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Restaurant review: Marco Pierre White's The Swan Inn

As Merseyside is ignored in Michelin's new Eating in Pubs guide, Neil McQuillian sticks his neck out at the *star man's gaff

Published on September 20th 2010.

Restaurant review: Marco Pierre White's The Swan Inn

PUFFING out its chest beside a whooshing dual carriageway somewhere between Maghull and Ormskirk, Marco Pierre White‘s "Marco Pierre White's The Swan Inn" takes pains to ensure you won’t mistake it for the sort of quasi-rural pub that might, say, microwave its meals or use industrially-produced stock cubes or something appalling like that.

The roast beef dinner was flawless. The carrots were pureed to within a atom’s breadth of causing a nasty explosion and the Yorkshire had ballooned grotesquely into something approximating an observatory telescope

Hell no. Its outside walls are branded reassuringly with the great man’s name - the first British chef to earn three Michelin stars and the youngest in the world to have ever done so at that time, blah blah - and the reception desk is dominated by a full-length portrait of him in a dark suit, open-necked shirt and chequered Converse standing next to a graffitied wall. His bashful, eyes-down expression isn’t going to fool anyone: MWP is top dog round this place, even if he isn’t here.

Except, of course, when there are two enormous rottweilers outside. And it just so happened that there were, so big and perfect they looked like they’d been spawned in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Their owner was talking to two chefs who were having a fag on a bench outside – just what you want to see. As we walked by they reared up and slobbered and snarled. That got the dogs started and they heaved at their chain, baring their teeth, barking, the owner’s feet sliding on the gravel as he restrained them.

Was this MPW’s doing? He doesn’t like customers who complain, that’s for sure. A pre-emptive strike? Were those picnic benches over there, or stocks? We hurried inside. My mobile phone proclaimed "No service".

From dripping fangs to a beaming smile, we were treated promptly and courteously by the receptionist, motivated perhaps by the two-foot Marco at her shoulder.

Taking in the surroundings - exposed floorboards, mirrored room dividers, white table cloths - the overall impression is of quality and solidity, undermined only by bland, greyish walls, hung everywhere with political cartoons. If food is as much about the seeing as the tasting then what strange alchemy is he after by sticking a naked John Major up on the wall? It certainly impacts on the atmosphere.

The Sunday menu offers two courses at £14.50 or three courses for £18.50. Both starters came peeking and barely visible through a mound of coriander. Pressed ham knuckle terrine, pea puree and walnut dressing had a crumbliness that didn’t sit well with the jelly and even though everyone knows that peas and ham are meant to be together they stubbornly ignored each other on this occasion.

The chicken in the Caesar salad was smoked and this flavour dominated the whole dish like the rottweilers surely waiting for us outside, overpowering the sharp yappiness of the Parmesan with ease. Not a fair fight, so what’s the point in putting them together? The junior diner - albeit fresh from a life-and-death experience - declared her battered fish "the best I’ve ever had", although she followed this up with, "I think ‘cos I put salt on it." Her ice cream, too, was fabulous and - strangely - "chewy".

The roast beef dinner was flawless. The carrots were pureed to within a atom’s breadth of causing a nasty explosion and the Yorkshire had ballooned grotesquely into something approximating an observatory telescope. The beef was so tender, so meatily ripe, it seemed to have tumbled off the joint and onto the plate of its own free will. It was as if the dogs had already softened it up for me. Well, if we can massage cows… Rottweilers, after all, were originally used to haul cartfuls of meat along the streets and Butchers Lane is just round the corner from The Swan Inn.

For a man who has used his celebrity to lend glamour and credibility to the roast dinner short cuts/cop-outs that are Knorr stock cubes and Bernard Matthews turkeys this was a hell of a plateful. Although, for future reference, that Yorkshire was a little too deformed for Aunt Bessie’s. Thank God.

Fried sea bass fillet with spinach, new potatoes and caviar butter sauce was hard to fault. The only low in the whole meal was the apple strudel that followed. The pastry was hard and the custard was suspiciously blistered against the edge of the dish. Surely not a microwave? The wine list is mighty, with bottles starting at £15.95 and glasses at £4.25.

MPW touts The Swan as "affordable glamour", though there was nothing glamorous about the dogs or that dessert.

Although we came away happier than the unimpressed-looking folk who feature on the restaurant’s website, it seems a shame - especially in light of Michelin completely overlooking Merseyside in its new Eating Our in Pubs 2011 guide - that the man whose three fading stars are still enough to make him saleable as a brand couldn’t impose himself enough on his pub to make it worth travelling up motorways for, not just dual carriageways.

Liverpool Confidential reviewers always dine out unannounced and always pick up their own bills.

Breakdown:6.5/10 food
4.5/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address:Marco Pierre White - The Swan Inn
2, Springfield Road
L39 6ST
Tel: 01695 421450

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,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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

Plum McDuffSeptember 9th 2010.

Barry Bragg's restaurant reviews in the Wirral Globe are just like this!

KSeptember 9th 2010.

i have been to the swan many a times and every single time the service and the food gets better and better. I can tell you for fact that there certainly are no rottweillers to greet you at the door, its a car park and sorry to burst your bubble but people walk thru a car park, as you can imagine its no prison. I think if you listen to one comment about the swan then in my eyes its your loss.Enjoy.

GingermopSeptember 9th 2010.

As others have suggested, walking up to the entrance does inspire one with great confidence but inside it is a pleasant environment. The night we went we found the service impeccable: the waiters remembered who had ordered what and that the wine had been requested to accompany the main course. The food was generally very good but given that we were eating a la carte we would want it to be an experience. We would go again.

Professor ChucklebuttySeptember 9th 2010.

The cheese selection doesn't look up to much, although I used to have a Rat visit me during one summer that..........

La-z-boySeptember 9th 2010.

Neil's first impression - scary rotweillersOur first impression - dead pine tree in the centre bed of the courtyard (still there when we visited again 2 months later). Service was improving by the time of second visit - and food was good.

lpkSeptember 9th 2010.

I'm sure I saw that cheese plate at a wedding in Formby Hall once.

AnonymousSeptember 9th 2010.

I like the way it says, "Keep Ear" by the picture of the vicious dog.

ADSeptember 9th 2010.

Its not just the cheese its the bloody Jacobs crackers its served with - you'd think they'd make some effort for christ sake.

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