Mirror, mirror on the wall... which is the prettiest new diner of them all?
Well, that’s an increasingly difficult question to answer in Birmingham where the interiors are increasingly stunning.
It’s no longer enough to go out for a meal just for the sake of eating nice food.
Discerning customers now want the full monty, too.
Bars, cafes and restaurants are increasingly making sure their interior design is top notch to give guests the ‘wow’ factor the minute they walk in.
In a year when Mowgli introduced swinging seats at its new Grand Central restaurant, here’s our selection of some of the year’s best new places that dazzle the senses.
When this stunningly-designed cafe opened in mid-February in between Caffe Nero and the Old Joint Stock, we reviewed it and asked: “Is Damascena cafe the city’s first perfect coffee shop?”
Taking its name from a rose like its older sister cafe established in Moseley in 2014, the new cafe was inspired by Syria and boasts heavily Middle Eastern influenced decor with designs that date back from the days of the Ottoman Empire.
It is seriously beautiful on the inside and achieves the difficult balance of appearing to be fresh and different as if it has been there for years.
Damascena owner Anas Zein, also known as Zein, is now looking to open a third cafe in March – this time in Harborne
San Carlo Fumo
Fumo has taken over the former Searcys Balcony Bar and Brasserie and spent £1 million transforming it into a lavish new restaurant .
The huge marble feature bar, and striking saucer shaped lampshades give Fumo a fabulous feel.
The new bar at Selfridges serves up Laurent Perrier champagne as well as the same specialist quality cocktails its sister bar and restaurant is renowned for on Waterloo Street.
San Carlo also recently opened Gran Cafe at the ground level of Selfridges – it feels a lighter, brighter space now compared with the days when was a Caffe Nero and then a Starbucks coffee lounge.
The 120-seat restaurant has a Grade II-listed Victorian façade overlooking Birmingham Cathedral.
The inside is just as impressive at the foot of a building which cost £30 million to redevelop.
The decor has been inspired by the “giant Ombu trees of Argentina”.
There is lots of carved natural wood and the colour scheme is sympathetically muted.
Although Gaucho is at ground level, diners feel like they are deep underground.
The restaurant has only two small windows and has a discreet entrance on the downward sloping Church Street.
There is a separate tunnel for waitresses and waiters to ferry drinks to diners from the bar – out of the way and view of those dining in the restaurant.
The canalside former Fiddle and Bone pub reopened in May as an all-in-one two-floor bar, 120-cover restaurant, courtyard and micro gin distillery.
The work was done by the Mosaic Pub & Dining Company which had previously transformed the former Vertu bar into the Button Factory in the Jewellery Quarter in 2016.
The Distillery also has an exposed-brickwork interior and an open kitchen area in the restaurant with a Robata grill style of cooking.
Its menu includes Middle Eastern influences like hummus and flatbread, slow roasted lamb leg Shawarma, charred cauliflower Shawarma and Merguez sausages. There are also sourdough pizzas, burgers and salads available too.
The Canal House
Originally opened in the 1980s, the James Brindley pub was closed in between Bridge Street and Gas Street Basin for eight years.
But it reopened as The Canal House on August 14, 2017 thanks to the company which owns The Botanist just off New Street.
The bar’s ground floor is described as ‘The Engine Room’ of the building – having a more down to earth pub feel.
The upstairs area is named the Residency – floral touches to the decor make it feel distinctly lighter and airier than downstairs.
Dishes include duck leg, grilled seabass and beer-battered fish and chips.
Never in a million years would you ever think you were back inside the old James Brindley.
Celebrity chef Akhtar Islam launched this replacement for the Rossopomodoro pizza concession on Selfridges’ ground floor in late March.
There isn’t a lot you can do here to change the open-plan environment, but any new venture from Akhtar is worth celebrating.
And chefs have plenty of ceiling height to toss their pizzas
In late October, Akhtar announced he was pursuing his own journey.
And so he left the Lasan group he had founded with business partner Jabbar Khan who was then photographed inside the remodelled interior of the Lasan restaurant in Hockley.
Jabbar had launched the business in 2002 with £11,000 in his pocket.
Since then, the group has expanded into an £8m business which also now includes Fiesta del Asado, Nosh & Quaff, Raja Monkey Cafe in leafy Hall Green.
Coincidence or otherwise, Akhtar’s departure followed his invitation to cook steaks for film legend Arnold Schwarzenegger during a private Fleet Street Kitchen dinner, held before he then took part in a Predator 30th anniversary Q&A event at the NEC’s Hilton Metropole hotel.
Poplar Road, Kings Heath
Good design doesn’t just have to be the preserve of big brand city centre venues.
Over in Kings Heath, Mezbaan (meaning host in Bengali) has replaced the former Pangea restaurant which closed in May.
Mezbaan opened in August with a cream and teal blue interior making it the perfect place to try some Indian cuisine “with a modern twist” accompanied by Soul Tree Indian wines.
