I am quite often asked where to eat in Birmingham, a city where great eats are difficult to find in a sea of mediocre chain restaurants. But you can eat very well in Birmingham, if you know where to look.
Birmingham has good offerings at the high-end, reasonable stuff at the low-end and hardly anything in the middle, a source of consternation after a busy week at work where you just want a reliable, friendly source of sustenance. Birmingham has the greatest number of Michelin-starred restaurants outside of London (Turners, Simpsons and Purnells). Birmingham is also rightly famous for its range of Indian restaurants, and the balti – perhaps not the greatest gastronomic invention – but certainly worth trying once. Birmingham has a large Chinese community with plenty of restaurants concentrated in the Chinese quarter. And despite being land-locked, Birmingham is also a great place to find fish and chips.
High end restaurants
A Michelin starred restaurant on Harborne high street, nestled amongst hairdressers, charity shops and just up from Iceland is a bit of a surprise. But Turners, for my money, is the best restaurant in Birmingham, delivering technically brilliant cooking. Richard Turner is an obsessive perfectionist and the cooking from the kitchen is invariably bang on. The style is modern, utilising seasonal ingredients and sometimes the water bath. Main courses are very rich and filling, don’t fill up on the bread. You should pencil in 3 hours minimum to eat here, even when eating a la carte, so an early booking is often preferred. Bookings are pretty much required all the time except for weekday lunches. Saturday night is tasting-menu only night and the kitchen is firing on all cylinders. The room is a little small and cramped and the service is efficient.
Simpsons is a contrast to Turners and is probably more what diners expect to find when they book a starred place. Service is friendly and efficient but with the little touches that makes it feel special. The restaurant feels comfortable and luxurious, with conservatory tables looking out to the nice garden. Cooking is a little more restrained than Turners, the menu changes less frequently, but some of the dishes hit real heights such as the foie gras served with pain d’epice. This is the place you go for your birthday, a graduation, but the set menu is good enough value to go more often than that.
The definitive “posh” curry restaurant. One of the first restaurants we went to when we moved to Birmingham, we absolutely loved it. Then bloody Gordon Ramsay came in, awarded it “Best Restaurant in the UK” on the f-word and ruined it for a while. Bookings became near-impossible to get, and the standards maybe slipped a little bit. Thankfully I can report they are back and firing on all cylinders again, with a pared-down menu which is universally superb. Aktar Islam has continued to refine the dishes and the presentation. Start with tandoori lamb chop, or smoked “oyster of beef”. Then try the dum ki biryani, goat meat biryani cooked in a sealed clay pot. Keralan prawn curry is another crowd-pleaser. Shirkhand, rasmalai or chai brullee are all excellent desserts. Service is always lovely and friendly, booking is usually necessary at least a few days before.
Carters of Moseley
I’ve put this in “mid-range” but Carters is a restaurant with serious ambition. Run by Brad and Holly, relatively recent graduates of the Birmingham College of Food these guys are pursuing the modern agenda of local and seasonal, with very accurate cooking and a few neat touches like the beer menu, a starter of “bar snacks for 2” complete with scotch eggs and pork scratchings, and pudding of sticky toffee pudding served in a Lyon’s tin. Service is very keen. The one negative is the long room which can get very noisy if there’s a large group in. Bookings necessary for weekends.
Jyoti’s Vegetarian Indian Restaurant
Fish and Chips at the Black Country Museum
Dim Sum at the Golden Pond
New Sum Ye
For triple roast meats – check out Lap’s three-way face-off.