Village Hotel at Whiston
This week I was invited to the Village Hotel in Whiston, to try their Verve Grill, this was a comped meal thus they knew I was there. I was hoping for somewhere nice, I little spot just out of the city where you could get a decent meal, perhaps on a nice drive during an afternoon or evening.
The Verve Grill is the the name for all of the restaurants in the Village hotel chain, it follows the same spec menu that all the restaurants around the country do. A recent trip I took to a similar sort of venue was rather disappointing, to follow the menu roll out the food had been compromised. Here lies the problem with chain hotels and restaurants, it doesn’t matter how good a chef you get, they are constrained by the menu, they only cook what they are told to. I was hoping the Verve Grill would be able to straddle the line of sticking to a corporate spec sheet and delivering good food. Too many times, when a group of restaurants designs it menu, price and cost savings trump quality food. Would the Verve fall into this trap?
The dining room is bright and clean, it certainly wouldn’t win any design awards but it perfectly acceptable. Our service is quick, efficient and very friendly, however we are pretty much the only diners. Was this the tell tail sign of bad food?
Our starters were easily the best courses of the meal, a chicken liver parfait was smooth, rich and very tasty, the tang of onion marmalade and soft brioche worked well. A smoked ham hock with watercress and mustard dressing was a great balance of flavours the peppery cress, hit of mustard and sweet smokey pork. This wasn’t exciting or original cooking but it was done well.
Mains weren’t quite as good, a Sea bass fillet was cooked with a great crispy skin, perhaps a touch over cooked, but it was nice. The accompanying fennel salad was heavy with soy dressing which had a nice umami hit and I liked the combination. However, the braised short ribs were really tough, they looked great and had a nice flavour but really needed an hour or two more cooking. This cut of meat needs long slow cooking to really break down what is tough flesh, these ribs hadn’t had that and thus became an exercise for the jaw muscles.
Puddings really lacked any attention to detail, the Eton Mess was essentially cream and fruit, a much greater sprinkling of meringue would have made a disappointing pud something far better. A chocolate fondant came with good ice-cream and had a nice dark rich flavour but it was solid throughout, no gooey runny centre which could have easily been achieved with a few minutes less cooking.
The village hotel has some good points, but the menu isn’t particularly exciting, it clearly has the hall marks of a menu put together for a chain of venues. Elements of the food show good cooking, however, there are too many little details that require further attention, this was cooking without a great deal of care. If the Verve wants to attract people out of Liverpool it has to do something different, it has to give the chef more freedom. Unfortunately it’s stuck with a formula that is average at best.