Pizza

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 

Transport provided byA2B Radio Cars

Rojano’s in The Square, Padstow

I can’t remember the name of our waiter, but I would like to publically extend an apology to him. I am sorry for the jokes straight out of the seventies, and my personal state which went from nicely pissed to pathetically wasted. I had no idea that Bin Two was such a lovely place to sit in the sun, or that one drink would turn into two G&T’s and five glasses of wine before dinner, so I when I continually pestered you for the arancini as dessert and petit fours, it was the grape juice talking. Even if I could have easily eaten twenty more of them.

Now, if you hadn’t guessed by now, this short piece is 100% seen whilst wearing my beer googles. But I can confidently tell you with way more certainty than how we got home, that this place would have been bloody lovely even if I were sober and it was raining outside and the pretty lady sitting opposite me was trying to talk Kardashians with me. It starts with those arancini filled with a peppery Bolognese, with a truffle and madeira dip that adds a earthy quality without detracting from the richness. And a special of gypsy eggs, which is really just baked eggs with tomato and chorizo, and three fat spears of local asparagus to dunk with. Unlike any gypsies I’ve met these are clean in taste and polite. Just like gypsies, I would gladly marry it if it were related. But those arancini. They were the best thing we ate all weekend, which included a trip to the other Paul Ainsworth restaurant in town that happens to be bestowed with a star.

Being Italian in notion, we order a pizza and pasta for mains. I’m mocked for my choice of pizza by the equally wasted partner, who points out that I may as well be in Pizza Express. Piss off Claire and get back to your wine. The Diavola has a thin sourdough base that doesn’t do much for me, though what this lacks in character is made up by a tomato base with bags of attitude. The salami on top is of obvious quality and the roquito, jalapeños, and chilli peppers add varying degrees of heat and fruitiness. Liberal blobs of proper mozzarella are just plain naughty. The crusts get taken through the last of the dip which came with the arancini. Oh those arancini.

The other main is the kind of bastardisation that would usually have me sweating for mucking about with the classics, but here, well I like it. We have essentially what is carbonara with pork meatballs. The pasta is fresh and, don’t tell anyone, better in texture than the tagliatelle the night before at No.6. The egg yolk still warming through on the pasta adds a lusciousness, whilst the back note of madeira is unexpected but welcome. The meatballs have little interference other than the taste of pig. It’s a very good bowl of pasta. Fat bronzed chips were totally unnecessary but quickly gobbled down after a dredging through a mustardy mayonnaise.

Dessert has one ice cream based option called a Whoopsie Splunker, presumably a description of what will happen to me if I eat that much dairy. We pass, finish up on the wine and pay a bill of £80 for the two of us. The following day whilst stuck in traffic on the A30 we discuss the meal, concluding that it is was more than just the wine that made it so jolly. When done this well, good Italian food can awaken the soul; it’s nourishing and dare I say it, sexy. Not that any of that was happening in our little cottage, we were too busy sleeping off the booze and the food, dreaming of Bolognese filled arancini.

8/10

I’m nominated for Best Food Blog at the forthcoming MFDH Awards. Please vote for me here in category 17.

Otto, Jewellery Quarter

At the far end of Otto is a blackboard whose scrawling catches my eye. It is titled ‘The Producers’, going into detail about the charcuterie, cheese, flour, tomatoes, and olive oil. It is a biological passport of provenance. A statement to sourcing. And all of this from a little place serving pizza and not much else. Prezzo this is not.

The menu is concise and cleverly put together. Eight pizzas, with starters (some flatbreads, and a couple of sharing boards) using up the same bread, meats, and vegetables as the pizzas. We order a couple of Negronis that are as well made as anywhere in the city.

The oven that our pizzas are in is ticking at 400 Celsius today, which cooks the dough to a blistered crust in under three minutes. The dough is good, up there with the best in the city though a little short of London’s pliable best, but it is the toppings that stand them miles apart. My order sees fennel sausage stand in for a lack of chorizo, with ‘nduja and honey. It is excellent; meaty and rich, the honey tempering the ‘nduja’s more aggressive qualities. We also add meat to an otherwise vegetarian choice of ricotta, aubergine, and artichoke. The meat, coppa ham on this occasion, sits in comfortably amongst the healthy stuff. The veg is brilliant, the oozy ricotta more so. In both instances we apply liberal amounts of a chilli infused oil that has heat without losing the peppery quality of the oil.

