Italian Restaurant that really sparkles
by Richard McComb
The Birmingham Post
All the omens were bad: it was Italian, it was in Birmingham and I was going there.
I can count on the fingers of one finger, at a push two, the number of Brum-talian restaurants to which I would happily return. Obviously, I haven't "done" all of them but I've done, in percentage terms, most of the well-known ones and the experiences have been doubly memorable: for mediocre food and rubbish service.
Consistency has its virtues, but not when it's consistently bad.
As I approached the newish Cucina Rustica in the Jewellery Quarter, I felt fairly confident about the way lunch was going to go.
I have a food critic's sixth sense.
I decided to persevere, because that's what I do, on your behalf.
Things got scarier inside the restaurant, not because there were waiters walking around with knives through their heads but because it felt, well, quite pleasant. I didn't see that coming.
Olives, which were fine, were proffered at no cost with a glass of white wine. They'd cost you about £15 at Jamie's Italian.
Because Jerry thinks it really still is 1973 ("Decimalisation – it'll never catch on"), he had a starter of sautéed button mushrooms in a light creamy sauce of garlic and parsley.
For a chap who refused to dine with me on Valentine's Day, on the basis that people might think we were desperate to snog each other, it seemed a gender-challenging choice.
Button mushrooms in my experience have the depth of flavour of buttons but Jerry was happy enough. "Fine," he reported.
My chicken livers, by which I mean they ones I ate (I don't actually have chicken livers) were good, well cooked, the right pinkness and served with a salad of baby leaves and a lemony dressing with bacon. Surprisingly good, in fact.
I'm not a fan of heavy bread with deep-fried this, melted that and drizzled whatever and asked for some plain bread, for mopping up, not fattening out. It was delivered, free of charge (£25.99 in Jamie's Italian).
People, quite rightly, don't tend to have a clue who I am so I can only assume this is standard practice. If it is, good for Cucina Rustica – and a blowing of raspberries to all those cheapskates who charge for a couple of slices of baguette.
The mains included a line-up of the usual suspects – dishes alla Milanese, alla Romana, duck and cherry etc – from which I'd normally run a mile, but on the basis of my dish (lobster tagliatelle), I'd be tempted to give one a go. (Shock! Yes, I'd come back.)
There were four basic pizzas. I've no idea what they are like but more is always less with pizza, especially when it comes to toppings.
There was also a good range of pasta (tagliolini with prawns, courgettes, white wine, cream and saffron; wild boar parcels with a cream sauce, porcini mushrooms). Veggies will find something here, in case you care.
Large menus unnerve me, so I went for one of the daily specials.
Now £17.50 for a pasta with lobster is a good price. For a dish the size I had, it's insanely good.
The last time I had a similar dish in a Brum-talian it resembled, both in appearance and freshness, the gloopy bits that deep-sea trawlermen dredge up.
This was rather good; indeed, surprisingly good. If it was a little rich that is because there was so much of it, enough for two probably, with absolutely stacks of lovely lobster meat.
I was beaten. Unbelievable.
Jerry, now humming The Great Gig in the Sky, had an equally manly plate of spaghetti con fruitti di mare (clams, mussels and prawns in a punchy tomato chilli sauce) and also retired hurt. "Yes, fine," he said.
He's a man of few, but meaningful, words when it comes to food.
We only had one glass of perfectly acceptable house wine because that's what people tend to do now, more's the pity.
With two double espressos, the bill for Cucina Rustica, which isn't very rustica, came to £55.
Solid, consistent cooking; accomplished service