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Restaurant review: Honey I cooked the kid

AA Grill takes an old goat out on the peninsula

Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: Honey I cooked the kid

BAZ rang. Let’s go out on the peninsula, he demanded, which I assumed was either code for having a few, or a reference to our long-standing intention to eat out on the Wirral. In the event, it was both.

And so to Julian’s Restaurant, about which good reports had filtered through. It’s not cheap, but I thought Baz might need cheering up. He usually does. Five minutes of Baz’s private life and we all need a drink.

Baz’s life is best not discussed within earshot of the very young. It’s hard enough for adults 

to take. His love life is a bit like a painting by my four-year-old – mostly black, nothing like real life, and very, very messy

Julian’s is on Birkenhead Road in Hoylake, a town where the antique shops don’t have prices and 50 per cent of the housing stock is owned by people who take a job in Liverpool on the understanding that they can leave there at the end of the day.

Julian Davies had the good sense to marry an accountant before finally opening a place of his own. With 30-odd years cheffing behind him (the CV includes Chester’s Grosvenor Hotel and the Wheatsheaf in Raby) he can probably do the cooking with his eyes closed. A good job too because, judging by the menu, he doesn’t have time to sleep in a bed. Page after page of it: three kinds of home-made soup, four kinds of freshly-baked bread, different vegetables daily (beetroot deep fried in tempura batter, anyone?), and seven choices of sauce with the steak, for goodness sake.

The menu is the kind of size you would normally regard with deep suspicion. But by the time we left, at nine-ish, I practically had to elbow my way past the convivial crowd of diners, and this on an average Wednesday, so he’s doing something right.

“I’m old fashioned,” he later explains. “In the old days, every a la carte menu had a page of entrees, a page of grills and a page of fish.” Yes, and an army of chefs to make it all, I bet. But at Julian’s, there is just Julian and (his assistant) Jason.

The boss is a biker; I’ve seen him in his leathers and the gents is plastered with pictures of two-wheeled wonders. Elsewhere, surrealist art covers the walls of a smallish, square, and otherwise plain and simple dining room. Harleys and Dalis.

I asked if the chicken was free range and nearly ruined everything. Well, I always ask that, along with where’s the toilets and can we get some drinks first. Julian appeared from the kitchen: no, he tells us, the chicken’s not free range, but it is from Sainsbury’s and it is (as a result of being corn-fed) yellow, which is what he wanted.

I hope he doesn’t choose a new bike that way. If he’s going to take the chicken’s picture and put in on the wall, yellow would go nicely with the Dalis. But if the plan is to eat it, I’ll take any colour he’s got as long as it has a taste of freedom. And you really can taste it.

But, hang on, the yellow chicken is a red herring. The exception, not the rule. For, talk some more, and we discover that Julian is as close to nature as any chef in the area; free range, organic and, best of all, wild are all in his vocabulary and he’s the first person the local gamekeepers ring when they’ve bagged a brace of pheasants. Out of the field and into the frying pan.

You could still smell the gunsmoke on the saddle of rabbit (£7.75): fresh, lean and meaty, with lovely sweet figs doused in an aged balsamic reduction.

Baz nodded appreciatively over York ham mousse (£6.75) topped with a runny (free range) egg and ringed by a rich smoked black pudding and hollandaise sauce.

Cheshire kid and Newcastle Brown Ale (£16.95) sounded like an ASBO waiting to happen but turned out to be one of the best things I’ve eaten in a restaurant. Ever. A stunning casserole of year-old goat meat with winter squashes, celery and potato, brown ale and brown sugar served in a pastry tartin was the culinary equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket.

There were more Cheshire kids on the next table – but these were happily feasting from the children’s menu (that’s all home made, too).

Families in restaurants normally gladden my heart but I was with Baz and Baz’s life is best not discussed within earshot of the very young. It’s hard enough for adults to take. His love life is a bit like a painting by my four-year-old – mostly black, nothing like real life, and very, very messy.

I asked Baz to scribble a few notes about his main course. “Orkney queen scallops (£18.95) were a regal gathering of majestic molluscs, each crowned with a sliver of chorizo sausage,” he began. Well, that’s what you get when you ask someone to talk scallops .

Vegetables are on the side and aren’t extra but featured unseasonal asparagus and baby corn. But Davies assures us the veg is almost always seasonal, adding that the asparagus and corn were left over from a stir fry and “you don’t waste anything”.

From an interesting wine list, a bottle of Albert Bichot pinot noir (£19.95) was exactly what we hoped – light enough not to mask Baz’s scallops, but standing its ground against the casserole.

Puddings – chocolate and jaffa torte, served standing on end, and raspberry parfait with mulled wine. topped with a sugar basket – were nearly (but not quite) as good as they looked.

We end the night on a high. One bird with questionable taste aside, we can find nothing to fault on the menu, or our plates. Baz, meantime, announces he has found a woman willing to devote herself to him, which is terrific news, though clearly she is another bird with questionable taste.

Rating:17/20
Breakdown:9/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Julian's
20 Birkenhead Road Hoylake
Wirral
0151-632 6241
Nearest rail station: Meols

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

Ken DoddJanuary 18th 2008.

By Jove, that Bandage chap deserves a knighthood!

Great Crosshall StreetJanuary 18th 2008.

I've never been to Julian's but this is a most entertaining review which makes me think a day out on the Wirral Line might be in order. At least it will be a few hours away from the awful big dig and most of the people responsible for that probably live in Hoylake anyway.

Steve SmithJanuary 18th 2008.

This is one of the Wirral's best place to eat. Much better than snooty Fraiche. Good spot Grill. Don't fancy your date though!

OnionJanuary 18th 2008.

I do believe Confidential is a favourite among the chattering classes of Broad Oak and anyone else on the way up Edge Lane.

sageJanuary 18th 2008.

No, but we do have an incredibly dry sense of humour, some of which is a bit 'in' admittedly, but it all adds to the discreet richness on offer.

GordoJanuary 18th 2008.

are you all mentalists on here?

AnonymousJanuary 18th 2008.

great review, it made me smile! Julian's is good but so is Fraiche, they are different dining experiences.

Graham BandageJanuary 18th 2008.

That goat reminds me of the chip pie, one of Wigan's greatest contributions to global cuisine. A pastry case filled with hot chips and smothered in gravy. Mmm. It's nice to see that Mr Julian has seen fit to pay tribute to this seminal dish. That Baz chap sounds quite clever too. I wonder if he's the same gentleman who eats out with Glyn Mon Hughes off the Daily Post and always speaks in perfect sentences when he's asked his opinion on the meal. You know: 'I asked my companion, Mark, what he thought about the venison and rhubarb vindaloo. He said: "The venison has been well hung and the rhubarb acts as the perfect counterpoint, while the compost and mud confit adds an intriguing earthiness."'

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