Sunday, June 22, 2008

Al Duomo, Brighton

A friend of ours booked this restaurant and I have to admit that I wasn't overly excited about it before our day trip to Brighton. We arrived for our 8.30pm table on a Saturday night and it wasn't terribly busy - never a good sign. Despite this we were seated on a very small table that would have been much better suited for two diners.

The menu is very long: three sections of starters (hot, cold and antipasti) and sixty main courses (pizza, pasta, salad, meat and fish). It was hard work to trawl through but eventually we had all selected: two Bresaola with mozzarella, one pate al brandy and one bruschetta to start and, for main courses, a seafood pizza 'Al Duomo', one Diana (tomato, mozzarella, sausage and mushrooms), one American hot and one cannelloni ripieni (ricotta, spinach and goat's cheese in a tomato and cream sauce). We also ordered a bottle of prosecco and a jug of tap water. The service was attentive and friendly.

The starters were good: the beef was apparently delicious with a generous serving of mozzarella. The only complaint was the generous and unnecessary lettuce and fairly tasteless tomato on the side. The bruschetta were a good, safe option which didn't disappoint Daisy and my pate was gorgeous but the way it is so often served in restaurants flummoxes me: why so little bread? Surely this is the cheapest part? Indeed in this case there were three flattened triangles of white toast (where was the other quarter of the slice of bread?!) and two sachets of butter with a huge mound of pate and another huge mound of fridge cold salad. Only the details of the starters let them down - generous bread, more exciting greenery (grated carrot-ugh) and butter removed from its wrapper would have taken the whole experience up a level.

Unfortunately, this is where the meal went wrong. There is a huge pizza oven in the open air kitchen and I was excited to see the chef making them. They should have been so good. Mine tasted of absolutely nothing at all. I know this is hard to comprehend but from the tiny prawns, no doubt recently defrosted from a bag, small flabby mussels and the odd bit of squid to the smearing of tomato paste over the boring base, the whole thing was a massive letdown with no promised 'hint of garlic and chilli'. The boys seemed to enjoy theirs in fairness, although the basic elements must have been the same. Daisy's pasta dish was huge, served in a boiling hot ceramic dish with absolutely no salad or accompaniments at all. The overfacing size of the portion meant that she barely finished half. I tried her leftovers and they were good but again, not enough seasoning, herbs or, frankly, love had gone into the cooking.

We requested the bill that came without fuss and then everyone seemed to disappear. A boy of around twelve, perhaps the owner's son, wandered around the kitchen and so we asked him if he could find someone we could pay. He immediately brought us our bill again.
No, we said, we would like someone to bring over the card machine and so he picked up the cash we had on the table and started carrying it away. One of us got up and followed him, eventually locating a member of staff proper and tried to explain that we wanted to split the bill and needed change from the cash. He didn't understand and it ended up being the easiest thing to pay how they wanted us to and sort it out between us later. This service spoilt what had been the best part of the Al Duomo experience: competent and efficient staff.

Two courses and a glass of prosecco: £17.50 per head

Value: 5/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 4/10

SCORE: 22/40

Al Duomo, 7 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton, BN1 1EE. Tel: 07710 161562.

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