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Restaurant review: The James Monro

AA Grill and guest are gagging for it in Tithebarn Street

Published on May 6th 2009.


Restaurant review: The James Monro

WHAT about this? You go to a restaurant and instead of a violinist to serenade you at your table, you get your own personal comedian. Five minutes of stand-up with your sit down meal. A little wit to whet the appetite.

Need to break the ice on a first date and haven't got a single amusing thought in your head? Order a comic with your aperitifs and she'll be a-titter over her fritters in no time. It's also a nice little earner for stand-ups struggling to get a regular gig (what do you call an out of work comic? On the droll).

Diners would be encouraged to join in when, for example, ordering a round of drinks: “A larker for me, and a grin and tonic for the lady.”

”Ice?”
“Jest a little.”

This obvious money-making scheme occurred to me when I asked my lunch companion (let's call him Harry – don't want to embarrass the lad) what he was up to. Harry, who is not a comedian but evidently thinks he's funny, replied: “I'm going to do a stand-up routine at the Royal Court. Do you want to hear my act?”

“You're joking?” I spluttered.
“Give me a chance,” he said. “I haven't started yet.”

We arrived at the James Monro New York Restaurant (and bar) as everybody else was leaving. Like good comedy, it's all about timing. At the heart of watercooler world, the JM relies, at least in part, on the army of office workers around about, a platoon of which were diligently trooping out of the front door at 1.55pm, wearing smiles and saying things like “good value, isn't it?”

Inside, it's clear this place was constructed at a time when commercialism may have been crass but it still had some class: high and wide with lovely big arched windows and numerous examples of the woodworker's art. They haven't messed with it too much, adding simple dark-wood tables, pale grey paint to the walls and approximately 14 million candles, the effect being somewhere between upmarket pub and downtown New York.

Lunch and dinner are mostly very different affairs in terms of what, and how much, you get on your plate, with the common factor being “authentic New York” cuisine. By night you get things like pistachio-crusted rack of new Hampshire lamb with fingerling potato. Lunchtime (12-3pm) there is a choice of tapas-style “New York snacks”, most around the £3 mark, and a small selection of “speciality sandwiches” including a Bronx Burger.

Harry proceeded to stuff his face while performing his act, giving the distinct impression of someone attempting one of the more unusual entries in the Guinness Book of World Records. From the snack menu, meatballs (£2.95) were Little Italy, NYC, standard; coarse and well-seasoned, and sitting on a bed of rather good cous cous and tzatziki.

Squid (£2.95), the interesting knobbly bits, was tender, the batter a little lame, and came on another bed of cous cous and tzatziki, which was one bed of cous cous and tzatziki too many. Shrimps (£3.95) were fat and juicy, our enjoyment heightened by a lovely slick of chilli butter and a well-dressed mixed leaf salad garnish.

“Can you spare me a squid?” I enquired.
“I thought you were paying?” said Harry.

A Grand Central sandwich (£3.75) – pastrami and Gruyere cheese – and a Bronx Burger with Vermont cheddar (£7.95), came encased in the same bland, bulky, rather chewy rolls.

“Must do ciabatta,” said Harry suddenly.
“Huh? Is that a joke?”

Carrot and pistachio slaw (£1.75) sounded great but wasn't, or maybe it was just that pun. Coleslaw has to be absolutely crunchy, just made fresh; this was limp and had sat around. The only other negatives stemmed from the same source, or sauce – a heavy hand in the kitchen, with the result that another helping of the same salad, which would have been welcome, was this time swamped in dressing, while two large pools of ketchup and American mustard on the burger looked like a bloodbath at a New York taxi paint spray factory.

On the upside, the pastrami, said Harry, was “Brooklyn juicy,” and my patty, made with pasture-raised beef, was a satisfyingly rough-hewn, full-flavoured mouthful, if laced with a touch too much chilli. The burger comes with chips (a side order is £1.95); handcut and perfectly soft-centred.

