You can easily fall into the trap of only dining in the city centre. Indeed, there are plenty of restaurants to get stuck into there, however - as a lot of resident Brummies will tell you, some of the best eateries can be found in the suburbs. I decided to follow this tip and ventured over to Harborne, where The Bun & Barrel in Birmingham perfectly exemplifies why you should venture a little further out.
Tucked away at the end of an alley on the main road, the restaurant felt hidden away and you could easily pass it by. However, as you make your way in and soak up the atmosphere, it becomes clear that this is a laid-back hub for those cooler individuals who are “in the know”. The dark, grungy interiors gave an industrial vibe and helped the bright neon orange signs to pop out, making for a good photo backdrop, especially with funny puns like "nice to meat you". At the end of the room was a pool table, which would be great as a pre or post-dinner activity, and gave the feeling of being at a bar without all the rowdiness.
For our drinks, we ordered a can of San Pellegrino Limonata (£3), a very refreshing soft drink, and a Martinez (£10) from the cocktail menu. A trifecta of gin, vermouth and Campari, the latter was not a beverage for the faint-hearted. Though a little stronger than I expected, it had been made extremely well and the orange twist was a nice touch.
If you're not a burger fan (which, let’s face it, is practically unheard of), then this isn't the place for you. Except for the sides, the only choices on the menu centred around meats in buns. Though there were a few quirky and veggie options, I decided to go classic with the bacon cheese (£12). As a bacon lover, I was extremely pleased to see that the rashers were of an Ayrshire quality, combining back and streaky in one, the smokiness of which paired well with the juicy beef patty and fresh leafy greens. Though delicious, it came nowhere near the unforgettable taste of the crispy chicken thigh (£11).
Despite the outside being deep-fried in a perfectly golden coating, thanks to the buttermilk, the poultry remained incredibly tender. Accompanied by a creamy roast garlic mayo and crunchy pickled veg, the stack offered a combination of earthy flavours that were simple and comforting. I think that's what surprised us the most - there was nothing particularly special about the contents of the dish, but somehow the lack of frills paid off.
And perhaps that's why the sides failed. Intrigued by the quirkiness of the hot 'n blu fries (£6), we decided to give them a go. Unfortunately, though flavoursome, the gorgonzola dolce was sparse and not very evenly distributed. In contrast to this, while the heat of the fermented chilli and kimchi were very much welcome to our accustomed palates (beware if you cannot handle spice), there was a disproportionate amount of the sauce compared to the fries. This meant that we ended up with a lot of sloppy leftovers, which felt like a bit of a waste. The B&B nachos (£5) were not much better, given that the corn flour tortilla chips were oversalted and the sauces sparing yet again.
The only dessert on the menu was ice cream, which may seem a little limiting at first, but when it came around to it, we didn't really have much room in our stomachs for much else. Having partnered with another local Harborne business, Odi + Moo, the pudding was nothing too fancy and came in branded packaging pots. However, it tasted absolutely sensational and you can really tell the difference between the independently hand-crafted ice cream and others on the market. The texture of my dark chocolate sorbet (£4.50) was silky smooth and the little chunks of biscuit in the salted caramel (£4.50) provided a great crunch.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Although I wouldn't say that The Bun & Barrel has the best burgers I’ve ever had, it certainly is a contender for the most delicious in Birmingham. You can definitely tell that the menu has been created by an award-winning chef, but it doesn’t have the pompous air of the fancier places in town. This, accompanied by the overall chilled-out mood and very friendly staff, provides you with a much-needed relaxing evening out after a long day.
💰 The damage: Around £20 per head plus service charge.
📍 The location: Rear 152 High Street, Harborne, B17 9NP.
👌 Perfect for: Burgers and beers with your best mates.
⭐ Need to know: The pool table at The Bun and Barrel Birmingham is free after 8pm.