Mention Italian restaurants in Birmingham and one of the first names to pop-up will be Cucina Rustica. The large building in the heart of St Pauls Square is synonymous with Italian food, churning out bowls of pasta long before I arrived in this fine city. I live close by, have eaten in there on a couple of occasions, and was delighted to take up an offer of a wine masterclass with a tasting of their spring menu.
Me and wine are friends. Good friends with a long history. The wines we sampled were something else; a statement of a restaurant that knows the importance of a solid list to match the quality of the food. Unsurprisingly, It is Italian dominated, with an emphasis on the rare and unavailable in the UK. From the opening glass of fizzy stuff it was clear that we were in for a treat.
It is Italian dominated, with an emphasis on the rare and unavailable in the UK.
Courses were served as various tasters of the menu, each plate with two or three smaller versions of dishes from the forthcoming menu. The first plate had plump prawns in a rich tomato and garlic sauce, and a field mushroom with goats cheese. The best bite is the scallop, baked in the shell with a gratin of parsley, parmesan and more garlic. The shellfish is just cooked through, the topping pungent, with a shrimp that reinforces the whack of the sea. A decadent white wine is poured, and we follow this with one of the better plates of antipasto in the city, the cured meats of a high quality with translucent ribbons of fat that dissolve in the mouth.
Main’s plate numero uno has delicate seabass with tiny prawns bound in a saffron sauce, which is better than a mushroom and asparagus risotto that has seen a minute too long in a pan. A breaded chicken breast is comfort food at its finest, blanketed in melted mozzarella and perched on a warming tomato sauce. With this is Fiano Salento from Puglia, not unlike the finest of Chenin Blancs in character, that has enough acidity and citrus to cut through the richness of all three.
And then the wine moved into another gear. A Barbera of total elegance that had the table fighting over the last of the bottle. The sort of wine that is worth a trip to a restaurant by itself. Go, drink up and have it with what we had. Either just pink lamb cutlets with marsala sauce and apples, or beef fillet with a pokey concoction of capers, shallots and anchovy.
plump prawns in a rich tomato and garlic sauce, and a field mushroom with goats cheese.
We finish up with three desserts and a fine glass of vinsanto, because why not? It’s a Thursday evening, after all. The desserts were of a good standard, with an indulgent tiramisu and a ricotta cheesecake taking joint top spot. A hot chocolate fondant seems to be the staple of all Italian restaurants, here executed to a precise molten centre.
Overall the food really hasn’t changed from my previous visits – it’s dependable and wholesome, the kind of place that you will never leave disappointed. But what really has changed is my appreciation for the wine list. They have a serious supplier here (Colombier Wines, if you’re wondering) who really have created a list full of affordable gems. Ultimately, this is what separates Cucina Rustica from all other Italian restaurants in the city and makes it well worthy of a return visit.