Newcomer of the year
A close-run race with plenty of newbies adding to Birmingham’s vibrant food scene.
But there’s none that I’ve found more welcoming and interesting than Little Blackwood.
The main thrust of the imaginative menu at this small but perfectly formed place in the heart of Moseley is modern British, with some influences from the east.
They offer pretty good Sunday roasts and bao buns, too.
But whatever I’ve eaten there I’ve found to be cooked with great skill and flair and has been brought to the table by knowledgable and charming staff.
A neighbourhood restaurant of the best kind.
145 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8JP. 0121 449 6344.
Dish of the year
Call me a pretentious old show-off for straying far from my Moseley home for this choice.
Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ cafe and restaurant which inspired the whole farm-to-table movement after its opening in 1971, is located in Berkeley a short hop by rail to San Francisco.
Here, at lunch, I ate a starter that seemed to me to epitomise the restaurant’s core value – using local seasonal ingredients of supreme quality to their best advantage.
It was simple and absolutely fabulous – carrots of different hues and cucumbers of various shapes and textures in a warming ginger dressing, with layers of gentle aniseed flavour provided by chervil.
It takes a confident and skilful chef to let carrots and cucumbers speak for themselves.
A dish of chicken with pink potato crisps was a pretty good effort, likewise!
1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA.
Duff dish of the year
Indian Brewery is a place that holds a fond place in my heart – its funky decor, buzz and hearty well-priced food make it generally a winner.
But the Indian Fried Chicken that I ate there was a lurid shade of pink and had a flabby texture that will haunt my nightmares.
Beneath its garish, greasy and flaccid skin lurked a layer that was yellow. The flavour was dull.
It seems to me that the spicing was over-cautious and the heat at which the hapless fowl was cooked wasn’t fierce enough.
Come on, chaps. You’re better than that!
16 Livery Street, Birmingham B3 1EU. 0121 296 9000.
Takeaway of the year
Indian vegetarian food can be so packed with flavour and texture that even the most militant carnivores won’t miss meat – and few places do it better than the long-established Milans on the edge of the Balti Triangle.
Expect to pay £3.25 for a small curry, £3.95 for a larger portion. There are plenty of snacks and appetisers, too.
You can phone ahead with orders.
Parking in the area’s not easy, but it’s worth the hassle.
Milan Sweet Centre
191 Stoney Lane, Birmingham B12 8HB. 021 449 1617.
Disappointing arrival of the year
Lots of people whose opinions I value have raved about this place, which opened in the autumn amid much hype.
Personally, I’m puzzled why.
The dishes I ate were underwhelming and the place – part of a very small chain – seemed to be an exercise in ticking boxes.
There are craft ales, a gin list as long as War a Peace, hipster soft drinks, slightly faux-shabby decor and a trendily eclectic menu.
It had to me the the feel of a concept that might be rolled out across the country like some über-cool Wetherspoons.
But I’ll give it another try in 2019 to see if it’s better than I thought.
The Pint Shop
38 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5SN. 0121 236 9039.
Favourite of the year
Laghi’s Deli is a place I’ve frequently visited during 2018 and which will also feature heavily in my debit card statements in the coming 12 months.
Its owner Luca Laghi is a food nut – he’s obsessed with introducing great quality Italian ingredients to a Birmingham public that, let’s face it, has been largely sort-changed over the years.
The food his team serves is simple, coherent, flavoursome, filling and brilliant value.
I’ve eaten sharing platters of cheese and cured meats, wonderful pasta dishes, pizzas and various breads and pastries so good I’ve almost wept – and never been disappointed.
Nor by the superb wines and digestifs
It’s a cafe rather than posh restaurant – albeit a cafe at which black truffles occasionally feature on the menu.
22-24 Islington Row Middleway, Five Ways, Birmingham B15 1LD. 0121 455 0660.