Birmingham. England’s second city, but certainly not second best. It is an evolving metropolis, ever reincarnating itself with new offerings and upcycling existing areas. Its original raison d’etre of being an industrial hub has now taken a backstep and instead, it’s a diverse, cultural place to visit.
As part of its progression, exciting times lie ahead for Birmingham with new projects nearing fruition, such as ‘Grand Central’ for New Street Station and in its infancy, ‘The Village’ development in Edgbaston, which will enrich Birmingham’s landscape even further.
So why visit Birmingham?
|Birmingham Central Library|
Aside from the thousands of business visitors that flock to Birmingham each year, attracted by its central location, conference facilities, good provision of hotels and transport links; regular events in the city such as the St Patrick’s Day Parade, Birmingham Pride (LGBT community), Chinese New Year, Frankfurt German Christmas Market, Crufts and Good Food Show, also see visitor figures soar. Equally, attractions such as Cadbury World, the Jewellery Quarter, some of the best theatres outside of London, the much talked about wedding cake style building of Central Library, the iconic Selfridges building, all have their own kudos, plus the sports teams of Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Warwickshire County Cricket Club, have all put Birmingham on the map.
Whilst all of these are well known on the tourist trails, the one thing I feel that Birmingham should be evangelical about is the growing food scene and dining culture which has the city has to offer. Birmingham boasts a good balance of independent eateries as well as chain restaurants and coupled with the various (30+) cuisine types available suiting all levels of budget and palette, there literally is something for everyone. You have everything on tap from streetfood to supper clubs, fine dining to farmers markets and Michelin star restaurants (of which there are 4) to Mocha Chocca Latte barista coffees.
|Birmingham Independent Food Fair|
Apart from the nationally recognised Good Food Show, there are two other big food festivals happening over the summer. The first of which is Foodies Festival in Cannon Hill Park which is already popular UK-wide and is coming to Birmingham for the first time this May. Famous chefs, demos and tastings will take place over the weekend of 15-17 May. The Birmingham Independent Food Fair at Millennium Point on 12-13 September will celebrate independent food businesses across the city and visitors will have the chance to sample what is on their doorstep.
With the city having so many little sub-pockets within, I’ve enjoyed exploring what my hometown is offering right now to residents and visitors alike especially for vegetarian diners. Whilst there are a few vegetarian dedicated restaurants, many of the other restaurants offer good vegetarian options with some able to make tailor-made dishes upon request.
Here’s a round-up of where you can visit when in the city both inside the centre and in the suburbs:
Colmore Row Area (aka the Business District)
Colmore Row (and its surrounding roads) is the city’s business district with easy access from Snow Hill Station. The eateries there are frequented by local workers during the week with shoppers occupying the weekend footfall. The range is vast from independent bakeries and coffee shops such as Yorks Bakery Cafe, Home Is…, Urban Coffee Company, Kafe 6/8, bars such as The Bureau to Michelin star restaurants of Purnells and nearby Adam’s (Temple Street). Other notable restaurants include Purnell’s Bistro (which is a modest alternative to Purnell’s), Opus on Cornwall Street, fine dining Indian cuisine at Itihaas and stylish Chinese restaurant Chung Ying Central (part of the restaurant group in the Chinese Quarter).
|Edwardian Tea Rooms|
Round the corner from Colmore Row in Chamberlain Square is the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery which has the Edwardian Tea Rooms. Beautifully set within a gallery environment, they serve wholesome favourites such as soups, jacket potatoes and all day breakfasts.
Is a beautiful Victorian arcade situated off Colmore Row and opposite Snow Hill station. The bespoke shops offer visitors a chance to sample independents at their best. Situated within is renown local delicatessen Anderson & Hill amongst other foodie enterprises. Vegetarian fine dining venue Bistro 1847 has been applauded by vegetarians and with dishes such as Tarragon Polenta Crisp, Pickled Wild Mushroom, Goats’ Curd, Baby Aubergine, Tahini & Petals on offer, who can resist?
Temple Street Area
Temple Street and its surrounding roads connect Colmore Row with the main heart of the city centre (which is New Street and the Bullring). Within are a number of eateries and bars to suit all. Fumo offers a contemporary Italian menu, San Carlo, again Italian, has been a stalwart in Birmingham for years and popular with local celebrities. Further down, Latin cantina Bodega have a popular following and bars with food are Sun on the Hill, Pure Bar & Kitchen (offering 100 types of beer), The Lost & Found and The Botanist which also has a cocktail focus. All Greek Delicatessen on nearby Stephenson Street has all kinds of Hellenic offerings including baklava, halva and authentic feta cheese.
A two minute walk from New Street and Moor Street stations, the Bullring is a shopaholic’s heaven and as well as a multitude of shops it has the iconic silver disked exterior of Selfridge’s. Now part of Birmingham’s skyline, it has a well-stocked food hall and is also home to The Balcony. Other restaurants within the Bullring area are mainly chain restaurants typically found on many High Streets with the addition of Chaophraya Thai, Mount Fuji Japanese and Jamie’s Italian.
