Pizza

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

Like your taxis as perfect as your pizza? You need A2B in your life

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-hybrid 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

Birmingham’s Top Eight Dishes For Under A Fiver

Last January I gave you Birmingham’s top ten dishes for under a tenner; a well-researched ensemble of culinary treats that wouldn’t break the bank. It is still a very good list one year on, showing that when it comes to useless lists that you’ll almost certainly never use, it is I who truly separates the wheat from the chav. But a lot has changed in twelve months. A new threat has emerged, with a long winter ahead of this country looming in the vague shape of Game of Thrones season 8. Brexit, also. I want to give you even more value. So back once again like the renegade master, here is eight dishes in Birmingham for under a fiver with not a Greggs vegan sausage roll in sight. And if eight seems a funny number, you’re right. I had more than five but less than ten with zero filler: these really are the best dishes in town if you’re looking to save the pennies.

Tamworth Pork Sausage Roll, £3.75. Kilder.

This is how you do a sausage roll. Pork from an animal that has lived off the land, spiced with black pepper, and a good fat to meat ratio. The pastry is buttery and flaky. You get a choice of sauces whereupon you should consider brown and then choose brown. And don’t believe them for sticking this under the ‘snack’ banner; this is a lunch for one by itself. Website

White Cut Chicken Bao, £4.50. Tiger Bites Pig.

It was about this time last year that Birmingham went into meltdown over a new opening that specialised in bao. They were rubbish; these most certainly are not. Fluffy pillows of joy filled with smart flavours, my pick of the two under a fiver is this one with poached chicken and crispy skin. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming full review; its a cracker. Website.

Aloo Tikki Chaat, £4.50. Zindiya

This and the chicken tikka have been my go-to order for almost two years, and this dish in particular is probably my favourite vegetarian plate of food in the entire city. Essentially a chickpea curry with a spiced potato patty in the centre, it has bags of attitude. I eat it at least once a week. Website

Pork and Fennel Scotch Egg, £4.50. Pint Shop

But the scotch egg at Pint Shop is an onion bhajii, I hear you say? Correct, young whippersnapper, but there is also one downstairs at the bar that you might like even more. Given the choice I would plump for the more conventional of the two which has more flavour of pork. But what does this multi-award winning nobody know? Quite a lot, actually. Website.

Slice of Pizza, £3.00. Baked in Brick.

I would love to have included an entire pizza in this list but pizza doesn’t grow on five pound trees in this country. Instead I would like to draw your attention to probably Birmingham’s best pizza, which also happens to be the only one I know of which does pizza by the slice. Whatever is on will do; a large wedge of the good stuff and some chilli oil to dredge the crusts through. Website.

Batagor, £5.00. Ngopi.

Thank Farah for this. She took my girlfriend who got all excited and insisted we go. It’s one of the most intriguing dishes in Birmingham that could go on to become a cult classic. Fried chicken and prawn wontons join fried tofu in a peanut sauce marriage of harmony. I honestly never knew Indonesian food could be so interesting. Another full review incoming.

Smoked Beetroot, goats cheese, horseradish and watercress salad, £5.00. Purecraft Bar.

It’s January, you want to be healthy and frugal, right? Purecraft have got your back. Like everything else they do, this is loaded with flavour. The ideal light dinner. Website.

Bao, £4. Little Blackwood.

They are going to murder me for this. The baos are a dessert option as part of a set menu, but get them individually and they are billed at £4 each – I know this because I have paid for them. You’ll probably only get away with this doing what we do, which is by drinking wine on the stools and begging for them. The only dessert on the list, these deep fried bao are similar to donuts when cooked, sliced open and filled with whatever flavours are on: it could be rosehip, salted caramel, champagne, banoffee, or numerous others. The ideal way to finish a meal, and indeed this list. Website.

Want to do this as a food crawl? I’ll join you. Let’s take an A2B. Seriously, let’s do this.