So two very good pizzas and Negroni’s for under £40 – drink more modestly and you could shave at least a tenner off that. I was impressed with Otto, they seem at ease with what they offer and that is reflected in a service that is both personable and efficient. This at present is the best pizza in Birmingham.

8/10

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

The Plough, Harborne

It was three years ago, when this blog was in its infancy, I first wrote about The Plough. This was before the awards and the accolades, when the number of my twitter followers was lower than my sexual partners. It was the first place I ever gave a perfect ten to, but nobody read the blog, so frankly who cares. As the blog has grown I’ve continued to go The Plough and I’ve felt a tinge of guilt that one of the best places in Birmingham amassed a total of 600 views, whilst now a write-up of a shite brunch and subsequent fallout with a tv licence pilfering ‘comedian’ gets many multiples of that within 24 hours of posting.

So now I’m going to abuse my readership by jumping back on that Plough to churn up the ground once more. It’s still the best pub in Birmingham. The city continues to grow in its brilliance, with many excellent pubs coming since, and this little spot in Harborne continues to adapt and knock spots off them. I could bang on about the drinks, including a cocktail program curated by Rob Wood, a stellar whisky collection, and the damm right naughty wine list, but you’re here for the food. And quite rightly so.

A recent dinner proved they are much more than just pizza and burgers. Garlic bread sits in the small plates section, arriving dotted with mozzarella and ‘nduja, each cancelling the others more verdant qualities in all the right ways. It has now overtaken pork scratchings as my favourite partner to a pint. A tangle of pulled beef brisket with sweet potato is the dish I go to to find comfort. I break the yolk of the fried egg and load on to thickly sliced toasted bread. The meat is tender without being mush, and I suspect there is spice involved – maybe Worcestershire sauce – in the cooking of the hash. It’s rich, and it requires the apple chutney to cut through it all, but it’s also bloody lovely.

A fairly recent addition has been the Cubanos – toasted sandwiches to you and I. We have the chicken, smokey with paprika, with bacon and Swiss cheese. Much like the rest of the menu here, its unfussy in concept and massive in portion. It shares a plate with fries that we can’t get excited over, and a perky salad that we do thanks to the clever additions of black bean, feta, and avocado along with the usual suspects. Have this (or the pork, it’s equally good) and ask for all salad and no fries. This was not my suggestion if they say no.

I simply can’t go 38 months and not rave about the above pizza with ‘nduja and mascarpone. This has been on for about a year and is the dish we always order – the perfect balance of heat and cooling. The above picture is not from the recent dinner, but two weeks prior. Don’t @ me, whatever that means.

Looking back at what I wrote back then, it’s clear The Plough have mastered consistency – they still have staff that react to the smallest of gestures and yet know when to leave you alone. They still keep beer in impeccable condition and still only use the finest of ingredients. In short,they are still the best pub in Birmingham. Nowhere else comes close.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here http://www.a2bradiocars.com

The Plough Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Blake’s Restaurant, Hopwood

Blake’s Restaurant is housed within The Westmead, a hotel on the outskirts of the city I have not been to for over a year. The last time I was here it was for a wedding, a lovely occasion where they made the error of inviting me all day, resulting in my Saturday drinking start time being pushed back two hours to 11am. Unsurprisingly, I was a mess. The hotel has changed a lot since then, undergoing a massive refurbishment since the turn of the year – the bar has been extended, the entire area spruced. The biggest change has occurred within the restaurant area – now Blakes, a handsome dining room of petrol blues, pale greys and copper. If the devil really is in the detail, this room is pure evil. It is proud and cleverly lit, a dining space any food would be glad to grace.


On first glance the menu doesn’t smack of ambition, it looks to be a modest affair that saves the bravado for the plate. Dishes that don’t promise much transpire to be much more elaborate in composition. A crab and prawn pot has plenty of crustacean bound in an acidulated crème fraiche with pickled cucumber at the base. It is crowned with salmon roe that pops with salinity and a delicate squid ink tuile. We’re initially shocked at how pretty it is. On the side is an accurately cooked king prawn and a mini loaf; two very different things to pull apart with fingers and savour. At £7.50 it’s as expensive as the starters get, showing that the kitchen are not only downplaying their talent but the prices, too.


