71 Lunchi: overshadowed brunch

Lunchi, The Big Peg, Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter

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Lunchi is sat bang in the centre of the row of shops in the bottom of the Big Peg, the ship-like white block that dominates the centre of the Jewellery Quarter. It looks out over the smartly revamped central square, with wide terraced wooden seating before it, and sparkly lights across it by night.  Facing it, you can see what is surely Lunchi’s biggest problem: its next door neighbour, the Urban Coffee juggernaut, with its hipster-friendly aesthetic and Birmingham-dominating delicious breakfasts.

It must be a bit of a brutal business face off, but Lunchi is doing its best to put up a fight. The service bar is laden with massive, delicious cakes, which we were assured were handmade on the day. The service was exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Unfortunately, other things are less successful. The design is a heavy black/red/white and chrome theme which is simple but feels a bit dated. It is inescapably slightly dark in the seating area, which is behind the service area; the light from the floor to ceiling windows at the front is blocked, as is access to the view over the JQ centre.

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Chalkboards advertise a range of classic and more hipster breakfast options, including  symbolic avocado, but the actual full English is more greasy spoon than anything else. It was not a particularly nice sausage.

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I ordered an egg and sausage sandwich, which came on jolly red paper. Perfectly cooked, not fancy,  exactly what you’d expect in a low-key cafe setting.

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The toilet is a single unisex one, with this hilarious graphic on the door:

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Just an ordinary loo inside, where you can relieve your leg-crossing needs.

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In all, Lunchi was a very friendly place to have breakfast, with decent food without being anything special. The cakes looked great. But overwhelmingly Urban Coffee has the edge here: the food is better, and the space feels trendier and more buzzy. It makes me cross to admit it, because Lunchi feels like a genuinely local business, and thus I want it to succeed, but it just lacks any of the lovely features that make you return somewhere again and again.

In summary:

Price: cheap eats

Atmosphere and design: black, white, chrome, red, dark

Food: greasy spoon breakfasts (but they do have great-looking homemade cakes)

Toilets: just the one, unisex

Enjoyment: friendly welcome, but a bit of a dark and joyless experience

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70 Boston Tea Party, Edgbaston: someplace nice brunch

Boston Tea Party, 30 Harborne Road, B15 3AA

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Edgbaston is currently experiencing a mini-explosion of new high-end shops and restaurants. Everything is super fancy, taking its lead from Michelin-starred Simpsons which has been there for ages, and spreading through The High Field for one of the nicest gastro pubs around, Oka (for Sam Cam adjacent home decor), and even The Physician, a Wetherspoons-esque pub pretending to be something better.

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A new Boston Tea Party has joined the mix; its pretentiousness instantly established by a website which lists it as ‘Edgbaston’ rather than ‘Birmingham’, as if to disassociate it from Birmingham’s less expensive connections. Inside, the intense industrial design overload of the ‘Birmingham’ branch has been toned down in favour of homelike (if your home is features in a magazine) wallpapers, muted green and cream colour schemes on perfect plaster, and endless pineapple detailing. Very on trend.

It was surprisingly full on a drizzly September morning, with a steady stream of couples, families, pushchairs dashing off the pavement to escape the weather. Inside, it is a warren of smaller rooms, nooks and crannies, a sort of covered atrium room at the back…we sat in a small room with a view of the street. With 4 tables, privacy was off the menu: we might as well have been eating at the same table as the insufferable woman next to us lecturing her brunch partner on her tedious business practices, constantly complaining of the (imaginary) drafts, and moaning about her eggs (dining partner: “why did you order them if you don’t like them?”).

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Tea comes with a timer, and an enormous mug which is satisfyingly exactly calibrated to take the entire contents of the teapot and not a drop more.  Timers for English breakfast tea are ridiculous, purely symbolic of the pretensions of the cafe in question rather than creating a better cup of tea. The coca cola, which came in a glass bottle, appeared to be off, as you can see in the side by side pic below.

