Having moved from suburban Coventry into Birmingham city centre, I’m often quite put out by the lack of quality dining restaurants there are in the actual city centre.
That’s not to say we don’t have quality dining, any fool can see that we do: the best street food in Europe*, five Michelin stars and not least, cuisine from all corners of the globe.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking classy (or quirky) bistro dining. No white table cloths, cuisine without a definitive origin but intelligent and unique ingredient concoctions you wouldn’t find in the same vein elsewhere. Not even the ‘fine’ stuff you get at our starred places with a six week waiting list.
I find this to be particularly true when choosing a venue for a certain special occasion. We of course always want good food but the venue has to be just right too; knives, forks and proper plates too. Our go-to special occasion is usually steak; read about how Anderson’sdid the trick one birthday, Gaucho another. Fiesta Del Asado had been high up on the list this time but its popularity was unfortunately proven when offered the loathed ‘6 or 9pm’ booking scenario.
A little planning and itinerary fiddling later, we were booked in and headed to another long timer on the list, The Butcher’s Social.
35-45 mins on the train from the JQ, ‘The Butcher’s’, as the locals appear to call it in Henley-in-Arden, has history with the wonderful Harborne Kitchen. It started out as the Harborne butchers, trialling a pop-up dinner one night with their own product supply, and eventually launching into the fully fledged restaurant it is today, now in beautiful Henley-in-Arden.
Whilst HK have gone slightly finer dining (some saying they’re chasing the Michelin man), The Butchers is definitely gastro pub dining. It has a pub atmosphere, with bistro-style food and feels. A large dining room out the back, the front of house cosier but the menu shorter. I imagine it’s an ace spot to pop out for coffee and pastries for Henley dwellers and wile away a morning. Boxing Day Brunch sounds incredible there too.
First off, the bar staff are great, they feel like instant friends as soon as you’re through the door. Gins they apparently love, with some of the team former actual industry insiders who let me sniff out (physically) the good ones; a small notch closer in my gin tasting career. Whitley Neill (rhubarb & ginger – actually from The Bluebell pub next door) and Gin Mare were both new faves in my book, with Jawbox on the list for the next gin occasion.
As I said, The Butcher’s have gone gastro. The menu’s not massive, which I like, but just enough to satisfy most palates. Not all meat, but a strong focus of course. Unusually and perhaps not so typically gastro, it’s a pick and mix jobby; if you’re going for the meat dishes, pick your meat, side and sauce. Forget the resemblance to the humble Harvester formula, it’s a simple menu indulgence in my eyes.
After a fair few drinks throughout the day, it’s safe to say the warm breads and whipped butter (don’t you just love non-ordinary butter in a pub/restaurant?) went pretty quick, ready for the mega starters; liver and onions and, of course, a half portion of the most famous item on The Butcher’s menu, chicken wings, in their salted caramel glaze.
The first went down extremely well as one of R’s favourite classic dishes; rare liver and sweet, sweet onion.
Lucky for me, he pretty much left me to scoff two thirds of those wonderful wings. Steaming, succulent chicken stays piping hot after every bite underneath the chunkiest, crispiest overcoat skin that makes these wing winners. Additional whole pieces of caramel, akin to popcorn, and a little sweet jus topped off this dessert-cum-starter.
I think the savoury sweet works with the epic saltiness (we were indeed grappling for the water bottles in the middle of the night) and coated all over that heavenly skin, they’re so moreish I’m not surprised I nearly ate the lot. They really are ‘expertly crafted’ and definitely worth their reputation.
I’d be back to sample a full portion for lunch, perhaps in the soy and sesame or Franks’ hot flavours next time.
For mains; a new cut of meat for R, the 8oz onglet, the ox cheek form me. Onglet was served to R’s perfect (but extremely) rare [veggies look away now], mine slow cooked to melty loveliness.
Meat piled HIGH on a bed of savoy cabbage, it’s fair to say we were both pretty silent throughout our entire mains, simply enjoying our own private meat love sessions.
Sides were skinny fries, seasonal veg and bone marrow triple cooked chips (yep, JUST as good as they sound and one of the best portion of chips in a long time). Peppercorn and a little extra bone marrow jus were saucy extras.
No no to puddings, although Instagram tells me they’re incredible (wonder if it’d beat this peanut and choc delight at rival Harborne Kitchen though?). Coffee was on order before we realised it was a quick dash for the train due to a later cancellation.
Large groups out the back, smaller more intimate occasions out front. Take a coat if you’re out back, it’s currently not warm. Go for the wings and bone marrow chips. And leave enough time (and battery for torch usage) for the train – somebody tells me it’s £35 back in a taxi to Brum if you miss your train…
I’ll certainly be back for wings, epic roasts and more wings.
97 High St, Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire
Twitter/IG: @butchers_social / @butcherssocial