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ROOM TO RELAX; FOOD & DRINK - DAILY POST TASTE TEST: Glyn Mon Hughes at The Green Room, West Kirby, Wirral.

Byline: Glyn Mon Hughes

IT was the handcrafted fishcakes which gave the game away. The Green Room in West Kirby is one of a trio of restaurants in Wirral serving up some inventive offerings in a stylish environment.

Strangely enough, those same fishcakes crop up on the menu at the sister restaurants - The Manor, at Greasby, as well as Bamboo, in Oxton.

Mark, something of a fishcake aficionado, spotted them straight away and made the connection.

By chance, we've now sampled all three restaurants for this very feature and, to be honest, would be hard pushed to choose the best. They're all very different, as chalk compared to the cheese of a far-flung link in a multi-national chain.

We arrived at The Green Room on a Monday night and they just managed to squeeze us in. We'd not booked, which could have cost us dear. This is evidently a popular venue, so booking is advised.

It's a dark place, almost rather sombre and a tad cramped. Service, while friendly, is relaxed, even if slightly on the slow side.

But, then, this is no fast food joint, so sit back. . .

There's a fixed price menu at pounds 8.95 for starter and main course, with some specials available for a small extra charge. That's available every night, though it is restricted to early evenings towards the end of the week. After 7pm between Thursday and Saturday, a more expensive menu - at pounds 13.95 - offering a larger selection takes over. After we'd ordered, I did notice the blackboard which offered the likes of smoked salmon or peppered mackerel to start, with poached salmon or liver as main courses. Nothing out of the ordinary and not dishes we'd ordinarily choose if we go out, but it would have been nice to have had our attention drawn to them.

Moan over. To be honest, there was little we could fault at this restaurant. The skilful menu combines unusual with familiar, so the unadventurous needn't feel threatened.

Vegetarian options, too, are plentiful.

We asked for a glass of Chianti each while pondering the menu and it arrived at the table uncorked. At least we heard the pop of the cork, though, so suspicions remained unaroused. The Fontella 2000 vintage was lightweight, rather inoffensive but with a rich aftertaste. It grew on us, though we did opt for a bottle of white with the meal.

Wines are reasonably priced, with house wines at pounds 3.50 a glass or pounds 9 a bottle and their 'posh' variety at pounds 4 and pounds 10 respectively.

Both reds and whites vary in price from pounds 11 to pounds 20. The list is not huge - they carry around 25 different wines - with champagnes ranging from pounds 20 to pounds 100 a bottle, but what is there seems to balance familiarity with something of a challenge.

Mark's food choice sounded very much like a kid's birthday party menu: beans on toast and sausages. For beans, read Tuscan-style bean casserole on crostini with goat's cheese.

"Beans on toast!" he exclaimed when they arrived. "As if! They're spicy - no, chilli hot - with lots of garlic. They're definitely not out of a tin, and I'd like it as a main course.

That means I want more. . ."

My pan-fried chicken livers in a garlic, herb and cream sauce were soft and succulent. The sauce complemented it and did not overpower the delicate liver taste.

We were offered bread but declined, and that may have been a mistake. The basket of granary bread with tomato butter sounded tempting, as did the Indian bread with garlic butter.

With our main courses we chose a bottle of South African Drodsty Hof Steen, a delightful chenin blanc which was light but sufficiently commanding to complement the monkfish which I ordered, or Mark's infamous sausages.

When they arrived - some rather large wild boar creations, in a Somerset mustard and onion gravy - they were in a saucepan.

"Is this to save the washing up?" he muttered, before his plate arrived.

The sausages were meaty, and slightly spicy, a far cry from the supermarket economy packs. "But I can't taste the mustard in the gravy, " said Mark. We could see it, though, and the fact he was asking for bread to mop up this wonderful creation meant it was far from bad.

My monkfish was not overly generous but was quite beautiful though the sauce - tangy, catching, almost - was a little too acidic for my taste. We were served deep-fried fondant potatoes as well as swede in a caramel glaze - don't know what happened to the glaze, though - and mangetout with a tomato salsa. They were luke-warm and we could have done with more. However, fries or mashed potatoes are on offer for pounds 1.75 a serving.

The sweet menu - again not extensive, but catering for all tastes - offers dishes for a set price of pounds 3.95. My parfait of winter fruits was rather a disappointment - rather like lumpy blancmange and very far from perfect for my taste.

Mark, however, content with cheese and biscuits, was fazed by the generosity.

There was soft, hard and blue on the plate with a challenging chutney.

There are some nice touches here. The bill arrives in a small wooden box, something of which Pandora would have been proud, but without the consequences.

And there's a real friendliness, not the cheesy, have-a-nice-day grin which seems so common in these places nowadays. Add to that an inventive menu and a warm atmosphere - they even have a live guitarist on a Thursday - and this is certainly somewhere which has gone onto our 'must-go-back' list.

notes:

The Green Room, 95 Banks Road, West Kirby, Wirral Tel: 0151-625 6767 Atmosphere: Friendly and welcoming, if a little sombre.

Menu: Inventive.

Value for money: Good. Possible to eat well for under pounds 10.

Disabled access: All on the flat.

Parking: Can be difficult.

the bill:

Two set meals @ pounds 8.95, pounds 17.90 Additional charge for special, pounds 3.00 Two sweets @ pounds 3.95, pounds 7.90 Bottle of chenin blanc, pounds 11.00 Two glasses Chianti, pounds 8.00 One coffee, pounds 1.50 TOTAL: pounds 49.30

CAPTION(S):

WARM: The Green Room has a friendly atmosphere
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 6, 2002
Words:1043
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