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Restaurant review: Bents

Flic Everett takes food reviewing into unknown territory...Warrington

Published on May 30th 2010.


Restaurant review: Bents

A CAFE attached to a garden centre doesn’t sound worth reviewing. It’s like going to your Mum’s for tea and turning in a write-up. “The accompanying beans provided a textural counterpoint to the yielding Warburton’s Toastie...”

Now, I love baking, but patisserie has always defeated me utterly. My last attempt at Parisian macaroons looked like dried cow-pats from pink and green Fresians

However, a friend sent me a Facebook message raving about this place near Warrington, called Bents Home and Garden. “You need to check it out,” she insisted, “And the chef will do you a patisserie lesson.”

I have no interest in gardening - my outdoor area (not a euphemism) looks like the aftermath of some terrible disaster that wiped out ancient populations, and there’s very little in the way of wicker furniture, scented candles or table-mats featuring distressed pictures of French hens that interests me either. But offering me a patisserie lesson is like telling an eleven year old boy, “Jeremy Clarkson wants you to test-drive a TVR.” There’s no way on earth I’m going to say no.

So I drag my husband all the way there, promising him a top lunch at the end of it, while he mutters about middle-class middle-England people wearing comfy shoes out of the back of the Sunday supplements, and moans about how much he hates gardening. (When he was a teenager his Dad used to make him shift wheelbarrows full of rubble every weekend while he landscaped his garden, and now Simon can’t look at an ornamental water feature without feeling nihilistic despair.)

Bents is huge. It has an enormous glass area filled with garden things, an enormous indoor area filled with home things, and the Fresh Approach restaurant with 900 covers. Yes, 900. It’s recently won a Best Restaurant award, and is all swooping blond wood, giant palm trees, and tasteful eau-de-Nil walls with the names of appealing foodstuffs written in different fonts. If Harrods opened a service station, it would look like this.

The food service area is sparklingly clean, well-laid out, and offers a huge choice of attractive, colourful, (mostly) healthy food. Clearly, this is no half-arsed panini-and-duff-cappuccino operation. There’s sandwiches, hot dishes, cakes- more on them later- and a salad bar.

As a vegetarian, I’ve studied salad bars extensively, and nine and a half times out of ten, they’re absolute rubbish. Watery red cabbage, a greying hard boiled egg and some sneezed-on chopped carrot are not my idea of a good time.

However, Bents salads are different. They’re protected by a wall of glass, for a start, and clearly, imagination and effort have been applied- sesame noodles, celery salad, roast pepper salad, baby potatoes- it’s like a little fairground of cold food, all colour and dazzle.

To go with it, I had a filo goat’s cheese and asparagus basket. Crisp pastry, well-seasoned cheese, snappy little cherry tomatoes. I’d have been happy with this in a top restaurant, although the sheer amount of cheese did make me think they must be keeping a herd of goats imprisoned in the cellar, being milked round the clock.

Simon had orange and turkey stir-fry, which sounded a bit like one of those ‘speedy weekday suppers’ that women’s magazines suggest, but he raved about it, and went into little raptures about the ‘meltingly delicious’ cauliflower cheese.

You can have wine if you want, though he drank tea and I had a very appealing, not-too-sweet pear juice.

But the main thing is the cakes. People come from miles around, apparently, for Bents’ patisserie selection. There are chocolate tortes, and strawberry tarts, cream gateaux, little clouds of meringue…

Now, I love baking, but patisserie has always defeated me utterly. My last attempt at Parisian macaroons looked like dried cow-pats from pink and green Fresians, and my cakes always burn round the edges. So Jane, the award-winning patisserie chef, had a challenge. She said she’d demonstrate how to make a strawberry gateau.

Luckily, she provided a ready-made sponge base, and showed me how to cut it into three equal discs. It was a bit like delicate heart surgery, but I managed. Then we spread the bases with artery-halting amounts of whipped cream, from a vast steel drum. I slightly expected to find a page three model at the bottom, winking.

Jane arranged whole strawberries on hers in neat rows. I assembled mine like a sixth-form protest march; straggling everywhere with no real purpose. Then we had to put yet more cream over the strawberries, smooth it all down with a palette knife (“Oh dear,” said Jane patiently, as I slapped it about) and dust the sides in crushed amaretto biscuits. (Mine looked a bit bald.)

We mixed red food colouring in with marzipan to create a delightful Barbie-pink topping, rolled it flat and decorated the top with it. And suddenly, there was this staggeringly professional, presentable-looking gateau. Jane cut me a slice, and Simon had a piece of pecan pie.

The cake was divine- fluffy-as-Barbara-Cartland sponge, whirls of vanilla cream, burstingly fresh strawberries - but honestly, you couldn’t eat much of it without sinking into a diabetic coma. The pecan pie, however, I could eat all day. That toffee base! That crisp shortcrust! That nut/sugar combination created by St Peter and all the angels! And the coffee was excellent, too.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing tea at my Mum’s. But it probably won’t be as good as Bent’s.


Rating: 14.5/20
Breakdown: 7.5/5 food
4/5 service
3/5 ambience
Address: Bents
Warrington Rd
Glazebury
Warrington
Cheshire WA3
01942 266 300
www.bents.co.uk

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: Outstanding

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Rusty SpikeMay 18th 2010.

It seems to me, after a few gimlet-eyed observations, that every garden centre worth its salt, if you'll pardon the line, now boasts a restaurant with sorta reasonable nosh, and are full of folk in stout shoes and cavalry twill etc, - or perhaps stout and cavalry folk - who combine grubbing amongst the plant filled pots with pottering in their grub filled plates. I think these restaurants are assembled from an Airfix kit.

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This sounds like it will be a very popular event. Although personally, I would prefer my dinner…

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Please refer to the sentence up the top about one or two glaring omissions...

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