Food&Drink Editor Cara-Louise Scott, Writer Zainab Rao and Culture Editor Sofia Salazar-Studer review their go-to foodie spots in Harborne
While The Plough is hardly the cheapest place to go for a bite to eat, it is one of the nicest places to eat in Harborne. Located at the start of the High Street, the pub’s building and decor bears a village style to this pub, making you forget you are in the big city once you are inside. The pub is brandished with wooden tables and a brick layout, with plenty of seats inside and an extensive-sized sheltered outside area, which is what allowed them to gain so many customers, me being one of them, during the ‘outside-only’ rule of restaurants re-opening in April 2021.
Having sat down inside and outside, both areas allow you to experience warmth, the bubbliness of the staff and that village pub atmosphere that this place articulates. There is a huge range of choice of food and drink on the menu, especially their long list of pizzas. This place is perfect for both meat-eaters and veggies because the menu is wonderfully diverse and you can mix and match your pizza toppings too. As well as pizzas, The Plough offers more typical pub-grub such as burgers and fish and chips. The first time I went, I had the ‘Roasted Mushroom’ pizza, and the second time I had a Calzone with mozzarella, black olives and mushrooms; both were equally delicious. If you go at lunchtime, you can get an offer of Calzone and a soft drink for £10, which, for the humongous size of the Calzone, is a great deal. With plenty of drinks to choose from too, you have to visit The Plough at least once.
Slug and Lettuce
Slug and Lettuce is always somewhere I recommend to everyone. While some may just see it as a cocktail bar, Slug and Lettuce has a great range of food on offer like any other restaurant. The Slug and Lettuce in Harborne is located closer to the end of the high street and the decor inside is modern and quirky, and it even has a cute garden area at the back, which is perfect for the spring and summer months.
There is always a stunning array of drinks on display here, with the 2-4-1 deal all year round, making this one of the cheapest options for cocktails. The food here is the average price of a standard meal out, and I would recommend trying one of the burgers on the menu as the flavours will dance around your mouth and the fries are to die for too. The food menu covers everything from curry, to sausage and mash, and battered halloumi. While the puddings are very small here, they are only usually around £2 and are the perfect size if you are full after your meal, but fancy a sweet treat.
Arco Lounge is a retro-gallery style diner which serves a considerable amount of brunch options, tapas and pub food. The café bar has a formation of framed photos on its wall and decorative lights hanging down.
It is part of the Lounges chains across the country, meaning it gets very busy over lunch time typically because of the huge brunch and lunch menu choices it equips. From a fry-up, to pancakes, and from burgers to wraps, you will be spoilt for choice here. It is reasonably priced and well presented, and it has a good choice of soft drinks as well as alcohol. As Arco Lounge has typical dinner food too, it is open until 11pm every day.
Paul at No 41
Paul at No 41, located right across the street from the M&S on the High Street, is a must-visit café in Harborne. Offering great options for lunch – the burgers, salads, and sandwiches look mouth-watering – Paul also serves breakfast options all day.
On my first visit, the owner recommended the pancakes, and I cannot say I regretted following his recommendation. The fluffy pancakes, with delicious and fresh fruit topped with vegan vanilla soya ‘custard’, were just what I needed; filling enough to pass as a meal if you are not too hungry but definitely more than a snack, the portions were just right. However, if pancakes are not your thing, the ‘Eggs Royale’ or ‘Eggs Benedict’ – smoked salmon for the Royale and honey roast ham for the Benedict, spinach, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce served on toasted sourdough – are sure to catch your eye. If not, then perhaps the porridge?
As for vegan options, do not fear; Paul’s menu shows a delicious looking ‘Vegan Breakfast’ which mirrors their ‘Traditional,’ replacing the Cumberland sausage with a vegan one and the scrambled eggs with scrambled tofu – both are then served with hash browns, baked beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Finally, pair your food with one of the many drinks on the menu, whether that be coffee, tea, juice, or a fruit or veg smoothie. And as if this was not enough, getting a slice of cake for dessert is a great way to finish your visit.
Apart from the food, what makes Paul stand out is the lovely decor of the café. With a vintage pastel colour palette, Paul aims to provide a comforting atmosphere – and great music. The service was wonderful, the owner and the staff being attentive and accommodating. Pricewise, while on the slightly more expensive side, it remains very reasonable considering the portions (and the experience).
While I visited near closing time on a weekday – the café was understandably fairly empty – if you are planning a visit during the weekend or earlier in the day, it would be a good idea to book a table, as it often gets busy during peak times. Regardless, I would definitely recommend Paul as a great destination for a meal with friends. A warning, though: you will be planning your next visit as soon as you leave!
