Marco Pierre White is everywhere. Well, not in person, of course. But at the moment it seems restaurants bearing his name are popping up all over the place. I’m still yet to try the one at the Cube in Birmingham, and that opened yonks ago. Plus there’s his ‘English Chophouse’ at Hotel La Tour in Brum, and his New York Italian in Kenilworth, not far from me. And those are just the ones that immediately spring to mind in the Midlands. Marco really is everywhere!
When a chef succumbs to the lure of celebrity – and is so prolific in doing so – it inspires curiosity, criticism and the inevitable scorn. Of course, it’s no doubt a great moneyspinner but the difference between putting your name on a product, and putting it on a restaurant, is that the former is guaranteed to be uniform in standard. When you put your name on a bunch of restaurants, you’re gambling that the teams in each of those establishments will do you proud. Of course, we all know that just because Marco’s name is above the door, it doesn’t mean he’s cooking your dinner, but his patronage is a seal of approval, which means you expect it to be good.
When it comes to the other Midlands eateries in the Marco stable, I’ve heard mixed reviews, so when I was asked if I wanted to try the new menu at Marco’s New York Italian at the Holiday Inn at Birmingham Airport as part of a new partnership I’ve got going with The Gastro Card, I thought I’d best see for myself whether Marco is bringing something new to the table, or just slapping his name on anything for a quick buck.
When we mentioned we were going to Marco Pierre White’s, a few of our pals thought we were heading off to London or Birmingham to a swanky restaurant where we would be cooked for by the man himself. The Holiday Inn at Birmingham Airport is slightly less salubrious but they’ve done a great job with the restaurant. Dark and moody, with pictures of the big man brandishing a cleaver on the walls, and a mixture of booths and tables, it’s easy to forget you’re in an airport hotel.
Safely deposited in a booth and put under the care of the ever-helpful Kasha, we started with some warm baked sourdough with olive oil and balsamic as we looked at the menu. We also picked two glasses of a red wine I’ve never had, Parrosi Rosso, which came with a ‘Marco Recommends’ sticker next to it on the menu. Does he really recommend it? Or does someone just stick the letters next to certain dishes and drinks to make it look like Marco’s closely involved? Who knows, but it was really nice glass of wine, and something we’ll probably hunt for now we’ve tried it.
For starter, I chose the salad of beetroot and goats cheese with walnut dressing. A seriously pretty plate of food. Thin slices of beetroot with chunks of goats cheese and walnut scattered on top and a lovely walnutty dressing with a slight hint of pesto. This wasn’t just lovely to look at but really light and tasty too. The kind of thing I might replicate at home.
Jamie couldn’t resist the Crispy New York Buffalo Wings with blue cheese dip. I don’t profess to be a chicken wing expert, but these were pretty darn good. They were big, which doesn’t just appeal to my greedy side, but it means you can have a nice crispy outside, but still a moist meaty inside. Rather than those tiny wings you get in some places that morph into an unappetising lump of petrified crunch once they’ve been deep-fried. Add to these a generous helping of rich, calorie-laden blue cheese dressing, and you’re on to a winner.
Still on my quest for a slightly lighter meal (yeah, so I’m kidding myself, but just let me), I ignored burgers and steaks and pizzas and went for the 8oz salmon steak alla napoletana – a reasonable sized salmon steak served with cherry tomatoes, green olives, spinach capers and fresh basil. I’d been torn between this and the Yellowfin Tuna but when I begged for help from Kasha, she pointed out that the salmon is a slightly smaller meal, which would mean I could add one of the tempting side dishes.
For me, stuff like this stands out. No, not someone noticing my greed, but someone being knowledgeable enough and confident enough to actually give some advice. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got a bit of a bad habit of asking waiting staff for their advice on choices which is probably a bit unfair because it puts them in the hot seat, but what it does do is shows which places take the time to help their staff get to know a menu well enough to chat to customers about it.
