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Restaurant review: The Greek Taverna

AA Grill despairs of night-time South Road, but all is not lost on Waterloo's 'sunset strip'

Published on April 26th 2010.

Restaurant review: The Greek Taverna

AS you turn into the nearest thing to a high street in Waterloo, and your eye tracks a succession of “To Let” signs, it's hard for the mind not to insert an 'i' between every 'to' and every 'let'.

Setting the bar low is a British condition. And the worst thing about South Road is not what it is but what it isn't, what it could be, what it would be, if only. If only it was in France, or Italy, or Spain, Johannesburg or Sydney, Rejkiavik or Rzeszow

There are those who believe South Road has become, leastways after dark, one big toilet. And not only because certain patrons of certain bars have a penchant for late night leaks in shop doorways.

Like Lark Lane, south of the city, to which South Road occasionally aspires, residents round about complain of a nocturnal ambience that would test the nerve of a Baghdad-hardened marine. What? Suicide bombers in South Sefton? Well, maybe not, but some of this lot look well primed and ready to do serious damage to themselves and anyone within flailing distance.

At nine o'clock on a Friday night of late, a pal and I braced ourselves for the walk, the length of South Road, that takes you from the art-deco charm of the Plaza Cinema to the testosterone-safe, table-serviced, nostalgia-saturated glow of the Volunteer Canteen pub in East Street.

Our progress was punctuated by the ranting, retching, screaming, bawling and hollowed-out laughing of what the tabloids euphemistically refer to as “revellers”. They may have been having fun, but it was impossible to tell.

Occasionally, somewhere between inebriation and obliteration, it turns ugly. Nobody's been stabbed lately, but the other week a friend witnessed a man of Asian appearance being horribly abused by a fat, ugly racist who should have known better than to find fault in the appearance of others.

In both Lark Lane and Waterloo, it is argued that their problems in part result from an unchecked spread of licensed premises. The former finally called a halt after the 21st certificate to sell intoxicating liquor went to a bar called Low.

South Road's new low, according to its more vociferous critics, was reached with the opening of a sports bar; the “sports” in question being, one assumes, the sort watched on the big screens rather than, elsewhere in this gloomy space, the prodding of snooker cues alternated with glugs of lager, which, to our knowledge, has not yet been accepted into the pantheon of Olympic events. Give it time.

Setting the bar low is a British condition. And the worst thing about South Road is not what it is but what it isn't, what it could be, what it would be, if only. If only it was in France, or Italy, or Spain, Johannesburg or Sydney, Rejkiavik or Rzeszow.

If only it had restaurateurs who knew their artichokes from their elbows; if only bar owners' ideas for getting more people on to the premises extended beyond taking out half the chairs and tables.

Of course, there are exceptions, there is potential, the view over the Welsh mountains is fabulous, but, right now, South Road could not be considered the best advert for the continental art of promenading. We were persuaded to walk the walk after friends talked the talk about the Greek Taverna, which took on the site of the ill-fated Waterloo outpost of Jalons a few years ago.

Early on a Wednesday evening, the place is packed, not least by a 30-odd-strong birthday party. Some, if not all, have been brought here by the offer of a free litre of house wine with every order over £35 (all night Monday to Wednesday; 5pm-7pm Thursday, Friday and Sunday, if you're interested).

The surroundings are warm and unpretentious, Mediterranean colours and the usual images courtesy of the Greek islands tourist bureau; the service willing and capable in extremis.

Houmus (£3.75) was soft and fresh, if garlic-light; accompanying pitta bread warm and sweet; olives (£2.50) were not top drawer but good enough, and lifted by an agreeable marinade, made, to our amazement, from no more than olive oil and “ordinary brown vinegar”. Mopped dry in seconds. “I've had 12,” said the youngest. Six year olds don't eat 12 olives unless they like them.

Seftalia (£4.95), spiced homemade sausages, were spot on: a rough diamond in a smooth suit, and carrying just the right amount of heat – Sean Connery as James Bond.

An uncomplicated Greek salad (£4.95), elegantly presented, employed a few high quality ingredients: creamy, tangy feta cheese, crisp iceberg lettuce, ripe tomatoes, all dressed in a simple, light, precision-judged vinaigrette.

Skordo stombi (£12.95) was made with a nicely complex sauce of tomato, red wine, garlic and parsley, but slices of slowly-cooked lamb were dry and a little chewy. Chicken ouzo (£11.95) featured a creamy, but not sickly, tomatoey sauce with a generous glug of the hard stuff, its aniseed sweetness sliced through by zestful feta. A chicken breast, in one piece, was moist and tender, and not wholly reliant on the sauce for its flavour.

Main courses came with innocuous rice, more good salad, and chips that appeared home-made but included too many that were black and bruised, giving the impression of having taken a battering in addition to frying.

From the children's menu, meatballs and mini chicken kebab (both £4.95, both with chips) showed effort, which was rewarded with clean plates, if not achieved hygenically so.

Baklava, the pudding, not the accessory favoured by armed robbers, oozed syrupy honey and nuts from within wafer thin layers of soft flaky pastry. A more extravagant confection of shortcake and strawberries came piled high with cream, drenched in a sweet crimson coulis.

The Greek Taverna endeavours to make you feel at home, to give you food that is more than just the sustenance required to see you through the next few hours. If that endeavour was carried the length of South Road, Waterloo would have a high street to be proud of.

Breakdown:7/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address:Greek Taverna
45 South Road, Waterloo,
Liverpool, L22 5PE.
Tel. 0151 293 3229.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes etc.. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 smash the plate, 6-9 pitta sock in it, 10-11 sense of houmus failure, 12-13 Crete expectations,14-15 vine dining,16-17 belly dancing, 18-19 abrakebabra, 20 Eureka!

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DigApril 22nd 2010.

Do me a Fava. Kinteata the food in this restaurant.

AA Grill's doctorApril 22nd 2010.

There is obviously a demand for a Greek restaurant in L21 to L23 and this is the only one since the demise of the lovely authentic Venus taverna, complete with the cigarette dangling from the chef's lips as he was grilling the kebabs, and a couple of other upstarts that never lasted. The Taverna serves its food in a fairly poncily decorated style to give it a flair of fine dining, which a Greek taverna never will be. Personally I think this is to distract from the slightly meagre portion sizes. I have also found the grilled meats on more than one occasion to be a bit on the tough side.It is Zorba's in Hardman Street for me anytime.

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