We have the world’s biggest Primark in Birmingham, but then you knew that already, right? It’s been all over the news, the indoor shopping centre that is now one big jumble sale complete with Disney section, hairdresser, nail bars, and oh, I give in. I don’t shop in Primark, mostly because I’m allergic to other people, but you won’t find me whining about the attention it’s getting or the space it’s occupying. I happen to think that any positive news is good for Birmingham. Primark supernova has created hundreds of jobs in this city, and many more further afield in sweatshops around the world. Those aren’t tears of sadness you see on Comic Relief, but happiness from a six year old who has just been given overtime on top of the seventeen hour shift they already work. And all to clothe the people of Birmingham in the latest high street fashion.
I joined the queue to go inside, past the waves of security guards and staff on walkie talkies, heading straight to the level underneath that houses the restaurant. It is, as you may expect, a relatively basic operation. On one end are sandwiches; the other end things cooked in the pizza oven. In the middle is a salad bar where you can mix and match from four unappealing options, half of which amount to a bowl of lettuce, and another of dying leaves. They may have misread the portion of the room with big ears and buck teeth.
That bowl of salad may be the worst thing I have ever eaten. On one side is a mush of chickpea, rice and wild rice bound in a vinegarette the consistency of phlegm. It is topped with what I am told is Parmesan but has the taste and texture of cheddar cheese. The other half of the bowl is a new combination even for this seasoned eater. Quinoa, sweet potato, marshmallows. Yes, you did read that correctly. It is Primark given the El Bulli treatment, if El Bulli was a blind, senile old man with no tastebuds and a penchant for abusing strangers in the street. The quinoa was sodden, possibly with the cooking water secreting from the sweet potato. The marshmallows made no sense what so ever. This is a death row meal, if only for making you wish you were dead after eating it.
The two hot dishes are straight out of the sweatshop concept of build them as cheaply as possibly and offer no apology for it destroying people’s lives. Chicken tikka nacho doms have acrid bits of (I’m guessing) chicken in a bowl with shredded cabbage, a mango chutney that tastes purely of reduced sugar, and a squirt of mint yogurt. The nacho bit of the name stems from the discs of recycled cardboard underneath, whilst I assume the ‘dom’ bit is a reference to the punishment inflicted in ordering it. A lamb sheesh flatbread has meat of the lowest quality hidden in a mass of garlic that I can smell leaving my skin even as I type this. The flatbread is nice, the roasted peppers missing in action, and a hot sauce rudimentary. My favourite part is the beetroot stained cauliflower rice underneath that has whole florets of raw cauliflower amongst the mess. A lovely lady stops by to ask how the man who has ordered too much food and is taking pictures is getting on. I tell her that I’m waiting for my girlfriend to finish in the changing rooms. It’s a half truth; she is trying on clothes, just in a far nicer place than here.
The hot dishes are £4.50 each and that salad is £3.50. They also do sweet things at far heftier mark-ups (donuts are £2 each), presumably more aggressively priced because that extra fabric in the larger dress sizes comes out of their profit margins. Like the clothing at Primark, the experience is cheap, and similarly it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when you really consider it as a stand-alone product. I clear my own food away into the waste bins, staining the palm of my hand a bloody red from the beetroot juice that sat lazily on the plate. It is here I reach my conclusion: a shit cafe in the world’s biggest Primark is exactly the kind of misery that the First World deserves.
Be sensible and get an A2B to somewhere you can actually eat.