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Caveau - restaurant review

L'Alouette's founder is back in darkest Woolton with a French place worth singing about, says Neil McQuillian

Written by . Published on August 5th 2011.

Caveau - restaurant review

BRED in north Liverpool, for me everywhere south of Parliament Street has an exotic cast to it, a quality of separateness cemented (literally) by the way certain of Toxteth’s streets end in bollards at this juncture.

From early years, trips to the giant’s garden and Pleasure Island, to more recent drive-by discoveries like the Mather Avenue flag house, Chorlton import Pi in Mossley Hill and evocative details like Druid’s Cross Road, any dip south is tinged with adventure.

To an extent, it has been intentional, this arm’s-length treatment. It’s a way of keeping things interesting (not whipping the city’s kit off straight away, so to speak), protecting the stockpile of unknown places.

This personal policy can come into its own when dining out, since if the getting there and the leaving are important facets of the overall experience (they are for me), then it’s all the more interesting if you don’t know exactly where you’re going.

The idea of "neighbourhood" versus "destination" restaurants comes in here, with the resultant implication that mediocrity can be forgiven if it’s only round the corner, while a schlep is worth it if there’s a pot of gold to be had.

Lobster bisque came with aïoli and garlic
bread and was excellent: rich and loaded
with meat (shame on me for doubting),
with that garlicky nectar to electrify it

Woolton was one of my principal unexplored sites (no need for the Picture House when you’ve got the Plaza) and the village look of the place came as a surprise. It was as if we’d not noticed the taxi driver accelerating at top speed beyond the city boundaries. The closest we’d seen to this on Merseyside was Little Crosby. But with its priest holes and absence of street lighting, Harkirk and Sniggery Woods, that village is spooky while this one seemed more about straight-down-the-line gentrification and just-so higgledy piggledyness.

Caveau occupies its site on the main street as discreetly as a Protestant in Little Crosby, with just a small sign on its awning announcing its function as a restaurant (at least it’s ‘français’ here, not ‘françois’ as the website has it). Its exterior is perfect Postman Pat: a small, brick building with a monopitch roof on an uneven pavement, hunkered up against a sandstone wall.

It’s your classic house-with-a-face with its two upstairs, multi-lit windows. To the extent that it’s a modest, unshowy façade, it suits the restaurant’s name, which riffs on cave or caveau de dégustation, which both have connotations of the wine trade. Wine shops in France, whether in towns or villages, are often to be found dealing their refined, expensive produce behind rather plain frontages.

The interior keeps things low-key, the ground floor knocked through to provide an intimate (though by no means cramped) dining space, with rustic features like a wooden dresser, beams and fireplace working nicely with white tablecloths, mirrors and candles.

Lobster bisque and aioliLobster bisque and aioliThe menu font recalls cheap-as-frites French restaurants, but the starters described are strikingly bold, showcasing an array of uncommon ingredients that made us wonder if each dish could really be done well. There were snails and foie gras, and dishes such as salade grande ferme where the challenge would be to produce something rich and generous.

A little research suggests that this salad, at least, has featured on past menus from chef Dave Roberts (formerly of l’Alouette and The Orchard) and it could well be that certain of these risky-sounding dishes are actually tried and tested.

The quality of our starters – lobster bisque (£7.95) and langoustines au pastis (£8.95) – would suggest so. The former came with aïoli and garlic bread and was excellent: rich and loaded with meat (shame on me for doubting), with that garlicky nectar to electrify it. The only downer was the bread, which was unchallenging, toddlers-wouldn’t-leave-the-crusts kind of stuff.

The latter dish, sautéed with the booze and finished with cream and herbs, looked as pretty as these maritime aliens can ever hope to scrub up. It tasted fine, or correct as the French say when they acknowledge that cooking is up to scratch (their scratch is higher than ours) but not outstanding.

Guinea fowlPintade en crépinetteWoolton may ooze hanging-basket chic but it just so happened that the view from our window table at Caveau had a nice touch of the Goth about it. With a black-clad funeral home across the way and The Exorcist-style steps at the far end of the facing road, this was local dining Royston Vasey style.

From faintly Gothic to definitely grotesque, I am wary of bringing up the following, but be assured that it had absolutely nothing to do with Caveau.

The post-starters pre-mains interlude was enlivened, not by appraisal of the dishes coming out to other diners – at 8pm on a Thursday the restaurant was empty but for us – but rather by the appearance on the opposite pavement of a big fat rat with a heft as compactly weighty as Woolton’s cottages and as sturdy as a dry stone wall.

I spotted it first as it came level with the Shagor curry house, before it passed (thankfully) by the funeral parlour then crossed over the road, and out of view, at the Chinese restaurant. Its grandeur was enough to bring two sullen young lads on a early summer holiday BMX cruise to a stop; it also lured out a threesome from the Chinese restaurant, who paced a little to and fro on the pavement, seemingly unsure what to do with a sight as banally grotesque as a confident rat, plump as a pustule. We were safe in our cave, however, and so it was all mere theatre, and peculiarly enjoyable, given that we were mid-dinner.

