New stuff has happened. Street food has arrived. You can queue for 30 minutes in the rain for a pizza and an artisan bap of pulled pork.
You can get a cocktail, without a stick, mixed in front of your very eyes in the sort of bar you only used to see in films, not Brum. This is all good.
Old stuff has stayed the same, too. So you can enjoy a balti and a couple of tinnies for a tenner. This is also good.
And you can eat at expensive restaurants that actually aren’t that expensive, not when you consider the cost of the produce they use and the fact that some more enlightened bosses feel it is right to treat their chefs like professional employees, rather than slaves.
Footballers gets a few thousand quid to kick a ball around Villa Park or St Andrews on match day. Good for them. But is it too much to ask to pay the chef who cooks your pan-fried sea bass £9 an hour?
Of course, the marketing bods wet themselves when Birmingham was hailed the food capital of the UK. And London food critics guffawed.
For the record, and you will know this, The New York Times ranked Birmingham in the world’s Top 20 global destinations to visit last year.
Birmingham was placed 19th – just behind Outer Space and ahead of the Maldives – on the basis of its rich dining scene. The Martian Tourist Board breathed a sigh of relief. The bloke who rakes the blindingly white beach on the island of Nalaguraidhoo was gutted.
And the marketing bods in Birmingham wet themselves. Again.
Praise from The New York Times, based on the views of a single hack floating around Europe, followed a bold declaration by the BBC’s food magazine Olive that Birmingham had become the “foodiest town” in the UK. The sun had set on Ludlow and risen on Lozells.
Much is made of the fact the city has three Michelin starred restaurants, the biggest concentration of such lauded establishments in England outside London… only this isn’t quite accurate. Bray, home to the Waterside Inn, The Fat Duck, The Hinds Head and The Royal Oak (in nearby Paley Street), has four (with eight stars between them).
Let us not be churlish, however. Manchester does not have a single Michelin starred restaurant. In football terms, it’s Birmingham 3 – Manchester 0.
So where, I got to thinking, are the best places to eat in Birmingham?
The answer is simple: I’m not altogether sure. Our appreciation of restaurants is not an exact science. Broadly speaking, there is a strong dividing line between what represents good and bad cooking, but there is a hell of a big gap in the middle that spans the extremes of “excellent” and “well, ok, but there weren’t many potatoes.”
An individual’s judgment vis-a-vis the middle bit (“excellence,” “lack of spuds”) is a matter of individual taste and psychology.
But I am going out there and making a list. I am telling it as I see it. I might be wrong (yeah, right) but I am being honest. Next week, I’ll have a different take on the list. Hell, I will probably have a different take on it tomorrow.
For now though, for what it’s worth, here is my Top 10. I haven’t included cafes and more informal styles of dining and I welcome your comments. I have, in particular, agonised over the omission of a Chinese restaurant. Chung Ying in Chinatown and Henry Wong in Harborne are knocking at the door. And like I say, ask me to name the Top 10 tomorrow and one of them might be in it.
So, here it is, in no particular order: Richard McComb’s Top Ten Birmingham Restaurants (for now…)
Purnell’s – Glynn Purnell is Birmingham’s most well-known chef due to his TV appearances, stunning good looks – and the magic things he does with raw ingredients and a flame. His restaurant in Cornwall Street is renowned for its inventive cooking and has a Michelin star. If (when) a city restaurant gets a second star, it’s going here. Typical dish: lamb with braised fennel, basil emulsion and pickled cucumber. www.purnellsrestaurant.com
Simpsons – Birmingham’s grandest restaurant set the standard for cooking in Birmingham thanks to owner Andreas Antona’s unique vision and a kitchen packed with talent. The Barcelona FC of Brum gastronomy. Michelin star. Typical dish: turbot with chicken thigh, Jersey Royal potatoes, asparagus, wild garlic and seaweed. www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk
Turners – classically-trained chef Richard Turner executes modern interpretations of French cuisine to stunning effect. Birmingham’s most naturally gifted chef? Who said that? Michelin star. Typical dish: roast loin of fallow deer with salt-baked beetroots, parsnip, creamed savoy and sauce Grand Veneur. www.turnersrestaurantbirmingham.co.uk
There’s a chef’s table in the kitchen where diners can watch chef director David Colcombe and his young team at work. If you ask nicely, Colcombe will play Luther Vandross records and dance.
Typical dish: steamed fillet of turbot, leek and smoked salmon cannelloni, confit pork belly and Swiss chard. www.opusrestaurant.co.uk
Typical dish: loin of monkfish, pan-fried in curried oil, with spiced aubergine and crisp potato pakora, served with “Andhra-style” sauce of coconut milk. www.lasan.co.uk
Carters of Moseley – Brad Carter is among Birmingham’s exciting new generation of chefs. He has worked in Spain and combines European influences with traditional British produce in an informal suburban setting.
Holly Jackson runs front-of-house with aplomb at this genuinely friendly neighbourhood restaurant. Typical dish: rib-eye of Aberdeen beef, beef-dripping chips, bone marrow gravy and green salad. www.cartersofmoseley.co.uk
Asha’s – buzzing Indian restaurant, rammed at summer cocktail hour and the food is terrific. The menu spans the subcontinent, prepared under the watchful eye of Guneet Singh Bindra, who’s cooked for Bill Clinton – and my dad. Typical dish: Goan fish curry with red chillies and ground spices. www.ashasuk.co.uk
Fiesta del Asado – Birmingham’s first Argentina restaurant specialises in fabulous steaks. The naturally-reared, grass-fed beef is dry-aged for a minimum of 28 days, dusted in a dry rub and grilled on a barbecue. Aktar Islam cooks here, too. He never sleeps. Typical dish: Bife de ancho, 38oz prime ribeye steak. www.fiestadelasado.co.uk
Andersons Bar and Grill – specialist in a variety of steaks (fillet, sirloin, rib, T-bone), good fresh fish and bags of subterranean, old-school restaurant charm.
Situated in the Jewellery Quarter with chef Danny Anderson at the helm.
Lounge lizard and sometime waiter Nick Crudgington is a listed monument. Ask nicely and he’ll open a bottle of Fleurie.
Typical dish: 30oz Shorthorn porterhouse steak for two. www.andersonsbarandgrill.co.uk
Fumo – Venetian-style tapas brings Italian flair to the city centre (near St Philip’s Cathedral). There is an informal no-booking policy. Great for sharing plates of pasta, fish and meat between friends.
Roll up your sleeves, order lots of wine and have a blast. Typical dish: ravioli with truffles. www.sancarlofumo.co.uk