‘I buy at least 40 samosas’: Jess Phillips’s inside guide to Birmingham

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The member of parliament for Yardley, east Birmingham, was born in the city and still lives there with her husband and sons. Before becoming an MP, she was a Labour councillor

Food

If there is one place in the world where you can find a good samosa, it’s Birmingham. There are obviously lots of places for a great curry but there are also some really brilliant Indian vegetarian sweet centres. Milan Sweet Centre in Balsall Heath is an institution – I’ve been going there since I was a kid and every week I buy at least 40 samosas. They also do great barfi and jalebi sweets.

Jess Phillips at her home in Birmingham.
Jess Phillips at her home in Birmingham. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

The best place for a coffee is Flock in Kings Heath – a pop-up inside the Grace + James shop, bar and deli – run by Alistair. It was called Flock after me and my friends as we’d go there every morning after the school run. At Grace + James itself you can get wine and cheese, and they also run the Poli pizza restaurant next door – the pizzas are great but I dream about their La Ratte potatoes cooked in lamb fat with fresh mint.

In the evening I often go to Eat Vietnam in Stirchley – they do your regular big bowls of noodles with pork, but what I love is their Marmite peanut butter cauliflower.

Inspiration

As a child I would go to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery pretty much every single Saturday. It’s full of beautiful pre-Raphaelite paintings. I absolutely love the building: it’s such a lovely, calm space. The surrounding area has also been completely revamped.

Skull from the museum of geology
A skull at the Lapworth museum. Illustration: Hennie Haworth/The Guardian

I was a bit of a naysayer about the new Library of Birmingham at first, as I really liked the old brutalist Central Library building, built in the 1970s. But on reflection, it is a good thing, as the new one looks much better.

The Lapworth Museum of Geology at Birmingham University is also brilliant. This part of town feels like a different sort of Birmingham to me – the Edgbaston campus is exceptionally green and beautiful.

Neighbourhood

Kings Heath, where I grew up, has a real mix of people and architecture. There are big Victorian and Edwardian houses as well as 1970s maisonettes and tower blocks. On my street there were bail hostels next door to the houses of professors and MPs.

There is an amazing bakery called Earlybird, which is right next to the beautiful old Victorian library; and York Road, which has been pedestrianised, and has loads of bars, restaurants and independent shops spilling out on to the street. At the end of the street there is a great pub, the famous Hare and Hounds.

Green spaces

Cattle in Sutton Park.
Cattle in Sutton Park. Photograph: Colin Underhill/Alamy

You’re spoilt for choice in Birmingham. It is an absolute canopy of trees, which belies its industrial reputation. If you fly over it, parts of it look like a forest. During lockdown I became well acquainted with the city’s parks. Sutton Park, which is so huge you can totally get lost in it, has stoats and weasels, waterways and forest; and Lickey Hills has great views of the city.

Nightlife

When I was a kid, Stirchley, a fairly industrial place, just had a bowling alley. But now the bowling alley has gone (it is missed!) and the area has become a bit trendy. Just a few doors down from a tyre shop and a carpet shop with an enormous King Kong on the top there is an incredible cocktail bar called Couch. I can’t tell you how incongruous this is considering what the area was like historically. The cocktails are wonderful – the mixologists are real enthusiasts and have been all round the world training.

The nightlife and food scene in Birmingham is so good because it is driven by people who specialise in one thing – and the people at Couch are definitely cocktail geeks.

Stay

After being closed for almost two decades, the Grand Hotel reopened in May. It has been lovingly restored and is in a great location, right next to the cathedral. I fancied being a tourist in my home town for a night, so we stayed here following the lockdowns and had an incredible afternoon tea and drinks. It is really high-end quality, without being too expensive.