Piano (not Le Parisienne) – Italian – Southwell
Sometimes things are not as they seem. Southwell is but a wee country drive away from Nottingham but it feels like it belongs in the Cotswolds. There’s no Primark, McDonald’s or coffee chain in sight. You won’t find an outfit that doesn’t involve White Stuff or a Barbour jacket or a tin of paint that isn’t Farrow and Ball, and improbably named Mole’s Breath or Clunch. In other words, there’s some serious wealth pacing the main street, wicker baskets in hand.
And yet there is a real lack of decent restaurants, in what should by rights be a prime location for high-end dining. The local pubs turn out impressively average pub food to easily pleased Minster visitors (the ‘Hearty Goodfellow’ is probably the pick of the litter) while the considerable sixth form aged population keeps the Khyber and the chippy in unhealthy business. Where do the well-heeled residents take their heels? On last night’s evidence, somewhere other than Southwell.
Which might be the main reason why this review of Le Parisienne is not a review of Le Parisienne. This French-Morrocan bistro’s website boasted a balanced selection of bistro staples (fishcakes, fritattas and omelettes) as well as tagines and classic turns of meat, all at around the £10 mark. Walking into the restaurant for our 7.30pm booking, we were greeted with the cheery welcome of, “we don’t have the salmon, or the cod tagine, and the tart isn’t the tart that’s on the menu.” It’s good to know where you stand, particularly while you are still standing; having taken our seats and opened our menus like Minster choirboys raising their hymnbooks, we quickly registered that the menu was somewhat shorter and pricier than the one given online. Now there might be an explanation along the lines of day / evening menu differences – but then the onus is still on the restaurant to make that clear. If you are on a budget, being sensible and planning ahead to go to places you can afford off the back of a little internet-based research, then it’s pretty titting annoying to suddenly find yourself in the socially problematic situation of being torn between pride and an overdraft. I just don’t like feeling a little swindled, and social awkwardness be damned, I was leaving.
So off we toddled. We were the only ones toddling, it seemed. You could have heard a Mole’s Breath. We went past Scoozi (not a paint name, but a restaurant) serves pizza in a room decorated to look like the inside of a pine wardrobe. It was full of people who had been lured in looking for Aslan and had got a pizza for their troubles, which is an exchange that seems more than reasonable to me.
On to Piano then which occupies the ground floor of what would have been a grand terrace on the main street, so you can effectively sit in the lounge, through-room, converted back room of the backyard. The decor is incredibly generic (all mock-leather dining chairs, glass tealight holders and one-flower only mini vases) and as predictable as the cod-Italian soundtrack and revolving desert cabinet. There’s something dispiriting about seeing pre-prepared funnels of lemon mousse and dull matte gateaux (a name suggestion for Farrow and Ball?) dimly pirouetting for perhaps the millionth time.
The menu was a lengthy affair, accompanied by an encouragingly Italianate wine list. The heritage of Italian wine is inextricably linked with Italian food and dining so this was pleasing to see, even if a short selection of new world offerings are also provided, like the omelette and chips tacked on to the curry house menu. Prosecco and a Nero D’Avola, offered as the house red, were both acceptable.
For food, we went straight to the mains, with some of the starters coming in at similar prices as the entrees. I plumped for penne arrabiatta (£10.95); I am generally not in favour of ordering something I can easily make myself or with parting with cash for pasta, but I had hope that the pasta would be handmade. It wasn’t; these were mass produced tubelets which, yes, were cooked to a desireable texture but were bland in taste and colour. The sauce was thankfully lacking in neither department, full of fire and zip, despite the woeful five-leaf rocket ‘decoration’ that gave me initial misgivings.
The other dishes included risotto al pollo (£11.95) and salmon Dijonaise (£15.45 and demonstrably not an Italian dish). The former was probably the pick of the evening, being the right side of creamy and plump with hearty and tender pieces of chicken, although the rocket sprinkler had been overactive again. Just consider how much more appetising the bowl would look without it… The salmon meanwhile appeared to be lost in a tarragon sea but it actually turned out to be a good amount for mopping up with the accompanying bowl of buttery root vegetables. An extra order of chips (£2.95) was fresh from the freezer and most of them returned to the kitchen.
From the handful of dessert options, we chose an affogato (ice cream, charged with a shot of espresso, £4.95), which is incredibly difficult to do badly but equally hard to do well; this one was unsurprisingly average. We also had an atrociously named Lumpy Bumpy (£4.95), a title even Farrow and Ball would surely reject. An artery-blocking wedge achieved the feat of amalgamating one-of-everything from the baking aisle of the supermarket and holding it together with chocolate. It might not be authentically Italian but it was the sort of unabashed sugar fest that dessert lovers would feel very happy with and sometimes that’s all that is required.
If you had to pick from the palette this would be a shade of beige, completely OK and largely forgettable, except for leaving me wanting to know where the good people of Southwell do go for dinner…
Restaurant website: http://www.pianosouthwell.co.uk/