It's not your average location for a fine dining venue.
In a 1970s shopping arcade, Birmingham’s newest restaurant consists of a 35-seater shop front tucked between a newsagent and dry cleaners.
Chad Square, just out of sight from Harborne Road, opposite The White Swan pub, is the new home of Andy Waters’ latest venture, Waters on the Square.
Opening its doors just five days ago, the Edgbaston venue is Waters’ second undertaking with West Midlands millionaire Jim Driscoll and marks a return to Birmingham for the chef, who left 18 months ago following an acrimonious split with his then business partners Chris and Cos Papachristoforou.
Big things have happened for Waters since.
In March last year he moved to the The Queens in the Worcestershire village of Belbroughton with his wife Beverley (who runs front of house operations), transforming the 16th century pub into a dining destination and winning rave reviews and praise from the public.
Now, after just 18 months, The Queens has become one of only 27 restaurants across the UK and Ireland to win “Bib Gourmand” status in the new 2014 Michelin Guide.
Awarded for “good cooking at moderate prices” of £28 or less, Bib Gourmand signals uncommonly good food that’s affordable to the common diner.
With his new outlet promising three courses for £26 in the heart of Edgbaston – just a stone’s throw from the Michelin-starred Simpson’s – could Waters soon bag Birmingham its first Bib?
“Birmingham’s food scene has been growing on for the last 10 years,” he says, “I’m not just talking about the Michelin stars but the Indian restaurants that have been getting better and better to the point where we’ve now got Lasan and The Raj which are really bucking the trend of your typical Indian restaurant.
“It puts us in a market where you can eat well at any level and the gap between a pub and fine dining is getting smaller and smaller to the point where the only difference is the price.
“We are all purchasing the same high-quality products but the difference comes in the way it’s put on the plate, and the finer you go the smaller the portions!”
Waters, wearing a dark blue woolly jumper and jeans, isn’t a man for airs and graces.
He summarises his cooking style as “good safe eating” which, considering his experience and accolades, seems modest at least.
“I think there’s a massive market for that,” he says, sipping his coffee.
“Everybody’s trying to do foams at the moment. Youngsters always want to do the foams and the jellies.
“I won’t say I hate that because some people get it right, and some people get it wrong.
“But I’m one of the people that gets it wrong so I don’t go anywhere near it.
“I’m a classical cook and I’ve always instilled the values of good quality cooking.
“I can do the other stuff and I have done it,” he adds, “but I’m tending to move further and further towards what the customer wants.
“So we start off with a safe menu and progress from there, but we progress by working with our customers.
“When Mr Jones walks in I know what he likes so I’ll try to give him that.
“Price, service and quality are of prime importance.
“I’m just a good, safe, three-course chef.”
Hailing from Bromsgrove, where he still lives with wife Beverley and children, Amiee, 11, and Lewis, six, Waters trained at Halesowen Food College, before travelling to Lyon to work with French food icon and nouvelle cuisine pioneer Paul Bocuse.
In the UK he worked alongside greats such as Jean Christophe Novelli and Andreas Antona.
He worked at the 18th century Plough and Harrow in Hagley Road and was cooking at Simpson’s when it was still based in Kenilworth and first won its star.
Branching out on his own, his first head chef position came at the Bay Tree restaurant, just two doors down from Waters on the Square, before moving to rural Warwickshire to open family business Edmunds (named after his late father) in Henley-in-Arden.
Just six months after opening, Edmunds was awarded a Michelin star, and went on to be named Restaurant of the Year in the Harden’s guide.
It kept its star for four years, but when Edmunds closed in Warwickshire and reopened in Brindleyplace in 2008 as part of a business partnership between Waters and the Papachristoforou brothers, it failed to win back its star.
And last year the relationship broke down and Waters’ wife Beverley left Edmunds to go to The Queens. Her husband followed, taking his kitchen team of Gareth Ward and Aaron Darnley with him, and six months later Edmunds went into liquidation but has continued trading.
It still clearly pains Waters to have left his father’s name above the door.
“I was hurt in a sense that I couldn’t take that with me,” he says, “but the name has been used by other businesses so I couldn’t trademark it.
“It was just very personal to me. It was a way of honouring my father who brought me up to be the person I am.”
But Waters seems more relaxed about his new partnership.
Jim Driscoll, born in Ireland and raised in West Bromwich, kickstarted his career as a cartoonist, devising the children’s animated TV series The Shoe People.
Ten years after its launch, when the programme was being watched in 62 different countries and had sold 25 million books, Driscoll sold the rights.
He then bought Leeds United – and sold it again after the shares rocketed – and bought the rights to 140 hours of classics including The Wombles and Paddington, working to properly exploit the merchandising opportunities.
He was awarded an MBE nearly 20 years ago and in one of his most recent projects, with his son Adam (a businessman in his own right), he commissioned the building of a care home near Kidderminster with a specialist facility for people with neurological conditions and brain injuries.
The father-and-son team who now own The Queens were keen to welcome Waters into the fold last year and are now backing the Edgbaston venture.
Waters says: “They’re not caterers and they don’t claim to be.
“We’re a good team together. They see the future.”
And so, it seems, does he. He has taken on the role of “chef patron” at the Chad Square restaurant, leaving his Walsall-raised protege Ward, 32, to lead the kitchen as head chef.
Having worked alongside Waters for the last 12 years, Ward’s departure from The Queens has allowed Darnley, runner up in Young Chef of the Year 2011, to move up the ranks at the Belbroughton restaurant – all part of Waters’ plan.
“You have to provide for the staff that have worked for you,” he says. “Gaz has worked in my shadow for years, he’s earned his stripes and it’s his turn now.
“That’s the way to keep good staff – you give them their own responsibilities and their own units.”
It’s this attitude that last year won Waters the Robert J Smith Award from the British Culinary Federation for professionalism, dedication and for mentoring Darnley.
His influence shows in Ward who, when asked about his ambitions for Waters on the Square, shows his feet are firmly on the ground.
“I hope this place does well,” he says, “I really do.
“I just want to feed the customers good food, and that’s it.
“We cook for the customers, not for the accolades – if they come, they come.”
This shared down-to-earth outlook fits in well with the understated surroundings of the square and, despite initial misgivings about the location, it seems possible that, if Waters and Ward can sprinkle a little magic here, this forgotten corner of town could become a culinary destination.
“Birmingham needs to be put on the map more,” says Waters.
“Looking at what’s happened with our food scene – with the Michelin boys and all the progress we’ve seen with newcomers like Adam Stokes –it’s fantastic for this city.
“But we need to look at the next stage down as well. That’s the next movement in food – the pubs.”
Along with hat tips to Adam’s, Simpson’s and Purnell’s, Waters credits Opus and Carters of Moseley with raising the city’s culinary profile.
“Look at somewhere like Fumo – that’s fantastic. Twenty years ago they would never have thought about putting a tapas bar as good as that in the middle of Birmingham.
“And Edgbaston is, I find, to Birmingham what Mayfair is to London.
“We’ve got the cricket ground, the Priory, the Calthorpe Estate, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and now one of the best universities in the world – it’s all here.
“We should be shouting about Birmingham.”