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Restaurant review: The Everyman Bistro

Angie Sammons visits the king of the cheap eating places and spiritual home, while there's still plenty of time

Written by . Published on March 5th 2010.

Restaurant review: The Everyman Bistro

“A GREAT cafe with a theatre attached”.

Amid the raft of press cuttings, countless citations for its cheap eats downstairs, glittering praise for its dramatic creations up above, that's how one national newspaper writer summed up the Everyman complex not so long ago.

Any self respecting luvvie treading the boards might feel a bit wounded by such a theatrical notice. But perhaps they won't have to worry about being consigned to the shadows of a sniffy critic's appraisal much longer.

For just as today's newspapers are tomorrow's chip wrappers, in the not too distant future, if all goes to plan, the Everyman Bistro, as we know it, will be gone forever.

The whole building is set to be demolished in a £41m refurb. Taken down to the quick in a three- to four-year redevelopment project, and that includes the Ev.

A faithful re-creation is planned. There will be a “Bistro” somewhere in the new complex but it will be owned and managed by the theatre.

Paddy Byrne, founder and owner with Tim Byrne and Dave Scott, who bailed out the once-ailing theatre by buying the freehold in the 1990s, will have left the building. Ghosts of Hope Street past. Denim aprons hung up for good.

I'm sad about that and I can't get over it. The Ev was the first place I ever legally sipped beer, observed orange juice that wasn't Quosh, going around in a big glass chiller on the bar, and got up with the Lawnmower on Sunday nights.

On and off I've gone there all my life, I take my own boys there and I was looking forward to Paddy chucking them out in ten years' time, like he once frequently did their wayward mother, for trying and (don't tell anyone) succeeding to order alcoholic beverages under 18.

Yes, all right, it's just sentimentality. Change is good. It's progress and, as the Bunnymen would have it, Nothing Ever Lasts Forever.

So while myriad life-altering moments have occurred down in that big, noisy, made-to-stand-the-bomb cellar, with its characteristic smell of greasepaint and grub - which they'll never replicate - I've never gone there especially for the menu, or “food offering” as these things are now termed. Time then, to eat.

For those who have never descended its quarry tile stairs, the Everyman Bistro is counter culture in every sense, and not just the crowd of arty types who rub shoulders with all manner of professional looking suits and professional looking wastrels.

There are no waiters dancing attendance. You point at what you want off ever changing blackboards, your food is loaded up on a plate (and you do tend to get loads) and in the ping of a microwave, it reappears, piping, before your very eyes.

This was once very novel, but now is not without the odd detractor. In fairness, all the food is made fresh on the day (chef Tom Gill arrives in the wee small hours) and an awful lot of restaurants do reheat your food in microwaves. They just do it where you can't see, nor can you study what you're getting, in detail, first.

And they don't go home when it's all out on the counter either. The menu, all solid peasant food (pastas, rice dishes, stews, salads and non-meat dishes) evolves as the day goes on, stoking up the lunchtime, pre-and post-theatre crowds; the cheese as likely to change as often as the chalk board.

We arrived at the end of the lunch period but still found plenty to satisfy us. Vegetable and lentil soup (£2) is just the well seasoned thing for an unseasonally wintry day: a dense, steaming pool of carrots, courgettes

and leeks in a rich tomatoey base that hid a fog of lentils swimming in the depths.

Lasagne (£8.95) with a green salad that you dress yourself, is a good wodge of solid, rich, cheesy layers packed with chunks of mushroom, carrot and anything, it seems, to hand. They don't do kids menus in here so the Terrible Two both tucked into “adult” portions, devouring the lot and only speaking to give it 10 out of 10. Anything that can hold their undivided attention pretty much from start to finish, and isn't Family Guy, gets my vote.

Linguine (£8.95) came with meaty unstoned olives, plenty of spinach, sweet cherry tomatoes, capers, feta and Parmesan. Pasta dishes do not take kindly to reheating but the initial prep had taken this into account and the quality of the ingredients largely overcame any disadvantage from not being made that minute.

Is it as fantastic value as the cheap eat guides say? The lasagne price is identical to Piccolino, who arguably make the best in town, and there you get the service to go with it (although they might bump the final bill up by offering you a bowl of olives and some garlic bread, the minute you sit down). The linguine is the same sort of price as ASK. But these are big portions, devised with care and attention, which shows, and local ingredients, like Claremont Farm veg, give an unbeatable advantage in the freshness stakes.

Chocolate and apricot cake with a solid chocolate crust (£3.90) was moist and lovely. Taking in the refectory surroundings and circumstances, £2.90 might have felt less of a rip off. On the other hand, for a quid less you might well be eating a Costco cake and not one created there that day by someone who clearly knew what they were doing.

