The Butlers Arms have been in business for fifteen years. I’m told. Shamefully my laziness meant I’d never been there prior to this visit, despite the various people who go regularly and tell me that the food is worth the trip, and the friends who say stuff like ‘I can’t believe that you are supposed to be a food blogger and you still haven’t been to The Butlers Arms’, to which I dip my eyebrows and ask them to not call me a blogger if they really value me as a friend. Anyway, I make plans to go for lunch there with a very nice Italian gentleman called Luca, meeting him for a pre-drink at his Italian restaurant before boarding the train for a few stops to Butlers Lane, walking the two minute walk and, oh, that is far closer to Birmingham city centre than I thought it was.
I’m an idiot for not getting here sooner, I wholeheartedly mean that. From the eclectic interior with its lairy wallpaper, to the choice of furniture that occasionally pulls up hairdressing salon chairs, it’s quirky and unashamedly camp in the cheeriest of ways. The family affair of father and daughter, with mother in the kitchen is clearly working; tables are being turned on the Saturday afternoon we are here. The pace is relaxed; everyone appears to be having a good time.
The food is generous and comforting and far too cheap, with little twists and turns to keep you on your toes in the way that good grub should. From the multiple starters we try a punchily seasoned chicken liver parfait comes dressed in a port jelly with brioche toast to work onto, whilst I almost missed the addition of miso in amongst the buttery breadcrumbs which kiss the scallop with just enough acidity. Some beautifully ripe figs take centre stage in a salad of walnuts, rocket and pomegranate, before we move on to a gratin of crab that contains both the white meat and the best meat. Everything is ramped up to the maximum flavour it can be without ever deviating from what is ultimately pub food, but bloody good pub food at that. We wash these down with the lovely Riesling Calcaire 2012 from a page on the wine list that features a small stock priced either around or under its present retail price.
Smoked haddock with mash was perfect for the bitter conditions outside, an oozy poached egg and properly cheesey mornay sauce lifting it to a level well above the norm. The mash containing no lumps unlike the two seasoned diners eating it. That mash returns on another main – this time given umph by mustard – alongside the pork belly and apple sauce. This is a seriously good bit of cooking and a bargain to boot at under fifteen quid. The pig is braised and then roasted so that the layers of meat and fat amalgamate, the removed skin turned into a shard of crackling more perfect than many of the starred restaurants can manage. It’s finished with a puddle of something so piggy tasting I automatically assume it’s the reduced cooking liqueur, though I’m probably wrong. We wash this down with Vina Pomal 2004 Rioja. And if I’m mentioning the wine a little more specifically than usual, it’s because the list is a wine lover’s joy.
Dessert is so good. Like good enough to travel for by itself, maybe even from another continent. I say maybe because by now I’m two negronis, a G&T, two bottles of wine, a glass of Chardonnay, and now a glass of port down, so if you do board a flight from Asia (I’m massive in Asia. Massive. Mostly because they are all tiny) purely based on this blog, then how much money do you have? You should be sponsoring me. But that dessert, a sticky ginger flavoured sponge with a big backnote of booze is so very good. Like really good. Worth travelling from Eastern Europe for, but maybe no further afield.
I don’t remember leaving, nor do I recall what the precise bill was, though the food is very reasonable indeed. Just maybe drink less than we did. The Butlers Arms is one of those pubs you wish were on your doorstep; warm and friendly, with humble cooking that occasionally blows your socks off, backed-up by one of the best wine lists I can remember seeing in a pub. Sutton, so often accused of being slow to react to the dining trends seen elsewhere, has somewhere that it can be truly proud of, knocking out it’s own tune to its own, unique, beat. It’s a joy. I can’t wait to go back.
Don’t fancy the train? A2B have got you