Birmingham is not exactly number one on my list of places to visit. Now, I may be being a tad unfair here. I know there are some nice places in Birmingham; unfortunately Aston is not one of them. OK, they do their best. The area is at least not derelict and there is a reasonable amount of greenery around. However, this does not make a paradise away from home. I was visiting Aston on business. The meeting was over and lunchtime beckoned so we needed somewhere to get "watered and re-victualled. I'd had recommendations to The Bartons Arms so, having nowhere better to suggest, we set out on the short walk to see if it stood examination. The Bartons Arms is situated on Aston High Street at number 144. The High Street is also the A34 so this is a main through-route. You'll find it easily; it stands out a mile. This is not bad. It stands out because it is the oldest building around but not old and derelict; old and beautifully restored. If in doubt, look out for the imposing Clocktower that stands above the main entrance; you can't miss it. The pub is one of just a few owned by the Oakham Ales brewery of Peterborough. This Victorian watering hole was built in 1901 and is without a shadow of a doubt one of the finest pub interiors in England and probably in the whole of the UK. The only one its equal I have visited is the Philharmonic in Liverpool. It was originally built as the flagship of the Mitchell's & Butler brewery. It was listed as a Grade 2 heritage building in 1976. Oakham Ales acquired it in 2002 and set about restoring it to its former glory, a task that they have completed with distinction. Much of the interior is original. Everywhere you will see rich mahogany fittings, engraved and
stained windows, engraved mirrors and wall to wall tiles. Seating is a mixture of upholstered wall benches and free-standing chairs. The whole feel of the place is of tradition. However, this is not at the expense of gloominess or unfriendliness. The whole place is bright and spotlessly clean. The building is roughly wedge-shaped with the bar at the "pointy" end. Behind the bar are further rooms, on an open-plan design. There is plenty of room for dozens of guests. We were there at lunchtime on a Tuesday. There were only about eight other people in the place. Our gain. Aston is hardly the centre of Birmingham let alone the centre of the Universe. There appears to be little "industry" in the area so it's probably not ideally positioned for popping out for a "quick lunch-break" for most Birmingham workers. The pub does have a car park though, with room for about a dozen cars though, with the trend towards criminalising drivers who even think about a drink let alone indulging in one, this is possibly not the asset it once was. It will come as no surprise to learn that Oakham's ales feature prominently on the bar. During our visit the ales available were J.H.B. (3.8% abv), Bishops Farewell (4.6% abv) and Helterskelter (5.0% abv). As I was driving I had the J.H.B. J.H.B. is a light coloured golden ale, entirely suited to the hot summer day it has. I am often reluctant about these sorts of beers. I often find them bland. Not so J.H.B. It is wonderfully hoppy and thirst-quenching. It would be an ideal introduction to Real Ale for lager bigots. The major ales are all Real Ales and served through traditional hand-pumps. There are also keg offerings for those whose tastebuds are not sufficiently devel
oped to appreciate Real Ales. Uniquely, there is also a tap for the REAL Budweiser; that's the Czech version, "subtitled" Budvar, rather than the American rubbish. If you ever see it in most bars it's usually only in bottles. There is also wine available. However, the exceptional ales are not the only attraction. The Bartons Arms is also renowned for its food. Featuring exclusively a Thai style menu, the choices are extensive and offer very good value. On this occasion I wanted just a snack and chose a Special Fried Rice style dish, with beef. At just £2.95 I thought that it would be just enough to "put me on". What arrived was an utterly delicious dish that I could have easily chosen a a main meal all on its own. So much for my snack! My colleagues eating with me chose other dishes at around £4-5 and also proclaimed them excellent. The Bartons Arms is also suitable for functions. They offer a Meeting/Dining Room that will hold about 30 and a private Function Room for about 100. For a party this location would be excellent although travelling to and from would need to be considered. Probably taxis would be best. There is no doubt that this hostelry is of the very highest quality and deserves to be much better known than it appears to be, judged by the numbers present during our visit. Maybe it gets a far better turnout in the evenings. As for me, "I'll be back".