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

Laghi’s Deli, Edgbaston

Once a week my Dad goes to see a covers band at his local pub. I’ve never been with him; I have no interest in seeing Fred Zeppelin, however good their version of Kashmir is supposed to be. I just don’t get the point. I want the real thing or I don’t want it at all. I don’t want to watch the simian stroll of a parka wearing Gallagher wannabe when there are two presently touring and doing a good enough job of murdering their own music. And I can’t be sure if Blobbie Williams is a tribute act or a tabloid attributed nickname. For all of the fake swagger and choreographed movements, they are nothing but homages to the real thing. Anyone can pout their lips, wear a sparkly jacket, and put on a mockney accent, but it’s nowhere close to seeing Jagger arch that back of his and thrust out the pelvis in the flesh. Any woman, man, or horse can put on a blonde wig. conical bra, and gash-flashing leotard but it doesn’t make you Madonna. In my younger years I wore cardigans and could play you the opening bars to ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, yet I never said I was Kurt Cobain. Or Lead Belly if you closed your eyes. Impersonators simply don’t have the magic of the real thing; they are imposters in dress-up.

I felt the same way about Italian food in Birmingham. We have Italian restaurants but none ever felt real to me; they are homogenized tributes to what we think is Italian food – a tour of an imagined Italy with dishes reconstructed for those delicate Anglicised palates of ours. Our ‘nduja has been stripped of the searing heat and offal that bangs down doors, to be replaced with a more polite neighbour that goes to bed at 9pm, whilst our carbonara has cream added because we are fed the lies that eggs have be completely cooked. This isn’t an issue; there is clearly a market for this, but I want the real Italy.

In a way Laghi’s Deli is more a project of love than business. Luca, the owner, comes from a family of restauranteurs back in Bologna and wanted to bring a Northern Italian slice of pizza back to Birmingham. And it is a resounding success, easily delivering the most authentic take on that cuisine I have eaten outside of it, backed up by a wine list that punches with hard-hitting reds and zesty whites. From the three starters we take it is the quality of the ingredients that shines through, nowhere more so than on a Caprese salad. As a dish it is a simple sum of its parts, yet here it speaks loudly of a real Italy; one that gestiticulates with every word. Everything is imported, from the young mozzerella to the olive oil that adds a peppery summeriness to a grey September evening. It may not have the best of carbon footprints, but frankly who cares when it tastes this good.

Our other two starters are big hitting. A parmesan cake with pancetta is an oozy umami bomb which cleverly shifts textures between a molten centre and crisp ham that guards its walls. It is a beautiful example of how when done correctly, this style of food doesnt need a handful of salt to get going; the seasoning is already embedded in the ingredients. A scallop the size of a baby’s fist is gratinated under breadcrumbs, served simply in its own cooking juices alongside a lightly dressed salad. At £7 for the special it feels too cheap, though they taint the perfectly cooked shellfish by leaving the less-than-perfectly cooked roe on.

For mains we take pasta, the hallmark of any Italian restaurant worth its dusting of parmesan. Yes they do pizza, but I can get great examples elsewhere. There is nowhere – I repeat, nowhere – that does good pasta anywhere in this brilliant city. Laghi’s is made fresh (rumour has it by Momma Laghi) and is properly lovely. We have egg and flour transformed into silky ribbons of tagliatelle with a loose ragu of beef that draws silence across the table, and parcels of ravioli that deliver verdant flavours of spinach and ricotta in a puddle of melted butter scented with sage. Oh, how I’ve waited for this moment. Even when the pasta isn’t made fresh it still trumps its competitors. The penne for the carbonara may be from a packet, but it is cooked to a careful bite that won’t have you screaming out the safe word. This is a real carbonara; one with salty guancialle ham and a sauce of warmed yolks that is mercifully cream free. It has been made by someone who understands the principles of the dish.

Desserts are a chocolate molten cake and an affogato. Both have good stuff going on, in particular the raspberry and gin sorbet with the cake, though I happen to have the sold out donuts on my mind for next time. A quick word on the service: I had heard murmurs about the service being occasionally poor, and, truthfully, this had put us off going. I can only comment on the evening we eat when it was faultless; dishes come out of the kitchen correctly and well-spaced, numerous orders for glasses of wine are swiftly taken and delivered. With mains hovering a little over a tenner, the bill for this would usually sit around £30-40 per head, which is super value, though we indulge in far too many dishes and drinks. Regardless, it was a great meal in presently the stand-out Italian offering, only missing out on the top marks because the menu feels a bit safe (being September I would have loved to have seen rabbit or wild mushrooms for that true Bologna experience), but this is just a small detail to a neighbourhood restaurant I can see us constantly returning to. Finally Birmingham has an authentic Italian that I can recommend. And without wishing to sound like an Etta James tribute act. At Last.

9/10

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