If you’re in Birmingham, you’re treated to a new opening, relaunch, party, shindig every single night of the week if you want one. But out in Warwickshire those kind of things aren’t quite so regular. So when I was asked to check out the newly-revamped Bull’s Head in Meriden, not a million miles away from me, clearly I was there like a shot.
I don’t venture over to Meriden that often, partly because it means one of us will have to drive, but it’s a lovely part of the world and relatively equidistant whether you’re in Brum or over my way. It’s a good-looking place, complete with rooms out the back that have all been refurbished too that apparently are popular with people visiting the nearby NEC. It’s also got a lovely courtyard that I imagine will be perfect on summer afternoons and evenings.
Inside, it’s a carefully designed balance of old and new. It’s a big old place but is artfully split into different rooms and areas which gives it the cosy country pub feel that is perfect at this time of year. Traditional, stylish furniture teams with modern lighting, muted colours and glass dividing walls. It works.
My mother-in-law actually remembers going there about 25 years ago and can confirm its unrecognisable – in a good way. To be clear, these photos absolutely do not do the interior justice because I was far too busy having a much-needed drink to spend hours taking the perfect photo. Just take it from me, it’s good.
After a few drinks in the bar we were led through to the dining area which, again, has a cosy feel with plenty of corners to tuck into if you’re after a quiet meal for two. The menu is a mix of modern British dishes with a few Asian influences thrown in. It definitely promises more than your average pub grub and is clearly aiming high in the food stakes.
We’d tried a few canapes based on dishes on the menu when we first arrived and a katsu-like chicken dish had won us all over. The starter of Crispy Karaage Chicken it was inspired by was just as good, if not better. Ribbons of cucumber and discs of mooli with three generous crispy nuggets of chicken perched on top, separated by a crispy, colourful salad.
But it was the katsu sauce that sealed the deal. A generous portion, it’s probably one of the nicest Katsu curry sauces I’ve had – smooth, slightly sweet, a hint of warmth, and plenty of lip-smacking flavour to guarantee you’ll want to scoop every last bit out of that mini saucepan which, by the way, did not come with drizzles down the side of it – that was all me.
My chargrilled lamb koftas were pretty good too. Tender, moist and packed with flavour to the point that they didn’t really need any kind of sauce or addition. Again served with a crispy salad with a hint of mint along with a rather tasty dressing, plus a blob of rich goat’s curd. I left the tightly-rolled wrap that resembled a cigar but Mr M pointed out to me that some people might like to build their own kebab with it which, with lamb, goat’s curd and salad combined, would definitely work.
Jamie opted for a classic pub starter – deep-fried brie and chutney. It was done well – gooey brie, crispy panko breadcrumbs and I’m told the chutney was a surprise, packing a smokey punch that could possibly be seen as slightly overpowering, especially of brie.
The main course menu was what you’d expect from a classic gastropub, with any other global influences not quite so obvious as in the starters, yet still there. Steaks, burgers, fish and chips, salads, pizzas, pasta dishes and various roasted meats. Something for everyone, in other words.
MIL opted for spit-roasted chicken with lemon & garlic confit. Not something I would ordinarily have chosen but having seen it, I might do in the future. If the title conjures up images of anaemic chicken cooked to within an inch of its life, you’ll be happy to know that’s not what you’ll get here. Instead, plump chicken joints, well seasoned and ‘herbed’, still with crispy skin and served with aioli and a pile of fries. The mini saucepan of ‘jus’ was the only disappointment – not quite the silky, thick rich liquid I’d want and a bit more of a translucent gravy. In fact, I’m not 100% sure the dish actually needed it as the chicken was pretty good alone or with the aioli.
Jamie tried the roasted rack of lamb after seeing it on fellow blogger Emma Stokes’ plate as we walked in. Thick lamb cutlets stacked up with the classic flavours of rosemary, red wine in the form of a jus, a pile of aubergine and a slab of dauphinoise potatoes. It looked impressive, but wasn’t quite on the level of the spit-roast chicken. I would have been happy enough if the lamb was less substantial but slightly more tender and personally, I’d have liked a creamier dauphinoise but we were spoiled rotten in France in the summer. At £21.95 it’s one of the more expensive dishes on the menu so I guess I expected just a bit more.
I had opted for the Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken, mainly because at The Bull’s Head it’s stuffed with Nduja sausage – that spicy, spreadable loveliness that we hear about quite a lot these days and often see on pizza. Another simple dish, the crispy kiev-like creation was due to come with sweet potato fries, apple salad and lemon aioli but I swapped the fries for extra apple salad. A good decision because it was rather lovely – and the perfect accompaniment to the rich, spicy chicken, bringing sweetness and freshness and balancing out the plate.
As we finished our main courses, all around us other tables had ordered a rather impressive looking melting chocolate thing. You know, the ones where you pour the hot sauce onto a sphere of chocolate that then melts away to reveal some goodies inside? That in itself encouraged us to order dessert, despite not needing it in the slightest.
We had to wait a little while for our sweets, I think perhaps the toll of a long old launch day. The mother-in-law had gone for a classic creme brulee. Served in a pretty teacup, it was as good an example of creme brulee as I’ve had in recent years – smooth, creamy, just the right level of sweetness and vanilla, and the right thickness of crispy crust on top.
Ever the chocaholic, Jamie went for a warm Belgian chocolate brownie with Bourbon vanilla ice cream which while being tasty flavour-wise, wasn’t as gooey and soft as he’d have liked from a brownie.
Unable to resist the theatrical choice, I opted for the ‘Melting Chocolate & Peanut Bomb’ – the aforementioned chocolate sphere which promised a treasure inside of sticky toffee pudding and peanut butter cream. Sadly, my hot salted caramel sauce wasn’t quite hot enough to melt the chocolate, providing us with a tumbleweed-at-the-table moment rather than the oohs and aahs something like this should produce. Again, I think perhaps our desserts fell victim to the end of a long day for the kitchen and, if we’re honest, worse things have happened at sea.
Inside the chocolate globe, the epic mess of sticky toffee pudding and peanut butter cream was everything I had hoped for. Tooth-achingly sweet and sickly with that addition of peanut butter that seems to divide people nearly as much as Marmite. Not forgetting the salted caramel sauce to finish off the eye-wateringly sweet Willy Wonka-style creation.
The thing about launch nights is they often come with teething problems and sometimes aren’t 100% representative of what it might be like to dine somewhere on a normal run-of-the-mill night. But as they go, I think we got a pretty good idea of what the Bull’s Head is doing. It’s a good-looking country pub that wants to offer decent gastropub food and delivers. The Karaage Chicken remains one of the tastiest -and different – starters I’ve had in a venue like this in quite some time, while the Melting Chocolate & Peanut Bomb was a memorable treat despite the lack of theatrical ‘meltage’.
The surroundings are relaxed and stylish, the staff helpful, the drinks list substantial enough to keep you entertained for an afternoon or evening and overall. If you’re after cheap pub grub, this probably isn’t the place. Equally, if you’re planning high-end restaurant food, it might not be the place. But if you want a mid-range place where you can relax with friends and family and enjoy decent food at a reasonable price, you could do far worse than The Bull’s Head. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back, if only for that chicken.
We were invited to the Bull’s Head for a complimentary dinner. All views and opinions in this post are my own.
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