We have never had it so good! A round-up of the best dining in the Midlands and Shropshire in 2017
As the countdown starts to the biggest night of the year, we’d be forgiven for thinking ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’.
For our region is decorated with more Michelin stars than any other UK region outside London.
Birmingham plus Shropshire and Mid-Wales are gourmetville, the place to eat well, the region in which to see and be seen.
Any round-up of regional restaurants must include the brilliant French-Welsh cuisine of star holder Stephane Borie, of The Checkers, at Montgomery, in Mid-Wales. The protégé of Michel Roux put his beautiful, minimalist restaurant on the market in autumn – so beat a path to his door now, while there’s still time.
The Green Café, in Ludlow, holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand, denoting great quality at low prices. We’ve written about the beautiful waterside venue frequently and can’t praise it highly enough. The concise lunch menu offers unfussy daily dishes which showcase British ingredients in simple, flavoursome combinations. If you’ve not already been, then go.
And then there’s Birmingham. The Second City has four Michelin restaurants and a couple more within an hour’s driving distance. Adam’s offers intricate, innovative and attractively presented, relying on top quality seasonal ingredients.
Purnell’s is a well-regarded restaurant with a passionate owner and a keen local following : guests are encouraged to relax and enjoy their time here. Cooking is modern and refined while service is smooth and friendly. When he’s not busy at the pass, Glynn can be found curating menus at Harvey Nichols in The Mailbox, running Purnell’s Bistro and popping up on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen or Channel 4 – though on his rare days off he also visits Birmingham pubs where he buys locals a free round.
Simpsons has undergone a transformation under owner Andreas Antona and executive chef director Luke Tipping.
Michelin says: “Service is formal and efficient. Classically based menus showcase excellent quality produce and display subtle contemporary twists; flavours are distinct and combinations are carefully judged. The spacious bedrooms have French country styling.”
Carters of Moseley completes Birmingham’s Michelin contingent, offering well-balanced and intense flavours in a lovely neighbourhood setting.
Meanwhile, The Wilderness is sure to be in contention for a star; its senior chef de partie, Louisa Ellis, was the only female finalist in MasterChef the Professionals.
Michelin stars aren’t the only that illuminate the region’s dining rooms and restaurants. Such celebrity chefs as Marco Pierre White and Tom Aikens also have restaurants locally – buying into the idea that the West Midlands is best. And Indian super chef Atul Kochhar will join the fold next year when NRI opens at The Mailbox.
Tom and MPW are both regular visitors to the Second City, overseeing food that provides guests with a great night out. British favourites, comfort food classics and seasonal specials are served in a relaxed and informal setting at Tom’s Kitchen, while those visiting The Cube for one of Marco’s prize steaks might find themselves bumping into the great man himself.
Don’t, however, think of the GastroLands as being an area for the elite. They avowedly are not. Great food at affordable prices is available in most regions. And that trend for affordability has been a key feature of 2017.
The region is awash with chains serving popular classics from cottage pie and fish and chips to spaghetti Bolognese and curry with rice. These days, however, chains have got a little smarter. So companies such as Gaucho, Gusto and Lounge all have the look, style and feel of an independent – while offering menus that can be found across their not inconsiderable empires. Gaucho is arguably the best, offering exemplary Argentine-inspired food, steak and fine wine from the Pampas of Argentina.
Globally-inspired flavours have become an increasing feature of eating out in the West Midlands. While once, the choice was Indian or Chinese, these days patrons can select from around 30 different cuisines. Specialist restaurants serve food from Arghanistan, Brazil, Jamaica and the Carribbean, Ethiopia, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, the Middle East, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Syria, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Spain, the USA and Vietnam, among others.
Those flavours are served at bespoke restaurants – often, offering absurdly good value and remarkably authentic flavours – though there’s been a continued move towards street food, where people can graze as they walk. The Digbeth Dining Club is the region’s original street food event but others have popped-up across the region. Gourmet toasties, Original Patty Man burgers and Esmie Caribbean and Seafood are the most memorable stands.
Pop-ups are another welcome trend that have gathered momentum during a deliciously indulgent 2017. These days, it’s entirely possible not just to book a table for dinner – but to book a chef to come to your house so that he or she can cook it for you. Chefs are increasingly keen to take advantage of such opportunities, working as freelance cooks-for-hire. And there are remarkable experiences to be had for those smart enough or savvy enough to ask the right people at the right time.
And yet at the heart of the region’s dining scene are our much-loved independents. From those that have two or three AA rosettes from Ludlow to Lichfield and from those that smash out a curry for a couple of quid, the lifeblood of food in the Black Country, Staffordshire, Birmingham, Shropshire and Mid-Wales are those who run their own businesses and offer stand-out flavours. The number of cooks who are genuinely in it for the love of it remains a source of pride.
The best chefs, of course, are the ones who don’t seek the glory. Or, more accurately, they’re the ones who genuflect towards the region’s finest producers. Because sourcing great produce is the making of the best restaurants. We’re fortunate in the West Midlands, therefore, that there’s an abundance of great farmers, brilliant artisan producers and small, independent companies that provide exquisite produce for local cooks. Hell, one company not far from Bridgnorth even makes bespoke local cooking pans – which are so good that even Nigella Lawson uses them.
Before we bring the curtain down on 2017, it’s worth paying an all-too-brief tribute to the men and women who work front of house in our region’s restaurants. While standards of food have gone up during an exciting and creative year, so have standards of service. Waiting staff, restaurant managers and others realise how important their roles are – that they can literally make or break a dinner – and most have stepped up to the plate.
As a tasty year comes to an end we can look forward to a vintage 2018. The region’s food scene is in robust health. A satisfying New Year is in prospect. Tuck in.
Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi: Group's line-up changes may never have happened had it not been for substance abuse