Côte Brasserie, The Mailbox, Birmingham City Centre
There are now three French-ish restaurants within 2 minutes of each other at the back of the Mailbox in Birmingham City Centre. Never go to the Mailbox Cafe Rouge unless it is a bright day: the service is almost unbelievably slow, but sitting on the terrace in the sun with a glass of wine can be very pleasant. Bistrot Pierre, further along the canal, is great for brunch or for all other meals: the service and the setting are both marvellous, and the food is much, much better than Cafe Rouge. Côte is the one you might miss; tucked away on the bottom level of the Mailbox waterfront cafes, you must almost double back on yourself into its al fresco dining area to find the entrance (at the far end next to the white umbrella in this picture:
Inside, Côte is lit with a calming and autumnal orange glow, a pleasant respite from the grey day outside. Warm wooden tones and orange-hued tiles form a soft background to crisp white linens, and, slightly oddly, wine coolers ready between tables at any time of night and day. On an average day, I imagine a low hum of conversation would form a similarly muted background to your brunch – the perfect place if your hangover is simply picturesque and subtle and just requires peace and quiet – although this Saturday and enormous pre-wedding party were having brunch just off camera, and their enthusiastic commentary on holidays in the Caribbean raised the volume somewhat.
The service was friendly and prompt. Although we couldn’t see anyone on entry, instantly someone came running from the back to seat us, and were just the right level of attentive throughout our meal. When we had finished, we stayed for another half an hour doing the crossword, reading the papers, and finishing tea, and didn’t feel any pressure to rush out.
If you have a cooked breakfast, hot drinks are included in the price. It doesn’t show too well in this picture, but I love the subtly ridged finish on the cups and teapots, and there is plenty of tea for 3 or even 4 cups in one teapot. Heavy stone bottles of water are brought to your table in another slightly-nicer-than-Cafe-Rouge touch.
The overall brunch menu is a mix of French and English. While you can have a traditional full English, granola, or salmon and scrambled eggs for example, they have made sure to include some specifically French options on the menu too: French toast, a croque monsieur, a ‘crêpe complète’, or even a ‘French breakfast’ with eggs, sausage, bacon and mushroom on a brioche. We were unadventurous, and ordered our normal favourites.
The full English was pronounced very nice, although for £8.95, the lack of hash browns and beans is disappointing. One egg was perfectly soft, but the other was over-cooked. The toast can be white or brown; the brown bread was tasty.
Eggs Benedict is a reassuringly classic version, with a large slathering of hollandaise sauce, nice ham, and two perfectly poached eggs. Slightly too much sauce for my taste truth be told, but if you order eggs Benedict, Côte will provide exactly what you would expect. Having said that, they do look a bit marooned on that enormous place.
The toilets are almost frustrating dark and green; the green tiling and marbled top to the sink area are delightful, but the lights over the sinks, which were all working fully, were turned down so low if you want to use the space for anything else than washing your hands, you are out of luck. I touched up my lipstick in the corridor outside, where there was more light.
Price: mid range: £7.95 eggs Benedict, £8.95 for a full English or vegetarian breakfast
Atmosphere and design: warm, low-key luxury, quiet and restrained
Food: mix of classic English and French options
Toilets: too dark, nice design
Enjoyment: a lovely calm, peaceful place to start the weekend (as long as you aren’t sat right by an enormous wedding party)