Just when you thought Birmingham couldn’t take any more pizza restaurants, along came this snazzy newcomer from a company which had previously established itself in a former Cafe Pasta in Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Opened in March with plain tables and chairs helping to highlight the dramatic flooring, Wildwood’s first Birmingham venture replaced a Yorkshire Bank on a site once occupied by Pizza Hut.
The menu’s Italian and Mediterranean selections include stone-baked pizzas and pasta dishes as well as burgers, steak and risotto dishes.
What isn’t obvious to the casual observer is that the 120-seat restaurant has a downstairs area for 30 covers.
But, as with all good places, it’s good to make unexpected discoveries once you step over the threshold.
Yorks Coffee Bar
Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace
Yorks Cafe Ikon replaced Cafe Opus in Oozells Square back in March.
Its opening offer included 20-inch pizzas and two cocktails for £10.
The aim was to serve breakfasts and brunches similar to Yorks Bakery in Stephenson Street as well as being open in the evenings, too.
But what a transformation of the building!
Owner Simon Ford stripped the walls back to the exposed brick, discovering six layers of paint dating back to when the building was a school in 1870.
Features include the metal light fittings he made himself and the eggshell-style lampshades designed by his wife, hairdresser Mandy.
In a former life, the mirror over the bar used to be a window frame in... Poland!
Woodbridge Road, Moseley
This new cafe opened in July to sell freshly baked bread, croissants, sandwiches, breakfast and brunch dishes in the day, while its restaurant menu has been designed to “bring a fusion of flavours from all over the world”.
The two-floor site has been given a bright look.
The white floor shows off the richly-coloured wood panels, which in turn showcase the blackboard, the red benched seating and the lime green wall at the back.
Starfish is neither the last word in super-rich opulence nor pretending to be anything it’s not – this is simply a cafe which has cut its cloth to make the most of itself to winning effect.
Pinchos bar opened in October inside former offices at 125-133 Edmund Street serving Spanish wines, beers, cocktails, sherries and tapas plates.
The dark wood interior evokes a rustic Mediterranean cafe bar feel.
And don’t miss the huge photograph of one of Spain’s famous artist Salvador Dali on the wall, which helps to create an exotic ambience.
The site has been developed by Urban Rural Leisure group, which also owns Home Cafe Deli in Church Street.
The growing Spanish tapas scene in the city currently includes Amantia in Bennett Hill, Tapas Revolution at Grand Central, El Borracho de Oro in Edgbaston and La Plancha in Moseley.
The Indian Brewery
If you want an Indian street cafe and craft beer bar which sells coffee and bacon naan sandwiches, then head to the former Brewsmith’s site which has been completely transformed into a trendy, urban escape from the nearby flow of traffic on Great Charles Queensway.
Jaspal Purewal owns the Indian Brewery which brews its beer in nearby Great Barr.
As well as supplying Birmingham lager Indian Summer and IPA to Birmingham venues including The Lord Clifton, he has created a new bar, too.
The design is daringly cold – so will you love it in a far from hot climate?
Lower Trinity Street, Digbeth
Designed by local creative production agency STAX Creations, this new bar opened in August with a Roaring 20s’ feel which evoked the era of The Great Gatsby.
The drinks’ menu at Cafe Collette includes prohibition cocktails such as Salzerac, Bees Knees and Old Fashioned and there’s a summer garden, too.
The Dig Brew Co
River Street, Digbeth
The owner of the Black Country famous pie factory Mad O’Rourke’s b uilt a brewery with a riverside street food bar here over the summer.
The former warehouse was completely transformed on the inside and now includes some impressive stainless steel tanks that will whet your appetite for the beer and, of course, the pies.
Haig Club Bar
This cosy 36-seater Haig Club Bar opened on the 25th floor to serve Haig Club and Haig Clubman whisky as well as whisky based cocktails.
The new sky bar is housed in what was a hidden area of the MPW restaurant’s bar and opened with a picture of brand ambassador David Beckham.
The brand whisky is housed in an electric-blue bottle.
This site is a former Lloyds TSB branch in Newhall Street, right next door to the demolition site of the former NatWest Tower that used to be on the corner with Colmore Row.
With the capacity for 112 on the inside and the potential for a further 12 covers outside, it’s one of the city’s biggest coffee shops .
In such a long dark room with a relatively low ceiling, it was a difficult job for the designers, but there’s a reference to Birmingham’s industrial history and a character called John ‘Tinker’ Fox, a 17th century Parliamentarian soldier during the English Civil War who was a colonel and governor of Edgbaston House in Warwickshire.
Simple, but effective in a room where the corners are good for getting some work done on a laptop.
Boston Tea Party
Harborne Road, Edgbaston
When you take on an historic building, how do you change it to add value without ruining it?
In this instance, you knock out the ceiling in one wing to create a double height room.
The visual effect is tremendous if you are a fan of light and airy atmospheres.
