Isn’t it weird how once Christmas passes, it suddenly feels like anything before it was a MILLION YEARS AGO? I’m only writing this two weeks after my festive visit to Bar + Block in Birmingham with my pal but it feels like a long old time ago.
When Bar + Block, Beefeater’s slightly more high-end relatively, first opened last year in Birmingham, I found myself pleasantly surprised. We visited with friends and the atmosphere was fun, the steak good and the wine flowing fast. So when I was invited to return I thought it would be the perfect place for a pre-Crimble catch-up with my girlfriends.
Sadly, before we even started it seemed Scrooge had got ahold of our little night out, striking one pal down with illness and the other with a hangover so bad that she refused to let another drop of alcohol pass her lips. Not one to be beaten, I forged ahead and quaffed bubbles as she nursed her sore head with the most hangover-friendly dishes she could find on the menu.
Not much had changed interior-wise since we last visited, apart from the addition of Christmas decorations and a helluva lot of Christmas jumpers and festive fun. But a quick glance at the menu and there were a few new additions to check out. The steaks are all still there, though I was disappointed to find a few missing on the night we visited, including one of the new cuts, but decided not to be too judgmental as it’s clearly a tough time of year.
To start, I opted for another new dish on the menu – Asian Crispy Beef. Yes, Asian food aficionados, I’m sure you’ll tell me this isn’t Asian, it isn’t authentic, and I’m a heathen for eating it. I don’t care, because I enjoyed every sticky mouthful of the thin shreds of crispy fried beef in hoisin sauce, and every little crunch of cucumber and spring onion, as well as every little gem of sweet warmth from the red chilli. It far surpassed my expectations and I was buoyed for the main course.
Hannah and her hangover opted for mac and cheese bites – a bowl of simple spheres of mac and cheese coated in breadcrumbs and, of course, deep friend. Because what else would you need when you feel awful after a night on the pop?
She followed this with another trip to the deep fat fryer (not personally of course), and went for one of the three ‘fish and veg’ dishes on the menu – beer-battered cod. It certainly looked as good as any pub fish and chips I’ve seen, served with triple cooked chunky chips that I can vouch for after finishing them off for her, minted mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce.
The fish was good, she said, and everything battered cod should be. Well cooked fish, light crispy batter, and it certainly wasn’t a mean portion, so all good there.
With my steak of choice missing, I decided to try another new item on the menu and went for the slow cooked beef rib. It sounded amazing – served with thyme sauteed potatoes, garlic spinach and a rich Malbec sauce. What is there not to like on a cold December night, as snowflakes started to fall outside (they really did) and the sea of Christmas jumpers broke into song. It’s the perfect winter dish and, my husband will agree, the perfect dish for me.
The problem is, whenever you let your expectations go sky-high, you run the risk of being disappointed and I was left feeling a bit bereft after my meal. It contained all the elements it promised. An impressive beef rib, slow cooked and nice and tender. It was perched on a pile of sauteed potatoes and covered in a load of spinach (one of my favourite foods, much to Mr M’s consternation). But it somehow just didn’t quite hit the spot.
I expected the whole dish to be tied together with a steaming hot, unctuous, deeply-flavoured Malbec sauce, and instead it was served with a gravy that just didn’t seem to pack the heavyweight punch that the menu promised and that really is needed to stand up to a big badass beef rib like that. It was like it had all the makings of a real winner but maybe was just off form on the day we went. Luckily for me, Hannah left a bit of her fish and chips and I finished the main on a high by snaffling her sloppy seconds.
For pudding I carried on my quest to explore all of Bar + Block’s new menu options and chose Toffee Apple Cheesecake, which was an enjoyable end to the meal. Indulgent cheesecake topped with salted toffee apples and a shortcake oat crumble to add a bit of crunch, plus the piece de resistance, a pot of warm toffee sauce to drown it in, adding the final nail in the coffin of a sugar high that’s just right to get me all the way from New Street back to Rugby on the train.
Hannah, unable to face sugar, decided on some cheese and had a simple selection of Cheddar, Brie and Stilton with crackers etc to nibble on. Nothing to write home about, but a nice alternative to a saccharine sweet pudding.
Despite valiantly fighting through the evening, we decided that enough was enough and we should both head home to bed. I’ve got to say, I left with mixed feelings. I still like the ambience, it’s fun and easy, which may not be for all, but is great for many, certainly at stressful times of year. I also loved my starter, but my main just didn’t hit the spot and I left feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Maybe it was a tough time of year, maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe I had a case of Bah Humbugs, though I’m not sure it was that, but next time I think I’ll stick with a steak and try to recreate my first experience rather than my second.
I was invited for a complimentary meal at Bar + Block to try the new menu.