I know, I know. My last Beefeater trip didn’t leave me wonderfully impressed, so why would I do it again? Glutton for punishment? Just a glutton? I’m not sure, but when I was asked if I wanted to try the chain’s newest creation, a slightly higher end steak-focused restaurant dubbed Beefeater Bar + Block, I agreed.
And you know what? I’m rather glad I did. Because once you get past any preconceptions you have about its links to family-friendly pubs serving average steaks and Sunday carveries, you’ll see that Beefeater Bar + Block is a whole different beast. A vibrant, fun restaurant, serving decent food by staff who – in my experience anyway – know how to do things right to give you a great time.
On Waterloo Street, Bar + Block’s snagged itself a good spot near the likes of San Carlo, Fumo, Cosy Club and the Lost and Found. The only thing that gives away that this is any connection to the Beefeater chain is the name above the door (which, to be fair, is quite prominent).
Once inside, you could be in any trendy new eaterie. The theme is steak, so there’s plenty of bovine-inspired decor, from the neon cow with different cuts outlined, to the modern art bull on another wall. Oh, and if you didn’t work it out already, this post is going to be full of meat. You’ve been warned!
We went on a Friday night to find it abuzz with diners as well as post-work drinkers. Bar + Block is pretty big, meaning it can accommodate drinkers at the bar without them interfering with diners in either the booths along the front of the restaurant or the tables elsewhere.
Jamie and I had taken some meat-loving friends with us (the ones we pigged out at Meatopia in September) so the four of us settled into a booth for an evening of (hopefully decent) steak and wine.
Maybe we got the best staff because they knew I was writing a blog. Maybe we just struck lucky. Or maybe all their staff are this good. Again, I’m not sure of the answer, but what I do know is that the duty manager who escorted us to our table and gave us the initial preamble and the waitress who attended to us all evening were both spot on. Polite and friendly, a good knowledge of the menu, and the right balance of fun and efficiency.
Is this all that important? Yes, because it’s often the service, or lack of, that can make or break your evening. It’s not good having amazing food if you feel uncomfortable, annoyed, or have to wait an hour for your meal.
And equally, even if your food isn’t that great or mistakes are made (which definitely wasn’t the case here, I must add), decent service can often go a long way to fixing things, and at least making sure you won’t write off a return visit.
Happy to be guided by those in the know, we ordered a couple of bottles of Malbec to help us through the decision-making process (something we all know I find particularly hard when it comes to food).
We also got to try some of the beef dripping popcorn. One word – fab. I’d seen someone had posted about this stuff on social media and was a bit sceptical. I mean, how great can popcorn be? Turns out it can be seriously good, filled with a deep beefy smell as well as taste. The perfect start to a meat-filled evening.
To start, we decided on some of Bar + Block’s sharers. Despite the impending steak-out, we seemed unable to avoid even more meat and opted for a stonebaked flatbread topped with sliced seared steak, cheddar cheese, sweet red onion marmalade, chargrilled red peppers and watercress.
I wasn’t blown away by its appearance when it first arrived but I’ve got to confess, it was pretty blimin nice. Light, thin, slightly crispy dough, with just the right amount of topping. The seared steak was done just right, still soft and pink, the red peppers and red onion marmalade added the sweet, the cheddar the salt, and the watercress a bit of fire. Simple, but effective – a theme that continued throughout the night.
Our other starter, another sharer, was the ‘salt beef block’. You don’t see salt beef up for grabs in many places, so we were all keen to try. Ironically, none of us read the menu properly and were expecting a literal ‘block’. Completely our fault – it quite clearly says on the menu that it’s thinly sliced salt beef with marinated dill pickles, chargrilled red peppers, piccalilli, crusty bread and mustard.
Again, a simple but effective way to get the tastebuds warmed up. The beef was super tender and while it didn’t seem to be a large portion at first, you didn’t need much, especially after you’ve stacked it up on bread with a pickle and some piccallili.
And so to the main event. We’d already been told by our waitress that Bar + Block gets all of its steaks from South America – Argentina and Uruguay apparently. They’re all aged for a minimum of 28 days and hand cut. You know the drill, you’ve heard it before in most places that do steak and want to show you they know what they’re doing. The question is, would they taste like they’d been given the special treatment they’ve apparently had?
Obviously there’s a bunch of different cuts available, from the bogstandard sirloin, ribeye and fillet to the slightly different ‘spiral cut fillet’. There’s also the ‘Butcher’s Block’ – basically an ever-changing special of the day.
