Credit Crunch Lunch: The Bartons Arms
Place: The Bartons Arms, 144 High Street, Aston, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 333 5988
Why go?: Architecturally, the place is a treasure of late Western civilisation. The place is an aesthetic delight with beer on tap and great Thai tucker. What more could you ask?
Price: With lunchtime specials for under £6, they’re practically giving it away. Choose from dishes such as Massaman beef curry, yellow curry chicken and vegetarian red curry, all served with Thai jasmine rice or Thai fries.
Set menus for the indecisive range from £13.95 per person to £18.95, or treat the office to a buffet menu, suitable for groups of 20 or more. It’s a great place for an informal get-together and your guests will be bowled over by your knowledge of the city’s hidden architectural gems.
The meal: Paxman has been rattling on about the Victorians during a BBC TV series. If you prefer living history, go for lunch at the Bartons Arms. The pub is just about classified as Victorian on the basis that the old queen was heading for the great coronation in the sky around the time the builders moved on to the site.
It’s difficult to convey just how fantastic this place is – a proper boozer that plays Slade, and is festooned with the sort of ornate tiles you thought only featured in National Trust properties. The sweeping main bar, bathed in sunlight on the day we visited, speaks of friendships made and plots hatched down the years.
The Barton’s Arms is in what might be termed an edgy location – the High Street is actually that thunderous thoroughfare known as the A34. Tower blocks bear down on the red brick neo-Jacobean building but the pub stands imperious at the heart of the modern planners’ concrete mish mash.
Archie, my lunch guest, was a little nervy about leaving the Jag outside so I took his mind off Aston’s unwarranted reputation for wheeling and dealing (actually, crime is down three per cent here) with a pint of Oakhams JHB (3.8% abv). I opted for the marginally stronger Oakham Bishops Farewell (4.6% abv).
The kitchen is run by a Thai brigade who are as speedy as they are consummate.
There’s oodles of noodles, stir fries, curries, snacks and house specialities, 61 different dishes in fact. Large menus frighten me and have the tendency to mask the fact that all the food is a variation on three themes. Not so at the Bartons Arms. We skipped starters in deference to colleagues who complain there’s a recession on but all our main dishes stood out as tasty individuals.
The winner’s medal has to go to the Penang prawn curry (£7.75) which was beautifully creamy, tongue-tinglingly hot and a fine example of how to cook prawns without incinerating them. The sizzling basil beef (£9.95), with green beans and peppers, almost sizzled off the plate. It too was good, as was the classic Pad Thai noodles and stir-fried chicken Pad Priew Wan.
A group of woman on a nearby table had puddings. The gargantuan Bangkok cheesecake would have fed the vast majority of that exotic city’s inhabitants.
Bread watch: No need – its spicy prawn crackers all the way.
Verdict: * * * * Peerless Birmingham pub and quite possibly the city’s best value Thai food.