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photo (6)One of SevenStreets’ favourite local restaurants is in trouble. Its problem is clear: it serves consistently great food, offers a genuinely warm welcome, its kitchen champions the best local produce, and it supports St Johns Hospice with every bottle of tap water it sells.

And you don’t have to take our word for it. It’s ranked number one on Tripadvisor, and was in the Good Food Guide in its very first year.

It really couldn’t do any more to keep its customers happy.

The trouble? We just don’t support our local restaurants like we used to. Over the past four years, we’ve elevated the gourmet burger to the point where we’re happy to spend £30 on dinner at a burger joint, tucked into ‘two meals for a tenner’ deals at Wetherspoons, and been seduced by the ever-advancing chain restaurant, with its economy of scale, and its reliably safe ubiquity.

table-setting-for-my
“We’re suffering,” says Ross Gray, chef-patron of New Brighton’s Peninsula Dining Rooms, “and I don’t know what else we can do.”

He’s just returned from a gruelling leaflet drop – in this heat – to try and spread the word: ‘ten minutes from here, people don’t even know we exist’ – and now he’s cooking Peninsula’s signature menu of inventive, seasonal, smile-inducing British classics.

One hundred yards away, Marine Point is buzzing. The culinary nexus of Hungry Horse, La Tasca and Marino Lounge – imported chains all – is thrumming with early evening diners, eager to dive into food service dishes transported from a central logistics hub, a pie and a pint for a fiver, or a thin paella and a lacklustre Rioja.

Meanwhile, SevenStreets is tucking into a midweek deal – duck rillette with fig compote, and sourdough bread, followed by oven baked hake, with smoked bacon, cabbage and parmentier potatoes. Two fantastic courses for £16 – the same price as a burger and starter at Nolita Cantina.

Diners at the only other occupied table enjoy the best plate of fish and chips you’ll ever find in New Brighton, and a rib-eye that looks so good we’re a little bit jealous.

julians4b-1There is, incidentally, nothing wrong with a burger at Nolita Cantina. But when we’re over the quarter-pounder fad, and the ‘all the meat you can eat’ chains, and we want to come back to honest home cooking we might find the larder is bare…

“We’ve had our worst couple of weeks ever,” Ross says, adding that, over the past 12 months, they’ve been fighting to keep their heads above water.

“We don’t buy anything we don’t need, and I’m always shopping around for bargains,” adds Ross’s front of house partner Mandy. For the first time ever, we see her struggle to keep a smile on her face. “We work so hard here…”

She points to the fresh flowers in our table vase, “oh, I do buy flowers for the tables. It’s important that we make things nice.”

“In the last two months I’ve really scratched my head, trying to find a way to turn things around. Do I change into a bistro, take a quid off the food by not buying British? I could use South American rib-eye and take two quid off the steaks, but it’s not as good as the steaks we get from local butchers…”

Ross’s relaxed/casual dining is a far cry from Marc Wilkinson’s Fraiche, but make no mistake, the Peninsula Dining Rooms is serious about its food. Serious, but not stuffy.

So, we wonder, if this place is struggling, what does that say about our appetite for decent food?

3473416_ad76609b“These days, it’s all about the bar and grill, the pulled pork and the burger,” Ross says, “and much as we complain about the chain, we all go there. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t be multiplying as fast as they are.”

“Your local restaurant cooks to order, it supports a network of local food producers, and can adapt its dishes to your requirement. But in Marino Lounge, if you don’t want cheese with your plate of patatas bravas it’s tough, that’s the way they get it from their centralised kitchen.”

And yet, throughout the region, neighbourhood restaurants have a battle on their hands.

“I talk to other restaurateurs, and they all say the same thing. But knowing that it’s a shared problem doesn’t help pay the bills,” Ross adds.

“We offer food that’s a little bit different, that’s seasonal and memorable, but it seems people are more prepared to play it safe these days, with comfort food, or food that doesn’t offer any surprises.”

Ross claims that, in uncertain economic times, we still spend, but we do so with caution: we know what we’ll get for £50 at La Tasca. Risking it at a local restaurant? Not today, thanks.

