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Restaurant review: The village people

AA Grill finally gets around to eating at the Botanic Bistro in Churchtown. What's the verdict?

Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: The village people

YOU’VE got to try this great new restaurant, somebody had told us. And about a hundred years later, we were finally getting to it.

The Botanic Bistro is in Churchtown, a short hop from Southport and the sort of place that’s ten-a-penny in the Cotswolds but you don’t expect to find bearing a Merseyside address – thatched roofs, its own lord of the manor, a set of stocks still knocking about somewhere.

You don’t go to a restaurant to improve your life-expectancy

I swear I’ve seen Miss Marple pedalling past the village green, tringing her bell at inattentive pedestrians. She wouldn’t want to try that in Walton Breck Road.

The restaurant takes its name from the local Botanic Gardens, where even more acute is the feeling that the last half a century hasn’t happened. Our family likes it there: the adults for the straight-backed trees with their heads in the clouds, the kids for the little train that shakes and rattles them round the grounds, before dropping them at the cafe for egg, chips and beans.

We haven’t tried eating at either village pub (epitome of chocolate-box village inn on the outside, all a bit Brewer’s Fayre on the inside). One of them announces “Children welcome – until 8.30pm in designated area”, a qualified approval not quite matching the family friendly ethos of the 21st century pub. But in Churchtown it is 1953.

The Botanic is bright, cheerful, easy on the eye. It was Friday night and brim-full with fortysomethings who clearly felt at home, and whose convivial din was infectious. Locals love it here (we were eating with two of them) so much that the owners expanded upstairs a couple of years ago to fit them all in.

Time to uncork and unwind with a bottle of house white by Paul Bouchard (£10.95) that he must have knocked out while he still hadn’t quite got the hang of it. I envied our pal, Mark, who was drinking lovely, smooth Peroni riserva (£3.50).

Everybody was eating from the table d’hote, £16.95 for two courses, Monday to Friday, except Mr Bigtime here, who insisted on a la carte.

I thought my Grillfriend was getting all nostalgic when she mentioned that the sauteed duck livers were just like her mother used to make. Until she suggested that chewing on a rubber duck might be less arduous. Nevertheless, Thai chicken patties with char-grilled peppers, spring onion and sweet chilli sauce drew approving nods from the Churchtown contingent opposite.

Shoulder of lamb, on the bone, was tender and very toothsome, but while a redcurrant and mint reduction looked dark and brooding, it was a bit of a wimp, really. I enquired after Mark’s breast of duck and, perhaps sensing rebellion across the table, he began talking in capital letters: “SUCCULENT, TENDER, DELICIOUS, YUMMY!”

Halibut fillet with goats cheese and dill potato cake, and a meek mornay sauce (£16.25), was all a bit pale and heavy; English pensioners on a Torremolinos beach. If I’d noticed that side dishes included “flavoured mashed potato of your choice” I would have ordered some prawn cocktail flavour to liven things up.

Veg came separately (no extra charge) and won brownie points for avoiding the usual culprits. Half-cooked, unadorned broccoli and cauliflower might be cancer-beating superfoods but you don’t go to a restaurant to improve your life-expectancy.

Instead, carrot and swede whizzed with mustard and tarragon was tasty, indeed, but dauphinoise potatoes were short on the bad ingredients – cream and seasoning – that make them great. Besides, with potatoes on at least a couple plates already, the last thing needed was extra spud. I don’t know which idiot ordered chips but that turned out to be a stroke of genius: slimline, floury and crisp, they were prize specimens.

Desserts (all £4.95) found the kitchen at its best, with robust flavours from, in particular, a lovely fruit crumble and honeycomb cheesecake with vanilla pod ice cream, making the last course the star of my night.

The Botanic does not blow its own trumpet; all they ever needed was the word of its enthusiastic customers. It’s why we were there, having been told to expect riches beyond compare. What we got on this visit fell some way short of that.

Perhaps the added burden that came with doubling the number of covers left the kitchen overstretched (the waiting staff certainly were) but more consideration needs to be given to contrasting textures and flavours, to getting the details right. I would expect the pub along the way to give me mint sauce from a jar, but not from a restaurant with a lot of potential and a glowing reputation to maintain.

Lee, the chef, told us he couldn’t make mint sauce from fresh because too many people wanted it. I was not about to spoil his night by saying what I thought about that, and, besides, the use of blunt language would probably have resulted in the village bobby being summoned. And I know how that conversation would have gone.

Constable: "Any more of your sauce, my lad, and I’ll ‘ave you in the stocks."
Grill: "It’s not my sauce that’s the problem."
Constable: "That does it. Come with me!"
Grill: "But, officer . . . "

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 Food
3/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Botanic Bistro
48 Botanic Rd,
Churchtown,
Southport.
Merseyside.
PR9 7NE.
01704 212400.
Liverpool Confidential dines unannounced and picks up all its own bills.

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karen wilsonAugust 10th 2007.

After being a regular of the Botanic Bistro i feel that the review of this is very unreasonable.

This article is funnyAugust 10th 2007.

Yo AA Grill, I reckon your more suited to KFC or Mc Donalds mate. I also like your description of the Bold and the Hesketh!Hmmmm!Does Mr AA grill come from the big Bad city by any chance! "But in Churchtown it is 1953"- What? because the houses look old- clever boy!Well, seriously now, I reckon fare enough, maybe the duck was a little chewy, so u went on a bad day but if you had stumbled across the beastro,instead of your expectations being built so high, I think your first impressions would have been better.At the end of the day mate your article gives a bland taste to a good restaurant.

robroyfingerheadAugust 10th 2007.

I like this place too and have always thought it a cut above most restaurants in the area. I hope your poor experience was just down to it being a bad night - I've had nothing but good food and good service here .... but I do tend to go midweek when it's quieter.

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