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Known predominantly for their expansive and inventive cocktail menu, popular bar & eatery Aluna have recently launched a new menu with the help of London consultancy Kinkou.
Kinkou have a reputation for creating dishes that are light yet luxurious, and Aluna’s new pan-Asian-inspired menu is said to be a culmination of the chef’s experience and dedication to food.
Located at The Mailbox, one of Birmingham’s best-known dining-out destinations, the restaurant boasts a range of signature dishes: seared beef sashimi with apple, pickled cucumber, enoki mushroom, lemongrass and ginger dressing; chilli soft shell crab tempura with lemon soy and green chilli aioli; red scallop curry.
Many of the dishes are suitable for those on gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diets - a necessity nowadays considering the huge rise in people that follow these diets.
My partner and I chose to visit the canalside venue on a Friday evening. The bar was packed out with groups of friends and couples, and the restaurant area was suitably busy too. I was impressed from the off - the venue boasted a fantastic, lively atmosphere and was the perfect setting in which to get the weekend under way.
We kickstarted proceedings with an extremely tasty Aluna Secret cocktail - a vodka-based concoction which had the taste and consistency of a strawberry milkshake. Served in a martini glass, the ‘secret sugar’ that topped the drink was set alight at the table, providing a crème brûlée-style coating that tasted of marshmallow. It was tremendous!
The food menu featured six sections - while you wait, small dishes, plates to share, salads, sides and desserts.
We ordered from the small-dishes section: chilli salt squid with spring onion, shichimi pepper and yuzu & mirin sauce; and pan-roasted scallops with wasabi aioli, crushed pea and purple shisho.
The scallops were delicious, of a good size and cooked perfectly. Served in the shell, they were nicely seared on both sides yet soft in the middle. I could have eaten the dish three times over.
The chilli salt squid, however, was underwhelming. Even with the sauce poured on top, there was little to no flavour. The squid pieces were cold and in no way salty, which was a shame as it’s usually one of our favourite dishes.
From the ‘plates to share’ section, we ordered: the red aromatic crispy duck curry with tamarind, baby aubergine, baby corn, crispy sweet basil and wild ginger; the beef bulgogi sirloin with grilled asparagus and green peppercorn yoghurt; and the wasabi lamb chops with parsley, coconut, red chilli and pickled cucumber.
We started with the ever-so-tasty lamb chops. The meat was cooked to perfection and boasted a melt-in-the-mouth texture. I didn’t get much coconut, but the beautifully cooked lamb, subtle wasabi flavouring and the pickled garnish made for a very enjoyable plate of food.
Next up was the beef. As with the lamb, the meat was cooked perfectly. Served medium rare, it was nicely seasoned and of a high quality. I annoyingly poured the entire pot of green peppercorn yoghurt over the meat before I’d tried it. It was a bit too sour for my liking and ended up masking the taste of the beef - a mistake on my part.
Everything we ordered was served at once, tapas style, with which we had no issue whatsoever. However, because the plates to share were much larger than your average tapas dish, they took longer to eat, which resulted in some of the dishes dropping in temperature by the time we got round to them.
We moved on to our last savoury dish of the evening, the duck curry. Although slightly cold in temperature, due to being left until last, it boasted an enjoyable sweet-and-strong tamarind flavour. There wasn’t as much duck as I'd have liked for the £11.95 price tag, but it was a tasty dish nonetheless.
Although we encountered a couple of hiccups flavour-wise during the course of our meal, the presentation was aesthetically pleasing and of an impressive standard.
Service at both the bar and in the restaurant area was exemplary - hats off to the staff for making our debut visit an enjoyable one.
On another positive note, Aluna have certainly perfected all things beverage. Their cocktails are absolutely delicious and the lagers are crisp and fresh - there’s nothing worse than a flat pint!
The canalside location is certainly a draw too, and I can easily imagine myself making use of the outside seating in the summer whilst enjoying another melon colada or several.
**** Lauren Foster
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