Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery at the end of my visit to Birmingham last week. I was on my way along New Street when an A-board caught my eye. It didn’t even say “speciality coffee”, but there was something about it that piqued my interest, so in I went, ascending a flight of stairs to find a real gem (in more ways than one) hidden in the very centre of Birmingham.
Medicine Bakery is an artisan bakery, café and gallery which grew out of Medicine Bar in Digbeth. After that closed in 2011, the team behind Medicine turned to baking, opening a bakery, deli and café in the village of Codsall in Wolverhampton. This is turn led to the opening of a second Medicine in 2018, which is the one I stumbled upon on New Street, along with a more recent addition not far away in the massive Mailbox shopping centre.
Medicine New Street occupies a glorious, open space (a former art gallery), serving classic breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes, plus masses of cakes and pastries. There’s a standard espresso-based menu with coffee from Iron & Fire, plus a small selection of tea, soft drinks, smoothies, cocktails, craft beers and wine.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Medicine is on the north side of New Street, right at the western end by Victoria Square. The street is partially pedestrianised, allowing for nine well-spaced outside tables, each seating two or three on square plastic stools. Although a dedicated seating area for Medicine, you go inside to order (whereas inside, it’s table service). From the street, there are few hints at the glories that await you inside, although the entrance is fairly grand, with tall, marble-framed double doors. Medicine is written on the lintel in gold letters, but other than that, only a small A-board lets you know that this is a bakery/café.
The doors open onto a small, tiled foyer, a large, broad staircase at the back disappearing up into the building. At the top, you reach a small, high-ceiling rom with white tiles and a skylight. This is where Medicine keeps its bread, cakes and pastries, along with sandwiches to go, arrayed on trollies and shelves to the left and right. I half expected this to be all there was to Medicine, but I was wrong (although if you are ordering takeaway, this is as far as you get, which means you really miss out on the Medicine experience).
I was greeted by a member of staff, who offered to show me to a table. I was led through double doors at the back into a long, broad room with more tiles and a lovely wooden floor. The espresso machine (a Fracino lever machine, made in Birmingham, no less), is at the left-hand end, but I was led to the right, down the length of the room, to an opening in the far wall. Stepping through and into the main room was literally breath-taking.
Medicine’s main space is, by speciality coffee standards, enormous. Previously home to the Royal Society of Birmingham Artists, it was used as a gallery. About three times as long as it is wide, and almost as tall, it has a soaring curved roof, five central skylights running its full length. This results in a wonderfully light space, which reminded me of the gallery rooms in London’s National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. It’s also very green, plants hanging from the walls and standing on many of the tables.
You enter at the right-hand side of one of the short walls, the room stretching out ahead of you. There is seating around the edges, plus more in the centre. Starting to the left of the entrance, a padded bench runs around the front wall and almost the whole length of the left-hand wall, lined with four-person tables with benches, although to the left of the entrance is a solitary 10-person one. The bench stops at the fire exit, beyond which is an L-shaped sofa-bench in the back, left-hand corner.
Opposite this, in the right-hand corner, is the first of three wide sofas, its back against the wall, facing the length of Medicine. This is followed by two more sofas, each with a long table and a low bench on the other side. Two square two-person tables follow, then comes a small flight of steps leading up to a door in the right-hand wall which, I believe, leads to the kitchen. Finally, there’s a long table against the wall beyond the door and you’re back to the entrance.
However, that’s not all, since there are more tables in the middle, four long tables running horizontally in the front half of Medicine, with two more, running lengthways down the middle of the back half (to accommodate the sofas on the right).
I would have loved to have something substantial from the menus, but I’d already eaten well that day, so settled for a cake, all of which are baked fresh each day in Codsall. I think I had the Frangipane Bakewell, described to me as a slice of brioche with a frangipane on top, like a frangipane cherry Bakewell, at which point I was so intrigued, I had to try it. All I can tell you is that it was excellent, with a rich, brioche base and fruity topping with a custard-like bit in the middle which I particularly enjoyed. As you can tell, my career as a restaurant critic isn’t going to take off any time soon…
As well as having eaten well, I’d had a lot of coffee, so went with a decaf flat white, which was lovely, rich and smooth, milk and coffee in perfect harmony. And with that, it was time to go!
September 2021: you can see what I made of the original Medicine in Codsall, which I visited in August and September, trying both the extensive food menu and the caffeinated coffee!
December 2021: Medicine New Street has won the 2021 Best Physical Space Award.
|69A NEW STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B2 4DU|
|www.medicinebakery.co.uk||+44 (0) 121 643 1188|
|Monday||08:00 – 17:00||Roaster||Iron & Fire (espresso only)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 17:00||Seating||Tables; Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 17:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||08:00 – 17:00||Service||Table|
|Friday||08:00 – 17:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 17:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||08:00 – 17:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||Local||Visits||2nd July 2021|
Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham.
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