The second-hand Škoda that I drive seems to have a function that wasn’t mentioned when I bought it almost on a whim a few months back.
The ability to travel back in time.
How else to explain the sense that I’d ended up back in that showy and insubstantial decade, the 1980s, when I visited Pinocchio, a recently opened Italian restaurant in The Mailbox?
First to strike me was lighting so severe and sterile that it resembled the eyeball-bursting brightness used by hardcore security agencies to extract confessions from political dissidents.
Then there was the decor – mirrors, gleaming surfaces, naff table settings and prints only slightly more tasteful than that picture of a lithesome tennis player scratching her arse.
The prissy plating of dishes, too, on white tableware with lots of splashes and squiggles of sauces, condiments and herbs, hinted at a restaurant from yesteryear.
Dear lord, I thought, is this gaff really owned by the same people who have the cheap, cheerful and unpretentious La Galleria less than a mile away in Ethel Street?
The menu – a standard list of pizzas, pasta and other dishes – is virtually the same, though the prices are a bit higher.
Alas, the food didn’t please me half as much as that at its likeable older sister.
To start I ordered gamberi all’arancia – a prawn and orange combo.
The king prawns were good and meaty beasts that had been precisely cooked.
But they were overwhelmed by a sauce which the menu said contained a “splash or orange juice”, but, in fact, seemed dominated by the stuff.
And, just to emphasise the triumph of citrus fruit over aquatic crustacean, there were slices of orange beneath the prawns.
It might have been rescued by more white wine acidity and a braver seasoning of dried red chilli, but was simply too sweet and of unpleasant consistency after being thickened (I think) with cornflour.
My wife fared little better with bruschetta all romana, the freshness of the tomatoes topping toasted bread overwhelmed by a balsamic reduction.
Seldom can a baby bovine have come to a sadder end than that featured in my main course.
Bracciole al vino rosso is an old school dish – escalope of veal wrapped in Parma ham, stuffed with cheese and served with a red wine sauce.
Call me a miserable old pedant if you will, but I rather think the purpose should be to show off the veal to good effect.
Here the sweet, tender meat was – that word again – overwhelmed by a wine and tomato sauce that the menu described as “light” but was, I thought, brutally reduced.
The ham was good and crisp and the cheese nicely gooey, but this dish was a chore to eat.
Herbed sautee spuds were enjoyable, but green beans, carrots and broccoli were the hard side of al dente.
My wife’s tagliatelle alla bolognese generated no great enthusiasm.
We shared a bowl of pale, weedy and flaccid chips that were surely no stranger to a freezer compartment.
Our mood was raised only by the very pleasant Sardinian red were drank at £7.50 a glass and by the charming, friendly service from our waitress, who by coincidence also came from that island.
Need to know
We paid £64 for two courses each and three glasses of wine.
It’s cheaper to eat and drink more cheaply.
There are vegetarian options.
It’s child friendly.
There’s lots of parking in and near the Mailbox.
Wharfside Street, Mailbox, Birmingham B1 1RF. 0121 439 9393.