Issue 343
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If 2020 were the 4 x 400 metre relay – and it's definitely, but if it were — we are all currently Kriss Akabusi. John Regis has just handed us the baton and though we might not be winning, we've got plenty in the tank. The finish line, which, in this wildly niche analogy is 2021, is in sight and we've just got to get there and get there fast. But as brutal as this year has been, it often bought about the very best of Birmingham. Be it bold launches, charitable initiatives or go-get-em appointments it's worth remembering some great moments from the year we pretty much all would like to sign off on, ASAP. Here's just a handful. 
The city's street food traders and restaurants rallied at the first hint of the pandemic with Full of Chaat's Sarah Ventre (pictured) a lynchpin for the incredible response. Sarah delivered 10,000 meals to NHS venues to keep the frontline fed over a four month period and has donated 5,000 dishes to disadvantaged school kids. Too many other traders to name contributed, with Chung Ying among loads who did the bricks and mortar F&B scene proud.  
The Barber Institute of Fine Art, Birmingham Museum and Art gallery and Ikon were just three galleries that were quick to not only take their collections online, but to surround their digital offering with online workshops and discussions. Meanwhile, the city's festivals thumbed their noses at Corona by going digi. To name just two, 'Be At Home' replaced Be Festival and the brilliantly monikered Sofasonic stood in for Supersonic. Well played, all.   
New restaurant launches that absolutely must be on your "when the apocalypse is over" agenda, include Brummie Kray Treadwell's small but perfectly formed 14-seater 670 Grams — the mackerel (pictured) is insane. Elsewhere bring-er of Birmingham's best Sunday roast, Pulperia launched into Brindleyplace, and beaut Indian restaurant Dishoom took probably the city's priciest rental spot. The best soup I've ever had came from Verbena and, although I've not been yet, I've heard from two Brum chefs that Bearwood Mexican A La Mexicana could be the sleeper launch of the year. Reviews
Digbeth was an area of the city that accelerated into 2020 and barely took its foot of the gas despite a global pandemic, with vino venue Wine Freedom perhaps the most exciting launch. Locals Sam Olive and Taylor Meanwell had to slash spending but still managed to revamp a colossal Floodgate Street warehouse to deliver a bar-meets-wine school-meets shop, with an emphasis on wine that's had minimal interference. And if you can't wait for their re-opening there's the imminent launch of 'House Wine' — top tipples bottled in Brum and delivered to your door.
Some of the ingenuity that came from the pandemic was *taps temple knowingly*, real smart. Run Of A Kind was and remains Birmingham’s first city running tour, the brainchild of Moseleyite Lucy Canham. The 10k-er takes in The Bull, Centenary Square, The JQ, Digbeth, the Gay Village and more. Meanwhile film boffs Flatpack teamed up with the Overhear app to create a self-guided cycling tour of 1960s Brum. Just follow the directions at the bottom of this page and download Overhear for the audio. 
We're going to need entertainment by the barrelful when we emerge (I mean properly emerge) from our homes, and it's staggering to realise that Digbeth joy dens NQ64 and Roxy Ballroom only opened in the early stages of the year. If joysticking with Pac-Man is your thing then pencil the Custard Factory's arcade-barcade, NQ64, into your 'To Do List'. But if independently owned ten pin bowling, ping pong and, the surprisingly most entertaining — shuffleboard — tickle your fancy, then set sights on near neighbour, Roxy.
The city's shopping precincts have taken a big old Corona-shaped hit, but from the rubble has emerged some gems. Kitsch cocktail den The Pineapple Club is putting out some sensational sips from the Great Western Arcade and Ikigai, that moved in to the Pineapple Club owners' previous home in the JQ and doing Japanese influenced boozy beauts.    
Global ballet superstar Carlos Acosta became director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in January and his bold opener, Lazuli, gained mad critical acclaim. Meanwhile Nechells born and bred, Casey Bailey (pictured), was made Poet Laureate, before penning a poem called I Choose Birmingham, and Fatma Mohiuddin, 14, was announced as the 15th Young Poet Laureate.
Long lost city icon The Grand Hotel re-opened its doors after a £45 million, 18-year refurb. Bar area Madeleine promises to be a must-visit for 2021 while the hotel is taking bookings right now for drinks in early Feb. Elsewhere, Sarehole Mill became a bakery, producing cakes and cookies and even popping pizza pods in their courtyard area which you can book into for Jan and Feb. Oh and the Floozie looks set to make a fountainy 2021 return. *Checks watch* Not before time.   
Opinion splitting scooters touched down in town this year and I fall firmly on the side of support. Anything to get more cars off the road seems like a decent idea, particularly in a city famed for its transport, ummm, limitations. I'm so keen on whizzing about on these  — they're very easy to ride — that I've convinced VOI to offer all ICB readers £4 of free credit. After you’ve signed up and before you ride, click the “gift” symbol and input the code 'VoixICB'. Download the app here
One of the city's most gritty acts of pandemic-hardened survival has gone unreported. Tintin Food Hall, at Masshouse near the Clayton Hotel, doesn't have a website (Instagram here) but has survived COVID, despite launching only a week before the first lockdown, thanks entirely to good food that travels well. Ten(ish) East Asian food stands occupy the premises which, in better times, are available for walk-up and dine in. For now delivery is your only route, bringing the likes of Master Park's Kitchen (Korean, try the fried chicken) and The Java Laksa Co. (Indonesian, give the Ayam Betutu a go).  
Art, as so often in times of toughness, met 2020 head on. Brummie Mohammed Ali's 'I Can't Breathe' stencil response to the death of George Floyd was met with citywide approval. So much so there was uproar when it was painted over and calls for it to be redone were swiftly okayed by the council. Coldwar Steve was finally given a Brum platform to exhibit in his home city, while Annatomix graced Southside with another fantastic fox. I was particularly choked up by Birmingham Design Festival's 'We Can Do This' poster and seeing Provide's 'It's Going To Be Alright, Bab' signs in countless home windows.      
The annual festive-fest that is Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker has élancer-ed around the cancellation of live shows by taking matters online. A slightly shortened 90-minute adaptation, which for the first time includes director Carlos Acosta's influence, will be beamed to your living room (not just yours, everybody's) at 7.30pm tomorrow (December 18), meaning you can dance along this year or, literally, crack nuts throughout. It's just £15 per household with the show streamed through your browser, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon and other weird and wonderful worldwide webby ways. After tomorrow's live stream you can watch on demand from Saturday (December 19, at 7.30pm) until midnight on Christmas Eve. Hey, it's not Christmas until you've been through the kingdom of sweets. Book
Venue: Hot Chix, dark kitchen; Twitter
Choice: Hot Honey & Garlic Sour Cream Sando (£7.50) Chooser: Chef

