Despite the abundant produce, Lindsey Bennett struggles to find a good meal
Town and country, beach and farm, the Wirral Peninsula has a robust food identity with myriad markets, farmers, restaurants, bistros and cafes that showcase her uber-local produce.
Claremont is sui generis in this regard, a fourth-generation family-owned farm that has expanded and diversified over the years, following an ancestral stateside visit and subsequent introduction of ‘pick your own’.
You can do that and plenty more these days, with fishing, walks, dog grooming, holistic therapies, outdoor theatre, workshops and the centrepiece: a two-storey wooden farm shop, café, bar and event space that overlooks the flourishing enterprise.
It establishes a state of positive anticipation for a great lunch. Alas.
Ambling around the pick your own fields it was easy to see how the heatwave had put paid to any notions I harboured of indulging in nostalgic strawberry picking. The vines weren’t completely bare, so I did experience a shot of pleasure on squashing a couple of intensely sweet fruits into my mouth, but the family favourite activity is over decidedly prematurely this year.
Nonetheless, Claremont Farm is busy. I arrived late morning on a Thursday during school term, to a stuffed-to-the-gills café and patio area with a relentless stream of customers arriving throughout my visit. It was touch and go whether I secured a table downstairs for lunch service at all, although afternoon tea and tables in the calmer upstairs space can be pre-booked.
The shop is resplendent with huge and juicy produce i.e. cherries you can’t avoid ‘sampling’ and lots of the lovely small batch cakes, cookies, oils and interesting curios you find in such places. Both the pie and butcher counter look on a par with anything found at the better farmer’s markets in the country; it establishes a state of positive anticipation for a great lunch. Alas.
The casual lunch service has pay at the counter ordering and those irritating self-service giant kilner water jars that seem to require three hands to operate and only ever come with the smallest of glasses and mandatory repeat trips. The bouncy, relaxed floor team work the rooms like a well-oiled machine and know their onions. Indeed, Claremont is a very friendly place. Alas.
Locally sourced ingredients and their suppliers are proudly displayed on the blackboard-style walls, with some fruit and veg originating from Claremont; fish, dairy, eggs, meat and poultry all nearby. We made sure to choose dishes which included most of these. Alas.
The food was a disappointment. Underwhelming and forgettable. Not terrible but not worth the trip nor deserving of the fanfare.
Pan fried fish of the day (£10 with two side salads or chips) was a tenderly and crisply fried side of bream. Simple, delicious and placed atop a double portion of rapidly declining cauliflower and lentil salad with butter beans, carrot, pickled shallots. The salad was warm where it would have been better cold and crunchy with more pickle and tang to cut through the mushy textures.
I have exacting standards when it comes to fishcakes (£10.00 with two side salads or chips), and whilst these were a promising golden colour and crisp on the outside, if a little small, the interior containing (supposedly) bream and smoked haddock was a flop. It took two bites to detect a fish or any real flavour. Accompanying beet, bean, apple, walnut and goats cheese salad was unexciting.
The worst dish was the spicy lentil soup (£5.00). Boring and thin. More of a budget tinned tomato soup than a lentil soup. I was not asked to clarify which bread I wanted for the egg mayonnaise sandwich (£6.00 with coleslaw, crisps, leaves), forgot myself and so had workaday seeded loaf where rye may have been the superior choice. The egg mayonnaise within however, was rich, silky, well-seasoned and pleasantly chilled.
Accolades must go to the coffee of the month (£2.50). The Americano was the best thing I tasted all day by a country mile. A Peruvian blend, smooth, well balanced and undemanding, it uplifted both the S’more (which I insisted to a confused waitress be warmed) and a slice of lemon drizzle cake (£3.00) that was light and airy, slightly dry but topped with a zingy icing. The S’more (£2.50) – homage to that old farmer’s seminal stateside visit perhaps? - was clearly produced with good quality chocolate but the biscuit was snuffed out by excessive volumes of chemical mallow.
One of this generation’s current owners was easy to spot throughout my visit, mingling happily with his staff and eating a big bowl of something not on the menu. My abiding memory is of his food looking tastier than anything I’d eaten, which only deepened my sense of disappointment in what should have been an interesting, ingredient-led and, most importantly, flavourful meal at one of Wirral’s leading food destinations.
Claremont Farm, Old Clatterbridge Rd, Birkenhead, Wirral CH63 4JB. Tel: 0151 334 1133.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Fish & salad 6; Fishcake & salad 4, Spicy lentil soup 2, Egg sandwich 5; Cakes 6
Accommodating, affable, hardworking
Bustling and full of people enjoying themselves