Birmingham opened a swanky office in central London on Wednesday, but in timehonoured tradition decided against shouting about its achievement too loudly.

As of yesterday afternoon the three partners behind Birmingham W1 - the City Council, Marketing Birmingham and the NEC Group - appeared strangely reluctant to publicise their new venture.

Websites for the three organisations made no mention of the office, in Piccadilly.

A Marketing Birmingham spokesman said a press release would be posted later along with details of fees for businesses wishing to hire meeting rooms at Birmingham W1.

A one-line announcement duly appeared on the Marketing Birmingham website, but a link to more information could not be opened. The NEC Group website could not be accessed at all.

The low-key approach surprised business leaders who attended the official opening of Birmingham W1 at a lunchtime reception on Wednesday.

Some of the city's best faces said privately that the opening had been handled because there was no attempt to introduce the office manager or council policy officer Tony Smith, who will be based in London three days a week.

Guests left the reception saying they did not fully understand the role of the Birmingham London office and how the facility can be used by the business community. One person, a familiar face in Birmingham business circles, likened it to "an expensive lock-up garage".

CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones picked up the theme at a private dinner in Birmingham on Wednesday evening when he was critical of the London launch.

Sir Digby pointed out that all of the 150-odd guests were from Birmingham and that none of the London or national media was invited to attend.

Council leader Mike Whitby, who championed the idea of a London office, hit out at the critics who he described as "Jeremiahs".

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) took a decision to scrap Champagne at the opening as a mark of respect to the 5,300 workers made redundant at Longbridge.

There was a feeling at the council that a high-profile event, with figures from national politics and businesses, would send out the wrong message at a time when Birmingham is still feeling the loss of MG Rover.

It was also felt that, during the middle of a General Election campaign, there was little point in inviting politicians.

Ken Livingstone, the Labour Mayor of London, said that he was too busy electioneering to attend.

Several business leaders at the event argued that the council had missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate on the national stage that Birmingham was capable of fighting back from the MG Rover disaster.

Coun Whitby envisages a dual use for Birmingham W1. Its main role will be as a policy hub for the council, where officials and politicians can learn more about and influence Government policy.

Partly a venue for lobbying - receptions for MPs, peers and Ministers are planned - the office will also help inform decision-makers about the opportunities for economic development in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The second role of the office will be to provide facilities for people from Birmingham who want to conduct business in London.

Two rooms equipped with 42" screen plasma televisions, internet facilities, video conferencing, Powerpoint and DVD players are available for hire at £300 and £450 a day. Refreshments are extra.

It remains unclear whether the Birmingham business community would be able to use the office as a "drop-in" venue to meet contacts.

John Lamb, press and PR manager at the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said Birmingham W1 was an ideal venue for businessmen and women to meet over a coffee, perhaps en-route to a meeting.

Mr Lamb said the Chamber has already decided to use the London office when it presents its business manifesto to MPs after the election.

Derek Inman, chairman of Birmingham Forward, the professional services organisation, said: "We plan to use it as a base for a series of briefings with key politicians, individuals in business and the London-based business media.

" Birmingham has the strongest professional services sector outside London which means we are easily able to compete with and beat most major European cities.

"But instead of seeing this, many of our country's key decision makers still perceive Birmingham as slowly dying. The advent of the London office is our chance to change their minds and really begin to punch our weight."