83 The Edwardian Tearooms: Gilded Age brunch

The Edwardian Tearooms, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

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The Edwardian tea rooms are the most showstopping brunch place in Birmingham.

In a vast room lit from above by an enormous skylight over an delicate green iron balcony railings, you imagine yourself cast back the history of La Belle Epoque. Massive wallpapered on pictures of Edwardian women in their most beautiful S bend corsets, frothy blouses, and voluminous hairstyles form a backdrop to a more modern lunch crowd and encourage you to feel you have left the hurly burly of the building works outside for a more beautiful, more peaceful moment of your day.

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It is beautiful and relaxing, but not stuffy. The mishmash of booths, squashy chairs, tables and the soft play area just outside had attracted a varied crowd on the day we visited: dads with their babies, couples of all ages, family groups. All are here, and in contrast to some coffee shops where the atmosphere is quiet, laptops and phones everywhere,  in the Edwardian tearooms people are talking and chatting away. It feels like a place for socialising. The teapots are obviously designed to facilitate much chat, as they are huge and could fuel a whole afternoon of chat on their own.

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And the food is delicious.

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I had salmon and scrambled eggs on brioche toast and it was heavenly. The scrambled eggs were light as air, and well-seasoned, and the brioche toast was a floaty lovely delight.

The full English came with butter for the toast in adorable balls served up in Kilner jars. The bacon was particularly nice, and the whole was heavy on the black pudding. The meat eating aspect of a full English is inescapable in this version: with no arty foliage to pretty it up, this is a plate of protein, undisguised.

The toilets are the only jarring note here. The closest ones are quite a walk back through the gift shop, and while the tearooms have had lavish attention paid to their decoration, the toilets show the age of the museum – grimy walls, basic airport sanitary ware, stuffed into a tiny unnoticed corner. You can’t blame a museum for spending all the money on the cafe though, when the results are so spectacular.

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I don’t want to end on the toilets, because the tearooms are so lovely. In the side booths, you read that you can settle yourselves in, and add a final touch of luxury to your visit. Press the champagne button and a waiter will come over to take you through the champagne choices, and personally deliver your fizz. It would be obscene at an ordinary brunch, but one day when there is something to celebrate, we’ll be back…

In summary:

Price: mid-range, £8.95 for a full English, £8.50 for salmon and eggs

Atmosphere and design: a celebration of La Belle Epoque with beautiful luxury everywhere

Food: classic dishes beautifully cooked

Toilets: grimy and basic, untouched by the luxury of the cafe, but functional nonetheless

Enjoyment: a wonderful, wonderful place to visit

Website: http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/edwardian-tearooms 

 

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82 The Railway: brunch on a budget

The Railway, Hill Street, Birmingham City Centre

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The city centre of Birmingham has changed.

When once New Street station emerged into the dark and grotty warren of the Pallasades, now it opens onto bright and polished Grand Central, full of aspirational brands and proper restaurants. You wouldn’t have caught the typical Jo Malone shopper dead in the Pallasades, but here they can follow up an expensive candle purchase with a trip to Hobbs for an beautiful jacket, for patisserie in Cafe Concerto.  When I lived on John Bright Street just across the road from New Street, it was just coming to the end of decades of neglect: for years, it was an abandoned and drab nothing, but now independent cafes and craft beer bars stand shoulder to shoulder.

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But Birmingham has not polished all its edges yet. Sandwiched between New Street and John Bright Street sits Hill Street, and Hill Street is still pretty grim. The corner shop has security to deal with late night drunks, homeless people sleep in the doorways next door, the Casino towers above it all in grey concrete. And here the Railway pub sits, looking both ways, and proving cheap as chips breakfasts to travellers and local workers.

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It was revamped a few years ago, and is perfectly nice inside in a generic pub way, with wide booths overlooking the shiny new facade of the station on one side of the bar, and a room of smaller tables on the far side. Lots of regulars, lots of workmen were sat directly by the bar on the morning we visited. The location is as central as it is possible to be, and the food as cheap as you can find in the city centre. It’s big on Sky sports and huge TVs dominate the walls. After a small kerfuffle over the missing milk jug, we fixed ourselves tea from the hot drinks bar and made our order.

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The full English only costs £5.19, which is a bargain when you consider the average price in the city centre is £8. It is the archetypal full English, nice toast, hash browns. Absolutely nothing to complain about. For only £3.19 you can get the same meal, with just one of each item. £3.19 is insanely cheap.

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A sausage and egg sandwich is only £2.29, which might be the cheapest I’ve had in Birmingham. And it was perfectly tasty, packed with sausages and nice thick bread.

