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Birmingham’s food and restaurant scene goes from strength to strength. The 2014 Michelin Guide awarded England’s second city its fourth star, which is unmatched by any other English city outside London. Within just six months of opening, Adam’s restaurant joined Purnell’s, Simpsons and Turners Of Harborne among Birmingham’s pantheon of starred restaurants. But there’s more to Birmingham than fine dining. Nicknamed ‘the city of a thousand trades’ during the industrial revolution, it gave the world beloved brands such as Cadbury’s chocolate, HP Sauce, Bird’s Custard and Typhoo Tea.
Today the city teems with markets, street food and venerable pubs offering craft beer and real ale, plus hundreds of restaurants serving Birmingham’s very own curry invention - the balti. All this prompted the New York Times to rank Birmingham among its top twenty places to visit in 2012, and Michelin editor Rachel Burr to describe its culinary offering as “world class.”
Operating by royal charter since 1154, Birmingham’s Bull Ring Market has seen plenty of change, but there’s no livelier place in the city to buy fresh produce. The air echoes with the boisterous cries of traders at the open market, specialising in fruit, vegetables, herbs and dairy produce. Meanwhile, the indoor market 50 Edgbaston Street, www.bullringindoormarket.net) is the place for meat, fish and seafood, from dry aged beef and locally sourced pheasant, to live lobsters and sushi.
Birmingham is also blessed with farmers’ markets, selling a wide range of local produce, from cider to ostrich burgers. In the city centre, New Street Farmers’ Market takes place on the first and third Wednesday of every month (www.birmingham.gov.uk/farmers). Other notable farmers’ markets are in the suburb of Moseley, Birmingham University and the city’s historic Jewellery Quarter. For festive beer, sausages and glühwein, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest German Christmas market outside Germany (Victoria Square, New Street, Chamberlain Square & Centenary Square).
Birmingham’s industrial heritage provides the backdrop for Digbeth Dining Club (Lower Trinity Street,). Nestling under disused railway arches alongside trendy bar Spotlight, this weekly street food party was named Best Street Food Event at the British Street Food Awards 2013. Highlights among the food trucks include The Original Patty Men and their ‘dirty burgers’, the Rastafarian repasts of Supreme Soulfoods, and the Mexican street feasts of the Habaneros.
Across town in Kings Heath, Brum Yum Yum is the collective behind a monthly street food event with music, dancing and up to 15 food trucks. The self-styled ‘street food pimps’ also claim to have invented the world’s first ‘street food nightclub’ at their BYYUnderground event, touted as a ‘full on street food rave’ in a 2500sqft warehouse.
From London to Leeds, the balti is a favourite dish in UK curry houses. But it was invented in Birmingham by Pakistani migrants in the 1970s. An authentic balti is cooked and served in a pressed-steel bowl - or balti (meaning 'bucket' in Urdu). It's lighter, fresher and healthier than a traditional curry because the ingredients are cooked quickly in vegetable oil rather than ghee. And you can forget about using cutlery - everything’s scooped up with soft warm naan bread.
Boasting hundreds of independent restaurants, Birmingham's Balti Triangle stretches from Sparkbrook to Moseley, but its beating heart is the Ladypool Road. This is where you'll find the supposed original balti restaurant, Adil (353 Ladypool Road,), but other authentic balti houses include Al Frash (186 Ladypool Road), Shabab (163 Ladypool Road), and Shahi Naan Kebab (353 Stratford Road, +44(0)121 7722787).
REAL ALE VS CRAFT BEER
Fancy a pint? Birmingham is awash with options. For real ale, look no further than one of the city’s historic pubs. Owned by the Black Country Ales microbrewery, and occupying a Georgian town house, The Wellington (37 Bennett's Hill,) has frequently been named CAMRA Birmingham real ale pub of the year. Meanwhile, The Woodman (New Canal Street) is a splendid Victorian pub dispensing real ale opposite the imposing pillars of Curzon Street Station; and The Bartons Arms (High Street, Aston) is a stunning Victorian gin palace once frequented by the likes of Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplain. If you’re a bit of a craft beer punk, there’s BrewDog (81-87 John Bright Street) for a session on Dead Pony Club Californian Pale Ale or a strong Libertine Black Ale. If you can still walk, stagger across the street into Cherry Red’s (88-90 John Bright Street) for a pint of Anchor Steam Beer from San Francisco, or some gluten-free Mongozo Pils from Belgium.