New Yorkers beat a path to Birmingham (B1, not Alabama)
Monday 09 January 2012
How do you fancy strolling around Vienna, sunning yourself in the Maldives or taking a rocket trip into space? You'd be better off visiting a curry house in Birmingham, according to The New York Times, which has named Britain's second city as one of its top 20 holiday destinations thanks to its dining scene.
Birmingham's placing at No 19 in the list has surprised some in the Midlands, but many Brummie foodies are bullish that the accolade is well deserved. As well as its famed "Balti triangle" of Indian restaurants, and three eateries with Michelin-starred chefs – Purnell's, Simpsons and Turners of Harborne – Birmingham's smaller cafés, bistros and bustling farmers' markets are a burgeoning source of local pride.
One restaurant cited by the newspaper as proof of Birmingham's credentials is Lasan, located in the city's Jewellery Quarter. Its head chef Aktar Islam – whose signature dish, hiran achari, combines slow-stewed shin and loin chops of Balmoral venison with charred brocolli, curried pumpkin and honied shallots – said he believed Birmingham was the best place in the UK in which to eat. "The great thing is that it's all concentrated, so you don't have to worry about travelling," he said. "We have some of the best chefs – Steve Loves, David Colcombe at Opus, Andy Waters at Edmunds – and we're all about a mile or so from each other."
A growth in small, independent food producers is also helping Birmingham's kitchens. Alex Claridge, who runs the vegetarian Warehouse Café and is about to launch Edible Brum magazine to promote the community, said economic problems had helped this part of the city's food scene. "We have got to the point where everything else is falling apart, so you might as well give it a go doing what you really love," he said. "It's great for those of us trying to find good food producers because all these people who are really obsessive and eccentric in really loving one thing are coming together."
Tom Baker, a breadmaker who runs the Loaf cookery school, said the authentic recipes at Al Frash in the Balti triangle and the way Moseley farmers' market heaves with customers, even in the rain, were further proof of the city's culinary diversity. "Local chefs like Glynn Purnell are getting on TV and he's a proper Brummie – you can't deny that from his accent," he added.
However, he said Birmingham still had some way to go before it deserved the title of "gastro capital of the UK". "People are guessing that it's going to be quite an important place for food in the future," he added, "but it's still young."
Terry Kirby: A deserved gastronomic accolade for Britain's second city
It earned global accolades for making cars and chocolate but when it came to eating out, England's second city – my home town – had a second-rate reputation: a bleak landscape of Indian or MSG-dominated Chinese, enlivened only by a couple of half-decent Francophile outfits. Then came the "Balti Belt": great fun, authentic food. In the 1990s, Terence Conran and Raymond Blanc opened and, since Glynn Purnell gained his first Michelin star, others followed.
While The New York Times rightly highlights the astonishing transformation, visitors risk disappointment if they venture far from the city centre. However, there are encouraging signs – decent little bistros, cheese shops – that the foodie revolution is reaching the suburbs. Now all Birmingham needs is a new menu for making things again.
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