I love steak. There’s something about the simplicity of a hunk of beef, seared hot and fast on a grill with only the simplest of sides required, that really does it for me. So I was interested to hear about Bar + Block, from the group behind the Beefeater chain, which aims to bring a younger, more contemporary offering to the market. The concept arrived in Birmingham fairly recently, so I headed down to see if it works.
Venue & Atmosphere
From entry it’s apparent that bovine is king here, with a neon cow, portioned into cuts, dominating the eating space at Bar + Block. It sits central on a bare brick wall, casting light over a smart area of wooden tables and leather booths. It has the feel of a New York steakhouse, with a slightly higher ratio of single diners the only clue that we are underneath a chain hotel. It's buzzy and a bit brash, and midweek clearly very popular.
Food & Drink
The name may be a bit of a giveaway, but this place is all about the steak. I'll get on to that shortly, though firstly we work our way through moreish popcorn cooked in beef fat (it sounds wrong, but I can’t stop eating it) and then a selection of tapas style starters. Salt and Pepper Squid (£6.50) had dainty, greaseless batter, a healthy dusting of fresh chilli and generous chunks of garlic throughout which made up for the lack of aforementioned ingredient in the garlic mayonnaise that accompanies it. Padron peppers (£3.50) come blistered and well-seasoned with salt, and we love little fried parcels of cheese and jalapenos (£3.95), all molten and comforting, which we dredge through a sour cream and chive dip that softens the blow. It's a cracking start to a meal.
The steak is a spiral cut of the fillet (£24.50), splayed out across the plate and adorned with samphire. It is correctly cooked to rare, seasoned well, and properly rested so that the meat juices are retained and not let loose on the plate. To do this takes skill. Good steak is hard to find and they've nailed it here, right down to the smoky note from the grill. We'll gloss over my dining companion’s choice to order a tandoori chicken burger (£11.95) in a steakhouse, although I admit it looks good. The Indian spices have penetrated the breast meat, with a bhaji in the place an onion ring would normally occupy, and a chunky cut raita taking over mayo's turf. It works, but it is not the steak. Have the steak. We have very good sweet potato fries and beef dripping chips that taste like good roast potatoes.
Desserts veer into super sweet territory. A toffee apple cheesecake (£5.50) is a crowd pleaser, the base crisp, the cooked apples on top sticky and satisfying, but overall too sugary for my taste. Better is the sticky toffee pudding (£5.95), textbook in delivery and generous in portion.
Bar + Block have a winning formula; take good ingredients, treat them simply and serve them up with a side of good service. At its best, such as the steaks and those cheesey bites, it seems effortless and when you consider the price of a similar cut at nearby premium steakhouses, the value is clear. Birmingham lacks mid-range steakhouses, and Bar + Block fills the gap very well; it’s a solid dining option for the city centre.