Bosco Pizzeria, Bristol

Working away is such a bore. You have to lug a suitcase around, you sleep badly in strange beds and you have to hang out with work colleagues instead of your actual friends. The one perk? Dinner allowance.

A long, drizzly day of tax training in Bristol meant there was only one thing I wanted to spend that dinner allowance on; pizza. My training course was inconveniently scheduled on a Monday, so many of Bristol’s pizza places were closed, but thankfully Bosco was open to welcome us with open arms. And pizza.

And lovely pizza it was, too. Neapolitan style with a good char on the crust and the perfect level of flop in the middle. The menu is split between pizzas rosso and bianco, all with a variety of proper Italian toppings (no chicken or pineapple here folks), and there wasn’t a single pizza on there I wouldn’t have happily ordered.

Of those we tried my favourite was the Funghi; a white base with cremini and porcini mushrooms, mozzarella, Parmesan, marscapone and truffle oil which brought an earthy funk to cut through the richness. The Emilia Romagna, from the pizza rosso menu, was a showcase of simple, quality ingredients and the pangrattato topping worked brilliantly. My only gripe was that the oil from the wood roasted peppers made the whole affair a little too wet in parts; order it without and you’ve got yourself a brilliant pizza.

There’s a pasta menu at Bosco too. It’s small – which I always take as a good sign – an all killer no filler kinda pasta list. We take a pappardelle duck ragu; the sauce is rich and pleasingly full of tender fowl meat, piled upon thick ribbons of good pasta. I’m only sad we didn’t have room to try the Cacio e Pepe.

The portions were generous – enough to warrant the boxing up of leftovers – and even on a Monday the Whiteladies Road branch was buzzing with people crammed around tables to fill themselves with wine, carbs and happiness. I like it here, and to me it pushes home the point that we are desperately in need of good, casual Italian dining options like this in Birmingham.

So yes, working away from home is a bore. But eating leftover Bosco pizza in my hotel bed, without having to worry about crumbs? That’s pretty damn good.

We dined at the 96 Whiteladies Road branch of Bosco, BS8 2QX.

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Grana Padano Lunch at San Carlo, Birmingham

I bloody love cheese. Hard, soft, stinky, mild, cow or goat – I don’t discriminate. And now that winter has officially rolled in, I have no shame calling out for cheese in every meal. Luckily San Carlo have my back, rolling out a special menu dedicated to cheese – Grana Padano in particular – which will run throughout the whole of November.

The new menu kicked off with an afternoon of cheese and wine, where we were joined by a Grana Padano expert (how can I get this job, please?) to sample the cheese and dishes that San Carlo have created to showcase it.

First order of the day – after prosecco, of course – is a tasting of the cheese in it’s pure, unadulterated form. Three hearty chunks of Grana Padano, ranging from a spritely 11 month old vintage with a mild, creamy flavour, through the nuttier 16 month vintage, to the robust 20 month ‘Reserva’ vintage which smacks of umami and has a lovely crystalline texture. It’s a versatile cheese, the various vintages able to suit different dishes and palates.

Good stuff, but there’s one surefire way to make any cheese taste better; add carbs. And San Carlo are on it. Our first dish is Gnocco Croccante; essentially large gnocchi with a crisp coating, atop a smooth Grana Padano sauce and accompanied by fresh truffle. It’s rich, cheesy and all kinds of delicious, with the crunch of the coating giving texture to a dish which would otherwise be soft enough for my great grandma to enjoy. A crisp Pinot Grigio does a great job of cutting through the richness of the dish.

Next up is a mushroom risotto, served in (wait for it) a WHEEL OF CHEESE. This is the stuff of dreams, people. It’s a good risotto, hearty and warming with lots of mushroom, but the rice could have done with a fraction longer in the pan and a touch more salt. It’s paired with a glass of rosé. Yes, I thought they were crazy too, but it really worked. San Carlo know their wines; I should never have doubted them.

Finally there is more gnocchi, this time in a Grana Padano basket with a Gorgonzola sauce. A glass of red is essential here, standing up to the big, cheesy flavours on the plate.

We leave, taking with us a distinct odour of cheese. Perhaps three in a row is a bit too much, but as standalone specials these dishes are a perfect way to get your cheese fix. They’re available at San Carlo until the end of November, which by my calculations means you have exactly 506.5 hours to get your hands on them. Godspeed!

