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Restaurant review: Simply Heathcotes

While the great tizz over that elusive Mersey Michelin star goes on, Simply Heathcotes racks up the rosettes, bibs and awards to cheer up its Bolton-born boss. We get reacquainted

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Simply Heathcotes

If there were a dozen more restaurants in Liverpool like Simply Heathcotes, we would be laughing.

That's not just because the food, with its loose, North of England roots, is very good - and it is, consistently. Coupled with the mood of the place, you could easily – and “easy” is the watchword here - bring anyone: your boss, your business cohorts, your children, your lovers or your friends – safe in the knowledge that you were in capable hands.

Actually, that's not strictly true. You couldn't “easily bring anyone here”, not by conventional motor vehicle, anyway. The Big Dig has put paid to that. The land that is the 10-lane Strand outside, like most of the city centre, is a perpetual surprise of battle scarred diggers, cones and earth that deny reliable passage.

If this were Royston Vasey and Tubbs and Edward ran Simply Heathcotes, then this particular “New Road” would never have happened. The scenario in the freezer would be a lot different too.

But we're told they're good for us, these cones in their “lines and lines and lines and lines”, so we negotiate our way in and out of them, playing a game called “If You Can't Beetham”, to the finishing line that is Bolton chef Paul Heathcote's outpost down by the Pier Head.

With its exterior wall made entirely from plate glass, the curvature of light from this establishment flings itself out like an arm of the Milky Way in the cold and lonely heart of darkness that is Beetham Plaza.

It is a warm glow that radiates from deep within. Simply Heathcotes is pleasantly packed, an animated hubbub rising from the good looking crowd who have bothered to jump through the necessary hoops to sample a restaurant that has won more awards and accolades than any other in the Simply stable which also includes the Olive Press.

The boy on the bar looks way too young to be serving drinks. Clad in black, like all the fresh faced staff, we wonder if they are rehabilitated deserters from the city's nomadic flock of goths who swoop like pigeons into the nearby road bridge where they harmlessly nestle their weekends away. Talk about loft living.

Home made breads and olives (£2.75) are a promising start, the former in slabs as moist as tea loaf and the latter a delicate, sweet business in oil with a feisty touch of chillies.

We are trusted to pour our own Macon Peronne. It comes from an extensive but affordable wine list and soon makes great friends with my friend's lemon, tarragon and rocket risotto, and also with the signature Bury black pudding (well, it would be rude not to). The clean and simple taste and texture of the arborio dish points to someone having taken trouble over it – and risotto is always trouble if it's going to be worth it. The black pud is but a tiny morsel, deep fried and cocooned inside a hash brown covered in melty Lancashire cheese - of course - and a smidgin of apple puree. Great flavours that are momentary, memorable and moreish.

The courses in here are all the same price – starters at £5.50 mains a tenner more and desserts at £4.75. It's been enough to impress the Michelin people who awarded Liverpool's Simply Heathcote's a Bib Gourmand a few years ago. The restaurant has retained the accolade, given for good value, however Michelin recently stripped Paul Heathcote's flagship Longridge restaurant of its star. What the Lord do giveth in one hand....

My friend's roasted haddock brings smiles. It is served in red wine which elevates the freshest fish he has ever tasted onto an even higher plane. Cooked to atomic clock precision, it is discreetly accompanied by celeriac puree, “fabulous” baby onions, bacon and mushrooms. A winner in the eyes of the hard-to-please one.

Slices of gamey roast pheasant and a caramelised apple confection are balanced perfectly, a bed of savoy cabbage and beetroot bringing them gently down to earth. A pile of steamed green veg is done to a T with no squeakiness, and those fashionable “thick-cut chips” were probably unnecessary.

Spiced pot au chocolat, with ginger nut biscuits, is pure dark matter that demands respectfully slow and careful eating. Cream and vanilla in the mix brighten it up beautifully, but I take half of it home to brood over at length. Just as the choc is intense, the bread and butter pudding, with a compote of apricots and clotted cream, is all tang, sweetness and light: the perfect foil.

Alistair Gillan, the assistant manager, furtively produces a 30-year-old sherry that hasn't seen the light of day since Orson Welles was poncing up and down around those barrels of Domeq oloroso in the hottest summer of the 20th century.

It is a rare privilege. Three decades in oak have given it magical properties, all spice and figs and that make me long to spark up a big fat cigar, throw a bag over Ali G's head and do a runner with the bottle.

Living up to its name, this place really does make everything look simple. The execution of the food under the supervision of executive chef Andy Wright seems effortless. The young “Team Heathcotes” staff are helpful and knowledgeable - when necessary – and invisibly efficient the rest of the time.

For a branch of what is essentially a chain this is all quite remarkable, and any postulating penguins in other restaurants should ppppick up a pen and take note before puffing up their chests.

Longridge may have lost its star, but this place is still shining on the city's dining scene.

Angie Sammons

Simply Heathcotes, Beetham Plaza, The Strand, Liverpool. Tel: 0151 236 3536.

Photo © Chris Keller Jackson.

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KnowledgeableFebruary 12th 2007.

Agreed, Jay. There might be better places now, but this review was written three years ago when things were very different in the city and Heathcote's had the talented Andy Wright running the kitchen. He defected to the Malmaison, when it opened, as Mark Bennet's sous chef before they both ran away into the sunset of Oddfellows in Chester. It's still not bad though.

jayFebruary 12th 2007.

This reviewer seems to have got over-excited by Simply H, but I'm not sure why... been a couple of times, but have always found food competent rather than outstanding, and not particularly cheap. Service is variable, and the slanted glass wall and hard floor give the joint a 'staff cafeteria' feel about it - noisy and not in a good way. There are better places in Liverpool.

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