How To Spend 24 Hours in Birmingham
Hello Birmingham! When the opportunity came up to spend 24 hours in Birmingham last month (someone else’s hotel room I could crash in, along with a £16.50 return train ticket to London making it a bargain opportunity to explore a new city) lots of people told me not to bother going. That I’d find the city depressing, that the food would not be very good. As it turns out, I spent a fantastic 24 hours enjoyed Birmingham’s fantastic bar and coffee house culture, sampling their up and coming food scene and generally finding my way around (I’ve never been so lost in my life, I got so turned around!) an excellent city full of truly lovely, friendly people.
Where To Drink
Usually one of the first things I do when I arrive in a new city is to grab a drink. Usually I have a table booked for dinner, but it is nice to just go for an explore, spot somewhere fun on the way to the hotel, or see what comes up on Google maps nearby.
1000 Trades is a great little coffee house meets bar on Fredrick Street. There is a bar upstairs but it is only open Wednesday to Saturday. I went for a G&T made with local kiwi berry gin (don’t) but you can’t go wrong with somewhere to drink your usual bar tipple of choice or to sample local beers. Their natural wine list and small plates menu also looked fantastic.
Also on Fredrick Street a few doors down you’ll find The Button Factory. Again, somewhere to drink local beers, it has more of a pub vibe and menu. I really enjoyed my cocktail made with house rosehip syrup and a good amount of gin, and the steak and roast chicken the couple on the next table were digging into looked and smelt fantastic.
Where To Eat Dinner
Our lovely dinner spot came via a recommendation from Gem. Lasan is a great Indian restaurant on James Street. Original Patty Men (for burgers), Otto Annexe (for pizza), Buffalo & Rye (for American barbecue) and Tamatanga (for Indian street food) all seemed like they could be good shouts, but we’d not had a good curry that was not a takeaway in ages, and I’d heard that this one was something special.
Lasan turned out to be one of the best Indians we’ve had in ages. The wine was not up to much, but that really did not matter as the Indian-inspired cocktails were fantastic. I know you always end up over ordering when Indian is concerned, but don’t miss out on the starters. My scallops served with a cauliflower pakora (how is it Indian cooking just totally transforms cauliflower?), kalongi puree and a little jug of creamy mango-infused coconut milk was as tasty as it was pretty, a beautifully balanced plate with perfectly cooked seafood. For something more traditional, the pakoras with an addictive tamarind dipping sauce are a must order.
It took us so long to decide on our mains, I don’t think you can honestly go wrong so I’ll just give you a few pointers of what we ate that I don’t think you should miss. My goat biriyani was fantastic, and came served with a totally delicious and light pineapple raita. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of research into peshwari naan recently trying to re-create them at home, so I can tell you that the naan at Lasan are bang on the money.
Where To Grab Breakfast
I was reliably informed that Medicine Bakery on New Street was where I should be going for my breakfast cronut, but they were still closed at opening time when I got there, so I found a great new, Asian-influenced bakery called Orientee Artisan Bakery & Cafe down Dale End. They do some excellent pastries (both traditional and infused with Asian flavours), and their sourdough really is something to write home about! I sat and had a slice of it toasted and liberally spread with homemade grapefruit curd, sprinkled with blueberry powder, along with a pot of green tea. I’m more of a savoury person in the mornings so it was a bit much for me, but that does not stop it being bloody delicious. Oh, and did I mention that my breakfast was just £4.50?!
Where To Shop
While I wish I could, I can’t eat all day every day. So, the safest thing to do when I’m going on the train where I can’t be tempted to buy something too heavy or delicate is to shop. Honest Skincare in the Great Western Arcade is a handmade soap and fragrance company based in Birmingham, and christ their shop smells good. It is a treasure trove of natural products, and I’m proud of my self control that I did not walk away from their shop with a brand new scented candle. If you’re not planning a trip to Birmingham any time soon, you can also shop online.
Do you remember the challenge I did in June where I went single-use plastic free in the kitchen for a week? That project has made me wish that The Clean Kilo in the Digbeth Creative Quarter would bring their concept to London. As much as possible in the store is locally sourced in partnership with local farmers and producers, and everything in store is sold by weight – from kombucha to garlic infused rapeseed oil and fresh herbs so you can bring your own reusable containers to totally eliminate packaging waste. They also sell beautiful glass bottles for you to re-use, and there is a big basket of second hand, donated containers so you can take something away with you even if you did not bring a receptacle in a recycled jar or bottle!
The Arts Scene
While you’re in Digbeth be sure to have a wonder around the galleries and studios around The Custard Factory where you’ll find some beautiful graffiti and lots of street artists. Also, if you’re visiting the city on a Friday or Saturday night, I’ve heard so much about the street food at the Digbeth Dining Club I was sad to have missed it!
Where To Have Lunch
I found 1847, a little vegetarian restaurant in the Great Western Arcade (opposite Honest Skincare) and chose it for its beautiful looking dishes and really reasonable looking set lunch menu, £18 for two courses. More of a savoury than sweet girl I went for a starter and a main. I really enjoyed my plate of roasted and pickled cauliflower, black quinoa and zhoug (I’m going to start pickling cauliflower florets at home now for salads), but I found the dahl I had for my main was a bit over-seasoned; I loved the crispy quinoa balls and I think there needed to be way more pickled carrot ribbons to balance the dish. However, I’d still tell you to visit for interesting, creative vegetarian cooking.