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Restaurants: Toddler gives grinning cat as thumbs up for we enjoy treat; Pam Carricker savours food and Dee views.

Byline: Pam Carricker

TFHE test of a good meal when you've got a toddler as a dining companion is how much you have to clear off the floor at the end of the evening.

Tonight's tally was a mere three peas and half a carrot, so Annabel (14months) certainly gave the Marsh Cat two tiny thumbs up.(At home the count is usually half a ton ne of mash).

Her mum and dad, too,obviously enjoyed their meals -there was a clean plate for dad, at least, and mum didn't throw any of hers overboard.

The restaurant, situated on the front at Parkgate with lovely views over the Dee marshes to Wales, came highly recommended by another toddler's parents as being very welcoming towards children -and it certainly didn't disappoint.

On arrival,as soon as the restaurant opened at 6pm (children go to bed early, you know),our youngster was installed in a clean, wooden high-chair and presented with a red helium balloon decorated with a cartoon Marsh Cat.

Still grinning like a Cheshire one, she was then offered a tin of crayons and a drawing (that Marsh Cat again) to colour in -essential tools for keeping her entertained while waiting for the meal to arrive. It kept dad amused, too.

The warm bread rolls with butter we accepted from the friendly waitress meant daughter's stomach could be kept happy enough until the food arrived.

EELING a little jaded after a hard day in work,having got up at 5.45am with the baby and suffering from a mouth ulcer the size of Cumbria (but curiously, the shape of Wales),I was not in the best of moods to enjoy a dining experience. However, the menu looked inviting enough.

Time constraints meant we had to fore go the starters, so we headed straight for the main course menu. There was plenty of choice,including a specials menu and a cheaper dinner menu (two courses and coffee for a bargain pounds 10.95).

Keen fisherman and even keener fish-eater husband went for the char grilled halibut, which came on a bed of sun-blushed tomato mash with chive beurre blanc. The fish was white and succulent, the mash warm and filling,and not a morsel was left on the plate.

Always a traditionalist when it comes to food,I chose the chicken saison,a breast of chicken stuffed under the skin with sage, mush-rooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Cooked to perfection may be a cliche,but it applies here,as the moist meat melted in the mouth. The stuffing, though delicious, was slightly too plentiful for my tastes and I admit to leaving some.

Both meals came with a side dish of boiled potatoes,broccoli,carrots and courgettes, which were also delicious -not overcooked,as vegetables often are in restaurants.

My only gripe with the main course is that, although the portions themselves were very generous, the number of potatoes was not. I looked in vain for another spud,but no, two was allI got.

The advice is: When the waiter asks if you want a portion of chips to share, say yes.

Daughter's meal -chosen from the kids' ``Marsh Kitten'' menu -consisted of fish fingers,chips and peas.

Past experience made us expect three Captain Bird's Eyes but instead we were treated to actual white fish (my God!) in a light batter -even the peas were nice,fresh garden ones like daddy serves at home.

Main meals over, we turned eagerly to the dessert menu. Being a sweet-toothed couple, we drooled over the ample choice -all a very reasonable pounds 3.95 -before deciding on the hot ginger sponge (for him) and the chocolate torte (me),both with vanilla ice cream.

Prettily presented,and again generously proportioned,both desserts were a triumph. The ginger sponge was light and moist, while the chocolate torte, which came surrounded by mango sauce ... well,I'mlost for words. As a chocolate lover,all I can say is it was heaven on a plate.

Not being allowed her own (too much sugar, far too much mess), daughter Annabel was nevertheless treated to small spoonfuls of both mummy and daddy's desserts, which she gratefully accepted. None of those ended up on the floor, either.

To round off the -very satisfying -meal, I enjoyed a perfectly adequate cup of coffee while husband took advantage of my driving by having a warming brandy version as the sun started to set over the marshes.

Heading out afterwards for a brief family stroll along the adjacent prom, tragedy struck as the Marsh Cat balloon made a successful bid for freedom, slipped its string and soared off into the evening sky.

Never mind, we'llgo back soon and get another one.

The Marsh Cat Restaurant,Mostyn Square,Parkgate,Wirral Tel: 0151 336 1963Food: English. Good choice of meat, fish and vegetarianDecor: Bistro-styleAmbience: Intimate but quiet Service: Prompt and friendlyChild Friendly: Extremely Disabled access: Two small steps atentrance

MENU

Chargrilled halibut ........ pounds 15.75 Chicken saison ........... pounds 10.95 `Marshkitten'kids'menu (fishfingers,chips and peas,plus drink and ice cream) ............... pounds 3.75 Ginger sponge and ice cream pounds 3.95 Chocolate torte and ice cream pounds 3.95 Pint lager ................ pounds 2.80 Brandy coffee ............. pounds 3.85

Total ..................... pounds 45

CAPTION(S):

TOP CAT: Drooling experience at the Marsh Cat where children get very special; treatment and hardly a morsel ended up on the floor from our toddler Picture: PAUL HEAPS
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 5, 2003
Words:906
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