“Visitor numbers to New Brighton may well have increased but they all appear to be concentrated around the new development. The town’s seeing plenty of new trade, but it’s the likes of Wetherspoons that are benefitting, not the local traders,” he says, adding that Wirral Council have so far refused to put up a sign pointing visitors up the road, to explore New Brighton’s local traders.

“We all have a duty to support local without a doubt,” Ross adds, “but it’s also up to us locals to give people what they want. Local businesses love to complain in the media that people aren’t supporting them, but if they can’t give you what you want, of course you should go elsewhere.”

And herein lies the irony: The Peninsula Dining Rooms is head and shoulders above the food offer on the front. But location, habit, an unwillingness to try somewhere new

“I can’t help but thinking ‘are we giving people what we want’?” Ross says, but then he talks about his 1,400-strong mailing list, his regulars (who, he says, still spend, but come less often) and the £4,000 his bottled tap water raised for Claire House last year, and he realises he must be doing something right.

SevenStreets finishes another excellent meal, scooping up the remains of Ross’s fabulous home-made clotted cream ice cream and rose sorbet. We won’t leave it so long next time, we tell him.

“I’d hate to sound like I’m moaning, or blaming others. Of course there’s a place for chains supplying cheap and cheerful food, but they’re not supporting the local economy, and local suppliers are all feeling the pinch. All we’re saying is give us a go, trust us, or you’ll lose us.”


Peninsula Dining Rooms
Grosvenor Road
New Brighton

  • joe

    I lived on the Wirral all my life until very recently, have been to New Brighton in the last few weeks, I love eating out and I’ve never heard of this place. Perhaps location and discoverability are the biggest problems? If they’d opened their restaurant on Hope St in Liverpool would they be having such difficulty?

    I realise that it’s important for people to support their local establishments, but New Brighton is not exactly the first location that springs to mind when I think about where to go to have a decent meal out. If the local demand for a place like this isn’t there, maybe they’re in the wrong place to begin with?

    Thanks for the article though. Will definitely give this place a look next time we go for a bite.

  • linzibop

    I had never heard of this place until I saw this article, but I do live over an hour and a half away, in a place where there is no Wetherspoons, no chain restaurants and no trendy bars. I appreciate the quality of a good local independent restaurant (we’re surrounded by plenty!) and will be trying out Peninsula next time I’m over that way. I’m sure this article will get a few more bookings for the place, I certainly hope so anyway, it sounds great.

  • vickie anderson

    Peninsula is one of the best restaurants around, however it is fair to say it is far from being the only good quality local restaurant suffering on the Wirral at the moment. It does seem that our neighbours over the water have a slightly strange love affair with cheap chain restaurants. We supply a number of great restaurants on the Wirral (including Ross) and am saddened that they are finding it difficult to get people through the doors, especially midweek, whilst Hungry Horse and Hickory have queues!

  • Scottieboy

    I’m the same – I live twenty minutes away and I’d never heard of this restaurant. New Brighton has never been on my radar for food as I’ve always seen it as down at heel and more of a kebab and chips place – I’ve rarely been there after dark, and even then, I’ve not really wandered away from the front. I’ll mark it down as a place to try next time I’m out.

  • Ray

    A very interesting post. Having had a think about why I don’t patronise restaurants in the town where I live it comes down to:

    1. repeatedly being served food, even in supposedly good restaurants, which isn’t as good as I can cook at home (or at least not twice-the-cost better) and

    2. being made to feel like an oik by the owners and waiting staff. Not Basil Fawlty style, just a hint that they think I’m not quite the kind of customer they’d hoped for.

    The reason burgers and the like are appealing is the informality of the places where they’re sold.

    I don’t know the Peninsula Dining Rooms, but I’d suggest that, before they change the menu, they take a long look at whether they’re really making people feel comfortable.

  • Jen

    Didn’t know about it, prolly as I’m based over that her side. But it sounds great. Will make a special trip.

  • Tom Lox

    Most of us live on Twitter and Facebook these days so advertising has changed. They could do more with their Facebook account for a start. Facebook says that “403 people have been here” when you click the location however their Facebook account only has 161 likes. I mean, realistically speaking, you need a lot more than either of those numbers to effectively advertise to your masses.

    I wish the place the best of luck, but it’s also important to keep up with the times. People don’t read flyers or leaflets anymore because they’re just seen as junk mail. How often have you read the menu of another pizza place that’s been put through your letterbox? And along the same lines, the reason why there’s so many burger places popping around is because that’s what people want at the moment. If you don’t keep up you get left behind, unfortunately.

