Possibly more of a boon for our city’s servers than Rishi’s Eat Out To Help Out – and definitely less problematic, name or otherwise – the first ever Birmingham Restaurant Festival is taking place from August 22 to September 4. You’ll have an entire fortnight to sample exclusive set menus, with undeniable value for money on old faves or new finds. More than 40 are taking part – searchable by location, cuisine, dog-friendliness and accessibility – and with prices way down for the two-weeker, you’ll be able to explore the diverse offering across the city at a relative steal. Take a look at some of the bigguns on offer accompanied with some words by someone who knows, followed by words from someone who's making it up as he goes along...
LE PETIT BOIS They say: "We're going all in on a £40, five-course taster menu. It kicks off with a black truffle and aged comté gougère followed by Le Coquilles Saint Jacques — hand dived scallops served in the shell on mash with a white wine sauce [pictured]. These Jersey scallops are unbelievably good. I discovered how great they were when I did six months at Shaun Rankin's place in St Helier. I trust Jersey's seafood so much I've just ordered 5,000 rock oysters to serve at Mostly Jazz Festival. The main is chicken stuffed with foie gras, pomme purée, mushrooms, and buttery Hollandaise. Fatty, salty, fatty and a bit more salty — just wonderfully French. Not overly fancy but utterly delicious. Finally we have a French Colonel sorbet followed by a chocolate and hazelnut parfait with coffee ice cream and a cigar tuile. The chocolate is from Valrhona, for my money the best chocolate producers in the world. " — Ben Taylor, chef director We say: A neighbourhood restaurant that requires cherishing, this is the sort of independent we should all be willing to take up arms for. And by "take up arms" I mean eat at on the regs. Ben and his partner Zsofia have a settled and happy team in place at their picture perfect Moseley spot and with carafes of wine starting at £17, your £40 per head won't take a giant, jarring jump northwards if you don't want it to.
CHUNG YING They say: "Everything we're doing this year is gluten free. For the meat-eaters we've got salt and chilli chicken wings followed by lemon and honey chicken and (not or) lamb and ginger spring onion. It also comes with egg fried rice. The vegan menu [above] has veggie spring rolls with veg curried parcels, aubergine in black bean, Thai style tofu and noodles with beansprouts. Both menus are just £12 per person. Guests rave about our lamb, and the lemon and honey chicken might have gone out of fashion a bit, but trust me, it's a retro classic that'll have you talking." — Will Wong, co-owner We say: Any restaurant that's simply survived 41 years, let alone been at the centre of their community for that period officially gets "Birmingham Institution" status. Now, fresh off the back of yet more award wins last week, they're behind what, surely, is the best value menu at the entire festival? Twelve pounds, Jeremy? Twelve? That's insane.
OYSTER CLUB They say: "We're bringing back whole lobster for the limited duration of the festival. We do a lobster risotto on our standard menu but not one from the shell. Two diners get a roasted lobster to share and there's loads of fun to be had with it. We've done most of the hard work for you, but it's still a 'get your hands in there' sort of a dish. It'll have you smiling. The fresh tomato and harissa salad is a really colourful side. The marriage of tomato and lobster is a total classic and that harissa will cut through beautifully. Speaking of classics, dessert is apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream. Cooked to order, we serve it in the pan, again for both of you to share." — Rosanna Moseley, head chef We say: At £39.50 a head it's one of the punchier price tags but, frankly, remains an absolute must. The Oyster Club is the answer to the question I get asked most: Can you recommend a really nice restaurant in town that isn't mental money?" What Rosanna is creating there is something special. Put your money where your seafood-loving mouth is. And, outside of the Festival duration, do bear in mind that their non-seafood dishes are anything but an after-thought so your mate who says "Ah don't reeeally loike fiiish" is fresh out of excuses.
A LA MEXICANA They say: "We're doing £15.50 for two courses. You can start with guacamole and and tortilla chips or chilli con carne with tortilla chips and cheese or nachos. Then decide between burrito, tacos or enchilada. Here, the burrito or enchilada tend to be most popular but I'd always suggest going for tacos and ordering one chorizo, one pastor and one carnitas. Patricia — that's my wife — her pastor is incredible. She marinates pork loin in red chillies and spices. She concentrates that flavour right down with pineapple and caramelised onion. It delivers a whole range of flavours the traditional Mexican way. We've just bought in some Mexican wines at £29 a bottle and we have cold margaritas and three kinds of Mexican beer. Or bring your own alcohol and pay £4 per person corkage." — José Galindez, owner We say: Festival or no, you need to visit this place. It's Bearwood's suburban antidote to the paint-by-numbers South American chains of the city centre. Formally T C Hayes electrical it still carries those 70s style recessed modular ceiling lights and is all the more charming for it.
