Food isn’t the thing when you go out for lunch. That’s not what we think, it’s what Marco Pierre White says. And he should know. For he’s one of the few British icons of gastronomy. Along with the late Roux brothers – Albert and Michel Snr – Marco is one of the few genuine, icons.
A trailblazer who captured the zeitgeist on his remarkable, era-defining sprint to three Michelin stars; a rebel without a cause who inspired legions of new chefs to take to the stove, Marco outshone one of his great mentors, the brilliant Pierre Koffman, and achieved the sort of fame, notoriety and influence that only the great Albert and Michel Roux Snr achieved.
Given that Albert and Michel Snr were called the gastronomic equivalent of The Beatles and The Stones, that’s quite a feat.
The tao of Marco is simple: environment is what makes a meal.
If you’re relaxed and happy, you’ll put up with slightly squiffy food because you’re feeling good.
But if the food is great and you’re sitting in a drafty, noisy dining room, you’ll have a worse experience.
It makes sense.
At Marco’s Birmingham Restaurant, the MPW Steakhouse, on Level 25 of The Cube, the environment is spectacular. A capacious dining room with a large, open-plan bar provides the best view of the West Midlands.
There are miles and miles of the Black Country, Birmingham and more to enjoy while tucking into a decent steak.
Marco doesn’t cook there, of course. You wouldn’t expect to buy a pair of Armani jeans that have been personally stitched by the great Giorgio.
Marco is the guy whose name brings customers to the top floor – let’s face it, there’d be fewer bookings if it were John Smith’s Steakhouse – though he’s not the only man responsible for creating such an impressive dining space. His business partner is the brilliant Nick Taplin, a man with global reach whose expertise is known to those within the trade. Decisive, efficient and with remarkable vision, he’s the guy who’s able to make Marco’s ideas real.
And then there’s the team on the ground.
For all of the theory about the dining room being the most important thing, it only ever works if you’ve got the right staff in place.
At Marco’s Steakhouse, they have. When my friend and I called in for a light lunch, the front of house team were exceptional. Employing Covid secure protocols at the egress from a lift, there were NHS apps, masks, sanitisers and more.
Guests were made to feel both safe and valued. First impressions count and those at MPW Steakhouse were sparkling.
The views are breathtaking, of course. The Cube has been a special development that has helped Birmingham to retain its position as the UK’s Second City. From high in the sky, there’s a bird’s-eye view that dazzles the senses.
The menu is classic Marco. It’s food that people love to eat – from a Scotch egg to finest quality smoked salmon, from French onion soup to a classic prawn cocktail a la russe.
The steaks are all grass fed and served with roast vine tomatoes and chunky chips, the burgers are fat and juicy, with Heinz ketchup and iceberg lettuce. It’s affordable glamour; the chance for the masses to enjoy a dazzling destination that serves familiar and enjoyable food.
Those avoiding steaks and burgers can choose other classics: a lamb shepherd’s pie, fishcake with tartare sauce, pork escalope or a steak and ale pie.
The classic fish and chips option almost goes without saying, while desserts include a bread and butter pudding, dark chocolate mousse, apple and almond crumble or sticky toffee.
It’s classic, it’s affordable and it’s the food that people like to eat.
The execution, of course, can’t match the standards that Marco himself might set – however hard-working the chefs might be, the execution hit a glass ceiling when my friend and I dined.
My friend began with a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, with candied walnuts and Merlot vinegar. The dressing cut through the creaminess of the cheese, the walnuts added sweetness and texture and the presentation was pretty.
My Wheeler’s Crispy Calamari was delightful. The squid was tender, the coating crisp and golden, the sauce tartare refreshing and piquant while the half-lemon added a citrussy hit of acid. Both dishes were very pleasant.
My friend enjoyed a gnocchi main course with tomato sauce and a fricassee of woodland mushrooms. Cherry tomatoes and fresh basil provided an added garnish. The gnocchi were soft and light, the sauce intense and full of summery flavour while the mushrooms added a little earthiness to the dish.
My roast chicken a la forestiere was reasonable, though didn’t scale the heights. A thoroughly cooked breast of chicken was served with a fondant potato that lacked the buttery loveliness that might have been expected. It was fluffy, like a baked potato, though might have been better seasoned and cooked. The sauce was fine, if not remarkable and lacking in unctuousness.
Service was great. The waitress assigned to our table was engaging, polite and chatty when appropriate. Making us feel welcome, she was an excellent ambassador for the venue and added to the experience.
Casual dining at a sensible price, an affordable slice of glamour, the chance to take one step closer to the stars – MPW Steakhouse offers all of that and more.
The menu is great, if not lacking a little in its execution. Service is dazzling and the environment, emblazoned with iconic photographs of the founder, is remarkable.
Marco Pierre White is one of the few genius figures in global gastronomy. His concept is first class and The Cube is an established feature on the West Midlands dining scene.
When Marco talks about the need to provide a great environment, he’s right. And at The Cube, he’s been as good as his word.
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse, Bar & Grill, 200 Wharfside Street, The Cube, Birmingham B1 1PR
Tel: 0121 6343433