Ooooooooohhhh, I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for a long time guys, a long time.
Research has involved painstakingly trying out all manner of treats at bakeries across the second city. I’ve been very diligent. I did some pre-research in America where I first developed my love affair with bakeries as an indispensable part of the community.
Ever since I laid eyes on the Astoria Pastry Shop in Royal Oak, Metro Detroit and, more recently Crust in Fenton, I’ve been waiting for Brum’s bakeries to shine. And I really feel now is their time. We have some established favorites and some hot new contenders snapping at their heels. This can only mean good things for Birmingham’s hungry masses. Surely there’s room for everyone?
To give all these establishments their due, it’s important to celebrate what they do well so I’ll run down the bakeries according to what you fancy. I haven’t included wholesalers on this list as I’m just concentrating on what’s available publicly. But wholesalers, you will have you day here too…
- Best for Bread: The Bread Collection, Great Western Arcade
This outlet for the Knowle-based artisan bakers is nothing if not bijou. A sign saying only 2 customers are allowed in at any one time (takes me back to school days at frightened newsagents’) means that there can be a little queue on Saturday mornings. The lady who often works there can also be quite surly (I find that if I act surly too then she lightens up a bit). This all adds to the air of exclusivity this place has cultivated.
But I persevere because the bread here is aces. In fact The Times (no less) has listed it as one of the 10 best small bakeries in the whole of Britain (hooray for Brum – these lists are usually London saturated ). FUN FACT: the baker here, Gilles Zidane, is the cousin of French footballing legend Zinedine Zidane and this would explain the certain je ne sais quoi this boutique bakery possesses. And their ability to make macaroons properly.
This is for those days when you want to surprise a loved one with breakfast in bed (specifically bacon sarnies) and walk around on a Saturday morning wearing a trench coat and jaunty scarf whilst toting a baguette, see here for inspiration.
- Best for Cup Cakes: Frost & Snow, 86 Old Snow Hill
I’m a long time fan of Frost & Snow, both for the quality of their cakes and their charitable ethos (they help homeless locals get back on their feet by giving them a career and marketable skill). You have to trek a little way out to get to them these days (why oh why did their city centre stall in the Bullring pack up? – their website doesn’t say). The best explanation I can think of is that they wanted us to walk off the cupcake calories to make their treats further guilt-free. NB: If you can’t be bothered to walk they are online and supply the Urban Coffee Co and the Hippodrome.
I sill think their cupcakes are the prettiest in the city and their Earl Grey and lemon offering is one of the tastiest morsels I’ve come across (and believe me, I look).
BUT they do have some great local rivals, particularly Fallen Angel in Harborne (and Solihull) which specifically aims to tap into the American style of bakery. I love the way they use fresh fruit to decorate their cuppies. It’s all very yummy mummy (and why not). Selfridges also does a marvellous selection now too (see top picture).
- Best for Cream Cakes: Caffe Chino, Arcadian Centre
I had a particularly successful party last summer (before I inevitably got ill for months on end and started this blog). I can’t help feeling that getting up early and buying boxes of cream cakes from this fab bakery in the Chinese Quarter helped with the happy mood. It is a girly paradise with it’s jade green palette, Marie Antoinette furnishings (didn’t she allegedly say ‘let them eat cake?’), colourful bubble teas, and Carmen Miranda-like gateaux.
In fact Caffe Chino operates as a sort of girly deli, as you can buy exotic candy, pork buns and all sorts there as well as all manner of celebration cakes for order. This may be because they are affiliated with the Wing Wah group of restaurants. Personally I think it’s best to stick to the cakes here as their macaroons are not the best but it’s always busy and friendly here.
Caffe Chino’s nearest rival is straight across from them. Like the Joan Collins and Linda Evans of the Chinese bakery world, Caffe Chino vs Wah Kee is an ongoing battle. If Caffe Chino is Joan Collins (all designer clothes and immaculate red lipstick) then Wah Kee is Linda Evans (softer, less showy but more natural). Did I really just use Dynasty as an analogy for West Midlands Chinese bakeries? – meh, it happens.
The Wah Kee is a different yet no less enticing place. Less upscale, more basic, it covers all the bases as far as Chinese baking is concerned. The cakes, the pork buns the green tea Swiss rolls, they’re all here. And they’re usually a bit cheaper.
They’re also a little less trendy, like the cakes your nan would buy rather than the sort your yummy mummy would try to impress with, but that is no bad thing. Going here feels a bit like getting something authentic in a New York neighbouhood. In this way, it’s a little gem really.
