There can’t be many nicer places to wait for the arrival of your girlfriend than the bar of Isaac’s. Whilst the upstairs bar Madeleine is The Grand Hotel’s centrepiece, downstairs in what is effectively a basement, sits their restaurant: a handsome space of dark greens and deep booths to get lost in. The bar stools look out into the restaurant through the bar space, each lit by a sole lamp, with the lighting low like the restaurants in Goodfellas. It’s a theme that runs throughout the restaurant; it that could easily be in NYC, pitched somewhere in between Little Italy and Tribeca, where the decor is more polished, but they still cook meatballs like Nonna used to. 

 I decided that I like it here way before I’m sat down at the table. An impeccable Vesper Martini kicks off the evening, followed by a pitch-perfect Sazerac. They do other classics that are not on the menu, I am told by Fabio, so it’s a Brooklyn for me and a twist on the Sbagliato for the good lady. That Brooklyn is brilliant, punchy with a hint of fruit, and a little bit of me thinks that a New York style brasserie is missing a trick by not putting the cocktails of the five boroughs on the menu. The other bit of me is happy that the horrid, awful non-readers of this brilliantly written and multi-award-winning food blog don’t get to drink it. 

 By the time we sit down to eat there is a Pinot Noir on the way. The menu meanders across America with a Brummie nonchalance to locality. The Cajun influenced Deep South mingles with the sun-kissed cleaner flavours of California, whilst the bastardised Italian immigrant food of New York is omnipresent.  We start with the ‘1916 wedge salad’ which is likely to be a reference to the date Marion Harris Neils recipe for iceberg wedge salad was printed, or could be the number of layers it features. Maybe it’s both. The leaves of the quartered iceberg have been lifted with the blue cheese, dressing, and bacon pieces put inside with a similar attention to detail of Massimo Bottura’s take on a Spring Caesar salad. The result is a salad that eats consistently with every mouthful, each a salty, umami hit that self-cleanses after. It’s bloody brilliant, as is the huge bauble of burrata napping on a Romesco with croutons and rocket. There can’t be much profit in this at £8, but it’s a dish I’ll revisit for a light dinner frequently. 


There is an icon halfway up the menu on the right hand that says ‘Sshhh’, or something of the sort. This is your queue to be a smartarse and order the secret dish of fried chicken, bacon, fried egg, and waffles. I almost never ordered it because my eye was elsewhere, but who I am to reject a dirty little secret. The chicken is good, perhaps not the best fried chicken about, being a little heavy on the salt and lacking crack to the casing. The waffles were well made and the egg a clever addition to bind it all in an oozing yolk, but this isn’t my first rodeo into the dish that came from the jazz clubs of Harlem, given I once attempted to eat a 5llb version at Pullmans Kitchen in Midtown. Claire also orders chicken, hers an impeccably timed breast, with a puttanesca that zips with acidity. It’s not much of looker but it delivers in flavour; the char brings a great counterpoint to the acidity that runs throughout the plate. With this we order sides of fries and cheddar grits. The grits were lacking in salt; order the fries. 


Dessert is a showstopper. Baked Alaska for two, ordered when both of us were too full to take anything on, and zero left on the plate when we’ve finished. Light and delicate meringue, ice cream, sponge, and raspberry coulis. Impressive technique given that neither the base nor ice cream was rock solid, and the ideal level of sweetness. Just superb. I could understand why one might consider having this to yourself at £12 and I wouldn’t blame anyone who does. 


Service is nothing short of exceptional. From Amaani who continually put us at ease, to Fabio on drinks, and the wonderful Kamila who served our needy table all night and never once asked why the strange man was taking pictures, it was noticeably as good as anywhere in the city. And this is, as much as the food, why I have returned already to Isaacs. To take Isaac’s at face value is easy; it’s a hotel restaurant where the food fluctuates from good to very good, but it’s so much more than that. The portions are huge (too big as I pointed out) and the pricing is more than fair with all starters under a tenner and few mains over £22. It’s a beautiful dining room in one of Birmingham’s most iconic buildings. There is so much to celebrate here.