As a midlander, I have always loved Birmingham. However, the UK’s second city is sometimes dismissed (by the woefully misinformed) as London’s less glamorous and slightly uglier little sister. But Birmingham has masses to offer – it was voted the top UK events destination outside London in last year’s BMEIS survey – and shouldn’t be overlooked by PAs and events organisers on the hunt for a vibrant and convenient conference destination.
Olé checks in
I was lucky enough to be invited along to sample the delights of Birmingham’s Hotel la Tour last week, which opened just over 12 months ago in the city centre. Located a stone’s throw from Birmingham Moor Street and Birmingham New Street stations, it is perfectly situated for all transport links (Birmingham international airport is just two stops away on the train and the hotel offers guests exclusive cheap parking at the multi-storey car park around the corner at Selfridges) making it a convenient and cost-effective location for conferences and corporate events – and a great alternative to London.
After a long morning of dragging my fiancé around the Bull Ring, we arrived at Hotel la Tour with aching feet (and empty wallets) on a particularly grey, wet, miserable Saturday – making the lobby’s bright and airy interior and its squashy arm chairs particularly inviting.
Our room (one of the ‘City Rooms’ priced at around £99 per night) was tastefully decorated and spacious, with a huge shower, free wifi and a ludicrously comfortable bed (I very nearly slept through breakfast). But what really made this room notable was its hi-tech gadgetry. A control panel by the door allowed us to adjust the lights, bedside lamps and set the room temperature with a nifty touch-screen system. The bedside phone had the same multifunctional capability, so you didn’t even have to drag yourself out of bed if you’d forgotten to turn out the bathroom light.
The Auden Rooms
The hotel also features a hi-tech conference centre with internet access, touch-screen remote controlled lights, blinds and room temperature, as well as a hidden electronic screen and projector for presentations. One of the executive boardrooms has video-conferencing facilities utilising large flat-panel HD screens, and there is direct access to the roof terrace with views across the park to enjoy whilst networking, taking a coffee break or sipping a cocktail as the sun goes down.
Birmingham boasts a wealth of restaurants, bars and bistros to choose from for an evening meal. But we opted to dine at the hotel’s own ‘Marcus Wareing inspired’ restaurant. This might sound like a bit of a cop out – ‘have they just bought one of his recipe books?’ you might well ask. But the truth is the Aalto restaurant is not simply inspired by Wareing’s own culinary creations; the Michelin-starred chef has actually worked alongside the hotel’s resident chef in-person to develop an exciting and truly delicious menu.
We opted for the ‘surf and turf’ for starters. This was not your average pub grub offering of ribs and king prawns piled high, but a delicately constructed plate of scallops, pork belly, apple purée and cinnamon – so delicious I could have eaten it ten times over. For main, I went for the red wine, bacon and pork sausages, with grilled spring onions and celeriac mash. My fiancé had the steak – which he claims was the best he has ever eaten. For dessert, as a chocolate worshipper, I felt obliged to sample the chocolate fondant with ice cream (AMAZING) and my fiancé, who usually forgoes pudding, ordered the lemon tart. He is now a convert.
Stuffed to the brim, we wandered over to St Paul’s Square – a 20 minute walk or five minute cab ride away – which is my favourite part of Birmingham for evening drinks. We were fortunate enough to bump into a friend who had two spare tickets for The Jam House – notoriously difficult to get into due to its high-quality live music and pleasant situation away from the buzz of Broad Street – so we finished the evening off nicely with a few gin & tonics and some excellent live entertainment.
For more information or to book see http://hotel-latour.co.uk/
For great ideas on what to do in Birmingham see http://visitbirmingham.com/