My dining partner and I recently visited Enzee for an early dinner before a gig at the Bournemouth International Centre. When choosing a dinner venue in a town I don’t know, I like to get a little help, so I booked a table at Enzee on the basis of its ranking on Tripadvisor (#6 out of 260 restaurants in Bournemouth). Based on our experience, I have to say I’m simply stunned that Enzee has received so many positive restaurant reviews on that site. Certainly, my own won’t wax quite so lyrical.
First impressions as we stepped through the door were good. Enzee’s interior is stunning, with artfully arranged jars of multi-coloured dried pastas and stylish black and white photographs of famous Italian Americans adorning the walls, sleek black chairs and custom made tables whose tops are patterned with striking swirls of red and black. We stood, taking it all in, as smartly dressed waiters and waitresses bustled around. Strangely though, their bustling didn’t seem to have much object to it and, while we were sure that they had seen us, it took at least five minutes before one of them deigned to come over and seat us.
Enzee’s menu is broad but traditional, offering everything you’d expect from an Italian restaurant in the UK. To start, I went for one of the day’s specials, tuna carpaccio with a rocket salad and lemon olive oil dressing. While prettily presented, it wasn’t a carpaccio – the tuna was cooked to a pale pink, so the thin slices didn’t hold their form, much of the dish disintegrating into a sort of tuna mince. It was served so cold that the tuna’s taste was masked by its temperature, and the lemon olive oil dressing was so sparsely sprinkled that I could hardly detect its presence at all. My dining partner’s starter of calamari fritti was of a far higher standard, the calamari wonderfully succulent and encased in a feather-light, crispy batter. Only the overly salty tartare sauce let it down.
I must give credit where credit is due, and admit that the fiorentina pizza I enjoyed for main course was nigh on perfect. The base was delicately thin and light, with a slightly crisped but still fluffy crust, and the toppings were generous – the bitterness of the spinach cut through the rich melting mozzarella, while the egg was served with the yolk still soft just as I had requested. My dining partner’s main of chicken breast topped with parma ham and a mozzarella cream sauce was equally impressive, with a great intensity of flavour and enough sauce to cover the otherwise slightly bland accompanying seasonal vegetables of carrots, new potatoes and green beans.
As we ate, and between courses, we couldn’t help but notice that while the food was generally pretty good, the service was nothing short of appalling. Aware that we had waited a full five minutes at the door, we were curious to see how other arriving diners were treated. Upon arrival, several parties were told to take a seat on couches by the door, despite the fact that there were at least three available tables for two and as many tables for four that could have been made ready with a quick wipe and some fresh cutlery. None of the empty tables were designated with “reserved” signs, and the would-be diners grew visibly frustrated as they sat, being studiously ignored by passing members of staff. We saw as many as three parties get bored of waiting, and leave in search of an alternative restaurant. Those who did stick it out were eventually seated, some twenty minutes later, at tables that had been free since their arrival. From our table, close to the couches, the uncomfortable atmosphere was palpable, and the waiters’ apparent obliviousness frankly embarrassing.
Although the restaurant wasn’t even close to full, service at the tables seemed entirely haphazard, with each of the five waiters attending to all tables rather than taking responsibility for any particular section. We weren’t asked for our drinks order until we were placing our food order and we initially received only one of our two requested glasses of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. As a wine, it was nice enough – round and fruity and not too tannic – but it was served a little warm, as though it had been poured into glasses that came straight out of a hot dishwasher. When the waiter who brought us our main courses offered us pepper from the traditional Italian giant pepper grinder, he held it at such a height that we got as much pepper on our clothes as we did on our plates. We saw several tables have trouble with their bills – being brought the wrong bill, or the bill before they had ordered coffee, or a second bill after they had counted out their money for the first one.
Since our food had been rather good (barring my starter), we decided to order dessert so I would have something else positive to say about Enzee in this restaurant review. And, since Enzee is an Italian restaurant, tiramisu seemed the obvious choice. We had imagined it would arrive fairly quickly, as it would have been made the night before, or that morning, to allow the sponge base to properly absorb the coffee and liqueur, the egg white and mascarpone topping to set, and the flavours to fully develop. As time ticked away, therefore, we grew more and more bemused. After about fifteen minutes, we saw one of the waitresses rush through the front door of the restaurant, carrying two bulging Tesco’s bags full of cans of squirty cream. “Maybe that’s why we’ve been waiting so long”, my dining partner joked. I told him not to be silly – no tiramisu in the world is made with squirty cream. Alas, how wrong I was. Just a couple of minutes later, we were brought a beautiful looking tiramisu, served in an individual dish rather than as a slab cut from a larger dessert. Liberally dusted with cocoa powder, it didn’t look as though it was topped with squrity cream, but one spoonful was enough to confirm the worst. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the sponge was soggy, swimming in what could only have been weak instant coffee water with not a drop of alcohol in sight. I stopped after that one spoonful, leaving my dining partner to finish what he could. It was enough to make any Italian cry.
Enzee isn’t particularly expensive, at around £26 per head for two-and-a-half courses and a glass of wine, but the food wasn’t without its faults and the service was shockingly poor, so I sincerely hope that there are other restaurants in Bournemouth that could do a lot better for that price. I would really like to score it better, but after all that, I’m afraid that Enzee is only worthy of a meagre one and a half Forks-Up.Enzee
29 Westover Road
BH1 2BZ 01202 555307 www.enzo-ristorante.co.uk/enzee-bournemouth.html