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Peninsula Dining Rooms - restaurant review

Neil McQuillian finds a new reason for New Brighton

Written by . Published on November 12th 2011.


Peninsula Dining Rooms - restaurant review

LET'S strip it back to the bare bones, to the Platonic ideal: that’s not the Wirral over there, that is mighty, windswept peninsula. It Tarzan, we Jane. 

Think of Owen Wilson’s novelist character in The Royal Tenenbaums who worries away at the word “wildcat”, whispering it over and over, enunciating the syllables in a variety of ways as if they might evoke something profound. 

Jam roly poly with 'real custard' was like shoving your face into a big plump pillow. If such puddings make you think of Ambrosia, then it ought only to be of the original, small 'a', God-food kind

The Wirral can certainly do Kate Bush “deep” – Thurstaston beach, Hilbre Island – but it’s not overburdened with location managers brainstorming “rugged”. 

Picture 001
With a little more raising of the water levels, Wirralians might be cosying up to one another on a different geographic curiosity: an isthmus. That word you do have to say over and over, because it comes out all spitty first time. 

New Brighton is not the peninsula’s most dramatic corner. Even the human behaviour captured by Martin Parr’s The Last Resort is mostly a thing of the past. But here, at the restaurant named for the region’s defining physical characteristic, the food is seriously diverting, and the name Ross Gray worth repeating. 

For those hooked on the silent moments as reality show contestants wait to find out who’s made the cut (are these ever-lengthening periods a case of pop eating itself?) the fact that Gray was a finalist in ‘Wirral Chef of the Year 2011’ may add a little further dramatic frisson. 

Peninsula 23
When telephoning to book I’d asked if the head chef would be cooking that night. “Why do you want to know if the head chef’s in?” came the reply, from the head chef, to judge by his urgent tone. 

“Just to know. I’ve heard a lot about him,” I’d said. 

“I’m here every night,” Gray had responded. “You can’t get rid of me.” 

The exchange had a slight edge to it. But when we arrived, rarely have I felt so welcome at a restaurant. 

Around a third full this Wednesday evening, we had a range of tables to choose from. As we sat down, Gray came over with the menus. We were after a beer. Listed were John Smiths and Guinness and an invitation to ask about their selection of bottles. He cited a few lagers but we fancied ale. His response was music to our ears. “Yes I have some. They’re free.” 

Peninsula 13
Exsqueeze me? It seems they currently have a lot of samples from the Liverpool Organic Brewery and, on the understanding that they would take a snifter to try themselves when pouring, we could have one of our choice for free. I felt like Homer Simpson. 

To accompany the drinks we were brought a fusion of the world’s two greatest foodstuffs: curry-flavoured popcorn. It was a fine, light appetiser.

When we’d placed our food orders out came another nibble – a couple of slices of homemade fruit and nut bread, griddled, with a sort of whipped truffle butter. It’s not just that they’re hard to come by that truffles are potent – their aroma is evasive, so you end up chasing after it, like a name on the tip of your tongue.

Gray is keen on gluten-free bread and other produce, and encourages guests to ask what’s available – perhaps something to mention when you book. 

Peninsula 12
We’d had a feed already and so far it had all been free. It’s a fantastic way to run a restaurant, where the commerce feels secondary to the coming together of an enthusiastic craftsperson and a receptive audience. 

Our starters hadn’t looked like knock-outs written down: we’d gone for haggis with potato rosti and a fried egg (£6.50), and crispy mushrooms with blue cheese mayonnaise and rocket (£6.25).

But the photos will give a sense of how well executed they were. If these little numbers are from the Gray repertoire, then he certainly learnt to play them tight as can be.



The batter on the chunks of Portobello mushroom was pretty heavy duty, but expertly done. The blue cheese mayonnaise sang. Half the pleasure of my haggis dish was playing with it, dismantling this little parcel of goodness. The eating was fun too, especially with the thin, homemade brown sauce puddling into the yolk and grainy haggis.

