When is it your duty to include the duty? Angie Sammons finds out
'HE’S out there day and night, night and day, I see him every time I look out of the window.”
Who could our friend, the one who lives in the rather handsome Exchange Street East building, with just a glimpse of the Town Hall, have been referring to?
The lonely workman wandering in and out of Lebatish, the restaurant that has been opening soon for the past year?
Or perhaps some mischievous sprite taking care of Barton Rouge’s street-front menu, making sure that the piece of paper obscuring the bit of the card that read “All prices excluding VAT”, didn’t slip away.
You can do this kind of thing on menus inside, they said. You can’t do it on menus outside. And how was the name of the restaurant spelled again?
No. The “he” being talked about, on this occasion, was the richly brocaded, turban-clad chap employed to stand outside Liverpool’s newest curry house in all weathers, with a benevolent smile for diners lulled into the former Anderson’s Bar.
To be clear, Anderson’s Bar was not some early homage to Uncle Joe, in the style of the Bill Shankly or Dixie Dean hotels. But, hey, going forward, anything goes.
Rather, it was a basement piano bar and, like many deep seated institutions in the city’s commercial district, it fell victim to downtown’s economic downturn a few years ago. Silenced, it remained a promising venue for someone when the clouds eventually cleared.
That time is now and the area, once tumbleweeded after five o’clock, is a-boom with bars and restaurants. Even the screaming, opportunistic seagulls have dropped their chips in joy.
Breathing fire into these listed, former mercantile and maritime HQs are sushi bars, niche cheese and wine stops, hipster signposts like HUS, Santa Maluco (from the people who brought you Salt Dog Slims) and the bang up-to-date poster for Indian cuisine that is Mowgli. Then there are the cocktail-driven all-day-all-night venues like Castle Street Townhouse and Neighbourhood.
The world has spun on and in all this, Barton Rouge, with its enrobed doorman and its silver, velvet blingy decor feels like something of a throwback. Perhaps a throwback to Great Britain, pre-EEC 1973, when people knew VAT only as a whisky with a 69 suffix to its name.
For up until very recently, all diners, since the place opened in June (including our own selves a fortnight ago), have been routinely presented with a surprise at the end of the evening. Not the fun sort where someone jumps out of a cake, but 20 percent surcharge, termed VAT, added to the final bill: a charge not factored into any of the prices on the actual menu, although you would find mention right down there in the bottom left hand corner if you peered hard enough.
Back out on the street, on the price list restaurants are legally obliged to display to passers by, we found exactly the same PDF. As for that little disclaiming message about VAT, it was covered by a folded piece of paper. You following?
So, in effect, that £11.95 kebab that enticed you down the steps in the first place (if it did), would, at the end, command a heftier £14.35.
(Was it worth either of these prices? My friend, who ordered it on the night, would say no.)
Anyhow, having never, ever seen this before in 20 long and often grim years of restaurant reviewing (Google me if you like thousands of pictures of ashen food), a call was made to Trading Standards for clarification.
They had never heard of it either, and, after being put on hold for a long time, they gave their verdict: You can do this kind of thing on menus inside. You can’t do it on menus outside. And how was the name of the restaurant spelled again?
It’s wise to keep checking back and, a two-minute return last night revealed that suddenly all thorny mention of VAT, or the lack of it, has vanished at Barton Rouge, scratched out from the menus in pen. No such worries about the one out in the street: that was already covered up, as we know.
“It was causing too much confusion,” the manager explained.
You don’t say.
That, and the doorman, are the most interesting things I can tell you about Barton Rouge (save for the conversation coming with our company accountant when I put my exes in this month and he wonders where the VAT number is on the receipt).
See, the food was OK. OK in the "If-this-was-the-only-Indian-in-town" sort of way: small portions - at expense account prices - and an entire run of dishes tasting more or less the same.
One of the starting dips (£1.75/£2.10) the green one, was particularly pleasing: a lime, mango, coriander affair which our server proudly claimed was of his own making. Less home-made were the Pringle-like poppadoms (£2/£2.40) which you order separately.
Then an orange parade of what are termed “divine” starters: Jingha Nisha (£6.95/£8.95) two large king prawns, and their chicken brethren, Rocky The Rooster (£4.95/£5.95), each dish marinated in “Chef’s special sauce” and served with the same yoghurt-based dip and and green garnish.
The boti "kebeb" (£11.95/£14.35) came on an iron griddle that was hotter than Hiroshima and caused the lamb meat to singe at the edges and the bed of onions to blacken in places. It added an unexpected frission to the muscular feel of the meat. Scant shards of red and green pepper, two thin slices of lime, another coupe of pink, yoghurt sauce and that was our lot.
As is the fashion, there is a “street food” section and from this Punjabi kukkar chole (£9.95/£11.95), a small bowl of chicken and “chicpeas" (sic). This was memorable only for the price, which smacks of a jolly good laugh, although not if you are trawling the streets of the Punjab region seeking an affordable scran.
Tawa mixed veg (£7.95/£9.95) was, we were warned, a large dish. It was not. Instead came a bowl of red onion and tomato broth enlivened by a handful of peas and flecks of green leaf.
And, lastly, another bowl: good old saag aloo (£4.50/£5.40) the spuds and spinach favourite, which was fine if you liked the flavour of the sauce in the chicken kukkar and wanted it to go on a bit more.
But back to our latest conversation with Barton Rouge, whose manager was keen to point out, last night, that until the restaurant gets some new menus, with prices marked up by 20 percent (inexplicably, they already charge these higher figures, up front, in their Widnes, Heswall and Chester branches) the unsuspecting Liverpool public can be sure that the lower, more attractive price they see on the card is the price they will pay at the end.
As they are fond of saying in downtown business circles: “Happy days.”
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the venue or a PR outfit. Critics dine unannounced and their opinions are completely independent of any commercial relationships.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind in the area: fine dining v the best fine dining, Sunday roasts against the best Sunday roasts, etc. On this basis, the scores represent...
1-5: Save it for the dog; 6-9: Netflix and chill; 10-11: In an emergency; 12-13: If you happen to be passing; 14-15: Worth a trip out; 16-17: Very good to exceptional; 18-20: As good as it gets
Poppadoms (5/10); Dips (6/10); Jingha Nisha (5/10); Rocky The Rooster (5/10); Boti kebab (4/10); Saag aloo (6/10); Punjabi kukkar (6/10); Tawa mixed veg (4/10)
More Heswall than Hyderabadi