Within a few minutes walk from the back of New Street station is The Mailbox. Once the city’s main postal sorting office, for a number of years now it has been a favourite destination for those in search of designer shops and sophisticated dining/drinking venues. Bar Epernay and newly opened Gas Street Social offer food and cocktails. For a dining & film experience, check out the brand new Everyman Cinema which offers luxury wide sofa seating and an American/Hollywood inspired diner.
Next to The Mailbox is the jigsaw-pieced facade of The Cube. The 25th floor famous regionally for Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse and Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar. Offering panoramic views of Birmingham, somewhere to see and to be seen, the menu is also vegetarian friendly. Other restaurants include Brazilian Rodizio Rico, Teppan-Yaki Japanese, Bun & Bowl and Madeleines which is delightful for coffee or afternoon tea.
On the canal network, Gas Street links The Mailbox to Brindleyplace by way of a canal towpath walk which on a sunny day is a joy to stroll down and I love seeing how many more padlocks (‘love locks’) have been attached to the ‘Love Bridge’. Walkers and cyclists often stop by at the Canalside Café for a cappuccino or modestly priced lunch which can be enjoyed alfresco or by the roaring fire in wintertime. A well-worn statistic is that Birmingham has more canals than Venice so even if for a short juncture, it is worth making it part of your visit.
Both classed as nightlife locations, they also have a wealth of eateries. For Brindleyplace, there are a number of chain outlets including Italian Carluccios, Chilacas Mexican as well as independents such as Tin Tin’s Cantonese Restaurant and modern British restaurants Bank and Edmunds. Again on the canal network, a little further down is The Malt Shovel, made famous in the 1990’s when the then US President Bill Clinton was captured enjoying a pint on the pub’s balcony.
Broad Street, although more known in the area for its bars and for The Birmingham Walk of Fame (famous Brummies honoured by way of Hollywood-esque stars in the pavement), it features Asian cuisine from Shimla Pinks, Pushkars and East z East amongst others as well as new restaurant Marmalade (with good veggie options) within the Birmingham Rep Theatre building.
Tucked behind Brindleyplace is compact Oozells Square which if visited in spring, is decorated with flossy pink cherry blossom trees. Ikon Gallery allows you to enjoy art exhibitions with a café on-site, across the way is Cielo offering Mediterranean cuisine and Piccolinos have lovely Italian vegetarian options in a stylish setting.
John Bright Street
A former nightclub destination in the 1980/90’s, it has now reinvented itself with some nicknaming it ‘real ale alley’. Turtle Bay offers Caribbean influenced cocktails and meals, Brewdog offer a wealth of guest ales and beers and Cherry Reds have an excellent vegetarian offering (from lunches to snacks) served within a nostalgic/kitschly decorated setting. The Victoria is one of Birmingham’s oldest pubs which is now attracting large crowds day and night for food and cocktails.
With its many different guises, this area is known for its theatres, gay village, comedy clubs, nightlife and Chinese Quarter. With the Ibis Hotel New Street within this remit, it makes for the perfect base for exploring central Birmingham. The Chinese Quarter boasts numerous Oriental style restaurants such as Chung Ying, Chung Ying Garden and Min Mins with a number of large oriental supermarkets for those that wish to experiment with cooking at home. French inspired Le Truc Restaurant is next to the Ibis Hotel and is a favourite for pre-theatre menus. It offers contemporary French cuisine with heaps of vegetarian options (tailor-made if required) with a wonderfully quirky interior that makes you want to get out of your seat to explore each corner and crevice! The Green Room Café Bar is a long standing favourite for Brummies who are looking for a pre/post-theatre cappuccino or such like.
Digbeth is a small district just after the Bullring heading south out of the city and although known in the main for its National Express Coach Station, it is also known for its concentration of Irish bars and clubs and it is where the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade occurs each March. Also, there are a few little hidden gems within this labyrinth of old industrial units and warehouses. Just sneaking into Digbeth’s geography is The Karczma, a Polish restaurant on Bordesley Street which has been critically acclaimed by UK food critic Jay Rayner amongst others in culinary circles. Serving homemade hearty Polish fare (with some vegetarian options) in a mock-Polish mountain chalet interior, this is one place that is enjoyed by all with a vigorous appetite! Equally, The Warehouse Cafe is an established award winning vegetarian restaurant with a good reputation and an imaginative menu.
|Digbeth Dining Club|
At the top of Digbeth’s stretch, the old Bird’s Custard Factory has been converted into a trendy destination for vintage shopping, socialising and attracts lots of small media businesses to its units. Resembling (in my mind) Spitalfields London, it has a diverse vibe and food wise has Alfie Bird’s (popular for its burgers, pizzas and live music) and also just on its periphery is the weekly Digbeth Dining Club event which won the British Streetfood Award 2014. A selection of the city’s favourite streetfood vendors gather each Friday and attendees can enjoy their food whilst DJs provide a musical backdrop.
Acknowledging that the balti was invented in Birmingham, this fictitious area skims the borders of Sparkhill, Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath and encompasses a number of balti houses which is known locally as the Balti Triangle. Covering a number of Indo-Asian cuisines you can experience authentic dishes, whatever your budget. A guide is available for those who are curry connoisseurs and want to enhance their visit with recommendations and local knowledge.
