Town&Country Inns have been around the Birmingham entertainment scene for at least a couple of decades, and as well as the successful Aprés and Mechu venues, they’ve just added another jewel to their Summer Row crown – Fleet Street Kitchen. Upstairs it’s a country-luxe farm to table restaurant and bar, and downstairs a plush over-25s club. This week we’ve sampled both.
Upstairs at Fleet Street Kitchen
We were greeted at the door by the elegant Louboutin-clad Emma who showed us to our marble-topped table and handed us over to a Spanish waiter who took a drinks order. Nice to see another venue give a good option of wines by the glass, I went for a delicious Orvieto Classico (£6) with my starter of scallops and chorizo. The scallops were sweet and juicy and the oil from the chorizo dressed it well – I really enjoyed it. Our other starter of calamari was disappointing as it was overcooked, but we’ll put that down to opening week teething trouble. Other dishes on the starter menu, all around the £7 mark, included baby back ribs, Caesar salad, chicken liver parfait, and potted duck.
The restaurant’s pièce de résistance is a barbecoa, that’s a Northern Spanish indoor charcoal barbecue grill. Open to the restaurant, the grill is a spectacle, even the coals are glass fronted so the fire within becomes burnished decoration while chef busies himself with sizzling goodies. Consequently there’s a lot of grilling going on – think 25 day aged Hereford Beef, Veal Loin, Pork Loin, Lamb Cutlets, Whole Sea Bass, Gilt Head Bream, Wagyu Beef Burgers…
I opted for the Monkfish and Prawn Skewer (£13.95). Despite an initial mix up that was profusely apologised for (I was given a Chicken and Chorizo Skewer by mistake) my main was lovely. It was served on a board, which regular readers know I don’t particularly enjoy, but the plentiful fish and prawns were really well cooked with just a hint of smoky barbecoa flavour. I liked that the lemon wedge it came with had been de-pipped for me, it’s the little things that make the difference between good and great! We also had the 35 day aged Dexter fillet on the bone (£21.95). It was tasty, again with a slight smoked tang that the coffee chipotle sauce really set off with a kick. We had sides of handcut chips (£3) and green beans (£3). A few glasses of Montepulciano complemented the beef perfectly.
There’s another quirk here with the steaks as well as the barbecoa. If you want a steak cooked above medium then you’re given a skillet on a burner to finish it off yourself. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I’m completely with the chef in that to cook most steaks beyond rare is a travesty (maybe hanger and some other cuts being an exception), on the other hand I know a lot of people really can’t cope with even a hint of rose colour – do they really want to finish cooking their food while everyone else gets on with the eating? There were a couple of tables there seemingly enjoying the table theatre of ruining 35 day aged Dexter by cooking it to shoe leather, but I suppose that’s rather their prerogative and I shouldn’t judge them , the Philistines.
We finished dinner with a generous cheeseboard (select three of five cheeses), and spotted dick. The cheese came with bread, Carr’s water biscuits, and a slice of something jellied and pickled that was delicious. Not sure what it was but I want more of it next time I’m there. I wasn’t keen on the stodgy spotted dick (although I accept it’s supposed to be stodgy), instead you can have Eton Mess, or a Chocolate Pot – that’s my kind of desert. They did manage to do the spotted dick with cream instead of custard, nice to know they’re amenable to random requests. All desserts are at £5.95.
There’s a nice ambience in the restaurant, the lighting, music, comfortable seating, and no fuss service engender an atmosphere to chat in, to lose yourselves in a steak laced conversation. There were a couple of cock ups, but it was a soft-launch night, so they have to be expected I guess. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly because the staff and management team did a good job of making us feel welcome. Particularly the lovely Kate, and fabulous Fiona.
Downstairs at Fleet Street Kitchen
Behind the oversized Alice-in-Wonderland door in the basement you’ll find Downstairs at Fleet Street Kitchen. Open till 2am Friday and Saturday this stylish hideaway will offer cocktails (try the superb Smoking Monkey or Porn Star Martini), booth service (minimum spend applies), and will be available for private hire in part or in whole. Those sitting in the booths and on tables with oversized chairs were being entertained by The House Jammerz who were performing their high energy mix of 80’s to noughties house and dance.
I was perturbed at one point to spot a pair of eyes peering at me through a high narrow window, before I realised it was looking in to the ladies toilets above the sinks! Whether this is design flourish or a construction error, I guess we’ll never know. It was entertaining to see the odd brow get plucked and cheeks rouged though.
The plan for Downstairs is to run regular Friday night live events, maybe comedy as well as music, and on other nights to have a DJ. It felt grown-up and cool and the involvement of ex Ronnie Scotts manager Iain Ross-Mackenzie (aka “Gonzo”) is sure to keep people rolling up. We asked Gonzo about dress code because this end of town is notoriously picky, and gladly his response was that it’s meant to be a cool relaxed place, so no need for suits and shoes. That said, it is unmistakably somewhere for the chic so I wouldn’t rock up in a hoody and gym shoes and expect to get let in!
We’ll gladly go back to eat in the restaurant, and when we want that kind of night with the right group of friends we’d go back to Downstairs too. It’s early days but I’ve no doubt the business eagles at Town&Country will have this place fully fledged within a couple of weeks.
Another destination venue to add to the ever growing list on the Birmingham scene.