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Sunday dinners: St John Restaurant

We investigate roasts to toast - and attest to the rest. This time: Margaret Woodhouse at the Sir Thomas Hotel

Published on April 1st 2011.


Sunday dinners: St John Restaurant

SINCE becoming a single girl, I am no longer tied to a hot stove every Sunday roasting a piece of meat for a piece of meat

Nor, before I go to bed on a Saturday night, do I peel spuds for the morning.

I politely declined more of the folically-blessed ice cream. Sadly, when my new tarte arrived the whole experience had diminished my appetite for the pudding significantly, which was a real shame

No, now I am a single girl my Saturday nights consist of cocktails and flirting - and my Sundays of roast dinners out with friends.

Sunday lunch out is a simple little pleasure of mine, a little treat to finish off the weekend, and usually to soak up the previous night’s Cosmos and get me fit for work on Monday. So I thought I'd share the experience with two of the most important people in my life: my mum and dad.

And I don't use the term “share the experience” lightly. My mum and dad NEVER eat out, for two main reasons: my mother’s apprehension of anywhere she deems “too posh”, and my pop’s absolutely pathological fear of food that has not be prepared by my mum. However, this Sunday I managed to twist their arms.

My original first choice of venue went out the window, because the chef had quit. Then I recalled that last time I was supping overpriced afternoon cocktails in a favourite haunt that the very place itself served a Sunday lunch fixed price menu.

Where this time?St John RestaurantThe Sir Thomas Hotel24 Sir Thomas StreetLiverpool L1 6JBTel: 0151 236 1366

What’s on the table? A two-course Sunday roast for £9.95, push the boat out and go for the three courses for £12.95.

Why go there? Situated conveniently on Sir Thomas Street, its location, sandwiched between the business district of Dale Street and Met Quarter, means that it’s a place many office workers pass on a daily basis. The large windows do make it a good place to sit and people-spot (or try to be spotted in the Sir Thomas, if you’re that way inclined).

And while the cocktails and afternoon tea may be well known, its fish and chips, loved by many a noted city dignitary, and its chunky chips and steak for beefy business blokes, are its main draw.

This Sunday was a mix of shoppers, celebrating families, couples and even a group of likely lads who had presumably shunned their mums’ own Sunday efforts to dine there.

Where do we begin? The starters were chef’s “homemade” soup of the day, which was butternut squash (why single the soup out as “homemade”? Wasn’t everything?), seafood risotto or chicken liver parfait. Deciding that butternut squash soup was far too exotic, Dad declined a starter, as did Mum who felt “fish and rice before a roast just doesn't seem right”, with regard to the seafood risotto. So we skipped straight to the mains.

The main courseRoast chicken, pork or beef and Yorkshire pudding were on offer. The chicken and beef are usually present, we were told, but the pork is sometimes lamb (what a confused little piggy) all of which were served with the same roast potatoes, parsnips, carrot and turnip, broccoli and gravy.

I ordered the chicken, Mum and Dad the beef. Dad considered this the safest option pondering that the chicken may have green stuff (parsley) on it. However when our meals arrived – and they arrived very, very quickly indeed - Dad decided the chicken looked better and swapped with me.

On first impressions, all looked nice enough, however on closer inspection, the broccoli was overcooked and a shade of its former self. The modest slices of beef, and the ribbon of fat running through it, reminded me somewhat of that boil in the bag beef that your mum used to give you if she hadn't had enough money to buy a proper joint back in the day.

The rather limp meat was matched by a flaccid Yorkshire pudding with uniform, bought-in, looks and taste. The chicken breast was, as Dad put it, “just chicken, nothing fancy about it, just a piece of chicken.” He enjoyed it nonetheless.

The roast potatoes, lacking that straight-out of the-oven piping sizzle and crunch, were, however, still soft on the inside with an appetising golden colour. The mashed carrot and turnip was subtly sweet and also well seasoned. The gravy was also really good, but we could have done with a bit more of it.

The parsnips were also very well done. It was Dad’s first experience of them and he has ordered Mother to look into the possibility of adding those to her usual Sunday vegetable repertoire at home.

What about vegetarians? The veggie offering was roast butternut squash filo parcel, with new potatoes, broccoli and Parmesan cream. So given the veggie starter option was butternut squash soup, I felt a bit sorry for the veggies’ lack of choice. Come on, let’s have some imagination, Chef.

And if you don’t like roast dinner? The usual Sir Tom menu is on offer, and next time on a Sunday I resolved to order their commended fish and chips instead.

Pudding to the rescue? It all started so well. Dad’s white chocolate cheesecake had a thick biscuit base and was creamy and deliciously chocolaty and came served with a tangy raspberry coulis which cut through the richness beautifully. And five raspberries.