- Best for Doughnuts: I guess the biggest contender here has to be Krispy Kreme in the Bullring.
My husband is always amused by the way Krispy Kreme has taken off over here. He says as far as American doughnuts go, KK (no, not the KKK – horrid people) isn’t considered that remarkable. But over here, the opening of a new Krispy Kreme shop causes traffic jams (this year in Edinburgh) and in the Bullring, the ‘HOT NOW’ sign being switched on regularly results in a queue of 50 or more ravenous shoppers.
The only real rival it has is the Frankfurt Christmas Market with its After Eight flavoured ‘nuts. And even then some of my German friends say they wouldn’t dream of buying the things and can’t understand why we love them so much. Lots of hot, sugared thingies are on offer at all these pretzel stores that are springing up though, so maybe the super-doughnut’s monopoly will shortly be challenged.
I guess when it comes to doughnuts, we Brits love the novelty. Our traditional sugared doughnuts are usually soggy affairs with rubbish jam whereas KK offers warm, glazed, dry rays of hope in a frequently rain-soaked existence.
- Best for French Macaroons: Selfridges in the Bullring
Call me a snot but I get very wary when I look for macaroons outside London or Paris. You see, they are my favorite thing (apart from my husband). And even then, I’ve had some bad experiences in London. I know how hard they are to make, having tried and failed miserably a few times.
A few places in Brum have made valiant efforts. Caffe Chino as I described earlier does them too cakey. The Bread Collection does them well (but usually only supplies one lone macaroon once in a blue moon). So I’ll plump for Selfridges which does quite a few flavours now. They are supplied by the English Rose Bakery and they’re pretty good but maybe on the crisp side. Manchester-based Emma Brown, the baker is, like me, a huge Laduree fan and I hope she keeps up her admirable efforts.
- Best for Baklava: Cranberry in the Bullring
Cranberry is just one of those Julian Graves type ‘grazing’ stands you get in all major shopping centres. You know what I mean; the nuts, the dried apricots, the yohurt-covered raisins. But it also has a pretty decent selection of everyone’s favorite Mediterranean after-dinner treat. They’re good for presents too. I’ll also mention that Bader Restaurant, a Lebanese place in Small Heath also does good baklava (and in way more diet-friendly portions).
- Best for Dessert: Carluccio’s, Brindley Place
I love it when a restaurant lets you pack up dessert to take home – a really good idea if you want to get lucky on a date! Or better yet, when you can have dessert already waiting back at your place (and I don’t mean yourself in just your tea-stained Y-fronts). Luckily, a few places around here can help you out with that.
I really like Carluccios (because they know the way to an Italian man’s heart – or Italian-American in my case) who have lovely tarts, biscotti and meringues. Selfridges has some show-stopping examples of patisserie. Further out, Nima Deli in Moseley does some fab Sicilian pastries.
I’m so glad Britain is cottoning on to the importance of delis in helping to market local produce and introduce us to the best of the rest. Brum is a big place and I must have left off loads of delis here but feel free to share your faves in the comments box below!
Best for On The Run: Anderson & Hill, Great Western Arcade
While Greggs has the monopoly on the sausage roll around here (and there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time) there are some truly wonderful snacks to be had out there. The sandwiches at Anderson and Hill for example are quick, simple and show off this deli’s carefully selected range of artisan foods.
While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Church St’s Home deli as a breakfast venue, it is a great place for lunch and sandwiches. The salt beef and brie are great and they do some weird but fun experiments with pastry too (I’ve tried a strange looking horn with vivid green icing here). I also hear great things about Lewis’ Deli on St Mary’s Row in Moseley. And if you’re after Middle Eastern pastries, Al Barakha on Mary Street in Balsall Heath is well loved.
Further Out: I always get into trouble here for being too city-centre focused but hey, lay off – I’m a city centre girl! My blog is about surviving in the city centre where it’s harder to find all the cute things you lot in the suburbs have. Blame Birmingham’s extortionate commercial rents (£10,000 a month apparently).
Having said that, I do know that there are some fab places a little further out that definitely deserve to be called Brum’s Best. For example Birmingham mini-chain Maison Mayci (in Moseley and King’s Heath) does wonderful things with french influenced patisserie and in particular their bread shaped into creatures (take a look on their website and prepare to be astonished). And for a quaint, easy-going bakery experience, the Bournville Bread Basket on the green takes some beating.
If I’ve missed out something glaringly obvious and you are desperate to tell everyone about your favorite bakery, please leave a comment – I love visiting bakeries so you’ll always have at least one new customer!
Great work, bakers of Brum -we salute you!