This restaurant feels like a throwback to the 90s. Not that its customers care.
When I was too young to be concerned about fine dining, I used to work for a website which promoted various middling hotel and restaurant chains.
Sifting through their menus and photographs, my eyes were opened to a style of dining, a British leisure activity that was far from the multicultural, modern and lively restaurants that surrounded me in my native metropolis. A way of dining that involved a lot of paté, chicken ballotine, quenelles and over-decorated rectangular plates.
Bring your grandparents, celebrate any life event here and it would all be reliably ok...
I often pondered how it would feel to be in my fifties and driving beyond the city limits to eat a polite three-course meal in modest country house surroundings. After visiting Spire, I can now imagine the food part of that experience perfectly.
Spire is a two floor neighbourhood restaurant compactly placed between the equally busy Neon Jamon and a restaurant/bar that changes ownership every half decade or so. With a table for Saturday night’s service secured well over a week in advance, I approached the evening’s British-European meal knowing that Spire hasn’t evolved much over the years, but according to word of mouth, reliably delivers excellent meals. In short, don’t expect anything mind-blowing, but do expect well cooked food and pleasant service.
The three-course menu proposes seven starters, seven mains and seven desserts with some cheap yet decent wines by the glass to accompany (From £3.75 for 125ml). It’s served by friendly, unpretentious waitresses in uncomplicated black outfits. Add in the neutral décor of heavy, solid wooden furniture and exposed brick walls and it’s all very homely. But then it gets complicated.
Every explanation of every dish involved more details than can be processed or appreciated. It’s a challenge to decide what to eat. Eventually, fuelled by bread and some stunning basil oil - the real standout of the entire experience - we made semi-informed choices/leaps of faith/shots in the dark and placed our orders.
In the end, all that busyness resulted in plates either over developed, underdeveloped or not really achieving harmony. A starter of seared monkfish, prawns, chorizo, bean casserole and pickled cucumber salad (£8.95) came closest though - the lovely reds of the warm, comforting flesh and beans contrasting with cool, vibrant cucumbers. The monkfish held the smokey paprika flavours well, whilst the cucumber was a lightly pickled distraction.
Honey baked feta, garlic and herb gnocchi, golden beetroot puree and pickled beetroot (£7.95) turned out to be cheesy and stodgy croquettes balanced on tasteless beetroot-two ways. Soup of the day, a hearty, comforting, earthy lentil (£5.95) was an outlier in that it was simply described and arrived unadorned.
Onto the much agonised-over mains. Take a deep breath; Goosnargh chicken, crispy goats' cheese and caramelised red onion cake, baby vegetables and roasted red pepper sauce (£16.95); fillet of Cumbrian beef, roasted shallot puree, horseradish dauphinoise, crispy treacle beef, red wine jus (£22.95); pan fried sea bass, crab, prawn and spinach croquet, baby vegetables, crab fish sauce.
They all sported irrelevant sweet potato crisps, bland boiled cauliflower and not baby, but small pieces of other boring veg. Surrounded by pools of sauce of different hues.
Over-designed plates masked in all instances very pleasantly cooked beef, chicken and fish respectively. Some sauces and sides were surprisingly sweet and tasty whilst other telegraphed flavours failed to manifest. The chicken’s accompanying goats' cheese cake was a differently shaped disappointment from the feta starter. Clearly portions are generous, but we needed the menu as a constant guide to what we were actually eating.
Dessert did not buck the trend, although elements were more easily identifiable. Inevitably one was assembled on the trademark black slate typical of this kind of dining-room; blackberry and apple mess and crumble with toffee apple ice-cream (£7). It was well executed and far too much in the end.
Apple tart tatin (£7.50) was a case of restraint with only one ice-cream and a light butterscotch sauce to obscure the freshly warm, caramel crisp affair. Chocolate fondant (£7.50) was marred by ‘hello 90s’ berries and also by not being that good - excessively thick walls, not enough molten centre.
If longevity is an indicator of a restaurant’s pedigree then a review of Spire should have been a glowing tribute to the competence of kitchen and front of house on the night as well as the broader skills of owner and head chef to consistently cater to their clientele. Clearly they’re doing something right with bookings required well in advance, but it seems I’m not their typical clientele.
That said, bring your grandparents, celebrate any life event here and it would all be reliably ok. I, on the other hand, have developed different aspirations to mark my not so distant half century.
Spire, 1 Church Road, Liverpool L15 9EA
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Lentil soup 7, feta gnocchi 4, monkfish & prawn 8, chicken 6, beef 5, seabass 6, chocolate fondant 4, apple and blackberry 6, tart tatin 6
Friendly and accommodating.
No real atmosphere