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

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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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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 

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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.

Independent Birmingham Festival, Digbeth

I had intended to start this brief piece on a self-deprecating note for our city. One that gently chugs along with the piss-taking from the rest of the country, about a city centre that’s perceived to be a concrete fortress and a dodgy accent that actually belongs ten miles north west of us. But I’m done with that. I’m done with anything that sets Birmingham at a detriment to anywhere else on the globe. We are growing every day. With game-changing pieces of modern architecture now sitting in juxtaposition with pieces of history. With a diverse melting pot of culture, smells, and sounds. With some of the best food to be found in the country with the most handsome, charming, and multi-award winning food blogger writing about them. Only an idiot who has not been here in over a decade, or worse, the commonly spotted Jealous Mancunian, would tell you otherwise. Birmingham is brilliant in almost every single way. It’s my home, so yes I have bias, but it really is.

Shouting about Birmingham a little more than the next man is Joe Schuppler of Independent Birmingham. Hi Joe. He runs a little business doing huge things for our indie scene. Now, with the help of some seasoned pros, he is championing the very businesses his card supports with Independent Birmingham Festival, this the third within a year and the second at Digbeth’s The Bond. We end up going both days, the latter to eat off the hangover caused by the former. I’m looking at you, Loki wine, for this with your mighty fine Malbec.

There are stalls that sell nice stuff from which I buy a badge that I later lose and a donut that I quickly use to fill a gap in my belly. There are cocktails from the brilliant Rob Wood and craft beers from Tilt. There are countless others all showcasing the tiny elements that together make Birmingham what it is. But I’m here to eat and you are probably here to read about that. So straight to the chase, at Low’n’Slow where the best food of the weekend was had. Pork belly from Blytheburgh farm, cooked over a makeshift fire on the ground. The meat is glorious; smokey, with enough bite and fattiness to serve as a reminder that this once was a living animal. There are blistered potatoes cooked in pork fat with the unmistakable back note of bone marrow, and a salsa slightly bitter from burning it’s components over coals. This is proper grown up barbecue, with real skill. It’s a ready made restaurant dish served from some smoking embers on concrete.

One of many restaurants with a stand here is El Borracho de Oro, a place I’ve stated my love for on many previous occasions. Today we have those golden croquetas filled with quality ham and a toastie that has manchego and sobrasda oozing out of every edge. Those toasties are a special at their present 1000 Trades residency – go try them. Fat Snags are relatively new to the street food world, impeccably sourcing Lashfords sausages and sandwiching them between buns. We try one with a smartly judged salsa of roquito and jalapeños, smothered in one of those silky American cheese sauces that refuses to go quietly into the mouth. I’m super impressed. I’ll be back for more soon.

Baked in Brick is here, a few streets away from its soon-to-be-opening restaurant. We try a ramen debuting for the first time, that is already better than any of the ramen at the specialist ramen shop. The ox tail and miso stock is upstaged by smokey spider steak slices, a tangle of ox tail meat and silky noodles. Best of all is a salty and rich soy egg, golden yolk just transitioning from liquid to a more solid state. A lot of work has gone into this and it will only get better.

Sunday sees suitable hangover food. A pizza from Peel and Stone has excellent ‘nduja and fennel salami for toppings on a base that was slightly too doughy to be perfect. We finish up with a burger from Original Patty Men, the beef just blushing pink, patty crowned with three types of cheese, jalapeño relish and barbecue sauce. Those boys know how to pull a burger together. It sorts me out a treat.

Claire buys jewellery, I buy enough wine to swim in, confirming that when it comes to frittering cash away, we’re a good team to have around. It was a great weekend, superbly organised, with a wonderfully curated live music program. More importantly it showcases the incredible independent scene that goes some way making this city so amazing. Believe in Brum.

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The next Independent Birmingham Festival has been announced for July. Book your tickets here; https://www.designmynight.com/birmingham/whats-on/food-drink/independent-birmingham-festival-at-aston-hall

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

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Gusto, Birmingham

I’d like to think that places like Gusto are a sign of just how far Birmingham has progressed over recent years.  I don’t think it would have fitted in five years ago when the city was still finding it’s culinary feet, or even two years back when areas such as Edgbaston and Moseley were making massive indentations into antediluvian stereotype.  Now, less than six months after its opening, it feels like a staple of Colmore Row – rewarded by a full dining room whose attitude towards dining out is more open.  It sits underneath the Grand Hotel, right in the heart of the financial district.  Inside you’ll find one of the prettier dining rooms in the city, one that nods towards the 1920’s without ever compromising the simplicity of modern interior design.  Glance around and you’ll see slithers of stained glass and splashes of marble, with circular wooden tables that suit tables of four far better than just us two.  It evokes the dining rooms of New York’s Nolita district, a style that matches a menu full of the bastardisation cuisine that is American-Italian.

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Now, you may, or may not, be aware that Gusto is a chain.  Whether that bothers you or not depends on how much time you like to spend shouting at birds in the street.  Me, I couldn’t care less, it obviously works or else they wouldn’t have sloped down from the north to Birmingham.  The first thing I ate happened to be very good indeed.  Torn shreds of braised pork, with gnocchi and cherry bell pepper, all dressed in light rocket pesto.  The gnocchi is light and lends itself well to the rest of the plate.  There is heat from the peppers and plenty of robust seasoning.  It quickly disappears.

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Duck comes medium-rare as requested, on a warm salad of pulses and roasted winter veg.  It’s succeeds in being lighter than it looks, simultaneously fresh and earthy, though we welcome additional carbs in the form of fries dusted with parmesan and truffle. Lamb Cacciatore is a traditional Italian Easter dish of slow cooked ovine, here presented as a gutsy stew rich with tomato and red wine.  Like everything else we try, it’s considered and well cooked, the working muscles of the lamb cooked until they offer no resistance to fork nor teeth, with a dollop of pesto to cut through some of the richness.  Portions are on the American side of large and we find no room for dessert, despite a mischievous sounding Nutella calzone.  I’ll be back for that, don’t you worry.  The bill, with a nice bottle of Barbera, comes to a very fair £63.00 for the two of us.

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I go back a few days later whilst waiting for a phone screen to be fixed in the Apple store.  There I have a pizza with cured meat and chillies that sits amongst some of the better pizza to be had in the city centre.  The base is thin and crisp, the toppings generous and of a high quality.  It makes for an ideal dinner for one with another glass of red wine too cheap for its quality.

Pasta, pizza and so forth; without ever mentioning the word Italian, Gusto have served up some of the better examples to have in Birmingham.  Yes, I know it’s not authentic; it’s immigrant food galvanized on the East coast of America, but it happens to be a damn sight better than the generic paint-by-numbers tosh we have come to accept as a given by more established Italian restaurants.  It is a welcome addition to the city; stylish, affordable and with a clear identity.  If only every group had the same high standards as Gusto, I would welcome them all with open arms.

8/10 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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