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AA Grill's food and booze awards, 2008

The best of times, the worst of times... who gets the crowns and who gets the parson's noses in the Confidential gongs of places we've written about this year. And what's yours? Best rant gets a £100 restaurant tab

Published on January 14th 2010.


AA Grill's food and booze awards, 2008

Newcomer of the Year
It's Capital of Culture year and with all the promises of regeneration, boomtown Liverpool has seen dozens of new eating places open, a raft of them in Liverpool One. In there, Yo! Sushi is probably the most welcome new diversion to the city and we unquestioningly love Barburrito. But the one we'll be going back to when the need for curry strikes is Samrat on Renshaw Street. Situated in the old Barcelona bar, it's service with a smile, inexpensive too, with the tastiest and most authentic veggie biryani in recent memory.

Best Daytime Eats
Coming close is The Italian Club on Bold Street, for its location, bustling atmosphere and proper rustic Italian grub which changes and appears whenever it feels like. But the winner is Kane's Tea Rooms in Stafford Street, by TJs, for turning out consistently top notch nosh in utterly unpretentious surroundings, in a deeply unfashionable part of town.

Best atmosphere
Is it because the good citizens of Crosby are so delighted to have, at last, a half decent restaurant in their burb that the Fat Italian (Coronation Road) has such a cheery bustle about it, or something else? Anyway, you won't want to leave in a hurry.

Best Pub
Purely for research purposes and to interview sources, Liverpool Confidential's writers have not been out of the pub for long this year. But however good The Lion, The Dispensary, Rigby's courtyard or Ye Cracke's mad back garden on a summer's eve might be, the one that wins on the warmth factor is the Ship and Mitre (Dale Street). It buzzes with good vibrations in the evening, with a varied crowd, it is light and bright in the day. It does good food, has a massive selection of cask ales and bottles and they keep an excellent cellar.

The Church of Scientology Award for Continuing to Believe in the face of Overwhelming Evidence...
... goes to the waiter at Crompton's Restaurant in the Adelphi Hotel on the occasion of Liverpool Confidential's visit in July; a chap who was the epitome of polish and professionalism during a night of high farce which included background music courtesy of a best-of-Liverpool-FC-chants CD, customers being locked in – and out – of the dining room during attempted trips to the toilets, and a meal that started with dry house wine so dire we tipped it into the ice bucket to avoid having to drink it and finished with an "assortment of fine cheeses" that were no such thing with a pile of biscuits that appeared to have accidentally fallen on to the plate.

Best Place to Get Lost on a Friday Afternoon
Friday afternoon working is obviously not recommended, but we all have to do it. Most of the time. If you do get to sneak off, you could always try the IKEA Warrington cafeteria and claim you were looking for office storage solutions if caught.

A much better bet, though is the Mei Mei (Berry Street), one of Liverpool's handsomest Chinese restaurants which packs them in all opening hours. The dim sum is as light as the interior and you are invited to leisurely pick your way through the menu all afternoon if you like, with a Tsing Tao or several or glug down a zesty grape. Who cares? Nobody in here.

Best Starter
Among the contenders were a lean, flavoursome and gunsmoke-fresh saddle of rabbit at Julian's in Hoylake, and pickled vegetables – including stunningly good tomatoes – at St Petersburg in York Street, whose soused state was matched only by a couple of diners we found grappling like puppies on the stairs leading to the toilets.

A couple of dishes proved you don't have to fly due east for two and a half hours to enjoy some decent seafood (but it helps). At The Italian Club, in Bold Street, an insalata di mare was a generous serving of mussels, squid and octopus with good salad and a zesty lemon dressing. But the award goes to Patio (Church Road, Wavertree) for a seafood risotto that an awful lot of kitchens would botch but here was an expertly composed ensemble of clams, langoustines and mussels bound in tomato and cream.

The You Could Have Knocked Me Down With A Feather Award
The entirely pleasant all-day breakfast at Caesar's Palace, Renshaw Street.

Best main course
Oddfellows in Chester treated us to line-caught sea bass with mussels, clams and a sweet, gorgeous saffron broth, but nothing came close in terms of innovation and sheer bloody great taste to an amazing winter casserole of kid goat with vegetables, brown sugar and Newcastle Brown Ale served in a pastry tartin at Julian's in Heswall.

Best Value
If you are looking to impress someone but don't feel the need to go berserk on your budget, Room, Castle Street, hits the mark every time. The Liverpool branch serves up consistently good British dishes, always with a twist and with plenty of class, at prices which bely the grand surroundings. Look out for the special offers on here.

