‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’. That’s the moral of this story. The launch of The Canal House in Birmingham was a big deal a few weeks ago. New World Trading Company, the guys behind the ever-popular Botanist in Brum, have completely revamped the former James Brindley pub and turned it into a swanky new waterside venue.
As part of the launch I was invited along with a load of other Birmingham bloggers to check it out. And no ordinary launch night either. It was set to start with a little trip on a canal boat while doing a bit of beer tasting, then arriving at The Canal House for drinks and dinner. What an invite! On top of that I could take friends too. Plans made, two pals and I prepared for an evening of fun in Brum.
And then I got on some public transport. The best laid plans hey. After leaving Rugby at 4.40pm my train tootled off towards Birmingham, before stopping at Coventry where we were told the line was closed. And so we headed back to Rugby, before swapping trains to another one that eventually started heading to Wolverhampton – via Stafford! Once we eventually arrived at Wolverhampton, it was another swap to a local train for the final leg into Brum. If you’re not too geography-savvy when it comes to the Midlands, take a look at a map and follow Rugby to Stafford to Wolverhampton to Birmingham and you’ll see why it took me THREE HOURS to get to New Street station.
All I can say is, thank god for my pals! While I was trying not to cry while squeezed into the luggage rack on board a rammed train on my merry jaunt around the Midlands, Ali and Hannah held the fort. They got themselves to The Canal House, took some marvellous pictures and managed to push our booking back until I could hot-foot it from the station to meet them. And most importantly, my gorgeous girls made sure there was one of The Canal House’s impressive cocktails waiting for me the minute I walked through the door. Friendship? That’s it, right there!
It’s a gorgeous setting, I have to say. Nestled in an area of Birmingham that I remember being a bit of a wasteland when I used to venture more regularly into Brum – somewhere in between the bustle of Brindley Place and The Mailbox, but never a destination in its own right. That whole area has been regenerated, and it’s wonderful to see a bit of love having been poured into such a historic, central building.
We may have missed the drama of the canal boat ride arriving at The Canal House but the overall impression doesn’t escape you even if you’re walking there especially if, like me, you accidentally get your taxi to take you the wrong way and end up having to run over the footbridge over the canal. Yes, more best laid plans going awry!
Inside it’s a nice mixture of traditional and modern, with one side divided into cosy little nooks and the other a bit more open. It means the space is versatile and would suit quiet meals, raucous crowds or a trio of girls having a good old catch-up and a massive de-stress (this final one I speak from personal experience!). Upstairs, though I didn’t see it, I’m assured is a rather impressive rotisserie whose results feature on the menu, and there’s also an abundance of ales if that’s your tipple. Oh, and plenty of outdoor space plus it’s DOG-FRIENDLY – always on the list for me and Mr M these days.
Thirst sated (briefly) we moved on to the food. We started with some snacks of a mini loaf (not so mini actually) with rotisserie chicken gravy and a bowl of olives to tide us over while we decided on the rest of the meal. The olives were sweet, plump and tasty and the bread was an impressive rustic-looking loaf. I’ve got to confess to thinking the gravy might have been a bit thin and insipid in appearance but oh my word, the flavour more than made up for it. A rich, deep taste of chicken perfect for soaking a chunk of bread in and devouring.
Feeling rather buoyed by the flavour-hit from the gravy, we finally made our minds up on the mains, managing to hit three different sections of the menu between us. I went for something from the rotisserie menu, choosing roast pork over chicken, lamb shoulder and duck leg. It was the description that won me over – outdoor-reared pork seasoned with garlic and rosemary sea salt with homemade honey and cider mustard, served with raw vegetable couscous salad.
I loved the idea of putting meat with a relatively light, simple side dish rather than turning it into a roast dinner, and the pork was far more tender than I expected. It was a pretty generous hunk of meat too – not necessarily gorgeous-looking on the plate but definitely a hearty portion.
Hannah went for one of The Canal House’s so-called ‘Famous hanging kebabs’ – the jerk salmon variety. As you can see, they look pretty impressive and are certainly a bit different from offerings from similar venues. However, I can’t help but think it could be a bit of a risk of style over substance. Hannah didn’t find it particularly easy to eat and wasn’t blown away either.
Alison went for something from the grill menu, choosing sea bass with fresh pink grapefruit segments, sliced avocado, basil leaves and toasted quinoa over the alternatives of burgers or a steak. Another generous portion, this picture definitely doesn’t do it justice and she said it was well cooked, with not one but two fillets of sea bass topping the pile of quinoa, avocado and grapefruit underneath.
The mains are certainly generous portions and at between £10 and £15 for the kebabs and most dishes from the grill, and £6-9 for the rotisserie dishes, they’re pretty good value. We also have to bear in mind we visited literally as the place was just opening, so certain things are bound to take some finessing. But I couldn’t help but feel slightly deflated after our main courses, especially after the promise of that gorgeous chicken gravy at the start of the night.
I’m happy to say, faith was well and truly restored with the desserts. A fairly simple list of choices, from cheese boards to grilled pineapple and classics like sticky toffee pudding, I wasn’t expecting the earth to move when it came to the final part of an already dramatic day, but blown away I was.
We had decided to share the sticky toffee pudding which came served with vanilla ice cream, as well as the baked chocolate chip cookie dough with salted caramel ice cream and toffee sauce plus a few coffees and teas to close the evening and they really were a triumph. Served in a cast iron pan, the cookie dough was an indulgent treat of moist, gooey, sweetness, warm and relaxing like the hug I needed after a helluva stressful day. It would have been enough on its own but the salted caramel ice cream brought with it that heady mix of salt and sweet, melting into the cookie dough to create the most lovely lava of melted ice cream you’ve ever seen.
The sticky toffee was nearly as good – unapologetically sweet and moist, but with more than just the empty sweetness of sugar. Something that is equally good whether devoured on a cold winter’s day, snuggling up in the warm, or doing as we did and enjoyed on a summer’s day as a much-needed hit of comfort food. Another hit. Serve them up with chunky mugs of coffee and tea that you’d enjoy at home rather than the bulk-bought catering cups you get in so many venues and you’re given exactly what a good pud should be – a relaxing round-off to your meal.
I guess our evening at The Canal House was a bit of a reflection of my day that day – a journey of highs and lows. The setting is great and it’s lovely to see an historic building being nursed into the Birmingham of 2017 rather than neglected as a relic of the past. The concept is well-executed and the cocktails good, and for the most part the food is an enjoyable experience.
From the main courses I had expected slightly more, but it would be unfair not to give credit for the glimmers of greatness I saw on a night that is so early in the life of The Canal House that it would be unfair to hold any kind of grudge. I’d definitely go back once things have calmed down – even if just for that cookie dough.
I was invited to The Canal House along with two friends. Our meals and drinks were complimentary. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review and, as ever, this post is a reflection of my own experience.
Check out some of the other Brum Bloggers’ reviews of The Canal House below:-