It’s been a while since I did an “Out and About in Brum” piece, after doing this regularly for about a year. One of the reasons being, I’m a pretty shit food blogger in a city where we have a myriad of food bloggers who I trust to try a menu when a place is still brand new and shiny and heaving with people, and who will tell me who’s hot and who’s not. Plus I don’t get more descriptive of food than “it was meh” or “it was nice”. Jay Rayner I am not.
But one of the things I do want to continue to shout about is the fantasticness that continues to happen in Digbeth. For those that that aren’t familiar with Birmingham, or who think Brum is all Bull Ring and Broad Street, Digbeth is a small area just south of the city centre, straddling the B4100. Whilst the area has always been known for its Irish contingent (and indeed, is the centre of the city’s annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations) and for its heavily industrialised areas, these days it’s seeing a redevelopment which is attracting more locals to the area, and also proving popular with tourists looking for something a little different. It’s retaining it’s grittiness, in the form of street art, underground clubs and automotive repair workshops, but there’s also cute Instagrammable cafes, specialist beer shops, a cupcakery, a Northern Soul nightclub, a cinema showing up-to-date movies and classics, a zero waste supermarket, regular craft markets, a number of outdoor music and events venues, a strictly adult indoor crazy golf and Brum’s best street food experience, Digbeth Dining Club (more about that later).
One of the summer’s most exciting openings in Digbeth has been Baked in Brick – the former purveyors of street food cooked from a converted Mini now have a permanent home on Gibb Street, part of the Custard Factory complex. It’s a pizzeria with a twist, serving artisanal pizza, salads and charcuterie boards, accompanied by beers from local boys Purity. Mr Fletche and I sensibly shared a (giant) house salad and the award-winning beef shin ragu and wild mushroom calzone (with Colston Bassett dip). This calzone absolutely deserves its accolade as Best Street Food Dish at the British & European Street Food Awards in 2016 – tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat in a delicious rich sauce with a flavoursome dough exterior. The menu is small, but all of the dishes are a cut above the norm, and the lunchtime offerings rotate. I look forward to returning soon.
The reason for our Baked in Brick visit was to soak up the inevitable alcohol overload which would follow at the inaugural Lock & Key Beer Con, held at The Bond on Fazeley Street – another fab events space which has been home to the Seasonal Markets and to two Independent Birmingham festivals. I was lucky to be invited along to this event as a guest – and Mr Fletche was never going to turn down accompanying me to this one. It’s a cashless event, with customer exchanging for tokens, which could then be exchanged for a beer in our free 2/3 pint glass. There was a serious amount of beer on offer, with passionate and enthusiastic bartenders more than willing to talk about their wares. I was particularly taken with The Pint Shop, opening soon here in Brum – I not only had a great tropical beer from them but also came away with a Meat Bread Beer tote bag and pin badges. I wish I could remember what I drank that night, but time and the number of beers consumed on that sunny July evening has kinda erased my memory. There was definitely something from Green Duck, Neon Raptor, Thornbridge and Black Iris involved though. This is a fab event with the opportunity to attend tastings and classes as well as just drink beer, and I hope this comes back to The Bond again next summer.
A couple of week’s later and we’re hopping back on the No 4 to Digbeth. Formerly this would be the 37 but National Express West Midlands has decided to confuse us with a change of bus number. This time we’re off to a 6 year old’s birthday party. This is no ordinary 6 year old though, this is Digbeth Dining Club’s 6th birthday, and they are taking on London’s KERB in an epic street food battle. Digbeth Arena is a great venue for this event, and we arrive to an assault of tastes, smells and visually enticing dishes, whilst a DJ spins tunes from a boxing ring.
In the name of fairness, Mr Fletche and I agree to one dish from Team BHX and one dish from Team LDN each, and it must be a new trader to us. After a pint of Purity of course. Whilst I’m still choosing my BHX option, Mr Fletche turns up with a giant portion of salt and pepper wings and fries from Dim Sum Su. It would be cruel to force him to eat this alone so we share. Round One automatically goes to Digbeth Dining Club. Time for our Team LDN choices. I look lovingly at Only Jerkin’ but I’ve already sampled their fab nuggets when they’ve guested at DDC previously. So instead I go for the beef randang from Makatcha. This is a pretty stunning dish, if a little spicy for Mr Fletche who goes off in search of his LDN option and another beer. He comes back with a Pork Bao from Smokin’ Lotus, which he’s pretty pleased with and is quickly devoured whilst I’m still making my way through my dish. KERB are just edging it at this point. Except they didn’t think to bring any dessert options. Which leaves my second round as a choice between the Bournville Waffle Company and Nuneaton’s Urban Cheesecake. The waffle wins out this time around. Piled with Caramac and chocolate buttons and caramel sauce, it gives the winning vote to Team BHX. It’s only right for the birthday boys to win – and I look forward to visiting London for the rematch!
Finally, it’s hard to mention Digbeth without mentioning the street art. Ian Bush of Walk Run Cycle has recently created a self-guided walking tour around the street art of Digbeth and it’s well worth following for a peek at some of the Midlands and UK’s best graffiti artists. Mr Fletche has also recently been spending some time around the area – and some of his shots are below:
Hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of a “Summer in Digbeth” – if you’re in Birmingham, come and visit!