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Restaurant review: Are you local?

What's the real deal, these days, at Liverpool's original gastropub? AA Grill visits The Monro

Published on July 26th 2007.


Restaurant review: Are you local?

FOR the third time in as many minutes, Mike exploded into his handkerchief.“First hayfever I’ve had this year,” he spluttered, though I suspected raging flu, and he dared not own up for fear that I’d be off like a shot, and the promise of a meal would remain just that.

Could you blame me? I just checked (when I say “checked”, I looked up Wikipedia) and a single sneeze launches up to 40,000 infection-loaded droplets into the air. What chance have you got?

We were standing at the bar of The Monro, Liverpool’s self-proclaimed original gastropub, in city centre Duke Street.

New Zealand green-lipped mussels were not shouting “locally sourced” and that carbon footprint was looking about a size 12

“Ooh, I don’t think so,” frowned the barmaid when, not yet 6pm on a Wednesday evening, I asked if we were all right for a table. “It’s graduation, you know.”

She consulted a passing colleague. “For two, is it?” he smiled. “No problem.” Perhaps she had seen a room half full when we saw a room half empty. Perhaps she hadn't liked the look of Mike's hanky.

Whatever the cause of Mike’s sternutatory salvos (that’s sneezing to you and me) it was buggering up his ability to be any use at all. Mike’s top-of-the-range palate is one you normally want around when judgements need to be made on food and drink. It has stood him well in his kitchen and his local. He’ll tell you where to find a good pint and he’ll cook you a mean fish pie.

But you can’t taste properly without your nose, and tonight Mike’s was malfunctioning. Out of odour. The olfactory gate bolted shut.

All I got from him on the pea and ham soup (£3.95) was “uh, ummm, there’s some kind of secret ingredient, but I’m afraid I can’t quite.....Aah…aaahhhhh-chooooooo!”

Some kind of spice, apparently, but I wasn’t so anxious to know its identity that I was going to share his spoon to find out. As it happened, my plate contained a dollop of tarragon mayonnaise, perfect cover for any nasal shrapnel that might fly wide of the Kleenex at 300mph. Oh well, it’s probably better not to know.

Anyway, he said the soup was “very nice”. Which was a good thing, too, seeing as The Monro speaks rather highly of itself. There’s no point hiding your light under the basil.

They have a website full of stuff about “highest quality”, “locally sourced”, and “our environmental footprint”, giving the impression of an outfit at one with nature.

The menu didn’t altogether agree. New Zealand green-lipped mussels were not shouting “locally sourced” and that carbon footprint was looking about a size 12.

Risotto of sunblushed tomatoes and asparagus committed the double sin of ignoring locally grown tomatoes: juicy, lovely and bang in season, and buying in asparagus – its short British life already over – from, well, I didn’t ask, but my money’s on Peru.

North Atlantic King Prawn Cocktail (£6.25) had, at least, drawn from the nearest ocean to Duke Street. The prawns were not the biggest, but meaty and tasty. They came with exotic-sounding cucumber spaghetti – actually thin, not-so-exotic strips of cucumber – more of those infernal sunblush tomatoes, and that tarragon mayonnaise which, for all we knew, had acquired its own secret ingredient.

But Welsh shoulder of lamb (£13.25) was a massive beast, full of flavour, sat atop a decent enough parmesan mash and surrounded by a sea of port and rosemary jus.

Nicely cooked pan-fried seabass fillets (£12.50) were pretty good, even if they didn’t quite have that catch-of-the-morning taste. Keeping them company were spinach and the ubiquitous sunblushed tomatoes.

A bottle of organic Barra pinot noir (£14.95), from a small chalkboard selection, was probably the best thing all night.

On the side were so-so chips and fried onions which were just that, each for the princely sum of £1.95. The last time I bought an onion, which, funnily enough, was a couple of weeks ago, it cost me 10p.

Tiramisu, and lemon shortcake (£4.25 each) tasted of the freezer section at Asda. If the desserts really were made on the premises, I’ll eat my hat (make that a bowl of summer berets).

Four years from the fanfare that announced The Monro’s rebirth as a gastropub, perhaps it’s time for a brush-up, starting with the faux gentleman’s club décor of the dining area – an extension of the bar – whose distressed paintwork now looks distraught. This to be closely followed by a restatement of their solemn vows to love and to cherish the seasonal, the fresh and the local, for richer and for poorer, from this day forward.

