A weekend away in the West Midlands was planned with a variety of aims:

  • UB40 in concert – Ali, Mickey and Astro together again
  • A decent restaurant to review
  • Visit to the Bull Ring
  • A Midlands Indian

How did we do?  Well the Indian came first with a restaurant called Pushkar on Broad Street (in the hotel area of the city).  Well looked after, great food and for once my wife paying me the courtesy of saying that if we ever go back she would actually order what I had (it was spicier than her choice which is unusual).  Overall we had a great meal but I cannot write it up as I cannot now recall all the details.  Probably a little more expensive than the average Indian restaurant in Birmingham but it was convenient!  Highly recommended.

UB40 – the Barclaycard Arena as it is now known and of course home territory for these musicians.  Whilst I preferred the output of the late Ian Campbell I cannot deny that his sons have earned an awful lot more from their music (and been through more bankruptcies I believe).  In recent years the family has been split and we last saw UB40 at Cropredy a few years ago.  Soundwise I thought the kit at the Arena did the band no favours and the vocals were indistinct.  However just on two hours of music was not bad and certainly the (predominantly?) females in the audience enjoyed everything and we ended up as you might expect with the Neil Diamond song “Red Red Wine”.

The Bull Ring – another temple to consumerism.  Once we got to grips with the layout we found the shop we wanted – but did not attempt to wear ourselves out visiting the rest of it.  I am not keen on shopping anyway.  Am I alone in thinking that such retail locations are going to slowly vanish?  The rentals must be horrendous and I wonder how many retailers are acutally making profits?  We did then wander down to the markets below but decided it was lunchtime.

We found that the back of the “Mailbox” backs onto the huge canal system and in this rebuilt and regenerated area there are some good looking restaurants.  One of these “Bar Epernay” was selected and for a light lunch we chose a Fruits de Mer deli board – £21.95 – to share.  Excellent selection of seafood plus a huge bowl of mussels.  I am told the prawns were very good and I can vouch for the octopus, smoked salmon, mussels, fishcake!  Great surroundings and our ears were tickled by the music track – but we could not work out the singer.

On Saturday evening we had booked into a restaurant not too far from our hotel.  It appears in the Good Food Guide and I had been expecting to add a review in the Culinary Delights section of this site; I have decided not to do so in favour of some musings on eating and enjoyment.  I admit to being old and perhaps my hearing is no longer perfect, usually because someone somewhere is playing some music to hide their voice.  Also I have long (if ever) been unable to pick voices out in a “noisy” environment.  Other people seem to be able to focus and hear – I cannot – it is just a mushy mess.  This is not a problem at a concert – you are there to hear the music (or to witness murder of “Midnight at the Oasis” by the support band!).  But in, say a restaurant, it is there to aid the tone, the presentation and the enjoyment.  So getting it right adds to the enjoyment – in my view.  It has to welcome and warm the customers as well as reflecting the nature of the establishment in some way.

So back to “Bar Epernay”.  They were playing American popular songs; we later considered it might have been Bryan Ferry or possibly Robbie Williams but no; eventually it was tracked down to Rod Stewart and his “Great American Songbook” series.  Nicely swinging in the background and added just the right environment.

Turning to our GFG establishment what happened – well not long after we were seated there was clearly a  heavy rock guitar solo going on which I would argue does not accurately reflect either the clientele or the intention of the restaurant where a calmer and welcoming air is needed.  Also whilst reading the menus the front of house was asked by other customers for a negroni – she refused as she did not know how to make one and could only offer what was on the drinks menu.  Which is a bold but not ultimately the best approach to making a customer feel welcome – it even made us feel unwelcome at the next table.  Wikipedia tells me “The Negroni cocktail is made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari, garnished with orange peel” and I very much believe that had a check been made these all existed behind the bar.

Meanwhile the soundtrack continued to disconcert with little I recognised, although Sadé did turn up much later in the evening.  But this was where the evening had taken a second wrong turn.  The restaurant – with the aim of consistently good quality no doubt – only offers two menus of either five or eight courses.  We had selected the five courses and initially there were ourselves and one other couple, although numbers steadily grew throughout the evening it was not full when we left over two and a half hours later.  I do not like a rushed meal but I do feel timing between courses is important.  Unlike London restaurants they have determined that they do not need to turn over a table twice or more of evening and I applaud that – but there is a right pace to consuming food with a sensible period between courses.  The pace here was not right – it was just too slow for when couples are dining.  It might suit larger groups where discussions bounce back and forth but this evening in the restaurant was mainly couples (as I suspect is often the case).

Which sort of takes me back to the music; it not only sets the tone but to a certain extent the pace.  If you hearing a fast guitar solo then like a military march being used at Waterloo to get the commuters moving it gets the gastric juices flowing faster than the kitchen is delivering.  And if the gap between courses is longer than the body is expecting then it all gets out of kilter and on the whole undermines how good you feel about the meal.

In terms of the actual food content I felt it was a little unbalanced with too much meat and not a single fish course without meat.  Being spring time lamb was the main course but overcooked.

The questions I cannot answer are semi-related – would a different music track have put us in a better or different frame of mind and raised our enjoyment levels?  Would a more flexible offer over drinks to the next door table have changed our “instant” feelings?  Would a music track have worked better for the actual pace achieved – or was the kitchen simply not up to meeting a more sensible pace?

As I am uncertain as to cause and effect I feel unable to provide a proper review and, although there clues in my comments I have also chosen not to provide a name.

However if you are in Birmingham and fancy a curry then Pushkar is in Broad Street and if you want a champagne bar (which is actually more than just that) I do recommend Bar Epernay.