65 Monty’s deli sandwich bar: office lunch brunch

Monty’s Deli Sandwich Bar, 4 Colmore Row,  B3 2QDIMG_20170602_143446_932

How you have lunch says a lot about the place you work. Once, on a rare training day, my boss and I had lunch in Strada, surrounded by office types for whom this seemed routine. I – on the other hand – was like an overexcited child playing at being grown up. The fun of leaving work and sitting in a restaurant for your lunch! Not having to survive on a cheese sandwich at your desk, or a bag of hula hoops snaffled from the snack drawer! Just sitting there, two adults, paying attention to our meal, and having a rest and refresh…It seemed another world.

Monty’s is snuggled just through an office building opposite Snow Hill Station. It isn’t a place many casual Birmingham visitors would find, but it is super convenient for it’s main business: serving the refuelling needs of the office workers that surround it. People come here for the group preorder, or just to pick up a quick lunch, queuing out of the door and down the street as I passed at lunchtime. Drawn in by its apparent popularity, we returned at a quieter time for breakfast.

Inside, you order at the bar, hot food down one wall, and an extensive sandwich and salad bar down the other. The service was very quick and friendly; scribbling our names and orders onto paper bags to pass back into the kitchen, the lady working the till blasted through the small queue super fast.IMG_20170602_143322_979

It is possible to sit in to eat your food, at a limited row of bar stools with single high tables fixed to the wall down one side. We grabbed a wooden-topped bar stool each, emblazoned with some Shakespearean inspiration, and prepared to tuck in. The decor has some lovely touches like this.

 

It’s greasy spoon food, quickly and perfectly cooked and wrapped up in Monty’s paper. My sausage and egg sandwich was great, hot and tasty. Condiments come as part of the ordering process, so make sure you order at the bar, then just open the wrappings and get stuck in.IMG_20170602_143251_175

The full English comes in a tray for easy transportation, and again, exactly fits the bill if you’re looking for a fry up before work: cheap food, plenty of it, thoroughly cooked. Toast came in its own paper bag on the side, which is a very sensible plan to stop it getting all covered in beans. The sausages come pre-sliced in half, which is something I associate with my grandmother, so always find vaguely comforting. IMG_20170602_143230_141

By its nature as a sandwich bar, Monty’s doesn’t have toilets, but for most clientele I imagine you are only popping out of the office for a moment, so can use the facilities back there.

In summary:

Price:  cheap eats –£10 exactly for a full English, cup of tea, coke, and a sausage and egg sandwich.

Atmosphere and design: functional and fresh, clear signage, and a classy take on a wooden-topped bar stool

Food: plentiful, greasy spoon style breakfast food, with a huge other range of lunch options as well

Toilets: use your own

Enjoyment: friendly staff, not a great place if you’re hoping to sit down and chat over breakfast with friends, but if you’re in a grab and go mood, I don’t think you can do better

 

 

64 All Bar One: more corporate brunch

All Bar One, 43 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B3 3NY

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I am a snob about the Colmore Business District in Birmingham, a reverse snob, bringing judgement to bear on its manicured glass frontages and fancy bars and immaculately restored and maintained Victorian buildings hosting corporate money and corporate love of money.

Simultaneously, I acknowledge you can get a lovely breakfast in the Business Quarter, especially on Saturday or Sunday when the business types have left, and just the lovely buildings and the tasty toast remain. Bar Opus is a delight. The Alchemist has good gimmicks and lovely food. Damascena might be the best of all. But I wasn’t expecting to have a very good time in All Bar One, which I mostly know as a soulless bar with nothing much to recommend it if you fancy a drink out.

Inside, alcohol is still its primary business; the bar is heavily laden with drinks bottles, and a cocktail making class was all set up waiting for a party later in the day. But at 11am on a Saturday it was quiet, with just one other couple also eating breakfast, and staff desultorily getting ready for the main sales focus of the day (drink). All the surfaces are easy to wipe clean, in various leathery finishes, and the walls are painted a hide-the-stains navy, but light streaming through the windows makes it a pleasant place to read the papers, and the decoration is bright and enthusiastically full of fun design touches.

