The chain restaurant. It’s a strange animal, they’re loved by the public at large and generally kept busy with custom. But for serious food lovers they’re mostly something to shun. Something seen as not up to par, which is often, but not always, the case.
I’ve had some reasonable meals at chain restaurants. Never outstanding, but meals where I’ve left quite happy. I’ve also eaten terrible food at chains too. A recent trip to the Italian restaurant run by a certain Essex-born chef springs to mind. On the whole, I prefer them because I’d rather spend my money at local independent restaurant, regardless of whether or not the food is any better. So, what about a chain that doesn’t really have any local competition?
Last week we were invited along to Miller and Carter, a steak house in the Albert Dock, and due to the lack of a proper independent British steak house in Liverpool we were quite intrigued. Now it wouldn’t be fair to lump Miller & Carter into the same boat as Cafe Uno or Pizza Express but, at almost 30 branches, it’s not inconsiderable in size. So with the question of chain vs independent taken out of the equation, we are left with a restaurant that can live and die solely by its food and service.
The decor – dark colours and soft lighting – is perfectly nice without being of any particular note, and this is a theme closely followed by the food. I would add, that the big glass window that looks straight out onto the Albert Dock is a bit of a treat, if you were finding your company somewhat boring you could happy pass some time staring across the water.
Warm, friendly and attentive service was helpful without being fussy. On arrival we were offered a board of quite tasty olives and terrible bread, it was straight from an anonymous factory somewhere and lacked any discernible flavour or pleasant texture. However the bread, as it so often is in many restaurants, was the low-point food wise.
A reasonable duck rillette (£7.25), relied a little too much on dried herbs and seasoning, but was perfectly good. Cheese-stuffed parcels of Mezzaluna pasta (£5.95) lacked some seasoning for the filling, but came coated in a good, tangy sauce. Both starters showed some skill in cooking, but with a steak house it’s all about the main event. If a very well-charred lump of perfectly cooked good quality meat arrives then everything will be alright.
So when a very nice rib eye turned up, cooked how we requested we were quite happy; decent quality meat was properly cooked, although I would have liked some more charring on the surface. The (28-day matured) meat was nicely pink in the middle with good flavour; the best bit of a rib eye steak is the little ‘eye’ of fat in the middle, and mine was soft, rich and creamy. For a little under £20 with chips, salad and a passable béarnaise sauce we were not disappointed. Unfortunately our Fillet Wellington (£19.50) had all the hallmarks of that classic dish done badly: soggy pastry, little discernible pate and overcooked meat.
Deserts (£5.50) were unremarkable; a warm, sweet bread and butter pudding was quite heavy and came with bought-in custard, an apple pie was tasty and had crumbly pastry, but the cinnamon was a touch overpowered.
So where does this restaurant fit in Liverpool? It serves good steaks at quite reasonable prices, probably as good as anything else available in the city and, as long as you stick to the main events, you should be happy.
Our ventures into something a bit different, the Wellington, didn’t reward. As far as independent competition there really isn’t any, so this makes Miller & Carter a reasonable place for steak lovers.
Miller and Carter