When, at the suggestion of some friends, we met them for dinner on Saturday night at Peppinos in Charminster, I didn’t really get what I was expecting. Well, I did and I didn’t – but in a way this was a good thing!
Peppinos is another one of those Bournemouth restaurants which has been there for years, but which I’ve never got round to visiting. It’s slightly out of town in Charminster, but there are a growing number of nice bars appearing nearby (it’s historically been more of a studenty area until recently) so when our friends suggested going there, I was keen to give it a try. For some reason, though, I had it in my mind that Peppinos was a very traditional style Italian – I was thinking check table cloths, old wine bottles on the table with years’ worth of melted candles attached and perhaps a few pannetone boxes hanging from the ceilings for good measure. So, when we walked in to a light, airy, contemporararily furnished place with white table linen and brown leather chairs, I was very pleasantly surprised. The restaurant also has a very nice separate bar area, which would be very pleasant to visit in its own right, even if you weren’t planning to eat.
Had I taken the time to visit Peppinos’ website before we dined there, I might have had more of an idea of what to expect, although I am not sure if I would have actually been able to bring myself to visit somewhere whose website byline describes it as “one of the most chicest (sic) destinations in town”. Quelle horreur! I’m also slightly perturbed by the lack of apostrophe in the name, but before I come over too grammatical, it’s probably time to go back to our experience on the night.
True to form, we started off with some cocktails from what was a fairly extensive menu of traditional favourites and more unusual offerings. It seems we were all in a traditionalist mood, going for a Cosmopolitan, a Mojito, a Pina Colada and a Long Island Ice Tea. All of these got a pretty good reception, although Mr W’s Mojito wasn’t overly minty at first, and needed a bit of extra ‘muddling’ to bring the flavour out.
We’d booked a table for 8 p.m. but sat down nearer to 8.30 (our fault, not the restaurant’s). The restaurant was relatively quiet at this point, but soon filled up after we sat down (a coincidence, I am sure, although I would love to attribute this to our magnetic personalities!) It made a nice change to go somewhere where people seem to eat a bit later than is often the case. Unfortunately Peppinos suffers from a less than attractive outlook: any diners facing the window have no choice but to gaze on to a couple of takeaways, a laundrette and a dry cleaners, which is not the most engaging of views, but can’t be helped!
It was when our menus arrived that I realised I was in part going to get what I expected. The menu is a selection of very, very traditional Italian fare – exactly what you’d expect in a restaurant with the furnishings I described earlier on. Indeed, some of the dishes seemed to be straight out of the 1970s – I’m sure there was an avocado with prawns lurking on the list of starters. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did seem a bit at odds with the very contemporary image of the place.
Mr W and I shared a charcuterie platter to start. This was very simple – a selection of cold, cured Italian meats with some pickled veg. Very pleasant, and definitely enough for the two of us to share, but you can’t really go wrong with a plate of meat! Our friends had another charcuterie platter, and a tomato, mozzarella and avocado salad (which was also available as a main course, but was a fairly generous portion, even for a starter). Unusually, the tomatoes were of the cherry variety, but I’m told that they were delicious and sweet, the avocado was nicely ripe, and the whole lot was dressed with tasty balsamic vinegar. One of my favourite parts of the meal was the bread that accompanied our starters: uber fresh foccacia, which managed to be fluffy and doughy at the same time, with just the right amount of herbs sprinkled on top. We had one slice each – my tastebuds wanted more, but my waistline could do without!
There was a really comprehensive (although traditional) selection of main courses, with a range of pasta dishes (including a few al forno), a reasonable pizza selection, and quite a long list of meat and fish dishes. The pasta and pizza all came in around the £10 mark, with the meat and fish closer to £15 each. We all fancied pasta, but came to the conclusion that the selection was not actually that varied. Out of 9 or 10 dishes, more than half seemed to be vegetarian, which seemed unusual. Mr W and I were both in the mood for something fishy, and – unusually – went for the same dish: tagliatelle with smoked salmon and prawns in a creamy sauce. It turned out, as is so often the case, that it was actually chunks of cooked salmon fillet – not a problem, but not what we were expecting, and there was certainly plenty of it, and plenty of prawns, although I’d have preferred fewer, larger prawns, rather than the small ones that they’d used. I’d have also thought the dish would have been better teamed with a different and more delicate type of pasta – perhaps spaghetti, or my preference would have been penne, but again not a major problem.
Our friends both chose another pasta dish, this time with chicken, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts and a sprinking of crispy onions (the kind you get on the Harvester salad bar!). This was probably the least traditional sounding dish on the menu, and I nearly went for it myself. Apparently it was very good, although neither the sun dried tomatoes nor the pine nuts were immediately evident, but on closer examination we did manage to identify a few!
We all decided to have a pudding, with the men both going for a cheesecake (they were given the choice of lemon or forest fruits, but then told there was no lemon left!), and the ladies having pannacotta and tiramisu. My tiramisu was pretty good. This is a favourite of mine, but something I rarely have as Mr W and I often share a dessert and he’s not a fan. The presentation wasn’t overly exciting, but the taste was delicious and it had a good balance of the main ingredients – not too much sponge or too much topping, which is sometimes a pitfall with tiramisu. The pannacotta got the highest praise of all the desserts, with a generous helping of berries, which didn’t overwhelm the pannacotta as it had a good flavour itself. The cheesecakes were tasty, but sadly the biscuit base was soggy and fairly non-existent – possibly due to the cheesecakes being individual ones, and perhaps plated up earlier in the evening, allowing the berry topping to have its wicked way with the base for far too long!
Our meal, including drinks, came to just over £100 for the four of us, which is good value for three courses. I liked the atmosphere in Peppinos, and the food, although nothing outstanding, was good, hearty Italian fare – although perhaps this isn’t quite what you’d expect or want in the restaurant’s surroundings. The service, although efficient, was completely unmemorable – I couldn’t tell you who served us, or what they were like, so it must have been fairly impersonal, which again is out of keeping with traditional Italian restaurant food, which generally comes accompanied by traditional Italian service. For this reason, I’ve marked it down in my star ratings, because although it wasn’t bad, I really did expect a lot more.
I would go back again for a similar evening, catching up with friends without having to deal with the hecticness of the centre of town. The bar area is really nice, as were the cocktails, so it’s an ideal venue for meeting up with people and enjoying a drink or two before your meal – and this type of food, although not outstanding, was certainly more than edible and is always a crowd pleaser.
Recommended for an evening that’s first and foremost about the company and the atmosphere, not the food or the service!
Food: *** Service: ** Ambience: ****
Peppinos, 33 Charminster Road, Bournemouth BH8 8UE