I’m not really a beer drinker, so when places promise a variety of ales, it doesn’t really get the juices flowing, so to speak. But good food? As you know, I’m there like a shot. Lucky for Birmingham (and me), Purecraft Bar and Kitchen has both.
As a cub reporter on the Alcester Chronicle newspaper, I remember going out to visit a little brewery that was setting up in Great Alne, near Alcester. They had big dreams then, and I was excited to be writing about this ambitious business in my sleepy little patch.
That was in 2005 and little did I know that a decade later you’d be able to get Purity beers everywhere you go. Even less likely was the idea that they’d team up with chef Andreas Antona – the man behind Simpsons – and former Mitchells & Butlers operations director Martin Hilton to open a place that not only served their beer but did great food too. No wonder it’s a success.
As usual, I was late to discover quite how good it is (Purecraft opened in 2014) and in fact, this review is rather overdue. So overdue, in fact, that some of the items aren’t on the menu at the moment. Nevertheless, I’m sure they’ll give you an idea of the standard of scran you can get here.
Right on the edge of Victoria Square, next to Nosh & Quaff, its interior is pretty industrial, as is de rigueur these days. The long bar with all sorts of barrels of interesting ales oozes ‘pub’, as do the long tables and benches crammed with the after-work drinking crowd. But then there’s the slightly quieter seating at the back, and the open kitchen, that reminds you that this is a place that takes food pretty seriously.
I took my mum with me and as we were taken to our table, we were a bit concerned that we’d feel a overwhelmed by the drinkers enjoying their post-work bevvies from the huge selection of beers on offer, both on tap and by the bottle, but by the time we’d ordered it had soon quietened down and made for a casual, relaxing place to enjoy a bite to eat and a catch-up.
The menu has a selection of small plates and sharers and large plates, many of them with quite a retro feel. For starter we opted to share UBU rarebit on sourdough with fried duck egg. UBU is one of Purity’s original ales, so I guess it’s a ‘must-try’, even if you balk at the idea of beer in food, like mum does.
It came served in a skillet (there’s a fair bit of ironmongery in lieu of crockery here) but in contrast to its heavy-duty receptacle, the dish itself was light and delicate, a square of sourdough toast with tangy topping, and a neat, perfectly circular fried duck egg, complete with oozy yolk. And, much to mother’s delight, no overwhelming taste of beer.
For main course I chose sea trout and clams in a butter sauce. Wow. I’m a fish lover and while I enjoy trout, I’ve never had sea trout, and certainly wasn’t expecting the huge slab of delicate fish, adorned with clams like jewels on a crown, with a pool of rich smooth butter sauce that enhanced the flavour of the fish. I expected good food, but this really was excellent.
It only occurred to me halfway through that I might have made the chef slightly concerned if he’d misinterpreted my strange gestures and expressions as displeasure or criticism. No, this was just a serious face for seriously good food. What a refreshing change to have a dish that’s not only a bit of a break from the norm, but excellently cooked and beautifully presented.
Ever one to test her fellow mere mortals, mother chose the chicken kiev. “If they can do this well, then they really are good,” she declared.
This picture doesn’t really do it justice, I have to say. Moist, tender chicken, covered in crispy, golden breadcrumbs. And that first cut into it? A lava flow of hot, garlicky, herby butter. It was served with refreshingly simple accompaniments of green salad and fries.
And so to dessert. Still basking in the success of our main course choices (as if it was us who deserved the credit for choosing well and not the guys who created it), we couldn’t help but stick on the slightly retro theme set by the kiev, plus mum reckoned it would be another skill test for the kitchen. Baked Alaska may once have been relegated to the annals of 70s dinner party history, but this version had been resurrected as its younger, more refined, and far cooler descendant.
Served in a skillet again, it was cherry-fied with kriek (cherry beer, which I’m actually rather partial to), with the perfect contrast of a cold inside wrapped in a light meringue blanket, baked just right to give it a light, crisp, golden outer shell. I suppose some people might find it a bit sweet, but for me it was perfect. Not sure I could’ve managed a whole one to myself though.
The service was efficient but unfussy (in a good way) throughout the meal, and we enjoyed the bar/pub/restaurant hybrid that Purecraft offers. It’s a great place for a reasonably priced meal in the city centre. If you like beer, it seems they pair craft ales with specials, which sounds pretty interesting, and if you really love it, there’s a tasting room downstairs where you can enjoy all sorts of events.
I’ve since been back for the odd drink (yes, even a beer on the odd occasion) and one of its famous scotch eggs. You can bar snacks from homemade pork scratchings to UBU glazed pork pies and, indeed, scotch egg with beer ketchup. I know I’m not the only one who thinks they’ve got these just right – tangy sausage meat, oozy egg.
Purecraft is a real triumph, it’s not often places can combine a watering hole with a decent restaurant, at reasonable prices with an atmosphere that fits both as they’ve done here. Purecraft is definitely no longer the new kid on the block, and I’m fairly sure it’s here to stay.
I visited Purecraft in my role as a judge for the Great Food Club Awards 2015. GFC reimbursed me for my meal, but I paid for mum’s. Nobody at Purecraft knew why I was there.