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Best of all, it’s unexpectedly cheap and for food which was really quite delicious. It’s mostly standard full English/eggs Benedict type choices, with the sourdough toast and tiny frying pan extra touches that you’s expect probably have to offer round here; these are such signifiers of the ‘slightly nicer’ brunch that I’d expect them to show up in a Grayson Perry pot illustrating middle class city life in the UK.

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You can also order sourdough toast with toppings of your choice; I had feta, chorizo and (perfectly) poached eggs, and it was heavenly. Feta was probably a mistake as the chorizo drowned out the taste a bit, but that was my culinary error, not All Bar One’s. The picture wouldn’t load, but trust me, it looked as bright and beautiful as it sounds.

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Toilets are clean, standard, plain tiling, black and white theme, a long walk down a twisty corridor with beautiful coloured glass original windows.

In summary:

Price: what kind of venue publishes their full menu on the website, but without any prices? Crazy place. And I forgot the receipt, but it is very reasonably priced for what you get.

Atmosphere and design: it’s a bar – a corporate, quite swanky, chain bar.

Food: super tasty, sourdough central, chorizo aplenty

Toilets: down a corridor, clean and sensibly designed.

Enjoyment: probably the most cheap, cheerful, and quietest option you’ll find in the Business district on a Saturday morning

Website: http://www.allbarone.co.uk/

 

 

63 Coffee Tales: bustling cafe brunch

Coffee Tales, Jewellery Quarter, 15 Warstone Lane, B18 6HP

What an unexpected treat of a cafe! Not somewhere which has made a big fuss about its presence in the centre of the Jewellery Quarter, but certainly somewhere well known to local residents: when we arrived at 10am it was absolutely stuffed, and we took the last table to sit down and study the menu.

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Inside, plain wooden tables and chairs fill most of the space, with big sofas by the window so you can really relax and watch the world go by through the big picture windows all down the front wall.

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Ordering at the bar is a bit of a trial at breakfast, as there are enormous and delicious-looking cakes positively heaped up in front of you, looking so tempting I will definitely be back for coffee and cake one day.

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The menu itself is classic English breakfast fare, with a side line in American pancakes with a variety of toppings. I ordered a buttermilk bun with egg, sausage and sauteed mushrooms. It was supposed to have bacon, but I asked for it to be left off and was given a second sausage instead. The resulting bun was gigantic, and also, incredibly tasty; the mushrooms were tasty without being greasy, the egg perfectly poached, the bun lightly toasted: perfect!

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The full English came advertised wth artisan bread for the toast, which turned out to be a particular highlight, and worth a rare fancy adjective on this menu. It is a simple breakfast, as you can see, but each element was well-cooked and tasty.

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A tip for investors: the people who make these teapots must be raking it in. I’ve had the same teapot in three different cafes in the last week alone, and they turn up all over the place beyond that. Sadly, the tea was the only negative aspect of my breakfast – the cup was noticeably dirty when I wiped it out with a napkin.

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The toilets were also a bit mucky, with loo roll on the floor etc, and there is only one toilet for the cafe (often the case in the little JQ cafes). However, it must be noted that the whole cafe is very baby friendly, and the one toilet has a proper baby change unit and bin as well as the standards (a toilet and a sink).

In summary:

Price: cheap eats: £15.50 for a full English (approx £6), a sausage and egg bun (approx £5) and two drinks

Atmosphere and design: plain but welcoming, white tiles, wooden tables, blackboard behind the bar

Food: plain but well done

Toilets: one unisex loo, a bit messy, but with good baby change facilities

Enjoyment: Definitely worth a stop in if you need a good breakfast (or coffee and cake) in the Jewellery Quarter; it isn’t gimmicky, or particularly hipster-trendy, as many places in the JQ are these days, but it is just nice and gives you exactly what you want.

62 Yorks Bakery Cafe: the fourth iteration

Yorks Cafe, The Ikon Gallery, Oozells Square, Birmingham City Centre

Yet again, the cafe in the Ikon Gallery has new tenants. Farewell Cafe Opus, and hello Yorks Bakery, the fourth iteration of the popular Birmingham independent brand. The original Yorks has now closed, and has been replaced in popular affection with the venue closer to Grand Central (read our reviews of both by clicking the links), with a mini sized espresso version opposite Snow Hill. And now, opening in the Ikon Gallery, Yorks expands its operation further.

