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Restaurant review: The Warehouse Brasserie

From Match of the Day to Catch of the Day, AA Grill hits Southport's WAG playground but finds it hard to drum up any love for the bass

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: The Warehouse Brasserie

IF you believe all you read, the Warehouse Brasserie is awash with celebrities most nights. You can barely move without bruising an ego.

Indeed, the Warehouse frequently finds itself – it says here – “graced with the presence of international film stars and singers, and professional footballers “.

What draws them to the Warehouse rather than, say, the Dolphin fish and chip restaurant around the corner? Perhaps it's the entry in the Michelin Guide. Or the ambience, which is somehow more than the blond boards, glass-topped tables and surreal artworks.

Or maybe it's the mirrors. Loads of them. A bank of mirrors down one side of the ground floor restaurant; more, proper full-length jobs, in the upstairs bar. Mirrors are a magnet to celebs, essential to check that your personal grooming is in order, see who's talking behind your back (it's a bitchy world, celebrity), and work out why it is that your partner's eyes appear irresistibly drawn to a point somewhere over your left shoulder (it's a paranoid world, celebrity. But sometimes, it's not paranoia).

The night we ventured in, there were no celebs, leastways none we recognised, occupying the banquettes and padded chairs of the large main dining area; tall cylindrical shades overhead, lots of brown and yellow all around, the room's industrial edges mostly smoothed away.

A first floor lounge bar features photographs of Hollywood stars so that Stevie G can wind up the missus by telling her he was stood right next to Cameron Diaz in the Warehouse and “she looked fabulous”.

The food here has attracted praise from judges with proper credentials. Southport old boy and master chef Marcus Wareing (two Michelin stars) recommends it. And, having eaten there “several times”, Gordon Ramsay (three Michelin stars) swears by it. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

The Warehouse is also now the only restaurant on Merseyside to merit a bib gourmand in the Michelin guide, which is not in the same firmament as a star but worth making a song and dance about.

Something, however, happened recently that may, or may not, significantly affect the Warehouse's future fortunes. Marc Verite, chef director and the man largely credited with making the restaurant's culinary reputation, has gone. Vamoosed. Only to reappear a few miles down the road in his own place, Bistro Verite in Birkdale.

The Warehouse used to have its own bakery. No more. I don't know where they get their “freshly baked” rolls now (£3.50), but these were heavy and anonymous, with dipping oils and a dish of kalamata olives that were among the lamest, most uniformly lacklustre specimens I have eaten.

Fettuccine with roasted tomatoes, basil and parmesan (£5.95) drew murmurs of approval from my friend. Carpaccio of beef fillet (£7.50) featured good quality, fine-textured meat with parmesan shavings, a gnat's spit of truffle oil and a garnish of quartered cherry tomatoes and individual rocket leaves arranged in a neat circle which, had it been the work of my six-year-old, would have moderately impressed me.

From a good range of Old and New World wines, a 2003 Monte Real Rioja Reserva (£28.95) was a winner, with plenty of fruit and depth. For the amusement of those patrons who play Premiership football, the list is divided into the sub-categories of their chief pastime. Thus, “Blondes”, “Red Heads” and others including “Special Ones”, the latter priced anything up to £1,000.

Now if we're talking women, a Premiership footballer lashing out a grand on a “Special One” can normally mean just one thing. Thank goodness,

in this case, it's a 1979 Petrus Pomerol.

Roasted duck breast, Thai red curried noodles, coriander and spring onions (£14.50) was “mmm, nice, but it isn't exciting me”.

Perhaps naively, I had assumed the “local catch of the day”, would be wild, but this seabass fillet proved so lacklustre that I began to wonder precisely how they defined “local catch of the day”.

Having failed to elicit a proper answer on the night, there followed an exchange of emails. Was the seabass caught locally? Was it “caught”? And was it caught on the day?

On one point, they were clear: “seabass will have been farmed, which is reflected in the price, as wild seabass is varying in availability at this time of the year.”

Maybe it's me, but the words “local catch” seems at odds with the word “farmed”. “Catch” means trawlermen hauling nets in stormy seas; “farmed” means some bloke putting his hand into a big tank.

They go on: “Our supplier has their own local fresh fish buyer, sourcing the best of the UK's catch, allowing us to secure the highest quality fish and ensure we receive it as quickly and freshly as possible”, which is a long way of saying very little and appears to leave the words “local”, “catch” and “of the day” open to a pretty loose interpretation.

All I can say for sure is that this piece of fish, well presented though it was, failed to make my heart leap. It was not helped by the fillet having either outstayed its welcome in the pan or spent too long under the lights waiting to be delivered to the table. But its chief failing was an absence of flavour that actually made finishing it off feel like a chore.

That's farmed fish for you, which is why if I couldn't buy wild seabass, I would buy something else.

The fish came with a square of dauphinois potatoes and Formby asparagus which, served with hollandaise sauce, was well-cooked, delicious and bang in season. Unlike, oddly, the seasonal vegetables (£2.95) which were nothing of the kind. French beans were not seasonal, baby corn certainly wasn't; cauliflower may have been, just, but probably not.

Each element was, to the millisecond, just the right side of al dente, but was also dull, dull, dull. If this had been the very finest quality, grown-for-flavour veg, it may have sufficed. But it wasn't. It was okay, and if I'm parting with over a hundred quid, I want more than okay.

Then there were “traditional chips” (£2.95), which were not traditional but retro: Triple cooked and coated in flour and breadcrumbs, if that's to your taste, they were a throwback to a time when the croquette potato reigned supreme in the frozen food section.

For dessert we took a small gamble on the “surprise platter for two people” (£14.95), the surprise being that you are not told what is coming.

What we got was not the biggest shock ever, but it certainly wasn't an unpleasant one; a short tour of great British puddings, fun-size samples, each confidently executed, taking in everything from marvellously gooey mess to fig and marscapone with a gorgeous caramelised sugar topping. Washed down with a couple of good espressos, it proved the highlight of the night.

Adding it together, there was not an awful lot wrong, but enough to niggle. This is Southport's most celebrated, with Michelin credentials, for heaven's sake. On this form, they may continue to attract stars, but they are unlikely to be the Michelin variety.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: Fine dining against the best fine dining, cafés against the best cafés, curry houses against the best...etc...

Following on from this, the revised scores represent: 1-5: Saw off your leg and eat that; 6-9: Get a DVD; 10-11: Only in an emergency; 12-13: If you’re passing; 14-15 Still worth a trip; 16-17 Exceptional; 18-19: Verging on greatness; 20: Perfection

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