With Birmingham being crowned as the Food Capital of Britain by Olive Magazine, I was embarrassed to realise that the range of food I had experienced in Birmingham spread little further than the NEC outlets and buffet at the on site hotel! I was invited up to visit a brand new independent city centre hotel, whose restaurant had been inspired by the brilliant Marcus Wareing, so I happily accepted and had a lovely lunch at Aalto restaurant at Hotel La Tour.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, so arrived early. There were many local businesses, and members of the local press, that had been invited and the bar area was full of people who seemed to know each other. I distracted myself from my awkwardness with a refreshing lemony cocktail and kept the canapé waiters talking for as long as reasonably possible.
Finally it was time to take to our seats, leading me to wonder/ worry about who I might be seated with… to my delight I was seated up at the chefs table along with some local journalists and the lovely Managing Director Jane. It meant I had a view right into the kitchen and an army of friendly staff to talk me through the dishes and keep my wine glasses filled (I was glad I took the train!!).
The menu gave us a taster of what the restaurant has to offer – head chef Alex Penhaligon and his team have worked closely with Marcus Wareing and local producers to deliver a great value, top quality seasonal menu.
We started with leek soup with a Jersey royal foam – served in a shot glass I found it hard to resist swooping my finger round the glass for last of the delicious soup clinging to the glass (I did resist by the way).
We were then given a little cocktail as a palette cleanser between courses. It was strong with a gingery citrus hit.
Next came salty bacon olives balanced with fresh peas and broad beans – I’m pretty sure the ‘olives’ were from Trealy Farm, a brilliant local charcuterie producer.
For the main course came tweed kettle salmon with a fennel on the side and a herb and nutmeg crust. Not only was it beautiful on the plate but delicious too.
The highlight of the meal was the dessert, a Jaffa cake pudding, which was served with the chocolate sauce separately. Marcus Wareing a two Michelin starred chef came and poured the sauce over my pudding himself! I blushed, but thanked him very much. I think chocolate and orange are perfect together so loved the pudding.
After the lovely dinner, we had a chance to talk to Marcus, and Alex the head chef. I was impressed by Alex’s passion and enthusiasm and had a great chat about local producers, I’m going to keep in touch and recommend some of my favourites. Marcus was charming and told me how his relationship with the hotel works – Alex and his team trained and experimented in Marcus’ own kitchens and are welcome their any time. He works closely with them on their menus, to help inspire and develop ideas. This way of working helps to deliver Michelin starred quality but with affordable prices – something we are all looking for these days.
I’m so glad I got to experience a bit of the Birmingham food scene, but it has made me hungry to try more of it. Whats your favourite Birmingham eaterie? I’d love to know so I can start planning my next trip!