Food and drink in Birmingham is undergoing a revolution, and the secret is starting to leak outside the municipal borders. In addition to four Michelin-starred restaurants, the city is also winning national accolades for its farmer’s markets and street food.
Meanwhile, a rising tide of mid-range independent restaurants is meeting the demand for food with real flavour, venues with character, and that local connection that Birmingham’s foodies crave.
Diversity is a word that applies as much to Birmingham’s food scene as it does to its population. Gastronomic adventurers can eat their way through as many as 30 international cuisines here, ranging from Austrian to Vietnamese.
A visitor wishing to grab a quick lunch in the city centre, while avoiding the ubiquitous chains, would do well to drop into 4023. Serving delicious souvlaki and sticky honey pastries, this establishment is a temple to Greek takeaway, conveniently located by New Street railway station.
In Chinatown, a few minutes’ walk from the station in the other direction, things get really authentic. Roast ducks hang in restaurant windows, while cafes sell bubble tea and Oriental confectionery to the substantial Chinese student population, as well as to cosmopolitan locals.
Topokki is a casual Korean restaurant where canteen-style tables and a buzzing atmosphere are the setting for some stunning food. The hotpots are particularly good – they don’t hold back on the spice here (unless you ask them to) – so prepare for a sizzling Korean kick.
It’s also worth venturing beyond the city centre. My top tip for tapas is Byzantium, a cosy little restaurant in lively Kings Heath. Here the menu draws inspiration from across the Mediterranean, offering aubergine dips and chilli-topped flatbreads alongside the Spanish canon including patatas bravas and gambas al diablo (garlic and chilli prawns).
Slightly further still, the quaint Victorian suburb of Harborne is home to Turners, a boutique bastion of traditional fine dining. None of your casual independent vibes here. Instead the service is meticulous and the menu is strongly rooted in French gastronomy, while emphasising high-quality British produce. Small wonder that it holds a Michelin star.
And what of the world-famous Birmingham balti? The Balti Triangle is still alive and well, so head there if you hanker after salt-of-the-earth South Asian spice.
Birmingham’s crop of independent coffee shops includes Six Eight Kafe, serving up top roasts in a quirky venue that also plays host to art exhibitions and regular film screenings. For harder stuff, try nearby real ale pub The Wellington, where the range of 60-odd brews includes tipples from the nearby Black Country and Purity breweries.
Those seeking a cocktail or three are spoilt for choice. The Cube’s 25th storey bar certainly wins for wow factor, with stunning views across Birmingham on three sides. Bar Opus in the Colmore Business District is another strong contender, offering twists on classic blends, such as Gingerbread Manhattan and Blueberry Collins. In the bohemian suburb of Moseley, The Prince of Wales’s narrow pub facade conceals a Tardis-like expansion including a tropical cocktail bar, a gourmet hot dog stand, a cigar shed and a wine and cheese station.
The gastronomic experience is given an interesting twist at Staying Cool, a set of serviced apartments housed in the upper levels of The Rotunda – a sixties cylindrical skycraper. Staying there recently, I opted for the Cooking Cool package, a DIY dinner based on recipes by local chef Alex Claridge. The ingredients are sourced and provided ready for guests to try their hand at cheffing. Carefully following the recipes, I was able to approximate a half-decent paprika sea bream with sweet potato mash, followed by pomegranate and blackberry mess. The sleek modern interiors and dramatic 20th-storey views set a great scene for dinner.
How to get there
Even before the advent of much-heralded HS2 railway link, Birmingham by train is just an hour and a half from both London and Manchester. For international visitors, Birmingham Airport features a growing number of routes and is located less than twenty minutes away from the city centre.
Find out more about the city’s food and drink scene at Dine Birmingham