Pizza

Laghi’s Deli, 2019

At 5.45pm on a cold Wednesday evening, Laghi’s Deli is rammed. There are people in the bar area discussing work over large glass domes filled with red wine, whilst the restaurant area is packed with those elbows deep in plates of pasta. It’s great to see: some two years after I first stepped foot into here it appears that Laghi’s has reached it’s full potential, one where it has correctly cemented itself as the true authentic Italian in Birmingham. Sure there are others that rely on the same identikit menu with the same tricks and over reliance on a giant pepper grinder, but for real Italian food, for it’s silky pasta, it’s heart, it’s familiarity, you come to Laghi’s.

I’ve been coming fairly solidly since I first wrote about it. The food has got stronger and stronger, with the kitchen cooking more regional dishes from Bologna over what we are told that British will enjoy. This is not the place for spaghetti with your bolognese, nor cream with your carbonara, though if you are the kind of person who expects the above perhaps you’re reading the wrong Birmingham restaurant blog.

On a visit we take full advantage of a recent delivery of truffles from Tuscany. We have little crostinis topped with scrambled egg and black truffle, and taglioni with a lightly smoked cheese sauce and white truffles; a dish that seems very popular in the room, perhaps due to it’s perfume, or the extremely fair price of £30 to try the most prized of ingredients. There are sticks of fried pasta dough to dip into an arrabbiata sauce the right side of fiery, and deep fried bits of cardoon and artichoke, the quality of which are really quite something. I’m told that Luca personally picks the veg via skype from a buyer in Milan’s vegetable market. The mass consumerism of Bella Italia this is not.

The real stand-out moments here are with the pasta. A dish with porcini and coarse sausage meat is dressed in a sauce that contains a touch of cream that bites with lots of black pepper. The rolled pasta has integrity amongst such great company, being the texture it needs to bring every together en masse. Even better is the white crab meat wrapped in a ravioli of jet black squid ink, with onion jam, and a scamorza sauce that threatened to over but actually just gently lifted everything. This is a killer dish; the work of a chef not afraid to play the bold and delicate together, showing a skilled touch at balancing flavours. It might just be my favourite dish on the menu.

I returned again last week for a Sicilian wine dinner, where the kitchen showed they are far more than capable of turning their hand to an entirely different style of cooking. The food was mostly reminiscent of what we ate a couple of months back, with lightly fried panelle, oily fleshed sardines with plump sultanas and pine nuts, and ricotta frittas that leak soft cheese with every mouthful. When it is good – like the perkily dressed octupus salad, or the mussels gratin – it is very, very good indeed. We finish on cannoli better than any we personally ate in Sicily, including those from the reveered Pasticceria Maria Grammitico in Erice. The wine too was superb. But then it was handpicked from the Tenuta estate so it would be.

Now the disclosure bit. I’ve gotten to know Luca since he opened the restaurant and consider him a friend. We’ve been for lunch together and shared a glass of wine on numerous occasions. I say this because I have no need to hide it; we’re friends because because we share a mutual passion and when I eat at his restaurant my card always leaves my wallet. And the reason why I eat at Laghi’s as much as anywhere else in the city is not because he owns it, but because it is the first place I think of when I think of the rustic and bold cooking of Northern Italy.

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Rudy’s, Birmingham

It is possible to eat a three course meal at Rudy’s for £9.80. Let that sink in. That’s a starter, a sizeable pizza, and a dessert for under a tenner. A few doors down at ASK it wouldn’t, and should never, buy you the main event. Over the road at Franco Manca it would get you the pizza and not much else, provided that they remember to bring your food. Okay, your meal will consist of a caprese salad, a marinara pizza, and finish up with tartufo, but for this price beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a figure that plays on my mind over both visits; the Friday night when I have a £12 cocktail nearby, or shed £40 for a bucket of six beers around the corner; again on the Saturday lunch when I pay £9 for two disappointing cakes to take home from a nearby bakery. £10 doesn’t get you much. I’ll pay a premium gladly, because I work hard and I like nice things, but it does make you consider profit margins when these guys are knocking out such quality for so little.