The eggs Benedict was delicious. The eggs were possibly very slightly underdone, with some soft whites as well as runny yolk, but the ham is really thick and flavoursome, a real best in Birmingham. Sorry, best in Edgbaston. The toast is sourdough (not a muffin), but the sourdough toast here is divine; we had extra on the side it is so  good. The best bit about the whole dish was the hollandaise, which was just the perfect amount, not overwhelming the delicious ham or swamping the toast at all. Heavenly.

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The toast with the full English was similarly tasty, but the real highlight of this dish is the scrambled eggs: so fluffy, and light as cotton wool.

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The toilets are upstairs (there is downstairs one for access), and have Belfast sinks and exposed pipes for the taps – probably the most industrial chic touch in this whole place. Only one cubicle had toilet paper though, an industrial age touch you could do without.

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In summary:

Price: £8.15 for a West Country Breakfast (£10.75 if you want ‘The Boss, supersizing on all ingredients), £7.75 eggs Benedict

Atmosphere and design: contemporary Ideal Home styling, with geometric print wallpapers, and on trend styling: the gilded pineapple is the dominant symbol of this branch of BTP

Food: absolutely delicious, particularly the ham, scrambled eggs, and sourdough toast. So well cooked, beautifully presented, and just excellent

Toilets: upstairs, industrial taps, out of loo roll

Enjoyment: high for people watching, for delicious food, but don’t sit in the front room if you are looking for privacy

Websitehttp://www.bostonteaparty.co.uk/our_cafes/edgbaston.php 

66 Bella Italia: a brush with the silver screen brunch

Bella Italia, New Street, Birmingham City Centre

Despite having some very picturesque parts, Birmingham remains a tried and tested location for directors looking to create a grim and gritty vibe. Just recently, Spielberg himself was in town, using Livery Street and Lionel Street to represent his vision of the dystopian hell that the future has become in Ready Player One. And this summer, I watched Season 1 of Line of Duty on Netflix, revelling in Birmingham location spotting in the bleak and amoral world of the anti-corruption squad.

When in the opening scenes of season 1 the characters Tony Gates and Jackie Laverty go on an adulterous date for breakfast in the New Street branch of Bella Italia, inadvertently triggering the events of the whole season, the next brunch spot up for review was set…

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Bella Italia itself has had a bit of a rebrand outside since Line of Duty was filmed. The retro brown stripes have gone, replaced with a nice bright blue, although the roped-off seating area remains – and it is still flanked by Superdrug and Boots, of which you can catch glimpses on screen.  As you can see, when we were there, the police were encamped outside, helpfully further evoking the vibe of the show.

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Inside, it is a horribly overbearing mishmash of Italian posters and dark dark wood. There were quite a few people enjoying breakfast, including several stag dos, but we were all seated close to the windows (just where Jackie and Tony sat). I think this is because it is so dark in the inner recesses that you would be unable to see what you were eating. The over-reliance on Italian posters to tell you you are in an Italian restaurant has not changed since Line of Duty was filmed:

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We did not get a free breakfast as they do in Line of Duty, but we did have a buy 1 get 1 free voucher from the website. We did not gallantly rush from our table to stop a thug beating up a woman though, thus earning a freebie, so I will count the half discount as a point that remains in  Bella Italia’s favour: even if you aren’t acting the hero, it remains cheap.

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In Line of Duty, Tony makes a terrible joke about a bacon bap, but I couldn’t bring myself to be that loyal to recreating the show: I had a sausage and egg ‘Puccia roll’ which was lightly toasted and perfectly tasty. Our waitress – who was very attentive and friendly –  added some black pepper to it from a comedy pepper grinder that was nearly as tall as me. Strangely, when I ordered, she asked if I wanted a fried or scrambled egg: is a scrambled egg bap something people actually eat? Sounds messy to me.

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The full English was lined up on the plate in an unusually ordered fashion, as if surrounded by an invisible plastic tray dividers. There was nothing special about it. If you are on New Street and want a standard,  greasy spoon standard breakfast, fairly cheap, nothing special about it, passing up the  local independent cafes for a chain, then probably this is an fine choice. But that isn’t a massively convincing reason to go. It’s fun to recreate a scene from a TV show, but…don’t got to Bella Italia for breakfast. There are even better Italian chain breakfasts within a 3 minute walk in Carluccio’s.

