The best Italian food in Birmingham?

Is it to over-sell Gustami to say that it’s the best Italian restaurant in Birmingham?

There are negatives to consider, certainly.
The location is in an area that even the most hyperbolic estate agent might struggle to describe as up-and-coming.
The place itself is, like me, small and plain – more cafe than smart restaurant.

But the charming service and fantastic food have made it my favourite Italian in the city.
It has generosity, hospitality, authenticity and a sense of focus.

The place

It’s located just off the Ladywood Middleway in a row of modern shops in a space that would lend itself more to a unremarkable chippy than a damn fine restaurant.
But the space is airy, clean and brightened up with rows of books and pictures.
The tables are uncovered. The kitchen is open plan.

The food

Don’t go expecting the huge and showy menu that you’d find at most other Italian restaurants.
Certainly not the identikit menu you’d encounter at most chains.

This is a short and concise thing on sheets of A4 paper,stapled together and listing classic basic Italian dishes, though you can phone ahead and order unfeatured dishes if you wish.
Five of us shared the three starters on offer – garlic bread, bruschetta and a selection of cured meats, cheeses and vegetables served with Gustami’s home-made bread.

First let me concede that it’s in man’s nature to exaggerate about the length of long stiff objects.
But this feast arrived on a board that was enormous – probably 4ft – and was supported on the table rather ingeniously by two large tins of tomatoes.
Salami and ham were brilliant. Mozzarella, too. A bowl of creamy ricotta was a delight. There was pecorino and parmesan of impeccable quality.

Bulbous sweet red chillies came stuffed with tuna. There were artichokes and there were strips of marinated aubergine with a sweet and sour tang.
So vast was this array that much was taken home afterwards in cardboard boxes.

The home-made tortelloni to which I progressed was good rustic stuff.
The pasta itself was fabulous, the stuffing of ricotta and spinach was well-judged and the covering of tomato sauce was refreshing and flavoursome.
Spaghetti carbonara and lasagne Bololgnaise were authentic renditions.

A dish of gnocchi and a seafood risotto also pleased.
The unexciting looking apple cake with which I finished – served with a fascinating cream cheese and sharp apple sauce – was, in fact, a revelation – packed with flavour.

A slice of tiramisu showed what heights this much-abused dessert can reach.
And the price for all this food plus a bottle of fizz? A ridiculous £75 or thereabouts.

The service

A word finally on the service, which was attentive, helpful and efficient.
The woman working front-of-house – from Turin – was delightful and didn’t laugh too heartily at my attempts to speak Italian.
The chef – from Bologna – popped from the kitchen to chat and ask if we’d enjoyed the meal.

Need to know

A bowl of pasta will set you back £3.90 to £5.90.
Bistecca di manzo is £6.90.
Gustami also serves pizzas, sandwiches and breakfast.
It offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes.
It’s child-friendly and accessible for disabled people.
There’s parking outside.

Ristorante Caffe Gustami
4 King Edwards Rd, Birmingham B1 2PZ. 0121 454 5922.

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