Over these two visits I’ve quickly come to the conclusion that Rudy’s might be the last in a spate of recent pizza openings, but it is also the best. And I’ll go further; it is Birmingham’s finest pizza. And further still; I like it as much, if not more, than Lichfield’s Margheri, which makes it probably the best pizza I’ve eaten in this country. High enough praise? Good, we can continue. The decor, or lack of it, gets Claire excited, mostly due to the number of plants here that add a lushness to the exposed structure of what was once a pretty dreadful Spanish restaurant. In the middle of the room the chef’s are hard at work; contorting dough by hand to uneven circles like warped vinyl, layering the base sauces, the cheese, the toppings. The front of house on top of their game, quick to see if I want another negroni every time the glass gets low. I always want another negroni, especially when they are made this well.

Ready for the pizza? Sit down, you’ll have to wait a little while. We’ll start with that caprese salad I mentioned up top, yours for £2. For that you’ll get a bowl of tomato and mozzarella, dressed liberally in olive oil, salt, and pepper, with four basil leaves. It’s basic but executed well. It’s also two quid you tightwad. And then there are the campanas – sharing platters if you like – more mozzarella, some excellent sourdough, one with cured meat, the other roasted vegetables. They work because the produce quality is high.

When the pizza does arrive it is clear they are so rooted in Naples they should be delivered in a Fiat 500 by Diego Maradona. The dough is noticeably sour, scorched to leopard spots, and puddled in the middle. The tomato sauce has little intervention, heavily seasoned and tasting purely of tomato. I apologise now if I’m going into too much detail, but having eaten a lot of pizza of late, you notice the tiny details, and it is in those detail that they excel. All the pizzas go down great; the meat ones, the ones with fish (this, I will never understand), and the vegetarian ones. So far I have ordered the Carni and the Calabrese, because I Am Man and I like it hot. Cut pizza. Fold between finger and thumb. Eat pizza, reserving the crusts to be dredged through chilli oil. If you’re here at least do it properly. Have a negroni whilst you’re at it.

My forthcoming trip to Italy means no desserts are ordered, as I’d like to be able to snorkel without being dragged ashore by Greenpeace, though I should point out that at almost entirely under a fiver you shouldn’t be so prudent. Now, as a Birmingham food blog I should really take this point to showcase the local independents who also do pizza and pretend that they are as good as here. But I won’t. Rudy’s is brilliant, end of story. Better than the rest, smack bang in the centre of town with a sensible no reservation system that means I can rock up, put my name down and eat pizza when they text me to say my table is ready. I don’t care that they originated elsewhere and have crept down to us for their fourth branch. I care about quality, service, and value. For that much, Rudy’s is perfect.

10/10

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Rudy’s ran an opening promotion which meant the pizzas were free on both occasions. I paid for drinks and additional courses.

Peacer, Moseley

Some friends of ours told me a story about the origin of Peacer. Allegedly two friends were sending messages to one another after a big night out, both craving pizza to cure them of their hangover. The story continues with them not being able to get the type of pizza they wanted, whereupon they made a pact to open their own pizza shop. It took three years from that point to open Peacer, a new space in half of what used to be the ill-fated Starfish and Coffee on a burgeoning Woodbridge Rd that is fast becoming the food hub of Moseley. Is it true? Well, I have no idea, but I certainly hope so. Restaurants born out of friendship, passion, and silly ideas may be the accountants worst nightmare, though to me it’s brilliant. If you want a New York style slice shop, why not open one? It’s an attitude so fantastically up-and-at-them they could actually be in NYC. Except they are in Moseley, where the people are nicer and a little bit more smelly.

Now let’s keep this real short. Did I like Peacer? Yes I did, Dear Reader, quite a bit actually. I like what they have done with the place, which is both minimalist and practical with petrol blue walls and wooden tables of various shades. I like that they have looked at the small details hard, coming to the right conclusion that every table should have a bottles of Pip’s hot sauce, even if this is optimistic about the honesty of humans. I like that they are doing something different. The premise is simple; large slices of pizza by the slice, five options a day, at £3.50 each. This isn’t the soupy Neapolitan style doing the rounds at the moment that billows hot air from puffed-up crusts, but one that was born in the US of A, like Bruce Springsteen and obesity. The texture is more one dimensional, fillings go from the centre right to the edge, and those crusts are more like crimps. I try three slices, of which I like them all in varying degrees. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is one containing pineapple I like the least, though the sweetcorn and spring onion give it a brightness I wasn’t expecting. I thought the chilli and hot honey one would be my favourite, though as good as it was, it was the halloumi with smoked cheddar that I almost went back for seconds of. This is inspired; sweet and smokey, rife with fatty notes cut through with just a little red onion. £3.50 for a slice? Give me the entire wheel and cancel my meetings for the rest of the day. And pour me another pint of Tiny Rebel whilst you’re at it.

