Centenary Lounge, Moor Street Station, Birmingham City Centre
Moor Street station is the antithesis of New Street station, although the two lie only a quarter of a mile apart. Where New Street lurks below the vast, shiny, busy bulk of a newly-revamped Grand Central shopping centre, Moor Street is a low-roofed, red brick beautifully evocative building which has been lovingly restored in 1930s style. Where at New Street you can pop into any number of the generic coffee shops, restaurants, cafes and snack places which you might find in any major terminus, Moor Street has only a couple of places to find refreshment. Centenary Lounge is the main stop for hungry travellers, and it carefully echoes the 1930s ambience of the whole station building.
Inside, a very very few tables are squashed together under a large framed vintage map of Great Western Railway routes in its heyday. The menus are laminated. The tables and chairs easy to wipe down. You are well-catered for here whatever time of day you head in; there is tea and cake, or wine, or sandwiches, but for our purposes, until midday each day, you can stop off for a cooked breakfast.
It’s cosy, and as Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong were piped over the speakers, the (definitely older) crowd were absolutely loving the vibe. I shamelessly listened in to an older lady in the most vivid shade of lipstick who tucked herself into a table for two with her friend, but then blatantly turned around and struck up a definite flirtation with the solo gentleman sat behind her. He, we discovered, was on his way to his twice yearly pilgrimage to see the steam trains at Kidderminster. Both were big fans of the proper cups and saucers, so much better than those cardboard things you get in other places, even though I’m pretty sure most places give you a proper cup if you are sitting in. I think they just loved the vibe so much, they were eager to pour praise on everything. And I do quite like the GWR logo on the cups and plates.
It has to be said, the breakfast itself is a bit limp. It covers all the bases of a standard full English, and was served quite quickly, but it looked noticeably uninspiring on the pale. The sausages seemed a bit pale. The beans, in contrast, looked a bit dry, and were hotter than the sun.
Scrambled eggs on toast was much the same: just a bit basic. Slightly dry, totally adequate, hard to complain for £2.95.
My croissant on the other hand was delightfully buttery and tasty. It’s small enough not to have a toilet, and you need to get a receipt from the counter to let you through the ticket barriers and on to the platform to use the “Ladies Room”. Follow the black and white signs to the slightly grubby, very chilly toilets, as all on-platform toilets I’ve ever used seem to be. They are decorated in period red tiling and red doors, but the sinks and soap dispensers are cheap modern and practical.
Back in the main entrance, you are more able to appreciate the beauty of Moor Street, the beautiful glass roof, the rust reds and browns, the delicate iron fences between track and ticket booths, the light spilling down from above, the florists jammed with bright flowers on your right as you run for a train.
It’s not a cafe I’d go to just for the sake of its brunch, but if catching a train here I’d definitely stop in for a drink or something to eat. It all contributes to the feel of Moor Street as a more welcoming, less hectic station, in its subtle allusions to a time when catching the train was a more beautiful, less grotty and stressful experience than it is today. It really does feel like stepping back in time a bit from the hyper-modern intensity of the Selfridges building and the bullring right outside. Just a delightful, charming place to wait for your train.
Price: cheap eats: £5.95 for a hot breakfast meze, £2.95 for scrambled eggs on toast
Atmosphere and design: 1930s art deco themed
Food: simple range of classic brunch options, with breakfast sandwiches pre-cooked and ready to go
Toilets: get a receipt from the counter to let you onto the platform to use the station toilets
Enjoyment: not a great brunch, but a charming and delightful place to hang out while you wait for a train