I don’t get salad people…even though my mum is one. Those people that would voluntarily choose a torturous game of needle in a haystack only with the hay being lettuce and the needle protein, instead of pretty much anything else for lunch. But when I headed down to check out Benugo, one of the latest openings at new New St station, I voluntarily ate salad. And it was good.
Benugo Birmingham New St is the first ‘high street’ store outside of London for the group. Founded in 1998 by two brothers, Ben and Hugo, which is presumably where the name came from, you can find Benugo outlets up and down the country but mainly in cultural centres and museums. Their first foray into Birmingham has more of an actual coffee shop vibe to it – the decor is that rustic, industrial look which is becoming a bit too familiar in coffee shops, but here is softened with colourful furniture. Frankly with such a good spot for people watching, they’ve rightly left half the walls as windows, which gives you the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by or watch people marvel at the new station.
On the surface they don’t do anything we haven’t seen in Birmingham before – tea, coffee, sandwiches and salad boxes. But their focus is on honest, responsibly sourced food, healthy too but with the occasional sweet treat. Most of the food is prepared on site, all chicken is free-range and British, and they support a raft of charities from farms working with children in urban areas to projects delivering fresh drinking water in India.
It’s clear coffee is a big thing for them, with coffee bean sacks and milk jugs decorating the space above the fridges, they’ve won London’s Coffee Shop of the Year twice. But just like the capital, there’s a raft of great independent coffee shops in Birmingham who take their coffee seriously too. The flat white I tried was lovely, the coffee had a smoothness to it which was rounded off by a nice velvet milk – and no need for sugar. It would certainly be a good coffee to catch on the way to work; strong enough to wake you up, but steady enough that it wouldn’t be a shock to the system.
They’re trialling hot food in the Birmingham Benugo, which given how autumnal a day it was might’ve been a good choice, but I spotted something better, something which suggested to me that maybe these London lot might be at home in Brum after all; curry. Or rather masala chicken with curried quinoa & lentil mix, edamame, roast sweet potato, cucumber, mixed leaves and cabbage and carrot slaw. They call it a super wholefood box which is the sort of righteousness in food that usually puts me off, but the riot of colour made this look like more than your average salad. And it was. I get bored of salad before I feel like I’ve eaten enough, but the mix of flavours from the spice of the chicken to the sweetness from the potato and the crunch of the carrot was enough to keep me interested. By most work-day lunch standards it’s not a cheap option, but it feels like something which is nutritional and fun…which is certainly worth the splurge.
After something so healthy I probably should’ve rounded it off with fruit, but I’m a sucker for an afternoon sweet snack, so I took with me a mango and passionfruit cheesecake, which travelled surprisingly well up past Colmore Row. Whilst I was worried that this looked like a lot of cheese, it had layers of zingy fruit nestled on a bed of biscuit crumble that still had some bite to it. Although a flatter serving dish with more crumble would’ve been my preferred choice, this will still tick a lot of boxes for most people.
The previous offerings at the old train station were pretty lacklustre, to say the least. But with good coffee, tasty food and a great location, Benugo Birmingham New St makes a much better meeting place than a tired old cookie stand – or just a place to watch the world go by. I’ll be back…and I’m taking my mum, she might even get to see me eat a salad for once.
Disclosure: Benugo invited me down to try a complimentary lunch, although to be fair I was already planning on visiting anyway. As ever my views remain honest and my own, even though I’ve just admitted to liking a salad, which my mum pointed out she “knew you would grow up to like them”.