Now we’re going to have to discuss the elephant in the room. The more observant of you may have noticed the lack of meat in the above. I never questioned it, but it would appear that Peacer have opened a vegetarian pizza slice and beer bar without ever saying they are vegetarian. Now I kind of have to point this out because I know some of you can’t operate without a bit of meat in your mouth, but having lived with a vegetarian for six years I was happy about it. These pizzas simply don’t need meat; they are considered, carefully constructed, and, most importantly, really tasty. I can see myself coming here a lot, probably mid-walk from The Prince to The Dark Horse, maybe on the way home for a sneaky slice on the nights we are going to eat boring – sorry, I mean healthy – food. One thing is absolutely sure: in a city saturated with pizza, Peacer is the ideal fit for this particular neighbourhood.

8/10

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Poli, Kings Heath

In lieu of another pizza place garnering significant exposure by handing out a week’s worth of free pizza to every blogger, Instagrammer, and grammar poor journalist, I’d almost forgot that Poli was opening last weekend. I am reminded by my girlfriend who is keen to try it out on account of her love for the sister venue, Grace + James. Expectations are set to high: Grace + James is an annoyingly perfect neighbourhood wine bar, where every bottle, decoration, and cheese is tailored into the most considered of rooms. It is a place where we spend a lot of time and money, a place where every visit is a lesson on natural wines. They’ve become very good at knowing what wine I will and won’t like, which is equal parts scary and impressive for a business that has only been open a year.

Poli is two doors down, unmissable given the teal painted frontage and pink logo. Inside it is a wash of baby pinks and soft blues, the walls bearing 80’s style prints, neon signs, and some terracotta plant pots that start a twenty minute conversation of admiration. It’s beautiful. The negroni I start with is the only thing I don’t like, as we plough into the menu: pickled grapes, a couple of small plates, two pizzas. Pickled grapes are the future, I know, I’ve tasted them.

Let’s start with the filth.  Potatoes roasted in lamb fat with a little mint. Sunday roast without the overcooked meat. All blistered skins and deep ovine flavour. I’m sad that it’s taken 36 years on the planet to eat these. Three dense meat balls with the backnotes of fennel, on a ragu of tomatoes thick with chunks of onion, homemade ricotta, and chive oil. It’s a big old portion for not much money. We fight over the rights to the last one, and then fight again to work the last of the ricotta out of the sides of the plate with the crusts of the pizza.

That pizza is good, in Birmingham’s top three at present and quite possibly the best in a very competitive market. It won’t be to everyone’s taste; the centre of both of ours are loose and soupy, the kind of pizza that would find the plate with ease should it be tilted. The rest is textbook. The crust is blistered, the dough pleasingly sour, with the same tomato sauce returning from the meatballs. One with guanciale, pecorino, and egg riffs on the flavours of carborna, whilst the other with chorizo, ‘nduja, and honey is a sweet meaty treat. The quality of the ingredients stands out with every bite. We plunge the crusts into an aioli coloured with squid ink that I don’t care for, and a fermented chilli sauce that I demand is bottled and sold. It’s complex and hot, which also happens to be my Tinder bio.

We don’t have dessert, though fear not, we are not alone and our company do. In a move never seen before on this singular-minded rampage of ego which is my food blog, I am now about to hand over the reigns to drink maestro, Jacob Clarke, who will talk you through his his strawberry, marshmallow, and jam shortbread sandwich from Happy Endings.

I’m getting a lot of strawberry, but also marshmallow and jam, too.

Wise words, Jacob. Wise words.

The bill hits £120 between four with a lot of booze, and we retire to the sanctuary of Grace and James to drink more wine. In all honestly, I was a little deflated when I heard the plans for yet another pizza place, and then it clicked: I’ve been eating Sophie and Henrys food for years, way before the cheese boards at Grace + James when they made their own chorizo and put them on tacos with the street food business they brought to Birmingham. In Poli they have created much more than a pizzeria; it has great craft beers and wines and a killer play list of indie classics. It has great food at a fair price and with impeccable taste. It is, without question, my favourite opening of the year so far.

