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Restaurant review: Ego trip

Would we find sunny delights at the hugely popular Ego on Hope Street? Angie steps inside

Published on March 9th 2007.


Restaurant review: Ego trip

March? A good time to enjoy Mediterranean food?

Well, if you're in the Mediterranean, yes. Although the one time I went to Malta, at New Year, almost every restaurant was clouded in a fug of simmering sprout fumes. An alien form in an alien land, which were at their best two hours earlier.

It soon became apparent that the foreign legion had set up camp – the foreign legion of British, get-away-for-the-winter retirees, that is, with incomes as disposable as their taste for food. The local catering trade was merely responding to demand. Fishes out of water? It certainly smelled that way.

But that was when winters were cold and we longed for soothing root veg. Now they are as mild and green as hairy lipped squid. This means that the odd aubergine, courgette or yellow pepper might not be out of the question, especially for anyone who doesn't mind stamping their footprint, flamenco like, in big carbon shoes.

And so to Ego on Hope Street. A ray of sunshine in a chilly land. It was Friday, gone 10pm, and they let us in. They even smiled. A happy family of adults and children were on their way out. The room was a-babble.

People like this place. They especially like it on Mondays when every punter, not every couple, or every table, every punter gets a bottle of house wine. Each.

The roaring success of this offer has has been noted, and copied, by the nearby Bistro Jacques to similar effect. This kind of deal does not happen in other cities. If the way to a person's heart is through his stomach, on Merseyside we must first stop off at the liver.

The décor in Ego is bright and airy; wooden floors and dark veneered tables. The lighting and the music is muted. Still, a battalion of beefy kitchen staff are clearly visible, shuffling around, through a large aperture in the wall. There they prepare no fewer than 10 starters and 11 main courses but only four pasta dishes: an eyebrow raiser given the nature of the business.

From the specials board I gave smoked duck salad in balsamic a go (£5.50). Meagre, thin rashers of fat laced meat from the bacon slicer hid in a huge oily bale of rocket. Baleful. It was lucky that we had a perfectly steely Matahiwi sauvignon blanc (£16.50) to flush it away.

Rodrigo, who enjoys eating here on a regular basis, fancied garlic mushrooms (£4.95). Sliced thinly, prior to cooking, this essentially means that any firmness the fungi might once have possessed is gone. In need of Viagara, they sat in a flaccid mountain awaiting arousal - and more garlic, he reported sadly.

Now this is a Mediterranean restaurant, remember. It says so in massive letters at the top of the £82 bill I'm looking at. “The Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, a moderate intake of meat and fish, and olive oil”, goes the Ego blurb.

So imagine our surprise to discover black pudding, mash, roasted root vegetables, bacon, creamed leeks, creamed savoy cabbage, more cream and all things British littering the menu. Had the Johnny English crowd suddenly come marching home again, demanding to be satiated in the manner to which they have become accustomed abroad?

The answer might have something to do with the high cost of using shipped-in, southern European ingredients that would drive up menu prices to an unacceptable level for Ego's loyal fan base. However a dickie bird tells us that while that might be true, the restaurant is also cooking to the wishes of their customers. I knew it!

Still, this is a very popular place. It is right next to the Philharmonic Hall and down from the Everyman. The service is good, the staff very friendly and with branches in Heswall, Chester Stockton Heath and, soon, Bramhall, they clearly have a captive audience.

Fillets of bass (£13.95) farmed, one must assume, came chargrilled, but you would never have known: submerged, as they were, in a sea of creamy lemon and chive sauce. A few tiny shrimps bobbed about on the surface. Soft in texture, the fish tasted ever so slightly of...fish, but mainly of cream. How could it not? We were presented with a substantial dish of mixed veg: boiled red cabbage, broccoli and carrots and a ladle of dauphinois potatoes, in case anyone somehow missed out on their cream .

My friend's chicken breast, stuffed with brie (£11.50), could have done with a life jacket too, having been thrown in at the deep end of a dark marsala swimming pool. But he bravely waded through, describing the dish as “rather unexciting”.

His cheered up with his pudding, though, the highlight, he beamed: poached pear in marsala (£3.95) with marscapone, crushed amaretti biscuits and drizzled with honey and a decent enough glass of Dindarello (£2).

Our waiter told me that the ladies always enjoyed the dark chocolate torte, when I asked him what he would recommend, so I got the cheeses. A slice each of dolcelatte, brie and manchego dropped on a bed of celery slices, and some crackers in a basket, were served with little ceremony: at best they hinted to a life, not as we know it, outside our cold island.

We left after midnight, unhurried, as is the custom in the Med, and shall return in the summer hoping for colour and passion to report back on.

That's if cheap-as-chips Ryanair flights from Speke to sunny Seville don't claim us, and our desire to eat the real deal, first.
It's an appetising thought...

Ego
Hope Street
Liverpool

Telephone: 0151 706 0707.

Overall rating: 13/20

Angie Sammons

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Jon GardMarch 9th 2007.

I found it pretty bland, along the lines of too many quasi-Italian places but mainly far, FAR too pricey for what was a fairly typical boring 'chain' meal.Not impressed.

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