Eating and drinking my way round the Mailbox

On a Friday evening when the sun is trying its hardest not to be seen, crowds are still thronging the Mailbox.

The restaurants and bars are packed and the walkways overlooking the canal basin are busy with people deciding where to eat or grab a drink.
We’re in a different situation, for we’re among a group of 12 hungry and thirsty folk who’ve snapped up tickets for A Taste of the Mailbox, part of the venue’s food and drink festival.
The concept was simple but brilliantly conceived, giving us the chance to experience a diverse range of four places at the Mailbox, enjoying food and drink at all of them.

Harvey Nichols

The evening kicks off with cocktails and an antipasti board in the sophisticated and buzzing bar at Brum’s poshest store.
The bellini I drink is a refreshing way to start. It’s a perfect blend of sweet and sharp.

A board of great quality cured meats, artichoke hearts, olives, sun dried tomatoes and bruschetta puts an edge to my appetite.
I pick greedily at the salami and ham despite knowing that there’s a great deal to eat in the hours ahead.

Gas Street Social

Our second venue places the dozen of us on two long communal tables and we begin to get to know the other members of the group.
A tasting portion of tender and flavoursome monkfish tail is served, scampi-style, in a light breadcrumb coating with lemon salt and tartare sauce and is well-matched with a tangy Blue Moon Wheat Beer.

Sharps Cornish Pilsner provides a crisp contrast to tasty devilled mushrooms.
But the star for me is slow-cooked potted beef brisket with piccalilli and pickled red cabbage with a nicely rounded Cheftian IPA.

Tom’s Kitchen

We’re given the plush private dining room at Tom’s Kitchen in which to enjoy our main courses…. or main courses, to be more precise.
They arrive on huge sharing platters so we can help ourselves.
Cod is perfectly cooked – pearly white, flaking but firm, moist and zingily fresh. Green beans and new potatoes are good.

And a glass of Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Felines Jourdan 2015 is a great partner.
Herdwick lamb has been cooked for seven hours and has a beautiful depth of flavour and sweetness. Mashed spuds are exemplary. Balsamic onions are great.
Pinot Noir, Grace Bridge, California 2015 has enough fruitiness to cut through the richness of the dish but enough substance not to be bullied.


By now feeling very well fed and watered, we head to a private dining room at Malmaison, apprehensive, perhaps, that the desserts there might prove a course too far.
Nonsense. Taste-buds begin tingling again as soon as they’re served.
A steamed summer pudding with creme fraiche is light and lovely and comes with an enlivening gin-based cocktail featuring Bombay Sapphire, ginger beer, lime juice, mint and sugar syrup.

Banoffee cheesecake with caramelised banana, Valrhona chocolate sauce is, again, surprisingly light and a triumph.
I adore Nutty 43 – a rich and grown-up marriage of Tia Maria, Frangelico, Licor 43 and cream.
Valrhona chocolate pave with pistachio ice cream and green tea syrup is a chocoholic’s dream. Dense. Gorgeous.
Tawny Manhattan – made with Woodford Reserve, tawny port, maraschino cherry syrup and whisky aged bitters – is full of dark, deep favours able to stand up to the intensity of the dessert.
Plate are empty. Glasses, too.
By now the evening has drawn to a close and wobble our way to the taxi rank, replete, happy and stunned at the quality of the food and drink we’ve enjoyed.
And amazed that tickets sold for £50 a head – ridiculously good value.


The Mailbox

I was a guest of the food and drink festival’s organisers.