9/10

Can’t walk to Kings Heath? A2B love that journey

Franco Manca, Birmingham

The first Franco Manca I had was also my first great pizza experience. Let me take you back. It was the Summer of 2010, way before any idea of this blog occurred, when I was lean and with a full head of hair. I was in London with my mate Barry to see Kings of Leon, a band who were once good, despite what their last three albums will argue. We had lunch at Gauthier, beers in Camden, the gig, and then back to Camden. In the morning we hopped on to the blue line for what seemed like an eternity, stopping at Brixton for pizza at the original Franco Manca. I’d done my research; I got the joke about Frank being missing; I knew the queue would be big and the menu short. We went and it was incredible. In my head it is one of the best meals I’ve eaten – nonsense of course, but still a testament to how thrilling some cooked dough and a few ingredients can be. Franco Manca is the primary reason we have Neopolitan style pizza in the UK: they gave this style to the masses with thirty-six sites in London, and another eleven further afield, including a new shiny Birmingham site.

Now cutting to the crux (or should that be crust?), do they still provide a great pizza experience? No. And I don’t think they have for years in all honesty. I recall a really average pizza at Broadway market three years back, and likewise at Kings Cross a year or so after that. Maybe they were never as good as I think they were, or maybe the competition that they created have surpassed them with ease. It’s a good pizza, but good pizza isnt going to pass muster when we have some excellent pizza already established in this city. It starts well enough; a starter of lamb sausage with potato and spicy tomato sauce is comforting and big on flavour. Better is the aubergine parmigiana, that is firm and meaty. I’d say this is the nicest rendition of this dish I’ve had had it not caught in parts and taken on burnt notes.

Well then the generator overheated, granite spewed on to Bennett’s Hill, and they had a full on meltdown. It became quickly clear that some parts of the dining room were making full use of that oven which blasts pizzas in about a minute, turning tables quickly. We were not in that part of the room. It took one hour to get our pizza and that was only after raising it with a manager. They turn up, one five minutes before the other, the two looking visibly like they’d been given five minutes difference in cooking time. The pizza is okay: it’s clearly not a true sourdough base, one seems a little underdone, the other is heavily scorched. The toppings are unevenly distributed, a minor detail, but one that others seem to get right. I don’t enjoy the No.7, which surprises me, because almost all of the ingredients appeared successfully over the two starters. The one with chorizo is better, but only because that cured meat is superb in quality. Claire notes that the pizza she had for lunch the day before was way better, a worrying thought for inconsistencies across sticking some dough in an oven.

Now we know they’ve had a bad day, and so do they. The manager reappears, apologises and wipes the bill. He also does the same for the table next to us who’ve had a similar experience. He asks that we come back and give them another go, a fair request given how well it is handled, and one that we will do when they’ve settled in over to months to come. The previous night we went to another pizza place that opened on the same day here. The difference was huge; they were operating like clockwork and turning out some of the best pizza we’ve had in Birmingham. Part of me thinks that Franco Manca believe they can walk into a central spot and live off their reputation. They can’t. For now it appears that they’ve cut off too large a slice to swallow.

6/10

Thankfully the wait times for the A2B that took us there and back were much shorter.

Alicia’s Micro Bakehouse, Stirchley

Getting to Alicia’s has been unusually tricky. Upon the initial glowing praise we first tried the takeaway route which took two hours longer than planned to arrive and — when it did arrive — was lukewarm and not particularly memorable. We decided to give them time to settle, trying again on a Saturday lunchtime when we were plant shopping in Stirchley, except at this point they never opened on a Saturday afternoon. We phoned for a table a few months after and were told there were none available until 9.30pm. On the Tuesday we finally do bag a table it almost never happens because first they tell us they ‘might’ have a table for two at 7pm, leaving us dangling on the phone before confirming they can fit us in. I’ve had more fun at 9am in the morning listening to the Le Gavroche hold music for forty minutes trying to book a table for exactly three months time.

