Monday, 11 April 2016
When the press release went out about the new concept from Beefeater, I'm sure I wasn't alone in rolling my eyes a little. Bar + Block at Birmingham Premier Inn is the very first of its kind in the country. It's supposed to be the hip, modern city-dwelling younger sister of the Beefeater brand, hoping to grab the after work crowd as well as the hotel guests.
I wasn't particularly excited when I read about it- there's a focus on steak and I'm not fussed about steak. But when I looked at the menu there were so many things that sounded just so yummy- beef dripping chips! Tabasco and raspberry chicken wings! And then positive reports started rolling in about the place. I heard that they did a great express lunch and that they'd made great use of the space.
So I was feeling pretty positive as I headed to my Thursday evening booking. The restaurant is at the bottom of the Premier Inn on Waterloo Street, near the Cathedral. First impressions were of how airy and open the place felt. Yes it has the obligatory exposed pipes, brickwork and wood. But it didn't feel too trendy. Any visitor to the hotel would be happy there.
We waited at the front desk where they took us over to our table- a booth next to the window. We were given a tub of what is some of the best popcorn I have ever eaten. Beef dripping popcorn. Not only was it a nice touch, served in a cute little tub, it was also delicious. I feel sad that I can't eat it right now.
There's a rather tiny cocktail section on the menu, with lots more beers and wines. This is sensible really, as I'm bored of seeing a giant cocktail menu in places that don't specialise in them- they're always rather sweet and fruity and not very good. Bar+Block have sensibly stuck to a few classics such as the Aperol Spritz (£6.99) which is what I chose to drink throughout my meal. I love an Aperol Spritz- it's long, refreshing, you can still taste the booze and it takes me back to last summer in Italy.
On the back of the menu, there are helpful diagrams and descriptions of the cuts of steak available, with suggestions of how to have them cooked and what to have with them. As I said, I'm not really a steak person so I found this really useful.
Starters first. I wanted Tabasco and raspberry chicken wings but they were in the sharer section so I was concerned it would be too much. Our very lovely waitress advised me that 6 would be absolutely fine as a starter and she was right.
The wings (£5.95 for 6) had been daintily prepared in a French trim style, the end of the bone exposed for you to hold like a lollipop. Despite being smaller wings, there was plenty of tender meat on each one. They didn't have the crunch that I like, but I wouldn't expect that really. They'd been generously coated in the Tabasco and raspberry sauce, which was splendid. The sweet, sharp raspberry wasn't immediately obvious but left a lovely taste in the mouth. I would have preferred a greater hit of Tabasco but then I do like a hot sauce. I loved the addition of the chopped spring onions, and the sour cream dip was fresh and creamy though I didn't eat too much of it as there wasn't a lot of heat to cool down.
Good, solid wings and I'd happily order them again.
Edd chose the Beef Empanadas (£5.95) which he described as being a fancy Cornish pasty. I suppose that's what they are! Neither of us have tried Empanadas before so can't compare to a traditional one. Pastry was filled with lightly spiced beef mince. I liked the beef but found it too pastry-heavy.
The salsa though- so lovely to have it freshly prepared.
Onto the steak. I know I've said numerous times that I'M NOT A STEAK PERSON and yet here I am with a steak. I'd been swayed by the garlic prawn topper and beef dripping chips.
I chose the 8oz sirloin (£15.95) with the prawn topper (£2.95). I asked for it medium but it was a little pinker than I would have expected. Saying that, I'm glad it was because it was delicious as it was. The steak had been brushed with a delicious herby butter. The prawns were a little soggy due to resting on the steak but they oozed with flavour.
The beef dripping chips were as good as you can imagine.
Edd had the fancy sprial cut steak, which is the most expensive at £24.50. It's a long cut of fillet steak, which is then marinaded in garlic and parsley. Edd said it was a very good piece of meat for the price, melted in the mouth and he enjoyed the marinade. I think the addition of the marinade on the steaks makes it a bit different, especially for people like me who can find steak dull- this wasn't dull.
Onto desserts and this is where Bar + Block goes into standard pub territory. Edd chose a Limoncello Tart (£5.50). The tart was pleasant enough but the pastry wasn't crispy enough to make it stand out. The lemon curd sorbet was sweet and sharp though.
I ordered the Black Forest Sundae (£5.95) because I fancied a creamy oozy mess. I liked the addition of the cherries and custard but the presentation was a bit weird. It was in a bowl rather than a tall glass like you would expect, so I had to eat through loads of rather bland ice cream before I got to the brownies. Personally I would prefer a tall glass layered up with brownies, ice cream, cherries and custard. There's something pleasing about it and sadly this one didn't quite match my hopes.
So- go for the wings, the beef dripping popcorn and chips and try a topper for your steak. I've heard positive reports about the chocolate toffee sharer pudding so maybe give that a go.
I like that Beefeater are doing something modern and different (for them) and putting the effort in to make it genuinely good. A shout out to the super friendly but not over bearing service too. I'll be back for the popcorn and 12 wings!
Bar+Block, Waterloo St
Photos by myself and Edd.
Our meal was complimentary in return for an honest review.