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Restaurants 2022: Some of the region's best eateries to enjoy this year

After the hell of 2020 and the stop-start-stop chaos of 2021, it’s easy to make a prediction for 2022. Here it is: Things will get better.

jan 8 - food - both papers | 30 Dec 2021 AR dillon
jan 8 - food - both papers | 30 Dec 2021 AR dillon

There are, however, huge caveats with that. They’ll be better than 2021 and 2020, but will we make up for the losses endured over the past two years and caused by a devastating Brexit that has left restaurants short of staff and in 2022 will also leave them short of ingredients?

The answer: not a chance.

Hospitality took a harder hit than most sectors when the pandemic struck.

The contradictory instruction not to go out but to support local businesses led to a slew of cancellations and such similar messaging shortly before Christmas once more conspired to ruin the balance sheet.

Most hospitality businesses cash in during December as people look forward to parties. Last year, they tried to minimise their losses as stock went to waste and as cancellations rocketed.

Such losses are impossible to make up.

As we head into the New Year and as customers cut back on expenditure, hospitality becomes the toughest of gigs during the lean winter months.

Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are far-distant and not all businesses will have sufficient cash to make it through.

It’s not just a lack of cash that’s affecting pubs, restaurants and bistros. The effect of poor trade is felt throughout the supply chain and producers are also being hard hit.

And then there’s the issue of staffing – and, now, produce from the EU.

Produce is harder and harder to find as the amount of paperwork required by producers sending from the EU multiplies five-fold.

Those suppliers who used to send small amounts of fresh produce simply can’t afford to.

So rather than restaurants being able to offer more choice or be more competitive on price, they are increasingly able to offer less choice while being unable to make savings.

Staffing is a critical issue for many, so much so that traditional hours have been cut back at venues across the region.

Those who used to run lunch and dinner services throughout the week are now finding themselves unable to do so because they simply don’t have enough people on their teams. Factor in the increased cost of energy, supply chain issues and other spiralling costs and there’s never been a more challenging time to be in hospitality.

And yet though it’s grim right now, there remain plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

The West Midlands has transformed itself during the past 20 or so years from being a gastronomic wasteland to being one of the most respected regions in the UK.

There are five Michelin starred restaurants in Birmingham, more than any other UK city or town, with the exception of London, while Shropshire continues to punch above its weight by offering great mid-range dining choices and a wide selection of independent restaurants.

Hospitality continues to attract hard-working, creative types and provide opportunities for those savvy enough to find a gap in the market.

Take The Beefy Boys, in Shrewsbury, where chef Liam Tinsley leads the line.

It opened successfully in 2021 and after initial teething problems – it’s tough to get front of house right at the start – it’s become an essential part of Shropshire’s fun and funky dining scene.

New owners are due to arrive at The Checkers, in Montgomery, in the not-distant future. They have a great track record and will be a welcome addition to the region’s gastronomic scene.

Checkers Pantry, Montgomery

In Birmingham, Michelin-starred Glynn Purnell continues to expand and build on a reputation that’s based on two decades of solid graft.

Purnell is that rarest of beasts, a man imbued with exceptional talent he remains driven and continues to push forward when others might rest on their laurels.

Two other Second City chefs making a big impression are Aktar Islam and Andy Sheridan.

Islam has been one of the stars of the UK’s food scene these past two years.

Aktar Islam

Having won a much-deserved Michelin star for Opheem, his delightful signature restaurant, Aktar took up the challenge when the nation switched to eat-at-home boxes during lockdown.

He’s made a success of that, too, creating employment for workers who’d lost jobs and he’ll no doubt continue to expand and evolve.

Andy Sheridan, at 8 and Craft, both of which are at ICC, is another who delights with sophisticated comfort food that hits all the right notes.

In the past 12 months, local diners have supported independents where possible but also enjoyed food from further afield.

The rise and rise and rise of home boxes is unlikely to stop. A gap in the market has been filled by entrepreneurial businesses that have risen to the Covid challenge and found ways to circumvent it.

Lichfield has become a gastronomic hotspot in recent times and Liam Dillon’s excellent Boat Inn is one of the region’s stand-out venues.

Though Dillon has endured a torrid time since opening, he’s raised standards and is one of the UK’s best pub-restaurant operators with an exciting menu that features the best of local produce.

Watch out for his appearance again this spring on Great British Menu.

He’ll be joined by Stuart Collins, of Docket 33, at Whitchurch, in Shropshire, who has also a great lockdown by working hard, diversifying into box dinners and then cashing-in on his GBM success when trade has resumed.

A dish from Docket 33, Whitchurch

Tom Shepherd is one to watch at Lichfield. Upstairs by Tom Shepherd is a new, contemporary British fine dining restaurant which is located in the beautiful and traditional city of Lichfield.

The stunning restaurant sits above Tom’s father’s jewellery shop; City Jewellers, boasting a beautiful apex style ceiling and open kitchen, which is the perfect setting for any occasion.

Tom and his team create flavour-led, produce-driven menus inspired by the seasons and surroundings.

Challenging times lie in store, though there are some equipped to rise to those challenges.

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