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The most jarring thing about the whole place is the bathroom, which is so dark and chocolately brown, I was tempted to use the torch on my phone to see if the darkness wasn’t hiding something. I’ve massively filtered the brightness on these pictures to reveal the scene. But they were clean, stocked, and it is simply a matter of cramming yourself into the cramped cubicles and overcoming a mild sense of darkness-induced claustrophobia.

In summary:

Price: cheap cheap cheap

Atmosphere and design: Wetherspoons on a budget

Food: classic full English, same as you might find any student cooking up at home

Toilets: so dark. So dark.

Enjoyment: great if you love Sky sports, cheap food, not having to walk far for your train.

Website: https://www.therailwaybirmingham.co.uk/

81 Ground 101: Kate Middleton fan tour brunch

Ground 101, Newhall Street, Birmingham

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81 Ground 101 sounds like a Bingo call in a new game of Bingo Brunch: 17 Kanteen! 43 Lunchi! 81 Ground 101!

Ground 101 is a perfectly nice cafe with a terrible name. I think it’s an intentional pun on its location at the base of the BT tower, and the fact it is a coffee shop so some kind of grinding is involved? But mostly anything with the word ‘ground’ at the start like that – especially at the foot of a giant tower – conjures Ground Zero, and that can’t be a good thing.  Being at the foot of the BT Tower does at least make it fairly straightforward to find.

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The site has been in the headlines frequently over the last few years. It was ransacked by rioters in the 2011 riots in Birmingham. After the riots, Prince William and Kate Middleton visited the site to show support for the city. It was then called Machan Express, and I assume they chose it because its slightly out of the city centre, and thus more secure than other more central riot-hit premises.

I always remember that visit, because I walked right through the press pack outside, and all that went through my head was irritation that I had to walk in the road to pass, rather than curiosity at why a hundred people were crowded round a not-very-interesting shop on a not-very-interesting street. And thus I missed seeing Kate Middleton in this aggressively nautical McQueen in the flesh:

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Sadly, it turns out a visit from royalty can’t arrest the damage done by looters, and Machan Express went bust, unable to catch up on the £9000 worth of damage done. Kate looked like she could see it coming (and also like maybe this is the face she pulls when George is naughty?):

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And so today, we have Ground 101, a cafe that serves breakfast but only advertises the fact on the A frame rather than on the menu boards inside, a family run business where the mother-daughter bossy-resigned dynamic could be ripped straight from a cheesy sitcom, and where they will happily knock you up a full English even if you barge in before they have really opened for the day.

It’s standard greasy spoon fare, and none the worse for that. The bacon is halal, in small rectangles rather than long strips. The egg is well cooked – just soft enough – and hash browns are the best, so nice to have them on the menu here. Given that we didn’t see a menu, but just ordered, you can be pretty happy that this is a competent full English.

My sausage and egg sandwich came as sausage and bacon, but given that I’d ordered from my head rather than from any menu, I can’t really complain: potentially, this wasn’t even a menu item, and they just marvellously cooked it up for me out of the kindness of their hearts. It was a perfect white-sliced-trashy-sausage-and-ketchup sandwich. IMG_20180217_102836_718

Tea comes in a bathtub, and coca cola in a latte glass. I like it: it’s kind of quirky, but it seems like it is almost definitely also accidental, which is the best kind of quirk.

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The toilet was unfortunately a bit grubby on the floor front, and there was no soap in the dispenser. But we were in there very early, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the poor daughter of the operation was going to sort it out later.

In summary:

Price:  cheap eats – £13 total for a full English, sausage and bacon sandwich, tea and coke

Atmosphere and design: practical and coffee themed, with swirly writing about coffee and sort of twirly tree designs decal-ed onto the walls, and a large number of 2 person tables

Food: greasy spoon, cheap and easy,

Toilets: pretty dirty and no soap

Enjoyment: a strong family vibe on the service front, decent food, and a quiet, out of the way location. Potentially, not good for groups of people, as all the tables are for 2.

 

80 Home is where…: mismatched brunch

Home is where, 26 Church Street, Birmingham B3 2NP

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Home is where…is a frustratingly named, but lovely, low key cafe in the city centre, just off Colmore Row.

In design, is it oddly similar to our actual home; where our our living room has too much random stuff on the walls, a motley collection of mis-matched chairs, and a jumble of handpainted or vintage furniture, Home has taken these principles and supersized them.

