive a flawless dining experience and that feeling that I can achieve anything is really remarkable after one visit to a restaurant. I loved every second of Upstairs from the build-up of excitement as I sat down, to witnessing the quality and attention to detail that goes to into each dish, as well as Tom’s passion not only for his craft but for an environment where anyone stepping through his door is treated like a family member or friend. I totally get why he has so many repeat customers and am certain I’ll be one of them.
A big thank you to Tom and the team for the memorable experience and an even bigger thank you to the table that cancelled that lunchtime.
Me not wanting to leave….