Tiled toilets were fine, with a baby change facility in the main women’s toilets, and loo roll and soap all present. More Italian collage on display over the baby change.

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Generally though, the vibe was a bit grim. I’m including a picture of the chair I sat on which was just uncomfortable. In York’s, some of the seats are literal plank benches and they are more comfy than this tiny hard chair. And the floor was grubby. You’d think if you are going to sit all your customers in the one part of the venue with natural light, you would mop that bit of floor. But no.

At least when we left we were reminded we were not actually in the fictional world of Line of Duty and thus could just walk home without having to fight some crime, get sucked into a crazy web of intrigue and corruption, and finally, in despair [spoiler removed].

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In summary:

Price: £5.95 for a normal sized full English, £4.99 for a sausage and egg Puccia roll (buy 1 get one free voucher from the website meant we only paid for the full English)

Atmosphere and design: ItalianItalianItalianItalianItalian and so so dark

Food: completely standard English breakfast food

Toilets: slightly cramped, but clean

Enjoyment: probably highest if you on on a Line of Duty themed visit

Website: https://www.bellaitalia.co.uk/italian-restaurant/birmingham/new-street

65 Monty’s deli sandwich bar: office lunch brunch

Monty’s Deli Sandwich Bar, 4 Colmore Row,  B3 2QDIMG_20170602_143446_932

How you have lunch says a lot about the place you work. Once, on a rare training day, my boss and I had lunch in Strada, surrounded by office types for whom this seemed routine. I – on the other hand – was like an overexcited child playing at being grown up. The fun of leaving work and sitting in a restaurant for your lunch! Not having to survive on a cheese sandwich at your desk, or a bag of hula hoops snaffled from the snack drawer! Just sitting there, two adults, paying attention to our meal, and having a rest and refresh…It seemed another world.

Monty’s is snuggled just through an office building opposite Snow Hill Station. It isn’t a place many casual Birmingham visitors would find, but it is super convenient for it’s main business: serving the refuelling needs of the office workers that surround it. People come here for the group preorder, or just to pick up a quick lunch, queuing out of the door and down the street as I passed at lunchtime. Drawn in by its apparent popularity, we returned at a quieter time for breakfast.

Inside, you order at the bar, hot food down one wall, and an extensive sandwich and salad bar down the other. The service was very quick and friendly; scribbling our names and orders onto paper bags to pass back into the kitchen, the lady working the till blasted through the small queue super fast.IMG_20170602_143322_979

It is possible to sit in to eat your food, at a limited row of bar stools with single high tables fixed to the wall down one side. We grabbed a wooden-topped bar stool each, emblazoned with some Shakespearean inspiration, and prepared to tuck in. The decor has some lovely touches like this.

 

It’s greasy spoon food, quickly and perfectly cooked and wrapped up in Monty’s paper. My sausage and egg sandwich was great, hot and tasty. Condiments come as part of the ordering process, so make sure you order at the bar, then just open the wrappings and get stuck in.IMG_20170602_143251_175

The full English comes in a tray for easy transportation, and again, exactly fits the bill if you’re looking for a fry up before work: cheap food, plenty of it, thoroughly cooked. Toast came in its own paper bag on the side, which is a very sensible plan to stop it getting all covered in beans. The sausages come pre-sliced in half, which is something I associate with my grandmother, so always find vaguely comforting. IMG_20170602_143230_141

By its nature as a sandwich bar, Monty’s doesn’t have toilets, but for most clientele I imagine you are only popping out of the office for a moment, so can use the facilities back there.

In summary:

Price:  cheap eats –£10 exactly for a full English, cup of tea, coke, and a sausage and egg sandwich.

