It’s not just the Commonwealth Games that will be bringing a swirling mixture of nationalities into Birmingham this summer – the food scene on upper New Street is becoming more cosmopolitan almost by the month, too.
As recently as the turn of the century, if you wanted to see the world you had to jump on a plane, but the world seems to have found Brum to be super-appealing instead. Our soon-to-arrive Commonwealth Games visitors might like to know that cafes and eateries in the area close to Victoria Square will soon be offering everything from Canadian-style coffees and Taiwanese bubble teas through to flavors and influences from diverse places as Japan, India , Germany, South America, Portugal, South Africa, Italy and Mexico via California.
If you throw Greggs into the melting pot, there’s even a taste of Middlesbrough, too! And so, to whet your appetite, here’s a reminder of what’s there and what’s coming soon, too – with other local offerings including everything from Thai to Indian and Greek street food.
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As recently as 2015, the top end of New Street was still performing its traditional core function as a key part of the financial district.
But the arrival of smart phones has seen internet banking sweeping away the idea that financial institutions need a collective high street presence in significant clusters. Yes, you can now get food delivered via your phone, but people also still seem to want the collective experience of sharing meals more than ever, too, so good businesses will always thrive on a busy thoroughfare like New Street.
Six years ago, Halifax bank had the unit overlooking Victoria Square. Beyond that on the left as you start to walk down New Street, the space that would become Medicine bakery was being advertised. Next door were Santander, Office Angels and the West Brom Building Society.
The Yorkshire Building Society was moving out to make way for Wildwood next to the newly established Second Coffee Cup. After that you would then find Betfred and Costa, a smaller Yorkshire Building Society and Bue Arrow, with Snappy Snaps and Ask Italian beyond Fire Office Passage .
Walking down New Street from the top unit next to Pinfold Street in 2016, you would find Supercuts, Eat., Best Bites, Post Office Vaults, Greggs, The Royal British Legion, My Local (formerly Morrisons and before that Habitat) which closed in July, 2016; Byron Hamburgers (opened October 2016).
Beyond Ethel Street, the Coventry Building Society had already left one of the two still-empty units between Wagamama and Boots and Nationwide Building Society had left its unit at the bottom of Bennetts Hill, too.
But as you will see below, there have been a lot of changes since 2016, even though the years 2020-21 were dominated by the impact of Covid-19.
To see the latest vehicle mitigation barriers in the area, click on the above video.
Around the world in (about) eight minutes
As long as you don’t stop for a bite to eat until you are on lap two, it takes about eight minutes to walk from the top of New Street to Bennetts Hill, up there and left into Waterloo Street and back again via the Christchurch Passage steps.
The route is shaped like a triangle, but this is not the Balti Triangle of Sparkhill fame. Think of it more like the ‘Birm-uda’ Triangle where you can get lost for hours in Brum.
Walking down New Street you will find on the left…
Nando’s – a fusion of Portuguese and South African flavors with the chain now so ubiquitous that flame-grilled peri-peri chicken has almost become as much of a national dish as chicken tikka masala.
medicine – an independent, artisan bakery, café and gallery all rolled into one in a lovely space that used to be the home of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. Cakes and loaves are made in Codsall. Open 8.30am til 5pm, Monday to Sunday, with a twin in the Mailbox.
German Doner Kebab – coming soon to the former Santander / Office Angels units. After opening in Berlin in 1989, the company now has more than 100 restaurants in seven territories including the UK, Sweden, USA, Canada and Ireland as well as the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, GDK’s first UK site was on Bull Street (opposite JD Wetherspoon pub The Square Peg) which opened on July 6, 2015.
Yakinori – coming soon with flavors of Japan in place of the former West Bromwich Building Society. The company was founded in Birmingham, but had to move out of Paradise Forum for its demolition and was then disappointed by Grand Central where its former unit is still vacant. Now its founder Ali Karakaya is hoping New Street will help him on the way towards a Stock Market listing within ten years.
Ali told BirminghamLive last month: “I want everyone to know we are coming to New Street and back to our rightful home in the center of Birmingham. Beyond that, the dream is to have 40 restaurants around the country within ten years, including around ten franchised ones and the rest grown organically.”
Wildwood – classic pizza and pasta dishes along with salads, risottos…. and burgers, too. It opened in March 2017 in place of the Yorkshire Building Society at a site which was once a Pizza Hut in the 1980s.
