As promised, an evening encounter at Marriott’s Warehouse following a snacky lunch review very recently – primarily to check out how the local food and service measure up after a not wholly successful experience. A Monday evening was quite a good choice as it turns out. The joint was surprisingly humming – unlike the neighbouring bistro and wine bar which declared itself to be open but seemed as empty as the Marie Celeste, to the point of being devoid of staff.
My timing was good too: I hadn’t booked and the member of staff who greeted me did not clock that I had written a review, yet I was shown to the perfect table, commanding a fine view across the dining room and a decent view of the kitchen, yet off the waiting flight path. If I’d wanted compensation for the claustrophobic table at my previous visit, this was it.
The evening menu falls neatly into two halves: the carte and the set menu, dishes from which also appear on the specials board. As I pointed out in review #1, the carte bears a close resemblance to your average pub menu, so it was interesting to note that the Norfolk Restaurant Week set menu (2 courses for £15, 3 for £20) looked decidedly fresh and seasonally autumnal, to the point of including multiple instances of squashes in different guises.
The spirit of autumn infiltrated my choices: gnocchi with roasted squash (butternut in this case) and goats cheese; and braised red cabbage with venison (as described on the menu – more on the descriptions shortly.)
In need of refreshment, I started with a very worthy pint of Moonseeker, half of which had vanished while perusing the menu and waiting for the starter. For the main course I chose a glass of cabernet sauvignon (provenance unknown) which gave a hefty kick of tobacco and blackberry flavours. I’m happy to report that MW has built up a relatively inexpensive but well-chosen wine menu, that might someday be expanded to include a few more special bottles.
So to the food, and a return to the subject of how dishes are described on menus. What do you expect of a menu: a full blow-by-blow account of the meal or a flowery title and a few ambiguous ingredients? And how happy would you be if ingredients changed without warning, or for that matter that entirely different ones were substituted? To me, I’d sooner the menu change to reflect the best available local produce, especially if the alternative is freezer-to-microwave ready meals, but I recognise other diners would be put out by foreign objects appearing on their plates.
Bearing this in mind, my starter did indeed include gnocchi, which probably were homemade, some cubes of roast squash and was topped by a large slice of oozing melty goats cheese, so what’s the problem, you might think? The dish was dominated by a phalanx of unannounced peas, which, given that we are now into October, were presumably frozen and therefore unseasonal. Why were they there in the first place? Was the kitchen short of gnocchi and squash and therefore trying to eke out the staples? I don’t know but I’d sooner the description were accurate to make selection easier. As it came this was a 3/10 dish, more quantity than quality.
Of the main, would there just be red cabbage and venison? Of course not, though the cabbage itself, which came atop a large disc of violently horseradish mash tempered by an unidentified but wine-enhanced mushroom sauce, was perfectly decent but played second fiddle to a fine haunch of venison, served pink. I was tempted to ask the waiter which breed of deer said venison was butchered from, though I feel sure he would not know the answer so I let it pass.
They could have left it there, but no – you can’t fault the generosity of MW. All the blank spaces of plate were filled with al dente brassica boulders. Small hunks of green broccoli were fine and bite-sized but huge mounds of plain and undercooked cauliflower I could barely cut added nothing to the ensemble. If you were going to include cauliflower, maybe pureeing was the better option, but the real issue is that these veg appeared as a random makeweight that did not enhance the dish one iota.
A couple on the next table had mussels for starter (much approved) and a burger (ditto), but the chap had the same main as me and felt pretty much the same: excellent venison, good cabbage, over-horseradished mash and pointless cauliflower.
Marriott’s Warehouse is a curate’s egg of a restaurant. Refined it is not, though it aspires to both without losing a popularist touch to get customers through the door. Clearly it does some things very well, notably the standards such as fish & chips and burger, but for the more ambitious dishes the kitchen falls foul of an urge to please customers. As the cliche has it, less is indeed sometimes far more, particularly when the superfluous ingredients detract from the overall effect.
I wish them well, but they would do well to learn from the nearby Market Bistro, which sets out its stall and delivers sophisticated food with flair but deceptive simplicity. Their key to success is that the ingredients in each dish are more than the sum of the parts. Next time I go to Marriott’s, maybe the menu will have evolved – I do hope so.