My Death Row meal is fried chicken. I go absolutely gangbusters for the stuff, so much so that the restaurant I visited most this year was, by miles, Bonehead. I go alone, I go with friends, I go with enemies, I'd go with you if only you'd ask. The sole reason fried chicken didn't kill me in 2020 is because, if I'm honest, I don't think it travels that well. I've had it delivered and I've not been besotted. Which brings me on to chicky-chicky-fry-fry newcomer Hot Chix from established Two Cats chef Niki Astley. Niki essentially bought decent fried chicken to Brum when it appeared on JQ drinks nirvana The Church's soul food menu, many moons ago. He's since been to the States about a trillion times and fallen head over meals in love with the Nashville version of the dish, which he's now launched by delivery from a "dark kitchen". Dark kitchens, for the uninitiated, aren't pitch black kitchens — although there's an idea for 2021 — and they aren't kitchens set aside for wild sex games (that's 2022). They're simply kitchens that don't have a dine-in restaurant option. Kitchens that deliver only. Hot Chixx is delivery only, Uber Eats only and it's off its head excellent. Niki coats his chicken Nashville style but fries it more the Japanese karaage way and, and I don't want to go into the technicalities because I don't understand them, that results in some of the crispiest fried chicken you'll find. There's a satisfying as hell 'snap' as the coating cracks around your canines. A drier exterior (though succulent inside) that can survive a 10 minute door-to-door journey. I met Niki (fully clothed and with a torch) in his dark kitchen to try his stuff, but then I paid the following day to have it delivered. I'm right, for once, it travels well. The hot honey burger is Niki's favourite and fill your boots with it, but I'm all about the thigh nuggets and the less sweet, drier, spicier burger and wing option. Is it better than Bonehead? No, it's different. Both are brilliant. My physician is crestfallen by this news.
Formerly Henley-in-Arden based, but currently looking for a new premises,The Butchers Social have launched their 'at home' offer and it goes a little something like this.

The always ace Southside district have rallied to organise a free children’s Christmas trail.
Christmassy bakery goodness and afternoon tea options are still available for delivery until December 20 from Kings heath gem, Early Bird. More

Digbeth gallery and all around good guys, Eastside Projects, have commissioned a series of immersive artist walks taking people (and kids) on a journey from Marston Green train station into Chelmsley Wood. Video

The Holodeck are seeking contributions of various kinds — essays, poetry, photographs, illustrations and more, on the topic of: Birmingham modernism, planning (or lack of), architecture, civic identity, and the future of the City. Confused? Me too, but it looks ace.  

Joe Lycett will be doing live art as part of Barbara Nice's Christmas Cracker tomorrow (Friday, December 18) streaming from the MAC at 8pm. Tickets £10. 

This new BHX maglev print from Provide made me smile my absolute knockers off. £19.99 

I Choose Birmingham will be back in your inboxes January 7. Be excellent to each other.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language, and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning."


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