The “Gastropub” is not a bad concept. Bringing good fresh food to the local can and does work, and there are award-winning examples to prove it. You may remember my review of Paradise By Way Of Kensal Green, which despite it’s tacky title proved to be very pleasant.
So what is the Liverpool equivalent like? To find out, I took my mother along to the Monro (now known as the “James Monro”), feted on its own website for “artistry in food”, “a great venue”, and a “great reputation for food.” A grizzled marketing man once told me never to trust a ‘puff’ – “smacks of desperation” he told me. But mum and I gave it a whirl for Sunday lunch, to celebrate her forthcoming 80th birthday.
Initial impressions suggested the decor had been transformed from its days as a pub in what was a run-down part of town. Just as Duke Street is now a hot place to eat, the Monro has gone upmarket with the help of expensive curtains and well-set tables. Evidently a venue with aspirations, then, complete with a reasonable wine list and a few decent ales to remind you of its pub roots.
At this point the Sunday Lunch menu arrived, somewhat to mum’s chagrin since she could not find much that appealed to her. Now is also the time for me to take off on a rant about one of my frequent bugbears: inaccurate and pretentious use of culinary language. I’ve long detested the cheffy concept of taking a renowned recipe, making it in a similar style with a totally different set of ingredients and then saying, for example, “pesto of coriander and walnuts” or “carpaccio of seared tuna.” No! No no no no no no! A carpaccio consists of very thinly sliced raw meat, seared tuna is seared tuna. Pesto is made with basil and pine nuts. Different ingredients make it something different entirely!
So it was slightly red rag to a bull to see on the menu “pork roll mops” stuffed with brie, mushrooms and whatever else. Roll mops are rolled, pickled herrings. These were sliced of rolled, stuffed pork, a British staple for generations, and nothing remotely like roll mops, and therefore a pretentious and unnecessary description that added nothing whatever to the food.
But let us begin at the beginning. Mum’s roasted red pepper and tomato soup went down a treat, and the roll (bread, not herring) won praise. Pancake rolls with crab and prawn were clearly fresh, though the deep-frying process rendered them tough as old boots, by comparison with the light and crispy variety we had eaten the previous day at the Little Yang Sing in Manchester. Good filling, though more furrowed eyebrows at the menu descriptions: the promised spinach salad contained no spinach whatever, and the tasty accompanying curry sauce bore little relation to “Madras” flavour, so why say Madras at all?
For the record, the “roll mops” were overpowered by the taste of brie, and competed with a green peppercorn sauce somewhat unfavourably, and accompanied by an unadvertised pile of samphire. Mum’s salmon was deemed a success, and also came with the same samphire – evidently a job lot! Desserts and coffee were however uniformally approved by all parties.
Overall: a mixed experience, perhaps indicative of an ambitious restaurant which can’t quite deliver on its hyperbole, though it appears to have plenty of supporters, who consider the food and ambience to be greater than my experience suggested. IF I could offer any suggestion to the chef, it would be to return to basics and cook simple, high quality ingredients simply and well.