It was our pleasure this week of dining at a hotel restaurant new to Birmingham, Aalto at Hotel La Tour. Those city slickers amongst you may know this newly developed £24m, 174 bedroom hotel, is located near to the disused Curzon Street station. Presently that area is mainly car parks and apartments but in a few years time it will be the home of HS2’s stop in The Midlands. La Tour has certainly smartened up the block it sits on and I’m sure that area will see much regeneration over the coming years when people realise the potential of HS2 traffic.
We were booked in to La Tour’s opening preview night, so our expectations were set for a certain level of chaos. I’d love to regale you with tales of woeful service and slapstick kitchen antics but everything seemed very much under control.
Greeted on arrival by friendly and smart staff we were directed to the modern but comfortable bar for a glass of bubbly and the tastiest popcorn I’ve ever eaten, with salt, pepper and butter. We sat in the evening sun on the terrace – it always annoys me there are few outdoor venues in Birmingham that get the sun since The Cube took away all light from The Mailbox complex. I think the terrace at La Tour will be the perfect place to sip a summery mojito on a Sunday afternoon.
The 90 cover Aalto restaurant, complete with Chef’s table, looks like a fine dining establishment rather than an add-on to the hotel. The palette is of greys and woods making for a muted relaxing finish. The seating is comfortable and intimate.
After being seated I pawed over the extensive wine list for some time and ordered the Spy’s Valley Sauvignon Blanc at £28, the food and beverage manager Daniel advised that it was delicious, and we were certainly not disappointed. The menu tagline reads “discover a modern twist on classic food” and there are certainly some classic dishes including mulligatawny, cock-a-leekie pie, and of course fish and chips. It also has some more off-the-wall inventions like smoked beetroot tart and field mushroom and thyme crumble. At the moment the menu is wintry and fairly heavy, but I’m sure as summer roles in we’ll be treated to lighter dishes to match the weather. Michelin starred chef Marcus Wareing has worked with the hotel’s Head Chef Alex Penhaligon to devise the menu and is continuing to work with the hotel in an advisory role.
Down to the nitty gritty. For starters we ate the Harrogate loaf (a terrine), celeriac and roast garlic soup, smoked beetroot tart, and mulligatawny. For mains we ate the fish and chips, cock-a-leekie pie, Hereford rib-eye steak, field mushroom and thyme crumble, and the Cornish sea bass, with sides of kale, carrots, and chips. We finished it off with the cheese board, treacle tart, and jaffa cake pudding. It was sumptuous. Of particular note were the cock-a-leekie pie, the smoked beetroot tart, and the vegetarian field mushroom and thyme crumble. They packed massive flavours for such simple dishes. The jaffa cake pudding was also dazzling.
To finish, we ordered cocktails including my bellwether drinks – a Mojito and a bourbon Old Fashioned. If a bar can make those to perfection then I am assured they know what they’re doing. They weren’t on the cocktail menu but the waiter assured us the bar could make us what we’d like. Glad to say they were perfect and served in heavy crystal glassware.
We spoke to the ops director, Adrian, after dinner and my two points of criticism were responded to with aplomb: yes, the ice bucket stands were on order, and yes, the lighting was a bit bright but the electricians were in tomorrow to fix it.
Aalto at La Tour isn’t in the current trendy parts of town for eating. It’s not Brindley Place nor the Jewellery Quarter, but it really is worth making that 200 yard walk from the Bullring for dinner, a cocktail, or just for coffee.
Thanks to the Aalto team for a tasty fine dining experience. We will be back!