If you wanted proof of what a catch I am, let it be known that I spend a lot of time looking at menus. Its a hobby of mine that my boss at work and a formal letter for inappropriate internet usage will testify to. Before this restaurant blogging lark arrived, it provided inspiration for meals at home in the same way that cookbooks do. Nowadays it is all about where I will get my next fill. I tend to split the menu hunts between my Michelin obsession, and those that I think may be some kind of hidden gem which will blast me into the stratosphere of bloggers and have people hanging on every word like some false prophet of gastronomy. Sorry, for a minute there I lost myself. But it proves that despite telling myself otherwise, I am like other bloggers; mostly unable to turn down a free meal and always looking to feed my ego as much as my belly. Which takes me back to why I keep on looking at menus for obscure places that I can break to the world and declare as magnificent, even if you and I both know that in reality if they were really that good, someone with taste would have beaten me to it along time ago.
Fear not, World, you can keep those spandex knickers on, La Banca is not one of those mythical gems. I could have possibly told you this from the menu which claims to cook authentic Italian cuisine and still puts cream in their carbonara. It takes a smart place in old bank on a high street in South Birmingham not used to smart places, making good use of a mirrored wall that makes the space look twice as large. Its popular, mostly you feel because of the restaurant manager for glides between tables, flirting with the regulars who make up the crowd on a blustery winters evening. The large phallic shaped pepper grinder were made for this man.
Creamed carbonara aside, they try hard to keep it as authentic as possible and for the most part it works. A nibble of bean salad with crisp breads is a merciless assault of garlic, as are the garlic bread and bruschetta that follow. I like them all, mostly because I don’t like close social encounters, but also because they bold in taste and heavily seasoned. The bruschetta has pronounced flavours of onion and vinegar and lots and lots of garlic, even if the rather bland tomatoes are three months out of season.
My girlfriend was having one of those vegetarian nights that she sometimes turns to. From a good selection she opts for one that sounds most interesting; a roulade of carrot and courgette, filled with cream cheese. Bland and under seasoned, the cheese wipes out the little flavour the vegetables have. Its a shocker. Far better was a bowl of linguine with pine nuts and courgettes, full of zing and heat from lemon and chilli, the nuttiness further accentuated by parmesan and brown butter. If this is how Momma makes the pasta back home, I wonder if Momma would be interested in a younger gentleman from Birmingham.
There is a lasagne with thick tussles of braised shoulder meat and sheets of overcooked pasta, which I forgive for it being so bloody comforting. Its all a bit mushy, though the flavour is good with whacks of tomato and cheese and yes, you’ve guessed it, garlic. I also admire another linguine dish with a rich vegetable ragu and topped with chicken and prawns. Nothing gets in the way of each other here, which it could have easily have done. Everything is distinct and accurately cooked, the pasta still with the bite that was missing from the lasagne.
The desserts here are portioned ideally for sharing, so we order one each, because Simon doesn’t share food. Tiramisu is the lasagne reinvented for the sweeter tooth; again a textural disaster of softness, packed full of heady flavours of coffee and chocolate. The star is a lemon cake, with a sharp zabaglione cream filling encased in a lemon meringue. The acidity and sweetness carefully balanced out.
They have a decent wine list which starts to get interesting when you stick to Italy, where good bottles can be found for under twenty quid. This matches the price of the food, which, fillet steak aside, is strictly mid-teens for mains and under a tenner for everything else. Its all good value, it feels homely, and service is warm. Its easy to see why it is so busy. Its not perfect, but I would gladly return for a good feed at a modest price.