Birmingham transforms itself into an international foodie hotspot

Anyone looking for a meal out in Birmingham will find themselves a lot more spoilt for choice these days. And that’s just picking which Michelin-starred establishment they fancy (there are five at the moment, if you’re counting).

The city has experienced something of a culinary revolution in recent years - and gone are the days when nightlife options were limited to Broad Street.

Ed Purcell, a surveyor in Cushman & Wakefield’s Midlands retail agency team, notes there has been an explosion of new bars and restaurants in the New Street and Bennetts Hill area since 2013. Up until then the area was dominated by banks and building societies.

He puts the changes down to a combination of factors, starting with the consolidation of many banks’ property portfolios, which left a number of vacant 2,000-3,000 sq ft units ideal for bar and restaurants operators such as Wildwood, Cosy Club and Viva Brazil. The transformation of New Street station and the addition of Grand Central has also increased footfall levels.

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“Primary sources of trade are from people seeking refreshment between journeys, office workers from nearby Colmore Business District looking for a place to eat and drink after work and consumers refuelling after a busy day shopping,” says Purcell.

“Meanwhile, declining levels of retailer demand for A1 fashion retail and A2 financial and professional services retail has left a gap in the marketplace. Another factor is that of critical mass. Once there is a small cluster of the same type of retailers, others will join. This can be seen on both streets as national and independent operators have created their own pitch away from the traditional leisure-led circuits within Birmingham city centre.”

And it’s not just the city centre getting in on the action. Edgbaston, the leafy home of Birmingham’s first Michelin star at Simpsons Restaurant - awarded in 2000 - has also made sure to take advantage of its own cluster effect, creating a seven-day dining out destination in a formerly quiet area.

Sense of community

Mark Lee, chief executive of landowner Calthorpe Estates, has been focused on giving the area a sense of community since taking up his role 10 years ago. Part of his strategy was to attract a host of new food and beverage lettings, which now amount to five, with a sixth set to open at the end of the month in the form of a Brunning & Price pub called The Physician.

“Initially it was off the back of Simpsons, but in the past 24 months it’s really exploded,” says Lee. “There were always lots of offices here but at lunchtime there was nowhere for people to go. Now they will also meet in the evening or at the weekend. We have deliberately tried to attract a mix of operators to offer different experiences for people every time they come.”

But with all the culinary additions springing up across the city, there is a question mark over how much more is really needed. Purcell says the saturation of the marketplace is “inevitable”, but that the timing is difficult to predict.

“It will ultimately depend on the strength and popularity of the destination and whether the number of visitors to the city continues to increase,” he says. “Long may it continue, as the ultimate benefactors of these new occupiers are the visitors and residents of the UK’s second-biggest city.” We’ll raise a glass to that.

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