Travel: Staying cool but you will never go hungry in the UK's second city
As the Beast from the East swept across the country, I was a little worried about whether we'd actually make it to Birmingham for our hotly-anticipated first city break of the year.
It came right on cue, but thanks to some good organisation, lucky timing and sheer persistence, there was no way Mother Nature was going to ruin our plans.
There’s a few things that spring to mind when I think of Birmingham; Aston Villa, the Blues, Cadbury’s, Crufts, New Street station and the NEC, but one thing people may not have stumbled upon is Birmingham’s thriving food scene.
With four superb Michelin-star restaurants and many others offering the hottest new food trends, I decided to delve a little deeper in a bid to discover the ‘must-eat’ venues which are waving the food flag for the Midlands.
Where to stay
Home for our three-night stay was the Grade II-listed Rotunda tower in one of the building’s trendy Staying Cool apartments.High up on the 18th floor, the first thing I noticed about our four-star studio was the incredible picturesque view it gave us across the city and, as the snow continued to fall, it was a joy to watch with all the traffic chaos down below seeming a million miles away.
The location of the apartments couldn’t be better. You barely have to set foot outside to reach the Bullring and all the shops, bars and restaurants are just a short walk away.
Ideal for short or long stays, Staying Cool provides a host of self-catering facilities and stylish furniture, blending boutique-style comfort within the space and freedom of an apartment. If you want to stay somewhere that gives you the buzz of a city centre along with all the creature comforts of home, then look no further.
Best fine dining
Our first food experience came in the form of the exquisite 10-course tasting menu at Michelin-starred Purnell’s, one of the city’s finest and best-established restaurants.Owner Glynn Purnell, of Great British Menu fame, set up the chic, fine dining establishment in 2007 and was awarded the prestigious star just two years later.
The restaurant occupies a Victorian red brick building with large windows perfect for gazing out into the big wide world while enjoying the ultimate gourmet adventure.
A welcome glass of fizz on arrival set us up nicely for the main event as we were escorted to our table to embark on ‘A Purnell’s Journey...there and back again’, a menu created by Glynn celebrating ten years of the restaurant.
I can honestly say I’ve never eaten a meal with so much theatre on show. Haddock and eggs with cornflakes, dry ice from the ‘Mint Choccy Chip’ dessert giving off a spectacular smoke-effect across the table and the amazing ‘10/10/10’ burnt English custard inside an egg shell were just a few of the little surprises enjoyed and admired.
There’s only one word to describe this restaurant ... wow!
After the excesses of the night before, we were happy to wait until late morning for our Argentinian-inspired ‘Electro Brunch’ at Gaucho.
You can visit this place at any time of day and it’s just like walking into a nightclub. Designer furnishings and sophisticated decor create a lavish backdrop for food and wine.
Served until 4pm on Saturdays, Electro Brunch is an all-inclusive menu, from which you can choose as many dishes and drinks as you like and there’s also a resident DJ who performs throughout. Needless to say we made the most of it, wading our way through delights including Fried Proveleta, Steak & Eggs, Oven Baked Chorizo Sausage and, believe it or not ... a Bacon Sandwich.
Best afternoon teaBirmingham is well known for its impressive array of shopping outlets, but those who wish to browse the higher end of the market can often be found sifting through the designer gear at Harvey Nichols inside the city’s stylish Mailbox centre.
After a hard day’s shopping, what better way is there to relax than to treat yourself to a well-earned luxury afternoon tea Harvey Nichs’-style?
There’s a delicious assortment of handmade sandwiches, scones and pastries which can all be washed down with a glass of Harvey Nichols champagne. For us, there was just enough time afterwards to browse the store’s impressive wine offerings, with room for one more purchase before heading back for an early night.
A lazy Sunday morning provided another opportunity to admire the stunning views from the Rotunda before heading out for a slap-up Sunday lunch at Tom’s Kitchen.
Also in The Mailbox, this popular restaurant and deli serves a host of good old British favourites, including several comfort food classics and seasonal specials in an informal setting.
The lamb rump special and loin of venison were the picks this time, with the totally moreish macaroni cheese and truffle starter a particular delight. In addition, Tom’s Kitchen has a bar which also welcomes thirsty guests wanting to drop in for an after-work beer or pre-dinner cocktail.
Staying cool: Rotunda, 150 New St, B2 4PA, 0121 285 1290. Prices from Â£95 per night, http://www.stayingcool.comPurnell’s: Purnell’s, 55 Cornwall Street, B3 2DH, 0121 212 9799. 10-course tasting menu priced at Â£70pp , http://www.purnellsrestaurant.com
Gaucho: 55 Colmore Row, B3 2AA, 0121 439 9236. Electro Brunch prices from Â£49.95pp, http://www.gauchorestaurants.com/restaurants/birmingham
Harvey Nichols: The Mailbox, 65 Wharfside Street, B1 1RE. Afternoon tea from Â£22pp, http://www.harveynichols.com/store/birmingham/
Tom’s kitchen: The Mailbox, Wharfside St, B1 1RE, 0121 289 5111. Main courses from Â£15, http://www.tomskitchen.co.uk