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Liverpool restaurant review: The Side Door

AA Grill finds the little Hope Street flower still isn't letting the side down

Published on November 6th 2009.

Liverpool restaurant review: The Side Door

BRIGHT red geraniums, radiantly defying the decay of autumn, blaze a trail to some of the best food in town.

All the way up the steps they go, to the entrance via the side door. This is the first known instance of a restaurant name doubling as an instruction to prospective patrons who reach the Hope Street facade to find attractive Georgian sash windows, an impressive collection of good food citations, but no way in.

Inside is all very pleasant, but the owners have clearly eschewed the services of an interior designer. Cosy, not trendy, the walls are mainly exposed, whitewashed brick, with little adornment; tables and chairs the sort you find at your grandma's – mix and match, pull-out leaves, a bit scratchy.

I was glad we weren't sitting in the basement; apart from the absence of windows, a folding screen abruptly shielded one table from comings and goings to the toilet, while newly-delivered crates of drink stacked in the middle of the floor made it resemble what it possibly was once – a storeroom.

The geraniums, freshly cut flowers on the table (veronicas, actually, and very nice too), the offer to put some more hot water in your teapot – it was all getting dangerously close to twee. And the place does seem to attract an element at lunchtime who will, dare I suggest, appreciate these touches more than others.

Or perhaps the disproportionate presence of diamond wedding diners on a Wednesday lunchtime was down to the fact that they simply had more time to linger over their meals. For let us be clear, this is not food to be rushed; it's not a pit stop, it's an award-winning production with a beginning, middle and end.

The Side Door is not about concepts or designer lampshades – it is about freshness, flavour, quality. I will happily sit next to a pile of crates if you give me food like this. Dammit, I'll sit on a pile of crates.

Actually, if you are in a hurry, they have an alternative menu to suit including a great looking steak sandwich with celeriac coleslaw. Fish crops up a lot at The Side Door. Cod,

seabass, salmon, plaice, hake and more are featured on the various menus of the day: lunch, theatre, dinner.

Lunch began with smoked haddock rarebit; gently cured fish with a Lancashire cheese topping, rings of surprisingly agreeable beef tomato, red onion and a fabulous mint dressing (£6.25), every flavour distinctive without dominating. For my friend, a creamy cauliflower and cumin soup (£4.50) with a hunk of good crusty, warm bread and a dish of butter.

Excellent calves' liver (£11.95) came with celeriac and potato puree and Wirral kale possessed of a flavour and vibrancy that can only come from being harvested at the last possible moment.

Seared tuna (£11.95) was firm and plump with a subtle flavour oceans away from the acrid contents of a can.

Cooked just to the rare side of raw, with a meaty, well-defined texture, it had everything you could expect of great beef fillet – without the twenty-odd-quid price tag and the heart disease. The fish sat atop potatoes and peppers, humble vegetable imbued with a depth and golden richness by slow cooking in olive oil, garlic and saffron.

If the final act felt like a little bit of an anticlimax – ice cream described as “Swiss” suggested they should stick to making clocks and chocs; crème brulee (£4.95) proved rich and creamy but only after the glazed sugar topping had taken a battering from a spoon – it was only against the previous altitudinous standards.

Our two waiting staff displayed contrasting styles – one of student age who was at the familiar end of informal (“enjoy, guys”); the elder preferring the classic English route of not calling us anything. Both were knowledgeable, accommodating, well-organised and kept on smiling amidst the unexpected throng.

We last reviewed The Side Door two and a half years ago when the editor of Liverpool Confidential described the food variously as “glorious”, “admirable” and “lovely”. I had feared that, all this time on, chef Sean Miller's cooking may have gone off the boil. But class, as they say, is permanent.

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, 16-18 very good to exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Cheeses, Mary and Joseph.

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

RummyNovember 6th 2009.

Does anyone remember when the Side Door was Becher's Brook?

ADNovember 6th 2009.

I do! now that was a restaurant.

Rumpole of the GravyNovember 6th 2009.

Good food is all in the preparation. I think the last steak I had was murdered in a Penge bungalow.

Rumpo ManNovember 6th 2009.

Yak yak yak!

Z-ManNovember 6th 2009.

The poor standard of grammar on the blackboard menus on the railings rather put me off going to Becher's Brook.

Rump manNovember 6th 2009.

I went to an unnamed steak house in the city centre a while ago and they were boasting that their chef used to work there. I turned on my heel and fled.

x-manNovember 6th 2009.

Becher's brook was awful. Overpriced pretentious rubbish.

Rummy againNovember 6th 2009.

That soup is making me starving I have to say.

Mike HomfrayNovember 6th 2009.

Perhaps I should give this a try again. Last time we went the fish on the menu had been replaced by coley - which I would hesitate before feeding to the cat - and the other options were grim. But this does suggest a great improvement...

AnonymousNovember 6th 2009.

love the side door

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