Quarter Horse Coffee, Bristol Street, Birmingham City Centre
In the background, the TV is playing a housing search programme in which people are trying to escape the noise and bustle of the city for the peace and tranquility of countryside life. Growing up in the country, I appreciate the proximity of a lovely muddy field, or the ability to go for a wander for miles bang in the middle of a country lane bordered by curious cows and fragrant cowslips. But often these days I am glad to live in a city centre where I can walk to thirty or forty different cafes and brunch places, each so different to the other, each a wonderful (dry) place to sit and socialise, whatever your mood, and whoever your companions.
Want to hang out with the papers all morning with a cheap breakfast and unlimited tea? Try Buddy’s 232. Want something fancy, entertaining visitors to the city perhaps? Try the High Field or Harvey Nichols. Fancy an enormous pub breakfast with great ingredients? Try the Red Lion. Want a breakfast with bellinis to start the day in style? Gas Street Social. Want a lovely sourdough sausage sandwich before catching the train? Go to The Coffee Lounge. It goes on and on, a brunch venue for every moment and every mood.
Quarter Horse Coffee is an excellent addition to this roster, being charming, independent, and a little bit different. It is located on Bristol Street, a short and unpromising walk from Pagoda Roundabout out of the city. The row of shops you arrive at have had their frontages all repainted, and it is now a really lovely development in the bottom of these beautiful old buildings. A few doors down from the Bristol Street Cafe and just next door to the Jam Jar Light Shop, you arrive at your destination.
Inside, it is decorated with white walls with blue accents, and plain wooden furniture throughout. Tables are well spaced out, and the whole has a lovely air of cleanliness and simplicity. Lights are on trend in their vintage styling, and appear to have been sourced from the Jam Jar Lights Company next door. The bar is dominated by the coffee machines, reflecting the main focus of this cafe. It was quiet at lunchtime on a Friday, but two women were holding a business meeting at one table, while another group arrived as we left.
Although the emphasis here is firmly on coffee – they have their own roastery on site, and sell coffee beans and brewing equipment – the tea is still presented with care. Proper loose leaf tea is served in a one cup teapot, with Quarter Horse Coffee branded cups, and not very efficient milk jugs. They come delivered on this handy wooden tray to make transporting all the bits needed for a loose leaf cup of tea.
There are only three official breakfast dishes on the menu: toast, granola, or smashed avocado on sourdough. All the bread is from the local Peel and Stone bakery, which – if you’ve ever had Peel and Stone bread – is a guarantee it will be delicious. The avocado on toast, with the optional addition of goats cheese and chilli flakes, received a rave review, not just for quality, but for quantity for the price.
The lunch menu kicks in from 10.30, and again is brutally simple: ciabatta sandwiches with a small range of fillings, again on Peel and Stone bread; soup of the day (unavailable today); or salad with bread on the side. This toasted brie ciabatta was full of flavour, with lots of cheese oozing from the sides. The menu is brief, but both our dishes were generous with the individual ingredients. The side salad, slathered in balsamic vinegar, was tasty enough that I ate it, even though I normally ignore salads as unnecessary decoration.
The toilet is a single unisex toilet, clean, but without a single thing to make it a pleasant place to visit. No jam jar lights in here, although a small attempt at a personal touch was in evidence in the sign outside the door pointing out the light.
Price: £4 for a veg ciabatta, £4 for avocado on toast (50p extra for the goats cheese), £2.20 English breakfast tea
Atmosphere and design: light and simple, white finishes and wooden furniture create a sense of simplicity, jam jar lights keep it on trend
Food: local Peel and Stone bread, small menu, but generous with the high-quality ingredients. Don’t come here for a full English, but if you are in the market for something lighter or more lunchy than breakfasty, definitely give it a go
Toilets: exceptionally dull, but clean
Enjoyment: a quiet place to eat and socialise, and the quality ingredients make it a treat to eat