Bullring

Fumo, Selfridges, Birmingham

The fit-out for Fumo at Selfridges is said to be one million sterling. A crazy amount of money for any restaurant, but a particularly obscene sum given (and yes, the clue is in the name) that it is within the confines of a shop. When I initially heard the plans, I thought the owner had lost his marbles. And now that I’ve sat inside the fourth floor restaurant, it is clear that someone else has found them and sold them back to him at a massive profit. It is a mass of polished calacatta, the kind that I sell for a day job and wonder who is buying it at the sort of money it commands. Answer: Here. It smells of money. Of high heels with coloured soles, of oversized handbags with padlocks, and of perfume made from the tears of Romany gypsies. I may have made the last bit up. Even the tables are thick marble, ours a large disc in the centre of the room big enough for six big gents and six bigger egos.

In the ninety or so minutes that we take to have lunch the queue outside would grow substantially. It is clearly working. The format is small plates, intended for those who can share. I can’t. The cuisine is Italian in the friendliest of senses – all prime cuts and smiles and things on toasted bread. There is no offal to be found here. I do wish I could find working organs in an Italian restaurant in Birmingham. Even if I do have to walk through Juicy Couture to get to them.

I get over myself with a bulb of burrata that has been marinated from the inside-out with black truffle, in the same way I like to marinate myself inside-out with red wine. Its more odour than flavour, just like the girl outside the doors waving cardboard strips of Channel no.5, though it works well with folds of Parma ham with glistening fat. I have pillowy gnocchi in a Grana Padana sauce, served in a basket made from the same cheese. I’ve had it before at other restaurants in the same group. It’s kitsch, but it is also tasting better than it ever has before. The basket has textural purpose as opposed to purely presentation.

Pork belly is substantial value for £9, roasted until the fat and meat knits together and the skin crisps up. On the side is an out of place wedge of charred cabbage from a chef who has been watching too much Masterchef, and a puddle of gravy that has a hit of balsamic and happiness. Next time I’ll know what to expect and order this alongside the mash potato with truffle. There is a polite ragu with clusters of beef mince that clings on to lengthy strips of pasta like a failed relationship. The last dish to arrive (this is small plates – they come when they are ready) are delicately fried prawns. The heads come away from the torso with the lightest of tugs and we savour both; dunking the body meat into a mayo sharpened with lemon and sucking in those lovely head juices. Not advertised are the courgette fries which come with it. These are superb, equally light and moreish.

They don’t have the dessert I want which we take as a signal to finish up and head off. Dinner with wine works out to be £40 per head, which seems very fair given the opulent surroundings and quality of food. I honestly wasn’t expecting much at Fumo, it’s in a shop and the menu seemed a little identikit, but I’m happy to stand corrected when I’m wrong. They cook with skill and there wasn’t a dud dish to be found. I’ll gladly brave the shopping crowds to eat here again. I liked it, Fumo. I liked it a lot.

8/10

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

Jamie’s Italian, Birmingham

Jamie Oliver: Charitable cockney. Motor-mouthed savour of obese school children. Destroyer of the English tongue. Some people – food writers mostly, professional or otherwise – see him as the culinary Anti-Christ. A condescending mass of checked shirts and hypocrisy, who started off a man of the people with the non-profitable Fifteen group and ended up bringing that tired lingo of his to every city with the very much profitable Jamie’s Italian.  Personally, I have a degree of empathy for him.  He has bills to pay and kids to feed.  His charity work is still in full working order.  I don’t have a problem with him lining the pockets of his distressed denim if the food is worthy of my money leaving the pockets of mine.

The Jamie’s Italian in Birmingham is a big place.  It looks how someone who has never been to the city might think that a Jewellery Quarter workshop looks like.  And that is not a compliment.  Its a mismatched collection of steel girders, mesh, and industrial sized wooden planks.  Nothing feels natural; everything is forced.  The menu is appealing, save for the dreadful adjectives that too often haunt them.  I like the tapenade that comes with the basket of bread, its deep with olive and tomato notes, but “fantastic” it is not.  I find few things in life fantastic; Match of The Day, a well made Old Fashioned, or a Russell Brand movie that flops at the box office.  This tapenade is good at best, even with it rescuing a focaccia which dried out yesterday.  We’ve only been here fifteen minutes and already I am reaching for another glass of wine.

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Fortunately, things improved.  A summer truffle risotto needed the flavoured oil to give flavour to the Tubers that were limited in flavour.  At the root was a good stock and well cooked rice which was almost loose enough.  Mollica – fried breadcrumbs – gave it a pleasant texture.  At £6.50 no one in their right mind could accuse this of being poor value.  A crab arancini with plenty of crustacean hit the right spot, thanks to a yoghurt dressing that shimmered with the most Italian of citrus’, yuzu.

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Pappardelle, made fresh that day, was applaudable in effort, if a little thick.  The ragu of sausage a fraction under-seasoned, with the advertised chianti flavour barely present.  More of the mollica was there for substance and crunch.  It was home cooking, executed well.  Come to my house and the other half will cook you something very similar which is far better. A leg of duck on a carpaccio of orange was given further lightness with lentils, pomegranate, and a fennel salad. Slightly overdone meat aside, it was a dish that danced with citrus and aniseed. Everything in sync and not one ingredient too many. Chips with roasted garlic were unwarranted though quickly eaten.

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We finish with a pavlova full of macerated raspberries and chewy honeycomb, before settling up on a bill that works out at a shade over twenty-five quid a head.  It seems a fair price to pay for the quality served.  Would I go out of my way to recommend Jamie’s Italian?  No, but the reality is Italian food in Birmingham is woefully represented and I would find it difficult to recommend anywhere for that cuisine.  Here is a large operation (probably too large to control high standards), where, yuzu aside, quality and provenance is key.  Its time to take the personal vendetta towards Oliver away and access the restaurant for exactly what it is.  Pukka it is not.  Satisfactory it certainly is.

6/10

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