Food review: Prezzo, Bridgnorth
Italian chain restaurants are commmonplace on high streets up and down the country these days. Andy Richardson dined out at one. . .
This is the tao of Marco. That’s Marco Pierre White. Not Marco Polo.
The latter was a Venetian merchant, explorer and writer whose idea of a good dinner was probably something like salted tortoise. Marco Pierre White was the youngest British chef to win two and then three Michelin stars – his rules are more than good enough for us.
This is what MPW says. If you’re looking for a good dinner, the most important thing is the environment. Put a dinner in a good dining room where the ambience is conducive to happiness and you’re onto a winner.
The second most important thing is service with a smile. Get the staff right and they’ll smooth over any difficulties and turn a mediocre experience into a good one. The third most important thing is the food, where the key is quite simple – select great ingredients of exceptional provenance and let Mother Nature shine.
So there we have the tao of MPW. And so, for one week only, we’ll mark like Marco. We’ll award three points for a great environment, three points for service with a smile and three points for food, with a bonus point if things are going really well.
Which brings us to Prezzo, in Bridgnoth.
The Italian restaurant chain was founded in 2000 and is worth a small fortune. It is among several large Italian chains competing in the UK, alongside Ask, Pizza Express, Strada and similar. Prezzo reportedly has more than 280 outlets across the UK and it typically converts old buildings of architectural note into delicious restaurants. So, for instance, in Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, it has transformed a former cinema into a restaurant offering pizza and risotto. Popcorn is off the menu.
Little wonder, therefore, that when it decided to move into Bridgnorth it decided to convert one of the town’s most popular buildings. It moved into the former Swan pub in December 2015 and ever since has been offering antipasti, breads and olives as well as pizza, pasta, risotto, grilled meats, fresh salads and frequently changing specials.
The conversion was sympathetic. The Swan had for generations dominated Bridgnorth High Street, offering decent ales and good times in a black-and-white fronted building. These days, the exterior remains stoically traditional while the interior is all sleek lines, modern furnishings and bright lights. The makeover was smart and sassy. And, using MPW’s environment-service-food guide, we start with a strong two-out-of-three for environment.
We’d booked a table for a Sunday lunch service, having scouted several restaurants nearby only to be told there was no room at the inn. A gastro pub between Bridgnorth and Ludlow had no tables, another pub just outside Bridgnorth was also full while it was a similar story at a third venue. Prezzo, however, had plenty of space.
The service was decent. An accomplished restaurant manager was exceptional. Charming, polite, efficient and warm, she greeted us with skill, offered us a choice of seats, brought crayons for my four-year-old, drinks for the table and the warmest smile. And then, later, when the kitchen had messed up royally, she tried to smooth things over.
Her team weren’t at the same standard. We overheard another waitress processing another couple’s bill with a perfunctory: “Do you want to give a gratuity, yeah or nay?” Classless. And so while the restaurant manager would have earned Prezzo a three-out-of-three, the team brought it down to a two-out-of-three.
So far so funky. Four-out-of-six and all to play for. All the chef had to do was deliver a half decent lunch and Prezzo was home and dry.
The child had a side salad and cheese and tomato pizza. The salad was bonkers. It was perfectly straightforward – lettuce, leaves, peppers, tomatoes and a couple of olives – but the chef had then doused it with ground black pepper, which isn’t a good look for a kid. “Dad,” he asked. “What are all the black bits on the top of the peppers?” His tongue was exploding. “It’s called pepper, son.” He hated it. And the pointless addition of a hot seasoning was symptomatic of an out-of-sorts kitchen that wasn’t connecting with its guests.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of restaurant in Shropshire: those that cook and those that assemble. The few that cook are in early in the morning, making stocks, sauces and ice creams. Those that assemble arrive a little later and look forward to the arrival of the delivery wagon. Their job, in theory, should be much, much simpler. And yet, as we found, it’s still possible to mess things up.
My starter was meatballs. They were pretty good. But they were served without style or class on a stone cold plate. My partner’s butternut squash soup was also reasonably pleasing, though it had a strange heat-gradient running from top to bottom, as though it had been left standing on the pass.
After our starters, we waited. Then we waited some more. We waited and waited and waited. And then the restaurant manager came and asked us if we were okay – I think she was wondering if we’d decided to move in. We’d been seated for 65 minutes, enough time, you’d have thought, to eat a couple of courses on a quiet Sunday. Except the kitchen had forgotten about us. It hadn’t bothered to cook the mains.
“Five minutes,” she promised.
The resulting courses were disappointing. A goat’s cheese and mushroom lasagne was bubbling hot when it landed – as though it had been nuked in a too-hot oven or overcooked in a microwave. Not nice. It had been killed by excessive heat and had become greasy.
My rabbit ragu with pasta was also disappointing. The pasta was flaccid and had been plonked onto a cold dish. The sauce had been spooned on top – rather than gently comingled – so that the pasta soon went cold against the sides of the frigid bowl. The kid’s pizza was okay and we ended up sharing that.
The restaurant manager was charm itself, knocking 10 per cent off the bill and offering profuse apologies for the ineptitude – my word, not hers – of the kitchen. It didn’t earn the bonus point and the other waitress didn’t offer her ‘gratuity – yeah or nay?’ question to us.
Prezzo at Bridgnorth has plenty going for it. And when the kitchen starts cooking as well as the restaurant manager runs the tables, it’ll probably be pretty good.