We didn’t have a bad time at The Monro. It just isn’t what it says it is. The food is no better and no worse than a dozen restaurants serving up similar fare within a two-mile radius.

And, as Mike observed, if we’d been eating off the fixed price, Pretty Pea Menu it could suddenly have felt like top value, particularly at lunchtime. Duck spring roll with sweet chilli and beansprout salad followed by battered cod, chunky chips, mushy peas and home-made tartar sauce, all for £6.25. “Now that,” I told Mike, hoping he’d take the hint, “is NOT to be sneezed at.”

Rating: 13/20
Breakdown: 6/10 Food
3.5/5 Service
3.5/5 Atmosphere
Address: The Monro
92-94 Duke Street
Liverpool L1 5AG
0151 707 9933.

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

AndrewJuly 26th 2007.

Ive had many a good meal in the Monro, the early doors (or now Pretty Pea) is good value and also the high-life card ensures half price, I cant moan at that. Also tried wild boar here which was beautiful.

carmelJuly 26th 2007.

Would just like to comment on the reviews off people on here,they have hired a new chef and his meals are outstanding.They have also just been named in the cheshire life liverpool eating guide( cant be that bad then eh?) .The pretty pea menu is amazing value and exeptional taste.If you have not been in a while TAKE MY WORD AND GO.

Helen MacAllisterJuly 26th 2007.

Think you'd better read it again, Nick, and slow down this time. The reviewer seems to be saying it's not a bad place,service is ok and the foods ok. Just not as local as it likes to make itself out to be. Hardly a personal attack is it, Mr Paranoia?

AnonymousJuly 26th 2007.

Im afraid the Monro has long piped itself up as a gastropub.More attention should be given to eateries like Thomas Rigbys .Winners of numerous local and national awards for its food beer and service.Been The Monro twice as i always give places a second chance.No depth whatsoever.Sorry!

William LyonsJuly 26th 2007.

This place is a gem. What's with you guys (and girls!). You should subscribe to their mailing list, it's a hoot - a real warts and all account of running a restaurant in the city centre.As for food it's high quality at low prices and if that sounds OTT, as your reviewer says for a 2 course lunch for six quid you can make up your own mind...

Kevin HawleyJuly 26th 2007.

I remember when the Monro was a minging stay-behind a few years ago before all-night drinking. I ate there at night recently with my student daughter and it wasn't like the idea of a gastropub you get in London, which is a pity. On the other hand it's not Brewers Fayre either which has got to be good.

AndrewJuly 26th 2007.

Ill take Piglet along if shes hot )

sumopeteJuly 26th 2007.

I prefered The Monroe when it was a full on DIY Punk Rock venue!

AnonymousJuly 26th 2007.

Seems that Brewers Fayre has captured the market then

PigletJuly 26th 2007.

As I was working across the road at the Bibby Group at the time, and was treated to lunch by a kind gent who obviously thought I needed feeding, the Monro had two major pros going for it - ease of access and a freebie. It wasn't the most exciting meal I'd ever had, but it was fine, filled a hole, wasn't noisy (MAJOR PLUS) and the service, if not super-observant, was friendly. Would I go back? Yup, next time I'm in Duke Street and need a feed, sure. Would I travel for it? If someone's treating me to another lunch, sure.

yankunianJuly 26th 2007.

Sounds like you had a better time than we did there on our visit last year... It was grim. Though it wouldn't have been so bad if we weren't expecting much more on account of how they present themselves. All barn and no hay, as they say back home. If that's the best Liverpool can do for a gastropub, we're all in big trouble.

NickJuly 26th 2007.

I've been there in many occasions and i have to say the food was great, comparing with londons gastro-pubs if you have ever been u'll know what i mean. a few times we couldn't get a table on friday and saturday nights and tha says all. The servive was always excelent. The review looks more like a personal attack. As for Mr. Mike-nusty, i think u need to go out more often.

StellaJuly 26th 2007.

Come on, we could do with more than one good food pub in the whole city, especially now the no smoking ban has come in. You would think that pubs would want to make the money back in this way. The Baltic Fleet used to be good but someone told me that had gone off too.

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