Editor Ellen Pope visits the former eye hospital in Birmingham's bustling Jewellery Quarter to experience their hotel bistro’s winter menu - featuring one of her favourite ingredients, ever.
Birmingham may have more canals than Venice or have a vast Primark, but it also has stunning architecture and Hotel du Vin is one of those jaw-dropping buildings.
The former eye hospital has been restored to a remarkable 66 room venue situated on the cusp of the trendy Jewellery Quarter and money magnet Colmore Row.
I have propped up the stunning bar in Hotel du Vin Birmingham on many nights - I mean, are you even at Hotel du Vin if you don’t have a glass of wine?
But I have never turned right when entering through the grand front doors. This was about to change as I had been invited to try their Bistro’s new winter set lunch menu. I will be honest up front; I didn’t quite know what to expect from the set menu and had done no prior googling before my visit. I was going in with an open mind, though I did assume it would be a mix of the same hotel bistro favourites; chicken with some vegetables, a pate, maybe some sort of apple dessert?
What I realised when handed the Prix Fixe Menu was this was not the case. My lunch was going to include a few more adventurous ingredients than I initially thought - including one of my favourite ingredients in the world (but we will get to that bit soon).
To kick-off was a selection of bread with the usual butter and balsamic oil offering. I am never one to turn down bread if I am honest, I went back for a second portion, but my inner fussy bread muncher, loves warm bread, and unfortunately, this wasn’t warm, at all.
Guinea fowl is an ingredient I don’t get to try as often as I would like, so I jumped at the chance for my starter.
The guinea fowl roulade came with smoked pancetta, pearl barley and confit Mudwalls Farm heritage carrot, and screamed of comfort winter food. I always love a starter that makes you automatically want a second bowl, even though you know you have more food coming. I think pearl barley covered in a rich jus has this knack of drawing you in for more. You want to eat more of it, while the storms hit the windows outside.
Another childhood comfort food memory is a runny yolk. The Severn & Wye smoked haddock scotch egg with Mudwall Farm salad cress and wholegrain mustard hollandaise didn’t quite ooze in the way you would expect a warm scotch egg to do but was not overcooked to the point it ruined the dish. The scotch egg came with the right amount of wholegrain mustard hollandaise to compliment the smoked haddock.
Now, one of my all-time favourite ingredients popped up in the mains, and it would have taken wild horses to drag me away from ordering this. And that ingredient lady and gentleman is octopus. I love it. I have eaten great octopus, and poor octopus and I was praying this was not going to be the latter; otherwise, I would probably audibly cry. I was not disappointed; I almost did a life cry for all the right reasons.
I had gone from the warming, fire lit cottage on the coast with the guinea fowl dish straight to Mediterranean heaven in the space of one meal. The ample sized chargrilled octopus (this deserves an applaud in itself, I mean who only wants slithers) came with Sautéed Warwickshire heritage potatoes and a red pepper piperade. It was cooked perfectly, and the balance of ingredients and warming flavours didn’t overpower the star ingredient. Perfect with a side of green beans.
I know octopus can be a marmite ingredient, and I hope that is because you have tried it and decided it isn’t for you, not because all you can imagine is the flubber, eight-limbed mollusc from the sea and its suckers. Trust me; you need to move on from this. You are missing out.
Another ingredient that can split a table is a rabbit -some of us can’t get our childhood pets out of our brain, especially when it is served in a pie. But again, I feel you are missing a trick here. As on the menu at Hotel du Vin is Purity Ubu braised rabbit pie with Cavolo nero and thyme jus. The pie came rammed full of rabbit, which had been braised, so it melted in your mouth.