Atmosphere and design: functional and fresh, clear signage, and a classy take on a wooden-topped bar stool

Food: plentiful, greasy spoon style breakfast food, with a huge other range of lunch options as well

Toilets: use your own

Enjoyment: friendly staff, not a great place if you’re hoping to sit down and chat over breakfast with friends, but if you’re in a grab and go mood, I don’t think you can do better

 

 

64 All Bar One: more corporate brunch

All Bar One, 43 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B3 3NY

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I am a snob about the Colmore Business District in Birmingham, a reverse snob, bringing judgement to bear on its manicured glass frontages and fancy bars and immaculately restored and maintained Victorian buildings hosting corporate money and corporate love of money.

Simultaneously, I acknowledge you can get a lovely breakfast in the Business Quarter, especially on Saturday or Sunday when the business types have left, and just the lovely buildings and the tasty toast remain. Bar Opus is a delight. The Alchemist has good gimmicks and lovely food. Damascena might be the best of all. But I wasn’t expecting to have a very good time in All Bar One, which I mostly know as a soulless bar with nothing much to recommend it if you fancy a drink out.

Inside, alcohol is still its primary business; the bar is heavily laden with drinks bottles, and a cocktail making class was all set up waiting for a party later in the day. But at 11am on a Saturday it was quiet, with just one other couple also eating breakfast, and staff desultorily getting ready for the main sales focus of the day (drink). All the surfaces are easy to wipe clean, in various leathery finishes, and the walls are painted a hide-the-stains navy, but light streaming through the windows makes it a pleasant place to read the papers, and the decoration is bright and enthusiastically full of fun design touches.

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Best of all, it’s unexpectedly cheap and for food which was really quite delicious. It’s mostly standard full English/eggs Benedict type choices, with the sourdough toast and tiny frying pan extra touches that you’s expect probably have to offer round here; these are such signifiers of the ‘slightly nicer’ brunch that I’d expect them to show up in a Grayson Perry pot illustrating middle class city life in the UK.

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You can also order sourdough toast with toppings of your choice; I had feta, chorizo and (perfectly) poached eggs, and it was heavenly. Feta was probably a mistake as the chorizo drowned out the taste a bit, but that was my culinary error, not All Bar One’s. The picture wouldn’t load, but trust me, it looked as bright and beautiful as it sounds.

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Toilets are clean, standard, plain tiling, black and white theme, a long walk down a twisty corridor with beautiful coloured glass original windows.

In summary:

Price: what kind of venue publishes their full menu on the website, but without any prices? Crazy place. And I forgot the receipt, but it is very reasonably priced for what you get.

Atmosphere and design: it’s a bar – a corporate, quite swanky, chain bar.

Food: super tasty, sourdough central, chorizo aplenty

Toilets: down a corridor, clean and sensibly designed.

Enjoyment: probably the most cheap, cheerful, and quietest option you’ll find in the Business district on a Saturday morning

Website: http://www.allbarone.co.uk/

 

 

63 Coffee Tales: bustling cafe brunch

Coffee Tales, Jewellery Quarter, 15 Warstone Lane, B18 6HP

What an unexpected treat of a cafe! Not somewhere which has made a big fuss about its presence in the centre of the Jewellery Quarter, but certainly somewhere well known to local residents: when we arrived at 10am it was absolutely stuffed, and we took the last table to sit down and study the menu.

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Inside, plain wooden tables and chairs fill most of the space, with big sofas by the window so you can really relax and watch the world go by through the big picture windows all down the front wall.

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Ordering at the bar is a bit of a trial at breakfast, as there are enormous and delicious-looking cakes positively heaped up in front of you, looking so tempting I will definitely be back for coffee and cake one day.

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The menu itself is classic English breakfast fare, with a side line in American pancakes with a variety of toppings. I ordered a buttermilk bun with egg, sausage and sauteed mushrooms. It was supposed to have bacon, but I asked for it to be left off and was given a second sausage instead. The resulting bun was gigantic, and also, incredibly tasty; the mushrooms were tasty without being greasy, the egg perfectly poached, the bun lightly toasted: perfect!

