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Restaurant review: Neighbourhood

It's where WAGs and Hollyoaks people hide on an off night. Neil McQuillian finds out if they have any taste

Published on October 15th 2010.

Restaurant review: Neighbourhood

GET in, do the job, get out. That’s what we’d said, planning our move on the southside ‘hood; we three north-enders for whom the Chinese arch effectively marks the city’s south-eastern border.

Beyond that, there be monsters. Twitchy as we were, it was no surprise when the operation began with a drive-by.

The website claims a visit to Neighbourhood 'is like a cross between having a meal in a Parisian bistro and going out for dinner at the house of an old friend'. It is, actually, a cross between curiosity cabinet, 1950s grocery, student bedroom, charity shop and car boot sale

But with tonight’s job more steak and chips than Bloods and Crips it was the kind that a U-turn by the taxi driver soon put right.

“Funny name, Childwall,” said one of our party, a former resident of Waterloo. “What does it mean, anyway?”

A little research turned up “a stream where youngsters meet,” as the likely etymology. This may sound cute, but what do the youths get up to? Youngsters meet in Waterloo, too, and now the police have quad bikes because of it. Incidentally, Waterloo‘s own etymology - “wet forest” only really applies to the original in Belgium, site of the battle. South Road does make a nod to the famous scrap, at least by hosting loose historical re-enactments most weekend evenings.

Childwall’s youngsters may frolic by streams rather than congregate ominously by swimming baths and marine lakes, but Neighbourhood - “a regular refuelling stop for yummy mummies and local celebrities” according to its website - does have some colourful neighbours.

Directly opposite, on the other side of Woolton Road, squats the Halfway House, a pub which has served as the starting point for Tom Slemen’s Haunted Liverpool tours of Childwall. We popped in and found this ghoulish streak evidenced in a strange conflation of Christmas and Halloween imagery - see the photograph below for the proof (the only one here that doesn’t feature Neighbourhood).

Perhaps, whereas Neighbourhood sees appearances by Hollyoaks stars, the Halfway House gets apparitions by the Brookside departed. A spectral Trevor Jordache would have been just right for the deserted area around the pub‘s Toby Carvery.

The colourful, rainbow-shaped sign outside Neighbourhood has a “roll-up, roll-up” quality (in the circus rather than the Phillie Blunt sense) that works well with the original, sober exterior of a building that used to be a grocery store.

Inside, however, the simple elegance of the original tiling, oak shelving and glass work is strewn with all manner of objects and the walls are hung with photographs so numerous it is hard to engage with the display.

Above the counter, pastel bunting dangles from the ceiling, tangled with a chair and a weathered watering can. The café restaurant’s website claims that a visit to Neighbourhood “is like a cross between having a meal in a Parisian bistro and going out for dinner at the house of an old friend.”

It is, actually, a cross between a lot of things: curiosity cabinet, 1950s grocery, student bedroom, charity shop, car boot sale. What’s the need for this cacophony of cultural influences and allusions cluttering every surface?

Nonetheless, the quality of the original features, the comfort of the seating, and the professionalism of the welcome combined to make Neighbourhood a pleasing space to settle into. The lighting, too, was as warm and womb-y as could be, sso much so that the photographs taken without camera flash look like footage from an endoscopy.

The menu features six or seven each of starters and main dishes, as well as a number of burgers (£8.95-£9.95) and pizzas (£8.50).

It was just nine o’clock but the special starter of Asian-flavoured slow-roasted pork had run out. This was disappointing, though perhaps points to a regular clientele who are familiar with the menu staples.

Prawns pil pil (£5.25) is one of those tapas dishes which can take advantage of people’s forgiving soft spot for prawns. They are the “Belgian” chocolate of the crustacean world - somehow retaining an air of sophistication in spite of their ubiquity. It is also hard to really ruin a prawn. It isn’t like squid, for instance, where just a second's overcooking makes for calamari like a plateful of charity wristbands.

The flesh here had a good, plump ripeness and the sauce was sweet and rich. The advertised ciabatta was more English bloomer than Italian “slipper”, though.

Crispy black pudding, poached egg and devilled gravy on soda bread (£4.95) saw four flavours with very distinct personalities getting along famously. Chicken rissoles stuffed with mozzarella, lemon and thyme (£4.95) did not impress the diner who had ordered it but this taster thoroughly enjoyed the pearly slivers of meat and the subtle flavours. So far, so good, and we had spotted a Hollyoaker, already.

Fennel-crusted pan-roasted bream, pea and lemon puree, crushed new potatoes and salad (£13.95) was a tidy number. The fennel seed-flavoured coating on the two generous fillets was strongly seasoned, but that suited the overall dish. The potatoes were nicely puckered and crisped, though hardly crushed.

Grilled sirloin steak with dauphinoise potatoes and slow-roasted tomatoes (£16.95) was good, smoky and dark magenta rare.

Marinated lamb with carrot, pomegranate and orange slaw, home-made flat bread, cous cous and minted yoghurt (£12.95) was, however, a little forlorn. Homemade bread, together with all those other flavours, could have been something warm, succulent and winning.

As it was, the dish seemed awkwardly assembled, an identikit North African/Middle Eastern plateful. Each of the lamb and the flatbread should have been smoky, hot, and succulent enough to stand alone whilst begging to be combined. The flatbread here was already rolled and the plate seemed over-crowded. The bread would have been better on a side plate, or even with the other stuff on top of it, as with a Turkish yogurtlu kebab, where the yoghurt, tomato sauce, meat and bread is piled in together, and creamy, smoky, sweet, savoury magic happens, the flavours jumping into a big Jacuzzi and getting it on.

Here they were refusing to take off their towels and T-shirts and standing awkwardly around the edge of the pool.

In contrast, Eton mess was as decadent as you would expect whilst a request for cheese was most generously met in spite of it not appearing on the menu. The El Camino Rioja (£16.95) went down so well that back-up was required.

Neighbourhood offers a fine-looking breakfast menu, afternoon tea (£9.50), an early bird deal in midweek (two courses £12.95; three courses £14.95) and a Monday night book club. The cluttered look is more suited to the book club/daytime café role than to evening dining, but our enjoyment was by no means diminished, even if it would be nice for the space’s simple, original features to be the stars.

But perhaps this is just the way things are done beyond the arch: in Childwall, youths frolic by streams and chairs dangle from ceilings.

Liverpool Confidential reviewers dine unannounced and we, not PR people, pick up the bills

Rating: 15.5/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 food
5/5 service
4/5 atmosphere
Address: Neighbourhood
261 Woolton Road,
L16 8NA
0151 737 2266

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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AnonymousOctober 10th 2010.

Most of south Liverpool's restaurants are complete cack and Allerton Road is nothing but a crim rat-run full of gangsta-run bars. The people who bought houses there at vastly inflated prices in the boom deserve what they get

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