Lindsey Bennet mostly enjoys 'cuisine without geographical boundaries' in the relaunched Owen's
On passing my driving test, the instructor confided that he’d rather not pass me but had no option, based on my lack of major faults. He advised I take further lessons, not drive alone and never listen to the radio. I meekly delivering this news to my parents who threw me the keys, told me to go for a ‘spin’ and turned their backs on me. Tough love.
I drove off alone, repeating the mantra ‘go anywhere but Fiveways, go anywhere but Fiveways’. But as it is known, where the focus goes the energy flows, and soon enough, with ghastly inevitability, I was at the mouth of the beast. Willing myself onto the frenetic roundabout, I sat for too long staring at the diners in Owen’s restaurant, wishing to swap places, until a loud beep jolted me out of my escapist reverie.
Not everything was great, but the good dishes were like slipping into a warm bed on a cold morning
In the intervening years, we’ve both changed. After 22 years, Owen’s recently reopened as The Wild Fig with the same management but now offering ‘cuisine without geographical boundaries’. And I’ve driven on three different continents and counting.
Such a proposition is certainly intriguing and could go disastrously wrong. But with capable restauranteurs behind it, that’s unlikely. Underneath the glitzy new onyx furnishings and menu of ‘small plates, large plates and sweet things’ is a timeless neighbourhood bistro serving comfortable three course meals with unpretentious service and a decent bar.
For example, on investigation ‘small plates’ turn out to be starters. I was bemusedly told “order one per person it’s just another way of us saying starter”. It was quite refreshing to return to this simpler way of ordering, without recourse to complicated formulas, determining how many dishes to choose.
So instead of sneering at a menu which didn’t at all deliver or explain the no geographical boundaries premise (except chips, they’re pretty much global cuisine) I surrendered to the nostalgia and comfort of eating an unchallenging three course meal. Not everything was great, but the good dishes were like slipping into a warm bed on a cold morning.
Our two starters (both £5.50) were disappointing. Vegetarian Scotch egg had puy lentil filling, panko crumb and celeriac and shallot piccalilli. The three dimensional and confident piccalilli sauce was a revelation, precise, fresh, tangy and vivid. Yet, whilst the egg had the tell-tale runny yolk mark of competence, the filling tasted of powdered veg stock and the coating was mono-textured, dark brown and flavourless.
Between that and our overly tanned and soft fries (£3.75, side order), I suspect we dined at the last service before they changed the deep-fat fryer oil.
The grilled Waygu beef patty, with melted gruyere cheese and ‘cherry tomato pickled’, was a bunless burger served in a cast iron pan. The excellent pickle - tart but light and such a refreshing change from sugary ketchup - dominated the dish. The meat itself was unremarkable.
Of the large plates, priced at £14.50, the slow cooked short rib of beef with red wine reduction, French onion mash and aromatic red cabbage (sup £2.00) was hearty and timeless, even if the beef was a little cold. The meat slipped off the bone and melted in the mouth, the mash was light and sweet and the generous mound of red cabbage again revealed the master hand of the kitchen’s pickler. It’s not a new culinary frontier, but a classic done right, speaks to the soul as much as the mind.
Seared hake fillet, chive hollandaise, poached summer vegetables in a miso and lemon broth showed promise but needs work. The fish was nicely cooked and thankfully unadulterated, raised above the insipid broth by a mound of unremarkable vegetables, including unpeeled broad beans. The delicious, uncloying hollandaise did not belong here at all and seemed to know this, arriving in a ubiquitous mini-copper pan. It was soon joined by a second pan of hollandaise, served with the asparagus side dish, although these may have been the best cooked asparagus I’ve had all year; held their form, a vivid green, a satisfying bite and seasoned perfectly.
Of the two desserts (£5.50) the rich velvety chocolate mousse, Cointreau infused salted caramel coulis and splash of olive oil was a delight. The depth of the mousse was offset by a balanced salted caramel sauce, the whole thing topped by a dazzlingly long chocolate curl, chilled to perfection.
When the rhubarb frangipane tart, amoretti glaze and clotted cream ice cream arrived, someone immediately declared ‘soggy bottom’; in fact, it was quite clear the entire circular pastry structure would soon collapse underneath the weight of generous scoop of ice-cream that bore down on the lacking frangipane filling. We finished with lovely peppermint teas presented with another egregious use of tableware popular at the turn of the century.
It may have had the redo, but The Wild Fig can’t escape its history nor its essence. A neighbourhood restaurant in the most traditional sense of the word, a place to choose for mid-week celebrations (of say, passing a driving test) or just that reliable, conveniently located place that everyone can get to and no one ever minds choosing.
The Wild Fig, 136 Queens Drive Childwall Fiveways, Liverpool, L15 6XX
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.
Vegetarian Scotch egg 5; Waygu beef patty 6; Short rib of beef 8; Seared hake & broth 5; Hand cut chips 3; Asparagus 9; All sauces 9; Chocolate mousse 8; Rhubarb frangipane tart 4
Neither challenging nor pretentious
Friendly and competent