Resorts World is somewhere that people seem to overlook all too often. For us lot in Rugby, it’s actually closer than going all the way into Birmingham City Centre so makes sense if you’re looking for somewhere different but easy to get to by train.
If you haven’t heard of Resorts World or been, it’s right next door to the NEC and Resorts World Arena and that Bear Grylls thing that looks pretty good fun. It’s got a load of shops there plus a cinema and also a fair few restaurants. A fair few are chains, though all absolutely fine for a bite to eat after a shopping session or fun at the NEC, or a pre-gig meal.
However, if it’s something a bit more swanky that you fancy, you might want to head up to the fifth floor to Sky by the Water. When Resorts World first opened this wasn’t here – it was just the Sky Bar – but now it’s a rooftop bar as well as restaurant, making it a good choice for a nice meal and some drinks.
We headed here for a belated birthday dinner for Jamie after a long day wandering round the NEC looking at motorhomes we couldn’t afford. They were endlessly accommodating when I was booking as I wanted to take a look at Sky by the Water’s ‘Secret Garden’ – a collection of cosy pods out on the terrace that give it another little bit of ‘difference’ for a special occasion.
It turns out the bar itself is pretty beautiful anyway, done out in a swish style with an impressive lighting set-up. The menu from head chef Aaaron Darnley is described as offering a twist on classic British and French cooking, while the pastry team is headed by Darryl Collins, who was a finalist on Bake Off: The Professionals in 2018. All very promising…..
We started with cocktails ordered at the bar and taken out into the secret garden – a great experience if you haven’t sat in one of those pod thingies before. The short walk out to them serves to up the anticipation and they’re a cosy way to start your night thanks to plenty of blankets and cushions.
You are, however, slightly deprived of the lovely view from the booths in the main bar areas, so you’re not missing out if you don’t manage to get a pod.
Enough of all the interiors stuff, let’s get onto the food. The menu is pretty strong for a restaurant pitched at this level. It’s got a varied selection without being worryingly extensive, the dishes balance classic flavours and combinations with a clear element of ambition and desire to stand apart from the chains downstairs, and there’s a welcome range of hefty, filling meals with lighter options.
My brother and his wife both opted for the grilled mackerel with beetroot and horseradish cream and watercress. Probably the prettiest of all the starters and certainly a dish that seemed to illustrate the bar that SBTW is trying to set. Perfectly-cooked mackerel, artfully arranged with the beetroot and emphasised by the heat of the horseradish and peppery watercress – neither of which overwhelmed it. Great execution.
Jamie opted for chicken and duck liver parfait with onion chutney and fruit granola. Another classic that you might find in a more simplistic format on most pub menus yet far superior. Mr M was just grateful that we still had some of the bread that had come before the starters to smear his sexy, moussey parfait over.
I in the meantime chose a mushroom risotto – of which the photo has mysteriously disappeared – and boy am I glad I did. Mushroom risotto ‘laced with truffle oil’ is something turned out badly by kitchens across the country, the oil used as some kind of mask of bad cooking, lack of flavour and awful consistency.
Not this one. The rice itself was al dente – no Ambrosia rice pudding feel here. The flavour was far beyond the one-dimensional taste you get from those pub microwaves attempts at risotto and the extra lip-smacking bite from the ‘Italian hard cheese’ advertised on the menu (at least they’re honest and don’t pretend it’s Parmesan when it’s not) made it even more moreish.
Suitably impressed and well lubricated by a bottle of red on top of the cocktails we’d started with, we moved on to the main courses. Again, the menu is a varied choice of classics but all with a little extra ‘something’. Sea bass, hake, pork belly, corn-fed chicken breast, and a few sexy steak dishes. In other words, something for everyone and something for every mood.
Whilst I was tempted by the duo of Scottish beef – slow-cooked shin and fillet with a barbecue jus – I went for a lighter choice of duck breast served pink with pak choi, beansprouts and sesame seeds. Nicely-cooked duck, simple veg, and an Asian-style jus and the nice touch of a little spring roll perched on top.
I like the fact that some of the mains at Sky by the Water don’t come piled high with chips, potatoes or other carb-filled accompaniments. I could have ordered something additional if I’d liked, but opted not to, instead waiting to steal everyone else’s chips. Probably something very personal to me, but it’s nice to be able to control quite how indulgent you’re going to be and not run the gauntlet of wasting half a plate of food when you don’t fancy gorging yourself.
The others all opted for a simple fillet of Scottish beef with traditional garnish. Probably the dish least able to show the kitchen’s ambition and skill, though of course you could argue that there are as many people who cook a steak badly as places that turn out crap risotto.
Again, not here. The steaks were all cooked right, seasoned well and apparently rested properly too. The sauces with them were a great addition but it was the chips that won. I’ll go as far as to say they were some of the best chips I’ve had in years. So much so that I’m fairly sure I ate two portions single-handedly, dipped in the silky Stilton sauce Jamie had ordered with his steak.
Given that Sky by the Water boasts a top-notch pastry chef, by rights we really should have tried his wares but we just couldn’t manage it. The temptation was there, from a strawberry and cream petit gateau to salted caramel millionaire’s tart with malted milk ice cream and passionfruit cheesecake, but we were full. One for next time perhaps.
Instead we stayed for a final after-dinner cocktail which weren’t brilliant, but we’re putting that down to the fact our barman was clearly learning and a bit rattled. Definitely nothing to put me off and hey, we all start somewhere.
Needless to say, Sky by the Water was a great experience – much better than I’d even thought it might be actually. Of course, there are some better restaurants in the Midlands and the centre of Birmingham but this really is a great asset for Resorts World. The food is good – imaginative and ambitious, well-executed and yet still classic – while the setting is stunning, the drinks range good and the service well-done too.
It’s the whole package, and it’s somewhere that’s nice and easy to get to in a place that decades ago used to be devoid of anywhere to go before or after an event on the same site. That said, it’s not just a place to wait until it’s convenient to go to and you’d be missing a trick if you didn’t plan a trip to Resorts World to give it a go. I know I’ll be heading back – I need my dessert!
We paid in full at Sky by the Water. They didn’t know I was a blogger.