The one thing about going to any of Marco Pierre White’s plethora of restaurant chains is that you can be in no doubt of where you are, thanks to the huge images of him smouldering at you as you walk in. I don’t quite get it, but then again maybe if I had the empire he did I’d pop pictures of myself everywhere too.
You might remember that the last time we visited an MPW establishment, I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to transport us from the Holiday Inn at Birmingham Airport to a chic New York Italian style restaurant serving decent food.
Marco’s definitely made himself at home in Birmingham, from hisEnglish Chophouse in Hotel La Tour to the Steakhouse, Bar & Grill at the top of The Cube. And just downstairs from that is the more casual younger sibling, Bardolino, a canalside pizzeria, bellini and espresso bar.
The interior is definitely in keeping with its aim to offer casual dining. It’s light, bright and airy with deliberately mismatched furniture to lend that homely feeling. And of course, fabulous views out over the canal.
The only slight question mark for me was over the use of Bardolino for the spa in The Cube, which means you’re joined on your lunch by a steady sea of people in their crisp white robes as they take time our from their spa day to saunter upstairs for lunch. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is commonplace in spas, but it just felt slightly out of place in a Birmingham city centre venue to see people wandering in and out in their dressing gowns. Hey, maybe I’m just a bit prude….
After a heavy morning shopping in Birmingham, my mum and I visited at lunchtime for a bit of refuelling. Given that bellinis are one of the stars of the menu, I thought it would be rude not to try one. I opted for the ‘Bardolini’ – a mixture of prosecco and your own choice of two fruit purees from various other bellinis, in my case raspberry and passionfruit.
The food menu is fairly simple and unfussy, with pizzas, salads, al forno dishes and some simple main courses. There’s a brunch menu too which is served until 5pm each day, and bottomless brunch including unlimited bellinis at weekends – tempting, right?
After a morning trying on clothes and being slightly concerned about their tightness, I decided to try (note the use of the word ‘try’) and go for something on the slightly healthier side. I settled on the Hot Smoked Salmon Nicoise Salad, mainly because I lurve hot smoked salmon.
Mum, who actually does healthy eating rather than just talking about it, had gone for the Bardolino Burger and was planning to leave the brioche bun it came served with, as well as the skinny fries. Sounds crazy I know, but that way she was set to have plenty of meaty protein and a bit of fat from the accompanying crisp pancetta and cheese.
Now, the problem you get when you order such contrasting dishes – especially when I’m one of the people ordering – is the inevitable food envy. Imagine my jealousy when mum’s burger turned up, all meaty, fat and shiny, compared to my slightly conservative salad.
Lucky for me, having the best mum in the world (and no, I’m not just saying it because it’s around the time of Mother’s Day) meant she offered to swap. And yes, I took her up on the offer. For me, the burger was a triumph. The meat was well seasoned, moist and oozing meaty juices. For mum it was a bit too rare, but I love a burger that comes pink in the middle. Maybe just check if you want yours better cooked.
The bun was soft and light, the pancetta crisp just like it should be and it was smothered in a generous helping of molten cheese. The fries were crispy and nicely salted, though I’m not sure how noticeable the ‘spice’ in the Italian spicy ketchup was, but all of those elements were just the supporting roles backing up the star of the show which was the patty itself.
I’d love to say that the salad was as good, but I’m afraid it just wasn’t in the same league. It ticked the boxes of all the elements the menu had boasted it would have – hot smoked salmon, green beans, free range egg, black olives, new potatoes, cos lettuce, tomato and vinaigrette. But somehow it just didn’t hit the spot.
The salmon itself was nice but the potatoes were a bit lacklustre and maybe could have been seasoned and the whole thing was, well, a little bit sad. This might sounds fussy, I guess, but given that the price tag is up there at £11.95, you kind of expect it to smoulder at you the same way the Marco’s face does when you walk in.
Left with mixed feelings about our contrasting main courses, it was all down to the dessert to be the deciding vote in whether we’d return to Bardolino for a lunch date or not. And we picked a risky one – panna cotta with tropical fruits and passion fruit sauce. We all know panna cotta can be a tough call. All that balance between wobble and creaminess. It happens to be one of my mum’s fave desserts but she is often left disappointed.
Not, I’m pleased to say, on this occasion. Smooth, sweet, creamy and light, with just the right degree of wobble and not a hint of rubberiness. The fruit added the colours the plate needed, along with that citrus tang that allows you to keep on eating more and more of the good stuff. Another winner, taking good dishes 2-1 up to the sorry salad.
As a bonus, the coffee we finished on was pretty darn good too – handy since Bardolino is also an espresso bar. And let’s not forget the service. It was this that sealed the deal and made me decide that I can forgive the odd salad letdown – especially when my mum ate it for me after handing over her main course.
Our waitress was friendly yet polite, knowledgeable, good-humoured, and genuinely interested in getting some feedback about our meal (so yes, I mentioned the salad). She was charm personified and a great example of how to provide good service – something you know I’m a fan of.
Salad aside – and let’s be honest, it wasn’t that bad at all, just not quite so good as the rest – we had a lovely lunch. The setting is great for a lazy lunch, a bit of casual dinner, or a long bottomless brunch, two of the three dishes we tried were really well executed, and the service was exceptional on our visit. I’d come back just to be cheered up by that lovely waitress.
Yeah, so it’s fairly simple fare but I think that’s what they’re aiming for. Definitely a good option to consider for a city centre lunch.
We were invited to Bardolino for the purposes of this blog. Our meal was complimentary.