I often hear it said that Birmingham hasn't really got any little independent bistros. You know the type- somewhere you could equally go with your family, for a date or for a catch up with friends. It's not fashionable but it's softly lit, warm and friendly. The sort of place you see in films about middle class people. The menu is massive and the food is probably French or Italian. It's been there forever and customers keep going back and back.
Except, it does exist and it's been in the Jewellery Quarter, just off St Pauls Square for 21 years. I first noticed Pasta di Piazza after I had been at Lasan, round the corner. It looked warm and inviting and was full of couples and groups having a jolly time.
"What is that place?" I cried. "It looks so nice!"
I finally got around to visiting for a meal about a week after coming home from New York. We had a 7.30pm booking on a weekday evening and while it wasn't full, it was certainly busy.
We had a lovely seat by the window in the corner so it felt intimate but we could still enjoy the buzz of the restaurant. Lots of pictures of famous Italian sights, exposed brickwork and flowers on every table. It was exactly the sort of place I'd imagined eating at in Italy.
Being in an Italian restaurant, I had to go for an Aperitif. I love an Aperol Spritz (£7.85) with a meal as it is long and refreshing thanks to the prosecco and soda but the Aperol is suitably savoury.
There isn't an extensive cocktail menu but there are three other pre-dinner drinks- Americano, Negroni and Bellini. The classics.
A basket of bread was left on the table, which put me in mind of the coperto charge in Italy, where you don't tip but you do have to pay for bread of varying quality which is automatically put on your table. Happily, we are in the UK and it's always lovely to see bread to start the meal. I particularly enjoyed the focaccia, dunked in balsamic.
The menu was huge, filled with everything you would expect and more besides. After New York I wanted to keep things light- not always possible in an Italian restaurant. I chose Crab Meat and Smoked Salmon (£8.95) which is exactly the kind of thing I like to eat. Not very complicated but great quality produce, well seasoned and elegantly presented. Asparagus had been carefully sliced and placed in a spiral, topped with bitter leaf salad, plenty of white crab meat and thick smoked salmon. The whole thing was pulled together with just the right amount of olive oil and lemon juice.
Edd made (for him) a controversial choice of a vegetarian starter- Zucchine All Caprese (£6.95). Again, a simple but effective dish. Courgette had been carefully sliced and grilled, then rolled up with goats cheese, rocket and peppers. Lovely to see so much green.
We finished our Aperol Spritzes and moved onto a glass of prosecco. I don't really go for a bottle of wine with dinner anymore for various reasons. One, I just prefer spirits to wine, two, too much wine makes me sneeze and it isn't worth it.
A glass of fizz is always welcome though.
Choosing mains had been a challenge. I was pretty sure I wanted prawns but many other dishes shouted out to me. Naturally there was a large pasta section but you may know by now that I don't care for pasta. Chicken with garlic spinach, veal milanese, seafood salad and buffalo mozzarella salad all appealed.
But in the end, I had Gamberoni Provencale (£19.95) Not the cheapest item on the menu but a generous portion. Several large king prawns, served in a tomato, chilli and garlic sauce with creamy rice. The prawns were perfectly pan fried and the sauce was nice and spicy. A tad too tomato-y for me but I suppose that is what provencale sauce is.
Edd chose Pollo A La Crema (£11.50) tagliatelle in a white wine and cream sauce with mushrooms, spinach and chicken. A very generous portion and quite rich too. A hearty dish for the cooling weather.
We also shared a portion of mixed vegetables (£4) a simple side of sympathetically cooked veg.
My main was quite filling, but I'd focused on the delicious prawns rather than the rice which was there to add starch really. So I had room for a little sweet something and an espresso.
I chose lemon sorbet (£5.10) which was incredibly tart. Just what I wanted. The little wafer made me smile.
Edd loves a tiramisu (£5.50) and thoroughly enjoyed this coffee flavoured sponge and mascarpone dessert, with an intriguing addition of sambuca, though I can't say either of us picked that up!
Overall a completely lovely evening. Relaxed but with a great atmosphere. Pasta di Piazza have now renovated their upstairs space so there is lots more room also. Go expecting great classic Italian dishes, well cooked with good quality ingredients and friendly hosting.
We're already planning to go back and I'll be scouring the menu for my next choice!
To finish, Helen's happy face.
Pasta di Piazza, Jewellery Quarter
Photos by Helen and Edd.
Food and drink were complimentary for review purposes.