If I ask for recommendations, or say I’m torn between two choices, I don’t want someone to shrug, say “it’s up to you madam”, or tell me they don’t really know the difference. I want some advice and to give this takes knowledge, confidence, and a bit of care – all vital if you’re going to give people good service.
Kasha’s recommendation was spot on. The portion size of the salmon was just right and it was perfectly-cooked – a charred, crispy skin, and sweet, moist melt-in-the-mouth salmon. The garnish was simple and summery, pretty on the plate and full of fresh, clean tastes of holiday, with a nice zingy addition from the capers.
I was pretty hungry so was glad I’d chosen my sweet potato fries although the salmon would have been more than adequate for those less greedy than me.
Mr M had a steak, obvs. I’m wondering whether I should ban him from always having the same thing – what do you think? He went for a 10oz ribeye with garlic and rosemary which was served with a garnish of tomatoes, some chips and he chose a wild mushroom sauce.
He’s not a big fan of ordering sauces with steaks, he thinks they’re usually a bit ‘meh’ and don’t really add anything to a nicely cooked hunk of meat, but I like to try them, particularly to dunk the chips I’ve snaffled from him in. I have to say, the wild mushroom sauce at Marco’s was one of THE best sauces I’ve had in a while.
It might not look like much in my picture, but instead of just being a nondescript jug of creamy gunk with a few mushrooms chucked in, it was a silky smooth delight, with a rich, sweet flavour of mushroom running throughout. Seriously good stuff! Not just good for dunking chips in, but something you could happily eat a jug of with a teaspoon.
As well as sweet potato fries, we ordered a Russian red cabbage salad, mainly out of curiosity, which was a bright bowl of crunchy, refreshing dressed cabbage, sort of akin to a coleslaw. Probably unnecessary given how much food we’d already consumed, but good all the same.
Too full to move, I decided not to order a dessert, but Mr M departed from his usual choice of chocolate (I know, not sure what came over him that evening!) to go for the strawberry ice cream sundae with strawberry sauce. We won’t lie and pretend there’s a great deal of culinary skills involved in putting together a dish full of ice-cream, cream and sauce, but as sundaes go, it was pretty good. Real whipped cream on top, not the squirty stuff, a nice fruity sorbet, creamy strawberry ice-cream and a pool of strawberry sauce at the bottom. Good job Kasha brought two spoons 😉
Feeling falsely virtuous that I hadn’t ordered a pudding, despite eating half of Mr M’s, I tried a coffee-laced concoction from the cocktail menu that I think was called a Nutty Cappuccino. Indulgent, I know, and pretty strong too.
Suitably satisfied, we wandered out and were suddenly transported from our low-lit romantic restaurant back to reality and the Holiday Inn lobby. The fact we’d even forgotten where we were means the guys at MPW have done pretty well at creating a decent restaurant ambience in the middle of an airport hotel. If you go, don’t forget that if you eat at the restaurant you get your parking for free, so get your ticket validated at reception.
I’ve got to admit, I was a bit uncertain about what I’d find on my trip to Marco’s, and came away rather impressed. Of course, like we said earlier, he’s not actually there cooking or running the restaurant, but the people doing it in his name are doing a pretty good job. The food, while simple and what you’d expect from a ‘New York Italian’ is tasty, well put together, and mixes some classic crowd-pleasers with some other slightly different choices. The atmosphere they’ve created in a place that, let’s face it, was probably not the easiest of environments to do so, oozes class and calm and makes for a nice place to enjoy a meal. And the service – at least what I experienced – was bang on.
I know you’re not necessarily going to make the trip out to Birmingham Airport just to try this, especially given how many other ‘Marco’s’ there are around, but if you’re in the area, flying from the airport, or staying there for business or pleasure, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.
We dined for free at Marco’s at Birmingham Airport as part of my work with The Gastro Card. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review, just to try their new menu. Don’t forget to check out The Gastro Card website here for offers, deals and competitions.