It would be easy to assume that Broad Street is just a wasteland of cheap Vodka shots and hen parties, but if you stray away from the bars, you’ll find an oasis of calm in the form of the Hyatt Regency.
The hotel, famous for hosting the Conservatives for their party conference, is a popular stop for corporate types, with easy access to the ICC, a spa and suites with floor to ceiling windows looking over the Birmingham skyline. The lobby and restaurant has recently had a little revamp, and I was asked along to test drive the new menu.
A restaurant in the middle of the lobby shouldn’t work, but the team at the Hyatt have thought carefully about best to get the Aria Restaurant to feel like a nice place to have dinner, rather than a eating at an echoey table in a hotel foyer.
They’ve added a new bar area to the front of the lobby, which cleverly turns into a buffet area in the morning to grab an on the go breakfast for business guests. This area is quieter than their pub (the Gentleman and Scholar), and a great place to relax with a glass of wine. Look out for a rotating menu of English wines, which are well worth trying. I had a glass of a pink sparkling wine, made by Hattingley Valley. It was crisp, and tasty, and far more interesting than I expected an offering from England to be.
Aria itself has also had a little makeover. The team were inspired by the book, The Secret Garden, and have created a space full of greenery, complemented by the high glass ceilings. Imagine a restaurant in a very chic greenhouse, and you’re here. There are trees, a fountain and place settings dressed with real lavender. It’s beautiful, and calm, and as evening falls, the trees light up with softly twinkling lights.
But what about the food? The menu is also on the secret garden theme, with English produce, botanicals and flowers. It would be nice if the chef had more freedom to choose local ingredients, but the selection is still of high quality.
To start, I chose Pan Seared Scallops (£12.50), which come with a cauliflower puree, chorizo crumb and crispy greens. The scallops were plump and juicy, and perfectly tender. Chorizo is always a welcome addition for me, and they brought some meaty contrast to the delicate scallops. The portion size is decent (although if you’re hungry, order the Lobster Bisque; it’s a massive bowl).
Next, I ordered the Goosnargh Duck Breast (£23.50), dressed with kumquats, cherries, celeriac puree and a duck jus. I wish I could share smell in a blog post, because the moment this hit the table, the smell of cherries was amazing. The duck was perfectly pink (but I was offered the choice of pink or well done), and full of flavour. The skin was crisp, pairing perfectly with the soft meat. The kumquats were too sweet for me, but the cherries were spot on with their sweet-sharp addition to the plate. Again, the portion size was good, especially for duck, leaving me comfortably full without feeling stuffed (that came later).
Perhaps predictably, I skipped dessert in favour of a Cheese Board. The mix of cheese was excellent, with the stand out being the delicious Oxford Isis Soft Cheese. It was soft and creamy, but had good, strong flavour. You get a generous pile of crackers, and a tasty, crunchy chutney for smearing. Excellent all round.
Each course was expertly paired with wines suggested by the fabulous Jade (look out for her in the bar and be her best friend. She’ll be the one in a gorgeous dress), but she plied us with so much of it, I apparently photographed none of it, and have only vague recollections of what we drank. There was a crisp Riesling, a fruity Malbec and a very surprising Demi Sec, which tasted a little like Marzipan.
Aria has done an excellent job making an awkward space feel luxe, and the menu is classy and delicious. It’s definitely quite pricey if you eat A La Carte, but it’s a fabulous option for hotel guests, business dinners or special occasions. If you’re not feeling so flash, they also do a cheaper ‘pre-concert’ menu, which would be ideal if you were visiting the Symphony Hall or the Rep Theatre. Their staff are attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. Aria really is a bit of a hidden gem, well worth a visit.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Aria, and all food and drink were complementary for the purpose of honest review. All words, images and opinions are my own. Prices correct at time of writing. Read my full disclosure policy here.