I was tempted by the spiral cut fillet, just because it’s different, but decided to go simple and try the 8oz sirloin. It came simply, on the plate with my pot of beef dripping chunky chips on the side and a little heap of samphire. Yes, samphire – usually served with fish but, it turns out, a rather good accompaniment to meat as well.
Jamie had the 10oz ribeye, of course. Obviously he was wonderfully pleased that despite his promise a while ago at the Star & Garter in Leamington to order more adventurously than steak, this was a night where he could pick his favourite with no recrimination whatsoever. Again, his came simply in the same format as mine and, again, was perfectly cooked just how he’d ordered.
Our friend tried a fillet and also went for one of Bar + Block’s ‘toppers’ – cheese and herb-topped mushroom. It certainly looked good – a big fat chunk of steak piled up with soft cheesy mushrooms on top.
In case we hadn’t got enough, we decided to try the onion rings fried in buttermilk. Forget those crappy frozen breadcrumbed things that turn into rings of crunchy nothingness after they’ve been deep fried. These were real rings of onion encased in a light crispy batter.
We also splashed out and had all six sauces that you can get with your steak. It’s not actually quite as extravagant as it might sound – at £1.50 each, but all six for £6, it’s actually a bit of a no-brainer.
They included Bar + Block’s ‘B’ sauce, an almost-black spicy sauce that on its own was a bit too intense for me (yep, even some things beat me). I preferred the aromatic bearnaise, while Mr M polished off the pot of blue cheese sauce single-handedly.
Other choices were chimichurri, trio of peppercorn, and creamy mushroom, all very nice and brilliant for dipping the fat beef dripping chips in.
The steaks were great. Each was good quality, cooked exactly as we asked, presented simply yet simultaneously impressive in its own right. The fillet was thick and beautifully tender, my sirloin was packed with flavour, and Mr M’s ribeye had all of the lovely marbly fat that makes it his fave. Yet none of these were the winning dish of the evening (in my view anyway).
That title went to something a bit different. On the night we went to Bar + Block the ‘butcher’s block’ of the night was brisket that had been slow-cooked in ‘B’ sauce and was served in thick slabs with chimichurri and samphire.
Now, I’ve had brisket before. You go to things like Meatopia and Grillstock and it’s everywhere. But I have never, ever, had brisket as tender and tasty as this. The slices of meat literally melted in your mouth, infused with the spiciness of the B sauce that added an intense tongue-tingling amount of flavour without the slightly overwhelming effect it had when concentrated as a steak sauce.
I know I rave about food I like, but this wasn’t just me. Everyone agreed that the brisket was fabulous. If all the butcher’s block dishes turn out to be this good, it’s going to be tempting to revisit Bar + Block far more regularly than is healthy.
We should have stopped there. We really, really should have done. We were full, and pleasantly full for once. We could have just enjoyed the atmosphere and enjoyed the rest of our Malbec while we raved about the meal we’d just devoured and allowed our meat to digest. We could’ve done that, but we didn’t. Instead, we made the mistake of ‘having a look’ at the dessert menu, and we all know what that means, don’t we?
I opted for a limoncello tart with lemon curd sorbet, in a vain hope at self-delusion that it would be ‘lighter’ than something richer and more chocolate based. Yeah, right.
No such worries or efforts at kidding himself from Mr M, whose chocolate addiction meant he couldn’t help but choose the triple chocolate brownie topped with chocolate toffee sauce and vanilla ice-cream. And no, it wasn’t just us who filled our faces with three courses. Our pals went for cheese and biscuits to finish off their meal.
The desserts were decent. I wouldn’t say they were out of this world but then again, I just didn’t need anything else. The main courses were definitely the high point of our meal, and since Bar + Block is all about the steak and the meat, that’s exactly how it should have been.
Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beefeater Bar + Block and was a bit concerned that it would just be another Beefeater but with bigger prices and a swankier interior. Happily, it was much, much more than that, in every aspect – food, service, decor and atmosphere.
Yes, it’s more expensive, but no more expensive than the other places you would go for decent steak and wine in fun surroundings that are a cut above (by quite a long way) your average pub that serves steak and chips.
Birmingham is the very first Bar + Block in the country, with hopes that it will be followed by plenty of other locations. If they carry on giving people the experience we had, I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before they spread like wildfire.
We were invited to dine at Beefeater Bar + Block, and only paid a small proportion of our bill. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review – I’m just relieved that I can!
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