I was invited to the press event, but was not asked to write about it. Find San Carlo at 4 Temple Street, Birmingham, B2 5BN

San Carlo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A boozy evening at Gusto Birmingham

Now there’s not going to be too much “foodie bullshit” in this post, because quite frankly we were so well looked after – and the company was so good – that I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to the food as I usually do.

That’s not to say that the food isn’t great – it really is (see my previous post here) – but I think that’s kind of what Gusto is all about. Because you can always guarantee that the food, drinks and vibe will be right, you can just concentrate on having a fucking good time with your chosen companions.

I’ve never seen the bar area in Gusto empty. And for good reason. One of the things I like most about Gusto is that it has a proper cocktail menu done much better than many “cocktail bars” I’ve been to. On this occasion, we were treated to a selection of the bartender’s favourites which did not disappoint. The Grape and Cherry Spritz, probably my favourite of all, is less sweet than it sounds and delightfully refreshing. The Vanilla Rum packs a punch without being at all harsh, whilst the Elderflower and Peach Martini is sweet and very sippable. For something a bit different, try the Coconut and Cherry Sour.

What did I eat? To start, I had the creamed garlic mushrooms which I will now order every time I visit Gusto. They are ultimate comfort food, rich, creamy and (unsurprisingly) garlicky, topped with crisp shallots for some added texture. The only time I might make an exception is to order the dough petals instead. Actually, fuck it. I’m going to start ordering both and dipping the dough petals in my garlic mushrooms.


I followed this with the white crab, chilli and garlic spaghetti. Simple, tasty and with a generous helping of crab, it was a lovely main. Although I admit that by this point, @barrysherwin61 had fed me so much red wine that I was losing interest in the food and agreeing to all kinds of things…

Sticky toffee pudding satisfied my craving for a sweet ending. Big enough to satisfy, without being so heavy that I couldn’t extricate myself from my chair after the meal. I would have liked a tiny bit more sauce, but my dad tells me that it’s not civilized to eat dessert from a bowl so I guess I need to up my standards. Forgive me, I’m from Macclesfield.

Gusto regularly change up their  menu, with the next one due in April, but all the dishes above have a permanent slot (for good reason). Come and try them; come and try the cocktails. If you want to eat and drink somewhere buzzy, relaxed and really well decorated then Gusto is your place.

Disclaimer: We were guests of Gusto so dinner was on them. However I’ve been many times before before and paid, and I will again – I genuinely rate it. 

Find Gusto at The Grand Hotel, Colmore Row, B3 2DA WEBSITE

 

 

 

 

Carluccio’s, Brindley Place

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 Carluccio’s 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.

Carluccio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Otto Pizzeria, Jewellery Quarter

Since moving to Brum last year I haven’t come across any really great pizza places. Granted, with such a huge choice of bars, restaurants & cafes on my doorstep I haven’t been deprived of a good meal, but sometimes only pizza will do!

Step forward JQ favourite The Eight Foot Grocer, who have converted next door into a wood fired pizza restaurant named Otto, Italian for eight (see what they did there?). AND IT’S LESS THAN 100 METRES FROM MY FLAT!!! They opened last weekend so we headed there on Sunday evening to see if my pizza dreams really had come true.

Inside the decoration is simple and laid back with lots of exposed brickwork and Birmingham inspired artwork – perfect for a casual pizza place. The all important wood fired pizza oven takes pride of place at the back of the room.

I was really pleased to see bottled beer from my favourite Jewellery Quarter brewery, Rock & Roll Brewhouse, on offer alongside their draft beer, spirits & vino.

The menu is short and sweet with an emphasis on quality ingredients and flavours. To start we shared the Charcuterie Board which is served with flatbread and combines cured meats, sundried tomatoes, roasted vegetables and olives. Everything on the board tasted fresh and delicious and the presentation was really pretty. If I was going to be super picky, I’d say that the olives could have had a bit more flavour and I would have liked to have a bit more of the meat on the board but overall we really enjoyed it.

There are six pizzas on the menu plus two seasonal specials. On our visit there was a pumpkin, pine nut and honey special on which I was very tempted by. The pizza only takes 90 seconds to cook in 500 degree heat and it comes out piping hot with a beautifully crisp but soft crust – absolutely perfect!

He chose the Hunter’s salami, seared pepper & olives topping. This mirrored lots of the flavours from the charcuterie board and was really tasty. However it was beaten by my ‘Nduja (spicy pork salami) pizza which was outstanding. The simple tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil base really let the gorgeous ‘Nduja take centre stage whilst complementing it perfectly. The chef told us it was his favourite and I can 100% see why!

