Where once there was a gastronomic wasteland, there now lies a city of plenty.
Birmingham’s outstanding triple success in the 2009 Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland is a cause for a triple celebration: for the obsessively hard-working and talented chefs; for anyone with a passing interest in good food; and for the city itself.
That the nation’s roll call of culinary honour now includes three bona fide born-and-bred Brummie cooks – Luke Tipping, Glynn Purnell and Richard Turner – would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago.
Back then, the city was derided by critics who, as if to damn with faint praise, grudgingly recognised the popular pull of balti houses. Yes, Birmingham could do a decent bhuna and a bhaji, they said. But sophisticated cuisine? Dahling, please.
How that sniffy group of self-interested commentators must be choking on their vacuous canapés. For now Birmingham not only has the highly successful Balti Triangle – it also has the Michelin Triangle, the triumvirate of Simpsons, Purnell’s and Turner’s. Budget dining and fine dining sit happily together in a city at ease with its many faceted cultural influences.
The three stars in the culinary firmament means Birmingham trumps everywhere in the UK, outside London, in terms of the critical mass of its top dining establishments. Like it or lump it, it is an inescapable fact: Birmingham must now be recognised as the nation’s regional capital of cooking.
Our trio of chefs, who ply their trade in a two-mile radius, may have some way to go to match the achievements of kitchen legends such as Paul Bocuse, whose restaurant in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, near Lyon (Birmingham’s twin city), has received three stars every year since 1965. But their achievement is, in British eating terms, nothing short of sensational.
Refreshingly, none of the leading practitioners pays heed to notions of cooking by rote: each chef has a style of his own, ranging from the classic to the outlandish, always infused with heart and soul.
Anyone with a knowledge of Birmingham’s commercial heritage and spirit of determination shouldn’t be surprised, of course. The city of a thousand trades has a habit of reinventing itself and who knows, in the bleak economic climate, the food industry could yet prove to be a beacon of salvation.
With fewer people opting to go on foreign holidays, there are golden opportunities for domestic tourism. Could Birmingham become a centre for gastronomic short visits? You better believe it.
Certainly the old adage still applies: an army marches on its stomach. And fortified by the food of Messrs Tipping, Purnell and Turner – not to mention others, including Andy Waters at Edmund’s and David Colcombe at Opus – Birmingham is well positioned to fight the economic battles that lie ahead.