Literally a mile or so out of the city centre is the district known as the Jewellery Quarter. Like Hatton Garden in London, it has back-to-back jewellery shops, makers, goldsmiths and acts as the destination for engagement and wedding rings. Enjoying a little bit of a renaissance, once the jewellers have stopped trading for the day, there are a number of pubs and restaurants that take over and offer a little nightlife to the area. The Rose Villa Tavern is a beautifully decorated pub where Victoriana meets Americana and the ye olde English curios interior provides the setting whilst you enjoy their good old US of A burger influenced menu.
Other food purveyors and restaurants to note are: Peel & Stone (Bakers/Deli), Urban Coffee Company, Vee’s Deli, The Drop Forge and The Lord Clifden.
Based in the Jewellery Quarter and new to the supperclub scene are Baltic chefs Two Cats Roaming – check out their site to see their next event.
St Paul’s Square next to the Jewellery Quarter is home to many longstanding restaurants such as Henry’s (Cantonese), Pasta di Piazza and also to Lasan, an Asian/Indian restaurant voted ‘Gordon Ramsay’s Best Local restaurant in the UK’ and was featured in the ‘Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurants’ listing.
Moseley is often described as bohemian and eclectic and to me, is the nearest you’ll get to a London suburb. Hub of all things arty and spiritual, its park is home to the annual Mostly Jazz Festival and Moseley Folk Festival attracting big names. On the food front, there is fine dining at Carters of Moseley, international dining at La Fibule which serves Moroccan food souk-style, La Plancha is a favourite amongst tapas lovers and Ponte di Legino which is Italian. Lots of quirky pubs such as The Dark Horse, One Trick Pony, Fighting Cocks all have pub-grub fare and for those looking for a little café culture, it can be found in Cafephilia and Damascena Syrian Café to name a few. The Moseley Farmers Market takes place on the last Saturday of each month.
One mile from Moseley is Kings Heath, almost mimicking Moseley’s style, it too boasts an eclectic edge and has many delightful eateries such as Veg Out (formerly Manic Organic to those that know Birmingham well). Taking over the helm as the area’s vegetarian offering, it has a lovely menu in a cosy setting. On York Road, eateries galore can be found with Cherry Reds (same ownership as the one in John Bright Street) offering more vegetarian delights with Byzantine Mediterranean tapas/mezze restaurant across the way and Kitchen Garden Café right next to it doing the same. Kitchen Garden Café’s menu has a lot of veggie/organic food and also plays host to a number of pop-up supper clubs for companies such as Restaurant Epi. Streetfood events regularly take place in the centre by Brum Yum Yum who have an ever-evolving food vendor listing and allow shoppers to stop by, enjoy live music and grab a snack as they go. The Kings Heath Farmers Market takes place on the first Saturday of each month.
Going west from the city centre is leafy Edgbaston, famous for Warwickshire County Cricket Club and The Botanical Gardens. A mini business district in the week, at night is comes to life by way of the new bars and restaurants that are settling in the area and which are taking shape as part of the ‘The Village’ development. Already in-situ is cool Norwegian bar Norjske, The Edgbaston purveying cocktails, The Highfield getting well known for quality gastro pub food and Michelin star Simpsons. New restaurants are opening up all the time, so watch this space!
Going west a little further is Harborne, somewhat like its Moseley brethren, it offers an eclectic eating scene of Turners (Michelin star awarded), Sabai Sabai (Thai) and award winning Sunday lunch extraordinaire venue The Plough. The veggie Sunday lunches there are divine!
This is only a sweeping snapshot of the kind of restaurants/bars in the city you can experience and there are indeed many more to enjoy (sorry I’ve not been able to include them all)!
If you’re after a particular cuisine or you want to know what is available in a particular area, a great guide to check out is Dine Birmingham. It offers descriptions, suggestions and unbiased reviews about the different restaurants in the city and is has proven to be a handy tool for visitors and city residents alike.
If you are going to be dining in Birmingham more often, then you may wish to invest in a discount card such as Gastro Card or Independent Card. Both charge an annual fee and in return the restaurants aligned with them offer generous discounts and deals.
So if you're not familiar with Birmingham and I've tempted you with some of my suggestions then why not make a weekend of it and see the best of what the city has to offer? Affordable chains like ibis Hotels have a number of hotels in Birmingham at reasonable prices, meaning you'll be able to spend more on some of these wonderful activities.
Whether you are visiting Birmingham for the day, a weekend or longer, Birmingham can offer you a new foodie experience each time. All you need is a big appetite for both food and adventure.
Disclosure: This article has been written in collaboration with Ibis Hotels to highlight vegetarian dining opportunities in Birmingham for Ibis patrons and/or those visiting Birmingham. I was given a one night complimentary stay at an Ibis Hotel as a goodwill gesture but was not obliged to review my stay or the hotel and also my expenses were covered to research this article. All eateries/service providers and food related weblinks featured have been included through my own selection and I have not been given any incentive to promote them or to provide positive reviews. All views are my own and are not necessarily the views of the Ibis Group. This article has been written without bias.