It’s always something of an adventure going to WTLGI and, perhaps, even more so on this first visit after lockdown restrictions were relaxed. We’d read their Covid safety policy, so knew most of their new arrangements would be subtle and not really noticed by the diner. And that’s how it was. Tables were distanced but then tables have always been distanced. In fact, they’ve put in a couple more tables and, with twenty bums on seats, this was the busiest we’ve seen the restaurant in four visits. The service style is unchanged. Chefs cook and bring their dishes to you, usually explaining the provenance of the major ingredients. Maybe we are still getting used to the “new normal” way of doing things but it felt they could have distanced themselves a bit more for comfort – but this was not a major issue.
As for the food, it’s still a no choice multi-course meal, costing what’s actually a very reasonable £65. They’ve pared back the length of the menu since our last visit and, I think, changed payment arrangements. You now fully pay in advance, at the time of reservation. It’s non-refundable although you’re very welcome to change dates or pass on the reservation to someone else. It’s the sort of thing restaurants have to do consider these days, to protect themselves against the cost of no-shows.
So, to the food. First up, a couple of snacks. A single radish, complete with leaves, with a seaweed dip. Now, as with most of the dishes here, there’s a story to tell. They’ve always had a farm in the Cheshire countryside but there’s now an urban “farm”. It’s on the top deck of the multi-storey car park serving the Merseyway shopping centre, a few minutes stroll away. And they’re growing in raised beds. So, when other restaurants talk of their food miles, Sam Buckley can talk of food yards. That radish could have still been growing a few hours before we ate it. Next up, a barley cracker (like a big prawn cracker you’d get from a Chinese takeaway). It’s filled with a variety of herbs – some common, some unusual – all grown at the car park. And a dab or two of crème fraiche. It’s just lovely – light and fresh tasting.
There’s their housemade sourdough bread – the starter for this is now four years old. It’s served with butter, churned on the premises and a really flavoursome pork rillete. They’re happy to keep this topped up throughout the meal, but we were fine with the initial serving.
Then there’s an oyster. It’s presented alongside an apple jelly and a crispy cabbage (?) leaf. For the next course, there’s halloumi. Not just any old halloumi but their own, house made halloumi. They buy milk from Alan Jones who farms sheep in North Wales. We’ve eaten yoghurt here that they’ve made from the milk. Now it’s cheese. And they serve it with chopped beetroot and a Chinese leaf (which I heard as something like “chiuso”). The leaf had flavour difficult to describe – maybe a little citrus, maybe a little peppery. But you wrap the cheese and beetroot in the leaf and pop it in your mouth. I loved it but then I love halloumi.
There’s a fab dish next. A whole barbecued mackerel to share, along with some very thinly sliced fennel. The sauce was made by fermenting the “leftovers”, like the heads, from last year’s mackerel servings. It comes out as their take on the garum sauce of Ancient Rome. Possibly, our most enjoyed dish of the evening.
Then a meat course. It’s pork. In fact, it’s always pork. I understand why that is – they buy a whole organic saddleback from a farm near Stoke and, over time, use all of it in different ways. The pork lover of the couple always enjoys whatever the dish is. The other member of the couple wishes they’d introduce a bit of variety. Tonight, it’s taken from the shoulder and roasted. Quite fatty – which was good for the pork lover. It’s served with wilted Chinese greens and a light, but very flavoursome jus.
Dessert was bang-on for seasonality. Crisp pastry held a plum puree, slices of poached plums and cream, flavoured with plum stones (making it taste a little like almond) and honey from the farm.
It had been a fun evening. Service spot-on. Very hospitable – Sam now seems very relaxed in his “chef patron” role, chatting with customers. Food had been lovely – you are not going to find this sort of set-up very easily elsewhere.