I was quite excited when I heard that Marco Pierre White was opening a restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon, and it only took us two weeks after its launch for us to get down to try it. It’s a New York Italian with an enticing menu offering a choice of traditional Italian food alongside burgers and steaks, and I was really looking forward to seeing what it would be like.
The entrance to the restaurant was marked out by a red carpet issuing forth onto the pavement.
There was a desk right inside the main entrance, and standing at it was a smartly dressed girl who looked slightly surprised to see us. (I hasten to add that we were smartly dressed for the occasion – not jeans or trainers or anything!) The way the entrance was decorated was a bit odd, with what looked like old wardrobes there on the right, and a flattened leather sofa affixed to the wall behind the desk.
We asked for a table for two and the girl enquired as to whether we had booked. We hadn’t. She sounded highly dubious on receipt of this information, and looked through several pieces of paper to see whether she might possibly have room to squeeze us in. We were preparing to be turned away when she told us that she would go and have a look. We waited a moment and she returned, picked up a couple of menus and told us to follow her. Success!
Expecting the restaurant to be rammed, we were baffled as we were guided through the restaurant to our table – it was only about half full, with loads of empty tables! So we weren’t at all sure what the little charade at the door was all about. The restaurant was a lot bigger inside than I was expecting; a pleasant space that this photo doesn’t anywhere near do justice to. It was an old black and white building of the sort Stratford excels at.
Surveying the room around us, we noted that the stern countenance of Marco Pierre White himself looked (I wish I could say “beamed”, but he didn’t look happy in any of the photos) down upon us from multiple framed photographs hung at various points between the Elizabethan wooden beams. Indeed, Marco seemed to be treated like some kind of god. Here’s one of the photos. It’s on an easel.
Not only were the photos everywhere (which totally reminded me of that tribe of people in Papua New Guinea or wherever, who worship Prince Philip and have a framed photo of him), but there was this baffling glass case containing one of his chef’s whites, which had been signed. Bow down before this holy relic!
Going on the recommendation in the menu (which went something along the lines of “if you try something new this evening, make it this wine”), I selected a nice-sounding Italian red, the price of which was average for the restaurant, a hefty £6.85 for the smallest size of glass. Which I considered to be extortionate, but whatever. When in Rome/New York, and all that. Lee had a beer, which wasn’t much more reasonable at £4.50. The waiter went off to get the wine and returned some time later to inform me that the wine I’d chosen wasn’t available, as they’d just sold out. So I instead chose a Californian Cabernet Sauvignan, which was a bit cheaper at £6.25. Later, when we got home, I realised that I’d been charged for my original, more expensive selection, not the cheaper wine! Not impressed.
We ordered a bread basket to start, which turned out to be a wooden board with four thin slices of toasted ciabatta and four breadsticks (not even Italian-style breadsticks, at that), accompanied by a small dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I have to admit, the balsamic was lovely – thick and syrupy, just as I like it. But the whole thing was a bit overpriced, at £3.50. (We’ve had *much* nicer for the same price at the Waterside restaurant at the Arden Hotel, which is actually more upmarket and you get a bag of different kinds of lovely warm breads, oil and vinegar, tapenade, and posh butter – for comparison, pic here.)
We were quite annoyed when our main course turned up while we were literally in the middle of eating the bread and breadsticks. Bad timing, as the table was really too small to have room for everything, and we would have liked to have had the chance to finish the bread (which was basically our starter) before starting on the main course.
The food was actually quite reasonably priced, and pretty much on a par with other Italian chains – perhaps a pound or two more expensive, but nothing outrageous. Lee ordered a burger, which came with coleslaw, chips and salad. He said that the burger was good, the chips a tad overcooked and the salad, I quote, “pathetic” – it was a single leaf of cos lettuce (I think), a slice of tomato and two slices of gherkin.
I ordered a quattro formaggi pizza, which had mozzarella, goats’ cheese, gorgonzola and Parmesan on it.
The flavours in the toppings were lovely; I couldn’t taste the goats’ cheese, but there was plenty of tomato sauce and lashings of cheese, which was great. The base left a bit to be desired, as it was very difficult to cut. It came with a massive pizza slicer, which I tried to use, but it’s not something I’ve ever been any good at and I quickly gave up. I would like to have been asked if I’d like them to cut the pizza for me, or to have been given a steak knife to make it easier to cut the pizza (I didn’t think to ask at the time). The pizza was so hard to cut that my finger went totally numb with the pressure of the knife!
We didn’t have any room for dessert, so we asked for the bill straightaway. I was irritated to see that they had added the service charge to the bill automatically, without my authorisation, which brought the total to just under £40. Most places only add the tip automatically for big groups; as there were only two of us, I would have liked it to have been my choice whether I tipped or not. I will say, on a more positive note, that the two gentlemen who served us were both excellent and very friendly, making us feel welcome. So I would have tipped them anyway, but it’s the principle of it that annoyed me. It’s up to the customer to decide whether to tip, and how much.
There is no way that that meal was worth £40, especially as we didn’t even have dessert or starters. Comparing it with other Italian chains, I’d say that both ASK and Bella Italia offer better food and are better value. Marco’s was clearly trying to cultivate an air of exclusivity, but that fell short of its aim; the glassware, for instance, was nowhere near as beautiful or luxurious as the designer glassware they have at ASK. I felt as though the charade on the door (with acting as though they were fully booked) just set us up for a disappointment, because it gave us high expectations that weren’t met once we got inside.
My overall verdict: disappointing. It didn’t live up to the hype. It pains me to write a negative review on my blog, and I did think about not writing about it at all; but I figured that nobody would believe my reviews if they were all glowing! Perhaps it’s just teething problems we experienced this evening – it is, after all, still a very young restaurant. But with plenty of other lovely restaurants to go to in Stratford, it’s probably not going to be a top choice for future meals out.