Second Coffee Cup – the company was founded in Canada in 1975 and opened in Birmingham in December 2015 in place of Santander (which moved to No 69 where German Doner Kebab will be – Santander is currently on Corporation Street, by the way having also left Union Street as well as New Street).
The New Street cafe joined other Second Coffee Cup branches in London and Manchester. Despite being low profile compared with the big chains (Starbucks, Costa, Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger) it has held its own. Indeed, the neighboring Costa even closed when the giant opened a new site on the corner of Stephenson Street and Navigation Street opposite Grand Central.
Further down New Street on the corner with Lower Temple Street where the Thomson holiday shop used to be, Tim Hortons has been offering another taste of Canadian coffee since November, 2018,
Ask Italian – a national ‘casual dining’ chain selling a wide range of dishes from Italy. On the other side of New Street is another Mediterranean brand, Bella Italia, but further down on the Ask Italian side are Pret A Manger and another Taiwanese bubble tea shop, T4.
Bennetts Hill / Waterloo Street loop
Just around the corner from Ask Italian, Bennetts Hill includes two fine pizza restaurants, Franco Manca (opened June, 2019 in place of the Nationwide) and Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza (previously Amantia).
There is also the recently opened Otherworld VR Bar (ex Nocturnal Animals) and the brand new Fat Hippo burger bar which has replaced the sadly short-lived fish and chips diner, Fillet of Soul (previously Buffalo & Rye).
For a taste of South America, try the Bodega Cantina which opened in 2010 at No 12 (formerly a lunch, lounge and late bar called ‘The House’), on the opposite side of the road to the Indian Streatery which opened five years ago in January, 2017.
Pubs include Sun on the Hill and JD Wetherspoon’s The Briar Rose (complete with bottomless coffees) with the corner of Waterloo Street being home to three more big venues – Lost & Found (2012), Dirty Martini (April, 2018) and Cozy Club ( May, 2015). Philpotts sandwich bar is on the fourth corner, with Thai restaurant Sabai Sabai and Beefeater offshoot Bar + Block up to the right on Waterloo St.
Heading along Waterloo Street towards Victoria Square and Christchurch Passage, there’s Adam’s Michelin star restaurant (January, 2016), Pieminister (May, 2017) and last year’s newcomer Sommar Tap bar and cocktail lounge, with Purecraft Bar & Kitchen (2014) on the opposite corner of Waterloo Street.
Heading back down the steps of Christchurch Passage, you can now take in the choices on the opposite side of New Street.
Walking back down New Street…
This time if you look to your right you will find:
Extrawurst- the new year-round taste of Germany sausage shop opened on May 19 this year with bratwurst a specialty. This corner unit used to be Supercuts.
Tortilla – coming soon in the unit that used to be Eat. and before that Coffee Republic. A Californian twist on Mexican food.
The Post Office Vaults – one of the city’s best kept secrets for fans of real ale.
Greggs- from bacon baps to vegan sausage rolls, you know what they’re about – and there’s always a queue.
Sadly, the Royal British Legion Shop and My Local units are both empty, the latter after six years.
Fat Burger / Eat4Less – when London firm Byron Hamburgers opened here in place of a slot machine business, it seemed as if the culinary revolution really was on its way. Well, it was… but Byron didn’t last the pace and post-Covid there are now two businesses on the same site.
Ethel Street – around the corner you will find Twist for Taiwanese bubble teas and frozen yogurts, The Gallery (yet another Italian restaurant where the much-loved French restaurant Chez Jules used to be) and subway – with Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters just 50 yards away on the ‘flat iron’ Guildhall Buildings corner of Stephenson Street and Pinfold Street close to All Greek Street Food and Tiger Bites Pig (bao and rice).
Wagamama – on the opposite corner of Ethel Street to Eat4Less is another taste of Japan / Asia in a smart restaurant that is one of those places where the view looking out is better than the one you see walking past. There are lots of tables outside on Ethel Street in warm weather and La Galleria has recently gone for al fresco in a big way, too.
Keep going down hill towards Tim Hortons and you will chance upon Beautiful Italy – opposite Ask Italian – and then Wok-to-Walk next to the former Eat4Less site now up for grabs.
With a few units currently available in upper New Street, there’s still time for even more flavors to arrive… what would you like to see next? Let us know in the comments below.
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