Where to eat and drink in Birmingham, England

Canals and Brindleyplace, Birmingham.
Canals and Brindleyplace, Birmingham. Photo: Craig Holmes/Images of Birmingham

 

"Forward" has been Birmingham's motto since 1839, and when you see it inked onto the knuckles of a bearded Brum barista serving nitro cold brews today, it's again emblematic of a city on the move.

The revival of Britain's largest city outside London began with a five-year, £750 million ($1.325 billion) upgrade to its swanky New Street Station (once dubbed the worst train station in Britain), officially opened by the Queen in 2015. It transformed the city centre into a high-end shopping destination, with cafes, bars and restaurants continuing to open in its wake, all relishing Birmingham in boom mode.

A barman at Peel's, Birmingham.
A barman at Peel's, Birmingham.  Photo: Supplied

In the past few years, Birmingham's culinary scene has also taken on a polished sheen. It's now home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other UK city outside London, along with a clutch of hip drinking and dining dens that trace the city's once-scruffy canals, and festivals that celebrate everything from field-to-fork chefs and coffee roasters.

And as proud Brummies will tell you, you haven't experienced the real Birmingham food scene until you've travelled to the Balti Triangle to sample the city's signature dish, the Birmingham Balti, served piping hot in the dish is it named after: a Balti (thin-pressed metal bowl). Here is our guide on where to eat and drink in Birmingham.

Breakfast

A little bit of Melbourne's coffee culture has migrated to the Midlands at 200 Degrees. The sprawling 70-seater cafe serves a long list of specialty coffees and houses a barista school in the basement dedicated to teaching budding brewsters how to wield a tamper and find the sweet spot when steaming milk.

After a few cracking coffees, ascend the stairs and find refuge in the clamorous cafe, which is all dark wood, exposed brickwork and comfy leather armchairs. Never mind the mortgage – they've got smashed avo on toast. The coffee-rubbed bacon sarnie on white bread is also a delightful little piggy indulgence.

The pocket-sized Faculty Coffee in Piccadilly Arcade is another great example of Birmingham's burgeoning new cafe culture and is akin to a coffee classroom: stand alongside coffee geeks at the counter where the baristas will ply you with shots of specialty coffee from the UK's award-winning Square Mile Coffee Roasters and tempt you with different brews to taste and compare. The Faculty folk share the artfully scuffed-up space with Sixteen Kitchen, which serves breakfast and lunch.

Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters near Birmingham's New Street Station has Birmingham industrial chic vibe down pat. This is a well-established happy place for harried commuters craving caffeine. Yorks roasts its own coffee and bakes its own bread and many of its cakes, too. Those with time to kill before their connection will be well satisfied with the shakshuka: a dreamy swirl of peppery tomato-red sauce bobbing with meatballs and poached eggs and scattered with fresh herbs.

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Lunch

Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse Bar & Grill is an elegant dining room that boasts panoramic views of the city's pioneering architecture from the top of The Cube building. Here, the most coveted dish on MPW's menu is the Sunday lunch of 28-day aged Scottish roast sirloin of beef with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, seasonal vegetables and gravy.

Another mainstay in the Midlands is Lasan, an elegant dining room that is the first stop for anyone seeking an education in contemporary British-Indian cuisine. Chef Aktar Islam presents contemporary crowd-pleasing versions of classics such as Cotswold white chicken tandoori with green mango, coriander, chilli and ginger. Curry connoisseurs who want to learn about Birmingham's Balti culture should head to Shabab's Indian Restaurant, in the heart of the city's Balti Triangle, where moves are being made to trademark the milder Balti curry dish as a proudly Brummie invention.

Of course, no visit to the UK is complete without a classic pub lunch. The Old Joint Stock in the heart of Birmingham was built as a library, then used as a bank, before being repurposed as a multipurpose restaurant, bar, weekend disco and theatre. If you're after some sustenance, order the pie and ale tasting board comprising three mini pies and a pint.

Dinner

In Peel's dining room, head chef Rob Palmer whips up mains such as middle white pork, Hispi cabbage, potato and black pudding that sing of the Midlands and its seasons. It's a restaurant located within the stately Hampton Manor Estate, built in the 1850s and run by James and Fjona Hill, who have transformed it into a contemporary place to eat, play and stay. Peel's stars in the Michelin guide alongside Birmingham's Carters of Moseley, Adams, Purnell's, Turners and Simpsons – and is worth shelling out for if you have an unlimited budget or kindly benefactor.

