Knife & Fork: St Paul’s House

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I thought that since the new Saint Pauls House boutique hotel, restaurant and bar had opened recently and was promoting itself as the new “happening place” to eat and drink in the Jewellery Quarter, I would book a table for two and try it out. On entering, it is apparent that little expense has been spared in converting this space into something which is light years away from the not-very-appealing boozer that it used to be in its period as The Ropewalk. The ambience is reasonably welcoming though perhaps a bit confusing as to where to go or whom to speak to in order to confirm a booking. It is all perhaps just a bit overdesigned in some respects. It felt a little as if the establishment was making a major point about being different and a bit chi-chi. Anyway, we were taken to our table in a very quiet dining room where only one other table was occupied. That in itself was not a great problem as I imagined that we would probably receive very attentive service as a consequence.

The furniture is comfortable and welcoming although I was a bit at a loss as to what the visual relationships were between the tables and chairs – or the rest of the décor for that matter. It did not have the feel of a really integrated interior, but currently that’s not entirely unusual in establishments which are trying to make a statement.

All food and drinks on the menu looked quite interesting to begin with, possibly a little, shall we say, pretentious, but inviting enough. We shared the fish board to begin with followed by our main courses. I had the Dual of Lamb and my companion for the evening chose the Minute Steak, both of which we requested to be “pink”. I selected a bottle of Rioja – Villa Pomal Centenario – from the relatively small but very intriguing looking wine list. It looked as if it had been chosen with some thought.

While we waited we were offered a little basket with a very generous two pieces of bread and a small pat of butter. When the wine came I am sorry to say that the lovely and delightful, but ridiculously undertrained, waitress had to admit that she didn’t know quite how to use the Waiters Friend bottle opener. The upshot was that, to avoid more embarrassment than was already evident, I opened the bottle of wine myself. Perhaps this did not presage well for the rest of the evening. I do not understand how a manager can put any member of staff out there in front of customers without proper basic training.

The fish board comprised of a “Crab Roulade” (in reality a bowl of shredded crab) mixed with I’m not quite sure what but it seemed to be mayonnaise and rather a lot of vinegar, not tasting much of Crab at all. There were a few slices of Smoked Salmon and you can’t really go wrong there I suppose, Pickled Cucumber “Salad” which tasted mainly of vinegar, Seaweed Crisps which were hard then teeth-stickingly chewy and – heavens above – Lobster Bisque Popcorn. Well, that was a bit of a surprise. Yes, I know we read it on the menu but, really, why would anyone want popcorn to begin with let alone lobster bisque flavoured popcorn? I cannot really describe the taste accurately, but let’s try: cardboard with the vaguest taste of lobster and thus very strange. I thought this was a bit of a disaster and a quite unnecessary inclusion.

The crab was rather mushy, tasting mainly of vinegar and a little mayonnaise, hardly anything of crab overall although the texture was most definitely crab-like.

The Minute Steak, instead of being pink, was moderately well done, not so well done that it was like a cinder, but it was certainly not pink. Nevertheless, it was tender, tasty, and enjoyable. The accompanying Confit Tomatoes and Lamb’s Leaf greens were quite delicate, the Bearnaise Sauce delicious, but the Triple Cooked Chips rather mushy. My lamb, on the other hand, was delightful. The medallions were beautifully pink, very tasty and succulent; even the rib which looked a trifle overdone turned out in reality to be quite delicious, the accompaniments were tasty, the side order of Sweet Potato Fries were a little bit overdone and quickly turned mushy but, I have to confess, tasted pretty good.

Why is everybody doing salted caramel?

We then moved on to desert. The Sticky Toffee Pudding which we shared had most definite overtones of salted caramel. Why is everybody doing salted caramel at the moment, please? Doesn’t anyone have the wit not to? Must every kitchen with pretensions feel the need to follow the culinary in-crowd?

Having said that, it was actually very pleasant and really enjoyable! It was well enough presented with slices of peach, three raspberries, and a scoop of ice cream.

The wine was not perhaps what I think of as a typical medium to full-bodied example of Rioja with those familiar and meaty vanilla and oaky overtones, smooth, velvety on the palate. This one was a bit on the thin side – not unpleasant, but not particularly flavourful either. I couldn’t say that it was bad but it was a little, shall we say, underwhelming, especially for the meat dishes.

Overall it was not exactly an exciting or particularly satisfying culinary experience. This is a new establishment and may well need time to bed in yet, but, on the basis of this experience, it was rather disappointing. The management has stated that it aims to bring something of Shoreditch to Birmingham. Whether Birmingham actually needs Shoreditch is perhaps a question worth asking but – on the basis of this experience – it seems that some of the negative aspects of Shoreditch have been brought to Birmingham, rather than the positive. The menu was not without ambition but not terribly well thought out and, regrettably, not well executed in reality. I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps there is an underlying presumption that the word Shoreditch is all that anyone needs in order to impress in Birmingham.

My companion for the evening is someone who, like me, enjoys food, has eaten extensively around the world in all sorts of restaurants from the humble wayside café to the Michelin starred establishment. Her reaction: at best, 6 out of 10 and I think that’s fair. I normally do not award stars or marks out of 10. It’s not the way I generally think about food but, on this occasion, I am stumped for words which would explain adequately the quality of the food and the overall experience of dining at St Paul’s House.

I appreciate that this was a quiet night with only three tables occupied in the whole restaurant and it is still early days. I do wish the enterprise all the very best for the future but I think to make a real mark in Birmingham it is going to have to work very, very hard to provide a much better experience than this and one which is worth the money. Just being a new face in the Jewellery Quarter isn’t enough.

Cost for two, including wine £76

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman

@BrumFaves

St Paul’s House, 14 St Paul’s Sq, Birmingham B3 1RB. 0121 272 0999

 

 

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