Every neighbourhood dreams of having a great local pub. A boozer within staggering distance home that is friendly, with good beers and food that hasn’t been blitzed beyond recognition in a microwave. Sadly, only a tiny percentage are this lucky. Pubs in general are a dying breed. Some close because the culture for a pint or six after work is diminishing, others because they fail to react to a market that is forever changing. Birmingham is a city blessed with enthusiastic young souls trying to buck this trend. There has been a boom of pubs changing hands and reinventing themselves as places that offer a cut-above in both beers and grub. Some have failed miserably, others range from mediocre to very good. One is outstanding.
Being the difficult bastard that I am, I realise that I am sticking my neck on the line by calling The Plough outstanding, but believe me, it really is. They have done what others neglect and grasped the basic needs of the customer. The beer and wine selection is current and well kept. The service both friendly and unobtrusive. They make you feel valued, which is an achievement in its own right, given the piss-poor service too often encountered from across a bar. And there is the food.
A humble pizza seems a good place to start. It is the acid test of ingredient quality; there is no hiding behind technical wizardry. It is a sum of its parts. A pizza with salami, pancetta and chorizo lives or dies on the quality of the charcuterie. Fortunately for the chef here, he knows where to shop for cured meats. The mixture of tastes and textures from the different parts of the animal backed up by some quality mozzarella and fresh chilli to give comfort and bite. The base is crisp and slightly charred with just enough chew. It is the best pizza I have had outside of the original Franco Manca in Brixton. If various bits of preserved pig isn’t your thing, another pizza, this time with halloumi, courgettes and broccoli proved they understand the needs of vegetarians equally well.
The menu here has an emphasis on comfort. The cooking processes are kept simple and allow the quality of the ingredients to do the talking. A stew has chicken and more of the top-class chorizo listed as its primary ingredients, though in reality owes its depth to the tomato sauce, layered with garlic, black olives, paprika and peppers. I wipe the bowl clean with the hunk of sourdough served alongside it. A burger comes topped with more minced meat – this time a ragu – that provides a textural difference, as well as the recognisable flavour of a punchy chilli con carne. Its also bloody good fun to eat. Dirty food in elegant Harborne. I just wish I’d remembered to take a picture of it.
Dessert could easily have been cheese cake, or an eton mess, though I plumped for a sizeable wedge of white chocolate tart. The pastry short and crumbly, with any potential sickliness from the cocoa butter offset by an embedded raspberry coulis and a scoop of accompanying passion fruit sorbet. It was indulgent, clever and thoroughly satisfying.
They recently rid the bar here of the majority of conventional spirit brands to offer smaller craft distilleries the opportunity to hog the limelight. This sums up the ethos of The Plough perfectly; every tiny detail is analysed to provide a better customer experience. If every neighbourhood had a local like The Plough the world would be a better place. I honestly cant remember ever enjoying a trip to a public house as much. Best in Birmingham? Absolutely. In the country? Quite possibly.