A good deeply-chocolatey brownie (£3.90) came with a large slick of rich cocoa sauce and cream. Excellent. But the best was a fabulous Greek custard and cranberry filo slice (£3.90). The perfect Christmas pudding. Please make these all year round. Please.

And they might, if you ask. I rang the other week, anonymously, wondering if the scouse (featured in the book Home Grown on my desk) was on that day. No it wasn't, said whoever answered the phone, but if I wanted it tomorrow, could I give them a day's notice and they'd make it?

As we were preparing to go at 4pm-ish, a huge new selection of food was going up. Stuffed peppers, bangers and mash, braised lamb shanks and more. Where else around these parts would you be offered Thai curry featuring local free range chicken for under a tenner?

Paddy occasionally runs sell-out supper clubs on top of all the regular service. You pay a set fee and get wined and fine dined for the night with table service in the Third Room. Why doesn't he do them more often?

It would take too much out of the kitchen staff, he says. He doesn't want to overwork them like that. They might not be able to do their day jobs and it would show in the food.

In the Liverpool restaurant business, the Everyman Bistro has had many imitators but few have matched it.

Perhaps everyman Paddy's passion is why.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
3/5 Service
3/5 Ambience
Address: The Everyman Bistro and Bars,
5-9 Hope Street, Liverpool
L1 9BH
0151 708 9545

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

Fanny CradockJanuary 9th 2009.

My god! Even a Frenchman wouldn't eat that!

AnonymousJanuary 9th 2009.

What a cracker!

DigJanuary 9th 2009.

Talking of fast food places and bad service. The worst service I ever received was at KFC in St.Helens a good few years back. It was the 1st time I'd ever set foot in a KFC and didn't have clue. Asked the lad on the counter if they do a variety type meal I could have for up to a fiver as that's all I had on me. He replied 'Yeah, 6 or 8 piece?'. I said '8'. He asked if I would like a drink. I asked for an orange. He asked if I wanted a large one, I said yes please again thinking I'm getting one hell of a meal for a fiver here. He asked if that was all, I replied it was and he said 'that'll be £6.95 please'.

SiobhanJanuary 9th 2009.

I revisited the Bistro after a few years absence. I used to eat there more regularly when I worked in the theatre. It used to strike me as pricey considering there was no waiting on service and everything was prepared in advance and reheated. However, at the point where the Bistro really comes into it's own (an hour before curtain up upstairs) I was always elsewhere, either upstairs or at the Playhouse. You go anywhere else where there a queue out the door and you'll be given an hour to wait for a table. Just before Christmas, my friend and I arrived at the Bistro at 6.55pm queued, ate (a really tasty dinner) and were in our seats for 7.25pm. It's so rare to have somewhere that offers quick, substantial, healthy food and, as pointed out above, I'm sure many restaurant engage in a level of preparation in advance that you just don't know about.Despite my affection for it, I know theatre will really benefit from modernisation, although many of the problems with the building may not be apparent to the public. I absolutely agree with the Bluecoat comment though. I have eaten anything more than a packet of crisps since it was redone and I used to be a regular.

AnonymousJanuary 9th 2009.

I hope this doesn't turn into another Bluecoat moment!

le BeakJanuary 9th 2009.

Mais oui ! J'ai vu cet hôtel Malmaison dans le site web ‘Liverpool Confidential'! Les hommes que les invités ne portent pas des cravattes, ils ressemblent à une foule rugueuse. N'est aucun plâtre sur les murs nus de la brique rugueuse.

Egon TozstJanuary 9th 2009.

"The Mal"? What's that?

McMurdoJanuary 9th 2009.

McDonald's sells meat? Oh I suppose it does if you count minced cow udders as 'meat'. Their chips aren't even made out of real potatoes.

MissybJanuary 9th 2009.

Ha ha Good point ! Still prefer everyman to the udders and the pretend chips that Ronald and his miserable crowd sell !

realJanuary 9th 2009.

Liverpool to be destroyed in the name of "regeneration"?

MISSYBJanuary 9th 2009.

The everyman always gives me lovely large welcomed portions of fresh salads, quiches, lasgane and pizza. I hardly think McDonalds and its dry meat and awful service are any comparison with The Everyman. I wouldn't suggest taking someone there for a impressive first date but for Saturday afternoon lunch, I have always found it reasonably priced and with a good selection of healthy options and deserts.

DigJanuary 9th 2009.

C'est un hotel appele 'Le Bad House'.

DigJanuary 9th 2009.

Sorry to digress from The Everyman review. If you register with The Mal you will get a voucher for 2 courses for 2 people, a bottle of wine & tea or coffee. All for just £29. An absolute bargain if you ask me. I'll definately be using a voucher or 3.

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