Inside it is equally haphazardous, albeit in a joyful, scatty, way. There should probably be a ‘Men at Work’ sign, and hardhats should be worn. It is very busy: tables are frantically being turned; pizzas are whizzed through the narrow passageways and are occasionally lowered at incorrect tables; there may be a lengthy wait whilst they locate the only bottle of chilli oil. You may also have to point out where the affogato option can be found on the menu. This kind of behaviour would normally reduce me to tears, though I found myself sucked into the chaotic atmosphere. Everyone wears smiles here: the chefs, the front of house, the paying customers in the adjoining dining areas. Given that it has taken six months or so to get here, the forty-five minutes we spend inside passes in a blur.

The menu is a list of stuff on dough, supplemented by a few things that could be served on dough but aren’t. We forgo the starters and aim straight for the pizza. The important bits are there; a sourdough base as good as anywhere in Brum right now, a tomato sauce the right side of sweet, and a good blister on the crust. It is a little too soupy in the middle, and I personally would have liked a little more generosity with the toppings, but it is good pizza. In addition to the usual ingredients mine had fennel sausage and gorgonzola supplemented with a little ‘nudja, whilst Claires went all out on the vegetables. Those pizzas are around a tenner each, the affogato a couple of quid more. The bill hits fifteen quid a head with a couple of soft drinks.

It is incredible to think that three years ago it was impossible to get great pizza in Birmingham, yet here I am about to dissect the competition. Alicia’s is good. I’ve said the base is great, but realistically does it have the quality of meat sourcing as somewhere like Otto, or a star dish up its sleeve like the calzone at Baked in Brick? I’m not sure it does. And then there is the small matter of the big guns of Rudy’s Pizza and Franco Manca hitting town (the latter armed with a true sourdough base) anytime now. Luckily none of this will impact Alicia’s who have joined a burgeoning Stirchley High Street full of independents. They don’t need my endorsement to pack out the resturant every night, they’re doing a good enough job of that themselves.

7/10

When the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie, ride A2B

@pizza, Birmingham

The marketing department of @pizza have a lot to answer for.

“Hey guys, we have this great concept for pizzas that sees them treated like burritos and cooked on one of those archaic bread conveyor belts you find in cheap continental hotels. What do we call it?”

“I’ve got it. Lets forgo the use of the English language and catchy names for a symbol that precedes all Twitter and Instagram accounts. THE KIDS WILL LOVE IT. Lets use the ‘at’ symbol. Lets call it ‘@pizza'”.

“Excellent. Has anyone checked that the Twitter and Instagram for ‘@pizza’ is available? Or what the search results on Google are like?”

“Yeah, erm, it is literally impossible to find using that. But it’s okay because the kids will know to search ‘@atpizza'”

“Doesn’t that defeat the point in trying to sound young and trendy?”

“We don’t need this negativity here. You’re fired”

Maybe I’m just too old for it. Maybe I’ve given up on the idea of being relevant again, knowing full well that only the saddest of bastards take to posting song lyrics on Twitter. Maybe there is a great idea in here somewhere that I can’t see and it will go on to be a roaring success. But it’s not for me. I just want to be fed well, not spun through an exercise in style over substance. Not sat in a glossy room and talked through a concept that involves standing back up to queue and list off what I want on my cardboard, before waiting for it to cook and be garnished so that I can pay for it and take it back to the table.

It’s flawed. The choice of cheeses would have been easier had I not been looking at them. Do I want the cubed cheap stuff, or the grated cheap stuff? How you spoil me. Yes, I would love peppers, but no, not that bit that should be in the bin. And the meats?! It’s like being transported back to Subway, only these look even drier. I want to ask if the spicy sausage is made of sawdust, but the staff are so lovely I’m concerned they’ll disappear out the back to show me what brand of sawdust is being used.

Those staff are well trained. Every element is carefully measured and portioned so that all eight squares have the same toppings, layered in the same order. By the time it comes out of the industrial toaster it looks alright.

The eating is entirely different. This is late night kebab shop pizza tarted up for the train station commuters. The base is thin and presumably made from pulped wood chips and tears, the tomato base tasteless, the cheese claggy. The fundamentals are fucked. We order listed pizzas instead of making our own. The meat one is meaty; the spicy one spicy. That’s about as much as I can remember.

The bill is not much. Pizzas are a tenner each, two bottles of beers just under a fiver apiece. This is the only saving grace. Ten pound doesn’t buy you much in town, and keeping the prices low is key when attracting the one-visit-passing-through-trade of Grand Central. But it’s rubbish. On paper @pizza might have seemed a good idea. The reality proves that to be far from the truth.

