East meets zest … at the Minmin Noodle Bar
Birmingham’s diverse range of cuisines can be savoured without spending big bucks. Here – updating his 2009 guide to the city – Tony Naylor picks 10 inspirational indies where you can eat well for under £10 a head.
Minmin Noodle Bar
Be warned, when this colourful, modish noodle bar describes a dish as hot and spicy, it means it. This is not Wagamama. My ramen, its stock red and glossy with chilli oil, was a sinus-clearer with serious depth of flavour. I was left coughing and spluttering over the first mouthfuls like an amateur. Luckily, this was takeaway, so I didn’t have to suffer stifled laughter from the next table. Composure regained, I delved into a small bucket of ingredients: prawns, fatty pork nuggets, vegetables, seaweed, tofu, all jostling for space in that soul-stirring broth. Imported from Hong Kong, the somewhat gluey noodles were the only drawback. Minmin’s menu roves across east Asia, taking in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes, several of which (spicy tripe, pig’s ear in chilli oil), throw down the gastronomic gauntlet.
• Mains from £6.50. Unit 4, Latitude Building, Bromsgrove Street, 0121 622 5955, facebook.com/MinMinNoodle. Open Tues-Sun midday-10.30pm
Rather hidden away in the drab Martineau Place shopping centre, La Vera merits higher visibility. Prices at this pizzeria are super-keen – my margherita cost £4.90 – but it is a quality operation, which makes good use of its hulking, wood-fired pizza oven. The base on my sample pie was nicely charred, pliable and authentically paper-thin at its centre. The fresh, easily digested dough had a good, just-baked flavour and the mozzarella and pulped tomatoes were sweet and vibrant. Straight from the oven, it was a little sloppy, those vigorously blitzed toms and the cheese had combined to form a roiling molten sea, but that was a minor matter. Purists may scoff at aspects of La Vera (look, just don’t order the Hawaiian, OK?) and fussier travellers may wrinkle their noses at the unlovely location, but if you want great, affordable pizza, this is the place to come.
• Pizzas £4.90-£7.50. 16 Martineau Place, 0121 233 1988, no website. Open Mon-Sat 11am-8.30pm, Sun 11am-7.30pm
Anderson & Hill
“Deli sandwich” is one the most abused phrases in the English language (possibly). It promises XXL, New York-style portion control and foot-long fresh breads piled high with first-rate meats and cheeses. Yet often the reality is distinctly English and weedy. Praise be then for Anderson & Hill, a compact delicatessen which, without making a song and dance about it, is knocking-out seriously heavyweight sandwiches. You know how a ciabatta sandwich is normally half the ciabatta “loaf”? Well, at Anderson & Hill you get the full thing, stuffed. On my New Yorker there was sliced-to-order, extra-peppery pastrami, complex Neapolitan salami, a dense thicket of pickles and a poky French mustard. Dislocating your jaw eating one of these beasts is a distinct possibility. Anderson & Hill also does soup, upmarket salad boxes and serviceable scotch eggs but those sandwiches are the stars. Grab a flat white from the nearby Six Eight Kafé on Temple Row, too, and for a combined £6 you have a tasty lunch that will set you up for long into the evening.
• Sandwiches from £3.15. 7 Great Western Arcade, Colmore Row, 0121 236 2829, andersonandhill.co.uk. Open Mon-Wed and Sat 10am-6pm, Thurs-Fri 10am-7pm
Nick and Lap-Fai, who run the Birmingham food blog Smoke & Umami, are obsessed with a dish seemingly peculiar to the city’s Chinatown: the triple roast. Everywhere does its own version of Cantonese pork belly, duck and char siu pork over rice (explosive chilli oil, optional), but they pointed me to Peach Garden as the current pacesetter – and I can see why. While its location means it’s tucked away down Bath Passage, the window display of freshly roasted meats is enticing and the welcome is warm. The salt and pepper pork is beautiful, its crackling like a sensational savoury crumble. Sweet and spicy, the pink-tinged char siu is almost like eating little porky toffees. This is very much no-frills dining. The meats are roughly chopped over the rice and squeamish souls may balk at all that skin, fat and occasional bones. But the flavours are big and so are the portions. Dig in.
• Triple roast £7.20, other dishes from around £5.50. Bath Passage, off Ladywell Walk, 0121 666 7502, no website. Open daily 11am-11pm
40 23 Mediterranean Food
A stone’s throw from New Street, Brum’s main railway station, this tiny takeaway cafe specialises in north-eastern Mediterranean food (the 40 and 23 are map coordinates), which, broadly speaking, means it serves Greek dishes that have absorbed influences from across the Black Sea and beyond. The short menu’s main focus is on grilled meats and vegetables served as salad platters or wrapped in bouncingly fresh pitta breads. The keftedes lamb meatballs were beautifully charred, juicy as hell and thick with herbs and garlic. Served as a kebab with yoghurt sauce, lettuce and plenty of very thinly sliced fried potato, it made for a pretty sensational mouthful. As well as the grills, 40 23 also produces great sweet and savoury pastries (try the feta and spinach filled filo kihi), and daily specials such as the baked pasta dish, pastitsio, and stuffed gemista peppers and tomatoes.
