When you’ve got a dinner date on the cards, food is obviously going to be your main focus – of course it is – but whether it’s a subconscious thing or not, there is a whole plethora of other variable factors which write your experience. Once of these is your surroundings; the interior, the location and the ambiance shaped by yet more influential variables. You can be served the most avant-garde fare and an unforgettable culinary experience but if the mise-en-scène isn’t quite right, you aren’t going to be sticking around for that second bottle of wine or a food coma caffeine remedy.
Personally, I’m extremely responsive to things like room temperature, lighting, background music and comfort. These factors can dramatically sway my dining experience one way or the other, no matter how irresistible the menu and places like Neighbourhood Liverpool and Salthouse Bacaro are all both examples of ‘just how I like it’. All very different but spot on in making me feel right at home and/or intrigued by the interior space.
Joining that list is The Old Rathbone in Frankby on the Wirral, which is what has risen from the ashes of the former Farmer’s Arms pub. The Wirral itself is one pretty little peninsula in the North West of England so it’s already got location working in its favour but as the saying goes, I love what they’ve done with the place.
An interesting marriage of traditional British décor (stag heads mounted on plaques, exposed brick, wooden ceiling beams, flickering candles) and an almost Wes Anderson-esque colourway of upholstered leather seating and retro, printed wallpaper. Settling in at our table for four and sheltering from the wicked November downpours was a delight. Super cosy, super intimate and casual without being too pub-like. You’ll know what I mean by that.
Another dominant component in my decision-making when I try somewhere new for the first time is the hosting; your waiters and waitresses for the evening, if you like. As you’ll know from my broken-hearted love letter regarding my turbulent relationship with Alma de Cuba, the calibre of staff really can make all the difference. Again, this is an area in which The Old Rathbone came up trumps.
Our hosts were attentive without being annoying and our waitress was 100% obliging, efficient in getting us everything we needed and knowledgeable enough to talk us through the wine list authentically on the spot. When a spoon comically sank to the bottom of the soup bowl and when we greedily requested more warm bread for the table, nothing was a problem to satisfy.
If I were to be brutally honest, some elements of the food we ate were slightly outshone by these other outstanding factors in the holy trinity of restaurant experiences. Having said that, everything we ordered from the brilliantly diverse menu was perfectly tasty. Between us we tucked into the Battered Goats Cheese (with salad and chutney) and the Duck & Orange Pâté with toast for starters, then moved onto the ‘medium spice fruity’ House Chicken Curry (with naan, poppadum, mango chutney, chips and rice) and the ‘Steak New Yorker‘ (a 10oz rump topped with barbeque sauce, bacon and cheese) for mains.
My stars of the show were the Battered Goats Cheese and the delicious chunky chips. In fact, if I could create a brand new dish of Goats Cheese & Chips for The Old Rathbone menu then I totally would. The curry didn’t quite pack the same flavour punch as I’m used to with the likes of Mowgli and Barton Rouge but I’ve heard glowing reports of the uber-garlicky chicken kiev and the 12-strong pizza list was quick to catch my hungry eyes so I’ll be spoilt for choice next time.