We’d gone for Sunday lunch at Cafe at Nancie, a pretty little restaurant hidden away above a fancy clothes shop in West Kirby.
We weren’t the most attractive proposition, it has to be said. We’d had a long walk, and we had our nine month old daughter with us in a sun-lotion smeared pram,
It’s the kind of place I wouldn’t normally set foot in, full of designer clothes and beautiful teenagers. It has all the hottest brands, the exclusive labels beloved of the cool set, so stylish I don’t usually recognise them and marvel at how one coat can cost more than every item in my wardrobe added together.
I worried I’d instantly feel shabby and out of place, given that I’m still wearing my maternity clothes and ‘smart casual’ means only having sick on one of my shoulders.
But the staff were massively friendly, put the pram in their stock room and showed us up the spiral stairway to the restaurant.
A slight identity crisis
Upstairs is just as stylish as the shop, done in a style somewhere between colonial India and Ibiza chill out, with Balearic tunes playing and a pristine looking sofa on an outdoor terrace. It’s a funny mix, and one which gets even funnier when the menu influences – a fusion of French and British – get thrown in too.
Rather like the world in one restaurant, it’s aiming to be all things to all people, but that’s not to say it isn’t a jolly lovely place to sit and have Sunday dinner.
They were great with the baby too, making her really welcome. She’s in the process of weaning at the moment, picking at bits off our plates, and they gladly accommodated this.
What’s on the menu?
On Sundays there’s a set menu with two courses for £22 or three for £25. Starters included Rhug Estate Organic Chicken, Loch Fyne Smoked Salmon, Marc’s choice, and a veggie option of blowtorched burrata, which I ordered.
For the main course it was a choice of roasts, both from Rhug Estate – the dry aged sirloin or belly of pork, with vegetables, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, wild seabass or baby courgette orzo. Marc chose the beef and I ordered the pasta.
On the day we visited, there was a special offer on, with a free bottle of prosecco per table when ordering Sunday lunch. It was a decent one too – a Ca’ Morlin, extra dry, which smelt like flowers and green apples and we drank far too quickly.
Amuse bouche you say?
No sooner had our orders been taken than an amuse bouche arrived, tiny cups of super-intense mushroom soup, with some really good bread and French butter. It was a nice touch, and gave Bea something to munch on while she waited for our mains to arrive.
The salmon came all the way from Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland, a part of the world we spend as much time in as possible. Smoked in casks that had previously been used to age whisky, it had a mellow and nutty flavour and delicate, breaking apart at just the mere threat of the fork.
Given the subtlety of its flavour, there would have been a temptation to douse it in other strong flavours. Granted, my husband asked they leave off the horseradish, which may have added an extra kick to the dish, but it did not suffer without it.
The fresh radish gave it a peppery note, and the cucumber added another layer of delicate crunch. Granted it was a small portion, but one that deserved every mouthful to be savoured.
The burrata seemed to have bypassed the blowtorch entirely, but was still a great piece of cheese. It’s the milder sister of mozerella, with the flavour of fresh cream captured in a soft cheese, gentler and more subtle than the sharp tang of buffalo milk in mozzarella. Served with heritage tomatoes and a kind of olive soil, it was a good choice.
Meanwhile, across the table…
The sirloin was another big hit. Like all of the meat on the menu, the beef came from the Rhug Estate in North East Wales, one of the region’s leading organic farms, and one whose very mention on a menu gives any dish a competitive advantage over the others.
The sirloin was as tender as the salmon before it, and equally as pink.
Served with delicate greens and a berry jus, it came with a sizeable, crisp golden Yorkshire pudding – which no serving of beef on a Sunday should be without – and the roast potatoes were themselves a masterclass in how to make one of the most simple but often-maligned elements of a good roast into one of its star players.
The crispy shell giving way to the softest potato core, they were the perfect accompaniment to the succulent beef. This was a perfectly balanced portion, enough to feel satisfied so as to be left to concentrate on its flavours and textures, not to spend the afternoon being haunted by the discomfort of over-indulgence.
Similarly, my orzo with courgette was a well-balanced dish, bright and lemony in flavour, with the gentle tang of Rosary goats’ cheese, a handmade a handmade variety from the border of Hampshire and Wiltshire. The baby was a big fan too, scooping handfuls into her mouth without missing a morsel.
We finished the last of the prosecco and ordered a couple of puddings – a chocolate mousse and a tonic bean panacotta. There was a name next to the chocolate mousse that I had to look up on my phone – Valrhona, a French chocolate maker. It made me smile – from the starters to the mains to the puddings, every dish had its provenance written across it like a designer label.
Whoever designed the menu clearly knows food trends like the buyer downstairs knows fashion labels. From trendy burrata and olive soil to Scottish single loch salmon, Welsh single estate meat, goats’ cheese from a specific farm and chocolate imported from France, some might argue it’s a bit self-conscious, but given the quality of the food that would be a touch churlish.
Mention must go too to the staff, who were kind and helpful even to a bedraggled couple with a baby.
I was almost tempted to stop and have a look at the clothes as we collected our pram downstairs.
I say almost, but for now I’ll just get a bit more wear out of these comfortable maternity clothes…
Cafe at Nancie, 50 Grange Rd, West Kirby, Wirral CH48 4EF, 0151 625 6060, http://www.cafeatnancie.co.uk/