Ten minutes after checking in on Facebook, my phone is red hot with direct messages from chefs, restaurateurs, and industry types, all asking the same thing: is Pint Shop really that good? I can’t remember the last time a new opening generated such hype, especially given that the offering is essentially beer and pub food. Yet it has; stirring up the Twitterati with pictures of scotch eggs, and those more knowledgeable with an all-star line-up of front and back house teams poached from the premium local establishments. The early signs were good, backed-up on the dull Tuesday night when we dine. I leave and respond to them all: Yes, it really is that good.
But before I go into detail about my dinner, a sense of perspective is required. For all of the hype and overexcitement, Pint Shop is not some mythical beast that is going to solve all of the world’s problems. It is not going to reinvent gastromony in Birmingham or stop Brexit. It is not even new as a concept to the city; in fact there is a similar place 148m away that does lots of beers, pub food, and has a scotch egg as good as here. So lets hold to those knickers before accidents start to happen. What it is though is the best of its type: those affordable low-mid range places affordable enough to eat at every night, or just pop into the bar for a pint and a snack. It excels at smart service and occupies a handsome building, with a menu that reads nearly as good as it eats. We find it hard to find fault with anything. It’s slick and everyone knows their stuff despite this being the last session in a soft launch period.
Now, those scotch eggs. The bar and dining room menus both have a different one, and we try both because I’m a greedy and demanding man. And those are just my good points. They are excellent, both cooked to jammy yolks which try to hold their place in the centre of the egg before giving up and making a slow stagger to the sanctuary of the paper underneath. Of the two I happen to prefer the one from the bar menu that tastes of pork with pops of fennel anise, though Claire makes her play for the more dense onion bhaji egg that hides the pig flavour a little deeper under the spicing. We conclude that both are winners in their own right. Be greedy and demanding. Have both. Another starter has roasted beets with a quenelle of cheese curd and lineseed cracker. It feels and looks like the opening course in a much smarter resturant. The beets tender and sweet, with a glossy shine like Anne Diamond. They bleed prettily on to the plate with just a little peppery oil for company.
There is much to be excited about with the mains. They have a dirty burger that is true to it’s name, leaking burger sauce and bacon jam down the brioche bun and fingers, before eventually letting the beefy patty flavour come through in abundance. Another main has pork belly that is braised overnight, transforming the roll into unctous blend where it becomes impossible to tell where the meat and fat layers once were. The skin of the pig has been blanched and then shocked in hot oil, taking the crackling into pork puff territory. Florets of cauliflower are charred, others turned into a silky puree bolsted by yeast. A glossy reduction of the cooking liquor pops with capers and plenty of black pepper. It’s a wholesome plate of food for those who crave the comfort of a Sunday roast everyday. I’ve just noticed that this pork is available as part of their Sunday roast. I’m a genius.
The tandoori chicken flatbread requires a paragraph of it’s own. We reach it after sharing five courses and instantly wish we’d saved more room. The flatbread is the vehicle for what looks like a quarter of a chicken, ruby red in marinade and perfumed spices. Underneath is pickled cabbage cut with mustard and onion seeds that make it almost sauerkraut-like, a fiery hot sauce from which I swear I detect gochujang, and a mint mayo that has dill and coriander in to bolster the freshness. All of this topped with a handful of toasted almonds. It is a monster, and a good value one at that, coming in at £12. I love the nod to the spices ingrained in Birmingham’s culture, even if I am aware that it is also on the menu at one of the other two less diverse Pint Shop locations. It is the most complete dish we try; the one that will top my orders on frequent future visits.
Desserts are described to us as more homely, though there is no letting up on technique. We try the peach melba sundae and lemon meringue fool. The poached peaches in the former steal the show, bringing out the very best in the sweet fruit whilst still maintaining a little bite. The latter has delicate meringues crowning layers of lemon sorbet and curd. A lovely refreshing way to finish a meal.
We eat too much and dip into the beer and gin lists, for which they have plenty. This being a soft launch with 50% off we struggle to nudge over the £50 mark with too much food, though I would suggest that you allow about £30 each for dinner with drinks and much less for a fleeting bar snack visit. I usually loathe judging somewhere during a soft launch, though Pint Shop has hit the ground running and fully warrants this score. It is a great addition to the city; a place that oozes confidence from pass to table. Everything we ate banged with flavour, at a price point that will see us return time over. Pint Shop may not be filling the imaginary void that some will have you believe is there, but is has substantially raised the game for its competition. You’ll find me at the bar for a pint of the good stuff, demolishing a bite to eat.
Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars
Pictures by Nosh and Breks