Richard McComb salutes Birmingham's band of gastronomic brothers.
In many ways, they are the unsung heroes of the Birmingham culinary renaissance.
The top chefs tend to make the headlines and win the plaudits, but there is another lesser known group of food champions whose role is equally important.
Struggling against the supermarkets and their brash offspring – the metropolitan “express” outlets selling pre-packaged paninis and cut-price cola – there is a plucky band of independent grocers, bakers and delicatessens.
These are the sort of shops that everyone loves, but doesn’t always use enough, prompting floods of crocodile tears when they go to the wall to make way for another Subway or Costa Coffee.
Given the economics of trading in a city, with its spiralling rental costs and a turbulent consumer market, it’s a wonder how specialist food shops survive at all, let alone flourish.
Gary Anderson, one of the co-owners of Anderson & Hill, a deli shop-cum-upmarket convenience store, is in no doubt about the reason for the attraction of the indie food store.
“We were never here to replace people’s weekly shop. We set ourselves apart through our knowledge and service. When it is your own business, you are a lot more interested in what you are selling,” says Gary.
He opened Anderson & Hill with friend Matthew Hill, an Italian food wholesaler and childhood friend, a year ago in the Great Western Arcade, off Colmore Row, in the heart of the business district.
Both Gary and Matthew have chef backgrounds but running a shop was the last thing on 32-year-old Gary’s mind when he started a degree in sound and multi-media technology at Birmingham City University in his late 20s.
“Then Matthew went to the German market in Birmingham at Christmas and texted me to say, ‘Why aren’t there any delis in Birmingham city centre?’ And I thought, ‘They’re aren’t,’” says Gary.
“Birmingham has always been seen, especially to Londoners, as a bleak area when it comes to food, which I get cross about. We just wandered through town and saw this spot in the arcade. It seemed to fit the bill.”
Artisan chocolate-maker Chouchoute Chocolaterie, opened by Frenchman Pierre Soualah, was already an established tenant in the arcade and a new specialist boulangerie/patisserie, The Bread Collection, owned by another Frenchman, Gilles Zidane, was making waves with its authentic southern French loaves and pastries.