Monday, 8 September 2014
The Clove Hitch, Liverpool
Liverpool's restaurant scene continues to improve, taking its own sweet time and in no particular hurry to get anywhere quickly, but even so (and seemingly occasionally only by accident) producing more decent places to eat. Just a couple of doors down from the lovely Side Door (which itself now boasts a more mature, elaborate menu than when I first visited a few years ago) and in a similarly impressive Georgian townhouse on Hope Street, is the brand new(*) Clove Hitch.
Nods to modern dining trends are very much in evidence here, like they are almost everywhere at the moment; there's a bourbon bar downstairs, with a separate menu of burgers and hot dogs, and a long list of European craft beers. It's just something we all have to get used to now - overnight, every bar and restaurant owner in Liverpool decided that they did, after all, want a piece of the London/US dirty food pie and now it's just bloody unavoidable. But despite these affectations, the main part of Clove Hitch is a nice, normal restaurant serving modern British dishes and doing so for a typically Liverpool-modest slice of your wallet.
Scallops with black pudding and cauliflower may sound a bit unambitious but there's a reason these ingredients are so often put together - they taste nice. And yes, OK, they're pretty difficult to mess up, but there's no great shame in that when you're charging prices like this. Smoked chipotle butter added an interesting smoked note and pea shoots took the place of the, er, peas you often see presented with scallops and black pudding. The square plate was a bit weird but only a minor distraction.
Salt & pepper calamari appeared to come not with advertised chimichurri sauce but with the same harissa oil that accompanied the lamb later on, but I have a sneaky feeling harissa would have worked better anyway. They were moist inside and with a gentle crunch, and though again hardly groundbreaking were still perfectly pleasant to eat.
I appear to have not taken a picture of the soup of the day - Stilton and broccoli - but I'm sure you can guess what a bowl of soup looks like and anyway, as it was so dark in there most of my pictures look like something taken at the bottom of the ocean during a thunderstorm. It came with some decent bread which I would have liked to have seen brought to the table a bit earlier, but at least I got to try some.
Aubergine and feta rolls with grilled broccoli and cous cous was a vaguely Eastern Mediterranean thing, nice and summery and some good contrasting textures.
Bloody hell these photos aren't getting any better, are they. This - you'll have to take my word for it - is some grilled, marinated lamb chops with cous cous, mint yoghurt and green beans. Lovely pink lamb, good char on the outside, and the fresh yoghurt matched it perfectly.
And this isn't the Creature from the Black Lagoon but in fact my favourite of the dishes that evening, a wonderful sticky slow-roasted beer-braised beef cheek with buttery wild mushrooms. The sauce it was coated in was one of those treacle-thick reductions that make you want to lick the plate clean. Well it made me want to do that anyway. So I did.
We steered clear of the cheeseboard; although it came from the usually reliable Liverpool Cheese Company the Clove Hitch appear to have gone for a selection of weird flavoured Lancashire and black-pepper-coated creamy goat's that tends to suggest whoever's put together the board isn't really that big a fan of cheese in the first place. So instead we enjoyed a very lovely chocolate & hazelnut tart (with a particularly impressive Frangelico ice cream) and a lemon tart.
The total for three people came to just over £60. The early evening deal included a glass of wine each, and though my fancy London habit of ordering a craft beer bumped up the final total a bit, it was still all an absolute steal considering, well, considering we enjoyed it all. Service was a bit slow but a large office party populating the lower side room probably didn't help on this front, and all said and done we left happy. In a city filling rapidly up with identikit dirty burger joints and lazy Southern Fried Chicken concepts, you can certainly do a lot worse. Even if that's not always stunningly obvious from my godawful photos. Sorry.
(*)I've just been told it's not brand new at all. Sorry.