CIELO is widely regarded as one of Birmingham’s finest Italian restaurants and is located within the exclusive and desirable Brindley Place development alongside the canal.
Location apart, the fact that the Michelin-starred Andy Waters occupies the role of executive chef gives a clear indication of the quality of food on offer.
Whilst I decided to eat from the à la carte menu it should be noted that there is also an excellent fixed menu for those wishing to dine at lunchtime or early evenings.
Priced at £11.95 for two courses and £14.95 for three courses, the fixed menu offers fantastic value for money without sacrificing any of the quality or attention to detail associated with its more expensive elder brother.
Probably the best way to describe the food at Cielo is as classic Italian with a contemporary twist. Sample dishes on the fixed price menu include salmon carpaccio with rocket, shaved truffle and lemon oil to start, belly of pork with mushroom and cream sauce for main and a pannacotta with honeyed strawberries, oranges and crushed biscotti for desert.
For £15 a head you can’t really go wrong! Speaking personally, but ever so quietly, I have spent as much in McDonald’s!
Given the rapacious nature of a restaurant critic, however, I decided to go all out and sample a variety of dishes from the à la carte menu. To start, I opted for the Duo di pesce affumicato, which was a beautifully presented duo of smoked salmon and smoked halibut served with capers, sunblushed tomatoes and red onion.
This was an absolute joy, with the delicacy of the fish beautifully juxtaposed with the saltiness of the capers and bite of the onion with a much-needed element of sweetness filtering through from the tomatoes. It was truly excellent and is a reason for visiting Italy on its own. My only complaint was that the portion size was rather small and left me yearning for more.
For the main course, after a great deal of deliberation I plumped for the Anatra alle ciliegie, crushed new potatoes and a griottine cherry jus (or pan-fried Gressingham duck breast with a cherry sauce for those, like me, who may have just a workman’s grasp of restaurant Italian).
Again, this was simply divine and very hard to fault. The duck breast (served rare) was incredibly tender and absolutely bursting with flavour, with the cherry jus acting as the perfect accompaniment. The acidity of the fruit provides just the right balance against the richness of the meat.
For dessert, I chose the Torta Al Cioccolato (bitter chocolate tart) although immediately regretted doing so after seeing my colleague being presented with a sumptuous-looking cherry frangipan served with vanilla ice cream and warm black cherries infused with kirsch.
My chocolate tart was slightly disappointing given the two courses that preceded it, the chocolate being slightly too bitter for my taste and was slightly reminiscent of drinking a G&T without the G.
The white chocolate ice cream that accompanied it was delightful although incredibly rich and should be strictly avoided by anyone with a propensity for gout. My colleague’s flattering remarks about his frangipan led me to believe that desserts need not be considered a chink in Cielo’s armour.
Service was discrete and professional and never bordered on being intrusive. Too often top restaurants undermine their award-winning food by employing a belligerent simpleton whose sole ambition is to interfere with your meal at every given opportunity. Worse still is finding someone who eulogises endlessly about dishes you have no desire to eat.
The waiting staff at Cielo get it just right, filling wine glasses when they need filling, taking your order when it needs taking and leaving you with sufficient time to digest each course before rushing the next plate of food to your table.
What a joy it is to go to a restaurant where turning covers is not regarded as the staff’s raison d’être. When I arrived, the maître d was busy fussing over some regular customers who were leaving – slowly. That meant I was kept waiting but, to be fair, he dealt with that very well and I might well aim to become a regular if you get that level of attention!
A real bargain
The fixed price menu is a real bargain but, left to one’s own devices to wander through the menu, it wouldn’t be difficult to spend in excess of £35 per head without wine. Having said that, the wine list is heavily weighted towards the more affordable end of the spectrum.
True, you could spend £98 on a superb example of one of the great Tuscan reds, a 2005 Tignanello, Marchesi Antinori, or you could opt for a perfectly fine bottle of Italian cabernet sauvignon – the Trentinto costs just £18.95 a bottle or £4.95 a glass and was, actually, very pleasant.
Many BSAVA diehards may already have discovered Cielo but if not, and if you find yourself with a lunchtime or evening to spare, then I would sincerely recommend you to pay Cielo a visit. I was certainly not disappointed and have confidence that you will enjoy the experience in this little corner of Bella Italia.
- Rating: 8/10 (likely cost of à la carte dinner for two, with a bottle of wine: £80 plus)
- Cielo, 6 Oozells Square, Brindley Place, Birmingham B1 2JB; telephone: 0121 632 6882, website www.cielobirmingham.com