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Restaurant review: The Clove Hitch

AA Grill gets knotted at Hope Street's latest restaurant

Published on October 28th 2010.

Restaurant review: The Clove Hitch

UNTIL very recently, the handsome Georgian town house that comprises Number 23 Hope Street, L1, was occupied by a certain Mexican restaurant, which opened in the days when people still used telephone boxes, and jump suits were worn without a hood and handcuffs. For the best part of three decades in between, it rarely transcended the mediocre.

The Clove Hitch Bar and Bistro actually refers to a type of knot but why is unclear. The menu bears a graphic of a firmly knotted knife and fork; is this a clue, or merely a discreet reminder to leave the cutlery behind when you go home?

The fact that El Macho nonetheless survived way beyond the typical life expectancy of a UK restaurant, and that it took the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression to finally finish it off, is testimony to the significance of location.

Remember also in your prayers, The Orchard, another victim of its overdraft. The Orchard blossomed but one summer, yet achieved a reputation, among those in the know, for good food prepared with imagination and masterly technique.

Trouble is, those in the know would struggle to pack out a phone booth, assuming they could fine one, and that's because The Orchard had one big problem; its location - a little out of the city centre on the way to nowhere in particular. You could drive past a dozen times without ever knowing it. Out of sight is out of pocket, and now it has gone.

Passing trade is vital for a restaurant seeking to establish itself before the bank loses patience. Restaurants thrive in the company of other restaurants. People are drawn to areas of activity and Hope Street has plenty to offer on that score. Had The Orchard managed to put down roots there it would surely have flourished.

These days, Hope Street has plenty of quality to go with the quantity, which adds to its prime-location appeal but puts pressure on newcomers to match those standards. Call me superstitious, but if I were opening a restaurant or bar, and I were picking a name for it, I would be inclined to avoid words that might tempt ill fate. “Problem”, “snag”, “hitch”, that sort of thing. Hitch: an unexpected difficulty, obstacle, delay, etc.

The Clove Hitch Bar and Bistro actually refers to a type of knot but why is unclear. The menu bears a graphic of a firmly knotted knife and fork; is this a clue, or merely a discreet reminder to leave the cutlery behind when you go home?

Perhaps the solidity associated with knots is meant to represent security of tenure, a statement of their intent to match the longevity of 23 Hope Street's previous incumbent. The trouble with this theory is that the clove hitch is not a particularly secure knot, as a perusal of the many websites devoted to knots, and uses thereof, confirms. Caution is called for by netknots.com lest the clove hitch “slip or come undone”, while realknots.com goes further. Without extra support, it warns, the clove hitch is “untrustworthy in any situation”. Oh dear.

The Clove Hitch's best feature is its rear end, a rather lovely terrace, its attractiveness heightened partly by fixtures such as a winding iron staircase, and partly by nature's endeavour. A barbecue is set up to sizzle and this looks the choice spot – greenhouse gases permitting – to sample a beer from a pretty good selection, among them three Clove Hitch Ales, courtesy of the Liverpool One Brewing Company.

Indoors at No. 23, the ground floor presents itself as a series of irregular shapes. Straight ahead, a small, square bar with high stools. Running down the back, two long rectangles, the length of each accentuated by two lines of tables, one either side, like a sitting for a GCSE economics exam.

Economics appear to have played a part in the conversion job. It is a good space, but not an easy one; creating coherence between this lot needs imagination and possibly the services of a good interior designer.

Instead, we are told, they did it themselves, and the square front room overlooking Hope Street typifies a place that feels unfinished and unsure of its purpose.

In one half, tables edge precisely against two walls; in the other a leather couch and a coffee table, accompanied by triangular pouffes, lounge unconvincingly. Alternate cream and white walls are largely bare; the circular remnants of a vent covered with sticky tape. Altogether, it feels like the sort of rented studio flat that makes you want to spend your evenings out.

Prices are eye-catchingly, disquietingly, low. At £6.95 a bottle, the house red is astonishingly cheap and I've had worse at twice the price, although juicy cherries did not, as promised, leap from the glass.

We have heard good reports about breakfast but the Broadway Breakfast – bacon, hash brown, egg, beans and pancake with maple syrup – only confirms my worst prejudices about Americans. The lunch menu includes 10 types of baguette, four of them vegetarian.

Elsewhere, the menu is also suffering a mild identity crisis, with contributions from Argentina to Austria, via Wales and Panathinaikos, while the distinction between “light bites” and “mains” is frequently uncertain, particularly, it seems, to the kitchen. For instance, if swordfish nicoise salad (£9.75) is a main course, is maple and ginger chicken with pitta, chips, salad and coleslaw (£5.75) merely a light bite?

Meanwhile, the 6oz steak burger with cheddar cheese, coleslaw and chips (£5.95) was among light bites on the lunchtime list, but had sneaked itself in among the mains on an evening menu we'd picked up a couple of weeks earlier.

