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The pub-grub rub

The hostelry that strays onto gastro-turf may do so at its peril, says Michael McIlvenna after a trip to the Blackburne Arms

Published on May 18th 2007.

The pub-grub rub

IF only the Blackburne Arms stuck to what it does best; if only I hadn’t seen the words “gastro food” it could all have been soooooo different.

The Blackburne is a perfectly nice place, selling perfectly nice beer, staffed by utterly charming people, and turning out nothing-special food at nothing-special prices – not astronomic, but not gastronomic either.

Thirtysomething chaps sported three hundred quid specs and pink tops that, 10 years ago, only the hookers would have dared wear in that part of town.

A couple of years ago, new owners treated the handsome, 1930s building, sandwiched between conservation areas on the edge of Liverpool 8, to an all-over makeover. In the process, they created, above the pub, a small hotel which has received some very good reviews from ordinary punters. As, to be fair, has the food.

The Catharine Street pub’s one big room is roughly divided between diners and drinkers; the layout neatly redesigned to include clubby, cubbyholes, each one autonomous, yet part of the whole. Walls and floors are a higgle-piggle of soft pastels, stone flags, stripped boards here, a bit of carpet there. But it works.

Recent years have seen isolated attempts to gentrify the Liverpool 8 district, and there is a feeling here of the undesirables having been moved on. The old Blackburne’s clientele included a goodly number who might otherwise have been passing their evenings at the local social services hostel.

One wall is devoted to prints of affluent, earnest-looking blokes, and I got an uncanny feeling I had seen them before somewhere. As I turned to survey the room, there they were: the glad-to-be-greys, looking to part with some of their fat, final salary scheme pensions, and thirtysomething chaps in three hundred quid specs and pink tops that, 10 years ago, only the hookers would have dared to wear in that part of town.

Whatever you make of the company, this is a pleasant, peaceable place to pass a few hours. On a busy Friday night, the worst that was going to happen to us was being bored to death by a fellow drinker.

The wines were a hit and miss affair but my friend gave his Camra membership approval to the cask beers, among them Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and Cumberland Ale. I might not even have concerned myself with the food were it not for the sign outside the front door trumpeting “Luxury rooms. Gastro food”. With that comes a promise, expectations are raised, salivary glands activated. Spit without the sawdust.

Fail to deliver and there is a good way to fall. My fears stiffened when I checked the credentials of the chicken and the eggs. Back came the waiter’s answer: eggs free range, chicken corn fed but possibly not free range, adding, to the amusement of fellow diners: “Does that traverse anyone’s scruples?”

If I could have been bothered, I would have offered to trudge over his scruples, then explained that my query was as much about avoiding distress to my palate as my ethics. I won’t labour this: free range has flavour, the alternative doesn’t.

The only discernible taste in a chicken and chorizo linguine was that of the sausage, which had leaked to form an oily slick across the rest of the dish.

Smoked salmon omelette, from the specials, resembled a dry sponge, the result of overexposure to heat. It came with passable fries and bitter, undressed salad leaves. I could train next door’s dog to overcook an omelette and serve it up with two scraps of lettuce. Except the canine in question, who I once witnessed briefly burying his head in his owner’s Christmas dinner, before being hastily ejected from the room, would probably have licked the plate clean, thus sparing me the displeasure.Hummus and olives barely merit a mention.

Doubtless some punters are attracted in by the appeal to snobbery of so-called gastro-food but it’s not good enough to buy in a job lot of chorizo and lollo rosso because you think it sounds posh.

The Blackburne is a good pub with the potential to be great, but there is work to be done before I will stop being rude about the food.

Rating: 13/20
Buzz 3.5/5
Booze 3.5/5
Bar food 2/5
Bar staff 4/5
Address: Blackburne Arms,
24 Catharine Street, Liverpool
L8 7NL
0151 707 1249
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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Sir Howard WayMay 18th 2007.

Hookers? Do they have rugby players in Catharine Street now? When I lived there it was just prozzies and students.

xanadontMay 18th 2007.

Marvellous grub. One of the last place where you can get real fish and chips with homemade tartare sauce.The steak diane here is to die for and every single dish on the dessert menu is excellent value.They even offer a refund if you are not 100% delighted with the top rate nosh they fire out of their spotless kitchens.Go tomorrow (be early its the busiest day of the week)

Former L8 girlMay 18th 2007.

They moved them to Everton to gentrify the area when place like 60 Hope Street moved in developers saw an opportunity to make loads of money out of good housing association properties whose tenants gave the area its colour and vibrance. Knobheads live their now and I am glad they are all in negative equity.

Jon GardMay 18th 2007.

It's a great place and as commented, the staff are absolutely top-class.One of the first places to ban smoking too! I've found the food really pretty good the two times I've eaten in there, even if the roast was a little sparse.

Sir Howard WayMay 18th 2007.

Yes! The area was going further downhill the more moneyed arsewipes moved in! The decent people were mostly driven out.

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