16 February 2015

Afternoon Tea in Birmingham (@theclubandspa1 @Mailboxlife @HarveyNichols Birmingham) [By @Cinabar]

I was very kindly gifted afternoon tea for two at The Lounge in The Club and Spa at The Cube in Birmingham’s Mailbox as a birthday treat. Although I’ve seen afternoon tea available at hotels etc I’ve not actually experienced it as a whole, so I was really looking forward to this. The gift was in the form of a Groupon voucher and advised emailing to organise a date and time.
I emailed and request a Saturday (I gave choice of four Saturdays), stating that I didn’t have any preference on the time. I had a simple reply back; “Thank you, booking confirmed for the Sunday 15th  @12 noon”. I replied querying this and pointing out I’d requested a Saturday, and got a short reply stating just “Weekends are fully booked”. After several more emails she confirmed it was Saturdays which were fully booked, so we went with the Sunday as originally suggested. Not the best booking experience to start things off.
We arrived in Birmingham by train. The Cube is situated in the Mailbox district of Birmingham and although it has been quite a while since my last visit I thought I knew where we were going. As the train pulled into Birmingham New Street I explained to my mum that if we left by the stair case at the extreme end of the ‘a’ side of the platform we would end up on a staircase that would lead us out close to the Mailbox. I had forgotten that Birmingham New Street was undergoing extensive renovations and that exit was closed. We found our way using a different exit, and headed on to the Mailbox.
We arrived at the steps to the Mailbox entrance to find it closed off too, covered over and again going through major renovations. We weren’t sure where to go, but checked the poster next to the building works. We had a walk down a side street, not sure if it was the right direction it wasn’t the nicest area, and then into the Mailbox through a strange side entrance. We could over hear other people trying to work out where to go too, and trying to find the entrance to Harvey Nichols which seemed impossible. After the entrance to the Mailbox the place was still in a state, and we walked through a thin corridor covered in builder’s white plastic sheets, it led to a single up escalator, I noticed that the down escalator was missing and realised it was going to be another adventure trying to find our way back! We had a little time and thought we too would try and find Harvey Nics before our afternoon tea, but we failed. We found a lift that advised us to get off at floor 2 for the store, but that was all closed up with building works when we got out on that floor and had a look around. We wandered about a bit more, tried a few more floors and realised we were running out of time so went back on the case of trying to get to our afternoon tea. We went back to the floor with restaurants although it wasn’t tidy or clear how to get to the shops, we did work out how to get to the Cube so followed our path. Now the place we were going is called “The Lounge” which may not sound like the most imaginative name, and it turns out it isn’t. Also with the Mailbox Quarter is a Ramada hotel, you have to walk past this to get the The Lounge at the The Cube and guess what they called their bar/restaurant, yes also “The Lounge”. What fun.
We walked along the canal and into the The Cube, I’d read online that the The Lounge was on the lowest level overlooking the canal, so we followed the escalator to the bottom floor and indeed saw the door to The Lounge. Finally! It was only when we were up close to it I spotted the door had a cupboard behind it and was sealed off, oh. There was a sign saying we should use the entrance on the sixth floor, at which point we noticed we were on a floor labelled as fifth (despite it being the bottom), its like Birmingham is trying to confuse visitors. Up one floor and we made our way in, through the entrance which is actually outside (and therefore still not clear) but miraculously we were on time and very much ready for afternoon tea.

It was disappointing then to discover they had no record of us having a booking for afternoon tea. I ended up having to fish through emails to find the proof of the booking, the receptionist at the lounge thumbing her way through the stream of messages on my phone, before we were able to be seated.

I have to say when we finally got to relax we did rather like the surroundings and the fabulous canal view from our table. We were offered tea or coffee and we both opted for coffee. It came in a lovely big pot and we shared some out.

The cups were very traditional and smart but fiddly as the gap in the handle isn’t big enough to put your finger through. It was a very welcomed and refreshing cup of freshly brewed coffee though.

After a brief wait the most beautiful tiered tray of goodies came through. There were finger sandwiches, a selection of cakes and on top scones with cream and jam, heaven. A worthy reward after our Birmingham exploration.
We started on the sandwiches there was a selection of tuna, egg and spicy chicken. The crusts were removed as per tradition and so looked very dainty. The different breads were fluffy and thick cut, and I loved that the fillings all had fresh crispy additions of salad and onion. The chicken was a mild spice and the sandwiches were all very pleasing.

My mum pointed out that the correct etiquette was to tackle the scones next. These were thick and full of juicy currants. There was plenty of cream to share, but one single serving jar of jam seemed a little light for two. I went for jam first then cream. Either way is okay, unless you are in Devon and Cornwall where apparently it matters! Again the scones were fresh and tasty, and very indulgent with their lashings of cream. We let our tummies settle before tackling the final tier. We sipped coffee, relaxed and watched the boats go by and the fisherman across the way make a catch.

When we were ready we went for the cakes, I chose the chocolate brownie and the carrot cake. The brownie was rich, soft and full of rich chocolate flavour. The carrot cake was well spiced, moist and indulgent. My mum loved her cakes too, coffee and walnut and a cake layered with chocolate chunks and goodies. Again we relaxed and finished our coffee. The waiter was very attentive all the way through checking on us, and offering us more coffee, he did make us feel comfortable and welcomed. The food too was spot on, far too much cake which is exactly as it should be. I would certainly go back for a treat, at least now I’m confident I could find it again.
After our afternoon tea we decided we were refreshed enough to once again attempt to find Harvey Nichols. After trial and error, and a pinch of luck we found our way. Apparently you have to walk back to the Mailbox, go to the far back corner, slightly hidden by the building works, take the lift to the lower ground floor, walk across a lengthy car park, find another lift again slightly out of the way and the take that up to the second floor. Simple really.
We had a brief look at make-up and nail goodies. A glance at few other bits, but this being Foodstuff Finds, the food hall was high on my agenda. It was disappointingly small, not so much a food hall really, more just a few shelves after all of that. I didn’t buy anything, shocking. I think the whole area of Harvey Nics has been condensed during the building works, so some of the food hall has disappeared. Either that or I imagined it was bigger than it was last time I went. We did enjoy our Birmingham adventure, but the tourist board there must know how much hassle all the on going works is causing, it has turned the place into a bit of a maze, which is such a shame as there are some really nice treats hidden away within that, including After Tea at The Lounge.
By Cinabar

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