A Grand don’t come for free, as one of Birmingham’s most famous musical sons once wrote. Presumably Mike Skinner wasn’t talking about The Grand Hotel, on Colmore Row, but it can be applied. Immaculately refurbished to the tune of £45 million, bookings are now open for staycations and afternoon tea.
And if the price tag wasn’t heavy enough on the shoulders of the owners and operators, add on top the weight of an entire city’s expectation. I’ve been inside and it’s with a pride that sinks deep into my marrow that I say it’s top-to-bottom and front-to-back beautiful.
Originally built in 1879 and Grade II listed, The Grand played host to Malcolm X, King George VI, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill before closing in 2002 while looking somewhat unloved. Since then, 45,000 man-hours have gone into a pain-staking, 18-year planning and restoration project.
The result is a building that sings. It sings about its history, with original Victorian and Art Deco features sympathetically revived — like it’s centrepiece spiralling staircase (top) — and it sings about its present and its future, with modern twists and flourishes marrying with its past in eye-catching kinship. The man behind the interior fit-out has previous. Robert Angell has worked on the Savoy, the Berkeley and Marcus Wareing's Treadwells restaurant. But there's not a hint of stuffiness here, pitched perfectly to a young Birmingham client base.
At times a charmingly labyrinthine peek around the rooms — as contractors cleaned the final remnants of builders dust from surfaces — felt like a yawning gap in the Birmingham puzzle finally being filled. Up small stairwells are luxury suites, down kooky corridors are divine double rooms with views out onto St Phillips. Each bedroom feeling unique in its own way, be it the layout, the art, the fittings, the furniture, the mirrors, the sizes (bathrooms come from comfortable to colossal), the views, the balconies. This is far from the identikit hotel our city may have been guilty of building on too regular an occasion. I didn’t see into all 185 rooms and suites — sorry about that — but the team were happy to open any door I pointed at, and inside each was quirky and cool and characterful in its own right.
But it’s The Grand’s bar area that stopped me dead in my tracks. Sadly imagery isn’t available just yet, cushions were still in packaging as final touches were being added, but the CGI above is accurate. In short, it will change the face of the city’s social scene entirely. Known as Madeleine, furniture of burgundy’s and maroons are bathed in natural light from towering windows, making this an awe-inspiring afternoon tea spot when, among other goodies, lobster and tempura prawn brioche rolls with tarragon aioli will be served. It's £25 per person (until Nov 30) which includes a glass of Champagne, and there's even a £12.50 festive kids afternoon tea.
By night, the low-lit classiness comes to the fore. It’s my job not to love London too much but Birmingham was, until now, missing the cache of a grandiose ‘The Ned-esque’ cocktail spot the likes of which our capital is spoilt for. Box well and truly ticked, with the surrounds complemented by a cocktail menu including all the classics and bubbles. And their staycation package includes a hamper which will be delivered to your room so, post-10pm curfew, you've got Champagne (or gin, vodka, rum, bourbon and mixers) plus snacks.
It’s 141 years since the Grand first opened and it’s nice to think the city was gripped with excitement back then. And sure, we can’t welcome the old girl back with the big old knees up that no doubt welcomed its first opening of doors, but perhaps it’s celebration enough to book in with those we can be with and pencil in dates with our friends and colleagues for further down the line. It's worth the wait.
And it’s also worth remembering, if only for a minute, that in a city so often maligned for levelling its oldest landmarks, one of its most magnificent is back from the dead.
Bookings are now live with reservations being accepted from November 4 onwards. Rooms from £116 when you book direct. Details on afternoon tea can be found here.
