Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill, 200 Wharfside Street, The Cube, Birmingham, B1 1PR, T: 0121 634 3433
Never in the history of Birmingham gastronomy have so many come to worship at the restaurant of a chef who doesn’t cook.
Marco Pierre White’s new franchise at the top of The Cube in Birmingham is undeniably the place to be seen at the moment. When I rang, last week, to book a table for a Friday or Saturday night, I was told I would have to wait until the second week in April. For steak and onion rings.
Apparently, I needed to go after dark, to make the most of the view, which is all pretty when it is lit up at night. It’s like being in Manhattan, allegedly, and the cloak of darkness and the twinkling lights makes you forget that when seen from a grand height Birmingham possesses one of the dullest cityscapes in Britain.
It might have more canals than Venice but it’s also got more concrete, and less sticky up bits, Baroque, post-Modernist or otherwise.
The irony is that The Cube itself is one of modern Birmingham’s most interesting buildings. The jewellery box/giant puzzle design has divided opinion but I like it. It looks kind of chocolately, and edible, and this is a good thing.
Luckily, I am not in denial about the rest of Birmingham, both its brutalist glory and the mock Venetian splendour of Brindleyplace. I’m a big boy, I can take a daylight view of Brum. So we went for lunch.
It was my first visit to the restaurant, which is itself some achievement. At the last count, there have been 22 launch parties for MPW Birmingham, some of which have even been attended by MPW (be still my beating heart). Yes, MPW has come all the way to little old Birmingham. (Pinch me now. Am I dreaming?)
Sadly, I was unavailable to queue up and get my picture taken with MPW at any of the launch parties. One night, Holby City was on. I can’t remember the reason for the other 21 diary clashes.
It’s a pity because I would have wished MPW well on his recovery. Because he’s had something, hasn’t he? That frozen face and the squint. Have you noticed it? In every picture (and there’s a lot of them – mon dieu, there are a lot of them), the face is frozen. The only other explanation for that look is that MPW is pretending to be a Kays Catalogue model half his age and the grand chef wouldn’t be that vain, would he? Big, burly bloke like him, he wouldn’t pout would he? He wears a towel on his head, but that’s a joke, isn’t it?
Despite being the biggest restaurant opening in Birmingham since the last one (Nando’s in Erdington?), MPW’s people appear to have left “signage” out of the budget (along with pastry chef).
Entering the The Cube, I looked for a lift to take us to the rooftop. I spotted one and hit the button for the 7th floor, which is where the lift indicated MPW’s was located. Odd: I thought it was on the 25th floor. Still. I pressed “7”. The lift didn’t move and the doors pinged open. Hmm. I tried again. Ping. And again. Ping.
Ok, we’ll go to the 8th floor, I told Sally. There are only two buttons in the lift, you see – for the 7th and 8th floors. I said we’d go up to the 8th, hail one of Birmingham’s famous Sherpas and see if he could suggest a route to the summit before the weather turned.
We got out at 8. It was deserted, no Sherpas. Neither could I see another lift, or an escalator, going up, but there was an escalator going down. We got the escalator back down to base camp on 7, which at this stage I thought was 1. Confused? We were. We got back in the lift and pushed 7 (because that’s where the lift says MPW is). “Ping.” The door opened again, without having moved.
“I say, darling, we’re in a spot of bother here,” I said, or words to that effect, which may also have included the phrase “bugger this for a game of Marcos”.
I spied an entrance to Hotel Indigo, which is inside The Cube. It is on the floor I thought was the 1st but in reality is the 7th. Perhaps the hotel could solve the riddle. The chap on reception explained the lift up to MPW is actually inside the hotel. “How are you meant to know that?” I said. Remember, I hadn’t been to any of the 22 launch parties.
He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s ambiguous,” he said. “It’s bollocks, that’s what it is,” I said.
We got in the lift. “Calm down,” said Sally.
The foyer to MPW is stunningly dull. It would undoubtedly be placed in a design competition for Best Immigration Re-Settlement Centre Foyer.
The reception staff are pleasant enough but what a let-down of an entrance. Even worse is the Champagne bar, which is hidden behind a brown door somewhere off to the right. Unsurprisingly, the bar was deserted, but unless you know it’s there, you wouldn’t know it’s there, if you understand.
Maybe you have to be a MPW Birmingham VIP Member to get an invite to the Champers bar. But I already know I’m a VIP, my mum tells me I am, so why would I want to have my status validated by a restaurant?
But what do I know? The place will probably win best Champagne Bar in an Immigration Re-Settlement Centre.
The main restaurant is pleasantly laid out in that inoffensive brown banquettes and white table clothes way. It’s a far more welcoming space than the reception and the view from up here is jolly good if you like sky.
My trick of booking under a false name worked brilliantly, for five minutes, until I was recognised by three different members of staff, all former employees of the city’s Radisson Blu hotel. Credit must go to the Rad’s former general manager Kathrine Ohm Thomas, who insisted all restaurant staff had to sleep with my picture on their pillow.
I couldn’t fault the service other than to say staff really need to know (in a steak restaurant) where the steak comes from. Our waitress suggested “Coventry”. She offered to check with the kitchen and came back with the response “prime Angus”. The menu says “fine quality native breed beef”, which is as informative as the signs for MPW.