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Birmingham, the UK's second city, is renown for its Asian cuisine; in particular, dishes from the following places: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. A particular style of dish known as 'Balti' was invented in Birmingham and is fast approaching national dish status. There are lots of restaurants all centred around the Balti Belt (mostly centered around Ladypool Road in Balsall Heath), or the Balti Mile.
One highly recommended Balti restaurant is Saleem's in Sparkbrook, which was established in 1971 and offers very reasonably priced, high quality food with very friendly service. Try starting with a samosa, then choose a Balti; which are best eaten with bread dunked straight in. Saleem's make fresh roti and naan to order (and if you are in a large group go for the family naan and try finding room for it on the table!).
If you are visiting the centre of Birmingham, there are more quality Indian restaurants to be found. Festival Balti in the Arcadian centre is reasonably priced and offers truly delicious food cooked and served in the traditional way - a somewhat refreshing change from many of the city-centre Indian restaurants that have unfortunately lost their authenticity by trying to become too cosmopolitan. That being said, cosmopolitan isn't all bad... Shimla Pinks on Broad Street is modern and fortunately has the right level of pretentious cool to make you want to step inside, rather than intimidate you to walk away. The official website for Shimla Pinks does not really do the interior design justice, but once you spot that pink neon sign in the midst of the Broad Street revellers and catch a glimpse of the interior through the window, your curiosity will definitely be piqued. If your wallet will not stretch that far, or you prefer a more traditional 'beer and curry' experience, try Celebrity Balti on the other side of Broad Street, near the pathway to Brindleyplace. There is usually a very friendly host dressed in a turban and red robe standing outside the main entrance on Broad Street, inviting you in to eat.
For something a little different, try Cafe Lazeez in the Mailbox. Unfortunately, the official website is being refurbished and does not do this restaurant, the decor, or it's food any justice. Cafe Lazeez is essentially an Indian restaurant...but do not expect your typical Korma here. The food is very light and the sauces thin; the popudoms are served, broken into pieces, in a small white square ceramic dish; and the naan is cut into perfect slices for you. If you are after a thick, filling, traditional curry, cooked in a tandoori oven, served with a nice big buttery naan bread, you may be disappointed. However, if you love curry, but want to look at something other than flocked wallpaper, give Lazeez a try. There are an impressive range of cocktails at the bar, where you can sit and wait whilst they hold your table for you. Your table, incidentally, will be nicely hidden behind beautiful crystal-effect beads hanging from the ceiling, giving a real feeling of privacy whilst you are dining. One of the most memorable things about Lazeez is the unisex bathroom upstairs, causing much embarassment and confusion to those who walk in only to find someone of the opposite gender walking out! Lazeez can have that feeling of being 'trendy for the sake of being trendy' (the square plates, unisex bathroom, popudoms broken into bits), but this can be said for much of bars and restaurants in the Mailbox. Once you have sipped your first cocktail in the beautiful bar at the front of Cafe Lazeez, you will soon feel like one of the trendy crowd yourself.
Of course, there is much more to Birmingham that just 'curry and a beer'. Birmingham restaurants cater for all tastes, from Italian to Oriental; European fusion to strictly vegetarian; Caribbean to Thai.
If you want good, cheap Chinese and Cantonese food, head to China Town, behind the Bullring shopping centre, around The Arcadian. The Big Wok is a simple buffet-style restaurant that offers a very good all you can eat deal between 12noon-5pm, with a choice of over 50 dishes for just £4.99. For a cosier and more aesthetically pleasant, yet still good value, Chinese meal, head out to the Erdington area on the outskirts of Birmingham, where you will find Buffet Island. This is a very popular buffet restaurant, so book in advance. Buffet Island is perfect for people of all ages, including couples and families, as well as the many students that live in the Gravelly Hill area of Erdington. There is also a carpark outside the restaurant, which is very convenient.
The most popular Italian restaurant is the glitzy San Carlo on Temple Street in the city centre. Bank leads the standard in Brindleyplace, close to the NIA and convention centre, though most of the restaurants in and around the Brindleyplace Squares are perfectly passable.
For European dishes, try The Living Room at the beginning of Broad Street, where you will be ushered up a plush elevator and greeted with a very busy cocktail bar, served by fast-paced, impressive (if not a little cocky) bartenders who will take your order, and the orders of everyone around you, within seconds of you squeezing up to the bar. Cocktails will set you back around £7 a time, but it will be worth it, and the price alone will shamelessy make you feel like a bit of a celebrity (indeed, if you are going to spot a celebrity in Birmingham, The Living Room is where you are likely to do it). The menu is varied although not expansive; but what the menu lacks in quantity the food makes up for in quality. The food here is truly delicious and the ambience and decor alone are almost worth the £100 dining bill you will receive at the end of your meal.
For Thai food, head to Thai Edge in Brindleyplace for taste-bud-bursting cuisine served in an impressively minimalist, modern setting. No ornate 'gold' chopstick holders or mass expanses of red velvet to be found in this Thai restaurant. There are still plenty of beautiful, curteous and polite Thai waitresses, though...
If you are looking for truly upscale dining, Birmingham also has two Michelin starred restaurants; in the upmarket suburb of Edgbaston, where Birmingham's prestigious and largest University is based, Simpsons provides high quality French cuisine in formal surroundings, whereas Glynn Purnell's eponymous Purnell's on Cornwall Street is possibly even more ambitious and a little more relaxed - with an excellent wine list and sommellier. Both are usually booked up weeks in advance so it pays to make a reservation.
Whatever your budget and whatever your taste, you will always find something to suit you in Birmingham.