Yep, I’m a bit late to the party. Digbeth Dining Club has been on people’s Birmingham foodie lists for a while now, and I’ve only just been able to make it there. And how I wish I had sooner – what a little gem. You’ll have seen that a few weeks ago I featured the Scoff Street Food collective on my blog when they were at Rugby’s inaugural First Thursday’s event (read about it here) and many of these guys are the same tasty traders who appear at Digbeth on a Friday night and the last Saturday of every month.
It’s got to be said, it’s a bit of a walk from the glitzy lights of places like the Mailbox and the Bullring but well, well, worth it. Near the uber-cool Custard Factory, Digbeth Dining Club is tucked underneath the archways of a viaduct at a warehouse-style venue called Spotlight. Inside, there’s cool red leather Chesterfields and a basic but well-stocked bar, complete with cool, chilled-out music, while the outdoor space is covered to keep out the elements with a bustley, food festival-esque atmosphere. The traders, many with their unique vintage vehicles, line the edges of the small space, filling it with the smells of foods from round the world.
It’s not the same traders each time, so you can go back again and again and probably try different things each visit. They publish the lineup on their website and social media, so you can try to catch your favourites on specific dates. I know I’m already planning a return trip to catch some of the guys I missed out on. But fear not, there was plenty for me to sink my teeth into. Luckily, it wasn’t too busy when my friend and I arrived, but the popularity was clear with many dishes already sold out. Putting a small spanner in the works, my pal declared as we walked through the gate that she’s become a vegetarian since we last ate out together, but obviously that didn’t stop me, and also gave us the chance to check out the veggie options on offer.
A beer in hand, I got in line to try the first of the six traders that were there. Big Daddies Diner – gourmet hotdogs! I’d already seen a few people scoffing them down, been recommended to get there quick, and seen the “Sold Out” signs being put up next to various menu items, so made a beeline to them. My first choice was the Turbo Pete – pork dog with pulled pork on top. Sold Out. As was the MacDaddy – a beef dog topped with Mac and cheese and nutmeg. I nearly wept as a Sold Out sign appeared next to the Edna – a chilli cheese dog, but my distress was noted and I was helped out by the guys who managed to cobble me together my own special Edna. Pork dog, topped with homemade chilli made with Brewdog IPA, complete with chimichurri relish on top to add spice, and a bit of ketchup, which I was advised would add a touch of sweetness. I wasn’t disappointed. A substantial sausage (did I actually just write that?), topped with rich, meaty chilli, with the tangy bite of the garlicky chimichurri. Truly a hotdog worth waiting for, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to get back for a Turbo Pete, because who could not want to try 18-hour almond-smoked pulled pork dressed with homemade red cabbage slaw and homemade BBQ sauce – all on top of a hotdog! I’ll be back.
While I woofed down my dog, Danielle ordered herself a veggie-friendly pizza from Spectacular Goat. One of these guys’ selling points are their sourdough bases, well, and their secret recipe tomato sauce before you get to the range of toppings. Danielle went for the simple Marge – mozzarella, tomato and basil, with some extra mushrooms on top. Fortunately, I had a hotdog to keep my occupied during the half-hour wait, but she was satisfied that the 30-minute salivation was worth it for the soft, flavoursome dough (apparently sourdough has a much slower proving process, giving it great flavour and breaking down the elements that make some people sensitive to wheat, so it’s better for you too). The toppings were simple, but tasty, but it was the lightness of the pizza that shone through – an escape from heavy, grease-laden offerings you can sometimes get from some of the bigger commercial pizza outlets.
By the time I made it to The Hungry Toad – home of ribs, chicken and all sorts – most things were (yeah you guessed it!) sold out. But I managed to nip in for some crispy chicken wings before they all went too. Deep fried in a light, crunchy batter, I was offered a spicy option or honey, lemon and sesame seed, and pointed in the direction of the latter. The honey and lemon stuck to the hot batter, and provided a handy glue for the sesame seeds, giving it an oriental/fast food feel.
Pietanic probably doesn’t need any explanation, it does what it says on the tin – pies. Unfortunately, I was full of hotdog, and there were no vegetarian choices left for Danielle to try, so I’ll have to go back to them another time.
I did get a chance to have a nibble on some roasted potatoes from Fat Duck spuds. Crispy roast potatoes, cooked in duck fat (of course). Delicious, and probably a treat for some of the people there, but I am lucky enough (and greedy enough) to have duck fat-cooked roasties at home, so it wasn’t far off the norm for me. Nice, but perhaps I’d be better off trying some of their other offerings.
For pudding, Platinum Pancakes were on hand for all our sweet needs. We opted for a lemon meringue special – wafer thin pancake, probably more crepe, drizzled in custard, lemon, and crumbled pieces of meringue, then folded up to give a warm, lemony treat with gooey bits of meringue that had melted slightly due to the heat. A nice, light, full stop to a lovely meal.
After the food, we took up residence on one of the Chesterfields for a chat and a post-dinner ginger beer. Equally, we could have carried on the party, got another drink and moved on. That’s the beauty of Digbeth Dining Club in my view. It could be a great post-work social occasion on a Friday evening; an alternative to eating out in a restaurant; or the start of a wilder night. You can do with it what you will. What you ARE guaranteed is good food, in a sociable setting, served by independent traders who really care about what they’re doing. It really is no wonder that it’s won the British Street Food Awards’ Best Street Food Event a few years in a row. Keep up the good work guys, Mr Manning hasn’t visited yet, and it’ll be a good few return visits before I’ve worked through every trader that’s coming up. If you’re thinking about going, keep an eye out on their site, there’s plenty coming up, including a Bank Holiday street party, and different line ups each week.