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How to eat like a local in Birmingham

From bar snacks to Michelin stars, Birmingham is as much about innovation as tradition when it comes to top local grub

By James Brennan |
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Original Patty Men, 2018
Photograph: Jack Spicer Adams

Think Birmingham, think balti? We certainly do. The Balti Triangle is literally on the map. However, there’s so much more to the city’s culinary cachet than just curry houses and desi pubs. There are Michelin stars dotted all over the place, the coffee scene’s booming, and it’s difficult to know where to even start with brunch in Birmingham. So here are the absolute best Brummie eating and drinking experiences. Some go back centuries, some are cutting-edge and contemporary – but everything is moreish. From fine dining to street food, this is how to eat like a Birmingham local.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Birmingham

How to eat like a local in Birmingham

pearce's shellfish, cheap eats
Sal Maxuda

Cockles and whelks… at Pearce’s Shellfish

Any seafood snack that’s travelled this far inland deserves to be ceremonially splashed with watered-down vinegar and savoured while standing at attention. Go to the raw bar at Pearce’s in the Bullring and have the cockles, cocker.

The Birmingham Indoor Market, 104 Edgbaston St, B5 4RQ. New St rail.

Cadbury World
Photograph: Shutterstock

Cadbury’s chocolate… at Cadbury World

Along with HP Sauce and Bird’s Custard, Cadbury’s chocolate was born and bred here. Today it’s a global brand, but you can still gorge yourself yampy on Creme Eggs and Wispas at Cadbury World in Bournville. For extra Brummie points, dunk a finger of Fudge in a cup of Typhoo tea, another iconic local brand.

Linden Rd, B30 1JR. Bournville rail.

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Original Patty Men, 2018
Photograph: Jack Spicer Adams

A proper Brum burger… at Original Patty Men

Not since Cliff Richard’s ill-advised fast-food venture in the 1970s film ‘Take Me High’ has Birmingham got so excited about a burger. But this time it’s justified. These self-styled “patty pimps” have graduated from the streets to railway-arch premises in Digbeth to deliver burgers so utterly depraved they could convert Cliffy to the Church of Satan.

9 Shaw’s Passage, B5 5JG. Moor St rail.

Purecraft
Photograph: John Hipkiss Photography

Pork scratchings… at Purecraft Bar & Kitchen

Salty, fatty and hard as a house brick, pork scratchings are the low-carb pub snack of Zeus himself, but only if they were made in an industrial unit with a West Midlands postcode. Do not discard the hairy ones. Real Brummies floss their teeth with those. But if you must go gourmet, try the homemade scratchings at Purecraft Bar.

30 Waterloo St, B2 5TJ. New St rail.

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Purnell's
Photograph: Courtesy TripAdvisor

Brummie tapas… at Purnell’s

Straight outta Chelmsley Wood, ‘Yummie Brummie’ Glynn Purnell is the real deal. His Michelin-starred menus are crammed with tongue-in-cheek working-class references, from cheese and pineapple on sticks to haddock and eggs with cornflakes and curry oil. Every true Brummie should posh it up there at least once. 

11 Newhall St, B3 3NY. Snow Hill rail.

The Red Lion Hockley
Elliott Brown

Faggots… at The Red Lion

Easy now. These savoury balls of pork offal, onions, breadcrumbs and seasoning were invented in Victorian Birmingham as fast food for the masses. Slathered in onion gravy and accompanied with mushy peas and hand-cut chips, the braised Lashfords faggots at The Red Lion are a world apart from any frozen crap you could buy.

95 Warstone Lane, B18 6NG. Jewellery Quarter rail.

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Street food… at Digbeth Dining Club

The award-winning DDC smashes eating your dinner standing up while sauce drips down your front. There’s a rotating bill of vendors and DJs, but some of its residents come highly recommended: try out Thai street food specialists Buddha Belly and the wood-fired barbecue from Baked in Brick.

Lower Trinity St, B9 4AG. Bordesley rail.

gunmakers arms pub
Geograph: Chris Whippet

A pint of mild… at the Gunmakers’ Arms

Mild was the preferred lunchtime refreshment of parched Brummie factory workers during the Industrial Revolution. Darker than chimney smoke but much easier on the palate, thanks to its moderate alcohol content you’ll still be able to operate a turret lathe or chobble on a bag of pork scratchings without losing your fingertips. Have a pint of Birmingham Mild by Two Towers Brewery at the Gunmakers’ Arms. 

29 Shadwell St, B4 6HG. Snow Hill rail.

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Balti… at Al Frash

Channelling our spirit of invention, the world-conquering balti was created by Kashmiri migrants in Sparkbrook in the 1970s. The ultimate convenience curry, it’s cooked quickly in a thin steel bowl (a balti) and scooped up with naan bread, preferably one the size of a boardroom table (non-Brummies may use cutlery, but will be sniggered at). Fill your boots at Balti Triangle legends Al Frash. 

186 Ladypool Rd, B12 8JS. Small Heath rail.

And now how to drink like one...

Bars and pubs

The 16 best pubs in Birmingham

Whether it’s a cheeky half you’re after, some delicious pub grub or a lazy afternoon sipping classic ales, drinking at one of the best pubs in Birmingham is a quintessential Brummie experience. These are the city’s best boozers of all.

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