*** Update 15/06/2013 – This venue is now under new management ***
I’m sure this won’t be the first review to point out The Warehouse Café as “a hidden gem” – but it’s an apt description of this delicious restaurant which the casual passer-by would completely miss. Numbers 54 to 57 Allison Street in Digbeth houses Birmingham’s CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) office, a Friends of the Earth office, and the vegetarian Warehouse Café. As the name suggests it’s set in a converted warehouse and as such has a higgledy-piggledy layout with stairs from the entrance hallway leading through the pot wash and past an open kitchen into the wood dominated dining room which seats around forty. Veggie food has been a feature of this most industrial of areas since the ’70s, and the Warehouse Café has picked up the baton admirably. It uses organic, fair-trade, bicycle-couriered produce where possible, and the menu is all about seasonality. At the moment they’re also trialing the use of allotment grown produce from friends and supporters.
We turned up on a cold and wet December night, and buzzed at the door to the shared building to be let in. It adds a level of intrigue not being able to see in to the first floor restaurant, nor to be able to gain automatic ingress. We weren’t kept waiting for long as we were quickly greeted by a cheerful host and shown upstairs to our table. The décor is simple but welcoming, it’s not a formal affair – with that and the friendliness of our host it felt like we were eating in a friend’s farmhouse kitchen.
The format for dinner is carte d’hôte – there were three or four choices per course plus some specials. The three courses cost £22.50. For starters we had Brussels sprout bhaji and Falafels. The brussell sprouts bhaji were crispy, and perfectly seasoned and spiced. To cut through the sprout bitterness they were accompanied by parsnip puree, julienne pear, and pickled ginger. It was served on a board, which I would usually have a problem with (what’s wrong with a plate?) but in this case I will forgive them because it was really delicious. The falafel was tasty, not cloy as it sometimes can be, and accompanied by carrot puree and raita for the required moistness. There wasn’t a bite left of any of the starters, despite the fact they were quite large.
For mains we opted for one of the specials, a Mexican bean chilli, and the chestnut and cashew nut roast. The Mexican bean chilli was again excellently spiced, sometimes chefs go completely overboard with the chilli in my opinion and I think there’s even more of a tendency to do that on veggie dishes to overcompensate for the lack of meat. Not so here, it was spicy but not face-burning hot, and the layers of spice flavours all came across. The pot of chilli was topped with a gooey firm cheese lid. The potato wedges it came with had been baked and then fried and seasoned with salt and pepper – I think they’re the nicest potato wedges I’ve ever had, and it’s little things like that that really show that the place cares about the food that it serves, it’s not just trading on its veggie status. The flavoursome nut roast was served with seasonal veg and roast potatoes which were, again, very well cooked.
Unusually, we had deserts. We tried the Chocolate Orange Brownie with a chocolate ice-cream and a crumble which came with a dairy-free raspberry ice-cream. I don’t think the orange came through strongly in the brownie but it was potently chocolatey and unctuous just like a brownie should be. The apple crumble was also lovely and we even enjoyed the soya ice-cream it came with (my preconceptions of iced-soya were, happily, proved wrong).
One thing to note, and this should be prominent on their website but isn’t, they don’t have a booze licence – at the moment you have to take your own wine and beer. This may change in the new year so keep checking the website.
The place gets super busy, it’s somewhere you should book, not just turn up to on spec.
In summary – we loved it! Our vegetarian friend we took with us thought it was excellent too and compared very favourably with the other veggie restaurants she’s eaten in. We’ll definitely be back.