SHOUT OUT TO SHOUT
Shout, the festival of queer arts and culture, has taken its 11th instalment online and it's a wall-to-wall banger. Running November 5 to 15 it'll include a streamed concert from Wolves-born singer-songwriter, Tom Aspaul, whose debut album Black Country Disco was released in September of this year to wild acclaim. It amassed over 1.5 million streams, was described by GQ as ‘utterly luscious’ while Gay Times named it ‘queer disco album of the year’. It charts Tom’s move from London back to the West Mad-lands and he'll perform at Symphony Hall November 8, streaming free. Highlight of the ten days, though, might come on November 13 when, first up, self-taught designer and seamstress Kenneth Morris will be conducting a tutorial on how to look good with what's in your wardrobe. Once your outfit is ready, a second tutorial 'Blend it like Beckham' will run you through some make-up dos and donts before you take everything you've learnt — looking fab, bab — to the Queer House Party, an award-winning virtual LGBTIQ+ dance-a-long, with drag performers and DJs. This year Shout is also working with CineQ Queer Film Festival which had to cancel due to COVID-19. The film programme has 9 feature films and five short flicks. More
YOU ONLY DIE ONCE
Street artist Mohammed Ali, the guy behind that 'I Can't Breathe' piece in Kings Heath, will discuss his various tributes to the dead, online, today at 6.30pm as part of BrumYODO. Ali's stencil tribute to the death of George Floyd was controversially painted over within hours of going up, before the City Council apologised and invited Ali back to repaint the piece. It was subsequently vandalised and painted over. Mohammad's previous Brum work includes tributes to Nelson Mandela (next to Nelson Mandela school in Balsall Heath) and Muhammad Ali (on the Stratford Road, his first memorial stencil), as well as a huge mural in Johannesburg that featured Steve Biko, Maya Angelou, Che Guevera and Mahatma Gandhi. Ali will sit (digitally, of course) alongside second guest, Luke Jerram, described by Bloomberg Television as “probably the most famous artist you’ve never heard of”. His most recent artwork, ‘In Memoriam’ which is currently touring the UK, is a temporary memorial for the public to visit and remember all those we have lost to COVID. One of Luke's most poignant pieces was his tribute to the Falling Man photo, a shot taken of a gentleman falling from the North Tower on 9/11. You can see that and other examples of Luke's work here. Book
Italian restaurants are, without question, the restaurants I most often leave feeling disappointed. They're the restaurants I, probably naively, most often feel I could have produced a dish of similar standard, for less. You can count Brum's good Italian joints on one hand and, some say, on one finger. But this? This place is fantastic. Project Food Co. is a team of three food college chums who have cut their teeth at esteemed venues including Harborne Kitchen, before flying solo. A pop-up at Harborne's Booboo Cafe, they're on a rolling monthly sort of a deal, meaning there's no guarantee they'll be there this time next month. I'll be flabbergasted if they're not. They get their snack ingredients (salumi, olives, burrata etc) from Anderson & Hill, so anything cold is going to be great, but you can have that any time. Visit Project Food Co. and test the chefs, because Kasia and Annie are well up to the challenge. The freshly made and perfectly cooked pappardelle — that's the fat fettuccine ribbons — play host to rich, porky ragu, the chefs rightly so confident in the meat that they don't feel the need to crowd the pasta with ladlesful. The arancini — crispy, homely — marries with festive perfection to a Sicilian pumpkin sauce, while the octopus (that perhaps could have done with a little longer on the griddle to char the exterior a smidge more) was soft and fresh and meaty. So good were these savoury dishes that for dessert I had Italian sausage, stewed beans and black pudding. Therefore, "a pudding". On wines, if you can afford it, try to push the boat out. Some of the top end bottles may seem pricy but when compared to costs asked at similar and, sometimes, far worse restaurants in the city, prove excellent value. I've told my dad to go here, and there's no higher compliment. Menu
'Thunderbirds' chauffeur Parker is now on display at BMAG. I don't know why and don't need to know why, I just need to see him, M'lady. —
Speaking of Birmingham Museums, they've teamed up with the BIDs of the JQ and Colmore varieties to launch The Virtual Birmingham Christmas Gifts Market over on Facebook. Local businesses post their gift suggestions online and YOU buy them. — Pizza pods are now bookable, for free, at Sarehole Mill courtyard. Suitable for up to five people these igloos are NOT available for mixed household. Take blankets, pizzas cost from £7 —
Moseley Folk Festival regulars and comedy pairing, The Commentators, will be providing a Halloweeny audio talk-along to The Shining, a movie they've never seen, On October 31 (7.30pm). This event is free and in conjunction with Stan's Cafe and mac Birmingham.
"In the 20th century, the French managed to get a death on the myth that they produce the world’s best food. The hype has been carefully orchestrated, and despite the fact that the most popular food in the last quarter has undoubtedly been Italian, the French have managed to maintain that mental grip."
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