Food & drink

A foodie’s day out in Digbeth

From the former home of Birds Instant custard, we take a gastronomic tour round this Birmingham suburb.
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The ancient borough of Digbeth is only a stone’s throw from the centre of Birmingham and if you came here 25 years ago, you’d have probably found more stones than people. Digbeth’s illustrious past as one of the most important manufacturing hubs in the country brought with it the familiar tale of brutal post-war urban decline. In the early 1990s many of its Victorian-industrial buildings were earmarked for demolition. Fortunately, there were some who preferred not to see this happen, like father and son duo Bennie and Lucan Gray. They bought and saved the enormous 60,000 square meter Custard Factory complex, the former home of Birds instant custard. Extensively and impressively refurbished, today it houses the largest creative and digital hub outside London. Hundreds of independent artists, designers, musicians and shops, as well as household names like the BBC and ASOS, call this place home. And, as is usually the case, this bustling creativity means lots of good things to eat and drink, which makes the area around the Custard Factory the perfect jumping-off point for a foodie’s day exploring Digbeth.
 

10:00AM - Fazely Studios

Across the road from the Custard Factory, a short stroll from Birmingham Moor Street station, sits Fazely Studios – the sister project to the Custard Factory, housed in a magnificent old Unitarian school and chapel. The studios are home to the BBC’s new Guerrilla Unit for digital innovation, as well as many other thriving creative businesses, but it’s the café we’ve come for – one of the best spots for breakfast in the city. The free-range Full English is a top tip but we’ve got a lot of eating to get through so perfectly poached eggs on toast and a cup of English Breakfast feels more appropriate. The main café is cosy and laid out in American-diner style with booths lining the walls. But, with the sun shining, we sit out in the big open atrium, part of the old chapel. It’s light, bright and decorated with plants and sculptures, opening out to a sun-lit courtyard. Easy to see why this is a popular wedding venue. The eggs arrive, and are, as promised, poached exactly right with the thinnest layer of white giving way to a generous bright yellow yolk.

11:00AM - Cranked Cycle Café

A cracking coffee stop-off while we have a nose around the brilliant Gibb Street shops. Situated in the Zellig building, one of the more recent parts of the Custard Factory to be developed, the space is an eclectic mix of bike-repair shop and café. They sell some beautiful looking bike accessories if that’s your thing, but we’re here for the brew, a punchy house-blend that’s rotated every couple of weeks from different British coffee roasters. Breakfast had hardly even finished so whether or not we had a slice of the light and fragrant cardamom, pistachio and white chocolate cake will have to remain a mystery.

12:00PM - Clink Beer

The clock has only just ticked over the midday point but to quote the great Jimmy Buffet: “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” Time to check out one of Gibb Street’s most popular spots: Clink Beer. Clink is equal parts bottle shop, bar and tasting room where they hold regular events with brewers from across the UK’s exploding craft beer scene. They stock over 200 beers in bottles from all over the world and sell a broad range of draught both in the shop and in growlers, those big plastic containers you can take away that allow you to drink fresh beer at home. We chat with Richard the manager who recommends Myrcia, a new session IPA from Buxton Brewery on the draught taps. It’s hazy, juicy and dangerously drinkable, in spite of its 4.0%. His other tip in a bottle is a light and crisp pale ale from Swedish brewers Dugges, which perfectly sits at the other end of the taste spectrum. We buy a couple more interesting bottles to take home and clink off on our way.

clink beer shop birmingham

13:30PM - Warehouse Café

Time for lunch already, and it’s a mere few minutes to the Warehouse Café. This is a pioneering vegetarian restaurant that has been here for over 30 years, well before the area started to be redeveloped. Originally it began life as a café for Friends of The Earth staff, who still have offices close by. Now it’s one of Birmingham’s most popular restaurants, and it doesn’t take long to find out why. Smiling waiting staff sit us down at a table in the cosy, brick-lined attic of the warehouse space. Then arrives a beautiful array of seasonal vegetable dishes that draw culinary influence from the world over. A colourful Mediterranean meze plate bursts with artichokes, black olive tapenade, bread and olive oil. Then the star of the show and today’s special: light and fluffy broad bean falafels with a tart bite of rhubarb salad and a creamy, smoky hit of baba ganoush. It’s beautifully presented with just a hint of pomegranate molasses drizzled over the top. We could eat it all again, but resist.

16:30PM - Pirlo’s Dessert Lounge

Just as well we did. Pirlo’s is a surprise; we spend an hour or so checking out Digbeth’s catalogue of incredible street art, finishing with a surreal and gigantic cat-meets-sea monster across the whole height of a building on Coventry Street. Then, inside the building we stumble upon Pirlo’s, home of all things sweet. Done up like an American diner, all booths and neon, there’s a big gleaming counter stretching out when you walk in covered in cakes and gelato. Suddenly it feels like we’ve been transported to Las Vegas and, in the spirit, we order the biggest, most over-the-top ice cream sundae on the menu – “The Orio” – bursting with three kinds of ice cream, cream, chocolate sauce and topped with Oreo cookies. I’m ashamed to say we couldn’t finish it, but it was seriously good.

19:00PM - Original Patty Men

A quick break to recover from the ice cream overload and we’re back in the mix, out pounding the streets of Digbeth and working up an appetite for dinner. If you’re here at the weekend then a trip to Digbeth Dining Club is strongly recommended. It’s a previous winner of “Best Street Food in the UK” and a strolling foodie’s paradise. If it’s any other day, or you prefer the restaurant experience, then Original Patty Men should head your list. Its team cut their teeth at the Dining Club before going permanent in a beautiful archway just around the corner from The Warehouse Café. Their patties come from sustainably sourced aged Longhorn beef, which is served pink and juicy just like it should be. The “O.D.B fries” are just as naughty as their infamous rapper namesake, lightly spiced and served with house-blended coleslaw, sriracha mayo and spring onions. So good they almost overshadow the burger. We wash it all down with a ripe, round Argentinean Malbec.

original patty men the old crown

21:00PM - The Old Crown

The Old Crown has seen Digbeth’s rebirth and then some. There’s been a pub here for over 650 years. It’s Birmingham’s oldest, in fact, and one of the oldest in the UK. A maze of cosy rooms with a lovely garden out the back, The Old Crown makes a great rest and reflection spot after a solid day’s eating. There’s a fine selection of ales but a nip of whisky in the beautifully beamed bar is what’s required. Ghost stories are ten-a-penny here and if these walls could talk they’d have plenty to tell you.

23:00PM - Back to bed

Whiskies drunk and all possible appetites fully satisfied, we’re not up to much conversation beyond a goodnight as we head off for our comfy beds back at the Best Western Plus Manor NEC Birmingham to sleep it all off. Just in time for breakfast…


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