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This can only be good news, as Yorks is generally delightful, if a little consciously hipster for some people’s tastes. The decoration of this version seems to skew a bit more wealthy, with solid woods, fancier lighting, and complicated overhead greenery all brought into what was previously quite a simple white and block colour space. The paintwork has been stripped back to reveal on-trend brickwork, and heavy black now outlines the windows, echoing the industrial design of windows you might find in the Jewellery Quarter. It seems consciously to be more grown up that Opus. Check out the before and after below to contrast:
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The thing I most associate with Yorks is all present and correct: the glass teapots and the tiny bottles of milk are a signature of the brand at this point.

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The menu is full of classic breakfast dishes with a hipster twist; if you want to guarantee the presence of avocado or sourdough, definitely head to Yorks. The full English comes in a frying pan, with sourdough toast , sweetened beans (not Heinz if you are a breakfast purist), and (requested) extra avocado (when going hipster you might as well go all the way). The avocado was particularly delicious, perfectly ripe and tasty. Frying pan aside – its never going to be better to eat out of a frying pan than off a plate – this was a very tasty dish. Places really need to stop with the pretentious touches when they actively stop you eating your breakfast easily.

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Wanting to be adventurous, I had the Arabian buttered eggs, according to the menu, ‘poached eggs, cumin and butter sauce, fresh herbs, labneh, citrus red onions and sumac, served on sourdough toast’. Slightly greasy, slightly spicy, a very nice alternative to the more traditional eggs Benedict dishes also on the menu.

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The toilets are not associated with the cafe, but with the gallery. They are exactly the same as they always have been: plentiful, tiled, and filled with slightly depressing stainless steel fixtures and fittings which feel much less design-y than the rest of the Ikon.

In summary:

Price: pricey: £12 for the Ikon breakfast, £7.50 for buttered eggs, £8.70 eggs Benedict

Atmosphere and design: money hipster, all exposed brick and heavy wood, industrial luxury

Food: fancy-pants touches abound in a classic memu  of breakfsat dishes

Toilets: in the Ikon gallery on the other side of the shop

Enjoyment: a lovely place to breakfast in a picturesque setting with the attractions of the variable art in the Ikon to extend your breakfast afterwards

61 Centenary Lounge: Art Deco brunch

Centenary Lounge, Moor Street Station, Birmingham City Centre

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Moor Street station is the antithesis of New Street station, although the two lie only a quarter of a mile apart. Where New Street lurks below the vast, shiny, busy bulk of a newly-revamped Grand Central shopping centre, Moor Street is a low-roofed, red brick beautifully evocative building which has been lovingly restored in 1930s style. Where at New Street you can pop into any number of the generic coffee shops, restaurants, cafes and snack places which you might find in any major terminus, Moor Street has only a couple of places to find refreshment. Centenary Lounge is the main stop for hungry travellers, and it carefully echoes the 1930s ambience of the whole station building.

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Inside, a very very few tables are squashed together under a large framed vintage map of Great Western Railway routes in its heyday. The menus are laminated. The tables and chairs easy to wipe down. You are well-catered for here whatever time of day you head in; there is tea and cake, or wine, or sandwiches, but for our purposes, until midday each day, you can stop off for a cooked breakfast.

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It’s cosy, and as Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong were piped over the speakers, the (definitely older) crowd were absolutely loving the vibe. I shamelessly listened in to an older lady  in the most vivid shade of lipstick who tucked herself into a table for two with her friend, but then blatantly turned around and struck up a definite flirtation with the solo gentleman sat behind her. He, we discovered, was on his way to his twice yearly pilgrimage to see the steam trains at Kidderminster. Both were big fans of the proper cups and saucers, so much better than those cardboard things you get in other places, even though I’m pretty sure most places give you a proper cup if you are sitting in. I think they just loved the vibe so much, they were eager to pour praise on everything. And I do quite like the GWR logo on the cups and plates.

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It has to be said, the breakfast itself is a bit limp. It covers all the bases of a standard full English, and was served quite quickly, but it looked noticeably uninspiring on the pale. The sausages seemed a bit pale. The beans, in contrast, looked a bit dry, and were hotter than the sun.