    But I really do wish them all the best, next time i’m in New Brighton I’ll hopefully remember to check them out. I’ve given their Facebook a like so I can stay informed, hopefully they’ll begin to use it more to advertise deals and offers and show photographs of their food being made…etc. That would be smart advertising to me.

    If anyone else wants to check it out, as I notice Mr. Lloyd forgot to post it, the link it’s:

    https://www.facebook.com/peninsuladiningroom?fref=ts

  • Philip Stratford

    I didn’t know about this place either, even though I live pretty close. I’m as guilty of driving past as anyone on the way to the new offerings on the front (which I don’t think should be quite as heavily criticised as they are here). I really, really want local, independent business – particularly restaurants and bars – to flourish, and I will definitely go and eat here to try it out.

    However, as another commenter has said, they could be more savvy with their publicity. I probably discard a different pizza/kebab/burger takeaway menu that comes through my day every other day – I never look at them. Twitter and Facebook is where it’s at. If I like the place I’ll try and do my bit to spread the word.

    Also, they’re in a not-particularly-nice little corner of New Brighton (how times have changed), right around the corner from a kebab house. It’d be great if Victoria Road could be transformed from it’s semi-redundant banality into a little hub of independent shops, restaurants and bars to take advantage of the increased trade in the area, and maybe it takes a place like this to spark that sort of evolution, but until then it’s tucked away somewhere you’d never go unless you knew to look.

    I hope this place can stay in business and I’ll try to do my bit, but if I, as a local with my ear to the ground more than many, don’t know about it, perhaps there is different (not more or harder) work to be done.

  • Philip Stratford

    Times are changing. Until recently New Brighton was down at heel and not a destination for a meal of any quality, but even if it’s just for the pretty decent restaurants in the new Neptune development (chains, yes, but not necessarily bad for it!) it’s worth consideration. Wouldn’t it be great if more independent restaurants like this one could open and the corporate success on the front could be replicated by smaller restaurants nearby? Victoria Road could become a mini version of Lark Lane! Why not?

  • archwavian

    I live nearby and have never heard of this place even though I follow reviews and food websites. As other commenters have suggested, I think they need to update their PR techniques.

  • Philip Stratford

    I’ve been browsing their website, which isn’t bad, but it needs work. Some design issues (text overflowing containers) and a general feeling of being outdated. A business’s website needs to be updated constantly with news, offers, tweets, whatever.

  • david_lloyd

    to be fair @rossthechef is quite a busy twitter presence. Go follow!

  • david_lloyd

    They totally are, Ray – it’s the most chilled out and welcoming place there is!

  • david_lloyd

    Do you think it’s a Wirral thing, Vickie? I’m not so sure. Yes, New Brighton’s new development has, but so has Liverpool ONE. I fear it’s a challenge both sides of the water face. Grim times.

  • Ross Gray

    Thank you for all your comments, it was very hard to basically bare our soul and tell people how we were finding it tough.
    I appreciate all the comments but we are a small independent with 3 full timers and an apprentice, we update our own website and manage our twitter and Facebook accounts ourselves, in the other times we cook, clean and serve our guests.
    Some comments are a bit disrespectful as people haven’t been here so to say that “being made to feel like an oik ” well Ime covered in tattoos and don’t treat anyone with disrespect or make anyone feel insecure, we have on many occasions given people what hey really want, steak, chips and peas or chicken, chips and peas.
    I thank you for the comments about publicity but is there a magic and cheap wand, how do you bring people here, I was the one who first mooted the idea that it could be location but we couldn’t afford the rent on the front or the terms and conditions that were attached as an independent, we did look at it when it all started getting built.
    Yes we need to advertise but while we all spend time on Facebook and twitter don’t we google restaurant new brighton or tripadvisor?
    Finally if you haven’t been here please come over, say hi and see what you think, if you want phone and book a table and tell us you have read his and I may buy you a beer and have a chat, remember all comment whether they hurt our feelings are positive so I do mean it when I say thank you for all comments.
    Thank you

  • Graysylm

    As someone very involved with PDR, we are very heartened by all the support and comments, this article has generated.
    Several people have highlighted, even those living within a short radius, that they don’t know who or where we are. As we have been around for several years, we have to acknowledge this is a shortcoming by us.
    With this in mind, where do you check out when looking for somewhere new to eat? Certainly seems we aren’t doing so in the right places!!

