The Canal House
To young professionals working in the centre of Birmingham back in the eighties, the James Brindley pub was the first glimpse of a brighter, more cosmopolitan future for city centre socialising. Our first bit of redevelopment chic. Somewhere that wasn’t run by Ansells, M&B, or the Fewtrells and it showed.
The newly opened Canal House on the same site is the new incarnation – a post work and on into the evening bar-restaurant destination, bringing the original thinking behind the James Brindley up to today’s expectations.
Team Comesto booked themselves in for food, drinks and a review of what is on offer. As with all of our reviews, insight for the trade and for customers a heads up before you take your team down there.
The unusual design of the building, with large open areas, quieter corners and plenty of outside seating looking over Gas Street Basin, gives it a versatility that caters for a broad range of needs. Inside has been specced up nicely, not too kitsch, or overdone, ‘welcoming’ is the initial feeling you get as you walk in.
And it’s not just the design, the staff too – personality, efficiency and good training is what came over. And a subtle, but important point – to supply to expectation, pub and restaurant staff are there to assist and provide, not serve and whoever has trained the staff here has got this. The best venues are now taking this approach and for the paying customers it works. You sort of bond with the staff you meet, which means you bond with the place. Our orders were taken by Giselle with striking blue hair (and who we found out also happens to be a contemporary dancer), she had an easy going but knowledgeable and professional approach to looking after us and supplying us with what we wanted, when we wanted it.
Their marketing bigs up the range of cocktails on offer, the Budvar beer and their own in house gin. Add to that some deftly chosen craft beers and the standard brand lagers and you certainly get choice.
On a quietish Monday night the bar staff were efficient, attentive and appeared to know every cocktail off by heart. They offer a huge range of what we might call unusual cocktails, (woodsmoke and vegetation appear in many) and nothing wrong with that, but many of the classics were were not listed as available. I might have just wanted a dry martini? A prompt to just ask for anything not listed would have been useful.
For professional quality and consistency, it’s tempting when you run a city centre, drinks first socialising environment to just offer nibbles, snacks and starters – a tapas type philosophy, but commercially not the best move and many clients do want main courses. The problem for many venues, (and the Canal House suffers from this), is that investing in supply of classy starters and nibbles is easy to pull off and profitable, but sets an expectation that doesn’t always run through to the main courses.
But let’s get real about it, chef driven fine dining is not what this place is about and pricing, staffing and time constraints means that menu design is going to reflect this. The main courses on offer are tempting, but just a little basic. The trademark hanging kebabs are fun and the service is sharp and efficient. But at the end of the day, The Canal House is about socialising, eating and drinking with friends or colleagues, not cutting edge gastronomy.
The trick for this place and I sense that they will pull it off, is that it attempts to cater for a broad range of clientele. Changing mood and offer to suit the time and day of the week and indeed the season or weather. This place will get busy, it will create a buzz and they have invested to cope with success. A quick reminder from one who has run a cocktail lead bar though – staff adequately. At busy times watching bar staff fuss over a complicated cocktail and there’s no one free to pull pints for the beer drinkers irritates the beer drinkers and places guilt on the cocktail buyers.
Gas Street Basin is entering a new phase of development and the Canal House is bravely forging ahead while several major builds are springing up around it. By this time next year, this zone could be the best city centre destination, a little like St Katherine Docks in London, but with canal boats, not yachts.
So what does that mean, for the potential of the area and the venue? Like St Katherine Docks footfall will be high, with a great atmosphere and The Canal House will be leading the charge. And unlike St Katherine Docks you won’t have to share bar space with oligarchs and their charming minders. Another reason to move to Birmingham I think.
Check out the website, connect with them on social, they do some tempting offers for followers and certainly one place to consider for pre Christmas events.