• Wraps and platters from £3. 34 Stephenson Street, 0121 643 5297, 4023.co.uk. Open Mon-Thurs and Sun midday-8pm, Fri-Sat midday-10pm
Peel & Stone
A short walk from the city centre, the Jewellery Quarter is a handsome museum piece of Victorian workshops and factories, now largely colonised by the creative industries. That rebirth has encouraged a growth in good places to eat locally. Peel & Stone is a highlight. It is in a tiny unit beneath a railway bridge, and the bakery specialises in serious sandwiches (baba ganoush and roasted peppers; meatloaf and Swiss cheese), served on its own slow-fermented breads. It also serves salads, soups, frittata and various hot specials. Its pulled pork was a great thick tangle of meat, the pork all hot, treacly and supremely savoury thanks to its various rubs, marinades and sauces. The cakes are not to be missed either. Its caramel bread pudding was every bit as good as that sounds. Peel & Stone also runs a weekend brunch club at its sister business, the Church (22 Great Hampton Street)
• Lunches £3-£4.50. Arch 33, Water Street, 0121 572 1713, peelandstone.co.uk. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm, Sat 10am-2pm
Café Opus at IKON
Opus is one of Birmingham’s best mid-market restaurants and its team, led by chef David Colcombe, also runs the bright and airy cafe at the IKON gallery. On the menu, all-day breakfasts rub shoulders with interesting salads: for instance, roasted sweet potato and caramelised peach with a maple thyme dressing; alongside slick, populist dishes such as artichoke linguine; cod with spiced orzo pasta, wilted spinach and lemon tahini yoghurt; or beer-braised beef with bacon, peas and creamed potatoes. The kitchen is all about the scratch-cooking of predominantly British ingredients, and my soundly executed fish cake and side salad was lifted by a good, spiky homemade tartar sauce. The two-course £9.95 menu looks like a sensible investment, unlike some of the rather pricy cakes.
• Breakfasts £5-£8.95, mains £6.95-£9.95. 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, 0121 248 3226, cafeopus.co.uk. Open Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Digbeth Dining Club, and Habaneros
Every Friday (and possibly every Saturday soon, too), Digbeth Dining Club (DDC) gathers together a small selection of the best street food traders from Birmingham and beyond. This is the place to catch such local heroes as the Original Patty Men, Andy’s Low ‘N’ Slow barbecue or Bare Bones Pizza, and it is well worth the 10-minute walk down to Digbeth, Birmingham’s nightlife and cultural quarter. DDC is usually based at the railway arch bar, Spot*light (free entry, dishes £3-£8, digbethdiningclub.co.uk), but it is holding two big, all-out street parties on Good Friday and 1 May.
Birmingham is still waiting for this activity to resonate in the city centre, in terms of its street food cognoscenti opening permanent premises or taking regular pitches, but one outfit which does serve on the street on a daily basis (Mon-Fri) are the burrito-slingers, Habaneros. Habaneros uses high-quality local meats on its burritos, free-range Saddleback pigs in this case, and my pulled pork was long on flavour. The novel addition of a chipotle slaw and a little smoky barbecue sauce worked surprisingly well, too. Habaneros backs on to Birmingham’s dinky, boutique cathedral, the grounds of which offer a nice place to sit and eat on a sunny day – pigeons notwithstanding.
• Habaneros: burritos from £4.50. Temple Row, 07501 045842, habvan.com. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm
Ginger’s Bar at Purnell’s Bistro
It is not often you get to try a Michelin star chef’s food for less than a tenner but in the cocktail bar at Glynn Purnell’s swanky diffusion bistro, ardent foodies can enjoy a bavette steak, weekly pies, a gourmet hotdog, fish and chips, sandwiches and various snack items like smoked haddock scotch egg coated in a cornflake crumb. It was not flawless (my burger needed more seasoning, for instance), but generally the detail was of a piece with the kitchen’s pedigree. Ordered as a side, chips were earthy, skin-on numbers and arrived with an expertly modulated garlic mayo, as well as fantastic whipped butter and slices of homemade pumpkin seed bread. If you are eating here for £10 a head, you may prefer to stick to tap water to maximise the bang for your buck, particularly as the beer choice is so mundane.
• Sandwiches and meals £5-£9.95. 11 Newhall Street, 0121 200 1588, purnellsbistro-gingers.com. Ginger’s Bar open Mon-Thurs midday-11pm, Fri-Sat midday-till late, Sun midday-5pm for lunch
You could easily walk past this Turkish kebab house without a glance. But beyond its menu of pizzas, burgers and chicken nuggets, you will find an unusually spruce space, which, via its authentic charcoal grill, homemade breads and more unusual dishes (lambs’ liver kebabs; marinated lamb chops), is bringing some next-level grill action to shabby Smallbrook Queensway. Rod Roj’s lahmacun, a huge flatbread topped with seasoned ground lamb and fresh tomato, is creditable – a steal, in fact, for £2.49 – while a sample Adana kebab was outstanding. There is something about lamb – expertly minced with herbs and chillies then placed on smoking coals – that produces food of a primeval majesty. It speaks to your very marrow. The “extras” displayed an equally persuasive finesse: chilli sauce was a freshly blitzed mix that delivered a smooth, slow-burning heat: the side salad-y bits were interesting, particularly the tart red cabbage; and it came with good fresh bread and perfectly cooked rice.
• Kebab meals from £4.49. 25-27 Smallbrook Queensway, 0121 633 0999, rodroj.co.uk. Open Mon-Fri 10am-9pm
Train travel between Manchester and Birmingham was provided by CrossCountry Trains