Bridges Cafe Bar – brunch in the park

Bridges Cafe Bar – Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park

It seems harsh to judge a venue on a visit two years ago, but our last attempt to get food in the cafe in the MAC in Cannon Hill Park was so bad that we haven’t been back since: terrible service, long delays, and fairly unimpressive food.  The suggestion to try out the brunch menu was thus met with trepidation and massive unenthusiasm.

Luckily, brunch in the MAC today turned out to be a delightful experience; it certainly won’t be a whole two years before we return this time.

The Midlands Arts Centre itself huddles in a corner of Cannon Hill Park, camouflaged against the winter bleakness of greasy mud, bare trees and grey skies by its hodge-podge of shapes and colours. With small lakes on two sides, and the River Rea on the third, it is hemmed in by water, the park very much part of the identity of the building.

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Inside, you place you order at the long bar which runs down one side of the cafe, stuffed with cakes, croissants, drinks and the paraphernalia of a busy cafe. It was a short queue on a Tuesday morning at 10.30, but the cafe itself was nearly filled with three main types of client: groups of four or five retirees, all men, mums with young children, and pairs of women. The tables are sized mostly for four or six with practical white plastic chairs with coloured undersides for a bright effect. In line with the Arts Centre venue, a giant coloured plexiglass sculpture hangs from the ceiling, and carved patterns decorate the walls over the cafe.

Having collected our drinks, we turned to tea, which comes in standard white issue cups. The teapots have strangely inverted lids, ideally set up to burn your hands when you tried to remove them to judge if the tea was brewed, but attractive to look at. The pots are deceptively small, easily offering two cups of tea from one pot.

The service was much better than on previous visits, although there was still a hitch in the tea being made when communication breakdown between the lady on the register and the man making the tea. Once ordered however, food was quick to arrive.

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As all the best cafes do, teacakes are on offer here. Quite a generic example, but if you love a teacake, add the MAC to the list of venues which provide. I’d love to find a brunch venue in Birmingham that makes an artisan version, a Peel and Stone-esque, homemade, perfectly toasted teacake: at the present time, I think the best on offer is in JuJu’s Cafe in Sherborne Wharf. This one does the job, without being anything special.

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The best bit about brunch in the MAC is the full English, which is enormous: two sausages (Lashford sausages, so juicy and meaty and quality), two rashers of bacon, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, hash browns, black pudding, egg, and toast, all for less than £7. The toast, like the sausages, was a good quality choice of bread, a cut above plain old white sliced. The eggs were perfectly poached. The mushrooms were maybe a bit too oily, with visible oil oozing over the sides when squashed with a fork, but as there was so much food neither of us could finish it, they were left uneaten without damaging overall enjoyment of the meal.
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The toilets for the cafe are the toilets for the whole MAC, which also hosts gallery space, a theatre, a cinema, a pottery studio, and a shop. There are lots of cubicles in the ladies, all immaculately clean, with sinks at a variety of heights, and powerful hand dryers. Top marks.

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It is likely that if you are eating in the Bridges Cafe Bar, you have made a special journey to Cannon Hill Park, and the food is only part of plans to attend a class in the Arts Centre, enjoy the park, or see a play or film. Even if you have no concrete plans, free art exhibitions are available in the spaces around the cafe: we visited the photographic display of pictures themed around Galton Bridge.

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And of course, Cannon Hill Park itself is one of the mostly lovely parks in Birmingham to wander around. Leaving from the MAC, a circuit of the main park will take you through beautifully landscaped grounds, past lakes, war memorials, the revamped Crazy Gold course, the tennis courts, historic buildings and more. Hundreds of dogs and small children will gambol around you: maybe you too will see Waffles the World’s Most Excited Spaniel dashing around the bandstand like a rocket, or giggle privately at a poor woman lying on her stomach to retrieve a ball from the lake while her dog, who did not or would not understand the rules of ‘fetch’, watched her with puzzlement.

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In summary:

Price:  midrange – £6.95 for the traditional breakfast (but you get a lot of food for the money), £1.50 for a teacake

Atmosphere and design: spacious, low-key, arty, stilted service

Food: the full English is enormous, generally well-cooked, and with tasty ingredients

Toilets: plentiful and clean

Enjoyment: great place to enjoy food as part of the whole package of the Midland Arts Centre and Cannon Hill Park

MAC Website: http://macbirmingham.co.uk/

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