A strong love of gimmicky wallpaper is clear, coupled with an inability to just pick one. Huge mirrors with ornate garishly painted frames reflect gallery wall after gallery wall back at you. There isn’t really a theme, but there is a great love of patterns, of colour, and of stuff. The foot tall model sheep on the bar is the perfect symbol of this random collector-mania. A bright yellow china pig peers at you around various potted plants.

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The breakfast menu is simple: porridge, scrambled eggs on toast, or a sausage or bacon sandwich. Why there is no full English, when sausage, bacon, eggs and toast are independently on offer, is not explained. Either way, a full English is not an option here.

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The scrambled eggs on toast come with or without salmon, and is all perfectly fine. I thought the eggs were slightly rubbery, but the toast was made with nice bread.

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Downstairs, the unisex toilet has a flimsy-feeling lock, which creates an interesting sense of tension, but on the plus side, it is wallpapered as though you are in a medieval stone cottage, which is certainly unique in my experience of Birmingham toilets. Above the toilet, a directors clapperboard hangs in possibly the oddest juxtaposition of decor and room in the place. Just outside, the wallpaper is that illusion-bookcase stuff.

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It’s only a short walk from Corporation Street, but much more low key than the often-fancier breakfast places in the same streets off Colmore Row, and so is a nice bit of variety in the area.

In summary:

Price: mid range-  £4 for scrambled eggs, £6 with salmon

Atmosphere and design: mismatched to the max

Food: a limited range of scrambled eggs, sausage/bacon sandwiches. No full English.

Toilets: unisex and enthusiastically decorated

Enjoyment: a very calm and relaxing jumble of a place, perfect to escape the business of the city centre

79 Papa’s Quarter: Versailles brunch

Papa’s Quarter, Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

If you saw this cafe and were asked what it served, what would you guess?

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How about if I threw in some details from the website to help you decide? According to the website, Papa’s Quarter is “taking you back to the 18th century with its frescoed and mirrored interior. In the present it stands as a living museum.” Or alternatively, “early 20th century style with an eclectic feel to it, and has elements of Georgian, Medieval and Tudor style”.

Would you have guessed sushi?

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Until Christmas, Papa’s Quarter has been serving beautiful French patisserie, lovely coffee, and – more bizarrely – an extensive sushi menu. It has been just as confusing as the website description of the interior, and on numerous cake trips, the sushi part of the cafe as been quiet as the grave.

Thank God then that they have come to their senses and switched the menu to English breakfasts, and pizza. Two weeks after Christmas, it was buzzing with satisfied customers, the chef busy serving breakfast and coffee, like any other successful Jewellery Quarter cafe.

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Grab a seat in the window, a sofa in the corner, and settle in for a wonderful social meal.  The unique (for Birmingham) interior design is fun, especially in contrast to the ubiquitous faux-industrial hipster styling proliferating across the rest of the city.

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The full English is full of plain ingredients (white sliced vs sourdough toast is the easiest single symbol of the quality of food you are getting), plentiful, hot, properly cooked throughout. The rejection of the hipster aesthetic continues – we were very happy to have beans on a plate rather than in a gimmicky pot.

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My double sausage and egg bap was spot on, just the right amount of sausage-to-egg-to-bread ratio, and the egg perfectly soft. Not a fan of the strange Masterchef-esque inverted-nipple decorative touches. A bap is never going to look fancy on a plate, and you shouldn’t make it try.

The toilets are done up in the same style, with beautiful red tiling and gold mirrors, spotlessly clean. I am super dubious about the random outdated message tippexed on the wall in the ladies though.

In the new year, a city centre tea shop, and a wonderful designer interiors independent shop have both closed down. Looking at the history of nearly 80 places we have had breakfast since starting this blog, again and again and again you find places – often delightful – which have since shut. The Papa’s Quarter breakfast was good, the cake – from prior experience – is amazing, and I’ll definitely be back to check out the pizza. The interior is fun and clearly someone’s passion project. It was a thrill to see such an increase in the customer numbers; I desperately want this place to do well and become a fixture of the local area.

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In summary:

Price: mid range (£8.95 for a full English)

Atmosphere and design: Versailles-chic

Food: standard, classic English breakfasts. As a bonus, the cake is fantastic.

Toilets: very clean, decorated to echo the heavy red/gold/bling aesthetic of the rest

Enjoyment: super welcoming staff, central location in the JQ, booths or sofa seating, or smaller tables for a more formal feeling – somehow low key and decadent all in one breath. Please go and check it out

77 Can Eat: Stirchley brunch

Can Eat, 1397 Pershore Road, Stirchley High Street, B30 2JR

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Here’s an excellent Christmas tradition: on Christmas eve, head to Stirchley Wines and Spirits, and fill your car with craft beer, then pop into the local grocers and collect a beautiful Christmas wreath, before heading down the motorway to the family get-together. This has been our Christmas routine now for a number of years, and this year it was only enhanced by stopping in wonderfully hipster Can Eat on Stirchley High Street.