The Lesley Phillips Award for the Best Thing To Have In The Office During Your Lunch Break That Isn't Your Secretary
A rare roast beef and English mustard baguette from Philpott's in Exchange Flags was a real treat. But breast, sorry best, of all was an enormous bap, or if you're really hungry (or just a bit cheeky), a pair of enormous baps from the Hole in the Wall cafe, School Lane. Massive floury granary barms brimming over with good, fresh ingredients – try the turkey salad extra large – and all for £2.50. Ding dong.

Best pudding
Among the highlights were a pretty scrummy rhubarb cheesecake with ginger snap biscuits at Oddfellows dining rooms in Chester, and a poached pear with rhubarb and star anise at Tirano in Lark Lane which is owned by Liverpool FC star Daniel Agger and must make for interesting small talk in the dressing room.
(Agger: Robbie, what kind of pastry do you think we should use for the fruit pie?
Keane: Poof.
Agger: Excellent choice!)

The winner is absolutely anything off the dessert list at Kane's Tea Rooms (Stafford Street); all home made, all as good as you would get anywhere, and all under two quid. But if you want to pin me down try the cream and strawberry scone or the bread and butter pudding. At these prices you could try both and still afford to wash it down with a double hit of their very decent espresso.

Most Tolerant of Bloody Kids
Julian's (Hoylake) is pretty grown-up but it's not just kid on the menu that they serve. The night we were in a couple of 10 year olds appeared very welcome, and very happy, but the Olive Press in Castle Street, wins for its unfailingly smiley and helpful staff in the face of tears, tantrums, tongue-pulling, and some pretty shocking behaviour from the children as well.

Best Thing in a Glass
The as-yet-unnamed Hendricks gin and tonic at The Little Grapes, Roscoe Street where they do 10 different varieties of the mother's ruin. Take a Hendrick's gin, already infused with cucumber and rose petal essences, serve it up in a tall glass with lots of tonic and ice. For the slice? Just cut cucumber of course. Delicious, different and refreshing, and just £3.75, it reawakened our love of the G&T.

2008 Food Hero
Anglesey Butchers at Liverpool Farmers Markets (Lark Lane and Hope Street). Fiona, Brian and co are jolly nice people purveying gorgeous organic lamb, lovely sausages (free range) and some of the best rib eye steaks outside of Texas.

Restaurant of the Year
There were two outstanding candidates in the list of places we've reviewed this year, sadly neither in Liverpool, although chef Mark Bennett and his right hand man, Andy Wright, left this fair city to run one of them - the dining rooms and brasserie at Oddfellows.

A couple of likely lads, and likeable with it (unless you happen to be the sous chef and you've just burnt the bearnaise sauce), they have taken all the good things they were doing at Liverpool's Malmaison Brasserie and moved them on to a new level.

But they are pipped to the post by Julian's and not just because it's about 30 miles closer to Liverpool Confidential's core readership. As a one man operation (and one woman if you include his wife, and you really should) biker Julian, pictured, knocks out an astonishing variety of dishes all prepared with great skill, flair and invention He is also devoted to using the very best, freshest, wildest, locally just-caught produce and we salute him.

The Turkey (There's always one)

The Wish I'd Had Yours Award for the Worst Thing on a Plate
This year sponsored by 4Skin, the leading dermatological cream. The first problem skin was on a beurre blanc served with poached monkfish tail at Crompton's Restaurant at the Adelphi Hotel in Lime Street; the other had formed across the peppercorn sauce accompanying a ribeye steak which had too little flavour and had spent too much time in the pan at The Living Room in Victoria Street.

Skin is good on humans and on rice puddings, but not on peppercorn sauce or anything attempting to be French and sophisticated. Crompton's wins it because the skin had also separated, and tasted awful, and because the fish was like no other fish I had ever tasted or ever wanted to taste again.

AA Grill (additional reports from Angie and Fat Git).

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Graham BandageDecember 19th 2008.

Ferran Adrià would be proud of the Tavern Co. on Penny Lane. I say Penny Lane, but of course, it's nothing of the sort. There's only one place you can have a meal on Penny Lane and that's the Penny Lane Wine Bar, so secure in its singular status that it claimed the name of the road for itself. The Dovedale Towers is on Dovedale Road, nit-pickers. Do people still pick nits, btw? Surely you're better off with a stiff comb, and some sort of chemical preparation. Which brings us back to Adrià. Yes, he'd have been proud of the 'chips' available on the menu at the Tavern Co. Outwardly indistinguishable to real, if cajun-seasoned, chips, the 'potato' coating was merely a membrane holding a cargo of potato-infused corn oil. The "chips" accompanied a blackened cajun chicken breast flavoured with cellophane. And they were preceded by a thick chilli mayonnaise soup, in which floated deep-fried crayfish pieces. Endlessly inventive, if a little oil heavy.

