A Birmingham food tour with Aktar Islam
Published 29 March 2023

Credit: The Madeleine Bar

In 2022, Birmingham was crowned Britain’s Most Exciting Food Destination by The Good Food Guide. Here, Aktar Islam - one of Britain’s top chefs and proud son of Brum - takes us on a tour of his favourite spots in the city

The Madeleine Bar at The Grand Hotel

A choice spot to kick off the tour is a seat at the Madeleine Bar. Make that a seat in a wing-backed, maroon velvet armchair with a lightly chilled flute of champagne waiting on a polished glass tabletop. ‘This is best hotel in Birmingham,’ says Aktar. ‘It reopened in 2021 after a lavish makeover which was 20 years in the making.’ It’s beautiful. The elegant wood-panelled bar is full of old-world charm – a place to relax, to order more than one martini. Those lucky enough to be staying here are advised to take a south-facing room with views of the 18th-century St. Phillips Cathedral in the square.


The Oyster Club

Appetite worked up, head across Cathedral Square onto the cobbled Temple Street, and into The Oyster Club, a casual seafood restaurant from chef Adam Stokes. Take a seat at the underlit marble bar, which dominates the gold and pastel-coloured room. Aktar recommends ordering from a fresh selection of oysters on offer perhaps Porthilly, Mersea or Jersey. A little lemon, pickled shallots and a generous dash of Tabasco is chef’s preference. There’s also caviar, as well as small and large plates. The XO glazed octopus, roasted turbot and Dover sole on the bone are particularly worthy of attention.


Tiger Bites Pig

Three minutes’ walk down the road is Tiger Bites Pig. A hole-in-the-wall home to Birmingham’s most authentic Taiwanese bao buns. It offers a simple menu of six baos and five rice bowls. The chicken bao, with ginger, spring onions, Sichuan chilli oil, and sesame paste is an Aktar favourite – good, and texturally satisfying. Also excellent is the chilli and black vinegar braised beef shin bao, stuffed with oyster mushrooms, a cured egg yolk, and crispy shallots. This is an ideal spot to pick up a bite on the way to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (a three-minute walk away).



Down the road on Lower Severn Street this black-walled fried chicken spot is pounding with rock music, the kitchen lit with red neon bulbs. Here, you’ll find the Nashville wings are done right: served on paper in a metal tray, oozing deep red grease onto a slice of white bread below. As Aktar says ‘they have to do it right, because in Birmingham the trends - or ‘faff’ - get snuffed out’. There’s no tolerance for half measures.

The trick is to order a little of everything but if you only have room to order one thing, make it the ‘hothead’ chicken burger, dripping with Nashville hot sauce and mellowed out by a crunchy slaw and gherkins. For a side, pass on the waffle fries in favour of corn on the cob. Bonehead’s craft beer selection is long and features some high ABV IPAs. There are cocktails, too, but that’s not what anyone’s here for.



Occupying a huge corner building where Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter meets the Museum District, is Aktar Islam’s very own Opheem. On this whistle-stop tour there’s just one particular dish to try: the famous aloo tuck. ‘The idea behind it,’ says Aktar, ‘was to design the perfect snack to accompany champagne. It’s been his star course ever since. ‘It’s what people come to the restaurant for.’ Served in a small white bowl, the layered dish is creamy and crunchy, sweet and fiery, with a tangy tamarind layer at the bottom.

For a full digest, read The Good Food Guide’s review of Opheem here.

Aktar’s honourable mentions

For lunch: Isaac’s

The Grand Hotel’s restaurant, led by executive chef Adam Bateman, serves New York comfort food: nachos, smoked salmon bagels and hot dogs, alongside a selection of 30-day aged steaks.

For cocktails: Couch

Expect inventive, pop culture-inspired drinks along the lines of ‘The Sopranos’ (Glenlivet 12, tomato Torino and balsamic caramel).

For post-cocktail comfort food: Eat Vietnam

Among the first wave of restaurants and bars to move into the upcoming ‘foodie oasis’ of Stirchley, a few miles to the south of the city centre. Order from a short list of fresh curries and noodles, with some small plate options.

Read Eat Vietnam's entry in The Good Food Guide here.

- Rebekah Lodos