There are not many independent eateries where you can get a quality main meal for around £6.
But then again there aren’t many places that have the same philosophies and vision as The Hive Café and Bakery in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
It’s easy to forget how nice the Jewellery Quarter is. With it being the train stop before Birmingham for many people travelling into the city centre from the Black Country, you tend to just fly straight passed it.
But for anyone who fancies eating out somewhere a bit different and in a slightly less bustling atmosphere than the city centre, it’s worth having a look around. Why not take in some of its history and getting bite to eat and something to drink in one of the many cafés, pubs and restaurants that are dotted all over the place?
My wife, daughter and I met up with my brother, his partner and their seven-month-old baby for some food at The Hive, in Vittoria Street.
The building is being renovated but once we’d negotiated the scaffolding and made our way up the stairs, we were greeted by an lovely open plan-style café. There was a small team of waiters all on hand to seat us and serve us freshly-prepared food.
It’s a small operation but there’s a lot going on at The Hive that could easily be missed at first glance.
The majority of the produce is grown in its rooftop garden, there’s a wormery in the basement to help make fertiliser to grow the vegetables, and all the waste produce is pumped back into the compost, meaning there’s is virtually no rubbish.
The Ruskin Mill Trust also carried out renovations on the ground floor to create a training bakery and café, which also provides valuable work experience and opportunities to students at Ruskin Mill Trust’s Argent College. Funded by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, it offers meals, coffee and bread to the growing residential and business community within the area.
First thing to clear up – the café prides itself on serving only organically-grown produce. It’s a mainly vegetarian venue that produces as much vegan food as possible too. However, there are some meals that include meat.
Our family aren’t vegetarians, but we eat a lot of veggie food – mainly because it’s cheap and healthy. And so we were more than happy to meet my vegetarian brother and his partner there for something to eat where they had more than one or two choices off the menu.
We decided to share two vegan mixes, which were side salads that came served with olives, handmade bread and a soya spread.
And when it says salad, it means salad. It was quite difficult to list everything that had been served up because there was so much of it, but I’ll try. Couscous, salad leaves, nuts, olives, a few herbs, the usual tomatoes and cucumber – and then the freshly-baked bread.
Soft and spongy, the bread had a lovely lightness and it was nice enough to eat on its own with some butter, but it also went really well with the salad.
My wife, Kelly, summed it up perfectly when she said the salad was so nice it didn’t even need dressing.
If, like me, however, you’re a bit of flavour fiend, there were also four homemade dressings to choose from; you can simply walk over to the serving table, pick up your dressing, pour it on and then return it for the next customer.
It saves on potential waste and you don’t have to attract the attention of a waiter who then brings you one of those horrendously-annoying small plastic sachets of sauces containing about a teaspoon in each.
I tried out the chilli oil and the balsamic and maple dressing, which were both delicious.
For mains, my brother, Tom and his partner, Claire – when she had returned from feeding their daughter Harriet – opted for the homemade vegetarian Scotch egg, served with tomato chutney, homemade bread and a side salad.
Intrigued by what replaced the meat in a veggie Scotch egg, I was told it was a blend mainly consisting of falafel by the chef, Dom Lawson.
The eggs were still slightly runny and, when mixed the falafel coating, tasted great.
It seemed to have almost the same consistency of a meaty Scotch egg but – as I find is the case with most vegetarian food – had much more flavour. I love a traditional Scotch egg, but given the choice between that and one of The Hive’s veggie ones, I’d probably have to opt for the latter.
Plus, as is also usually the case with a lot of vegetarian and vegan food, you know what you’re eating is wholesome, nutritious and good for you.
Whenever I’m confronted with a main menu that has a vegetable curry on it, I find it very hard to resist. So, predictably, I went for the homemade aubergine, chickpea and coconut curry, served with apple spiced chutney, fragrant rice and homemade naan bread.
The bowl was bulging with food when It arrived, with the sticky rice hidden underneath the mountain of vegetables.It tasted superb and it was the best veggie curry I’d had for a very long time.
The aubergines, which replaced what would be meat, was moist but still retained a plumpness – basically, it hadn’t been stewed as can sometimes be the case when overdone. The chickpeas also helped to bulk out the dish but, aside from all that, it was simply the taste that stole the show.
Thick and full of spices, it was also a fairly light meal too and didn’t leave me feeling bloated in anyway, again something that can happen very easily when eating a curry.
Topped with coconut shavings, it was also slightly sweet.
Kelly and my three-year-old daughter, Annabelle, went for homemade organic smoked bacon, goat’s cheese, red onion and rosemary quiche, served with a side salad.
Annabelle’s was slightly smaller and costs less too, which is how all child’s portions are sold at this place.
The quiche was also light and the crust crumbly. Light seems to be key word with most the dishes, but it’s important to highlight how balanced, healthy and filling the meals were.
The cheese was not overpowering either and just gave the quiche that extra little kick. Mixed with more salad, it was the perfect lunch time meal to enjoy in the hot weather.
We were also given a little bowl of the homemade summer gazpacho, served with carrot and topped with almond pesto, just to try.
Again, after asking the chef, the dish was simply a variety of vegetables and spices blended together to form a thick and flavoursome cold soup. It would have made a lovely starter.
We ended with a double chocolate brownie and a white chocolate and blueberry baked cheesecake to share.
Of course, both were homemade organic and delicious, as my brother and daughter could particularly vouch for.
With one or two drinks each added to the bill, the final total still came in at under £50 – and that included two starters, four mains, one child’s dish and two cakes. And, as we all know, that really is a rarity these days.
Quality, healthy, homemade, organic food and a huge nod to saving the environment. The Hive really is a one-off and deserves to be a great success.