The New York Times has just published its list of "The 45 Places to Go in 2012". London comes fourth on the list, thanks to the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. But at 19th on the list comes another English city: Birmingham. Let me repeat that... Birmingham. Hard to believe, isn't it? Birmingham is more likely to appear on a list of "The 45 Places to Avoid at All Costs" in any British publication. It's not just that it can't compete with the capital: it can't compete with other provincial cities, either. Manchester and Liverpool are the epitomes of tough, rainy northern cool. Newcastle is an entire Geordie kingdom unto itself. But poor old Birmingham – even its Brummie accent is an object of derision.
But that's not what the people at The New York Times seem to think. They cite Birmingham on the grounds that "England's second city could be first in food". And they're not just talking about such local products as balti curries, Typhoo tea, Bird's custard and HP sauce. They mean the whole slew of Birmingham restaurants such as Opus, Loves Restaurant and Turners of Harborne that are hip, Michelin-starred, or both.
Now this is a heaven-sent opportunity to have a double pop at both the awfulness of Birmingham and the idiocy of Americans. But I'm not taking that pop. For six months ago I did something that few others can claim, or would even want to claim to have done. I took my wife, Clare, to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary with a night of romantic bliss... in Birmingham.
She really, really wanted to see Take That. They happened to be playing at Villa Park football ground, home of Aston Villa, on our big night. And since Villa Park is on the northern fringe of Birmingham, that was where we went. And there we had an absolutely fantastic time.
It wasn't just that the concert was great, nor that the crowd had a warmth and a good-humoured, oestrogen-drenched enthusiasm that you don't quite get from seen-it-all Londoners. It wasn't the cuisine, either: we ate on the run from M&S Simply Food. It was Birmingham itself.
We spent the night at a place called Staying Cool at the Rotunda. This was, essentially, a 19th-floor studio apartment converted for use as a B&B room. It was chic. It was modern. It really was pretty cool. Both Selfridges and Harvey Nicks are in easy walking distance, as are Loves Restaurant and Opus. And the views from our window were spectacular. Thus it is that our anniversary night photos show Clare and me arm in arm in what looks like a luxury penthouse, with the lights of a fabulous metropolis glittering beneath us. It could be LA. It could by Sydney. It's actually Birmingham. And The New York Times is quite right.
It's a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012.
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