Food and drink in Birmingham, England

Food and drink in Birmingham, England

As with any large town or city, food and drink has played an important role in the commerce and culture of Birmingham, England.



During the 1830s, Thomas Ridgway began trading in the Bull Ring, selling tea. Ridgway later went bankrupt. Setting up business in London he paid back all of his creditors and continued his tea trade becoming one of the first English tea companies to hygienically prepack tea so as to avoid adulteration. In 1876, Queen Victoria commanded House of Ridgways to create a blend for her own personal use. In 1863, William Sumner (founder of Typhoo) published "A Popular Treatise on Tea". In 1870, Sumner started a pharmacy/grocery business on the High Street, Birmingham. This grew and forced Sumner to move to new premises on Castle Street and then on to Bordesley Street at the canalside. Typhoo was bought by Indian tea company Apeejay Surrendra Group on 31 October 2005.


Birmingham's earliest food trade connections with the West Indies involved the importation of limes and cocoa during the mid- to late- 1800s. The Montserrat Co. Ltd. was formed in Edgbaston by J.& E. Sturge. Lime juice was produced in the city and then exported for use in the manufacture of citric acid. The failure of Sicily's lemon crop at that time resulted in an opening in the market which Sturge took great advantage of utilizing their extensive chemical works based in Edgbaston. The company was set up by the Sturge and Albright families who funded the development of Montserrat estates in 1867. Joseph Sturge bought the Elberton Sugar Estate in 1857 and converted it into a lime production plant. He also wanted to prove that free labour could be made profitable (the Sturge family were instrumental in the anti-slavery movement).


In 1896, a new building was built in Corporation Street to house James Henry Cook's vegetarian restaurant, one of the first in England. In 1898, 'The Pitman Vegetarian Hotel', named after the famous vegetarian Sir Isaac Pitman, was opened on the same site, and the proprietors subsequently opened a long-running health food store.

Birmingham is home to a wide variety of Asian eateries which have served the people of Birmingham since the 1940s. The first Chinese restaurant was the Tong Kung on the Holloway Head which opened in 1956. The Wing Yip food empire first began in the city and now has its headquarters in the Chinese Quarter along with many other fine oriental restaurants.

In 1945, Abdul Aziz opened a cafe shop selling curry and rice in Steelhouse Lane. This later became The Darjeeling, the first Indian in Birmingham, owned by Afrose Miah. The second was The Shah Bag on Bristol Street. The Aloka opened on Bristol Street in 1960 and Banu on Hagley Road in 1969. The Balti was invented in the city and has since received much gastronomic acclaim for the 'Balti belt' (Balti Triangle) of restaurants in the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Ladypool areas of the city.

Thai Edge, which started out in Brindleyplace has been praised as one of the top ten Asian restaurants in the UK by The Independent magazine. The modern British cuisine restaurant "Opus", opened by entrepreneur Ann Tonks, has garnered significant praise from Michelin critics, and been the focal point of business lunches in the CBD (it has also won several awards including Best New Restaurant at Birmingham celebrations).

The city once boasted two Michelin starred restaurants. "Simpson's" and "Jessica's", both in Edgbaston, were awarded one star each in the 2005 Michelin restaurant guide for Great Britain and Ireland. "Jessica's" was also named AA England Restaurant of the Year 2004/2005. Jessica's closed in 2007, with chef Glynn Purnell opening Purnell's in the city centre. The former maitre d' of Jessica's (Pascal Cluny) re-opened the restaurant as Pascal's and was awarded a Michelin Bib in 2008.


Famous food brands that originated in Birmingham include Typhoo tea, Bird's Custard, Blue Bird Toffee, Bournville cocoa, Cadbury chocolate and HP Sauce.


Fairs and festivals dedicated to food were held in the Bullring during the 1700s and 1800s. The most popular of such was the Onion Fair which celebrated the harvest of onions.

The BBC Good Food Show takes place at The National Exhibition Centre and is Britain's biggest and most extensive food event.

External links

* [ The Balti belt]
* [ Birmingham Plus - 2000+ reviews of restaurants in the area]

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