Wednesday 3 October 2012

Artisan Restaurant, Booths, Lytham

Eating in-store is usually an unrewarding last resort of the desperately hungry.  Eating in a supermarket all the more so.

But, to borrow a phrase, Booths is not just any supermarket.  Indeed some years ago they specifically dropped the word supermarket, and I like to think of them as a small chain of grocery shops.  They have long been champions of local food, and have more recently been working with Slowfood UK on bringing some of England's Forgotten Foods onto their shelves.

Booths is often called the Waitrose of the North, but it would be more accurate to call Waitrose the Booths of the South, as Waitrose is something of a newcomer compared to Booths.  Edwin Henry Booth opened his first shop in Blackpool (then little more than a seaside village) in 1847: it would be nearly fifty years before Wallace Waite and Arthur Rose opened their first shop in West London in 1904.  An Edwin Booth is still at the helm of Booths.

Lytham was the first branch (originally opened in 1879) in what has become a chain of 28 shops across the north west, though the current store is a new construction.  Booths has long had restaurants attached to its stores (indeed, my grandmother worked in the café at Booths in St Annes in the 1950s), but in the last decade there has been something of a renaissance, beginning at their Kendal store, for which Steven Doherty, the first British head chef in a Michelin 3-star restaurant (Le Gavroche), consulted when the Artisan restaurant there first opened.

The Artisan restaurant at Booths in Lytham, is a large airy space above the store, adjacent to the art gallery (oh yes, there's an art gallery in this branch of Booths too ... you don't get that in Asda...).  The menu is nothing especially striking, and as you would expect, given the location and its association, seeks to be many things to many people. There is a fairly extensive breakfast section, which from 11.30 a.m. gives way to a fairly standard brasserie menu, drawing heavily on produce available on the fresh food counters of the store below. Which made it all the more odd to be told that they had run out of burgers.  How do you run out of burgers when there is an extensive butchery counter, including various varieties of pre-made burgers, attached to the restaurant?  But it's not all shop and serve: there's some real cooking going on too.

I started with some Eggs Benedict.  Rather than the standard English muffin, these came on a larger base, which I suspected might have been Greenhalgh's oven bottom muffins.  There was a very generous helping of excellent roast ham, with a couple of neat, poached eggs on top.  In contrast to the generous amount of ham, I thought they had been a little mean with the hollandaise, which itself could have done with a bit more punch.  But for £5.95, it's difficult to criticise, and I'd have no qualms about ordering it again.
Eggs Benedict
 The main menu is supplemented by a brief daily specials, so brief that you wonder if it's worth printing it.
For a main course I chose the Pan Fried Hake with shrimp risotto from the specials menu.  The only criticism I could possibly have of this was that it might have been better described as shrimp risotto with pan-fried hake, given the relative proportions.
The hake itself was perfectly cooked (which is not bad going for the graveyard mid-afternoon shift, when you might expect the cooks to be out the back having a smoke), and the risotto too was spot on - not overcooked and gluey, as can so easily be the case.  There was a very generous helping of shrimps in the risotto: it would have been nice to think they were Lytham shrimps, but I suspect it's more likely they were (unfortunately) the Dutch brown shrimps (equally unfortunately) usually sold in Booths stores. If anyone from Booths reads this and would like to enlighten/correct me, I'd love to hear from you.  But they and the risotto that contained them were still very tasty.  This really was a very impressive dish by any standards, and all the more so, given that it came out of a grocery store café at half past three on a Saturday afternoon.  It was also excellent value at £9.25 - in fact, most main courses are under £10.

Readers of my website and blog might have picked up that I'm a bit of a sucker for what we used to call French Fried Onions, but which now seem to be just called battered onion rings. (I wonder when and why that changed?)  They're not a bad test of a kitchen: can they make a good batter?, do they clean their deep-fryer regularly?, can they deep fry food accurately?  The beer batter on these was obviously quite thick to start with (probably a batch of batter made earlier in the day), and also quite thickly applied.  The kitchen failed a little here, as the cooking was a bit uneven, with a couple of rings really needing a few seconds more in the fryer.  Being that little bit underdone gave them a bit of a feel of an onion-flavoured doughnut.
Hake with onion rings towering in the background
 Presumably as it was mid-late afternoon, I wasn't shown a wine list, but looking at it later, it serves it purpose well, and, with prices between £10 and £20 a bottle, isn't going to damage anyone's wallet.   I think it might be nice to see a corkage deal on wines bought downstairs, and what I particularly missed was the opportunity to buy a glass of  Booths' latest wheeze, #BoothsSecret, an unlabelled great value, cheap red, only available retail by the case.

I just had a small bottle of ginger beer, and also decided not to have coffee after seeing two utterly vast bowls of coffee being brought to the next table, with the announcement that these were their flat whites.  I have to say I've never seen anything looking less like a flat white.  I think some barista training could be useful, if that were typical.  Service, however, was very good.

So, in summary, not faultless, but an impressive performance, and undoubtedly a useful addition to the restaurants of Lytham, which, since the closure of The Hastings, generally lack distinction.

Note that Booths Artisan Restaurant is open daytimes only.

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