I just spent 48 minutes, solid, browsing the Albert's Schloss Instagram page. It is, with no hyperbole, a work of art. Perhaps the overriding message is that when they decide to do something, they go 'all in'. Food, drink, entertainment, doesn't matter; they will give it both barrels. And when it comes to launching in Birmingham, they've come with trademark zeal.
Albert's Schloss, if you've not received the memo, is the latest launch in Paradise, sat not far from Dishoom and opening December 6. Only the second of its kind, the first in Manchester, their thing is Bavarian-Alpine. Hearty and fun seem to be the touchstones, but fun doesn't come at the expense of quality. This couldn't be further removed from any Broad Street-based bier hall you may or may not have experience of. This is a brand that belongs in Brum's most sought-after development. The quality runs through it, top to bottom.
"We have one simple goal, and that's to be world class," says James Plant, Openings and Innovations manager, with typical Mancunian modesty. "We regularly remind the team that that's not a stick to beat ourselves up with. It's a barometer."
Inside, it's beautiful. The inspiration is the same as the Manchester venue, the fabulous alpine regions and the Munich bier halls. It's reminiscent of warming Swiss chalets, an enormous roaring fireplace greeting you on arrival. The bar is centre stage, so to speak, but then again, so is the stage. At the Manchester venue alone they spend — and this is a decent marker for how much they mean business — £18,000 a week on entertainment. The cabaret, which lit up a Tuesday night with a packed audience, proved to be exactly what they promise: World class. And they come to Brum convinced they're the answer to our notoriously quiet Monday and Tuesday nights, providing live entertainment seven days a week.
Upstairs, exclusive to the Brum venue, is Ludwig's Tavern, which pays homage to a previous king of Bavaria who, in all the right ways, was off his nut. Here you'll find a vermouth and Schnapps bar with shuffleboard and ski lodge board games. Modern, of course, but the whole place smacks of authenticity. The materials are sourced from all over to acquire the aesthetic — wood from Scottish distilleries looks worn and homely. If they want vintage skis they won't try and replicate vintage skis. They'll find vintage skis. It'll make you grin from the moment you step in — silly, but serious about the silliness.
An in-house bakery produces artisan bread, pretzels and pastries. Fresh and fluffy, the smells spill into the interior. Fondue is where James thinks the best meals start; a dish that's been three years (three years!) in the making, under their "if you can't do it brilliantly, don't do it all" ethos. Finally, though, they were happy with it — melted gruyère, emmental and fontina cheese, Franz and Friends white wine, kirsch, garlic slivers, haus pickles, sourdough and charlotte potatoes. But the French onion soup, new to their winter menu, is where my first order lies, thanks, in no small amount, to this little video here. Served in a haus-baked sourdough (below) it comes with intense vegetable stock, Schwarzbier, roscoff parmesan cream, herb crumb, onion and melting gruyère. Sweet mercy.
Unsurprisingly, winter sits very comfortably at Albert's Schloss, which has a frankly ludicrous capacity of 550. In fact, Christmas is probably the perfect time for them to launch, wintery cocktail specials coming in thick and fast and including the Black Forest Martini, Gingerbread Old Fashioned, Spiced Apple Strude, Rhubarb and Raspberry Sour and the Klementini (Diablese Spiced Clementine rum, Cointreau, orange, lemon, cinnamon foam), all from £9.
The Schweinshaxe (below), was the absolute standout on my visit, north. Caraway-roasted pork knuckle, braised red cabbage, apple sauce and gravy, this is an 18 hours-long marinating process in brine and pickle with seasoning, garlic and herbs. It's slow roasted to render the fat and crisp up the scored skin. An immediate classic. Have this with sformato — baked truffle mash with melting alpine cheese. Creamy, smooth with a crunchy surface, this is what mashed potato wishes it was. On dessert give the Black Forest Gateau or the Baked Alaska a spin. Oh and hats off to Albert, by the way, for putting Yorkshire pudding with chicken on his Sunday roasts. Purists be damned.
And finally, they take beer very seriously. Fresh, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell is delivered three times a week direct from Plzeň in the Czech Republic, and the difference in taste is startling. They shift 2500 pints a week of this stuff in Manchester alone and they're expecting similar numbers here.
There are a variety of serves for the Pilsner — one traditional option is a full foam pour, where the beer is almost entirely head. It’s meant to be drunk all at once, like a shot. That way you can enjoy the hoppy aroma of the foam before it settles into beer. Ask for a mlíko (pronounced 'milka') if you fancy giving it a go. They're not ruling out their own brewery one day, either, but won't do it until they know it's an absolute winner. 'World class', even.
The best way to prepare for Albert's arrival is to subscribe to his A-List, to be the first to be in-the-know for specials, one-offs, supper clubs, offers, guest lists and more. You can book a table right here.
FREE WHISKY. FREE CAKE.
