[Disclosure: I was invited for a complimentary meal at Albert’s Schloss in Birmingham for the blog after being unable to attend the launch night.]
I’ve never been very good at maths or science, but the past few years have led me to come up with my own little vague hypothesis – that the hype around a new hospitality opening is usually directly proportionate how disappointing it is.
The bigger the flurry of social media chaos, launch events and ‘buzz’ that seems to be the pre-requisite to opening a bar or restaurant, the greater the likelihood that you’ll leave after that first visit feeling somewhat deflated. Maybe it’s expectation vs reality. Or maybe it’s that some places know they might not cut the mustard, so go all-out for a big splash in terms of excitement in the vain hope that people might not notice (which never works by the way).
It’s a hypothesis I was rather smugly pleased with and fairly sure I had nailed. Until I visited Albert’s Schloss in Birmingham.
There’s no denying Albert’s Schloss’ arrival in Birmingham’s Chamberlain Square came with a bang to rival a minor seismic incident. Quirky videos, hampers of treats sent to bloggers, and a massive launch that took over social media with videos of dancers on tables and all sorts of other stuff designed to trigger that FOMO moment in all of us.
For those who don’t know and haven’t been to the one in Manchester, Albert’s Schloss is a Bavarian-style venue combining German food with beer, schnapps, entertainment and the Apres-Ski vibe that the whole world seems to love whether they’ve been skiing or not. It smacks of debauchery, letting your hair down, and general tomfoolery.
I’ll confess to being impressed the minute I walked through the door. Maybe it’s because I’m a small-town girl and it’s cavernous with a hell of a lot going on when you walk in. Or maybe because it really does create the atmosphere it claims to.
Long tables full of people having fun, couples having drinks around a cosy fire, a schnapps bar with all the fun that entails, music, dancers, cocktails – and of course food.
The menu is predominantly Alpine-inspired, featuring dishes from pretzels to krokettes, fondue, bratwurst, schnitzels and an epic ‘Schweinshaxe’ – or pork knuckle to the non-German speakers in the house. As someone who has hugely fond memories of filling my carnivorous face with German food on a road-trip a few years ago, it certainly feels authentic.
Perhaps not so much when you stumble on the bao bun addition to the menu, or the several burrata dishes that make an appearance, but I appreciate that you need to cater for everyone – including those who don’t get quite as excited as I do by the prospect of a hunk of meat that weighs as much as a dumbbell or a dish dubbed ‘sausage fest’.
We start with a big, fat pretzel served with gouda, German sausage slaw and pickles. Doesn’t feel much more German than that. And while the doughy delight was moreish enough, it was the ‘krokette fest’ (yes, another ‘fest’) – a selection of three different flavours of croquettes that did it for me.
Oozy and soft in the middle, light and crispy outside, with easily distinguishable flavours (trust me, that doesn’t always happen), and a good option to share. Promising to say the least.
In no normal world would I ever choose a main course that is the same size as my head. But this isn’t the normal world, it’s Albert’s Schloss. Plus, I have such happy memories of Jamie’s face the first time he had one that I can’t resist. So the Schweinshaxe it was for me.
It looks simultaneously terrifying but delightful, though I guess you may have to be a hardened meat-eater to agree on that one. Judgement aside, it was everything it should be. Crunchy crackling on the outside, giving way to tender, tasty meat that’s easy to pull apart and shovel in as you order yet another drink. The sweetness of apple sauce on top contrasted with the saltiness of the crackling, while red cabbage added acidity.
Easily as good as the one Jamie ordered in a beer garden overlooking the epic Neuschwanstein Castle, making it almost believable that we had been whisked out of Birmingham city centre to a beer hall somewhere in Germany.
It also has to be said that they didn’t balk at packaging up the two thirds that I didn’t manage to eat so I could take it home for Jamie to share with the dogs. I hear that Albert’s Schloss is actually dog-friendly, but it’s one of those places that adds a caveat in that only ‘small dogs’ are allowed. With that in mind, if you’re a big breed owner like me, yours probably aren’t welcome and will have to wait at home for their doggie bag.
True to the cause, my friends stuck with the more Alpine style dishes from the menu. For one, a schnitzel was apparently perfect. Tender meat encased in golden crumb and served simply with a herb sauce. The other went for a ‘vegan wurst’ which to me is never going to look or taste great, but each to their own, and why should anyone be left out of the world of wurst?
You can choose your wurst with a bun and fries, or the more classic ‘Bier Halle’ style, with Bavarian potatoes, pea salad, sauerkraut, mustard. I don’t think she was blown away, but given that there are various other meat-free options on the menu, I won’t hold Albert’s Schloss responsible for her bad choices.
For dessert we decided to veer away from a Baked Alaska that I’ve seen so many videos of on social media I feel I’ve already witnessed its spectacle and don’t need the taste, and instead went for a simple apple strudel. A simple, sweet full stop to a meal, I won’t claim the spiced apple and raisin packaged up in crispy filo was remarkable, but it did the job.
As we left, Albert’s Schloss was far from winding down, instead stepping up the pace for those watching the dancers on stage, or gallantly working their way through the homemade schnapps menu.
I’ll confess that I was waiting to be unimpressed by Albert’s Schloss. To discover it was yet another place that’s great in theory, focusing on sexy videos, sexier entertainment, and a vain hope that by encouraging people to pour enough booze down their necks that they’ll somehow miss its tackiness.
Yet somehow it wasn’t. It’s warm, fun, and still manages to turn out pretty decent food that’s different to a lot of other stuff out there. Maybe it’s not a place for a fine dining, tasting menus, deep conversations or whispering sweet nothings. But if it’s fun and food in a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously – apart from when it comes to making sure you have a good time – then it ticks all the boxes.
[Disclosure: I was invited to Albert’s Schloss in Birmingham for the purposes of this blog and our meals were complimentary. I wasn’t asked, and didn’t agree, to write a positive review]