VINOTECA They say: "The duck dish is a standout. Totally free range and really well looked after, our ducks come from Creedy Carver Farm, and are some of the best in the country. The legs are confit in duck fat for around three hours, making them moist and falling off the bone, before being crisped up in the pan. The leg is served with a tangy and zesty tabbouleh, which is packed with citrus flavour to balance the fattiness of the duck. The dish is finished off with lots of Sauce Vierge to bind everything together, creating a deliciously seasonal and summery plate." — Agoston Katona, head chef Vinoteca Birmingham We say: Newbies on the Brum scene with six venues in that there London, Vinoteca are going out of the frying pan (a July 18 launch) into the fire (the innuagural Birmingham Restaurant Festival). At £18 for two courses or £21 for three you'll no doubt want a bottle of vin at Birmingham's newest wine bar to wash it all down. The Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc on the staff favourites menu is worth every penny of the £29 fee and will go down particualrly well if you get a spot in their front terrace area — right now Birmingham's most sought after seats. Top-tip: the sun dips behind the building at about 3pm so if you want sunshiyiiine, maybe consider lunch?
SABAI SABAI They say: "Thai food is all about sharing. They never sit down and just order one dish for themselves, so bring a group and order a load of stuff — we can take up six people per group. A mix of curries, stir fries and noodles is the best way to go and I'd say the roast duck curry and the sizzling beef are must-orders. Thai food, if it's any good, tends to be on the pricier end of the spectrum because you need to make it all fresh and it's super labour-intensive. You can't cut corners and we never would. But the prices during the festival are, hopefully, incredibly affordable. At lunch you're paying £16.95 for two courses, which is about a saving of £10, while for dinner we're charging £21.95 for two courses, which saves you over a fiver." — Torquil Chidwick, co-owner We say: It's a real shame only their City Centre venue is included on the circuit. But at least your decision is made for you! Run by the nicest of couples and at insanely good prices, this is easily one of the standout Festival options. Often think 'sizzling' dishes are just for the theatre of it? Here's proof they're not.
QAVALI They say: "On dessert we're doing a slice of chocolate brownie cake, coated with a layer of chocolate, crumbled pistachio and rose petals — brought to even more life with a scoop of our signature Turkish Delight ice cream. If you prefer, though, our Baklava is a wonderfully layered filo pastry filled with chopped nuts, and sweetened with syrup. Go for pistachio or chocolate fillings." — Deepak Kumar, head chef We say: Qavali is the saviour of Broad Street. There are few, if any, restaurants in Birmingham with such awe-inspiring interiors and such a commitment to live entertainment. I've only been once but the desserts were off the scale. Other menu highlights — all of which feature on the Restaurant Fest options — include the Samsun Pide, Sikandari Falafel and the Darbari Paneer Karahi. Excellent veg options but also they go big on meat for the carnivores. A calming oasis on a chaotic stretch of town.
We’re all getting pretty amped about the Big CG now, right? Quite rightly, the city is milking it for all its worth, creating the region’s biggest ever cultural celebration via the Birmingham 2022 Festival. The sport connection cranks up a notch now, with the festival hosting a series of sports-inspired performances, films and visual arts installations. With ten picks nailing the brief, they range from an interactive show featuring a table tennis-playing robot, to a queer-led performance starring basketballers and percussionists. Here are just a few of the sport x art collabs....
Movement Inspired (July 20 and Aug 5) is screening at The Electric, showing eight short films, directed by Sam Lockyer, which merge together gymnasts and musicians from across the West Midlands. Exploring how gymnastic movements inspire jazz improvisation and composition, each film represents one of the eight apparatus used in artistic gymnastics: floor, vault, high bar, parallel bars, uneven bars, rings, pommel horse and beam. Stuff of PE dreams, all free, so book up.