Chicken schnitzel (£7.95) was missing from my friend's copy of the menu but not, unfortunately, from mine. The chicken, bland, short on bite, uniformly flat, with a thick, glutinous breaded coating, gave the impression that it had been created by a machine.

Accompanying sauerkraut was too limp, too sour. We were intrigued to see how they would present “a potato, rocket and watercress salad”. The answer was they didn't. Instead, a potato salad sat beside a rocket and watercress salad, the former crying out for a little of the sauerkraut's acidity, the latter so skimpily dressed it was almost indecent.

The steak burger at least appeared to have been formed by human hands, with a welcome coarse meatiness, but it had been overcooked and its modest proportions were underscored by its relationship with a bun several sizes too big for it, giving the impression that the meat had shrunk to half its original size. I'm sorry, but how hard is it to match a burger to a bun?

It came with chips, which would have benefited from an earlier change of oil, and coleslaw that lacked bite in every sense.

Service from the two waiting staff was excellent but – not their fault – our main courses took an awful long time to arrive considering there were only two other people eating, but may explain why the schnitzel was burnt around the edges.

The Liverpool Cheese Company provides the contents of the cheeseboard, which is encouraging. However, the bought-in desserts embraced all the usual suspects, plus a selection of cupcakes (£1.75 each), like “chocoholic”, which had a dryish sponge and a soft chocolate fudge topping that impugned its name.

In the absence of starters we had ordered, from the side dish selection, a plate of garlic bread (£1.95). My pal pulled a face. A critical deficiency of garlic, he noted.

Ah, I said, the garlic problem. Or, to put it another way, the clove hitch.

Breakdown:4.5/10 food
3.5/5 service
2/5 ambience
Address:The Clove Hitch
23 Hope Street,
L1 9BQ.
Tel. 0151 709 6574

Liverpool Confidential restaurant critics dine out unannounced and pick up their own bills.
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.

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

Knot niceOctober 22nd 2010.

The place is a shambles. Staff haven't got a clue what they're doing,and food is more miss than hit. We complained about something (which I very rarely do in a restaurant) and got completely ignored. Defo won't be returning.

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2010.

On my visit, I think they forgot to put any peppers in the peppercorn sauce and despite asking for a 'medium' steak, I swear it was still breathing!

EvilEddOctober 22nd 2010.

I've pooped in for lunch, and had an excellent 'gourmet' fish-finger sandwich. How can a fish-finger sandwich be 'gourmet', you may ask? I'm not quite sure, though they were very freshly made goujons )is that the right word?) of lovely white fish in a light batter just a touch heavier than tempura, and just right. A touch more seasoning wouldn't have gone amiss, but a dash of pepper and a bit of the horseradish mayo it was served with, and it was well tasty.

I like the decor. I agree it still needs to 'find it's identity', and get a bit slicker; but if it does, it'll be a welcome fixture on Hope St, IMO.

likenicethingsOctober 26th 2010.

Had dinner at this restaurant on Saturday evening, it was great staff more than helpful, food good and well presented. Cocktails tasted great too. One small issue of not being able to read blackboard clearly but not a problem as staff more than helpful. Would definately dine there again.

Kyle SlawsonOctober 26th 2010.

Had a great dinner here the other week. As they didnt have a childs meny the waiter said they would do a smaller portion for my son. He loved the fish goujons and chips. Have recommended to others who also had a great meal.

Great value for money and also a wide range of beers

StEndOctober 26th 2010.

Really impressed with this place, great value for money and good selection available on the menu, our meals were well presented and cooked perfectly, staff were friendly and quick, the bar is a hidden gem, great selection of bottled drinks available, a nice change of pace from your usual selection of generic bottled beers - well worth a visit.

Genuine customerOctober 26th 2010.

For fine Indian cuisine in air conditioned surrounding there is only once choice: Sultan's Palace. I and all my office, my relatives and my neighbours have many happy meal there and huge range of beers for stag night. Sultan's Palace, the number one choice, and I am most satisfied by this and will you be too.

notdavidbowieOctober 26th 2010.

I've eaten here a few times now and thoroughly enjoyed it each time - perfect for my friends and I who, as a group in their mid to late-20s, want a reasonablly-priced, tasty meal in a relaxed environment.

Love that Sultans Palace are blatantly spamming this review too. Won't be eating there now.

ObserverOctober 26th 2010.

Er...I am guessing that was a joke, David Bowie.

It regularly happens on Liverpool Confidential when a lot of glowing rants, written in blatant PR speak, suddenly appear on a not very glowing restaurant review.

Can't think why the naughty prankster has put it on here though!

AnonymousOctober 27th 2010.

I went opening night and have been back weekly ever since. The food is always very nice and the staff very helpful. The décor fits in well with the relaxed atmosphere.

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