Table for five, please,” I asked the waiter who welcomed us to Zizzi Brindleyplace.
It was a glorious day and we’d hoped to sit outside on the terrace overlooking a sun-baked Brindleyplace however – unsurprisingly – it was full of diners.
And so, having clocked that all the outdoor areas at nearby restaurants were just as busy, we opted to escape the heat and head inside.
It was much quieter; it was, in fact, almost empty.
“We have a booth,” replied the waiter showing us to a table set up for four.
Perhaps he’d misheard; at this point only three of us had arrived and our other two – heavily pregnant – friends were yet to turn up.
“But there’s five of us,” I said.
“Well, you could all squeeze in?” he offered.
Now, I do like my friends and I hope they like me but I’m not sure we want to sit on one another’s laps to eat our pizza. Perhaps he envisaged us all sharing spaghetti and meatballs Lady and the Tramp style, who knows.
“Er, I think we’d prefer a bigger table, if that’s OK?” I questioned, utterly baffled by this exchange.
This seemed to confuse the waiter who reluctantly pointed us in the direction of a table for six. Had the restaurant been busy I could’ve understood it, perhaps. But it was emptier than Katie Price’s soul.
Strange exchange aside, we sat down at our table and the rest of the party soon arrived.
We all agreed the menu looked delicious and had the standard ‘starter and main’ or ‘main and dessert’ debate that women tend to have when they really want starter, main AND dessert.
And so we settled on starters and mains, with the possibility of pud ‘if there’s room’. It’s laughable how we all pretend to have modest appetites.
The menu is pretty extensive, more than just the pizza and pasta you’d expect at this popular Italian chain. Starters include temptations such as arancini – or risotto balls for the layman – butterflied king prawns and wild boar meatballs. Main course options include the usual pizzas, pastas and risottos, as well as meat and fish dishes such as lamb shank, sea bass verde and chicken breast wrapped in Parma ham.
To start, three of us opted for the calamari while the others chose the smoked mozzarella bombetti, or ‘cheese balls’ as they preferred to refer to them.
The starters arrived swiftly. My first impression was that all the dishes looked undercooked. The coating on the calamari was so light in colour it was hard to differentiate it from the white of the squid ring beneath, while the breadcrumb shell of the bombettis were much the same.
Disappointingly, the squid was also rather chewy; I suspect it was cooked from frozen rather than fresh. It was fine, nothing special, and the accompanying garlic and basil dip was pleasant enough.
The cheese balls, which came with a red pepper tapanade dip, were devoured without comment.
Presentation of the food was good with each dish arriving in a little silver bucket lined with Zizzi branded greaseproof paper.
Between courses we sampled each other’s soft drinks – I told you we were good friends.
One of the pregnant ladies had opted for a bottle of Orchard Pig’s Totally Minted claiming that it made her feel like she was ‘drinking cider on a summer day’. Described as ‘pink grapefruit and mint with a zesty twist of lime’ it tasted absolutely delish. Meanwhile, another chose the equally refreshing Orchard Pig Flower Power – an apple and elderflower soft drink. Super duper.
Zizzi Brindleyplace is Birmingham’s second branch with the original in the Mailbox. This one is relatively new and in a lovely location next to Argentinian steakhouse Cau and Brum’s longstanding favourite Bank. Bars including All Bar One and Pitcher & Piano are just around the corner.
They’ve done a grand job on the interior; it feels modern and spacious without feeling too try-hard. There’s an open kitchen where you can watch chefs work pizza dough into shape and shovel them on flat paddles into a wood-fired oven.
We didn’t have to wait long for our main courses, which also looked as though they’d barely kissed that oven.The pizza crusts, for example, were almost white rather than irresistably golden brown while the cheese was just-melted instead of bubbling hot.
Fortunately, this wasn’t a concern for me; I opted for the spaghetti pomodoro, which was beautifully cooked. It came topped with half a ball of juicy, sweet buffalo mozzarella. I ripped it – à la Jamie Oliver – into my spaghetti and tucked in. The tomato sauce was just sharp enough and the pasta cooked to al dente perfection. With a generous grating of parmesan cheese and an extra drizzle of olive oil, I lapped it up.
Another friend opted for the pulled beef and venison strozzapreti – a sort of posh bolognese – and reported that it was very tasty.
The pizza eaters were pleased with their choices too. One chose the Pinoli pizza topped with, amongst other things, goat’s cheese, mozzarella, caramalised balsamic onions, sunblush tomatoes and basil, while another lady chose a calzone – although I’m not entirely sure which one, there was a choice of two. It looked pretty good, despite my irrational calzone fear dating back to a 1980s childhood when foods with enclosed fillings – think Findus Crispy Pancakes, Pop-Tarts and McDonald’s apple pies – equalled third degree burns in your mouth. I noticed she left her underdone crusts on the side of the plate. The final pizza-eater chose a rustica pizza topped with spicy roasted chicken, fire-roasted peppers, and mozzarella.
We stuck to our original plan and decided to skip dessert although options did sound good; we all lusted over the dessert menu cover image of the salted caramel chocolate brownie, but there was room for no more.
The bill came to £89, which included an online 25 per cent discount voucher. And while everyone seemed satisfied with their food, no one seemed to be singing its praise either. Perhaps we should just be thankful we’d been granted a big enough table.