Leafy and picturesque, St Paul’s Square is slowly but surely becoming one of my favourite spots in the city. Nestled below the bustling streets of the Jewellery Quarter, this small but vibrant part of Birmingham becomes a hive of activity come the weekend; largely thanks to the array of independent bars and restaurants scattered around the pretty church grounds.
Mediterranean restaurant Cucina Rustica is situated half way up Ludgate Hill, offering well priced food in an attractive setting. Arriving early evening on a Friday night to find the venue heaving already, we were greeted and seated by a friendly face before ordering drinks. First impressions are good; the airy restaurant is spacious and boasts sleek decor. The cutlery and wine glasses are pristine.
The main menu, of course, includes pastas (the choice is vast) and pizzas, but diners are also offered a choice of meaty mains including steaks, veal and chicken options. There are vegetarian choices and plenty of seafood dishes if that’s your scene. On this occasion we were here to try a wine pairing dinner and had a smaller set menu.
We kicked off with a selection of sliced breads and olives dusted with dried herbs, along with a glass of prosecco. The appetiser was basic but fine and we mopped up the additional olive oil and balsamic vinegar on our table with the various breads. The olives were however pre stoned, which is always a shame, and I suspected they had just come straight from a jar of brine.
Starters came as a trio of ‘restaurant favourites’ to share, including Funghi con formaggio di capra (£7.10), Fegatini di pollo (£7.50) and Melanzane alla parmigiana (£6.95). The grilled Portobello mushrooms had been basted in garlic butter and topped with a generous slab of rich goats cheese. Simple but classic.
The chicken livers had been cooked with care, and were served over a piece of fried bread with a decadent marsala wine and cream sauce. I loved the additional crispy pancetta and the quality of the liver was excellent, although this is a very rich starter and I’m not sure I would choose it upon a revisit. My dining partner commented that the livers themselves were cooked particularly well, and he enjoyed the dish for its robust flavour. As always, this is all down to personal preference; offal is an acquired taste to some.
Aubergine was the main ingredient of our last starter, as well as pecorino, tomato, basil and mozzarella. This was a simple, tasty and comforting dish, and the most typically ‘Italian tasting’ starter of the three thanks to the herbs and cheeses. Presentation wise the aubergine didn’t make much of an impact but the flavours were all on point.
Alongside the trio of starters a crisp white wine was served. The Fiano Salento has hints of citron and a delicate fruity aroma; utterly delicious. This was the highlight of the four wines we tried and I’d be sure to order it again upon revisiting.
Cosciotto d’agnello (£17.95) was on the menu for our main, and what an enormous plate of food it was. Nestled upon a bed of creamy mash potato – which I have to say was delicious – the sweet lamb shank meat came away from the bone like butter on a hot knife. Tender and plentiful, the lamb was rich and flavourful, helped in part by the rosemary infused sauce.
I felt it was a safe and simple dish, perhaps missing a bit on aesthetic finesse, but it was a tasty main. I would have liked some accompanying vegetables to brighten and lighten the dish (it was all very brown) a view shared by my dining partner. The accompanying Nero D’avola Montepietroso Sicily – the favourite of my dining partner on the night – was a wonderful deep red with a vibrant flavour of ripe dark fruits; I think cherries.
Our meal concluded with a trio of puddings and dessert wine. I expected the tiramisu (an Italian staple) to be the standout dessert, and whilst it was attractive and tasted pleasant I didn’t find much of the coffee flavour I’d expected which was a little disappointing. The poached pears, however, were delicious and delicately flavoured; the additional ice cream had an amaretto-like kick which was most welcome. If I had one gripe with regards to presentation it would be the outdated wafers, which to me are not indicative of modern dining and provide little to the desserts. The accompanying Visanto del Chianti Classico proved to be a little too sweet for our tastes.
An enjoyable evening with plentiful food and fabulous wines. The restaurant is clearly very popular – it was full for the entire two hours we were there – and it’s in a fantastic location. The service was a little confused at points and, due to the set menu, I didn’t have the opportunity try any seafood, which I have previously been advised the restaurant does well. I’m told by staff they have a great selection available though, and I will happily venture back to see if this is the case.
Cucina Rustica, 24 Ludgate Hill, Birmingham, B3 1DX
*Disclosure: I was a guest of Cucina Rustica but all opinions and wine chat remain my own*