A fresh look at Carluccios

With so many amazing independents in Birmingham, I always feel a little bit guilty visiting chain restaurants, especially as they often disappoint (Ask Italian, I’m looking at you..). But I’m always happy to be proven wrong, so when Carluccios invited me along to try out their revamped menu I went along with an open mind and an empty belly.

We started with ‘Lemon Spritz’ cocktails – limoncello, Limonata and prosecco. I’m not a huge limoncello fan so would never have picked this from the menu, but it was light, refreshing and not too sweet – a promising start to the evening.

Before sitting down for dinner, we were treated to a chefs table full of cheese, olives, charcuterie, vegetables…so basically everything good ever. It also included bite-size versions of some of the new starter dishes for us to try. One of the development chefs was on hand to tell us about everything on the table – some of which he had been out to Italy to help source – and it was great to hear about the food from someone who was clearly passionate about it.

Highlights of the table included the beautiful parma ham and the caponata, which I’ve never tried before. It’s a Sicilian sweet and sour aubergine-based dish, served with bruschetta. I absolutely loved this & have already spotted a recipe for it in the Antonio Carluccio ‘Vegetables’ book so I’m definitely going to give this one a try at home!

Carluccio’s menu has been redesigned with the ‘mof mof’ (minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour) concept in mind and there are about 50 changes in total. Here’s our menu for the evening, which gave us a taste of some of these changes:

I wouldn’t have been disappointed with either of the starters if I had ordered them off the menu. The crab flavour of the macaroni was quite intense (in a good way) and it wasn’t as heavy as I thought it might be. Although I enjoyed it, I’m not the biggest fan of the fish + pasta combo so I have to admit I would have preferred straight up mac and cheese!

The arancini were much more up my street. They were generously sized, crispy on the outside with a rich, gooey risotto inside. They were served with a delicious pepper sauce which cut through the richness of the dish perfectly. I could happily sit and eat a whole bowl of these…

Mains-wise, one of the big changes Carluccio’s have made to the menu is that they have replaced the pancetta in their carbonara with guanciale (made from pork cheeks). This is apparently more authentic, and it definitely works – this was my favourite dish of the night. The guanciale is smoky and salty and worked perfectly with the rich sauce without being too heavy. I rarely order carbonara in restaurants as the sauce is often too stodgy and thick but the Carluccio’s version was lovely and moreish.

The duck pappardelle tasted good but the duck could definitely have been stronger – it got a bit lost within all the other flavours. Similarly, the rum in the chocolate and rum dessert was nowhere to be seen.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the food – so much that I returned a few weeks later and ordered pretty much exactly the same thing…adventurous I know.

As an extra starter, we had the calamari which was pleasant but unremarkable. The seafood linguine got good reviews from us, as did the rosemary and garlic potatoes (although definitely not needed alongside the large portions of pasta!).

The one big disappointment was the mixed salad. At £3.95, this was a pretty mean little portion. A side salad is certainly not a night ruiner but a little extra lettuce to pad out the salad would have left us feeling a lot more satisfied.

Carluccio’s serve up good, hearty Italian comfort food in a relaxed setting. With so much choice in Birmingham I don’t think I’ll be a regular visitor to Carluccio’s but, if I was in the vicinity and in need of dinner, I wouldn’t hesitate to dine there.

Disclaimer: I was kindly invited by Carluccio’s to their new menu tasting event, which was complementary. I was not obliged to write a review, and as always my writing and opinions are mine, all mine!

Carluccio’s have a number of restaurants in Birmingham. I ate in the Brindley Place restaurant at The Water’s Edge, Birmingham, B1 2HP. WEBSITE.

JoJolapa Nepalese Bar & Kitchen

Unsurprisingly, one of my favourite ways to celebrate is by eating. When my boyfriend got offered a new job this week my first question was of course “So where shall we go for dinner?!”.

We settled on JoJolapa, a Nepalese bar and kitchen at the top end of Newhall Street. The weather in Birmingham has taken a decidedly chilly turn this week, so walking into Jojolapa felt like a welcome ray of sunshine. It’s a fairly big space but there are lots of little corners to tuck yourself away in, and along with the rich red of the walls it manages to feel warm and cosy.

JoJolapa is a Nepalese word that means “much more than welcome…JoJolapa is the warmth of a smile, JoJolapa is the pleasure of seeing you” – how cute is that?

Feeling hungry and a little bit lazy, we chose the JoJolapa Gorkhali Special set menu. It’s great value at £24.50; you get a mixed starter (tandoori chicken, shish kebab, tandoori salmon and chicken choyla), a selection of mains (Rogan Josh, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chilli Garlic Prawn, Saag Aloo), rice and naan, dessert AND tea or coffee. For any veggies out there, they also do a vegetarian set menu for £19.95.

We really enjoyed everything we ate. The chicken and salmon in the starter were fall-apart tender and the spices were delicate and perfectly balanced, meaning the dishes had bags of flavour without being overpowered by chilli. Another notable dish was the Saag Aloo, which can sometimes be a bit bland but at JoJolapa it was seasoned to perfection and reminded me of all the incredible veggie dishes I had when I visited Rajhastan a few years ago. The one dish that split opinion was the Chicken Tikka Masala. Ollie thought it was too mild and creamy, but it was one of my favourites (I am a secret Korma fan though..shhhh).

Most of the dishes on the set menu are firm curry house favourites, so if I return to JoJolapa it would be nice to try some of the more unusual Nepalese dishes such as the Steamed Momo dumplings or Chatamari pancake. However, judging from the quality of our meal,  I doubt you can go far wrong whatever dish you pick!