3/10

There are good choices you can make. A2B Radio Cars are one of those.

Margheri, 2019, Lichfield

Back when this blog was in nappies Margheri was it’s first real success story. I went with my mate Jim on a Saturday night when there was just him and I, along with another table of two. I was blown away by the quality of the food, wondering why, at that time at least, I would have to come to Lichfield to get great pizza. I wrote nice things about it and, for the first time in my life, it did some good. People went. Lots of people in fact. They sent me a lovely message telling me how they were in the enviable position of turning tables away at the weekend. In truth it had little to do with me: food this good was always going to reach its audience eventually; I was just in the right place at the right time to drop the proverbial Mentos into the neck of the Cola bottle.

Since then I’ve been back maybe half a dozen times. Usually before the boxing evenings Jim hosts at his home, and always involving copious amounts of limoncello accompanied by the sort of piss-poor behaviour that happens when you’re old and don’t get out enough. It’s great, and I should shout about it more often, but I’ve wrote about it already. Except I should shout about it again. That first post, one of my most popular at the time, maxed out at just under 800 views. To put it in perspective I often pass that number in a day, my most average of posts get multiples of that, and the more popular many times that figure. It’s time to tell you once again that Margheri is really, really, really good.

This time we add Fritturini to the usual Deli Doughball starters. The basket contains a variety of beige domes that only reveal their identity once bitten into. There are textbook arancini, potato croquettes with heavily seasoned mash, and balls of cheesey pasta that are new to me. It’s Italian streetfood served in the quiet town of Lichfield. The dough balls are still excellent; crunchy exteriors giving way to the same dough that makes up those oh-so-good pizzas I’ll shortly get to. The rocket and tomato salad on top tastes of both ingredients; a minor miracle given this is the end of January.

Now those pizzas. I think it may be the best pizza I’ve eaten in the UK. It’s all here; the 00 flour dough that stretches out slowly like the holes of an old belt, the tomato base made from the San Marzano variety, and the buffalo mozzarella, all imported from their home region: the commitment to a true Neapolitan pizza experience has rarely been greater. On this occasion we share a Calabrese that has fiery ‘nduja and fresh basil leaves, and a special with parma ham and an entire bulb of burrata that oozes heavy cream when pierced. Both have dough blistered at a soaring heat that leaves more leopard spots than a Lilly Savage tribute act. Both have that slightly soupy centre. Both are really, really excellent.

I’ve never had dessert here, unless you count limoncello as dessert, in which case I love dessert here. The bill on this occasion is £90 between five, a figure that doesnt require the accountant amongst us to declare as a bargain. For something so simple good pizza is difficult to find. After writing this food blog for what feels like an eternity I can recommend only three in Birmingham, another three in London, one in Bristol, and Margheri in Lichfield; maybe the best of them all.

Transport provided by those local heroes, A2B

The Church, Jewellery Quarter

The Church is a bloody good boozer that by day has the best roof terrace I have been to this side of Soho House NYC, and at night slinks back into a space filled with a good looking crowd looking for merriment and additional bed post notches. It is the embodiment of cool; a place for excessive leather clothing and facial hair, where Birkenstocks with socks are admired and not sneered at. The bar is a handsome blend of booths and victorian tiles, whilst the eyes of the staff show that they know how to party way better than you ever will. It is almost impossible to dislike The Church, but that doesn’t mean I musn’t try.

Because despite the cool attitude it portrays, something was clearly amiss on our recent visit. For a venue that garners much love locally with the food, it was off-key and not memorable in any way. The menu is pizza-led and we take two of these with an additional sandwich to bulk out this review like a sock down the pants. That sandwich, a loose take on a croque monsieur, is arguably the best thing we eat. The cola ham inside tastes mercifully unlike the fizzy drink, glued together with stringy mozzarella. On the outside is a kind of rarebit topping with a tangy cheese and too much mustard. It’s nice, in the same way that spending Christmas Day with your slightly racist nan is.

It is the pizza bit I don’t understand. I’ve had them under the same banner at food festivals and these don’t resemble those. The sourdough base is less pliable and a little overcooked, the tomato sauce unremarkable. The toppings are all over the shop. One has so much merguez sausage on all we can taste is anise, whilst another has chicken fighting with double the amount of pickled onions. The chicken loses. At over a tenner a go they are not great.