The prices range from £6 to £9.50 which is pretty good. I think they also do takeaway and I would definitely order this rather than a Dominoes in future – cheaper, more delicious and closer to my flat!

The service was a tiny bit slow but to be fair a) it was their opening weekend b) there was a huge group eating at the same time as us and c) I was feeling hangry so time was going slowly! The staff were all lovely and friendly and I really liked that the pizza chefs came and chatted to us at the end.

Otto has definitely solved my pizza dilemma and I now feel utterly spoilt having such great pizza within metres of my flat. You guys really ‘otto’ check this place out!

Otto can be found at 14 Caroline Street, B3 1UG. TWITTER

First look at Gusto Birmingham

When details of the new Gusto restaurant appeared on the boarded fronts of The Grand Birmingham I was super excited. I’m originally from Cheshire so grew up visiting Gusto in Alderley Edge – I even remember it as ‘Est Est Est’ before it was rebranded – and it has always been one of my go-to restaurants whenever I am home.

As if I needed an excuse to visit, the opening coincided with my last day at work, so we booked a table for Saturday to celebrate. When we arrived, we were greeted by the wonderful Adam Hayes. We sat right by the floor to ceiling windows which are so, so good for people watching. I could sit there all evening with a glass of wine watching the world go by. As with all Living Ventures venues the interior had been beautifully thought out, and included the signature olive tree covered in fairy lights. Something else I liked was the way the restaurant had been split into three zones, meaning the noise from larger groups didn’t overwhelm smaller tables!

Onto the food: to start, we ordered the oven roasted pork ribs and the meatballs in spiced tomato sauce. We also had some baked rosemary focaccia bread to nibble on; this was good but a little thick for me. I would recommend the dough petals or garlic pizza bread over the focaccia as when I’ve tried these before they’ve been perfect.

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The meatballs, served with a rich, thick tomato sauce and topped with cheese, were a lovely comforting starter without being too heavy. The pork ribs came smothered in a delicious tomato and barbecue sauce and was accompanied by a crunchy (possibly pickled?) vegetable salad. The salad was beautiful, it was light and fresh and really lifted all the flavours in the dish.

To drink we ordered a bottle of ‘Gomila’, a Slovenian wine. I had no idea that Slovenia even produced wine but apparently they do, and it’s good! Another thing I like about Gusto in general is that they always give you a separate ice bucket so that the wine doesn’t clutter up the table. I had been out on Friday so didn’t fancy anything more than wine but they do have a brilliant cocktail menu as well!

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I am a huge pizza and pasta lover so I usually stick with those but I thought I’d branch out a little for our main course. Firstly, we had the pan fried fillet of sea bass. To my immense joy, the crispy vegetable salad made another appearance in this dish. Seriously Gusto, can you put this on the menu as a side so that I can order it every time?! The sea bass was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Usually I have a phobia of eating fish skin because so often it’s soggy and slimy and disgusting, but here it was crisp and lovely and I ate it all!

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We also ordered the slow cooked pork belly which was equally amazing – I think this is my top pick of the evening. The pork belly was gorgeous and soft, and perfectly complemented by the crisp texture of the crackling and the sweet sharpness of the apple sauce. Pork belly dishes can sometimes be really heavy but Gusto cleverly serve it with gnocchi rather than potato, and add hints of basil. This stops the dish being too stodgy and, most importantly, means you have room for dessert!

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Sticky toffee pudding is my absolute favourite dessert EVER and I know that the Gusto version is damn good. However I was intrigued by the almond milk panna cotta, served with honeycomb, flaked almonds and lemon curd so decided to go for that. I was slightly disappointed that it came in a bowl rather than standing up (not as fun and wobbly) and if you had a mouthful without any of the toppings it didn’t have much of a standout flavour. However in combination with the sharp lemon curd and berry flavours and the crunchy texture from the honeycomb and almonds it was a nice fresh dessert and I can see it working really well in summer.

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He had the chocolate & hazelnut brownie, served with pistachio ice cream and chocolate sauce – could you get a more perfect combination?! Brownie desserts are often way too sweet and artificial tasting but this one was brilliant. I loved the slight bitterness of the chocolate sauce, it made the dish feel like it was made with good quality chocolate rather than just being a sugar overload!

I’m so pleased Birmingham now has its very own Gusto, the team have done a great job and I look forward to many more visits in future. And also, before I finish, can we just mention how beautiful the toilets are!?

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Gusto is located at The Grand Hotel, Colmore Row, B3 2DA WEBSITE