When Jack Brabant set up Digbeth Dining Club, an independent street-food venue on the edge of Birmingham city centre, 10 years ago, he and his team felt they were going out on a limb.
“We were doing it out of the back of an old refurbished taxi-repair unit and we told people to follow their nose to find us,” he said. “There were people doing bits here and there, but nothing on the scale of what there is now. It’s a completely different city.”
Birmingham is home to a thriving independent food scene, with a vast array of street-food vendors and quirky eateries ready to welcome customers flocking to the city for the Commonwealth Games.
Long associated with the Balti Triangle, Brabant hopes newcomers will see the city now has “fantastic diversity where you can get a taste of anything you want.”
“Once they get past spaghetti junction [a famous motorway junction outside the city], they’ll see there’s so much going on here,” Brabant said.
“You can see it in places like Stirchley, where you’ve got a real thriving independent scene happening, and places like Moseley and Kings Heath, which have completely changed over the past few years.”
Brabant thinks the city’s diverse young population has helped to propel the food scene. “I hate to use this phrase but it really is a melting pot of great food, and independents. Over the past 10 years we’ve seen people go on to create great things.”
Here are some of the best independent food choices for those visiting the city for the Commonwealth Games (28 July-8 August).
Its unusual name might be the first thing that catches the eye, but it’s the exquisite bao buns that make Tiger Bites Pig most memorable. Tucked just around the corner from New Street station, it’s a low-key affair with a handful of tables (and no toilet). The bao are made fresh every morning on site (try the braised beef shin with oyster mushrooms, cured egg yolk and crispy shallots – it’s phenomenal) and its hearty rice bowls will leave you full for the rest of the day.
Bao buns from £5, rice bowls from £11.50
South-west Birmingham suburb Stirchley has become a hub for high-quality independent restaurants, and Eat Vietnam is arguably the best. The decor is simple, as is the menu, but the flavour is on another level. The weekly menu typically features noodles with barbecued meat or tofu, fresh curries and small plates such as turmeric fried fish. Don’t forget to check the specials board, where you will find the best gems.
From £16 for a meal
Brunch staple Medicine bakery has four venues across Birmingham and Wolverhampton, but for plants galore and airy bright ceilings head to the New Street branch. It’s hard to resist the colourful display of sugar-dusted cruffins, doughnuts and cinnamon buns, but try to leave room for brunch first. You can’t go wrong with the sausage or halloumi brioche with sweet chilli jam for an extra punch of flavour. For sweet, the french toast looks and tastes divine, topped with caramel banana, mascarpone and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
From £9 for brunch
Tierra, The Jewellery Quarter
A large percentage of jewellery manufactured in the country still comes from this corner of Birmingham, where watches and necklaces have been made for hundreds of years. But trendy apartments and new restaurants are starting to move into the gaps left by the decline in manufacturing. One such example is Tierra, a pastel-painted Mexican serving fresh frozen margaritas and a wide selection of tacos. The truffle cheese hush puppies (crispy balls of sweetcorn and cheese) are a must-try, best eaten alongside a generous helping of pork carnitas tacos.
Tacos £7.50 per portion, small plates from £4.50
There is a big burger scene in Birmingham, but Original Patty Men are one of the most well established, and best. Under the railway arches near Moor Street station they serve up some amazing combinations including the Pineapple Express (topped with pineapple hot sauce) and Po Money Po Mushroom (a sub roll filled with breaded mushrooms). They are very popular so get there early to get a table. Burgers from £8, fries from £3
There are dozens of places to get a good curry in Birmingham (and the Balti Triangle is always worth a visit), but if you want Indian fare that is a little bit different, head to Zindiya in southern suburb Moseley. Under exposed brick walls, colourful posters and a ceiling covered in fairy lights you can try a vast offering of chaat – traditional savoury snacks sold by street vendors in India. Popular choices include the dahi puri (crispy wheat balls filled with potato, lentils and chickpeas, topped with yoghurt), and the samosas and dosa (savoury pancakes served with coconut chutney).
Chaat from £5.50, mains from £7.95
For a taste of Birmingham’s street-food scene head to Hockley Social Club, from the team behind Digbeth Dining Club. The former 10,000sq ft printing factory is now home to four kitchens surrounding a vast food hall, along with a bar and record store. The three permanent vendors include Buddha Belly (meat or veggie toppings with curry sauce and jasmine rice) and Low n Slow, who do burgers, tacos and tortas. They also regularly host live events featuring local DJs and even the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Mains from £10
If you need to grab a sandwich while dashing between volleyball and tennis, take a walk to GupShup near Snow Hill station. They use freshly baked Japanese shokupan (milk bread) filled with everything from katsu chicken, smashed samosas and tuna. Their real specialty are “hotties” – a toasted sandwich oozing with melted cheese. The Hulk is a particularly excellent creation, filled with garlic and coriander butter, spiced mutton keema, mint chutney mayo and, of course, melted cheddar.
Sandwiches from £5.25
With its cosy 1970s decor, Morridge is the kind of place you can sink into a plush orange sofa and lose hours with a coffee and a good book. Head there early (before 11.30am on weekdays, 1pm on Saturdays) to try one of their delicious porridge combinations. Their summer menu features porridge topped with strawberries, melted dark chocolate, date caramel and toasted coconut and cacao nibs. If you fancy something cooler, they also serve chilled overnight oats and granola. Porridge from £5