Pelican Club – Italian – Nottingham – Review by Sarah
[My visit to the Pelican Club was a disaster of quite some proportion. I was pleased to see Sarah’s thought there was some light at the end of the tunnel…]
From the off, the Pelican Club gets a plus point for hanging a curtain porch around the door to prevent drafts in the dining room. There are very few places that do this in Nottingham, and come winter it will definitely be noted and welcomed by Pelicanistas. Having said this, coming in by a door with no handle into a black shrouded cubicle didn’t make for a convincing entry into a restaurant billing itself as an authentic Umbrian dining experience; it fits more with the jazz club tag that the Pelican also wants to boast. The thing is, like viewers of 1980s children’s TV highlight Fun House will tell you, you can only hold so many tags at once, so you have to decide which ones to go for. I’ve yet to find a real Tuscan restaurant that serves Porn Star Martinis and brings you a cocktail menu in an old jazz LP cover. There are two great ideas in the Pelican Club, but at the moment they seem like two separate tags rather than one convincing prize. Either the venue needs to really put its eggs in one basket or it needs to find a way to marry these two uncomfortable bedfellows.
The restaurant itself certainly has a warm homely feel (again at odds with the jazz club schtick), all wooden furniture, simple table layout and mid-level lighting. If we put aside the bizarre mismatch of beverage and food ideas, the cocktail menu really is great; a sensible length, virtually all at one price, with fun gimmicks that still add up to potentially tasty beverages. A Porn Star Martini was ordered, alongside an Aperol Spritz and The Milanese. All £6.50, all excellent. The waiting staff were excellent. Friendly, efficient, well organised and no doubt benefitting from working somewhere with a simple menu.
Which segues nicely to the food. The menu has a four of each approach to the aperitivo/primi/secondi/dolce format, which means there is not a massive amount of choice, and vegetarians might feel a little under-serviced, but this would be the case if you went into the heart of Italy for this sort of dining experience. Out of interest I went for the vegetarian option of Ravioli di Zucchini a Pomadoro (£8.95). My companions had starters of Piatto Misto (£6.50) and a Pecorino and honey option from the three bar snack menu. The latter came on a slate, which is wrong in many ways but particularly in this setting pining for authenticity but, ugh, but cheese and delicate honey on a slate? The piatto misto was a pleasing assembly of some nice things, with a fine fennel salami.
The starters came very promptly and this worked well as we enjoyed our cocktails at the same time, and this then left a window should we have wanted to order wine to accompany the main courses. The wine list was compact but agreeable, but the cocktails had done enough to make more alcohol unnecessary until dessert.
My ravioli was a little disappointing. Ravioli can become a very one-note dining experience and making good ravioli is challenging. The pasta needs to be firm enough to hold but light enough to let the filling expand just a little as it cooks and come to a sort of chocolate fondant unctuousness. My ravioli were flat as pancakes, with the pasta dough too thick to allow the middle to do anything more than stay cold like a baked Alaska. If I spread Boursin between strips of tagiatelle, cut them into squares and put on some hot oil and cherry tomatoes, this would be the outcome. I ordered a side salad to go with it and I pray for the day when chefs realise the strips of carrot do not fit texturally with a vibrant bed of mixed leaves.
The husband ordered a straightforward pork and aubergine dish, £12.95 as described above with some rather patchy potatoes (an extra £2.50). He enjoyed the dish but felt it was overwhelmed by the addition of raw herbs, which wiped out any other taste.
My other companion ordered the one special, which was poussin with beef tomatoes (£13.95) and was probably the best dish of the evening. One of the birds was seriously oversalted, but this was forgotten when the dessert cocktails arrived.
We did enjoy the evening, but I’m not sure how quickly I will be returning. If they are going to go for the ‘authentic Umbrian restaurant’ tag, then they are not far off the mark, but even here a decision needs to be made between two ideas that don’t make a convincing marriage. If you are going to go really authentic, as the menu would suggest, then the food needs to be heartier and (sorry) cheaper than what was on offer. It’s fine to serve a piece of grilled pork on one side of a large plate still oozing juices, while plonking on the other side a mound of aggressively grey aubergine bits, or bringing the side order of potatoes without removing the charcoal charred slices – as long as you are charging a price to match that sort of execution. As a diner paying £12.95, you might expect some degree of care in the presentation and delivery; this is simple food, so something extra needs to be added to make it acceptable to charge mid-range dining prices. So a choice needs to be made between rough and ready or steeper but sleeker. I would favour the former, as on the whole the food here was promising and this sort of cuisine is just so much more enjoyable without fancy ding-dongs; I just didn’t enjoy the bill at the end. (Technically, I didn’t enjoy the bill at the end; the husband paid).
Overall = 7
Service = 8.5
Food = 6.5
Value for money = 6 for food, 8 for beverages