For pudding, a proficient panna cotta (£3.95) and “cawfee and donuts” (£3.95) as Harry insisted. The donuts were “as good as Sayers'” which I think was meant to be a compliment, while “the coffee ice cream was the logical extension of the latte and syrup people who don't actually like coffee drink at Starbucks”. I think that was meant to be a compliment, too.

They don't do lunch quite like this anywhere else in town and it's easy to see the appeal of (for the most part) good quality food at good value prices, in pretty snazzy surroundings.

So, what's the verdict?, said Harry.

“Well,” I said, “a few little adjustments here and there, and it will go down a treat.”

“Adjustments?” said Harry, looking oddly miffed. “What adjustments?”

“Oh, not much – a lighter touch with the mustard and salad dressing; rethink the coleslaw; perhaps a simpler, softer bun with the burger..."
“I meant my routine, stupid.”

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 perfect. More than 20: Don't be daft.

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

DigMay 6th 2009.

Which voucher was it? 2 starters and 2 mains for the price of 1? You saved £13-£16 and are complaining about missing about £1-£2 worth of sauce/ coleslaw? Did you ask for some? I did and they were happy to oblige. For free. We didn't even realise the dishes were supposed to come with those sauces in the 1st place. It's not going to stop me going again. What a minor trivial matter.

DigMay 6th 2009.

You can't go wrong in either Monro although I prefer The Duke Street original due to it's proximity of my favourite watering holes.

Rolling eyes to the heavensMay 6th 2009.

There is a whole world of difference between asking the waiter for some ketchup and a dish being "as described" in the menu. Condiments, bloody condiments! You'd get run out of any decent restaurant if you asked for the bloody HP Sauce, you buffoon.

Dumb waiterMay 6th 2009.

You say: "It is people like Anonymous who don't open their mouths when something is wrong that let restaurants get away with their standards slipping. " Then in the next breath you add: "If we all kept our mouths closed and never went back most places wouldn't last long."So exactly which is it to be?

I. F. ThesteakmeselfMay 6th 2009.

Puschka? Do the fish dishes and mussels still cause projectile vomiting?

Food for thoughtMay 6th 2009.

I haven't eaten in the JM during the day, but the couple of evenings I've spent there have been a treat. Food was top notch - tasty, perfectly cooked, well presented and good (ie you won't roll out of the door, bloated to your eyeballs) portion sizes. Good value indeed. The atmosphere's great - cosy, ambient; classy tunes. Service is good - efficient yet unhurried, and friendly. In fact, my mum voted it her favourite place in Liverpool, topping the Carriageworks, Puschka, 60 Hope Street, Suepees and a string of other tasty eateries she's enjoyed over the years... I haven't done lunch yet but I'm sure it won't be long. Sounds like they might have a few minor adjustments to make, but don't let it discourage you. Evenings in the JM are charming...

Dear Sirloin or MadamMay 6th 2009.

Dig, it is people who don't give a toss about what they eat that lowers the bar of restaurants in Liverpool all the time and lets people get away with this sort of behaviour that anonymous outlines. Your not doing the Pilgrim Pinny woman any favours with your slack, poor judgement.

AnonymousMay 6th 2009.

My problem was that on my second visit I recommended dishes to my eating companion however, these arrived with elements missing from my previous visit the week earlier. On my second visit there was no hollandaise sause on the bagel, there was no coleslaw with the burger, and the lamb chops should have had some sought of tsatsiki sauce, which again was missing. I did wonder if it was because the second time of visiting I did so on one of the voucher deals!! I haven't been back since.

AnonymousMay 6th 2009.

If a place has an off day is that OK? Should the chef not come out and offer to knock a few quid off the bill if they've got a hangover or something? Assuming that they haven't already pared their margins to the bone with a 2 for 1 voucher, that is.

HarryMay 6th 2009.

My condiments to the chef.

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Latest Rants

Anonymous

Another independent burger joint, jesus. A burger's a burger, yep Manchester's saturared with em…

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Anonymous

How about some super buff waiters serving up grub for the ladies... might open a rival restaurant…

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Gimboid

Oh Alex, why do you have a problem with people being attracted to other human beings?

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Alex

go back to kindergarten boys.

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