The day the world came to Brum for a balti and a pint of mild

Kate Watson-Smyth offers visitors an alternative guide to Britain's second city
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THINK of Birmingham and images of dark and dirty places spring to mind - the car plants, Spaghetti Junction, the HP sauce building and the infamous Bull Ring shopping centre. Perhaps more recent visitors will remember that Birmingham invented the balti curry, a Kashmiri stew served in a small metal wok and mopped up with nan bread instead of cutlery.

Today, Birmingham begins its attempt to recreate itself as a hip and happening European city when it hosts the Eurovision Song Contest. Its crowning moment will be the following weekend when it welcomes the heads of government.

Not for them the run-down streets of the balti belt, or the rag market. Messrs Clinton, Chirac, Yeltsin et al will be steered away from them in favour of the redecorated Council House in Victoria Square and the rarefied atmosphere of the Botanical Gardens. Instead, the proud burghers of Birmingham City Council have planned an itinerary to show the world's leaders what they consider to be the highlights of the city.

First there will be a reception at the Council House, complete with refurbished banqueting suite, and a working dinner at the Edwardian Tea Rooms in the Museum and Art Gallery.

Meanwhile, Mrs Blair (the QC Ms Cherie Booth quite definitely forgotten for the day) will take the wives to the Left Bank restaurant, where they will dine on such delicacies as saddle of venison and a dish going by the curious Franglais name of "assiette of fishes".

The next night it will be dinner at the Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston, followed by concerts at the Symphony Hall and Cannon Hill Park - where the highlight of the evening will be that popular musical icon Lionel Ritchie, supported by All Saints and 911.

On Sunday morning, while the final G8 session takes place, the wives will watch the start of a fun-run before returning to the Council House for a balti brunch.

It's a tour designed to keep the power players and their spouses firmly within a small section of the city centre which has been renovated over the years. Apart from a few statues, there is no reminder of Birmingham's industrial past. So, in an effort to correct that anomaly, The Independent presents its own, slightly irreverent, guide to the city.

First stop: a traditional pub for a pint of the local brew, Ansells Mild. First produced in Aston in 1857, Ansells gives a true taste of the city and demands for a "point of moild" can be heard all round the Midlands. The Prince of Wales, in Cambridge Street, is one such pub, although Ansells has been temporarily taken off the menu in favour of eight beers brewed specially for the summit. Instead, for one weekend only, customers will be able to sup Prodi's Prize Ale, or a pint of Kohl's Quencher.

After a few pints, the visitor will be ready to eat. What better than the Midlands' own dish of faggots and peas.

No visit to Birmingham would be complete without a trip to the Science Museum chronicling the city's industrial past. The visiting heads of government will have to return for a trip there: it is closed until 2001 while a new site is built. Nor will they enjoy the full benefit of the Symphony Hall. Bad timing means that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, is out of town on tour next week. The best Birmingham can come up with instead is middle-of-the-road pop.

We suggest that delegates should have been given time to stroll along Gas Street Basin by the side of the canal and hop on a barge for a leisurely trip round the city's waterways. Brummies never fail to point out that their city has more miles of canal than Venice.

There is only one place to go for dinner - the city's balti belt. The best restaurants are in Sparkbrook and it's a case of bring your own beer.

But sadly for the heads of government, they will see none of that. Once they have departed, Birmingham will be left with just the smell of fresh paint and beds of wilting flowers in the city centre to remind them of the time the world came to visit.