Browns Bar & Brasserie, Birmingham

So the Olympics has sent people flocking to the region’s sports clubs has it? Well all it’s done for me is turn me into a couch potato, soaking up hours and hours of Auntie’s coverage on the box, writes our undercover food reviewer The Insider.

So the Olympics has sent people flocking to the region’s sports clubs has it? Well all it’s done for me is turn me into a couch potato, soaking up hours and hours of Auntie’s coverage on the box, writes our undercover food reviewer The Insider.

Far from wanting to dig out my trainers, buy a new bike or dust of my pole and go vaulting into the air, the nation’s biggest sporting contest has simply left me rooted to the sofa. Maybe after tomorrow night’s closing ceremony I’ll burst into action. Or not.

It was after one particular mammoth viewing session last Sunday that my significant other dragged me off the sofa with the strength of a female German shotputter, demanding to go out.

Andy Murray had just smashed Federer into smithereens and I was gearing up for his second shot at glory. Shopping in the Bullring was the last thing on my agenda, and as I checked my watch in the hope their simply wasn’t enough time to bother, I was reminded of the extended Sunday hours during the Olympics. Great.

I negotiated a compromise – I’d trot diligently round the shops to help her look for an outfit for next week’s wedding and then we’d try out one of the places on Spiceal Street, the Bullring’s relatively new restaurant development.

It opened at the end of last year but I’d still not got round to visiting. Spiceal Street used to exist in the same area in the 18th century, and was derived from ‘Spicer’, a name given after the cloth market there saw an explosion in meat and grocery trade.

Today it’s a modern street of swish places to dine and relax with the backdrop of St Martin’s Square, in front of Jamie’s Italian and including Thai spot Chaophraya, the delicious-sounding Handmade Burger Co and the classy Browns Bar and Brasserie.

Peeking through it’s floor-to-ceiling windows, Browns looked the most inviting. It’s a successful chain which has restaurants across the country including Manchester, Leeds and Bath. Often it chooses to base itself in historical and grand buildings, but I don’t think the newness of this development really detracts from its charm.

There were a few people sitting outside but looking at their pinched faces it looks like they were braving the weather rather than enjoying it, so we stepped through the glass doors instead. We took a seat by the window, with the view of the majestic St Martin’s Church.

It’s a stylish, elegant place, all leather seating, dark-wood panelling, exposed bottles of fine wine above a sweeping bar and a grand piano setting a very relaxing scene indeed.

A young man soon came and sat down at the piano and played a medley of songs, from Ain’t No Sunshine to I Will Survive and the soundtrack from Lord of the Rings. He was fantastic, and according to our waitress only about 17. He didn’t even mind when a couple of children jumped up from their table and started bashing the keys. Some of the staff, a friendly, confident bunch, even sang along. The only problem we had was that he didn’t play for longer.

Browns prides itself on serving hearty and freshly cooked meals, and the menu is packed full of mouthwatering comfort food. They were also serving many of their main dishes as a Sunday roast, with vegetables, potatoes, stuffing and lashings of gravy.

I started with the asparagus and prosciutto (£6.75). A bit like the eggs benedict I crave every Sunday morning, it came with poached egg and lemon and chervil hollandaise.

It was a lovely and surprisingly light start to the meal, but made me remember that I’m not a huge fan of the stringy texture to prosciutto.

I had a taste of the salmon, smoked haddock and lobster croquettes (£5.95), dipped in a yoghurt and caper dressing. Unusually, it gave me a taste for fish, so despite the descriptions of two big fat juicy steaks calling to me from the page, I chose fishcakes (£10.95) for my main. If nothing else, the lean and lithe bodies hop, skipping and jumping across my screen have made me think about my own expanding waistline.

They were made from the same salmon and smoked haddock, chunky pieces of fish covered in delicious breadcrumbs and accompanied by a salad and an extra portion of chunky chips. I’m not that well-behaved – and as lovely as it was, without the extra side I think I might have been left a bit peckish. I watched enviously as a wild boar burger (£12.95) was devoured in front of me, the huge plateful disappearing quickly with chips and three little pots of fried onions, lime and chilli mayonnaise and ketchup.

We finished it off by sharing the brownie indulgence (£7.95), a to-die-for plate of three different brownies – ginger and chocolate, white chocolate and raspberry and dark chocolate, served with refreshing ice cream.

With two pints of German beer Veltins and a glass of sauvignon blanc, the bill with a tip came to just over £60. It had been a real treat. Browns is somewhere where the staff speak to you like friends and the food is really lovingly created.

We got back home and took up my position once again on the couch, completely stuffed. The exercise regime starts next week – honest.

ADDRESS

Browns Bar & Brasserie, Spiceal Street, St Martin’s Square, Birmingham B5 4BH.

Tel: 0121 643 8708,

Web: http://www.browns-restaurants.co.uk/locations/birmingham/

Menu Sample

STARTERS

Smoked duck parfait with fig relish and toasted rye bread (£6.45)

Avocado, bacon & spinach salad with oil and balsamic dressing (£4.95)

MAINS

Slowly-roasted belly of pork with an orange and cumin glaze, creamed Savoy cabbage, Aspalls balsamic caramelised apple and crispy crackling (£13.95)

Braised shoulder of Welsh lamb with a casserole of pearl barley, spinach, root vegetables and broad beans (£16.95)

Fillet of beef, chargrilled fillet steak topped with exotic mushrooms, served with horseradish-infused crushed baby potatoes and a black olive, truffle oil and red wine sauce (£22.45)

DESSERTS

Red fruit crumble and custard (£5.95)

Sticky toffee pudding with a rich toffee sauce and clotted cream (£5.95)

Fresh fruit & herb salad with honey cress and a lime and chilli syrup (£4.95)

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