“ Address: Unit 2 Upper Dean Street / Birmingham B5 4SG „
I do enjoy eating out and probably do so more than my waistline would like. Being vegetarian and very particular with vegetables, however, I often find myself eating the same three or four dishes regardless of where I go which gets very boring! So when I was recently out shopping in Birmingham and a friend suggested Cafe Soya I was keen to try the place out. He said he went there a while back and remembered there being plenty of vegetarian offerings at reasonable prices which sounded right up my street. Once he'd mentioned this was a Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant I was completely sold and we headed straight there for lunch to split our all day shopping trip up.
Cafe Soya is situated in Birmingham's city centre on Upper Dean Street which is on the outskirts of 'China Town', just a five minute walk from St Martin's Square at the back of the Bullring Shopping Centre. The location makes it ideal for stopping for something to eat whilst out and about in Birmingham but a bit of a pain if you're making a special journey as there is no car park for the restaurant (although a fair few within a few minutes walk but you'll obviously pay through the nose for them being right in the Birmingham City Centre)!
The outside of the restaurant doesn't look anything too fancy. The front wall is dominated by windows making it easy to see inside (also making you feel a little like you're in a zoo if you're eating at a table directly by these windows) and there's a big green banner above the top of the window stating this is in fact Cafe Soya. I'm still not entirely sure whether I would class this place as a cafe of restaurant actually. The inside is very casual with a relaxed atmosphere which gives it a cafe feel but the food served is much more restaurant style than cafe.
Upon stepping inside we were greeted by a friendly and happy looking waitress who led us to a table for two. Cafe Soya isn't the biggest of places with only around twenty tables although it did look like there was a separate dining area which had been cornered off which I assume is opened during busier hours. We arrived at about 3pm on Sunday afternoon and found about six other groups of diners there with a few others coming in whilst we were there. There were always empty tables but always a good few occupied as well and it seemed fairly popular for casual dining. The tables in the restaurant were various sizes to accommodate for different sized groups although I did notice a few too many chairs were placed around the larger circular tables which I feel would have made for an uncomfortable dining experience should a large group try to fit around them.
The whole place was very light, the tables and chairs were a light wood, the walls were white and obviously there was plenty of natural sun light coming through those massive windows at the front of the building. This light added a more open and spacious feel to the dining area and made it look a little bigger. There were two wall mounted TVs on the side and back walls which were predictably showing the Olympics at the time. The atmosphere within the restaurant was really nice; everyone seemed so happy and friendly including the other diners. It was quite an enjoyable place to eat just for that aspect really.
The food and the prices of the food make Cafe Soya even better though! There were large double sized laminated menus on our table. One side included meat dishes whilst the other included vegetarian dishes. The meat free options were just as plentiful at the meat options and I was overwhelmed for choice! One thing I liked about this restaurant was that the vegetarian dishes were not just plain and boring dishes which don't contain meat anyway but instead were dishes which normally contain chicken, beef, duck etc replaced with tofu and other 'fake meat' products. This made the choices of meat free dishes plentiful.
We decided to order from their set lunch menu where you get a drink, main course and dessert for an amazingly good value of £6.95! As far as I could tell this menu is available all the time too so even at peak times you can enjoy excellent value for money. We opted for a diet coke each as well as fried banana for dessert. For main course I had the vegetarian stir-fry noodles whilst my friend who actually does eat meat opted for the vegetarian sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice. Apparently he wanted to try this 'veggie stuff'.
Our drinks were brought to our table promptly and I was a little disappointed by the size of the glass they were in. The glasses were rather small and probably contained the same amount of coke as a regular can of pop although I still don't think you can complain about this too much considering how cheap the lunch menu is. The coke didn't taste diluted and came with a straw and lemon wedge. After about ten minutes our main courses arrived on rectangular plates with Chinese themed patterns on them which were actually very nice even if made of plastic. Fortunately knives and forks had also come with our meals, up until this point our table had been laid with chopsticks which I just cannot get the hang of (a waiter once spent a good fifteen minutes trying to teach me at one Chinese restaurant I visited before giving up as I was so useless)!
These main meals were decent sized portions too which came as a bit of a shock, I was expecting the food to be a mini size like the coke but thankfully not. Mine came with lots of thin noodles mixed up with bean sprouts, green and red peppers and plenty of thick chunks of tofu. There was a little bit of salad on top for garnish which I left as I cannot stand raw vegetables. I did notice a little bit of chilli in this salad which wasn't mentioned at any point on the menu or when ordering. I can only imagine the amount of young children who've been given the shock of their life biting into that! My noodles were beautifully cooked and the tofu was absolutely gorgeous, much nicer than any I've ever bought from a supermarket and cooked at home. It was quite juicy and almost meaty really, packed with flavour. There were plenty of bits of tofu throughout the noodles too which I very much appreciated.
My friend's sweet and sour dish was equally as nice, in fact after trying some I wished I'd ordered that for myself! This came in a really flavoursome sweet red source with plenty of tofu pieces, pineapple chunks and various bits of vegetables. On the side was a huge dome of egg fried rice which, again, was cooked to perfection with generous amounts of egg found throughout. It's worth noting here too that at the time of ordering our waiter asked if we were okay with the egg or if we would like our meals prepared vegan friendly instead. So this appears to be a great place for vegans to eat too! My friend stated how much he was surprised that a vegetarian dish could be so tasty and he said he'd definitely try some more of their meat free meals if he were to go back again. Despite the decent portion sizes we both commented on how we could eat our meals again purely because of how nice they were.
Once we'd finished our mains our waiter came back over to our table and cleared away our dishes ensuring everything was fine with our meals and telling us our desserts would arrive shortly. This, however, didn't happen. In fact we were left waiting for our fried bananas for about forty minutes! We did ask what was taking so long and were given some form of explanation but if I'm entirely honest I couldn't quite make out what the waitress said as her accent was rather strong. They did arrive eventually with a full apology however and were well worth the wait. We got about half a banana each cut into two pieces which only took about a minute to demolish but were very filling, soft, juicy and sweet. I would definitely recommend this dessert option.
After finishing our meals we got up and paid paying just £13.90 for two drinks, two main meals and two desserts. I don't think anyone can complain at that! Particularly when considering just how lovely the food was. Vegetarian/vegan or not, I'd fully recommend stopping here for lunch if you ever find yourself in Birmingham. The food is excellent and offers extremely good value in probably the best atmosphere I've ever experienced in such a place. Thoroughly recommended. Even with our delayed desserts Cafe Soya still gets five stars from me!