Summer fruitsSummer fruitsI’d wager that your average, gastronomically exacting French person would deem our mains (£13.50-£21.50) pretty correct also. The poussin bois boudrin (£16.50) was grilled with a spiced tarragon and shallot vinaigrette and served with pommes pont neuf. "Pont neuf" literally means "new bridge" and these pommes were large enough to build one with. They were, however, well executed and not bland the way that "chunky" chips can end up.

As sauces go the accompanying one was a tangy number, but then it was described as a vinaigrette. Nevertheless, when I think of tart ‘sauces’ I think of something like chimichurri spooned over a steak, a Mexican mole or a salsa verde on grilled fish. In the best of these cases the protein is caramelised in places from the cooking heat, and the tangy sauce hits it sweetly like a tuning fork. Here, I feel, the poussin wasn’t quite toothsome enough in its own right to resonate with the vinaigrette.

Pintade en crépinette (£16.95) was described as a "supreme of guinea fowl with courgettes and mixed peppers, wrapped in a crépinette, served in a jus with pommes anna and baby vegetables". Again, it was very good-looking, tasty, and correct as you like.

Creme bruleeCreme bruleeFor dessert (all £5.95) I chose "crème brulee (sic), a vanilla cream with burnt sugar, raspberries and parmieres (more sic)" and this was really very good.

A plate of summer fruits with a crown of spun sugar was spectacular on the eye and practically embarrassed the otherwise near-empty restaurant (two other tables had filled by this point). It wasn’t all show, either – my companion said that, whereas sprinkled sugar might have been cloying and overwhelmed the fruit, these thick candy floss strands instead complemented it.

Caveau has been open since Christmas 2010 and it deserves to be fuller than this on a Thursday evening. A delicious lobster bisque and a macabre rat parade – I couldn’t have asked for more from my first trip to Woolton.

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and we pick up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.




Food 8/10
Service 4/5
Ambience 4/5


59 Allerton Road
L25 7RE
0151 428 6966

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,16-18 very good to exceptional, 19 as good as it gets, 20 better than it gets

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

PatriciaAugust 5th 2011.

oh boy cant wait to go ! i really miss L'Alouette there was nothing like it and it was in the correct place Lark Lane, i did try The Orchard but that was totally in the wrong place what was David thinking about, maybe now being in Woolton Village he has the location right ! only time will tell i look forward to the visit which i assure you will be in the not to distant future

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 14th 2012.

ye your right the orchard was rubish david is my dad and that place was totally beneath him im shaw youll love this place its really good

Mark GarnerAugust 5th 2011.

Jeesus, great write up, wanna go myself!

Jonathan GardAugust 5th 2011.

L'Alouette was the first restaurant I was taken to by my father as a child where I really enjoyed food, rather than 'just going to Laus' or piling it high in Marantos (great for family parties, but not much more).

Can't wait to try this. Good luck David, will be in soon.

Liverpool WagAugust 5th 2011.

Excellent piece of writing about an excellent sounding restaurant and I too will be in soon, if only to take the smelling salts to Dave when he reads the bit about the rodent in the street

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on August 5th 2011.
AnonymousAugust 5th 2011.

This little Restaurant featured on Gordon Ramsay's Restaurants from hell / Nightmares or something a few years ago - under different ownership I think ( a woman and her two daughters).

Has always struggled to be full except at weekends. I didn't know he was there and Hopefully Dave can weave his magic - used to love l'Alouettes - and will give it t try soon

AnonymousAugust 6th 2011.

I have eaten at Caveau on three occasions. The food and service has been outstanding on every visit. I live in Woolton and consider myself lucky to have this little gem on my doorstep. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of a visit to this charming restaurant, its definitely worth the journey and they have a great set price menu 5 - 7pm throughout the week!!!!!

AnonymousAugust 9th 2011.

What does the appearance of a rat have to do with how good a restaurant is ? If you had not had a nice window seat you would not have seen the rat so whats the point ?
If it was comedic affect then it failed miserably.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 9th 2011.

the only bad thing io the shit stirrers who write shit about every restront because ther knob heads suck on that

AnonymousNovember 9th 2011.

do u see any other bad comments no cause your a bithy shit stirrer ill get the nogsy crew on to ya

Liverpool WagAugust 9th 2011.

Read it properly Anonymous

AnonymousAugust 23rd 2011.

An amazing restaurant that never fails to deliver

AnonymousSeptember 7th 2011.

I have been to Caveau on a few occasions and have had a lovely time and the food was excellent.

AnonymousSeptember 14th 2011.

I have been to Caveau four times now and everything about it is excellent, from the fantastic food to the staff who are attentive without being overwhelming, just how I like it Having been a regular at Dave Roberts previous restaurant, the infamous L'alouette on Lark Lane I can honestly say his standard of cooking has possibly even improved if that's at all possible. A wonderful little gem of a restaurant well worth a visit.

AnonymousOctober 6th 2011.

Fantastic food,great atmosphere and Van Morrison on the stereo.What more could you ask for? Go!

Jeff RussellJanuary 19th 2012.

Just noticed Caveau been voted best newcomer of 2011....Bloody good choice Liverpool Confidential and well done to Dave and his team. Nice to seem them get the recognition they deserve

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