Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Bank Bar and Restaurant

Conspiracy Theories Abound

Bank on a beautiful summer's day

Summer was attempting a comeback yesterday in Birmingham, so my cousin and I decided to make the most of it by having lunch outdoors. If you've seen my wishlist, you'll know I've wanted to do a Birmingham-Michelin for a while. Unfortunately, yesterday was not meant to be that day as it seems they coordinate opening times, all choosing to be shut on Sundays.

Disheartened, I had to look for alternatives as I contemplated this conspiracy against me. My mind went initially to the Opus Cafe at the Ikon gallery, but their brunch menu was too lightweight for what we needed. Considering options in the area, I thought of Bank and the positive reviews I had read during my university years of poverty and procrastination.

We arrived quite early and the restaurant as well as its outdoor area were almost empty, although they both filled up over the course of our meal. The interior seemed to be a large, minimally decorated and dimly lit room. We only spent a few seconds here though, opting to sit outside in the sun. The outdoor area consisted mainly of low picnic style tables and sofa seats pimped out with cushions and throws. Everything adhered to a black, white and brown theme. The overhang of the office blocks above, a wall of evergreen to the side and heaters overhead sheltered the area from the elements. None of this was needed on this day, however, and I was a little sad to lose my view of Oozells Square. Other than that little criticism, the setting was perfect.

On the left: grilled asparagus, poached free range egg, Hollandaise. On the right: Thai spiced fish cakes, Atlantic wild halibut, coconut and lime leaf sauce.

Our waitress came up to us as we sat down, and kept the flow of service going quite well between bringing us menus, bread, water, drinks and taking our orders. The menu itself was fairly interesting, consisting of what I'd consider British cuisine, supplemented with a British take on international flavours and a grill. I ordered Thai spiced fish cakes with a coconut and lime leaf sauce to start while my cousin went for the grilled asparagus and poached egg. We both opted for the lobster with chips and Hollandaise for our main, feeling a little indulgent. My fish cakes were great with a good amount of actual fish in them. I was impressed with the sauce and its nice balance of flavours and tartness brought back memories of Thailand. My cousin's asparagus, according to him, was nothing too special. I always do wonder how plain vegetable dishes can be made to stand out. At the very least he ticked asparagus off his list, something which he apparently hadn't tried before.

Lobster and chips, Hollandaise sauce. AKA the star of the show.

Waiting times had not been too long till now, and the pattern continued as our lobster arrived a short while after our starters were cleared away. Now I will admit I prefer my lobster curried and spiced, served as they do by the sea in Cox's Bazar. But subtler executions of lobster have their place, and the grill offers a chance to enjoy the animal with a lighter texture and its natural, aquatic flavours preserved. Our lobster was cooked just right, with no unpleasantly raw surprises and served with half a lemon and a dish of Hollandaise. My only criticism would be regarding the condiments - the Hollandaise in particular I've had better elsewhere. Also, despite our chips, there was no salt and pepper on the table and none was offered either.

On the left: dark chocolate fondant, salted caramel ice cream. 
On the right: banoffee Eton mess, chocolate brownies, banana, toffee, crunchy meringue.

The meal, however, had been pleasant thus far and so we decided to stay and have have dessert. I ordered myself a chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream, while my cousin ordered the banoffee Eton mess - a concoction of brownies, banana, toffee, vanilla ice cream and meringue. Both desserts were satisfying, but while my fondant was good, it was nothing I would go out of my way to praise. The banoffee was probably the better dessert, and the ice cream used in both dishes deserves an honourable mentions as well. All in all, our desserts ensured a positive end to our meal.

I may have nitpicked a little in this review, but I genuinely enjoyed my experience at Bank. I was impressed by the food as well as the service. Our second waitress even managed to pull off a slightly risqué joke with a completely straight face that I will not repeat here. The only thing holding Bank back, in my opinion, is the price. This is something I would say of a few other mid-range restaurants in Birmingham too, like Lasan. They charge near or even above Birmingham-Michelin prices, but their food isn't quite of that calibre. At £43 a head for 3 courses and no alcohol, Bank was quite a pricey lunch. For this reason I feel unable to give it a score higher than what you see below. Unfortunate, as the restaurant is quite good, just not good enough for the asking price. 

Food: 7/10
Service: 7/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Value: 4/10

Final Score: 6.5/10 

Contact Information
A: 4 Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2JB
T: +44 (0) 121 633 4466

NB. The final score, while influenced by the sub-scores, is a qualitative reflection of my overall impression of the establishment.

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