Detailed review by koshkha
Northampton, United Kingdom
Garrett's Restaurant is in Bebington on the Wirral. If you know the area, it's just outside Port Sunlight village and just down the road from the Unilever Research Labs which I suspect provides a good chunk of its clientele. It's also close to Port Sunlight railway station. With the post code in my Tom Tom my colleague and I drove through a summer downpour and parked up in the tiny car park, dismissing any notions of eating on the terrace and headed into the restaurant.
It was a Tuesday evening in July at about 7.30pm and the place was about half full which is pretty good going in the middle of a recession so my expectations were starting to lift. We waited a few minutes for anyone to notice we were there, asked for a table and waited a while longer whilst the waitress consulted the table chart and then were led to a small table for two on the outskirts of the room. It was a nice looking restaurant with wooden floors, high ceilings, large windows onto the rainy terrace, an opening onto the kitchen so you could watch the chefs doing their stuff if that's the sort of thing you like and a semi-private dining room to one side. The décor is modern with some rather funky wallpaper on a few of the walls and some rather nice big dark lampshades with cut-work effects to filter the light. The tables are a mix of bare wood and white table cloths.
The server bought us some menus and took our drinks orders - diet coke for me and a Martini Bianco for my colleague Joep which obviously surprised the waitress every bit as much as it surprised me since she had to ask him to repeat his choice three times before she got the message. (I can't recall ever meeting a man who drinks that stuff or anyone over the legal drinking age come to think of it).
The menu was not very long. When I'm in a good mood I can persuade myself that a short menu is a good thing and a sign that everything will be fresh and the chefs will be focused on getting a small number of dishes just right. As you know by now I wasn't in a good mood so I just thought 'Pah, not a lot of choice'. There were six starters and eight main courses. Starters were not very inspiring and I thought were rather expensive. With the exception of the tomato soup at £3.75, the other starters were all in the £6 to £7 range. Mains ranged from £9.50 for the vegetarian pasta dish and a burger and fries dish up to £18.95 for rib-eye steak. For me, the restaurant just didn't deliver the sort of atmosphere in which I'd want to pay their asking prices especially in the middle of a recession when dinner bargains are getting easier to find.
We both chose 'Mussels steamed with lemon, basil, white wine and cream' at £6.95. For main course I chose the 'Blackened Cajun salmon with mixed leaves and raita' at £10.95and Joep opted for 'Poached fillet of hake with aioli, pepperonata and sautéed potatoes' at £13.95.
The waitress brought us a dish of small pieces of soft white bread to nibble on whilst we waited for the starters. Service was quite slow and when the mussels arrived after about 10 to 15 minutes, I was getting quite hungry. The bowls of mussels were quite small, especially bearing in mind that mussels are ridiculously cheap raw materials. However, they were only starters so I wasn't too bothered. The chef who brought the mussels over asked if we needed anything else and seemed surprised when I asked for bowls for the empty shells. She returned with these and we started on the mussels which were tiny little things. Perhaps that's the season - after all I'm not sure you're even supposed to eat mussels in July at all - but they were quite disappointing. Generally one of the best bits of a bowl of mussels is mopping up the sauce but we'd long since polished off the bread and no more was offered. I had to call the owner over and ask for spoons since most of the cost of our dishes was sitting in the bottom of the bowl with no way of getting it out.
Main courses were also a bit on the mean side. I think restaurants should avoid serving small dishes on large plates as it only makes them look more mean. In this case Joep hadn't done too badly with his fish sitting on top of a pile of potatoes and peppers but my salmon was a bit disappointing. Firstly the term 'blackened' was misleading as it really wasn't. The salmon had just been sprinkled with some herbs and spices but not with much resultant heat. The combination of the 'Cajun' claim with the accompanying 'raita' (the yoghurt based Indian dish) led me to expect something really spicy. Why would you need the raita if you weren't dishing up something with a bit of a kick? Well the Cajun spices were poor and had very little kick. The salmon was laid across some rather uninspired lettuce. I just looked at it and felt a bit sad. The waitress bought a small bowl of mixed vegetables for us to share but they were nothing special.
Joep had ordered a glass of white wine and I saw him wrinkling up his nose. He asked me if I thought it was OK, so I had a sip but admitted I really couldn't tell. He called the owner over who very kindly and without any quibble replaced it with a different wine. So nice service but it would have been nicer if it hadn't had to be sent back.
Another problem which became greater as the meal went on was the level of noise in the restaurant. I am ridiculously noise sensitive and I hate to be anywhere loud. I've had my hearing tested several times and each time the nurses have commented that they've never measured such acute hearing before. For me it was physically painful to be somewhere so loud. It's not uncommon for me to find this in restaurants, especially when there are no soft surfaces to deaden the sound, as was the case at Garretts. I asked for the bill because I'd reached the stage that I just wanted to get out as soon as I could.
Our meal for two starters, two mains, two drinks for Joep and two diet cokes for me came to £48. If the food had been better I might not have thought that was too unreasonable but the overall experience of a night out in Garretts was just one of general disappointment. I would much prefer to have gone for Chinese and I won't rush back for another go.