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Best of British

Room in Castle Street should be packed out every night, says Angie Sammons, who finally gets around to reviewing it

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.


Best of British

WHEN in Spain, if you are in the construction industry, you tend to start the day rather differently to a builder here.

Breakfast (home-roasted peanuts and a handful of olives) is washed down with a beer to set things up.

Building is hot, thirsty work, so no hod can be carried in any hand unless it is balanced by a cerveza in the other. And while everything might stop for tea on One Park West, our Andalusian friends take a breather mid morning with a brandy-laced coffee, ignited first, you understand, to burn off the booze.

Noon brings tapas and beers. Lunch at three, a feast, with a carafe of wine and more liquid digestifs.

And then the drive back to the site; lashings more beer to wet the whistle and home to the Penendes, the Spanish grape that's not for sharing. And, as every good senora knows, a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. That is how the other half live.

My friend is telling me this with some glee as we look at the “British menu with a twist”, otherwise known as the USP of Room in Castle Street. They have just returned from Spain. One of those people whose family (solicitors) are lucky enough to have a second pad and, depending on where you stand, aren't involved in the wrong side of the law. This is how another other half live.

Most of us must content ourselves with one abode and Torremolinos in the summer. But long gone are the days of Monty Python, Watney's Red Barrel and pie and mash. We have moved on, and now consider ourselves people of the world with a £3.99 supermarket tempranillo and a marked down pizza in front of Britain's Got Talent.

No. Britain has not got talent. Not as far as its cuisine has traditionally been concerned. Room is on a mission to make you forget all that.

Lucky then, that we have one in Liverpool. It's tiny, as chains go (Leeds, Manc etc) but here Room occupies a big room. Former bank, top of Castle Street. Beautifully photogenic in the day, and should be packed at night.

But it often isn't, and this is a puzzle because the food is frequently excellent, as is the service and the value. Is it being too twisty? Maybe people don't know about it, or don't get it. But they really should.

Nothing is quite how it seems on the Room menu. So if it says Beans on Toast, don't expect a can of tipped-out Heinz.

No. Beans on toast (£5.50) is actually two delicious little toasted pockets of melted goats cheese, hiding a small ladle of haricot beans in a light tomato sauce, some leaves and the most delicious beetroot you'll come across. I hate beetroot with a passion. But these, braised in their own pickle and liquor of juniper berries, coriander seeds, white wine vinegar and sugar, are something else.

Cold teriyaki beef (£7) comes in marbled slices and is all the better for it. The flaked, salt beef terrine on the side, infused with Korean kimchi gives it a real Far East kick and returned me to places not visited in years.

“Beetroot is good for your liver,” announces the friend, whose ongoing knowledge of alcohol related subjects is surpassed only by a formidable ability to consume it. Those builders must have been staggered, in every sense, I remark.

The wine list is extensive and split into

sections with titles like “cheeky reds”, “richly textured”, and “aromatic”.

Yes, they do the lovely New Zealand Cloudy Bay at £57 a pop, but the Redwood Pass Sauvignon Blanc, from the same neck of the New World ( £27), is as similar in terms of its citrusy steeliness as the price tag is clearly not. So we get one of them.

Stroganoff, made with a loin of rare breed pork, is ridiculously good value (£14.50) given the attention that's gone into it. Sitting atop a layered potato and paprika cream gratin, and encircled by wild mushrooms, the meat is succulent and melting in its traditional sauce of mushrooms, brandy and cream.

Similarly, “Fish Fingers”, is not something Captain Birdseye would instantly recognise. This is two things: an elongated fish cake made from smoked haddock, and salt-coley cooked in milk and bay leaves, shallots and lemon, dried off and fried off in the lightest mash; next to it sits roasted halibut and fennel a la greque, with a carrot puree, a tarragon and coriander sauce, and more, a tomato concasse. An imaginative dish which worked on almost every contrasting taste and texture level I could think of.

It would have been rude to get chips with this (£2.95) , but we do. They are all right, OK, with their aioli for dipping, but we have been spoilt already and they remain the only thing left at the end of this. Actually, the green beans (£2.95) largely survive too. Billed as served with sweet chilli, the sweet chilli appeared to have taken the night off.

Farmhouse cheeses with quince jelly (£7) are an interesting and ever changing mix of artisan varieties, nicely presented. Eton Mess (£5), is a delectable and generous sundae glass of strawberries, meringue pieces and scattered strawberries. Burmester tawny port (£4.60) from a trio to choose from, and a good Chateau Belingard Monbazillac (£4.70) send the puddings off in style. The espresso (£1.75) is good too.

Maybe Britain has talent after all.

The service, under the eye of Mathew Kelly, a man who goes to places like Le Gavroche on his busman's holidays, is pitched just right. Go and ask them lots of questions. Talk to them and distract them. For everybody is extremely knowledgeable about the food and the booze, good humoured and helpful without assuming that you can't lift a bottle by yourself.

They have obviously met those Spanish builders.

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

AndySeptember 19th 2008.

Another fantastically well written review. You are on tip top form at the moment!

A. E. ScousemanSeptember 19th 2008.

So why does the sign so resemble a set of brass knuckles? That's what's always put me off.

born-in-bootleSeptember 19th 2008.

sounds bloody good, and when I am finished with my degree, hope it is still up and running for massive celebration...

AnonymousSeptember 19th 2008.

Hear! hear!

Dinner at eightSeptember 19th 2008.

I don't think there's any chance of it not being up and running. Room is a surprisingly good place to eat. I've didn't used to automatically think of it if someone asked me where they should go. Now I make a mental note to do just that. It's not half bad.

SalSeptember 19th 2008.

Room also has a bar in the White Hart Hotel, Lincoln...

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