The mini loaf returns for potted pork, the braised and pulled meat hidden under a blanket of clarified butter. It all eats well but needs to tone down the acidity; it’s everywhere. The vinegar in the piccalilli is a little too sharp, and lemon juice is detectable in a winter ‘slaw. Even the pork has an underlying zing. I get the want to freshen everything up but this is a plate of food that would benefit from accepting that it is rich and fatty. It is very nearly there. We still finish the plate because nothing is going to come between me and pig with piccalilli.

They have a wood fired oven here that they use to make pizza and more snacky items, which appear to be doing a roaring trade in the two weeks they have been trading. From the former we take a pizza draped in good quality meat and add olives that have come straight out of a jar. Given the obvious the effort gone to sourcing here, the olives seem a small slip that I can overlook. The pizza is good; supple with a nice char on the crust, and plenty of tomato flavour on the base. It is extremely generous in size and serious value at under £10. Dough balls are generous sides at four quid, which would make a good snack with a pint propped up at the bar.


Pork steak is a grown-up riff on gammon and eggs. At the centre of the plate is a fat cut of tender pig, accurately cooked so that it blushes pink in the centre. A couple of poached eggs provide the rich sauce, whilst a pineapple salsa is a smartly judges mixture of sweetness, acidity, and heat. It doesn’t need the avocado purée, nor do I understand it’s place on the dish, but the chips are serious things that snap and comfort. It is downright delicious.

Our choices for desserts could not be more different. I love the simplicity of affogato, the idiot proof process of pouring shots of espresso and amaretto on to vanilla ice cream. And there’s not much to say about it other than it hit the mark was and keenly priced at £5.50, including the booze. Claire’s dessert on the other hand is on of those that is destined to pop up on Instagram feeds. A peanut butter and chocolate brownie is downright naughty, with a healthy crust and squidgy centre. On top there is a wave of tempered chocolate and a macaroon, both sprayed gold. Elsewhere on the plate are raspberries freeze dried and as gels, pistachio ice cream, fresh passion fruit and again as a gel, and honeycomb. This is a serious amount of pastry work, saving the best course for last. It’s hard to fault and very quickly finished.

It’s hard not to admire what they are doing here, it would be so easy for a hotel like this to sit back and make a living from weddings every weekend, yet they are pitching themselves above that, providing food that looks and tastes the part. It’s not perfect yet, but I wouldn’t expect it to be after two weeks, and we really enjoyed our meal. The kitchen have already landed on their feet and with the smallest of tweaks will be running in no time at all time. I won’t be holding out for the next wedding invite to arrive before I return to The Westmead, Blake’s restaurant is one that I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

7/10

I was invited to Blake’s by Birmingham PR agency, Delicious PR http://www.deliciouspr.co.uk

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download their cashless app at http://www.a2bradiocars.com

The Stable, Birmingham

We visit The Stable on a warm Sunday morning, the communal bench seating bathed in Spring sunshine through the large glass panes that line the front of the building. The place is empty, save for a couple down one end, and a member of staff sat the other, casually tucking into a McDonalds meal whilst looking hard in to his phone. We should have took this gents actions as a warning and fled, that if the staff here would rather feed on Ronald’s massacred beef over their own food, maybe we too should look elsewhere for a casual lunch. But we don’t. We sit and we order and we drink and we eat. We do the last bit disgruntled because this is not the place to come if eating well is your ‘thing’.

The Stable specialise in pizza, cider, and pies. They have the brilliant marketing idea of naming some of these dishes after areas of Birmingham. We could choose the Perry Baa Baa, which is an unbelievably hilarious pun on Perry Barr for a lamb topped pizza, or the Smethwick Scorcher, which I assume to be a reference on the areas many torched cars. I could be wrong on the last point.

