(AD) The following post is a First Table partnership post.

We are ready and waiting when the doors of Laghi’s swing open for dinner at 5.30pm. The front of house are in their last push, combing through the reservations, checking that tables are precisely apart and laid out. Inside there is a gentle bustle only diners can bring to a restaurant, with the anticipation of service and a kitchen kicking straight into gear. We exchange niceties with those on the restaurant floor and order Negroni – the barrel aged one that they are working on  and quickly follow that with a large glass of Chianti. Others start to fill the restaurant. By 5.45pm the atmosphere is a hive of buzz.


You probably think that booking time is a little keen and you’d be right, but this is what I do for 50% off the food bill. I have booked via the First Table app, accurately named given it rewards diners who are willing to dine on that first table of the evening with a half-price bill for their food. You get a heavily discounted dinner and pay full whack for the booze, the restaurant kicks-off service promptly, has less food waste, and makes their margin on alcohol, whilst First Table charge a small booking fee for making that discount happen. Everyone is a winner. 


Back in the restaurant it’s all change at Laghi’s. A little spruce of the interior and a new GM in Charlotte, whom I’ve long considered to be one of the very best in the city. They have a new head chef that some will recognise from the starred restaurant around the corner, and those with a longer memory from a cookery show on the BBC. Yet this is still Luca Laghi’s food, straight out of northern Italy, filled with soul and passion and without pretence. And if the restaurant slipped into the realms of foams and gels in recent years, it is back where it should be now. Earnest cooking, cheaper in price and yet with the same focus on quality ingredients. It is a neighbourhood Italian restaurant for every night and occasion. 


Over ninety minutes we have Caprese salads showcasing the finest of tomatoes and milky mozzarella and a basil dip with crisp shards of aubergine, salty and perfumed. There are fat slices of cured salmon  as good as any salmon in the city  lifted by avocado and the kiss of citrus. Maybe best is the truffle arancini, properly tasting of truffle, on a truffle mayo of sorts and under a flurry of more truffle and pecorino. It is a salty umami bomb, destined to be a cult classic in Birmingham. 


From the pastas are two portions of ravioli; one with spinach, cheese, crisp sage, and butter, the other a technical marvel of packaged scallop and a shellfish bisque. Simplicity rules in the flavour profile, whilst still being exact in delivery. We try a beef shin ragu, at once meaty and light, given extra freshness by the tagliatelle that has been pressed with basil between the layers. The carbonara has long been a staple here and yet again it succeeds as being the best in class. We don’t have room for the steak cooked just like it is in Florence, but we do find a spot for a textbook frangipane tart with blackberries. Everything sings with flavour. Laghi’s is firmly back to its best. 


We order more food and wine than is sensible between two and leave with a bill that is firmly weighted in the favour of alcohol, but surely that’s the point? Getting half off the food gives you the freedom to explore parts of the menu you may have originally not gone to, or provides the chance to maybe reach for a slightly better bottle of wine. And its not just Laghi’s. At present First Table have partnered up with the likes of Harborne Kitchen and Chakana for those who like their tasting menus a lot cheaper, and Sabai Sabai, Baked in Brick, and Pushkar to make those mid-range dinners affordable enough to eat most evenings. Many more are on the app and lots more are joining in the near future. Money is a little tighter for us all at present and restaurants need all the support they can. First Table are paving a way to support both hospitality and your wallet at the same time.