Mum’s treacle sponge (main picture) came in a pond of custard with a skin forming on it, and another squeeze of that coulis. It was piping hot when it arrived, however on cooling, the once soft (if very, very hot) inside became somewhat hard, with Mum noting it felt a bit like “Something you buy from Iceland and put in the microwave”.

My chocolate truffle tarte looked scrumptious, and was served with a chocolate ice cream and there was that pink coulis again, and the five raspberries. An uber rich dark truffle mix sat on an extremely thin pastry base.

It was the type of pudding you feel so naughty eating you consider going to confession afterwards and admitting it “was making me a bad person, but I carried on eating it, Father”.

I was happy enough with the tart and it really didn't need the ice cream, however as it started to melt it revealed… an almighty long blonde hair inside. Me being a ravishing brunette, it obviously wasn't one of mine.

A young waitress apologised and returned to advise they would take it off the bill and she would fetch another one. However when the bill arrived not only had the dessert been taken off but the whole of my roast dinner as well. Good customer service to be fair.

I politely declined more of the folically-blessed ice cream. Sadly, when my new tarte arrived the whole experience had diminished my appetite for the pudding significantly, which was a real shame.

All in all…Because I am a fan of the place after work, and because I had wanted to treat my Mum and Dad to a real luxury alternative to a Bisto and Aunt Bessie-filled Sunday, I was bitterly disappointed in the Sir Thomas roast dinner.

The idea of a good, home-style, Sunday roast is simple, but it’s not just the Sir T that seems to be so lacking. Attention to detail of not over-cooking veg and making your own Yorkshires may take some time, but there is no comparison.

Even the place settings jarred: formal cutlery and no tablecloths. And that may seem pedantic, but if it’s cheap and cheerful then let it be so, don’t try to tart it up.

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

The Hotel InspectorMarch 28th 2011.

Popped in the Sir Thomas Hotel bar one evening to see what it was like. Though it was almost empty every table in the bar was was wet and full of dirty glasses.

We paid top prices for our drinks to sit in that squalor.

We haven't been back

BBAYP CampaignMarch 29th 2011.

Once again we see a picture of something that is really batter pudding, which they have the cheek to call Yorkshire pudding. Because batter pudding rises whereas Yorkshire pudding is not supposed to, as it is traditionally made flat, at least half an inch thick in texture and in a pie dish. With county Durham forebears and Yorkshire ancestors believe me I know what authentic Yorkshire pudding should look like and it does not look like that batter pudding in the above picture. All supermarkets, including the Yorkshire based Morrisons, only sell frozen batter puddings and have the audacity to call them Yorkshire puddungs. Maybe even worse you go into any eating places in Yorkshire and you will only find batter pudding instead of authentic Yorkshire pudding.
That is why I am embarking on a bring back authentic Yorkshire pudding campaign.

petermMarch 29th 2011.

A year or two back, I had booked for Sunday lunch at this restaurant as a treat for my daughters who had just returned from holiday, having collected them from the airport. What a mistake! The service was absolutely abysmal. Margaret Woodhouse was very lucky to receive her meals quickly, we had to wait and wait and...! As for pudding...? We're still waiting! Having ordered, it never came, so we bailed out and had pudding and coffee elsewhere. Although it looked the part, it failed to deliver, both on food and service! Even if St John's Restaurant was the last restaurant on earth, I still would not go there ever again. Avoid it!

DigMarch 29th 2011.

Been in there for drinks quite a few times and always enjoyed the atmosphere. I have eaten in there once and will never again. Food was awful. You would think given practice a chef could cook a set menu well every time. Not there. It was terrible. As Margaret said in the review it was like frozen food bought from a supermarket... Maybe it was.

Gawd help usMarch 29th 2011.

You do know, of course, that this is the favourite feeding trough of our council leaders, their cohorts like Frank McKenna and the place where, god help us, they do all their entertaining of people from outside the city.

Says it all really

Prof. ChucklebatterMarch 29th 2011.

My thanks to BBAYP. I am genuinely shocked to realise that this means I have probably never eaten what constitutes a proper Yorkshire Pudding. All these years sitting there chatting grinning and not realising I had funny batter running down my chin.

Tricky WooMarch 30th 2011.

ooh you are awful, Prof.

Bereft LiverpudlianMarch 30th 2011.

It is so typical of Liverpool's misfortunes that we lost the dignified Municipal Annexe and have had Sir Thomas Street's unified and eminent architecture horribly disfigured so we can have this place instead.

"Sexy Networking"? My mum would sort that lot out with a bucket of cold water and the yard brush.

Bon VivantMarch 30th 2011.

No tablecloths? I thought this was supposed to be a proper restaurant? Even greasy spoons have tablecloths!

DigMarch 31st 2011.

Oh come on. Lots of decent places don't have tablecloths these days.

Bon VivantMarch 31st 2011.

They aren't deent places

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