Black Lab: Kings Heath High Street, Birmingham, B14 7JZ
The outside of Black Lab in Kings Heath is so unassuming that people I know who drive right past it every day have yet to realise it is there. The ‘coffee shop and lounge’ sign is surely intentionally misleading, because inside, you are in a cosy, grown up European-style cafe, which stays open till 1pm, serves gorgeous tapas, and has a good stock of delicious wine and craft beer. It is utterly relaxing and civilised and grown up, and just a delight to visit.
My boss has over the years taught me the value of the good-bad-good technique of delivering bad news, and I’m practising it here, because while Black Lab might be one of the best places in Birmingham for a drink and an evening meal with friends, the brunch was frankly a bit disastrous.
It was just quiet enough on a drizzly Saturday morning, with three or four tables of patrons quietly chatting. An elderly couple near us read the papers in deathly silence, but otherwise a low buzz of relaxed chat filled the air as we sat at a table for 4, artfully covered in scratched graffiti reminiscent of an old unloved school desk, and pondered the menu.
There are only three brunch options at present, and the menu doesn’t elaborate on them: eggs Benedict, eggs Royale, eggs Florentine. Who doesn’t love eggs? We ordered at the bar, along with drinks. After a longish wait the waiter returned to tell us English breakfast tea was off – they had run out of tea. He stood there looking baffled. After a minute he volunteered that they had sent out for some tea bags. They would be here in 5 or 10 minutes. We said we would wait.
We ordered our eggs. The first three came. Eggs Benedict has four ingredients: eggs, English muffin, ham, hollandaise sauce. Meet my eggs Benedict, stacked on top of a simply terrible bagel rather than a muffin, and stuffed full of avocado, and additional ingredient not specified on the menu. I really think if you are going to just put ‘eggs Benedict’ on your menu, you ought to then deliver a classic version of the dish. What made this worse was the incredibly solid texture of the bagel, which seemed to have been defrosted. The blunt knifes were not up to the task of sawing through the bagel like a slab of steak.
On a positive note, the eggs were perfect.
On a further depressing note, we waited 15 minutes easily for the final dish to emerge, so three of us had finished by the time the final person in our party got their dish. There was no obvious reason for this delay. Bagels are not tapas; this is not a bring-when-its-ready-and-we-can-all-get-stuck-in situation. You can’t practically share a hollandaise slathered bagel. Bring it together or one person is forced to look on in a limp way while the rest of you tuck in.
There is a one room toilet for men, and one for women, with toilet paper and soap in stock. There is no sanitary bin in the ladies, but there is a normal bin. Weirdly, the sink was covered in visible dust.
My second cup of tea – fruit this time – had simply never arrived. We gave up waiting and called for the bill.
In the spirit of my great love for this place as an evening venue, let’s finish with a snapshop of the interior, a mismatched collection of cosy sofas, low tables, and snuggle corners. Don’t come here for brunch. Definitely come here in the evening, order the feta and chorizo won tons and a bottle of Malbec, curl up on the sofa and set the world to rights.
Price: mid range: £5.95 eggs Florentine, £6.95 eggs Benedict
Atmosphere and design: a miss-matched mash up of sofas, wooden chairs, squashy cushions and dim lighting
Food: for brunch, disappointing egg bagels (come for the tapas instead)
Enjoyment: just delightful if wine and friends are involved.