Can we all just take a moment to applaud Amy Seton and The Birmingham Whisky Club, which is turning 10 this December. Amy was one of the first people I met when I moved to Brum, and her vision and passion was inspiring. I don't know the world of whisky inside-out, but what I do know is that Amy has put Birmingham on the dram map. These days, if you mention The Birmingham Whisky Club at bars and festivals around the UK, people have heard of it. That was absolutely not the case, not so long ago. Amy has brought a lot of outstanding whisky brands to the city; brands who'd have bypassed us in favour of Bristol, Leeds or Manchester back then. But perhaps the most incredible thing about The Birmingham Whisky Club and their home, at Grain & Glass, is how unpretentious it is. If you go in to have your first (proper) sip of whisky ever, you'll be afforded the same time of day as if you're a connoisseur who's been a member for years. And there's nothing more Birmingham than that. To celebrate a decade of sticking a flag in the peaty grounds of Brum, Amy and her team are offering 100 free pieces of cake and 100 free drams of whisky. Simply subscribe here, to their newsletter, and the first 100 people to join them at Grain & Glass, JQ, on December 4 (from 12pm) will have a free bite and a warming, winter-busting whisky. You don't need to be a member to visit Grain & Glass, by the way. It's a beautiful bar like any other, but it's the home of Birmingham whisky. Go and say hi whether it's on December 4 or not.
Saturday, December 11, is that sweetest of Christmassy sweet spots where the gift-giving pressure isn't yet heavy, but the atmosphere is all jingles and jangles. What better timing for the Edgbaston Village Christmas Market, where handmade food, crafts, drinks and live music converge. Now Birmingham’s largest Artisan Market do, there will be 60 stalls of festive opportunity — from diddy stocking fillers to centrepiece wall fillers, an excellent range of food and drink, along with new fruit, veg, baked goodness and cheese delights. There's carol singing, mulled wine and mince pies all on the agenda in what is rapidly becoming Brum's anti-Amazon way to get your present buying done. If there are any under 10s on your list of must-buy pressie problems, then maybe Emma O'Brien's little monsters (top) might fit the bill. Painstakingly handmade and with price tags that seem superbly reasonable, they're gorgeous and somehow so incredibly ugly, all at once. I've never seen anyone walk past her stall without beaming. 10/10. Market runs 10 to 4.
The Eiffel Tower. Empire State Building. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Great cities of the world have their architecture, and always a pocket-sized replica for the tourists. Birmingham? We’ve got the Rotunda, in all its concrete beauty. Courtesy of Spaceplay, you can have a mini-Rotunda for yourself, on sale right now and the perfect gift for lovers of Birmingham’s Brutalist architecture. Lovingly hand-casted by the Spaceplay team, these little beauties are now in their second limited edition run of 200. Much maligned and admired, in equal measure, the Rotunda is one of the ‘marmite’ structures in Birmingham still standing (and protected as a Grade II listed building). The Brutalist style of MINI 009: Rotunda has been created with some pretty nifty techniques, using 3D printing to create a silicone mould to cast the concrete models, which stand at a teeny 7.5cm. The distinctive marks and blemishes caused by air bubbles in the concrete, a natural part of the process, make each sculpture unique. The MINI 009: Rotunda is on sale now for £30. Nab yours here.
Ooh this an instant Brum classic. 'Brutal Bab' is a creative collaboration between Punks and Chancers and Window Artists that celebrates their mutual love for Brum's bold brutalist aesthetic. Hand drawn by Window Artists, the design expresses the textures, forms and artistry of Brum’s Brutalist structures, which together with the YES BAB typography, is a linear love letter to our concrete city. It’s also an absolutely brilliant 'spot the landmark' game. An organic sweat top costs £55 and an A3 print is £38 — the release date is today (7pm). This will probably sell out.
Londoners. They're obsessed with Birmingham! In fairness, one half of Surbiton-based Wilhon Design used to live up in these ends, so we'll let them off. Their Library of Birmingham letter holder is made from laser-cut, powder coated steel. "This is actually our most complex design so far," says Nick John, co-founder. "The detailing is much more intricate than our other products and also needed an extra component added as we couldn’t get the result we wanted in just one colour, so had to add something to highlight the yellow." The letter holder costs £34.95 and you can pick one up right here.
This Sunday at Stir Stores, Stirchley, the always excellent Moseley Peruvian, Chakana, will be serving up these winter warmers from 12pm to 6pm. More —
Janine Wiedel, an American documentary photographer was given a grant by West Midlands Arts in 1977 to spend two years documenting traditional industries in the West Midlands, producing some stunningly impressive work in the process. An exhibition is on at The Hive in the Jewellery Quarter until January 7. Details —
Ethically made Birmingham socks that support the homeless? Here you go. —
Parmo pop-uppers, Fantasy Parmo, will be at Stirchley's Cork & Cage, December 14 and 15. More —
1000 Trades all day winter party might be the only winter party you ever need. Dec 11 —
Kings Heath pizza hot spot, Poli, will host a posh peri-peri style cook up, Dec 6. Show me —
Tomorrow (Dec 3) at 10am, tickets go on sale for Kevin Bridges' new tour The Overdue Catch-Up. He'll play the Utilita Arena, October 26.
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Claire Hawkins
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