Bardolino, level 6, The Cube, Birmingham City Centre
Bardolino is the latest disappointment from Marco Pierre White in Birmingham City Centre. Opened this week on the canal level of the monstrous hotel/apartments/bar and restaurant complex known as The Cube, it advertises itself as “ultra casual” with affordable Italian dishes on offer. Blatant misunderstanding of the prefix “ultra” aside, it certainly commands a lovely location, with full length windows all down one side opening onto the canal. Unfortunately, it has been done up in the most half-hearted way imaginable. From the generic posters on the walls to the tired combo of jam-jar lights and miss-matched chairs, absolutely nothing gives this restaurant its own identity. It could be any Zizis or Ask Italian (Ask Italian on New Street has much more engaging and inventive decor though). It may be affordable, but it unutterably lacks soul.
To find it, enter The Cube and descend the escalators to level 6. This itself is a dispiriting journey, as much of these levels of The Cube have remained empty ever since it opened, the internal windows filled with posters rather than thriving businesses; it feels drearily empty and unfinished. Enter the doors and walk through a ante-room filled with luxurious velvet sofas, then turn left to the cafe itself. It is not easy to find.
The service was brilliant. We were immediately ushered to a table, and the waiter and waitress on duty were attentive and friendly throughout out meal. Another couple were seated in the window (also obsessively photographing their food; I’m keeping an eye on Instagram to try and work out which Birmingham food bloggers they were), and invisible noise from behind the barrier that splits the room in half hinted at other guests.
Tea arrived. I quite love the suspended milk jug – just enough milk for two cups of tea – although disappointing to see it was cracked round the spout. Surely with only three tables full, a fully formed milk jug could have been found?
I ordered the ham and eggs on sourdough toast. Unfortunately, the food here, like the decoration, is so by-the-numbers, it disappoints hugely. The brunches you can get in Birmingham restaurants are usually phenomenal: within three minutes of Bardolino itself you have the great versions in Gas Street Social or Cafe Madeline, and both offer more than the bland and ham and eggs I was served. In the positive column, the eggs were nicely runny and the plates are pretty. But there wasn’t enough toast.
The full English suffered immensely from being served in a high-sided metal dish on a wooden board. Plates exist for a reason, and one of the reasons is so that you don’t have to decant your food sausage by sausage onto the presentation board to be able to cut it up. That or just spear sausage and each it whole, like a lollipop. Maybe that’s what Marco means by “ultra casual”. The food itself is of perfectly satisfactory quality. Three sausages is generous, and the whole plate is plentiful; no criticisms about volume.
Full but bored, time to check out the toilets. To my horror and amusement, the ladies is dominated by an enormous bigger-than-lifesize photograph of Marco himself, sneering at your attempts to use the loo and wash your hands. Has ever a man looked more supercilious in a bathroom?
The toilets themselves are tiled with the white rectangular tiles, and are decorated with enormous mirrors and hanging-upside-down flowerpots from the ceiling. They have three Dyson airblades (hooray), and – highlight of the whole trip – Elemis handwash and Elemis hand lotion. My hands smelt so delicious.
Sad to end on yet another note, but check out the pics of the loos above. Notice anything missing? Apparently Marco has decided periods aren’t a thing, so sanitary bins don’t need to be provided. Frankly, unacceptable, gross, and bemusing.
In conclusion, if you are desperate to sample some Marco Pierre White offerings in Birmingham one morning, I’d have brunch in Gas Street Social and then pop into the Mailbox for a coffee from his van/bar in the main shopping street. Much more fun.
Price: mid-range: £4.50 for ham and eggs on toast. £8.50 for a Marco’s breakfast.
Atmosphere and design: jam jar lights, mismatched chairs, by the book contemporary design as you have seen in every Italian restaurant chain. Gteat view of the canal and great service.
Food: Standard in the extreme. Other options include bagels and filled croissants.
Toilets: Dyson airblades and sensational soap. No sanitary bins.
Enjoyment: Great service, quiet, and a nice view of the canal; might be good for a business brunch?