Lifestyle: Restaurant Review – Marmalade, Birmingham

I’M a big fan of local pub and restaurant group Bitters ‘n’ Twisted.

They have breathed new life into venerable Birmingham boozers such as The Victoria, The Jekyll & Hyde (The Queens Head as was) and The Rose Villa Tavern and they have done it with a joy for the different that shows a level of thought and imagination that takes it well beyond the chain pubcos.

And it has entered the restaurant market in a similarly confident way with its Bodega bars in Birmingham and Worcester and its Buffalo & Rye venture in Brum.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why I was disappointed recently when I had what can only be described as a below-par meal at its Marmalade restaurant and cocktail bar at the Birmingham Rep.

I was hopeful before ever picking up a fork.

Business lunching as one of a party of five, one of my fellow diners told me that her firm had had its Christmas meal at the venue and been impressed (although I suspect she may have been more impressed with the cocktails than anything else!)

It’s a bright and airy space with plenty of windows overlooking the bustling Centenary Square but restaurants linked to theatres aren’t the easiest to run.

Diners are often rushed which has an impact on menu and service.

I reviewed this place when it was The Centenary Bar and Brasserie and run by London restaurant operator Searcys and had a very decent meal but, for whatever reason, the ‘gig’ didn’t stack up for Searcys and it pulled out of the contract.

Back to the present day and, although the restaurant was pretty quiet on the Friday lunchtime I visited, this isn’t that unusual in Birmingham so I didn’t read too much into it.

By all accounts Marmalade was pretty rammed around Christmas time.

And the meal began well. My starter of salted beef hash, soft poached duck egg and home-made piccalilli (£6.75) was a real treat. The hash and the runny egg combined beautifully and the piccalilli (one of my favourite things) had just the right amount of tanginess.

It was an extremely successful – if simple – dish and left me eagerly anticipating what was to come.

If only I’d left at that point.

But unfortunately the main course had arrived and that was when the wheels came off.

I has ordered Bacalhau fishcakes, ale battered cod loin, triple cooked chips and tartar sauce (£12.95).

Posh fish and chips basically, of the type offered by most mid-tier restaurants and decent pubs. Where could it go wrong?

Well, by nuking the fish is I suppose the simple answer.

What arrived wasn’t a burnt offering but the fish had been seriously overcooked and the batter was rock hard.

And the poor thing died in vain unfortunately because when I had finally bashed my way through the batter the fish itself had suffered in the (over) cooking process and was rendered tasteless.

I should have sent it back really but being at a business lunch for which I wasn’t paying I thought it best not to kick up a fuss. How very British.

But I remain shocked that such a basic bit of cooking couldn’t be mastered by a restaurant operating at this level. Not even the worst back street chippy could have cocked it up quite so badly.

I looked enviously at my dining companions eating their slow cooked beef rib lasagne (£13.50), although one of them described it as “a bit dry”.

Another fellow diner plumped for grilled jerk chicken and peach skewers, sweet potato fries and lime sour cream (£12.95). She, like me, couldn’t understand what the peach was doing in this dish.

My dessert of Valrhona chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream (£5.75) was far too bitter for my taste.

It seems that the restaurant is trying too hard at one level (adding unnecessary ingredients to funk up dishes) whilst not trying hard enough at another level to get the basics right.

Any restaurant should be able to cook fish and chips. If I can’t it needs to seriously examine where things are going wrong in my opinion.

Marmalade is at the Rep Theatre, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2EP.
Tel: 0121 245 2080.

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