As someone with friends whose spice tolerances range from extra hot to plain on the Nando’s chilli scale, compromising on a place to eat where everyone is happy can sometimes be a challenge. We could be going around in circles, each of us suggesting and tearing down one another’s ideas until the hanger kicks in and we grumpily settle on an option that was mentioned 20 minutes prior. Luckily, the frequency of these instances have reduced considerably since stumbling upon Damascena.
Damascena Coffee House is a Middle-Eastern restaurant, with branches in Moseley, City Centre and of course, Harborne. As the word ‘coffee’ hints, the restaurant has items that cover breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner. The interior design within is certainly spectacular, with the careful placements of plants, lighting, dusky walls and framed old-timey pictures of the Ancient City of Damascus creating a special type of ambience. It is no surprise that the place seems to always be bustling with customers, regardless of the time or day. Even sitting here for a cup of coffee is enough to feel like you are indulging in a little bit of luxury.
In terms of the food, there is quite a lot of variety depending on your dietary requirements. All meats are halal and no alcohol is served on the premises, which is a relief for any Muslim diners and there are plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options too. I have had vegetarian friends – some of whom rank ‘mild’ on the Nando’s scale – rave about the selection of daily pastries, ‘Fatayer’ exhibited at the front display. These are usually relatively small, but filled with a variety of cheeses, leaves and herbs so they are perfect for a quick takeaway snack. Their hummus and falafels also serve as great vegetarian alternatives and the fact that you receive complimentary flatbread to allow you to eat with your fingers means you can really immerse yourself into the whole experience.
My favourite dish however, has to be the house speciality; ‘Damascena Chicken Shawarma Arabiya.’ Whilst £10.95 may feel a little steep for a student, once you see what it includes and account for the fact that their portion sizes guarantee leftovers then you may feel a little more forgiving!
The dish itself contains as follows: a toasted flatbread wrap that contains shawarma-seasoned chicken (that’s code for seasonings that are warming to the body, such as cumin, cinnamon, cayenne – not necessarily spicy!), salad, garlic aioli and crucially, thinly sliced pickles. As well as a portion of ‘Batata Haras,’ this dish in itself is a reason to go. They are cubed, roasted and very lightly fried potatoes which have then been sprinkled in a light coating of paprika, salt, pepper and finely chopped herbs. I have tried so many times to recreate this dish but nothing gives it justice. Regardless of what you have ordered, I highly recommend ordering this on the side. A crunchy salad, which has been bejewelled with pomegranate molasses, adding a refreshingly sweet burst of flavour to an otherwise quite rich dish. It is also accompanied by a creamy garlic yoghurt, which goes well with the other components of the dish.
Whilst there is an option to have lamb instead of chicken, I personally found the lamb to be a little bit too heavy for my stomach. It certainly has flavour, but there is just something about the chicken dish that has me coming back every time. Overall, Damascena’s dishes highlight how spice does not necessarily mean flavour. Their dishes range from little to moderate spice and despite being someone who enjoys a spicy kick in their food, I do not see this as an issue at all!
Lebanese Munch is one of those places that seem completely unsuspecting from the outside but once you try their food, you will have wished you went sooner. The place is on High Street, tucked next to Greggs with it’s bright red lettering on its exterior and the also quite bright lime green walls on the interior. But do not allow its looks to deceive you, for this place quite possibly makes the greatest lamb shawarma that I have ever tasted – and I’ve tasted a lot. Though Damascena is a sit-in experience, Lebanese Munch feels more like a grab-and-go vibe, making it a great contender for lunch.
The lamb is succulent, tender and perfectly spiced; the salad consists of lettuce, diced onions and of course, sliced gherkins. The wrap also contains a garlic aioli dressing that ties the different flavours together into one deliciously cohesive bite. It is a lot more affordable than Damascena, but then that is also due to the wraps being sold individually. Truth be told, the wrap can get a little messy since the juices of the meat tends to accumulate towards the bottom of the wrap. As such, I’d recommend keeping the foil they wrap the shawarma in whilst you are eating for a more stress-free experience.
I have also previously tried their equivalent to Damascena’s ‘Batata Hara’ dish but admittedly the potatoes felt a bit too hard and slightly stodgy. Their baklava on the other hand, is deliciously crispy and the perfect balance of sweet. If you’re going to Lebanese Munch then I would recommend buying with a lunch or snack in mind.
In terms of dietary requirements, the entire menu is halal and just like most Middle Eastern cuisines, there is plenty of different vegetarian options too.
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