Ghost of Christmas PastaDecember 19th 2008.

You good folks missed a real Christmas treat at Lewis's Cafe by the toy department with a Traditional Christmas Lunch on Offer. I had gone in with the kids for sausage and chips to stop them moaning, but the sight of the Christmas Lunch gave me such a fit of giggles I could hardly order. I wish I'd had a camera. Generous square slabs of grey Turkey (I think) in a congealed grey slime with bits in, charred roast potatoes welded to the bowl and yellow and brown dried up sprouts with a singed margerine glaze. It looked fantastic! I had just about composed myself when I neared the drinks machine and spotted the volcanic explosion Steak and Kidney pies with thick black burnt gravy dressing shining out on the dark dry smashed crust and streaked around the bowl like a melted bin-bag garnish. The staff are always very nice and it was mid afternoon but it was truly wonderous. The sausage and chips were fine by the way. It's reassuring to know that with all of this parfait, and confit of whatever, that there is still good traditional British grub available in the city.

MexicanDecember 19th 2008.

I feel your pain re: Barburito. Last time I went, I had to correct the lad serving me twice as he completely ignored what I had asked for and rammed what he decided into my burrito. Each time I corrected him, he looked up at me slowly and with such hatred in his eyes because I had dared to speak up! Is a shame as other times I've been, I've been served by lovely helpful staff- maybe there's just one or two letting the side down?

HelpfulDecember 19th 2008.

Just having a refurb, apparently.

EditorialDecember 19th 2008.

Funny you should say that, Andy. We did it over a year ago, but are due back for a visit soon on "other matters". Do they still do good chips?

mariaDecember 19th 2008.

Good ! Thanks !!!

MariaDecember 19th 2008.

Hi Guys ..please what is going on with The Room .... the close for good??? or just january ..one of the best restaurants in Liverpool is gone ??????

AndyDecember 19th 2008.

Glad A A Grill didn't mention the Side Door off Hope Street. Don't want too many knowing about it.

SiobhanDecember 19th 2008.

If you love Barburito I may be able to help. They offered me a free meal after I complained about the most awful I'd ever witnessed in real life. Think Basil Fawlty withfoul language instead of the wit or Manuel without the willingness to help. We wouldn't eat there again if we were being paid to, even after they delivered the staff retraining programme they mentioned in their response to me but I could pretend to if anyone had a particular desire to be talked down to, ignored and served the food that the counter staff think you should, rather than what you'd like from the dishes on offer.

AnonymousDecember 19th 2008.

I've just been reading the hilarious Adelphi review again and it has made me want to go!

Pop TartDecember 19th 2008.

Nothing on God's earth would make me want to dine at the Adelphi...... actually, there are times when a good dose of food poisoning goes down well, to kick start a diet, to lose that extra inch to fit into a LBD, mmmm perhaps the Adelphi has its uses after all!

DigDecember 19th 2008.

My favourite restaurant and eats this year is an absolute no brainer. The Malmaison. Not because it was all on Liverpool Confidential and I was pampered like a celeb, well maybe that swayed me a little, but even without all the bonuses and based simply on the merits of the food The Mal wins hands down. Sorry Pilgrim Woman, I know I've ate in your 2 places this year but The Mal still wins! I don't have a sweet tooth but as the 1st 2 courses were so delicious I decided I had to try a sweet and the panacotta didn't disappoint. If I was to do a Liverpool Confidential style review and talk about the service and atmosphere then I would say see the above comments about being pampered like a celeb for service. For atmosphere it would get top marks also. Nice decor and ambience. Even tho we were pampered the waitress, waiter, sommelier and the other staff that tended to us were not intrusive at all. The music in the background was straight out of my laidback collection at home which was another nice surprise. I had stayed at The Mal a few times so I was really looking forward to eating there. Now I can say it's my favourite hotel to stay in and now it's my favourite restaurant to eat in as well. Shouldn't forget The Plum Bar either which is a little cosy gem. Top marks all round, thanks Angie. I've kissed The Mals arse enough now so I'll end my rant/review here.

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