Situated in a former 19th century theatre, just a stone's throw away from the city's New Street Station, the Victoria Pub is an epicentre of vibrancy on a Friday evening. Resembling more of a converted nightclub with DJ's in tow than a place of fine city dining, it would be easy to assume it to be akin to any of the boozers across the city and beyond. But with the Victoria, the joy is in the revelation.
The eatery was last month named by lifestyle magazine Shortlist as being among the UK's top ten gastropubs, bringing one of Birmingham's oldest and most enduringly popular dining experiences into the national consciousness. Tellingly, it was the only restaurant from England's second city to make a list dominated by gastro hotspots London, Manchester and Edinburgh. And no mistake, it lives up to the hype and is very much deserving of its place.
The setting is quintessentially British in every way, sans the food. In a unique twist, the menu is an unashamed celebration of the American Deep South's finest cuisine. Working in conjunction with the Soul Food Project, set up locally in 2010 to celebrate tastes from Louisiana to Tennessee, the Victoria goes beyond the remit of standard pub grub.
Just the starter menu alone offers a selection of the usual nacho and rib staples combined with the more niche yet undeniably exquisite Cajun whitebait, the most expensive dish at just £5.
It is when delving into the pub's burger menu that it really begins to impress. Regrettably playing it safe and opting for "The King", a standard gherkin, tomato and lettuce patty, it is nevertheless so gigantic it would perhaps have made Elvis himself blush. Every burger has a set price of £8.50, from my standard, to the more adventurous Louis Louis burger (with added pulled pork and hot sauce) and The Rocksteady, a jerk chicken combination.
Ably assisted by an arsenal of beers, wines and cocktails – I opted for The Evil Monkey (Malt whiskey mixed with apricot and peach bitters) – everyone is suitably catered for.
If the first two courses weren't enough, then you simply can't discount the dessert menu, something my companion adamantly claimed as the most important. Although more limited in scope; stretching to brownies, cheesecakes and the £4 Knickerbocker Glory, the food's value for money is perhaps best manifested in these dishes.
Aside from the spontaneity and overall quality of what's on offer, another satisfying element of the Victoria is an atmosphere free of pretension. All fiscal cross sections of society are seemingly present - from students to the work crowd - as 50s rock and roll from Buddy Holly and Del Shannon blares out.
As I leave for the evening just after midnight, a member of the ever attentive and helpful staff recommends the weekly southern take on the Sunday roast. With a refreshingly modern attitude towards food but with a reassuringly traditional approach towards service, it appears this fusion of two drastically different culinary worlds produces the most satisfying of results.
The Victoria is a pub that knows what it wants to be, and has worked to carve out a unique identity in an ever competitive market. It possesses an inclusiveness and affordability unrivalled within the city, and is recommended to casual eaters as well as the more hardcore foodies and loyal customers. That famed southern hospitality they speak of never felt or tasted so good and finds itself alive and well in the West Midlands.