Stress-free, accessible and chill AF lawn bowls reveals its ferocity in Come Bowl With Me (July 23 to 27), a free, outdoor comedy from acclaimed theatre company, Talking Birds. Across several dates in the most Leamington of Spas before moving to the most Coven of Trys, join the fictional stars as they coach you through the gentle joys and fierce competition of this much-loved game, spiced with palpable tension as players compete in the Strictly Come Bowling arena for the Glitter Bowl Trophy.
Experience an immersive sound and underwater reality experience in an outdoor public art installation at Sandwell Valley Country Park. Fluitō, from Brummie-based immersive artist, Georgia Tucker (July 23 to Aug 8), allows you to step inside two large sculptural cubes, one inside the other, and watch a world within a world that reflects the escapism and meditative experience of swimming, whilst highlighting the incredible prowess of elite swimmers from a unique perspective.
And finally three Brum basketball players, three percussionists and an electronic musician (nope, not the start of a joke) combine their practises on the 3x3 practice court at Smithfield in Amaechi (July 30 and 31). The ensemble, devised by Conservatoire academics, Sean Clancy and Michael Wolters, combines action and music with harmonised quotes from former NBA player, John Amaechi – the first basketball player to come out as gay in the straight sports world. The performance spotlights the difficulties faced by queer people in sport, plus the 35 Commonwealth countries that criminalise homosexuality. Powerful, important stuff.
The Birmingham Art Book, a collection of beautiful, weird and funny art, that showcases our city's obvious and less obvious elegance, launches at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists on Saturday, July 16. It's a book packed with 140 plus pics from some of our most talented doodlers, sketchers, water-painters, graphic designers and far more. Content-wise they basically let the pictures do the talking, so we're firmly in coffee table territory here. And given the book packs very few words, we'll take that as an excuse to stop writing and hand over to the man who wrote the forward and another of our most splendid buggers...
Birmingham, as I'm sure you're aware, is the best city in the world. And the art here is the best in the world too. I'm not biased. This is a fact. I will fight anyone who disagrees with this to the death.
The art here is often really funny. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We have a healthy mix of talent, ambition, cynicism, sarcasm, focus, jokes, skill, patience and plenty of time getting on the lash.
The people of this city avoid, above all else, any sense of pretentiousness. They are genuine people, no nonsense, just getting by. We're not fussed with awards and showing off. But we're proud, quietly, of what and who we are.
Enjoy our art. But don't go on about it too much. We'd hate that!"
Comedian, television presenter and proud Brummie
The Birmingham Art Book is available to pre-order here, or via the devil's own Amazon, here, from £13.94.
INSPECT A GARDEN 🔎
Key to the City posed the question of what happens when you share a small, private garden with an entire city. The answer is, of course, a bald lawn. And maybe some increased security. Lawn woes aside, those with a penchant for exhibitionism and blooms tend to fill theirs with the good stuff, so their gardens are always worth a gander.
Most do it from the relative safety of the pavement, but some… some need a bigger fix. If you’re titillated by the tulips, a perv for the pansies, get yourself to Moseley in Bloom Open Gardens: those bold exhibitionists are offering up access, and some legit garden snooping, raising money for green initiatives and projects.
These are going to be the Grade A of gardens, no doubt, and if you’re into the thrill of the snoop, you can explore 18 of them from 11am to 5pm on Sunday, July 17. Tickets are a tenner (under 12s go free — but bear in mind they probably don't care as much as you do) and you can legally and consensually wander into participants’ gardens, admire the scenery, and enjoy their music, tea, cake and prosecco along the way (plus a plant sale to bosh out your own version for next time). No long lenses allowed, you weirdos. More
Early Bird Tickets are now on sale for The English Whisky Festival, heading to the Custard Factory in November. Your £35 fee gets you a free tasting glass and samples of over a hundred whiskies and spirits from over 25 English distilleries. You don't have to try them all, mind. Might be a good gift idea? Get 10% off with code CHOOSE10 at the Eventbrite purchase stage. "Enter promo code" is written in blue, if you miss it. —
An outdoor seafood shack in Moseley, this Saturday? Absolutely! —
Local poet, Brendan O'Neill, has launched an Etsy shop with prints of some of his popular poems. See —
The Button Factory, in the JQ, is hosting an ABBA terrace party on July 30. More —
Make love while a tiger watches, for just £790
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Claire Hawkins
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