The Alchemist, Colmore Row, Birmingham City Centre
The ballroom of the Grand Hotel on Colmore Row in Birmingham City Centre was once the site of one of my grandparents’ first dates, so the current gradual reopening of the site after years of renovations holds a special sense of excitement and nostalgia. The Alchemist is one of a row of new cafes and bars opening on the side facing the railings of Birmingham cathedral. They make no bones about being high end; as you walk down the street you can practically smell the money. Gusto, The Alchemist, and 200 Degrees Coffee are all immaculately turned out, ready to attract a high end client from the Colmore business district.
We arrived at a deserted Alchemist at 10.15 on a Saturday morning and chose a table in the window for the people-watching potential. The orange light within creates a very cosy feel as you tuck yourself into the leather chairs and watch the muffled up passers-by and those in the queue for the buses.
Inside, softly shining wooden tables, exposed brickwork, and luxe leather chairs march in neat rows under a dull orange glow. This is a place you go to escape from the hubbub of the inner city world; the natural light barely penetrates. I imagine it is very full on if you come for the extensive cocktail menu in the evening. Early morning, it was peaceful and quiet.
The major selling point of brunch at the Alchemist is the gimmick: all the teas come out steaming with dry ice. I had seen this on Instagram, and asked for ‘the tea with the dry ice’, only to be corrected, ‘ but all the teas come with dry ice’: surely, only a fool would think otherwise. The teapot is really a science beaker. The chemist in the party was full of praise: the beakers are genuine brands of beakers used by scientists, with added handles. You shouldn’t really be as excited as I was by a gimmick, but it is just so much fun. After I’d finished my first cup, I ordered a second one, just so I could see more dry ice billowing over the table.
The full English had its ups and downs. If you love black pudding, you should order here, as it comes with a slice as big as the palm of your hand. The bread was delicious, the eggs perfectly soft-yolk-poached, and the portion overall substantial. The bacon had been fritzed a bit too energetically, and was a tough chew, but otherwise a solid higher-end brunch entry.
I ordered the ‘Mish Mosh’, which was really an omelette with toast. It was filled with mushrooms, spinach, and chorizo, and was tasty and filling – I love chorizo in brunch – without doing anything sensational. I’d have it again though (and order extra toast, as the toast was the tastiest toast I’ve had for a while).
The toilets are very dark and gloomy. Inside the ladies, individual cubicles open off a tiled and mirrored corridor, reminiscent of a Victorian street with the frosted glass windows on the door of each cubicle. Each has an old fashioned pull chain with the cistern high above the toilet itself, and a sink and fancy soaps and moisturisers within each cubicle. The tiling is really beautiful, but as everything is dark green and the lights are turned down low, it is legitimately hard to see. Also, there are no shelves/anywhere to put anything down as the sinks are so mini. Sometimes you just need to pop your phone/lipstick down, but here you must clutch everything to you. And finally, none of the hand dryers were working (I went into three different cubicles to check), so I had to go upstairs and seek out the disabled toilet.
Price: high end: £9.95 full English, £7.50 Mish Mosh
Atmosphere and design: classic luxury styling: wood, leather, antique tiling, the orange glow of illusory wealth and power
Food: quality ingredients, tasty, big portions. Dry ice in your tea!!!
Toilets: gorgeous tiling, but far too dark and the hand-driers didn’t work
Enjoyment: great place to people watch from the window seats, and the dry ice is so so fun