Sometimes just reading a menu can be tiring. The desire to be different has become so synonymous with eating out that it has had the reverse effect. Hardly anyone is different, thanks to kitchens full of Heston wannabes dreaming up dishes that nobody sober really wants to eat. I can walk two minutes down the road and have a burger topped with Monster Munch, thousand island dressing and Gruyère, or I could interrupt a shopping trip with a burrito filled with chicken tikka. But why would I ever want to torture myself and do that? I’m not difficult, I just occasionally want an honest feed, which is becoming harder and harder to find.
Praise the Lord then for The Bureau, a smart bar just off Colmore Row. Whilst the opulent interior of marble and soft furnishings may nod to somewhere aimed at a wealthier clientèle, the menu is a simple list of things you want to eat, free too from the frivolous descriptions that too often clog the senses. Here a hot dog was just that; a pork sausage seasoned with salt and a little mace, sitting on some softened onions, all in a bun that had been slightly charred. No outlandish toppings, just little pots of mustard and ketchup, both of which were liberally applied. It was meaty, full of character, and, for a fiver, an excellent lunch option compared to the horrors served at minutes away at EAT.
Thankfully the same logic has been applied to the rest of the menu. We could have ordered a steak sandwich, or half a chicken, and known exactly what we were getting for our money. Instead we chose a pie, kept light with the addition of a side portion of green beans and the deliberate avoidance of additional carbohydrates. The bronzed puff pastry case hiding good chunks of chicken in a sauce thickened with cream and heavy on earthy mushroom flavours. Similar big flavours were had with a goats cheese tart, the crisp pastry filling evened out by the gentle sharpness of shallots and enlivened by plenty of fresh parsley.
It wasn’t all perfect. A build-your-own deli board looked great, but lacked the power found elsewhere. Sweet potato and chilli fritters had an unpleasant acrid outer-coating, whilst both a well-timed duck scotch egg and little pasties containing spinach and mushroom were both heavily under-seasoned. Safer ground was to be had with good quality smoked salmon and moreish beetroot bon bons that brought life to the most overused vegetable of 2015. Again, without wishing to beat the Good Value drum any longer, the five items seemed fair at £12.00, despite its imperfections.
There is a roof terrace here, which I will neglect to say too much about for fear of never getting a seat on again. It is an oasis of calm in the middle of the city that may just be my beer garden of choice when summer finally arrives. We enjoyed a lunch up there in the smattering of sun that was a heavier hand of salt away from being very good. I’m not a believer that all independent bars and restaurants should flourish; I believe that good bars and restaurants should, regardless of who owns them, and with a menu that is refreshingly simple and keen pricing to match, The Bureau have got the basics in place to become part of Birmingham’s DNA. The most honest of foods have survived decades without some idiot tinkering with them, The Bureau understands this, and we should be all the more grateful for it.