Food-wise, what Stratford really needs more than anything else is an upmarket restaurant with adventurous, exciting, original dishes to make one purr with the sheer deliciousness of the meal. Delicious is a word bandied around quite a lot on Tripadvisor and sometimes it isn't always easy to understand why. In Stratford, at the moment, I believe that No. 9 Church Street comes closest to producing more ambitious and interesting food than the string of bistros along Sheep Street but still has some way to go before it is The Place To Eat in Stratford. So, has Marco's New York Italian, helped to lift my Stratford food spirits?
It hasn't really got off to a good start on Tripadvisor. I think some of the moans must have been addressed by the time I recently turned up. First of all, the numerous complaints about the placement of icons of the celebrity chef everywhere seems to have resulted in the removal of some of them since I didn't see a picture of him at all except in the distance - from all the comments I was expecting a scene worthy of the Nuremburg Ralley with the chef depicted in numerous images of adoration. Well if they were that bad they're not now. Which is good.
Some Tripadvisors moaned about the service. Well, it's excellent now. The staff are charming, enthusiastic, polite, helpful, have a sense of humour, speak good English, know what's going on, friendly but not excessively so. In short, I experienced excellent service from the moment I arrived till the moment I left. And how nice it was to see the staff so smartly dressed and clean and pleasant. The smartness extended to the table cloths and napkins - proper white cloth not paper serviettes.
How nice it was too to see the old Othello's full with more diners in one evening than the restaurant was previously serving in a month. It's such a splendidly atmospheric old dining room that it needs people to be sitting in there noshing away happily.
To start, I had a cocktail which seemed surprisingly lacking in coldness considering the nature of the drink but was nevertheless rather tasty.
Then I had crab cakes. I did not experience any flavour of crab but they were still tasty as there was an enjoyable flavour of fennel slipping through. Perhaps they should be renamed "fennel cakes".
Since I had made my reservation, I had been quietly excited about seeing what the restaurant made of the entity known as a hot dog (yes I know that after banging on about how much I think Stratford needs somewhere which serves exciting and original new dishes my choice of the humble hot dog seems wholly inconsistent but I just thought that something rather special might turn up). It didn't. The meal looked attractive - a sausage of moderate length (though I'm not sure that it was £9+ worth of sausage) with the by-now usual bucket of chips and a pot of rather unadventurous mayonnaise - but once again it was the flavour which let it down. I should say lack of flavour. The well-cooked sausage was just dull in the taste stakes (we all know that there are many humble sausages out there that are dripping with flavour) and the spicy sauce (I chose the spicy hot dog option) was just not spicy as well as being rather scanty. The meal was perfectly edible but sadly unremarkable.
My accompanying glass of wine was excellent and injected some flavour into the meal and made me feel I should carry on in the belief that eventually tastiness would assert itself. I chose vanilla pannacota for dessert - surely the vanilla would win through - but it didn't - it was indiscernible even though the dish was a perfect consistency.
So, three courses - the first was tasty but not due to its main ingredient - the last two were filling and well cooked but someone had missed out on the ingredients that would have made them delicious. Someone important in the kitchens may need a taste-bud transplant.
This restaurant seems to have reached an excellent level in terms of service and ambience but my experience was that more flavour needs to be injected into the food itself. Perhaps it's just a matter of taste. I suggest finding a new source for the sausages.
Sadly, Stratford (not short of a comfortably off population in surrounding Warwickshire as well as quite a reasonable number of better off tourists passing through) is still in search of its special place to eat. It doesn't look as though Marco Pierre White is the man to provide it. I wonder if Glynn Purnell in nearby Birmingham might consider sending out a tentacle and testing the water. Now he WOULD give Stratford something special to salivate about.
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