Aside from the food, we had a lovely waiter who looked after us really well and managed to make us laugh every time he visited the table. Rather than piling the food out of the kitchen as soon as it was ready, he checked with us before each course whether we were ready to move on or wanted a bit of a break. The great service really rounded off the whole evening and we left stuffed and smiling.

In a city which is well-saturated with curry houses, the food and service at JoJolapa were one of the most enjoyable I’ve experienced in Brum so far. I’ll definitely be returning next time I need my South Asian fix. For bargain hunters I also noticed their express lunch menu; at £6.99 it includes two courses and a soft drink. Definitely worth a try!

What are your thoughts on JoJolapa? Have you got any other recommendations for great curries in Brum? Let me know in the comments!

JoJolapa can be found at 55–59 Newhall Street, Birmingham B3 3RB. WEBSITE.

17 in 2017: Foodie Resolutions

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Welcome to my first blog post of 2017 – I’ve had a bit of a break from blogging over the past month or so, but I’m back and ready for a year of eating, drinking & blogging.

Inspired by the lovely Winepressgirl’s ’30 before 30′ list (you can find it here) I wanted to start the year with a list of foodie resolutions for 2017. Now, 2017 in 2017 seems a bit ambitious, so I’ve cheated and gone for ’17 in 2017′ instead!

So here it is – 17 places that I really want to visit in 2017:

1.  Opus

Working at One Snowhill means I spend a lot of time in their sister venue, Bar Opus. I’ve had far too many gins here, tried out their cocktail menu and drooled over their food. But somehow I’ve never made it to Opus for dinner.

With seasonal menus and great deals such as their Prix Fixe Menu, I really have no excuse not to tick this one off my list.

2. Lewis’s of Moseley

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I’m an absolute sucker for brunch and Lewis’s of Moseley has been on my hitlist for a while. This post by Kerry at Brum and Beyond made me even more keen to visit ASAP. If anyone fancies a lazy weekend brunch in Moseley, hit me up!

3. Fishylicious

I’m Northern so fish and chips are my thing. Sadly I’ve yet to find a chippy in Birmingham that can live up to my local at home, but I like the idea of going out for fish and chips and having it with a bottle of wine rather than scoffing half of them in the car on the way home..

4. Meating

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I visited Meating in their opening week, but haven’t made it again since. I have no idea why – everything we had was insanely good and they’re the only place I know in Birmingham that do cheeseburger spring rolls.

For a budget friendly option, they do 50% off main courses on Tuesday evenings too. GET IN MY MOUTH.

5. Modu

Everyone’s been raving about Modu this year and I want in on this shit.

I’ve not tried much Korean food before (as delicious as it is, the Korean chicken hotpot at Eat doesn’t count) so I need educating!

6. The Edgbaston

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Afternoon tea comes a close second for me after brunch (why is having meals at the wrong time so much more fun?) and The Edgbaston’s is legendary in Brum. Now I just need to find someone to treat me…

7. Madcup Cafe

I live in the Jewellery Quarter and rarely venture out to King’s Heath. I spent an amazing month in Australia a few years ago and loved the Aussie cafe culture that Madcup is inspired by, so this year I’m determined to make the effort to visit and try their Instagram-worthy food.

8. Raja Monkey

Raja Monkey are part of the Lasan family, serving Indian street food and thali. I absolutely love Indian food and am planning my fourth trip to India this year, so I think Raja Monkey would be a great prep for my trip!

9. Rico Libre

The Simpsons love homer simpson marge simpson excited

A visit to this little green tapas restaurant has been on my list for ages. Tapas are pretty much the best thing ever if you’re indecisive like me, because you can just order EVERYTHING.

10. The Plough

I’ve been to The Plough quite a few times, and had their incredible Full English (it’s the best I’ve had in Birmingham so far) but I’ve never tried their legendary roast dinners or wood fired pizzas. 2017, it’s time to change this!

Pizza’s are 2 for 1 on Mondays, so I might need a volunteer to help me with this resolution!

11. The Pig and Tail

Sister of The Pickled Piglet, this place looks adorable from the outside, and their small plates menu makes it the ideal casual dinner spot. It’s so close to my flat that I have no excuse not to fit in a visit this year!

12. Cheval Blanc

This wine bar sounds like heaven on earth. JUST LOOK AT THIS WINE CELLAR:

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They’re also doing a ‘Try January’ offer, where you can get a glass of bloody good wine for £1. I’m booked in for their Raclette evening next week (part of their cheese and wine series) and I’m super excited. If only I lived within walking staggering distance…

13. Saint Kitchen

Despite having lived over the square from Saint Kitchen for about a year and a half and promising myself I’ll go every time I walk past, I’ve never made it through the doors. 2017 will be the year!

14. Original Patty Men

I’ve been before. I’ll go again. I bloody love this place.

15. Gustami

This post by Paul Fulford put Gustami on my radar. It sounds cheap, cheerful and delicious. Consider me there!

16. Tilt Cafe

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Tilt has coffee AND beer AND cake AND pinball machines. What have I been doing with my life???

17. Bourne & Co

With so many great pubs & bars in the Jewellery Quarter, I’ve not yet made it to Island Bar’s much more sophisticated neighbour, Bourne & Co. This New York speakeasy style bar has a huge cocktail menu to work your way through – so I need to get on with it!

Have you been to any of these places? Have I missed anywhere incredible? Let me know your 2017 Birmingham hitlist in the comments!