For more democratic dining options, check out Digbeth Dining Club located within a disused railway arch hugging the curves of the city's canals. The hawker-style hub is part dining hall, part disco designed to showcase the city's best street food vendors and DJs. Knock back tacos from Habaneros, mezze at the Middle Feast or sticky pork skewers from Canoodle while making new friends at the communal tables located under a weatherproof canopy.

Birmingham's Resorts World is home to an array of outlet shops, Britain's largest casino, a cinema and four-star hotel. Recover from the sensory overload at Waters Restaurant, where the muted decor and dimly lit space makes for a simple setting in which to savour classic modern Brit fare. Waters Restaurant is named after Michelin-starred chef Andy Waters, who is famed for preparing British comfort food classics with a twist such as duck liver terrine with fig salad, aged balsamic, fig meringue, Bramley apple and red wine reduction.

Drinks

The Island Bar has been fusing tiki culture with Birmingham's predilection for beer pong since 2006. The dimly lit Caribbean-themed bar is divided into a party room downstairs and tiki bar upstairs, which is paradise for those partial to fruity cocktails: ask one of the fire-breathing mixologists to swizzle you up a few Flirtinis – a champagne cocktail number inspired by Sex and the City.

The horticulturally minded will likely dig The Botanist, a Brummie drinking den that uses novelty props such as watering cans to pour fresh and fragrant creations such as rum with cherry and thyme.

The bar is divided into comfy nooks festooned with fairy lights designed to make you lean into a conversation, making it a great date-night den. If it's a grey day, plant yourself amid the greenery in this slightly bonkers bar, which features framed pictures of insects and quirky chandeliers, and order a rustling bowl of greens such as the broccoli, beet and avocado salad.

After kicking off with a few cocktails laden with botanicals, join Brummie's bon vivants at 40 St Pauls, where you can also celebrate the gin buzz in Birmingham. An unmarked door in St Paul's Square leads to this specialist gin bar, which gives it an underground, exclusive vibe. With space for just 24 people and a back bar with more than 100 different varieties of gin, 40 St Pauls attracts a mix of men in collared shirts, cultured cool kids, women in stilettoes and dapper bartenders.

Carla Grossetti travelled to Birmingham with assistance from Qatar Airways and Visit Britain.

DETAILS

200 Degrees, 21-23 Colmore Row, Birmingham, 200degs.com

Faculty Coffee, 14 Piccadilly Arcade, Birmingham, facultycoffee.com

Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters, 29-30 Stephenson Street, yorksbakerycafe.co.uk

Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse Bar & Grill Birmingham, 200 Wharfside Street, The Cube, Birmingham, mpwrestaurants.co.uk

Lasan, 3 James Street, Birmingham, lasan.co.uk

Shabab's, 163-165 Ladypool Road, Balti Triangle, Birmingham, shababs.co.uk

The Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham, oldjointstock.co.uk

Peel's Restaurant, Hampton Manor, Shadow Brook Lane, Hampton-in-Arden, Solihull, http://hamptonmanor.com

Digbeth Dining Club, Spotlight, Unit 2, Lower Trinity Street, Digbeth, www.digbethdiningclub.co.uk

Waters Restaurant, Floor One, Resorts World Birmingham, Pendigo Way, Birmingham, watersrestaurant.co.uk

Island Bar, 14-16 Suffolk Street, Birmingham, bar-island.co.uk

The Botanist, 14-16 Temple Street, Birmingham, thebotanist.uk.com/locations/birmingham

40 St Pauls, 40 Cox Street, Birmingham, 40stpauls.co.uk

WHEN TO GO

Food tourists should time their visit to coincide with one of the many food festivals worth circling on culinary calendars. Try the Ludlow Spring Festival (May 12 and 13), Birmingham Coffee Festival (June 8-10) and the Lichfield Food Festival (August 25-27).

GETTING THERE

Qatar Airways now flies direct from Sydney to Birmingham via Doha. Visit qatarairways.com