Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Vegetarian Dining at La Scala

Meeting Head Chef Stuart McDonald at the recent #FutureFoodies event, we spoke at length about La Scala, the restaurant he works at in Sutton Coldfield, just north of the centre of Birmingham, and their passion for ensuring that vegetarians are looked after and catered for.  Always music to my ears when restaurants recognise the importance of ensuring vegetarian guests have a bounty of choices just as much as meat-eating guests do.  When invited to visit La Scala, I was immediately keen to sample their menu and their dedication towards catering for vegetarians.
Located on the A5127 on Maney Corner just before the main centre of Sutton Coldfield (if coming from Birmingham), the restaurant sits within a parade of shops which comes with free parking (always a bonus) and although in a very convenient spot, it is just enough away from the main bustle of the town if you want to enjoy the benefits of a quieter location.

Upon entering the restaurant, you notice the contemporary, opulent décor with a mixture padded seated booths and spacious tables filling the main restaurant area.  There is also a set-back private dining area for larger parties which offers privacy but yet still allows for experiencing the atmosphere from the restaurant.

Shown to our seats, we then met with the Owner, Alfredo, a very charming man whose passion for Italian food stems from being born and raised in Tuscany Italy before moving to England as a young man.  Although trained as a French chef essentially, the pull towards his Italian roots has remained strong and hence his decision to open La Scala, bringing to the forefront his love for Tuscan food, which I am assured leans more towards traditional Italian food as is served in the homeland.  

Alfredo's Italian pride was illustrated in his description of eating in Italy - big, long tables are ladened with roast meats and pastas (not covered in too much sauce I'm told!) with vegetables being served as a separate entity - never mixed with other dishes as they are in other countries.  Interestingly, in Tuscany, salads are served but are eaten separately after a main course dish - a classic example of cultural differences.  

Working with Stuart on ideas, Alfredo draws from his experience and uses the simplicity of rustic, peasant style Italian vegetarian dishes as inspiration for the restaurant's menu.   
Serving Italian cuisine, the knee-jerk reaction for veggie fodder is some kind of pasta or pizza based meal but at La Scala, on top of these options, the kitchen team can rustle up a variety of things to please their vegetarian clientele at a moment's notice.  Alternatively, they can go through options with diners at the time of booking to ensure they do their utmost to maximise the enjoyment for any vegetarians and vegans that will be visiting.  As an independent restaurant, they are able to be as flexible as is required.   Even vegetarian parmasen is available upon request.
Stuart suggested that we try some items from the a la carte menu and some dishes that he has made using his vegetarian creativity.

Asparagi alla Griglia
For our starters, my husband chose the Asparagi alla Griglia which although the menu states it contains parma ham, this was removed to make it 100% vegetarian.  The asparagus tips were dressed with lemon, pepper and a cherry tomato salad. The vegetarian parmasen melted beautifully into the asparagus adding a creaminess contrasting the tangy lemon.

I had Tomino which was a brie cheese parcel, wrapped in breadcrumbs and herbs.  This was served with a plum cherry tomato & balsamic marmalade, dressed with a roasted pepper and lemon coulis.  Cutting into the Tomino the oozy, hot molten brie came into its own and begged to be paired up with the marmalade which was a marriage made in culinary heaven. The ying of the cheese with the yang from the marmalade worked amazingly well.  There were little toasted bread wedges on the side to mop everything up to ensure you don't waste a single bit!
Cannelloni Spinaci e Ricotta
For our main courses, my husband chose the Cannelloni Spinaci e Ricotta from the menu which were cannelloni pasta tubes filled with spinach and ricotta and baked with béchamel & tomato sauce. The Neapolitan tomato sauce was absolutely delicious (we asked for the recipe afterwards, to no avail)!  A gloriously hearty meal which was boosted by the vegetables.

Ripieni de Zucchini
I had the Ripieni de Zucchini which was prepared by the kitchen especially for me.  In essence, they are courgette boats, with the flesh hollowed out and mixed with red onion, thyme, marjoram, herbs, breadcrumbs and garlic to make a stuffing, returning it back to the courgette boat and then baked.  Drizzled on the boats was the Neapolitan sauce and it was served with saffron infused Milanese rice and vegetarian parmasen.  A fabulous courgette dish which when dressed with the herbs and onions takes it to another level.  The rice was soft, delicious and shone golden yellow courtesy of the saffron.

Side Orders of Vegetables

We shared a selection of Italian vegetables - Broccoli in Pepper Sauce, Glazed Carrots and Glazed Potatoes.
For desserts we had a mixed variety of dolce to try.  Alfredo described how desserts in Italy are mainly reserved for Sundays or special occasions as opposed to following every main course on a daily basis.  However, we could count this as a special occasion!


The Tiramisu, made on-site, was rich, dense and certainly lived up to its translation of 'pick me up'!

Lemon Torte

Next to try was the Lemon Torte with slithers of orange zest caramelised in rum and brandy on a biscuit base.  With every bite, you get a citrus sharp hit of real lemons which wakes up your taste buds.

Ricotta Baked CheeseCake

The Ricotta Baked Cheesecake, before seeing it, I had visions of the New York cheesecakes us Brits are more familiar with but this looked and tasted like a cross between Italian pannettone/panforte.  Baked with an Italian sweet pastry bottom, Alfredo described this as more of a cheesecake favoured by the Jewish community as well as the Italian one.  Ricotta lends itself wonderfully to sweet dishes as well as savoury and the secret to this cheesecake is that it needs to be left for a while to settle once taken out of the oven before eating.  A delightfully light cheesecake, a great opportunity to try this at La Scala (as not on all Italian restaurant menus), served with ice cream and fruit coulis.

Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

We also had a portion of vegan chocolate ice cream which is available upon request.  Although not made on-site, it had a nice taste as made from soya as opposed to dairy milk which is used in conventional ice cream.
With everything made on site, including the Italian breads and some of the pastas, its easy to see why La Scala has a loyal following with their attention to detail prevailing.  In addition to their a la carte menu, they offer a fixed price menu (with flexibility for vegetarians) mid- week (Wednesdays & Thursdays) which is £17.95 per head for 3 courses including a glass of house wine.  The restaurant (now in-situ for over 2½ years) also plays host to the business community by offering a function room with conference facilities.  
Although a lot of emphasis has been put on vegetarians, vegans too are catered for with the same approach.  Stuart and team have many vegans ideas/suggestions and can put them into action (especially with notice) to suit all palettes, again, one of the benefits of being independently owned.  

Steering away from just pasta or just risottos, options change to complement the seasons such the imminent introduction of Caponata (aubergine stew) and with Autumn beckoning, pumpkin will feature on the menu in October.  The vegetarian and vegan demographics are very much respected and La Scala are eager to ensure that a pleasurable dining experience is had by all.

In addition, those requiring gluten free food will not be disappointed as gluten free pasta is available upon request.  Also, as the kitchen don't flour a lot of ingredients, this creates more available choice for gluten observers. 
If you can’t go to Tuscany, then instead go and sample the region’s highlights at La Scala. With plenty vegetarian variations waiting for you, at your request of course.
La Scala Restaurant
2 Maney House
Maney House Corner
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
B72 1QL 


Disclosure:  This post was written following a kind invitation from La Scala Restaurant  to  experience their menu.   This review was conducted with honesty, without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

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