“In Birmingham there’s a feeling that we are fighting against the tide,” says Ian Parkes.

“But that also gives the sense that we can do something really exciting here and it makes people more inclined to shout about Birmingham’s food scene.”

Ian is the marketing manager at Purity Brewing Company which, as one of the region’s greatest culinary success stories of the last decade, is throwing its weight behind the inaugural Birmingham Independent Food Fair coming to Millennium Point next month.

The fair, which follows a one-off pilot event last summer, will bring more than 40 food and drink producers from in and around Birmingham to showcase the city’s alternative to the big chains.

As well as sponsoring the festival, Purity will be running the craft beer bar, serving their Longhorn IPA, Lawless lager and award-winning pale ale Mad Goose – and persuading punters to match the beers with the fair’s spicier foods, from tapas to South East Asian dishes.

Marketing manager Ian says: “We’ve got a strong interest in the food scene in Birmingham thanks to having Pure Bar and Kitchen in the city centre, and we’ve worked for a long time with city chefs, most notably Andreas Antona of Simpsons.

“Because Birmingham is slightly off the radar the entry costs for businesses are cheaper here so that means you can afford to do new and exciting things that just wouldn’t get done elsewhere. You can be a bit more edgy.

“And because Birmingham has more Michelin stars than any English city outside London and has a massive street food scene. That means the city is suddenly being noticed by other people.”

Last year when Adam’s restaurant in Bennett’s Hill became Birmingham’s fourth to win a Michelin star just six months after opening, Rebecca Burr, the editor of the Michelin Guide, labelled the city’s food scene “world class”.

A year earlier the New York Times agreed, putting Birmingham in its top 45 places to visit in the world purely because of the city’s burgeoning food movement, and New York Magazine followed, urging its readers to visit Birmingham instead of London, praising not only the city’s Michelin star restaurants but the Balti Triangle, Cadbury factory and the street food of Digbeth Dining Club.

Pip Bradley with her creation 'Pip's' chilli sauce on show at the Birmingham Independent Food Fair at Millennium Point.
Pip Bradley with her creation 'Pip's' chilli sauce on show at the Birmingham Independent Food Fair at Millennium Point.
 

Birmingham was recently found to be Britain’s second most entrepreneurial city by StartUp Britain and 55 per cent of visitors to the city now cite its food and drink as a key attraction.

Ian says: “Being the underdog sums it up quite nicely. Because we’ve been overlooked for so long we want to shout about Birmingham and show off our pride in the city and invite other people to see what we’ve got – and food is such an inviting and accessible way of doing that.

“But what’s really exciting is seeing that this success is based on independents who have built from the ground up.

“And they’re now teaming up to share their knowledge and find new and different routes to market.

“We know we have to build this scene together. It’s about strength in numbers.”

He adds: “The temptation for a lot of people setting up food and drink businesses in other UK cities is to try and diversify quite quickly and to spread geographically into new territories.

“But it seems the emphasis in Birmingham is on keeping independent businesses in Birmingham and growing them here.

“I think that pride to grow here rather than ship off elsewhere is one of the things that sets Birmingham apart.”

It’s a home pride that can be found at every tier of the city’s food offering, from mobile street food vendors to high end restaurants.

One of Birmingham’s original food champions, Richard Turner, is a case in point.

Growing up in Sutton (his grandfather was the driver of the Bird’s custard Rolls Royce), Richard, who will be officially opening the food fair on September 13, chose to stay local when opening his eponymous restaurant in Harborne in 2007.

Turners won its Michelin star in 2009 and last year was voted The Good Food Guide’s readers’ restaurant of the year by its diners.

Richard says: “I didn’t ever truthfully think this city would be as culinarily diverse with the level of excellence it has at the moment,” he says, “I genuinely didn’t. In 1999, if you’d told me we’d have four Michelin star restaurants I wouldn’t have believed you. The city just wasn’t renowned for food.”

But, like fellow Brummies Glynn Purnell and Simpsons’ chef director Luke Tipping, Richard decided to stay and change that rather than leaving for London.

He says: “Me, Glynn and Luke are three lads all brought up in and around Birmingham and all deciding to stick to our roots.

“Just like them, I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to go to London or open a restaurant in Manchester.

“I went to my first Villa game when I was four years old. It’s in my blood, this city. And no one is going to champion Birmingham for us - we’ve got to shout about it ourselves.”

 

To do just that, 25-year-old Moseley resident Ahmed Ahmed founded food review website Dine Birmingham three years ago, hoping to shine a light on the underdog producers and traders of England’s underdog city.

The University of Birmingham graduate wanted to bring together bloggers and amateur reviewers to prove there was more to the city than the chain bars and restaurants of New Street and the Bullring.

He says: “There are so many people who are creating unique products here, from gourmet marshmallows to Polish street food and really authentic Spanish tapas.

“And it’s worth remembering that the Michelin star restaurants are also independent ventures.

“It might still be easy to pop into a chain and get something standard but the fact is people are choosing to go to farmers’ markets every weekend and they’re choosing their local coffee shops over the big chains because character and atmosphere is important to them, and they know they can’t get better elsewhere.

“We have people from other cities and other countries coming to Birmingham, talking and writing about our food scene and I really want the people of Birmingham to realise how great the restaurants, bars, cafes and coffee shops here are.”

While Dine Birmingham’s website has encouraged foodies to share their news and reviews via social media, its independent food fair aims to put customers directly in front of traders.

Ahmed says: “People in Birmingham want to try local food and want to find something a little bit different that has been made on their doorstep. But they also want to meet the people behind it. It’s about making the transition from learning about the local food scene online to actually showcasing it in real life and finding out what’s available in person.

“There are all these conversations going on via social media about the food and drink in Birmingham and that’s a great way for people in the food and drink industry to market themselves effectively.

“But while you can talk about food and drink and look at pictures online, at the end of the day everybody wants to try it, to taste it, and that’s what this event is all about.”

* Birmingham Independent Food Fair will run from 9am to 6pm on Saturday, September 13 at Millennium Point, with bars and stalls spilling out onto Eastside Park. Tickets from £7.50 include eight free samples of food. There will be a free introductory workshop from the Nationwide Caterers Association for anyone wanting to start their own mobile food enterprise. See www.bhamindfoodfair.co.uk

FOOD AND DRINK TO TRY AT THE FAIR...

BARS:

Purity Brewing Company

Langley’s Gin

RESTAURANTS:

Don Diego Bar de Tapas

Le Truc Cafe

The Oriental

Thai Edge

Aalto at Hotel La Tour

Epi Restaurant

SPIRITS AND WINES:

Soul Tree Indian Wine

The Birmingham Whisky Club

BYWine

Connolly’s Wine Merchants

Bitters’n’Twisted (Island Bar, Bodega, The Jekyll & Hyde)

STREET FOOD :

Squisito Italian street food

Bare Bones Pizza

Truly Nourish fresh juices

Peel and Stone bakery

Hibiscus Grove (South East Asian cuisine)

Barek Oscarek (Polish street food)

Lil’s Parlour Vintage Desserts

DELICATESSEN:

Pip’s Hot Sauce

All Greek Delicatessen

Iana’s Delights

Springfield Kitchen

BAKERY & CONFECTIONERY:

Bake

So Mallow

Slice of Heaven (gluten-free)

Henley Chocolates

Cherry Blossom Bakehouse

Kneal’s Chocolates