Shuttle reporter Jennifer Meierhans hopped on the train to get a taste of Birmingham’s first Food Festival, a 10 day gastronomic celebration, set to descend on the city from October 14 to 23.
Visitors are expected to flock from all over the country to get a flavour of more than 100 food-filled events making a stir in the city. Located at the heart of the action is the iconic Rotunda.
The best views of the city are reserved for guests at the Staying Cool serviced apartments which twirl around the top three floors. The quirky bijou living spaces are perfect for food festival-goers as every last detail has been thought of to allow visitors to do their own thing.
The kitchen even comes equipt with scales, chefs knifes and balsamic vinegar – perfect for foodies who can’t wait to try out new recipes they learn during the event. The floor to ceiling glass wall captures the hustle and bustle of the city, while guests have everything they need to do as little or as much as they like.
In the Jewellery Quarter, a hidden gem lies within the depths of an imposing underground Victorian brick building called The Vaults. Sultry lighting, eclectic artworks and dramatic floral centre pieces blend with exposed brickwork and wooden floors to create a distinctive look.
After enjoying one of the extensive range of cocktails in the bar, I sampled a seven course taster menu seated in an intimate alcove with views of the kitchen. Highlights included glossy pink ribbons of beetroot tagliatelli bound with pesto, blue cheese and nuts, the moreish vanilla cream pre-dessert and the cheddar cheesecake and whiskey jelly.
The food is high end but my waiter Adam was warm and engaging and his personal service heightened the sense of fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. The Vaults will be hosting a five course meal with champagne tasting event on October 19 as part of the festival.
Big Brum Buz Tours unlocked a whole different side to the city and leafy Edgbaston. I saw the first police station in Britain to use finger print evidence to convict criminals. I learnt about the canal network that allowed the city to be built on industry. I saw stars on the walk of fame outside the Hyatt hotel, with celebrities who have connections with Birmingham such as Noddy Holder, Ozzy Osbourne and Jasper Carrot.
The tour touches upon aspects of history as well as contemporary developments so there is something to interest everyone. The buses are running special themed tours during the food festival, including a dining experience in the Balti Triangle, and real ale trail.
Over at the Ikon Gallery the white walls and minimalist style do not at first glance seem the natural home for a wide range of authentic Spanish tapas. But the cool open space of Café Ikon proves popular with groups of friends meeting for a catch up over a selection of tempting mix and match dishes.
I shared chicken and chorizo from the daily specials board, white asparagus with an almond and paprika paste, red peppers stuffed with rice, fried calamari and homemade meatballs in tomato sauce. Each was hot and flavoursome and perfectly proportioned to suit both a quick catch up and lingering lunch. Café Ikon will be offering a four- course food fest menu and welcome cocktail.
The Wine Tasting Company offers comprehensive courses which engage both complete beginners and seasoned wine buffs. I, being in the beginner category, found the introduction to the wine making process extremely interesting and enjoyed learning about varieties of grape and what gives each wine its flavour.
Ian Harvey talked the group through the wines in an informal manner, inviting discussion and encouraging us to identify tastes. The most valuable part of the session for me was learning about how to match wine with food. I had not thought about matching a dessert wine with stilton and even surprised myself when I detected a hint of honeysuckle in one of the samples.
It was really good fun and set aside any preconceptions that wine tasting has to be technical and pretentious. During the food festival the company will be running various themed tasting sessions.
Loves is a chic and serene restaurant where you can get lost in unique and imaginative dishes. Clare Love and her dedicated front of house team give a personal and attentive service, introducing each course in detail. The menu is striking and showcases award-winning chef Steve Love’s flair and originality.
Highlights of the seven course taster menu included banana and lime sorbet with pork scratchings, Cornish plaice fillet, parsnip and onion bhaji with aromatic tomatoes and broccoli and Eadburgha cheese choux bun with poached red wine cherries and pear sorbet.
At Loves I experienced exquisite cuisine in the quiet warmth of a relaxed ambience. Steve will be taking part in an exclusive dinner held at St Martins Church in the Bullring on October 13 where seven of Birminghams best chefs will present a seven course tasting menu.
Away 2 canal boat trips bring another dimension to the food festival. The guided tour offers an entirely new perspective of the city while floating along at a leisurely pace. Forgotten industrial heritage is brought back to life alongside the ever-changing commercial and social landscape. The route ventures out into idyllic rural areas just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of town.
It is a relaxing and altogether unusual way to take in the sights of the city while enjoying delicious food cooked on board. Dishes include breast of duck with ginger sauce, rack of lamb and gnocchi Italienne and can be accompanied by drinks from the fully licensed bar. During the event Away 2 Dine will run lunch boats and evening dinner cruises.
In the prestigious Mailbox sits The Oriental- the only restaurant in the city to serve Malaysian cuisine. The menu combines inspirations from Thailand and China giving traditional dishes a contemporary twist. I dined at lunch time when I was impressed to see an extensive a la carte menu alongside a two course option with plenty of choice.
I chose aromatic duck in pancakes to start and two little pre-rolled delicacies arrived. For my main I went for Singapore noodles which came with prawns and chicken with a light curry sensation. It was flavoursome and generously portioned and extremely good value for money considering the high quality and luxurious surroundings. The Oriental will be putting on special offers during the festival.
The Jam House was packed on Saturday night and it was easy to see why. This is where real music lovers come to have a good time. The Jazz themed bar, restaurant and club was buzzing with groups of friends all dancing to the fantastic live music on stage.
I saw Detroit Soul, a male and female duo of with amazing voices belting out classics like Rescue Me. In between sets, the dj played floor fillers such as 9 to 5 and Summer of 69 which got everyone in the mood to party. Diners enjoyed international cuisine on a balcony overlooking the main stage and there are two busy bars.
The Georgian building has been decorated in a funky way with a large angelic feature lit up on one wall. The Jam House will host several Food Fest fringe events.
Birmingham Food Festival is being sponsored by London Midland which runs trains from Kidderminster to Birmingham every 20 minutes which will get foodies to a slice of the action in less than 45 minutes.
For details of the full programme of events visit birminghamfoodfest.com