“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
When rumours of a new bar at the Mailbox bubbled to the surface and claimed it would have “a magical, mysterious allure” with molecular-mixology cocktails, I’m not going to lie I pretty much imagined walking into Diagon Alley and drinking a Butterbeer. So imagine my surprise when I walked into Aluna and spotted a quote from Harry Potter on the wall.
Sadly for me, but probably wisely for anyone who actually managed to grow up, Aluna is less Leaky Cauldron and more contemporary bar. They’ve moved away a little from the industrial-chic which seems to be standard at the moment and gone for eclectic glamour – orange crushed-velvet seating, studded with fake diamonds and gold frames everywhere. It’s sort of odd, but sort of works.
The first night I went was a launch night and I tried a few of the cocktails. They’re definitely keeping with the magical theme with headings like Hubble Bubble, Vaccines & Potions and Midnight Madness. It’s refreshing to see that they’ve done something a little different with the cocktail listings too – sure there are some standard cocktails, and even smoked version of classics have been slowly appearing on some menus in Brum, but they’ve also gone down the molecular route a little. Some of this works better than others, and I’m wary of using dry ice in drinks, but good on them for trying something a little different – at least in Birmingham.
However this time, my friend and fellow blogger Roz invited me along to be her plus one and try out their food options. I can’t help but feel that the food menu itself is a bit of a let down. I wanted chocolate frogs, dragon milk cheese or at least soup served in cauldrons. Instead it’s all too familiar – burgers, steaks, ribs and classic dishes like fish and chips.
For a starter I had the buttered black tiger prawns, which were actually fried in a buttermilk batter. The batter was suitably light and complimented the prawns well. It seemed strange that they didn’t already come with a dipping sauce, although I quite enjoyed them without, but the waitress recommended a garlic mayo and this worked well enough. Odd as it is, my only real complaint with this starter was that with seven prawns it was a bit much.
For main it was a pretty simple choice; I went for the Aluna Burger which is an 8oz beef patty, topped with bacon, cheese, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato and mayo in a brioche bun, served with chunky chips and coleslaw – and because I didn’t realise everything was super-sized, I’ve ordered some seasonal veg too. The burger itself was juicy and pleasant enough, although I think the patty could’ve done with a little more seasoning, but the brioche bun was one of the better I’ve had recently. I did remove the jalapeno peppers from the burger, which I think was a wise move – I tried them later and they would’ve overpowered everything entirely. The chunky chips were more like potato wedges, so didn’t really have the crunch I expect from chips and there were an awful lot of them.
Roz had gone for the ribs, which were also super-sized, though sadly consisted of a lot of fat. The manager did explain that they’d had a few issues with the ribs and were looking to change them. The sauce had a good colour and was sticky and sweet, so it wasn’t a complete loss.
The seasonal vegetables should’ve been a riot of colour; aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, courgettes and beans, to name a few. Instead what I could identify felt more like the leftovers from a Sunday roast – carrots and parsnips, roasted, I think, without any of the crunch you’d expect and a lack of colour. I’m not sure if it was the portion size or just how they’d been treated, but I didn’t manage much.
I found the pudding choices a bit limited, although frankly I was quite full by this point. Roz went for green apple sorbet, which she said was lovely and refreshing but again at four scoops was just too much. I went off menu and asked for some vanilla ice cream, which I noticed they served along side some of the other dishes, and I found it was fairly bland, so I could see why it wasn’t on their main menu.
Whilst I found the food to be pretty underwhelming, the service throughout was excellent. Our waitress was speedy, attentive and ready to recommend things. I’d spoken to one of the managers on the launch night about their ethos on hiring staff and he said they’d gone for people with excellent customer service that they could train up, particularly on the cocktail side of things. If the waitress serving us was anything to go by, they’d certainly chosen well.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit deflated by Aluna. I wanted it to be so much more; something different for the city and as much as I dislike the word mixology, I wanted it to force the city to up its game with cocktails and with food which followed suit. And whilst the cocktails are certainly trying something new, variable as that may be, I found the food to be generic and uninspiring.
The ‘choices’ quote from the mirror on Aluna is spoken by the Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore, but there’s another one from him which sums up my experience “We must all make the choice between what is right and was is easy” and sadly, I feel Aluna went for easy.
Disclosure: My meal was complimentary as I was a guest of Roz who was, in turn, a guest of Aluna. As a Ravenclaw (I totally did the Pottermore test), I say it as I see it and my views remain my own and honest. Quotes are fro JK Rowling, obvs.