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Scrambled eggs on toast was much the same: just a bit basic. Slightly dry, totally adequate, hard to complain for £2.95.
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My croissant on the other hand was delightfully buttery and tasty. IMG_20170311_123744_261It’s small enough not to have a toilet, and you need to get a receipt from the counter to let you through the ticket barriers and on to the platform to use the “Ladies Room”. Follow the black and white signs to the slightly grubby, very chilly toilets, as all on-platform toilets I’ve ever used seem to be. They are decorated in period red tiling and red doors, but the sinks and soap dispensers are cheap modern and practical.

 

Back in the main entrance, you are more able to appreciate the beauty of Moor Street, the beautiful glass roof, the rust reds and browns, the delicate iron fences between track and ticket booths, the light spilling down from above, the florists jammed with bright flowers on your right as you run for a train.

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It’s not a cafe I’d go to just for the sake of its brunch, but if catching a train here I’d definitely stop in for a drink or something to eat. It all contributes to the feel of Moor Street as a more welcoming, less hectic station, in its subtle allusions to a time when catching the train was a more beautiful, less grotty and stressful experience than it is today. It really does feel like stepping back in time a bit from the hyper-modern intensity of the Selfridges building and the bullring right outside. Just a delightful, charming place to wait for your train.

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In summary:

Price: cheap eats: £5.95 for a hot breakfast meze, £2.95 for scrambled eggs on toast

Atmosphere and design: 1930s art deco themed

Food: simple range of classic brunch options, with breakfast sandwiches pre-cooked and ready to go

Toilets: get a receipt from the counter to let you onto the platform to use the station toilets

Enjoyment: not a great brunch, but a charming and delightful place to hang out while you wait for a train

60 Damascena: Syrian vegetarian brunch

Damascena, Temple Row, Birmingham City Centre

Damascena has been a hit in Moseley ever since it opened in 2014, and now they have a city centre branch. They’re in a great location, a short walk from the shops, and nestled between two of the most beautiful buildings on Cathedral Square, so it was an easy call to stop in for impromptu Sunday breakfast. Moseley-ites rave about it; time to see if if has travelled well to its new branch.

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Inside, the front of the cafe is taken up with cosy sofa seating in the corner, and then the deli bar which runs down one side, offering a mouth-watering display of cake and sweet things.

Down a short corridor, you come to the main seating area, which is filled with design touches from Syria, after the inspiration city for the whole cafe. Lovely intricate patterns cover the ceiling, both in print, and from the beautiful lighting, which send stippled patterns across the room. Mirrors on the high ceiling echo the patterns further.

img_20170220_102352_706Seating is all set up in tables for twos, but it is easy to cluster some together. Lots of families with young children were present, as well as couples, and family groups such as us; the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming to all, but still quiet and relaxing, despite the small child desperate to see into the golden stand full of water in the centre of the room and nearly pulling it over on himself. Everything is gold and red and grey and heavy brown wood, creating a rich, warm feeling throughout.

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English breakfast tea came in these teapots which are seemingly everywhere these days. unusually, the tea bag was in my cup rather than the pot, so I had two slightly weaker teas than I normally would.

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Mum ordered an affogato, a scoop of ice cream topped with a shot of espresso, and pronounced it deliciously like drinking coffee-flavoured ice cream.

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Damascena has been around for a while, but it is still unique in the city centre for its Syrian-style dishes. I ordered the Damascena hot breakfast meze which consists of a bowl of falafel, a pot of hummus, a flat bread, and fuul medames (fava beans, yogurht, chick peans, tahini). Like lots of the dishes here it is vegetarian and gluten free, and it is also very filling and very tasty. The fuul medames were particularly tasty, and can also be ordered as a main on their own with a flatbread on the side.

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You can also order the same meal but with Damascena fuul instead; this version of fuul, with fava beans, tomato, garlic and chilli is also vegan, making the whole meal vegan. When going out for breakfast, the need for some sort of bacon or sausage becomes a loudly-voiced rule in some quarters of society, and the thought of going for a vegan brunch is anathema to some; the deliciousness of this meal was such that no one even really clocked that it was vegan and gluten free until after we finished.