  • Ramsey Campbell

    I do wonder why all the people here who’ve said they have never heard of the Peninsula ever check the local restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor. I thought I was helping by reviewing them there (twice).

    Reviewed 22 April 2011 (“One of the culinary gems of the Wirral”)

    A real birthday treat (my wife’s). A great welcome from Mandy (I hope I’ve remembered her name right) and excellent friendly service throughout. Pea and mint risotto starter delicate but flavoursome, goat’s cheese truffles in beetroot soup a real taste explosion. We had main courses from the specials – brill in crab sauce subtle but tasty and filling, chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese perfectly judged in terms of balance. The cheese slate was fine, and the chocolate fondant delicious. All this and a goody bag for my wife! We’ll be back.

    and

    Reviewed 22 April 2012 (“Another birthday treat”)

    Just as fine as we expected. Fish and chip starter (in a cardboard cone) fun and tasty as well. Pork belly with inventive accompaniments splendid, and as for the crackling, don’t risk flipping it off your plate by trying to cut it – just pick it up and crunch. Plum and almond dessert delicious, and it was followed by a birthday cake and a party bag as well. Many thanks to all (particularly Ross and Mandy) for another great evening!

    We’ve been since and they’ve never let us down.

  • Ramsey Campbell

    I do wonder whether all the people here who’ve said they have never heard of the Peninsula ever check the local restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor. I thought I was helping by reviewing the restaurant there (twice).

    Reviewed 22 April 2011 (“One of the culinary gems of the Wirral”)

    A real birthday treat (my wife’s). A great welcome from Mandy (I hope I’ve remembered her name right) and excellent friendly service throughout. Pea and mint risotto starter delicate but flavoursome, goat’s cheese truffles in beetroot soup a real taste explosion. We had main courses from the specials – brill in crab sauce subtle but tasty and filling, chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese perfectly judged in terms of balance. The cheese slate was fine, and the chocolate fondant delicious. All this and a goody bag for my wife! We’ll be back.

    and

    Reviewed 22 April 2012 (“Another birthday treat”)

    Just as fine as we expected. Fish and chip starter (in a cardboard cone) fun and tasty as well. Pork belly with inventive accompaniments splendid, and as for the crackling, don’t risk flipping it off your plate by trying to cut it – just pick it up and crunch. Plum and almond dessert delicious, and it was followed by a birthday cake and a party bag as well. Many thanks to all (particularly Ross and Mandy) for another great evening!

    We’ve been more often, and since then, and they’ve never let us down.

  • Ramsey Campbell

    Sorry – this was my first draft of the posting above it. Can it be deleted?

  • Philip Stratford

    That’s a fair point. I must confess, I’ve never thought about looking at TripAdvisor for my own town!

  • Philip Stratford

    I’ve followed the restaurant already – I’ll go follow Ross too, thanks for the tip!

  • vickie anderson

    ah Dave, but the challenge is what it is all about, there is no winning without a competition! Seriously just looking at our order book would indicate that people are now making different eating out choices on the Wirral.

  • JD Moran

    I think it’s a nationwide issue to be honest. I’d love Liverpool (and its surrounding areas) to buck the trend but I don’t feel it does. It also seems that some mark the success and appeal of a city/area on whether they can pull in the big chain restaurants rather than the prevalence of better, more creative independents.

  • John Q

    As terrible as it feels to point this out, I think a lot of it comes down to the location – me and my family love Peninsula and will definitely be going again, but the simple truth is that a fair amount of people who have a spare hundred quid to take their family out are snobs, and wouldn’t think to go out for dinner in New Brighton. Had it opened in West Kirby or Heswall, even if prices were a couple of quid higher to cover the rent, they’d surely be cleaning up. The central problem, as the article and comments suggested, is that those that live in and around New Brighton often have their heads turned by La Tasca, et al (who, contrary to one commenter, I can’t suggest got it too hard in the article – their tapas is bland, overpriced and boring). It’s a real shame but it’s all about location.