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Restaurant review: Ziba

AA Grill finds a mixed bag in the restaurant that night time forgot

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Ziba

THE little card accompanying the bill offered a 20 per cent discount. Great, we thought. No, said the waiter, that's 20 per cent off your next meal. It doesn't say that, I argued. Nevertheless, he insisted.

Baz, not one to let a bargain slip through his fingers, piped up. Why not give us 20 per cent off tonight, anyway? It would be a nice gesture, a good bit of public relations. After all, my friend observed, we are the only customers in the restaurant.

"I've got 18 people in there," countered the waiter, jerking a thumb at the party in a private room.

Now, maybe it's just us, but this did sound the teensiest, weensiest bit complacent, especially when you consider we were only there to check the place out and thus not even real customers, which meant the restaurant was, effectively, empty. At 8.30pm on a Friday night. Admittedly, it's January and we're all suffering from recession depression, but an hour earlier we were staring through the windows of Las Iguanas in Liverpool One, struggling to spot an unoccupied table.

On the face of it Ziba, and the Racquet Club hotel that houses it, has everything required to be a Liverpool success story – like a distinguished history as a gentlemen's sports club founded in Gladstone's time, a suitably stately interior, and owners with an impressive track record in the hospitality industry.

Local feathers may have been ruffled in their ultimately abortive attempt to gentrify the Belvedere pub in Sugnall Street, but the Ainscough family business has enjoyed notable successes, among them the former Number Seven restaurant and delicatessen in Falkner Street (they still own the deli) and more recently the Eagle and Child pub in Parbold, about which we hear only good things.

Yet, all is not so well in Chapel Street. Reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor are, to say the least, variable, from downright woeful to so utterly gushing – "not only did they cater to our every single whim, the whole experience was amazing" – that an evil cynic might suggest they were written by an interested party.

When Ziba was in Berry Street, it pretty much ruled the roost; its star was ascendant and the competition was sparse. Now there are nearly as many restaurants as there are Standards Board investigations of city councillors, but Ziba does not appear to have moved with the times. Rather, it seems to have lost track of time altogether as its own website is still describing the Racquet Club as Ziba's "new" home, five and a half years after it moved.

This is the same website that claims the restaurant is open until midnight, six days a week. Liverpool Confidential's ed has tried, and failed, to eat there twice previously: once when she turned up on spec at 8.30pm to be told they were shut; and again when she rang and asked if she could book a table for a similar time that evening. Not really, they said, because if there was nobody else in, the kitchen staff would have gone home by then.

The first thing you note about the place is the handsome, mile-high front doors. Straight down for the bar and dining area, an elegant space, long

and tall, which is great when you're packing them in, but tends to accentuate an unpopulated room.

The menu contains no surprises – no mention of free range, wild or organic (if that sort of thing bothers you) - and not a lot of local produce, although they appear to have a bulk order arrangement with a certain farm north of Preston - Goosnargh chicken livers, Goosnargh duck breast, Goosnargh chicken breast.

Most of the stocks in trade of what restaurants call "modern British" food are there. Pan-roasted pigeon breast and red cabbage with apple compote and juniper jus (£6.25) was a welcome deviation from that line; unfortunately the apple sauce may as well have come out of a jar and the pigeon was tough, making me wonder if it was caught at the Pier Head (the pigeons are hard bastards down there – they have to be, to keep the seagulls off their food) which would at least bolster the proportion of locally sourced produce. Sauteed chicken livers (£6.50) were okay but looked a little lost under an Everest of rocket.

Pan-fried salmon came with saffron potato and nice sauteed spinach (£14.95). The fish, well cooked with a good texture, was a little bland, but given a huge lift by an excellent chive and lemon cream sauce.

Braised lamb Henry (£17.95), on the pricey side for a cheap cut, came with a good fruity sauce and dauphinois potatoes which gave the impression of having been cooked in advance, only not enough. Broccoli was very good; Chantenay carrots, on the other hand, were a little hard, their absence of flavour proving all that's Gallic is not gold.

Baz could not be persuaded to eat dessert. I did, then wished I'd not bothered after my bread and butter pudding (£6.50) turned up with a rather rubbery crust on it. All in all, a mixed bag – not a disaster by any means, but hardly an experience to linger in the memory.

As the Ainscough empire expands – a hotel in the Lakes was recently added to their portfolio – maybe their eyes have been taken off the Racquet Club. The hotel and restaurant could be one of the city's treasures but that would require a firm kick up the backside in several areas, starting with the marketing strategy. The majority of the restaurant's business is conducted at lunchtime and a fair number of those customers are putting the bill on their expense accounts. And if you're not paying, a 20 per cent discount is neither here nor there.

The evident lack of evening trade is not helped by the location, rooted in the commercial district, but the poor signage outside is hardly conducive to attracting passers by. And until they start putting more cheeks on chairs, it's pointless offering 20 per cent off a return visit if there is nobody to offer it to in the first place.

Postscript: I didn't take a menu home because I knew it was on the website.Except the menu that appears on the website turned out to bear little relation to the menu we chose from so, irritatingly, I had to make a special journey into town to pick one up. I spoke to a nice waiter who I didn't know and who didn't know me. For all he knew, I had never eaten there in my life. Nevertheless, unprompted, he handed me a little card offering me a 20 per cent discount. So, waiter number one, what do you think about that!

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

GingermopJanuary 15th 2009.

We ate at Ziba's recently after a long break away and really enjoyed the food; in fact, after a few poor meals in different restaurants across the city it was a welcome return to form (I had rabbit to start and brill for main course: both were excellent). The atmosphere, however, is lacking, especially if you catch it on a quiet day and the service is not as attentive as we had experienced on earlier visits. Hope they address this as I would be sorry to see it decline.

that'smrbollockstoyouJanuary 15th 2009.

Melly - very churlish and childish. Time to grow up methinks.

mellyJanuary 15th 2009.

Nope - it is in an ugly part of the city by the monstrosity of the Liver Building. Not a place for romantic strolling unless you have a guard dog and shotgun with you.Liverpool will never match Manchester for fine dining where respectable people congregate. It is never easy to eat in Liverpool when you remember the drugs, violence and prostitution heaving beneath the tarted up surface of this wreck of a city. Stick to fashionable and upmarket Manchester every time.

Mike HomfrayJanuary 15th 2009.

I've always enjoyed meals there although it isn't too busy in the evening.But its an excellent venue for a civil partnership celebration - we were their first in March 2006 and they couldn't have been better

Lord StreetJanuary 15th 2009.

It's nice to find a place with proper tablecloths, cutlery and glassware at a time when new restaurants attempt to appear “kewl an' fanky” by serving even expensive food on tables and booths more suited to an American roadside hamburger bar. No wonder the staff in the trendy new restaurants are often so unpleasantly familiar, addressing the diners as “guys”

AnonymousJanuary 15th 2009.

I have to say I miss the days when they ran the Number 7. The Quarter just doesn't do it for me. The old Ziba was good too but I didn't know that they had moved into the Racquet Club until now.

AnonymousJanuary 15th 2009.

Ah, it's the chap from BetFred!

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