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Restaurant review: The Good life

Or is it Life on Mars? Hester Blumenthel gets rooted back in time on a visit to Lino's in Hoylake

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: The Good life

Hoylake must be located at some magical confluence of ley lines, or a thin spot in the space-time continuum. Sure, it's all by itself out on the edge of the Wirral, so you might well expect it to be cosily insulated against the tumult of restaurant trends whooshing by.
But isolation alone can't account for Lino's delightfully dated atmosphere. Walking into the restaurant felt like stepping out of a TARDIS into 1970s Britain.

I was overcome with nostalgia. 'I don't
want to leave the seventies,' I told my companion. 'I've gotten attached to this place, and surely there's still work to be done here'

Mr Blumenthal and myself grinned at the perfectly preserved scene before us. Exposed stone walls, dark green carpets and tablecloths, wee dishes of roast peanuts at the low tables where you quaff cocktails while pondering the menu. Which, by the way, is broken up into Prelude, Intermezzo and Symphony courses. Melba toast in the bread baskets. Wine collars. And my stars and garters, was that a bottle of Mateus Rose on the table we just passed?

Manager Nigel Piper is the very model of a waiter, with a voice rich as plum pudding, a twinkle in his eye, and a store of well-tested jokes at the ready. When handing over the wine list, he directed us to a line of bottles ranged on the bar with tasting notes tied round their necks. "I taste all the wines myself. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it! he told us roguishly. We laughed. Then I turned around and read about him telling the same joke, in a newspaper clipping on the wall. That just made it better somehow.

I crept over and read the note tied to a bottle of Chateau Musar. "Considering all the problems in Lebanon, it's amazing that they can produce such a fine wine." Hear hear.

At Lino's, from the moment you enter, you may relax, for you will be allowed to do nothing for yourself. We were escorted to our seats, drinks whisked from our hands by a hovering hostess and carried on a silver tray the ten steps to our table. The chairs were pulled out, the half-bottle of Burgundy (9.50) was opened, and we were reprimanded like naughty schoolchildren for trying to pour it out for ourselves. The side veg were brought out in a steaming silver dish and spooned onto our plates by hand, and my Dover sole was taken off the bone. I half expected someone to turn up and cut my fish for me, too.

It's all part of the standard of old-fashioned good service sure to charm the orthopaedic shoes off the older generation, many of whom were in evidence on the night we dined. Open since 1983, actually, Lino's has an incredibly loyal following - many of its customers have been eating there for 30 years. There's clearly a big market for a proper, old school, continental restaurant round these parts. Sadly, the prices are the only thoroughly modern thing about Lino's, and even they have taken up the regrettable newfangled practice of charging 3.50 for vegetables.

My chicken liver pate went down a treat with the toothsome chutney and toast triangles provided, but Mr. Blumenthal was sorely vexed by his brown shrimps on toast. The poor things were so positively saturated with butter and salt that he reckoned eating more than a few bites might require a special dispensation from his GP. His complimentary "intermezzo" of baked egg in bechamel sauce didn't help, either. I liked my penne pasta well enough, but was getting dangerously full.

The Dover sole (market price; on our night an eyebrow-raising 23.95, not that we thought to ask) was light and tasty, but, again, the butter had been laid on with a rather heavy hand, as with the side veg of courgettes, roast tatties, and carrots and turnips mash.

I plodded onward to Dover, while across the table Mr. Blumenthal was wrestling with an enormous sugar-crusted ham hock (13.50), rising up from a primordial bath of mustard, butter and cream. The ham itself was good and flavoursome, and he avowed great respect for a restaurant brave enough to champion the cause of the lowly hock. But the richness of the sauce defeated him in the end.

Dessert was a pleasant affair for both of us. My brioche bread and butter pudding (4.75) was eggy and sweet, studded liberally with raisins and candied cherries. It was also served with both homemade ice cream and creme anglaise, but by this point I would have expected nothing less. I didn't even make a dent in it. My companion recovered himself sufficiently to demolish a lemon posset with fresh raspberries (4.75), and reported it "very nice".

As the bill was presented on a little china plate, I was overcome with nostalgia. "I don't want to leave the seventies," I told my companion. "I've gotten attached to this place, and surely there's still work to be done here. We haven't even had a digestif yet, and if we wait a bit, there might even be fondue..."

But he coaxed me gently back toward the TARDIS. "We don't belong to this time, Hester," he told me. "We need to go back to our own time. But we can come back and visit anytime you want."

"Oh, all right," I said. "But next time I'd love a Babycham."

He sighed.

Rating: 13.5/20
Breakdown: 6/10 Food
4/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: Lino's
122 Market Street
CH47 3BH

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Mike HomfrayOctober 5th 2007.

Sure, Lino's isn't cutting edge - but then it doesn't claim to be. But with all the identikit bars which stay open for all of six months, its a relief to go somewhere thoroughly old-school, with excellent service and big portions!And the desserts are superb ( and all made in-house) - but you need to make sure you don't eat much for the rest of the day to have room!We have been going here for 13 years and still love the place.

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