Malmaison, The Mailbox, One Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1 1RD. T: 0121 246 5000
Global TV audiences have an insatiable appetite when it comes to cookery programmes and our viewing habits, like our digestive tracts, are at risk of overkill.
As it is with food, so it is with the daily diet of “fly-on-the-wall, reality TV, It’s A Knock Out-style” shows: the majority of them are unfulfilling fodder, dripping in vacuous pomposity and saccharine sentiment.
My personal favourite is a programme on cable about a fat bloke who visits US diners and talks to fat chefs and fat customers as they eat fat food. It’s compelling, in the way that obesity is compelling to the obese.
The BBC’s MasterChef franchise is arguably one of the most successful cookery shows and, when the professionals get involved, it makes for interesting TV.
But as Marcus Wareing made clear in this paper last week, the test of a chef is his or her longevity, not a few minutes of fame on the box.
Has MasterChef changed modern Britain’s view of cooking? Do we appreciate the work of chefs more because we have seen hamfisted competitors attempt another chocolate fondant?
The most influential food programme of the last decade had nothing to do with food.
The BBC’s Service, fronted last year by Le Gavroche’s Michel Roux and Galvin at Windows’ general manager Fred Sirieix, brilliantly captured how a chef’s beautifully constructed dishes count for nothing if the waiters aren’t on their game, or are barely breathing.
Chaotic service, cock-ups with orders and inaccurate billing can torpedo a diner’s experience.
Unfortunately, I was served up this unholy trinity during at Malmaison at the Mailbox.
Oddly, I might return because the basic offer – we were road-testing Sunday lunch – wasn’t bad at all. It’s just that basic mistakes mean you can’t help but knock off points. (Hence my score of 5/10 could have been 6/10, which is above average as far as I am concerned.)
I last reviewed Malmaison many moons ago and it was memorable then for entirely the wrong reasons – duff atmosphere and poor cooking. Service was bad, too.
The cooking, I am pleased to report (because I take no joy in mauling mediocrity) has improved considerably.
There’s a better sourcing of produce and the menu is less cluttered.
The mood in the informal dining room has improved as well; it’s more buzzy and welcoming that my past experience, which was austere before austerity became a political creed.
Malmaison has just introduced a new Sunday dining promotion, which for want of a better title is called Toast to the Roast, the old-fashioned “Sunday lunch” concept being deemed too vague by the creative team.
Two courses are £13.95 and three courses are £15.95, which offers good value, especially for hard-pushed families.
As our domestic budget is now more austere than Malmaison’s dining room used to be, I told our daughters they could have the Toastie Roastie thing, just two-courses, while their mother and I pigged out on the à la carte.
They got the better deal.
Sally had a pleasant enough starter salad of “heritage” tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil (£6.95 – five cubes of cheese).
I had the “prawn cocktail, shrimp & jumbo prawn, cocktail sauce” (£7.50) which I’m pretty sure comprised prawns and not shrimp. So why say shrimp? It was ok, if a little lettuce heavy. I gave the girls a shred of iceberg each because I’m a soft touch.
P and L both had the roast rib of beef for their main course.
The waitress asked if they wanted side orders, green things, potatoes. I said I assumed a Sunday roast came with veg.
It didn’t, she said.
“It does,” said Sally, who had a copy of the menu. “It says ‘all the trimmings.’ That’s veg.”
The waitress checked. Yes, vegetables were included. Phew.
Sally ordered the entrecôte steak from the à la carte and I picked the chicken with broad beans and morels, also from the à la carte. “Not the salad?” said the waitress.
No. Did I want any sides? Doesn’t it come with spuds?
No. I’ll have chips then. Thank you.