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Restaurant review: Zorbas

Angie Sammons finds the old Greek resting on its laurels

Written by . Published on May 30th 2010.

Restaurant review: Zorbas

IT does not matter how bad it gets. Sunshine, like a cup of tea, solves everything.

OK, the victims of Saddam Hussein's regime might not agree, or those banged up at Camp Delta. We're talking on a simplistic, Mrs Doyle/Father Ted level here.

Olives, black and green, were a mixed bag - some plump, some a wee bit muculent, many of them stoned – just what you'd find propping up the bar in Pogue Mahone's by now

I remember discovering I was pregnant 24 hours before jetting off to the island of Thassos for the week. To say that I boarded and alighted the plane still paralysed with shock and awe is an understatement. And it wasn't even Ryanair.

A decade and two children later, I am almost over it.

Ten years on. The thing I best remember about that week is being numbed by ultraviolet rays and Greek salad. And more Greek salad. Creamy, cloying, salty feta, huge, fat, ripe olives and abundant tomatoes. Engorged fruits of the vine made for gorging, they had basked in endless brilliant days to reach perfection. Little skill was required to throw such lush riches successfully together on a plate: the tattiest taverna owner as proficient as the swankiest terrase.

The oft-despised AA Gill will have got a lot of backs up (except the Turks) when he said: “How many people do you think there are who can make Greek food taste good? Very few. And they’re all Turks.”

Greek food needs extra help on these dark northern shores. If it can't rely on those exaggerated levels of flavour and sun-saturated colours to cheer the paying customer's pasty-pink body and soul, its purveyors frequently turn to plate smashing and belly dancing to divert the mind.

Thus I left Zorbas quite miserable.

It wasn't completely their fault, but our already bleak mood was in their hands. In the streets and bars outside, Liverpool's St Patrick's Day revels were now in their10th hour. This is a feast day that puts the Mathew Street festival to shame, a working day drinkathon where the salute “Tiocfaidh ár lá” - has been reinvented for colloquial scouse purposes as “chuck up our la”.

Zorbas is one of the oldest established Greeks in the city (36 years) and holds a landmark position at the bottom of Leece St. Such is its prominence that if you were an innocent dropped in Liverpool for the first time you would immediately pick it out for custom. Just like you would go to the Cafe Esmerelda bang outside Paris's Notre Dame cathedral if you knew no better..

For how could you resist with this superior declaration: “Many people try to imitate Zorbas, but our quality & taste are so unique that the only thing they manage are poor copies”.

It s themed on the movie Zorba The Greek -- every wall has a still from the film. Lattices covered with vines hang from the ceiling. Quite where the swirly Axminister carpet featured in Antony Steel's world is unclear, but I don't have a problem with it.

Olives (£3), black and green and plentiful were a mixed bag - some plump, some a wee bit muculent, many of them stoned – just what you'd find propping up the bar in Pogue Mahone's by now.

Houmus, which is not Greek remotely but Lebanese (and they are pretty pissed off about it being hijacked) sat in a big pale unadorned dollop. It tasted neither of sesame or garlic or lemon, but chickpeas - which taste of nothing.

The one thing you can rarely accuse a Greek restaurant anywhere of is pulling a salad out of a bag. Given the hour, this, a small version (£3) was zingy enough and generous in its pretty ingredients but the cursory iceberg lettuce which turned out to be omnipresent, was as pale as it was uninteresting.

Loukania (£4) grilled spicy sausage was more grilled than spicy, having sacrificed succulence to become thick skinned beast. The merest hint of flavour remained, leaving us wondering what it had been like after the cure and before the operation.

Calamari (£7.50), hoops of floured squid, with little else but a lemon and another shard of lettuce, looked the part but were the texture of rubber bands and I took some home as I knew we had a leaking pipe joint under the bath.

As for the mains, lamb kebab (£13) gave the chatty friend plenty to chew over and he was soon silenced by the dozen lumps of well done meat, over which a handful of raw onions had been effortlessly scattered.

Moussaka (£12), which I ordered on advice, turned out to be a Med shepherd's pie with aubergines: lamb mince in a tomato sauce topped by a thick layer of cheesy mashed potato. Well shaped and substantial it had had some effort put into it. The overpowering taste and aroma of mint, however, would have aroused the suspicions of the most laid back breathalyser cop.

The mains came with the usual chips, hand cut. They had the texture of having peaked earlier than our leprechaun-loving students. Rice was unremarkable. Alright, it was yellow.

The service, it has to be said, was attentive, brisk, and assured.

Our turkey twizzler loving acquaintance Marco Pierre White may be completely wrong in feathering his nest with the Bernard Matthews flock, but when he said that restaurants (all restaurants) should be places of dreams, he had a point.

Of course we don't expect a humble kebab house to reach the heights of Alain Ducasse on a Wednesday night, but is it too much to expect a tidbit of delight to be brought to the table before the bill? The magic, the lost note, whatever you want to call it, that comes from a bit of passion and leaves us with sunshine surging through our senses?

Zorbas does get positive reports from people whose opinions I would normally trust, but on this occasion, our old established Greek, was, I felt, resting on its laurels.

Rating: 11/20
Breakdown: 5/10 food
4/5 service
2/5 ambience
Address: Zorbas
1 Leece Street
Liverpool 1
0151 709 0190

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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Fill the GreekApril 8th 2010.

Not long ago I was invited to join some friends for a bite to eat at Zorbas and was amazed at how poor the food was. I thought my friends had more taste but alas ...

KazantzakisApril 8th 2010.

I have to agree with with Angie. Last time we went to Zorbas it was solid stodge. Service we have always found friendly and efficient, but we get the feeling Zorbas is adapting to its clientele. The bake-their-arses-on-the-beach package-holiday crowd are not exactly a discerning lot, and Zorbas gives them what they expect. [In fact they'd probably complain if they were served real quality food - 'Eeeh, it didn't taste like this at Wally's Beach Taverna on Pilloxos..']

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