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So Damascena is beautiful, and peaceful, and serves really lovely food quite different to anything else you would find in the city centre. Could there be anything bad to say? Unfortunately, the toilets let the whole thing down a bit; two unisex toilets at the top of a twisty-turny set of stairs to require some uncomfortable squeezing past each other on the stairs, and – sadly – on the Sunday morning we visited, did smell quite bad.

In summary:

Price: mid range: £7.95 for a hot breakfast meze, £4.25 for fuul and flatbread alone

Atmosphere and design: Syrian-themed, with intricate lighting, geometric patterns, mirrors and rich golds, reds, and browns throughout

Food: so many vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options.

Toilets: up a narrow staircase, unisex, didn’t smell nice when we visited

Enjoyment: a great alternative to the classic English breakfast you can find almost everywhere else.

 

59 Tom’s Kitchen: really bad brunch

Tom’s Kitchen, Wharfside Street, The Mailbox, Birmingham

There are three things wrong with Tom’s Kitchen: the price, the food, and the crockery. Something nice: the decor.

Let’s start with the price, which is the root of all the other problems. Breakfast in Tom’s Kitchen is the most expensive we have had in Birmingham to date, and that includes breakfast in Harvey Nichols, The Button Factory, or Selfridges. If you are going to charge £14.50 (!!) for a full English, you had better be serving something spectacular. Instead, it is a fairly nice, but definitely ordinary version of the dish. Everything is well-cooked, and the ingredients are individually quite nice, but definitely no more than that. At £5.50 more than Harvey Nics would charge, or £.4.50 more than the Button Factory’s version (where I already had reservations about the price), this is a massive let down.

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So what are you really paying for? Not the Mailbox location (Harvey Nics is literally next door). Maybe the decor? It is quite a nicely decorated space. It reminds me – as a dedicated Grand Central shopper  – of Carluccios, with a similarly open front area which opens directly onto the shopping walkway. Tom’s Kitchen prefers to sit people inside though, where you can relax on the heavily luxurious chairs and look up at the darkly panelled walls illustrated with stylised prints of various animals. It is all leather and glass and carefully polished wood, drawing on a sort of Victorian gentleman’s club palette. It has lovely soft orange lighting, and the atmosphere is quiet and grown up; maybe you are paying to sit in this lovely space?

If you do though, don’t make the mistake of ordering the pancakes. I have never been unable to actually finish a breakfast dish before, but this pancake defeated me. It was so tough. And chewy! And I had to saw it with my knife, and then gnaw it with my teeth. It had a literal crust. I am confident I could have used it as a frisbee and its structural integrity would have remained intact.

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And don’t order the eggs Benedict, unless you like your eggs absolutely rock, rock solid. The muffins on the eggs Benedict were nice – fat and soft – and the ham is lovely, but a bit of soft boiled yolk is essential in my book. I know it’s tricky to do, but when you’ve charged £10 for the pleasure, I sort of expect at least one egg will be properly cooked.

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One bizarre criticism to make, which I swear I wouldn’t even include except I’ve now been twice with two different people who independently commented on it, is that the teapots get hot to the touch. They are a fat, chunky design – fairly stylish I suppose – but the handles conduct the heat of the water within to the extent that one friend actually used a napkin to pick up her teapot. What a truly weird thing to have to report.

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Finally, there is only one toilet, which was in use when I wanted to visit. Luckily, the actual Malibox toilets are right outside (including a specific baby change facility), and are perfectly civilised. The Tom’s Kitchen staff directed me out to use them, and they were fully equipped with soap and loo roll.It’s a slight disconnect to have to leave the restaurant if someone is in the loo, but it is no trouble at all as they are so close.

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In summary:

Price: expensive: £14.50 for a full English, £10 for eggs Benedict,£9.50 for a pancake

Atmosphere and design: leather, polished wood, beautiful tiling: Victorian gentleman’s club chic

Food: nice quality of ingredients, but nothing special: eggs overcooked, and the pancake inedible

Toilets: only 1 in store, but you can pop to the Mailbox toilets next door which are well-maintained

Enjoyment: a lovely quiet relaxing place to brunch, if you have money to burn and don’t care about the quality of what you are eating

Website: https://www.tomskitchen.co.uk/birmingham/restaurant/#menus