IMG_8671

We order three pizza’s, the first being that Smethwick Scorcher, actually named because of the dishes heat levels. It’s a one dimensional blast of pure heat that wipes any other flavour off the face of the planet. There are milky white pork balls that taste of chilli, red onion that tastes of chilli, all on a tomato and naga chilli base that tastes of 50% of the listed ingredients which are not tomato. The thin base is overcooked and crisp. It is supposedly sourdough but then your guess is as good as mine. In my two pint haze of bitterness I take to Twitter to call it ‘twelve pounds of shite’ – I was wrong.  It’s actually eleven pounds of shite.

IMG_8673

There are others similarly bad.  The least offensive of these is The Blazing Saddle with pulled beef and bacon that starts off well enough and ends up a monotonous crawl through Mediocre Town.  A Fresh Hawaiian is something that could have come from The Plough if they stopped trying and went home.  The ham is the best thing on the board, rich and meaty, the rest of it a lesson in blandness.   We are offered avocado for an additional 50p which confirms my opinion that guacamole is the only sensible home for this overused fruit.  It adds nothing other than an unwelcome texture.

IMG_8672

IMG_8674

I mention The Plough in jest above, though it’s an important reference point in comparison.  I love The Plough; they do solid cooking with high-quality ingredient’s.  The food here felt like they were trying to be very similar and ended-up a mile away in quality for much of the same price.  It was sloppy, disinterested, and littered with errors.  And we were hungry again just an hour later.  We should have gone to McDonalds.  Or better still, The Plough.

4/10

Pizzeria Margheri, Lichfield

Today I find myself north of Birmingham in Lichfield – a phrase I haven’t been able to say too often in the past. I am here for the holy grail of good company, good beer and good food. It is the food which I find most intriguing; I have come on the lure of a family run Italian restaurant where good pizza can be had. I have often bemoaned the state of Italian found in Birmingham – it’s the most poorly represented cuisine in the city and I am yet to eat in any in my home town that I would recommend to others. In Birmingham if you want good pizza you go to The Plough in Harborne. If home made, silky pasta is your thing, then I am sorry to have to break this to you, but you are in the wrong city.

002

Pizzeria Margheri doesn’t look much at first. It’s a small room, with tired beige tiles on the floor and exposed brick walls. There are too many wooden tables for the cramped space and I imagine at full capacity the conversations of nearby diners become very much your business.  It is a good thing that they take the food so seriously:  They import as much as possible from their native Italy, from buffalo mozzarella through to hunks of cured meat which is sliced onsite.  Its an expense that pays off; the mozzarella is young enough to still threaten your chin with its milk, whilst the proscuitto has a depth of flavour and glistening fat that we rarely find on these shores.  With no cooking required the plate is an exercise in ingredient sourcing.  They pass the test with aplomb.

004

The aforementioned pizza is made with a sour dough base which we try in a couple of forms.  First up is dough balls which are world away from the spongy tripe that they serve at Pizza Express.  Here the dough is deep fried and non-uniform in size.  There is a pleasingly high salt content and a chunky tomato salsa which pays thanks to the quality shopping again.  Think savoury donuts for grown ups and you’re just about there.  The pizza was a delight.  Everything above board was well sourced, from more of the mozzarella to the discs of salami, but it was below decks where the hard work was done.  The dough had been treated to a blitz through an oven which rendered leopard spots of char on the base.  The crust was chewy, the centre correctly soupy.  It is up there with a certain Franca Manca in London as the best pizza in the country.  And all of this on a side street in a city that only qualifies as one because of a cathedral.  The thirty thousand residents of Lichfield don’t know how lucky they are.

003

006

Did I mention that they have a constantly changing pasta menu which I’ll be going back to try?  Or that it is seriously cheap? Throw in a starter, main course and a few beers apiece and you’ll struggle to reach the dizzying heights of twenty-five quid a head.  All of which makes the fact that we dined in a half empty restaurant on a Saturday evening all the more shocking.  Maybe they need a fully-functioning website, or maybe they just need to relocate to my street so I can single-handily keep them ticking over.  In a country full of chains serving faux-Italian, independents such as Margheri deserve to thrive for serving authentic food at a fair price.   At last I have an Italian which I can recommend.  Go try it for yourself, even if like me it is forty minutes on a train away.

8/10

Margheri Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato