Knife & Fork: Pub Grub

In my recent piece on Frieze Art Fair in London I wrote about eating at a decent gastro pub in Camden – The Colonel Fawcett - and I thought it might be worth mentioning some of the decent examples of pub grub that we have in Birmingham. Dining out is not always about the big culinary experience, after all, and often enough I am happy to eat simple, honest food in congenial pub surroundings.

I used to eat occasionally at The Old Contemptibles on the corner of Edmund Street and Livery Street. This is one of Mitchell and Butlers’ Nicholson’s branded houses and always has a decent selection of cask ales. I have been going there for a few years now but I didn’t frequent it before the makeover some years ago so cannot be sure how much the interior and ambience might have changed from the original. It is certainly a congenial place to have a beer. The eating area is to one side, with plenty of space for comfortable dining. The menu is reasonable and the service usually cheery and friendly.

Last week, on the way to the cinema, I popped into the Shakespeare on the corner of Summer Row,  another of the Nicholson branded pubs. Others in the group are Bacchus Bar in the basement of the Burlington Hotel in New Street and, confusingly, another Shakespeare in Lower Temple Street. Pubs can change a lot in relatively short periods as managers and staff move on and are replaced and it had been about six years since my last visit to this Shakespeare. I was not, however, disappointed. The pub décor seems not to have changed in aeons (which is good in my book) and there was a decent selection of beer which was well-kept and tasty.

The food menu had a reasonable variety of good plain dishes and I opted for the “famous” fish and chips, my companion for the evening taking the steak and pale ale pie. Both were tasty, well cooked, well presented and just hearty enough to prepare us for a screening of Guillermo del Toro’s utterly bonkers Crimson Peak which is as great a load of old tosh as I’ve seen in a long time (by which I mean that I enjoyed it immensely). I had no complaints about the cod which was cooked well without too much heavy batter and almost perfect chips. The flesh was meaty and well textured as you would expect yet quite delicate in flavour. My companion left some of the short crust pastry of the pie which was a bit on the doughy side, but not a disaster. The meat inside was delicious, apparently. We drank some of the Nicholson’s Pale Ale, Redemption Brewery’s Rising sun, and Cross the Line: perfect accompaniments.

So this is not a place with pretensions to be a gastro pub but it does offer good food and drink at reasonable prices which set you up for the evening. Having recently downloaded the Nicholson’s Hop Circle app, I was looking forward to using it for the first time in order to claim my 25 pence per pint discount. Imagine my surprise when I realised that my lovely friend had quietly paid the bill. Another time, then….

On the way home we had a beer in The Queens Arms on Newhall St, one of those old bars which seem to have become more friendly in recent years without losing too much in the way of original features. There’s no food that I am aware of but it offers a decent pint and a friendly atmosphere.

Another bar offering food which is worth trying is The Old Joint Stock, which I find a bit too packed and noisy to consider the food as anything other than fuel for the engine, but which nevertheless has some great Fullers ales to taste.

In the Jewellery Quarter The Rose Villa Tavern (aka the School of Jewellery Common Room) in its most recent makeover offers surprisingly decent food, and there are others such as The Lord Clifden and The Church, both on Great Hampton St, where I have drunk good beer but not yet tried the food, which I am told is pretty good in both. One informant tells me that The Hen and Chickens, further down Great Hampton St towards the city centre, which from outside looks less than inviting, frankly, does excellent curries and just has to be sampled. So there are three for my list.

If you venture out to Aston (oh go on, be brave, it’s not that frightening) The Bartons Arms just has to be visited if only for its architecture and interior design. It is simply magnificent and I understand that on certain evenings there are official tours of the building followed by food and drink. The wonderful, and almost surreal, surprise here is the restaurant which offers pretty damned good Thai food. I went there a few months ago, had an excellent and ridiculously inexpensive meal, wrote a review, asked the manager for a little more information about the recent history and a few jpegs – and received nothing, even after a couple of prompts. So, no full review, folks! But go anyway: you will almost certainly love it.

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman

@BrumFaves