The Mailbox’s flagship store, the temple to luxury that is Harvey Nichols, has at last reopened its doors to the public after a move, resize, and refit. While we’ve not yet managed to have a mooch around the store, we have made a couple of visits to its beautiful bar, and a trip for dinner in the elegant restaurant.
While during the day the bar and restaurant can be approached from the store, once it has closed you’ll be entering via a high-design wooden spiral staircase. As you’re making your dramatic descending entrance you’ll catch glimpses of the muted colours and soft lighting while pretty young things sip Martinis at the sleek high bar. Taupe suede seating is comfortable enough to keep you sat sipping for hours while Sam the bar manager provides wines and classic cocktails and his modern concoctions. Sam made us delicious Espresso Martinis to perk us up after some afternoon drinks in the sun on the Bar Opus terrace.
While we tried to go in undercover on a Saturday evening we were spotted by the fabulous Kusum and Kate who we knew from the store’s first incarnation, and they proudly showed us their new food department which is situated between the bar and restaurant.
The restaurant is inviting but not fussy. Plain marble tables with plush seats and brass fittings are spaced generously on the warm geometrically patterned wooden floor. Sharp suited managers and slick waiters quietly go about delivering food and menus and topping up wine, offering advice when requested. On our visit we were excellently looked after by Will and Lynn.
The menu, curated by Chef Glynn Purnell of the eponymously named Michelin starred restaurant Purnell’s (and Purnell’s Bistro, and of course ‘off the telly’), isn’t excessively long here, with many of the dishes doubling up as large portions for mains, or smaller portions as a starter or to share like tapas. The small plates are mostly sub £10 with the exception of the scallops, and the mains are between £13 (chicken) and £22 (fillet steak). A bottle of wine will set you back between £20 and £60.
To start I tried the scorched Provençal squid with Oxsprings ham, olive tapenade, sundried tomato, and red pepper (£9). The squid is cooked sous vide (slowly in a waterbath at a fixed temperature) and then quickly charred which combined gives a soft sweet flesh and a bitter edge to set it off, and the classic combo with the ham was delightful. We also had the carpaccio of Herefordshire beef with pickled mushrooms, coarse grain mustard, and tarragon cream (£8). I loved the cream with the deep red cool beef and mild crunchy radish.
For mains I tried the Hampshire pork belly cooked in Chinese spices with grilled pak choi, sesame seed glaze, and nutty egg noodles, which was a good filling feed (£12). The golden crackling and porky flesh was perfumed with aniseed and other spices, and topped with sesame, a good rendition of one of my favourite dishes. We also had the Himalayan pink salt-seared fillet steak with fries (£22), with tasty beef served on a hot slab of salt rock to continue cooking your steak should you wish to (although personally I like mine very rare). It was tender, flavoursome, and well seasoned.
Though I don’t usually take dessert, in the interest of research, I forced down a golden crusted crème brûlée with crunchy pistachio biscotti (£7). We also tried the chocolate mousse with mango sorbet and chocolate crumble (£8), which though very tasty was not a looker – I think a trifle dish would have done the layers and flavour better justice.
Only one problem in the evening is worth mentioning, but only really because it was managed so well – we had a couple of flies appear at one point and land in the wine – it was quickly replaced with effusive apologies.
Dinner cost us about £66 for two excluding drinks and service, which given the quality of the food, service, and general atmosphere, we thought was really good value.
Though reasonably quiet on the evening we dined there I suspect as soon as the word gets
out the place will be rammed, it’s just a lovely chilled place to eat great food, and drink great drinks in oh-so-cool surroundings. It’s bound to be a huge success and is a great compliment to the rest of Birmingham’s dining and bar scene.