Ground 101, Newhall Street, Birmingham
81 Ground 101 sounds like a Bingo call in a new game of Bingo Brunch: 17 Kanteen! 43 Lunchi! 81 Ground 101!
Ground 101 is a perfectly nice cafe with a terrible name. I think it’s an intentional pun on its location at the base of the BT tower, and the fact it is a coffee shop so some kind of grinding is involved? But mostly anything with the word ‘ground’ at the start like that – especially at the foot of a giant tower – conjures Ground Zero, and that can’t be a good thing. Being at the foot of the BT Tower does at least make it fairly straightforward to find.
The site has been in the headlines frequently over the last few years. It was ransacked by rioters in the 2011 riots in Birmingham. After the riots, Prince William and Kate Middleton visited the site to show support for the city. It was then called Machan Express, and I assume they chose it because its slightly out of the city centre, and thus more secure than other more central riot-hit premises.
I always remember that visit, because I walked right through the press pack outside, and all that went through my head was irritation that I had to walk in the road to pass, rather than curiosity at why a hundred people were crowded round a not-very-interesting shop on a not-very-interesting street. And thus I missed seeing Kate Middleton in this aggressively nautical McQueen in the flesh:
Sadly, it turns out a visit from royalty can’t arrest the damage done by looters, and Machan Express went bust, unable to catch up on the £9000 worth of damage done. Kate looked like she could see it coming (and also like maybe this is the face she pulls when George is naughty?):
And so today, we have Ground 101, a cafe that serves breakfast but only advertises the fact on the A frame rather than on the menu boards inside, a family run business where the mother-daughter bossy-resigned dynamic could be ripped straight from a cheesy sitcom, and where they will happily knock you up a full English even if you barge in before they have really opened for the day.
It’s standard greasy spoon fare, and none the worse for that. The bacon is halal, in small rectangles rather than long strips. The egg is well cooked – just soft enough – and hash browns are the best, so nice to have them on the menu here. Given that we didn’t see a menu, but just ordered, you can be pretty happy that this is a competent full English.
My sausage and egg sandwich came as sausage and bacon, but given that I’d ordered from my head rather than from any menu, I can’t really complain: potentially, this wasn’t even a menu item, and they just marvellously cooked it up for me out of the kindness of their hearts. It was a perfect white-sliced-trashy-sausage-and-ketchup sandwich.
Tea comes in a bathtub, and coca cola in a latte glass. I like it: it’s kind of quirky, but it seems like it is almost definitely also accidental, which is the best kind of quirk.
The toilet was unfortunately a bit grubby on the floor front, and there was no soap in the dispenser. But we were in there very early, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the poor daughter of the operation was going to sort it out later.
Price: cheap eats – £13 total for a full English, sausage and bacon sandwich, tea and coke
Atmosphere and design: practical and coffee themed, with swirly writing about coffee and sort of twirly tree designs decal-ed onto the walls, and a large number of 2 person tables
Food: greasy spoon, cheap and easy,
Toilets: pretty dirty and no soap
Enjoyment: a strong family vibe on the service front, decent food, and a quiet, out of the way location. Potentially, not good for groups of people, as all the tables are for 2.