Angie Sammons enjoys simple and honest comforts in an old Betfred

WE are discussing Pinion, specifically its menu, after finding ourselves in the nether regions of Knowsley. It is a dark December afternoon. The indignation of a £27 cab is still smarting.

“It’s all about imagination,” I say - NOT referring to the circuitous route the driver chose to take from Waterloo to Prescot.

Rather, I am making notes out loud: “Imagination…the presentation of the dishes is a key element, yes, but equally so is the consideration of ingredients, and how they can meld into new, vivid formulations on the plate, their melody tantalising and exciting the five senses.”

Or some bollocks like that.

2018 12 20 Pinion Exterior
Pinion was once a Betfred

“Whatever,” shrugs my friend, and talk quickly turns to the far more pressing matter of Everton’s performance this season.

See there’s little that hasn’t been said about Gary Usher’s Elite Bistro concept and the food served therein. We all agree that across his restaurants - Wreckfish, Sticky Walnut, Hispi, Burnt Truffle - everything is largely very good.

Often cuts are economical, elevated to richness with a measure of cunning and flair.  All of the third paragraph, in fact, which saves me the bother of ever having to go on with myself in that way again.

Usher’s story keeps on giving - or rather his customers do - and his luck shows no sign of running out.

Pinion Prescot
Owner Gary Usher crowdfunded £50k in one day to open in Prescot

The North Wales teenager, severely dyslexic, became the region’s first pub apprentice then a star chef working with the likes of Angela Hartnett. Now he is an entrepreneur, using crowd funding, with resounding success, as a tool to get his restaurant projects off the ground. In essence, you pay for your dinner in advance. Give Usher £100 for the building kitty and you’ll get a voucher for a £100 meal, to be redeemed at some point down the line.

Summer, 2018, and a disused bookies on Eccleston Street was earmarked for Project Pinion (it’s named after a watch mechanism and a nod to Prescot's former watch-making history). But even with past fundraising form stacking the odds in his favour, could he do it again in what was, on the face of it, an unlikely spot?

He could. In the first fifteen minutes of the Prescot Kickstarter, £16,000 was raised with over 200 backers pitching in. Minutes later, the figure had doubled and by 10pm the full £50k had been achieved, a record-breaking achievement, we’re told.

2018 12 20 Pinion Drinks
And we're off...

According to the press blurb, Usher was attracted to the town “through recent efforts and local council initiatives to raise the profile of Prescot and regenerate the high street”.

To translate: it all boils down to Shakespeare. Plans are well advanced to raise Prescot’s profile nationally and across the - well - globe with the creation of Shakespeare North in the tiny town. People are excited: there is “Much Ado About Something”. They say the Bard and the recreation of the 16th century Prescot Playhouse could put one of the most deprived boroughs in Europe on the world stage.

For now, Pinion is the talk of the town and, on a December weeknight, nay a space can be found as its people - and those happy, hungry Usher investors - cash in their winning lots.

Our only option, then, is lunch and we take it on the blackest of winter Sabbaths.

Pinion Terrine
Confit chicken and duck terrine
2018 12 20 Pinion Egg Beans
Green beans and boiled egg

The Betfred has been transformed, the full on plate-glass windows and exposed brickwork beyond exude a bright, canteen-like allure. Take your chance up some polished wooden stairs with a similar gradient to the Eiger, and discover more seating and an open kitchen where spatially aware people work quietly and calmly.

A set menu, three courses for £25, is the name of the Sunday game, offering plenty of choices and little bolt-ons: dark chocolate and sea salt fudge for £3 (all gone) a glass of port for a fiver or Sauternes, to finish your pudding with, at £8.

To contemplate, we neck a couple of liveners: something called a Cause to Celebrate (£8.50) comprising Causes & Cures vermouth, frizzante, olive and orange - very French and refreshing. Equally good, but slightly more girly is the She & T (£7.50), manzanilla sherry, tonic, lemon and a decent show of elderflower.

Confit chicken and duck terrine is a good bit of rough to get things going, looking like a slab of bleached crazy paving whose meaty, loosely bound components crumble away on demand, helped on by pickled red onion and barbecue sauce. 

A flash of Mediterranean spring is delivered in the form of a heap of green beans, meticulously sliced, no strings attached, amid a scattering of hazelnuts, blush tomatoes and half a boiled egg which is mostly solid and, like everything else, fridge cold.

2018 12 20 Pinion Pork
Stuffed pork belly is a Jack Spratt jackpot
2018 12 20 Pinion Fish 2
A single fillet of sea bream on a bed of Puy lentils

Stuffed pork belly is a Jack Spratt jackpot, with swirls of thick fat encasing the melting meat flesh, a porcine Swiss roll with a slick of not-too-sweet apple sauce. It’s nearing 5pm and, as any commercial kitchen knows, a good roast, and all of its elements, gets harder to pull off as the hours tick by. Encouragingly, we have perfectly cooked Savoy cabbage (never enough) and a couple of decent, crunchy roasties that betray no evidence of having idled around.

On an earthy, substantial bed of Puy lentils, a single fillet of sea bream, nicely seared, with chestnut mushrooms, lemon and chive. Again, not the most costly ingredients, and a thrifty way with the fish, but it’s a simple, honest comfort on a day such as this.

Plump, sweet and satisfying is a poached Comice pear, on a whizz of dark chocolate, sticky walnuts and a great Armagnac/prune ice cream. And there is an equally ripe, fruity Brie served in creamy slivers with more pears, this time in a chutney with shallots: the match of the day.

2018 12 20 Pinion Pear
Poached Comice pear on a whizz of dark chocolate

Service is faultless, but I worry about them on those stairs.

“At least in Prescot they have made an effort with this year’s Christmas tree,” I observe when we go for a mooch around the empty streets, a 50ft, unlit specimen looming over the town.

“Er, it’s a church steeple and that’s scaffolding,” says the friend. “You should think about going to Specsavers.”

Surely that’s a matter of ‘pinion.

Pinion, 39 Eccleston St, Prescot L34 5QA Tel: 0151 493 0660

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2018 12 20 Prescot Xmas Tree
Tree or steeple?

The scores:

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.

  • Food 7/10

    Terrine 7, French bean salad 6, pork 7, bream 7, pear 8, brie 7

  • Service 5/5

    Accommodating and unhurried

  • Ambience 4/5

    All things bright and light