MICHELLE TOMPKINS is joined by Marco Pierre White (sort of) on a visit to the pizzeria chain Bardolino

HIS face is everywhere, staring you down; those dark and brooding eyes following your every move, daring you to dislike something and risk incurring his infamous wrath.

There’s no doubting who is the mastermind behind Bardolino, the pizzeria chain in Wood Street – Marco Pierre White’s picture is plastered everywhere you look. If not a photo, then one of his books is propped casually in a corner, in a masterstroke of effective PR.

Such is his presence that it’s almost like having an extra guest for dinner, a slightly moody and scary one at that.

Thankfully there wasn’t anything negative to report about our mid-week visit, which is a bit of a relief. I wouldn’t fancy taking on a man whose volatile outbursts once made him a household name as one of the most feared (if revered) chefs in the industry.

It was a foggy Wednesday in January when we headed to the restaurant, formerly The Old Bank Brasserie but smartened up and rebranded last summer as Bardolino.

There were a few people drinking in the bar but we were the only diners at 8pm, which could have made for a flat atmosphere if not for the fantastic jazz duo giving it their all at the front of the house… nice.

We were given our pick of the tables and slid into a cosy leather booth, where we could hear the music but still had some privacy, albeit with Marco peeping menacingly over my shoulder.

I hadn’t eaten at Bardolino since the opening event but was pleased to see the décor has lost none of the smartness or shine which makes it so distinct from other Old Town restaurants. The grouped pendant lighting, the gleaming tiled walls, the orange seating, the herby arrangements on the tables, all stack up to give the place a freshness – it still feels new, even though it isn’t any more.

The menu is concise, but deliberately so, with the ethos of doing a few good favourites well. There are nibbles (which double up as sides) if you want something to get you started, then a choice of four burgers, three salads, four pasta dishes, a list of pizzas and some traditional mains like lasagne (£11.95) and aubergine parmigiana (£9.95).

We went for zucchini fritti (£4.95) and parmesan onions rings (£4.50) to share while we decided what we really wanted. A mix up over the order (our lovely waitress’s first day) meant we ended up with parmesan chips instead, but the mistake was rectified immediately and efficiently, and we ended up with three ‘starters’ to pick at – greedy, I know, but who turns down free food?

The fritti were coated in a light, airy batter which made them literally melt in our mouths, while the onion rings were good, chunky pieces of veg in their crunchy coating, with mustard mayo on the side to dip them in. Naughty, but very, very nice.

What possessed me to order a burger (£12.75) after that little feast, I don’t know, but the minute it arrived I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew. The tower of beef, fontina cheese, (more) onion rings and mustard mayo – topped and tailed by a brioche bun – was vast, with (even more) chips on the side. The meat was perhaps a little more well done than I’d have liked (I hadn’t been asked,) but that’s a minor niggle in an otherwise impressive meal. To my shame I only ate half, but not through any fault with the food, only my own gluttony.

My partner went for the prosciutto pizza, with tomatoes, rocket and pecorino cheese (£11.95), and it looked amazing. The super thin base was piled high with toppings, including heaps of rocket, which made it appear vaguely healthy. A seasoned pizza-eater, he said it was “possibly the best I’ve ever had”, which is quite something. He offered me a slice, but by this time I was going green and had to turn it down. Needless to say, there was no box of leftovers to take home for the next day.

Desserts are again typical – tiramisu, brownie, panna cotta etc (all £6.25) – but, as you’ve probably guessed, we weren’t in the market. Instead we ordered liqueurs and sat back to listen to the jazz and nurse our aching stomachs.

Maybe it was the alcohol or maybe just my imagination, but Marco’s famous scowl appeared to have softened just a little by this time. “See, I @!%*-ing told you you’d @!%*-ing like it” he seemed to say. And who am I to argue?


Wood Street, Swindon, SN1 4AB

Tel: 01793 527798

Parking: None, but plenty nearby

Disabled access: Yes

Adver ratings:

Food: 10/10

Choice: 8/10

Décor: 10/10

Customer service: 9/10

Main courses: from £9.95 to £13.50

TripAdvisor rating: 3.5/5