Peninsula 06
The menu is reassuringly brief: six each of starters, mains and puddings. Excepting the ribeye steak (£15.95/17.50), the most expensive main is £12.25. 

Upsetting the 6-6-6 symmetry is the handful of chalkboard specials.

Among these was my main of lamb with a white bean purée and chargrilled aubergine that had a rich Heathcliffy darkness that got me feeling like the aforementioned Kate Bush on the Wuthering Heights video. 

From the printed menu my companion chose a pumpkin, white bean and spinach curry (£11.25). This was a light dish which concentrated on letting the vegetables speak for themselves. Nor was it a case of chucking a few spices together and calling it a curry – Gray told us it was a recipe that a former colleague passed on to him. 

Peninsula 04
The five sides (£2.50-£2.75) are an interesting bunch: chips; bread basket; Lyonnaise potatoes; spinach and peas with chilli and garlic oil, and mixed salad with microgreens. Wine runs from £13.75 by the bottle or £3.85 for a glass. 

In keeping with the warm welcome, there’s a certain domestic feel to the interior – simple wooden tables that make you think "kitchen", whether or not you’ve seen one like this in a home, and soft furnishings in a purple and mauve palette.

But let your eyes soar above the level of bums and eating and chatter for a vision of Wirral as peninsula – wall-mounted photographs capture local landmarks like Leasowe lighthouse, Ss Peter and Paul church in New Brighton and what looks like Bidston windmill, with startling crispness against stark skies. 

Peninsula 02
The unusual diversity of the pudding list (all £5.25) is further testament to Gray’s passion. It’s worth naming a couple that we didn’t have: vanilla panna cotta with griottine cherries, cherry brandy glaze and orange shortbread biscuit; chocolate brownie with orange ice cream and chilli syrup. 

We went old school. Jam roly poly with “real custard” was as good as you’d hope, like shoving your face into a big plump pillow. If such puddings make you think of Ambrosia then it ought only to be of the original, small "a", God-food kind. 

I tried the rum baba, which came with chargrilled pineapple and mascarpone. It was fantastic, like an enormous baklava – I couldn’t finish it. The sole disappointment was the stale-tasting espresso. 

Peninsula 18
There are all manner of offers throughout the week, with two courses for either £15.75 or £17.95 at different times. Gray is a dynamic operator: he runs cookery classes and special events.



We slipped away from the wily, windy peninsula, back to our murky pool.

I’ll be back, Ross, let me in-a-your window.


ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and the company picks up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.

Rating:

18/20

Breakdown:

Food 9/10
Service 5/5
Ambience 4/5

Address:

Peninsula Dining Rooms
3 Grosvenor Road,
Wallasey,
Wirral CH45 2LW

0151 639 8338


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it; 6-9 get a DVD; 10-11 if you must; 12-13 if you’re passing; 14-15 worth a trip; 16-18 very good to exceptional; 19-20 As good as it gets. 

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

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on November 12th 2011.
Staff
Angie SammonsNovember 12th 2011.

Sounds lovely. Wish I'd gone myself. All I'm down for is kebabs in Old Swan

AnonymousNovember 12th 2011.

Great review Neil!

Colette ForrestNovember 15th 2011.

Why do you think you got the freebies? You were obviously sussed out after asking about the chef over the phone! And do you think nobody noticed you taking pics of the dishes? Don't apply for MI5!

Can't take some people anywhereNovember 15th 2011.

Hmm, I've been there and had freebies too, and I'm nothing. It's what they do in posh restaurants, Colette

Ross GrayNovember 22nd 2011.

Colette we have a couple of bottles left if you would like me to save you some
We have given a full case out and actually had a couple of comments on trip advisor they came to us free so why would I make money on them ??
Using it as Market research
See you soon

Absinthe & TurksJanuary 25th 2014.

I've eaten here, the food was lovely and I was treated like a VIP.

Ramsey CampbellJanuary 26th 2014.

We've also always had a fine time at the Peninsula - we're additionally lucky to live close by.

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I will visit this place once the management and staff have got their act in order.

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