For the past few years, there has been an annual “Taste of Birmingham” event held in the summer which featured some of the City’s top restaurants. However, it was axed this year after being viewed as elitist given that the target demographic were high spenders or the corporate sector and it’s replacement was going to be something more “for the people”. After all, there are some fantastic places in (and around) Birmingham that only not sell, but produce fantastic ingredients on top of the varied and always improving restaurant scene. I know I’m biased because Birmingham is my hometown and well, I even named this blog after it, so when I heard that the Taste of Birmingham was being scrapped and replaced by something more befitting the City, I began to get my hopes raised.
Birmingham Food Fest (running October 14th – 23rd) is the all new improved food festival not only run by Birmingham, but for the people of Birmingham and beyond, to help spread the culinary profile of Birmingham to those near and far. The anticipation of it all began using social media like Twitter and Facebook and soon, word-of-mouth began to spread – And with it, excitement as people began to speculate what would be included. There were already assurances that top chefs from the City’s top restaurants would be participating, so perhaps this really could be better than the corporate tedium that was the Taste of Birmingham? I mean, people don’t automatically think of Birmingham as a culinary mecca but with 3 restaurants with coveted Michelin stars and a whole host of other restaurants like Loves Restaurant and Edmunds winning national awards, we’ve certainly got nothing to be ashamed of. Add to this the fact that Birmingham is such a multiculturally diverse city with cuisines from all over the world, it really could be something special.
Sadly, when the details of the Birmingham Food Fest were finally announced, I felt slightly deflated and disappointed; my initial thoughts were: “Is that it?” Where were the events to really draw people out and showcase the City? That’s not to say that it’s completely dull and there are 1 or 2 events that sound quite interesting, but there’s nothing that makes me immediately go “WOW!” and want to book tickets as soon as possible. During the whole festival, there’s only 1 event which features Caribbean food – And it’s an evening at Aston Villa Football Club. I understand the need to showcase the City’s plentiful venues and facilities, but why only 1 event considering the large Caribbean population we have in the City? And what about other ethnic cuisines? There’s one event which essentially sees you get on an open top bus from the City Centre to.. BALTI TRIANGLE! (via the Golden Mile, the Chinese Quarter and a few other select areas of Birmingham) where a delicious and authentic Balti at Imran’s restaurant awaits you. Now, personal misgivings about the Balti Triangle aside, I could kind-of see how this could be something fun and would get people involved, but when you think about it, it’s essentially transporting one singular bus load of people across Birmingham to Balti Triangle on a Saturday night when it’s going to be busy anyway. There are the more interesting events like the chance to “Dine Under the Stars” at the Thinktank’s Planetarium which sounds absolutely brilliant – If it weren’t for the £250 + VAT for 2 people price tag. Even the special Champagne evening to be hosted at Vaults restaurant sounds fantastic – a 5 course meal with 3 glasses of Champagne, but for £70, I could get a decent meal (if not better) with Champagne at normal price at other restaurants in the City.
What’s more, where are the food producers? Farmer’s Markets held across the City are a great success and demonstrate not only is there a demand for good local produce, but I’m convinced it’s helped to raise the profile and support our local producers and economy. So why not have something throughout the festival – like the International Food Fair we have where food producers from the across the globe, or indeed the Frankfurt German Market – where local food producers can sell their produce and promote their business? I am truly astonished that we don’t have anything like this during the Food Fest.
However, I don’t want to appear all gloom and doom before the event has even begun, and I think it’s only fair to point out that it’s not completely bad – Some of the offers that the local restaurants have during the Festival are quite good so it could possibly mean trying out restaurants that were previously out of people’s price range, or perhaps provide the impetus for people to finally try out a restaurant they’ve been meaning to. I hope at least that business for the local restaurants improves during the Food Fest.
And therein lies my problem with the whole thing: My overriding thought of the Birmingham Food Festival is that it’s an opportunity missed – Yes, there are a lot of offers from local restaurants, and there are opportunities for people to dine in different venues across the City, but the pricing is still quite high (and seemingly aimed at the Corporate market which the previous incarnation of the Taste of Birmingham targeted) and is very restaurant-centric. There is little or no acknowledgement of the diverse cuisines across the City and perhaps most shamefully of all, there is no acknowledgement of all the local food producers from across the City – And that’s particularly frustrating when I know there are some fantastic local food producers out there. I’m lamenting how the Birmingham Food Fest should be an opportunity for us, as a City, to shout out loud and show everyone how not only is Birmingham a great place to dine, or that we have a multitude of venues to visit, but also that we have local people producing some great food – Is this not something we should be proud of? I hope the Birmingham Food Fest succeeds – honestly I do, because to fail would possibly mean a return back to something like the Taste of Birmingham which isn’t at all geared towards everyday people (the likes of you and I), and that really would be tragic. I’ll still be going to as many restaurants as I can during Birmingham Food Fest as I want to show my support for my City and it’s restaurants, but I sincerely hope that next year, there is at least something to not only show what great restaurants we have, but also what else makes Birmingham so very great – It’s people, diverse culture and supporting local businesses and industries.