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The full English came advertised wth artisan bread for the toast, which turned out to be a particular highlight, and worth a rare fancy adjective on this menu. It is a simple breakfast, as you can see, but each element was well-cooked and tasty.

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A tip for investors: the people who make these teapots must be raking it in. I’ve had the same teapot in three different cafes in the last week alone, and they turn up all over the place beyond that. Sadly, the tea was the only negative aspect of my breakfast – the cup was noticeably dirty when I wiped it out with a napkin.

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The toilets were also a bit mucky, with loo roll on the floor etc, and there is only one toilet for the cafe (often the case in the little JQ cafes). However, it must be noted that the whole cafe is very baby friendly, and the one toilet has a proper baby change unit and bin as well as the standards (a toilet and a sink).

In summary:

Price: cheap eats: £15.50 for a full English (approx £6), a sausage and egg bun (approx £5) and two drinks

Atmosphere and design: plain but welcoming, white tiles, wooden tables, blackboard behind the bar

Food: plain but well done

Toilets: one unisex loo, a bit messy, but with good baby change facilities

Enjoyment: Definitely worth a stop in if you need a good breakfast (or coffee and cake) in the Jewellery Quarter; it isn’t gimmicky, or particularly hipster-trendy, as many places in the JQ are these days, but it is just nice and gives you exactly what you want.

62 Yorks Bakery Cafe: the fourth iteration

Yorks Cafe, The Ikon Gallery, Oozells Square, Birmingham City Centre

Yet again, the cafe in the Ikon Gallery has new tenants. Farewell Cafe Opus, and hello Yorks Bakery, the fourth iteration of the popular Birmingham independent brand. The original Yorks has now closed, and has been replaced in popular affection with the venue closer to Grand Central (read our reviews of both by clicking the links), with a mini sized espresso version opposite Snow Hill. And now, opening in the Ikon Gallery, Yorks expands its operation further.

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This can only be good news, as Yorks is generally delightful, if a little consciously hipster for some people’s tastes. The decoration of this version seems to skew a bit more wealthy, with solid woods, fancier lighting, and complicated overhead greenery all brought into what was previously quite a simple white and block colour space. The paintwork has been stripped back to reveal on-trend brickwork, and heavy black now outlines the windows, echoing the industrial design of windows you might find in the Jewellery Quarter. It seems consciously to be more grown up that Opus. Check out the before and after below to contrast:
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The thing I most associate with Yorks is all present and correct: the glass teapots and the tiny bottles of milk are a signature of the brand at this point.

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The menu is full of classic breakfast dishes with a hipster twist; if you want to guarantee the presence of avocado or sourdough, definitely head to Yorks. The full English comes in a frying pan, with sourdough toast , sweetened beans (not Heinz if you are a breakfast purist), and (requested) extra avocado (when going hipster you might as well go all the way). The avocado was particularly delicious, perfectly ripe and tasty. Frying pan aside – its never going to be better to eat out of a frying pan than off a plate – this was a very tasty dish. Places really need to stop with the pretentious touches when they actively stop you eating your breakfast easily.

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Wanting to be adventurous, I had the Arabian buttered eggs, according to the menu, ‘poached eggs, cumin and butter sauce, fresh herbs, labneh, citrus red onions and sumac, served on sourdough toast’. Slightly greasy, slightly spicy, a very nice alternative to the more traditional eggs Benedict dishes also on the menu.

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The toilets are not associated with the cafe, but with the gallery. They are exactly the same as they always have been: plentiful, tiled, and filled with slightly depressing stainless steel fixtures and fittings which feel much less design-y than the rest of the Ikon.

In summary:

Price: pricey: £12 for the Ikon breakfast, £7.50 for buttered eggs, £8.70 eggs Benedict

Atmosphere and design: money hipster, all exposed brick and heavy wood, industrial luxury

Food: fancy-pants touches abound in a classic memu  of breakfsat dishes

Toilets: in the Ikon gallery on the other side of the shop

Enjoyment: a lovely place to breakfast in a picturesque setting with the attractions of the variable art in the Ikon to extend your breakfast afterwards