Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Review: Cucina Rustica, Birmingham

Love was in the air and The Boy and I were searching for an impromptu late night meal on a journey up North. Our rendez-vous? Birmingham. Not the most inspiring of romantic settings, admittedly. It’s not exactly our home turf either so, as the train plodded its way from London to Brum, I frantically tapped away on Tripadvisor.

There were various options but I settled on Cucina Rustica for its positive reviews (it was in the top ten restaurants in Birmingham according to Tripadvisor) reasonably priced menu, proximity to the town centre and the fact that it had a table available at just the right time. It was fate! Or so it seemed.

We found the restaurant pretty easily and there’s tons of free street parking dotted around (pay and display before 6pm) which was convenient. We were ushered to a seating area next to the bar for drinks while we waited for our table to be prepared. The bar tender was charming and friendly and astounded me with his range of gins – I lost count but I think you’d need all of your fingers and toes to keep track of the numbers! The restaurant was busy and had a nice buzz to it. We perused the menu and were then shown to our table in the middle of the crowded dining room. It was a nice setting for a romantic meal – the lights were dimmed, there was music playing and the chatter of happy conversation.

I was keen to share a scallop starter involving parsnip mash, which I’d spied other diners enjoying as we were led to our table, as a starter but it was already getting late and we had places to be (and – you guessed it - people to see). Instead, we nibbled on some Pane e aglio - garlic bread but not as we know it. This isn’t your average baguette; instead, a thin and crispy pizza base with a thin topping of tomato and chopped cooked garlic. It was subtle and a great appetizer because, between two, it wasn’t too much. We were given a complimentary dish of marinated olives too which was a nice touch though it would’ve been nice to have had these with our drinks before we got to the table.

Next, I was faced with a rather large dish of Tagliolini con granchio, a rich pasta dish with crab meat, sun-dried tomato, white wine and a chilli kick. It was delicious and the crab claws provided us with some mid-dinner entertainment as The Boy heroically extracted the tasty bits for me (and sent the claw itself into minor orbit). My only sticking point was that the chef had been a little heavy handed with the chilli. The Boy will vouch for my love of spicy food but the chilli was just a little too much and swamped the delicate flavour of the crab.

Meanwhile, The Boy was slurping his way through a special of Monkfish and Mussels alla Genovese which was a seriously meaty meal. The slab of monkfish came complete with chunky backbone, which isn’t a cut that either of us have seen before. It was firm and perfectly cooked; it always amazes me how meaty a fish like this can taste! The mussels were cooked to perfection too and drizzled with a creamy sauce. The whole thing was served with a side dish of fresh vegetables which made it a good value main course, despite being one of the most expensive.

We’d thoroughly enjoyed our meal and were ready to continue our journey. We were shown the dessert menu but both declined regretfully – mainly due to time and already full tummies – and instead asked for the bill. Then began the waiting game. The previously attentive service dropped off a cliff and we were left at our table for forty minutes. We asked several different serving staff numerous times but to no avail. Eventually, we got up and sought out the manager ourselves who explained that they didn’t like to hurry guests out. This makes sense but we’d asked for the bill. Several times.

Cucina Rustica is a great place to go for a tasty Italian meal. It would be a great venue for a party with friends or a romantic dinner for two. The menu is reasonably priced and the quality of ingredients was high. They fell down on service, unfortunately, but I wouldn’t let this stop you if you’re not in a hurry.

Cucina Rustica can be found at 24 Ludgate Hill, Birmingham, B3 1DX. Tel: 0121 233 2277.

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