The building, which Boston Tea Party opened in July, has five rooms including an orangery – so you could use a different one for every day of the week.
The jury is probably out on whether the industrial, bare-wall look at places like 200 Degrees on Colmore Row and Byron Hamburgers in New Street is becoming old hat.
But the staff love it in this mini restaurant which opened in May.
The odd bit of neon lighting offers a twist on classic American diners, but the reclaimed wood used to make the benched seats and iron framework share a degree of commonality with the Java Coffee lounge round another corner on Colmore Row.
Warwick Road, Acocks Green
This tiny diner opened inside a converted shipping container in July.
It’s a cute idea in one sense but which tests the duty of planning permission to represent the wider aesthetics of an area in another.
As for the chips I bought... well, they were limp and greasy and left the dreaded slight aftertaste – disappointing for any three-week-old business, regardless of whether you agree with the idea that this style of fast food, shipping container cooking could be franchised around various car parks across the country.
Fleet Street Kitchen
Belwell Lane, Mere Green
There have been various businesses over the years next to Waitrose in Mere Green.
This one is a sister venue to M Club and Fleet Street Kitchen on Summer Row, Birmingham and is being run by Sutton Coldfield business Arron Smith in partnership with California-based Yorkshireman Alan Rees.
The bar has been done out to a decent if unremarkable standard.
But the cooler displays full of Bottles of Bottega Gold Prosecco are a work of art in their own right.
Fancy that... you can now go to a bar to admire the fridge!
Mere Green Road, Mere Green
I wonder what Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden would have made of the ‘mural’ at the latest coffee bar, cafe and restaurant from the Bristol-based Loungers company.
They spent £550,000 opening the Renato Lounge .
It has been dedicated to Birmingham’s most famous one hit wonders Renée and Renato, who lived nearby and enjoyed a Christmas number one in 1982 with Save Your Love.
Split over two floors, there are vintage sofas for sipping coffee and pop art-inspired tables and old school benches for brunches and lunches.
Oozells Square, Brindleyplace
This restaurant takes its Siamais name from ‘Siam’ the former name for Thailand and has been elaborately decorated with sleek sofas and giant wall murals.
Finishing touches include birdcages containing skulls hanging from the ceiling and glass jars on the windows and bar.
The venue replaces Thai Edge, which closed several weeks ago after owners Harish and Nancy Nathwani retired.
Their son Nishil Nathwani decided to shut its doors after 17 years of business and reopen with a venue which focuses on both food and drink.
Three Church Road
Church Road, Edgbaston
This intimate venue opened in May to serve lunch and dinner as well as afternoon tea.
Three Church Road is part of the Audley St George’s Place retirement village – albeit a separate venture to the village and with its own entrance.
The decor includes a deep-blue colour scheme in the hallway as well as a marble top bar lined with pink stools.
The historical site consists of three houses, all formally belonging to the Royal School for Deaf Children.
Nakira African Grill
John Bright Street, Birmingham
Nakira Bar and Grill opened on the site of Lobster Peninsula which closed suddenly in May.
By August, there were Zulu shields and masks on the wall and safari animal decorations.
It was also fitted with a South African large barbecue grill on which to cook game meats including crocodile burgers.
The menu also includes dishes like grilled Boerewors, a traditional South African sausage, and biltong, strips of spiced and dried meat.
Temple Street, Birmingham
Opened to celebrate the flavours from South American, Indian, Spanish, Portuguese and African dishes, this new Las Iguanas restaurant also does a good job of reflecting the region’s affinity for bright colours, too.
Thanks to Deliveroo, you can also ‘enjoy a flavour of Rio in your living room’.
Navigation Street, Birmingham
Housed in a former kitchen tap showroom on Navigation Street, Tamatanga is a colourful 140-cover bar and restaurant offering all day Indian dining in a family-friendly environment.
The interior doesn’t scream out Indian restaurant. Instead it gives off tropical vibes of venues like Las Iguanas or Turtle Bay. And similarly to those restaurants – there is a big emphasis on cocktails.
Gibb Street, Birmingham
From the astro turf sign to the long wooden tressel tables, it’s easy to see how one of Birmingham’s newest cafes has a green theme.
Kanteen is a street food cafe with a community feel, promising to provide a meal for the homeless for every ‘hot box’ it sells.
With its minimal Scandi feel and floor-to-ceiling windows, Kanteen at the Custard Factory is hoping to offer a new way to brunch and lunch.
This restaurant is all about tiffin boxes, sticky wings, roti chip butties and Himalayan style cheese on toast.
It was founded by Nisha Katona, who gave up her 20 year career as a barrister to pursue her love of food.
The eatery has four wooden swings held by rope for diners to sit on and they’re big and sturdy enough to take the weight of adults.
The new 140-cover Mowgli restaurant has a very rustic interior with plenty of exposed brickwork and wood furnishings.
The bare stripped back decor is certainly in keeping with the Indian street food theme.