Birmingham was recently described by the New York Times as the 19th most desirable place to visit in the Universe. Strange as this may sound to some, the city’s new ‘good food’ tag and with so many great restaurants in Birmingham, this may well not be so strange.
The city is reinventing itself, as Birmingham has done before, but this time there is great excitement in town, with regard to three Michelin starred restaurants, famous chefs and an increase in new swanky eateries.
In 2011, the BBC’s much respected ‘Olive Magazine’ for food, championed Birmingham as ‘Britain’s Food Capital’ highlighting chefs in the city such as Akar Islam, Andreas and Luke (Simpson’s), Richard Turner (Turners), Steve Love and Andy Waters (Edmund’s). This was also reported by the Guardian newspaper running the headline ‘Why Birmingham is the food capital of Britain’.
Fresh In The City
Marco Pierre White has crowned the new Cube development by taking up the 25th floor (an all-glass level) with stunning views across Britain’s second largest urban landscape. His steak house is receiving excellent reviews and the champaign bar is a welcome addition to the city and its skyline.
City planners have even built a futuristic new street based on a very old street map, it’s named ‘Spiceal Street’ and is of futuristic design. Spiceal Street runs through the heart of the Bullring, squeezed between Selfridges and St Martins church. There are several restaurants here, notably ‘Browns’ and the locally owned ‘Handmade Burger Company’ who do a great Balti Burger.
Also fresh in the city is cheeky TV chef ‘Jamie Oliver’ with a fine Italian restaurant soaking up trade in the Bullring.
Possibly one of the most celebrated local chefs is Glyn Purnell, Glyn has been serving delicious food in his ‘Purnells’ restaurant for some years now and his most recent addition is the highly acclaimed ‘Asquith’ on Newhall Street.
Brum is home to some fantastic food markets, and worth a visit are The Bull Ring Indoor Market. The indoor market sells a variety of produce and is famous for its Fish Section. It has 140 stalls and is accompanied mid week by an outdoor fruit market. There is a farmers market in Birmingham City Centre every first and third Wednesday of each month and a little further out in the village of Moseley, there is a superb farmers market which has won Best UK Urban Farmers Market 2009. There are also two fine food halls in the city centre located within Selfridges and Rackhams (House of Fraser).
In actual fact, this recent interest in Birmingham’s food pedigree is just another ‘feather in the city’s cap.
Birmingham has been the home for some internationally renowned food brands, such as the revolutionary Bird’s Custard who invented custard powder, HP Sauce and, Typhoo Tea and some famous breweries including Ansells, Davenport’s and Mitchells & Butlers. Sadly these are no longer produced in the city.
Ridgeways of the Bullring pioneered the pre-pack technique for tea and made brews for Queen Victoria. One of the lesser known food companies of Brum is The Montserrat Co. Ltd.of Edgbaston who imported limes and cocoa from the West Indies in the 19th century. Lime juice was produced in the city and then exported for use in the manufacture of citric acid, the company owners were instrumental in the anti-slavery movement.
One of the earliest vegetarian restaurants in the world opened in a purpose built building off New Street named ‘The Pitman Vegetarian Hotel’. The owners went on to open a long-running health food store, again this would have been pioneering at the time.
Whisking It Up
Not all of Birmingham’s food heritage is assigned to the history books though. Cadbury’s chocolate is still manufactured at the huge Bournville factory and although owned by Schweppes the Bournville plant is still fully operational.
Local breweries and cider makers Aston Manor Brewery, ABC Brewery and Two Towers Brewery produce some fine liquid refreshments in the city with Two Towers opening their own ‘tap’ in the Brown Lion in the Jewellery Quarter.
Wing Yip has traded in the city’s Chinese Quarter for many years and still has its headquarters there. The Wing Yip warehouse and supermarket has been distributing Chinese food and ingredients across Britain for over 40 years and is the UK’s leading Chinese and Oriental supplier.
On the retailer tip, East End Foods has over 35 years’ experience as a leading supplier and innovator in the UK Indian food market, and with an annual turnover of over £100million their food brands are sold in over 80% of Asian independents stockists. East End Foods has recently located to a modern purpose built building on the site of the old HP Sauce factory and will eventually include a stylish tower. The company is one of the largest importers of Indian foods into the UK.
Perhaps the most notorious of local cuisines is the Indian ‘Balti’ dish which is now popular around Britain. The city is home to many Balti restaurants and most notably within what is known as the ‘Balti Triangle’.
The BBC has made the NEC its home for the fabulous BBC Good Food Show for many years and is Britain’s biggest and most extensive food event.
If you’re looking for a food weekend with some culinary delights then Brum surely is worth a visit. You could try the locally owned ‘Urban Pie’ for a quick snack in the Bullring, or sample the Italian delights of Pizza Di Piazza which has been Sicilian run since the mid 1990s.
The Royal Watan is worth visiting, you can nip into the Selly Park Tavern for a quick ale next door and then buy a take-in bottle of wine to ease down the Kashmiri cooked grub, for those with a penchant for fire, try the cheese, chili and garlic naan bread.
For South American style cuisine try locally owned Bodega on Bennets Hill and La Fibule’s Moroccan experience is intimate in Moseley. There does seem to be some great choice in the city but you do need to dig a little to find some of the best culinary gems.