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The ribbon of Pershore Road that runs through Stirchley is crammed with a hodge-podge of random shops which have been there forever, and around which a distinct tide of gentrifcation is rising. The grocers, with its shelves of goods along the walls surrounding a  central scale and a man wearing an old-fashioned blue smock who knows all his locals by name, seems like a step back to the fifties, but the artisan bakery running cooking courses (learn to make macaroons or butcher a pig!), the lovely coffee and poetry bar across the road, or the tiny new pizza place all aim squarely at the Instagram-happy, hipster-chic, frankly richer, crowd. You can almost feel the house prices rising. Can Eat fits squarely into this latter group of venues.

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Inside it has a few seats on left and right, past (when we went) the enormous and lovely Christmas tree decorated with citrus slices. The walls are covered in plywood sheeting , and the tables and stools are covered by massive scatter cushions covered in on-trend African wax print. It was completely full when we popped in, with a mix of couples, yummy mummies, yummy daddies, and groups of friends who all shared one thing: they were much cooler and more stylish than we were.

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On the right is the door to the tiny Isherwood and Co florist, which is just beauteous, selling a plethora of cacti or succulents in Insta-friendly pots. As an excellent illustration of the gentrification prices, in Insherwood and Co, I bought a completely plain fir wreath for £10 (which came beautifully wrapped in brown paper); the holly and fir wreath I bought in the grocers was fully decorated with red ribbons as well, bigger, and only cost £5.

The food in Can Eat is divine.

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There is nothing approximating a standard full English on the menu. I had this candied bacon, tender-stem broccoli on sourdough toast. It was absolutely sensational, and that includes the bacon, which usually I hate: perfectly cooked, crispy, soft, crunchy, tart, sweet, warming, all the textures complementing each other perfectly. This style of toppings on a slice of sourdough is becoming more common – I had a similar plate recently in Kanteen– but this was just in a different class of tasty perfection.

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Richard had smoked salmon, scrambled egg, caramelised onions, and some sort of spicy mayonnaise on a brioche bun. As a man who normally refuses to go to brunch venues without a full English on offer, it was touch and go whether this would meet with approval; it was pronounced unbelievably good, a sensational breakfast, one of the best we’ve ever had. There is no faff on the plate, no needless salad or pointless decoration: this is just an incredibly good burger, with great tasting ingredients, seeming to puff itself right off the plate with its cloud-like brioche and stack of delicious fillings.

The toilets are unisex and disabled and child-friendly, with a big changing unit in one corner, and lovely soaps from the Honest company.

In summary:

Price: mid range (carried away by the Christmas spirit, I forgot to save the specific prices)

Atmosphere and design: a bright, social space full of plywood and plants

Food: super hipster sourdough and brioche treats. Don’t expect standard brunch fare, but what you get will be delicious

Toilets: clean, universally accessible, child changing friendly

Enjoyment: it’s quite an intense social space, being so small, but the food is amazing. Do you love the gentrification wave, or does it fill you with guilt? Your feelings on the question will probably strongly shape how much you love this place.

76 The Old Joint Stock: snow day brunch

The Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

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Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the pub is so delightful.
And since we’ve got no place to go,
Let us go! Let us go! Let us go!

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Oh, it doesn’t show signs of stopping,
But the Christmas tree is whopping
They’ll wish you a friendly hello
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

When we finally get our food
It was standard, expensive and warm,
But the setting is red and bright
Perfect to chill in a storm!

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The snow is slowly going
And we’re full, and happy, and glowing
So as long as you love brunch so
Let us go, let us go, in the snow.

In summary:

Price: midrange – £9.50 for a full English, £6.95 for eggs Benedict

Atmosphere and design: an incredibly beautiful old bank with soaring ceilings, beautiful chandeliers, enormous windows, and a glorious huge bar in the centre

Food: pretty average, and quite pricey (presumably due to the location)

Toilets: plentiful and tiled in old Victorian style in keeping with the rest of the pub

Enjoyment: when it’s not a snow day, this place is usually buzzing, and is a wonderfully picturesque and comfortably place to go for a drink or a pie. The service when we went was very friendly, in keeping with the snow day Blitz-spirit camaraderie all over town