We don’t bother with dessert because we have a box full of pizza slices to eat at home. They don’t improve there. Given the people I respect who tell me how good the food at The Church is, I can’t help but feel disappointment. Something wasn’t right, and in a city that contains the brilliant pizzas at Baked in Brick and Otto, that means a recommendation to eat here from me is impossible.

6/10

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars

Baked in Brick, Digbeth

My dining history at Baked in Brick is a lengthy one that goes back some way. In Feb 2016, when his street food had not long started I made a point of saying you should keep a firm eye on him, noting ‘the man, the mini, and the food are going places’. Then, a year later at another pop-up after winning Best Street Food, I make the bold statement that ‘Lee’s cooking is right up there with the best’, finishing the piece with ‘the man I said was going places has truly arrived. And only an idiot would miss it’. I have featured him thrice more properly on my blog, a piece on Digbeth Dining Club, another on Sear & Smoke, and most recently at the Independent Birmingham Festival, watching the mini take more awards and the food evolve. Apologies for rehashing my old work like a desperate ‘ICYMI’ tweet, but I always knew it would be good because I know my shit when it comes to food. I’ve been there from the start, I haven’t rocked up at the trophy bus parade like a phoney Leicester City fan because he won a few things and became fashionable to like.

And here he is, less than four years from the first gigs at Digbeth Dining Club, in a permanent home in the Custard Factory. The dining room is instantly recognisable to anyone who has eaten the street food. The bar frontage to the left is the same wood that houses the tent counter, the steel girding above the same as the van that drove to Berlin to take the title. The far wall has clever nods to the backstory in vibrant artwork, with the red Mini Cooper peering out towards the diner. There had to be a mini. To the side is an enclosed terrace where we had our second meal here. The sun loves this space almost as much as I do.

Before I get on to the pizza that dominated our two visits, let’s be very clear; a pizzeria this is not. Yes, it has an oven intended for such things, but there is much more to the cooking than that. On our first visit we start with a tomato salad dotted with tapenade and croutons, on to which a textbook tomato essence is poured. It is all beautifully fresh, with just a hint of verdant basil to lift it all. Our second visit has us ordering a huge bulb of burrata with the same components minus the tomato essence; the burrata is creamy enough. It is so good that I forget to take a picture. What an awful blogger I am. No wonder they all hate me.

But those pizzas. Christ on a bike, they are so very good. I’m sticking my neck out now and saying these are Brum’s best on account of the basic principles; quality toppings, that leopard print scorched base and a pliable crust. Most conventional has folds of Serrano ham and shavings of Lincolnshire Poacher. Another has pork and fennel meatballs and a yellow pepper ketchup whose metallic notes sits perfectly between the sweet and the acidic. Most supreme is the white pizza, a daring blend of smoked chicken and boulangere potato on béchamel sauce. It’s carb on carb, a pool party in Carbella. It also tastes like a chicken and dauphinois potato sandwich. Absolute filth. We love it.

No visit to Baked in Brick could miss out the beef shin calzone, seemingly feed on steroids for how much it is grown on to the plate here. Once the crust has been cut into the tangle of beef and wild mushroom ragu has the deep flavour of wine from a lengthy marinade and a long peppery finish. A stilton dip on the side has a little cayenne pepper and lemon juice but is ultimately there to add more umami to a plate of food already drenched in it. I simply cant think of a better way to spend £11 right now. Try it and you’ll understand why it has won every award known to man including the Noble Peace Prize, the Pulitzer and The Golden Boot.

I am yet to get round to ordering dessert, mostly because I leave on both occasions with a box of crusts to chow on at home, though the present choice is a crème brulee or a brownie. A meal here will cost between £15-25 depending on how greedy you happen to be, which is astonishing value given the quality. And now the score, for which I have thought hard about. I think it sits somewhere between a nine and ten, but I’m going full marks for this reason; Baked In Brick is integral to the development of this city’s food scene, further proof that some of the finest eateries in Birmingham have stemmed from trading on the streets. And it is only going to get better when the chicken tikka roll rolls on to the menu alongside the slow cooked lamb. I have long been a fan of the food, though it is obvious he belongs within bricks and mortar. The Custard Factory, Digbeth and Birmingham have all just gained an absolute gem of a restaurant.

10/10 

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