After being away for most of the Christmas and New Year break and having had a surfeit of eating out, January was largely a month of cooking and eating at home. As a friend of mine, a very good cook and gourmet, once said to me: why go to the bother of going out for the evening and paying through the nose for food which is no better (often inferior, actually) than you can make at home. That is a fair point: if you can cook well and enjoy doing so, it is all the harder to find really good professional cooking that is genuinely much better. If you are having a minor treat for a special occasion or just feeling a bit lazy, then it’s a different matter, hence my recent visits to a few of the city’s less pretentious restaurants and some of the decent pubs which serve perfectly decent food. The restaurants were, indeed, not pretentious which is as well, since they had nothing to be pretentious about - but they filled a gap on a couple of occasions when I had unexpected visitors, so there are no complaints. Pub grub usually falls into the category of comfort food and that is exactly what we often want in the depths of winter when we might not be worrying too much about the calories. What can be more comforting than a glass or two of a decent beer along with a generous portion of fish and chips or a good, tasty pie?
Some months ago I wrote about an evening at The Shakespeare on Summer Row and last week I popped into one of the sister pubs, The Old Contemptibles on Livery Street – one of my longstanding favourites.
I had a dear friend visiting and additionally a colleague arrived unexpectedly from China. Well, actually, his travelling companion was refused leave to enter the country at Heathrow and sent back, but that’s an entirely different story for some other time. Often visitors from China are not happy to eat Western food – yes, I know we are expected to eat Chinese food when we go there, so why shouldn’t they – but this friend is well travelled and sophisticated. Additionally, when he was a student at BCU he was happy to explore the city’s pubs along with his currently absent colleague.
We tried different beers as accompaniments to the standard Cod and Chips, Chicken and Mushroom Pie, and Steak and Ale Pie, all suitably large. For his small stature our Chinese visitor easily scoffed the fish and chips which he pronounced Very Tasty with a smack of the lips. My Chicken and Mushroom Pie was topped with a disconcertingly large Puff Pastry which I had some difficulty dealing with using anything remotely like good table manners but it was delightfully tasty, lightly seasoned, and full of good chunks of delicious chicken. The Steak and Nicholsons Ale Pie was full of texture and taste, with a good gravy, all inside a Long Crust Pastry which was unfortunately, but not disastrously, just a bit on the soggy side.
Our beers, Acer from Bristol Beer Factory (slightly spicy with a long finish), Uncle Sam from the Cotleigh Brewery (tasty, spicy, a bit strong on the aftertaste to want a second), and our old standby Nicholsons own Pale Ale which seems to go with damned near anything, were excellent accompaniments.
So, a short notice decision to go out rather than cook at home, a wish for reasonable winter comfort eating and drinking in a pleasant and convivial atmosphere, were all suitably catered for by The Old Contemptibles. It’s hard to believe that I lived in Birmingham for more than 14 years before discovering this place. Better late than never at all…..
#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman