This week I took my eldest daughter Beth to the Theatre Street Bar and Grill as part of Blog Preston’s best and worst restaurants series according to TripAdvisor. Situated on Theatre Street in Preston city centre, it has a solid reputation with customers enthusing about the ‘beautiful food, great service and lovely atmosphere’.
The restaurant looked welcoming and cosy from the outside, and there were a few rattan tables and chairs on the pavement, such as you might expect of a village Bistro in France. Unfortunately they looked out on a small car park and three large commercial bins, but I still gave an inward cheer for the restaurant owner’s determination to do it anyway.
We were given a friendly greeting at the door, and I asked the waiter if they were offering the excellent value midweek menu; three courses for £14.95 as advertised on their website. She informed me that two courses now cost £14.95 and three courses would be £18.95, which could be quite an unexpected hike of £8 for diners on a careful budget.
We were shown to a seat in a corner and given the new menus. There was a choice of one, two or three courses but also the option to have a few smaller, tapas style plates. We chose to have pate and calamari for our starters, a chicken burger and fish and chips for our mains and a large glass of summery Zinfandel with hints of apple for £6.25
Read more: How a Preston waterfront Italian restaurant defied expectations
As we were waiting, I had a look around the restaurant. The decor was modern with black chandeliers and woodwork. The lighting was bright enough for me to read the menu, but not so bright that I wanted to skitter off into a corner like a cockroach before anyone beheld the ravages of age.
The walls, ceiling and soft furnishings were all an unusual shade of orangey-yellow that I tried to identify while we waited. Egg yolk? Not from posh chickens, those are too orange. Kraft Cheese Slice was accurate but unromantic. I eventually settled on Tuscan Sunrise. Anyway, it made the restaurant feel warm and cosy, which I believe was the aim.
After a wait of about 15 minutes, our starters arrived. My daughter’s generous portion of chilli squid in a garlic mayonnaise was perfectly cooked and could hold its own against any that might be served in an Italian fishing village.
I had a pot of pate accompanied by onion marmalade, a little salad and two slices of toasted ciabatta. Beautifully presented, clearly homemade, the liver could be tasted without overwhelming the herbs and was balanced well by the sweet onion marmalade. I had a slight panic about the pate to toast ratio as the ciabatta slices were quite thin and narrow, but with rigid focus I finished them both at the same time and was able to tune Beth back in again.
Unfortunately when the plates were cleared I noticed that our table was quite sticky, with a small patch of dried something next to my plate and what appeared to be a few drops of a different dried something dotted around the rest of the table. They were only visible from a certain angle, as were some wipe marks that indicated that an attempt to clean had been made. Reassuringly everything else looked spotless including the condiments, which is usually a good way to judge the overall cleanliness of an establishment. I believe it was a small slip though one that can be disproportionately off-putting to customers.
On to the mains. A large breaded chicken breast with bacon and cheese on a brioche bun with fries. Good, but an unexpected burly slice of pickle rugby-tackled the flavour of the chicken. A very generous helping of melted cheese on the fillet combined with the fried breast and the bacon made it a little too greasy for our taste, but apart from the surprise pickle we got what we’d ordered.
The haddock and chips came with a small pot of mushy peas and tartar sauce. The flavour of the fish was complimented by a light and crispy batter without any trace of stodge and little oil. The chips were slightly hard and mealy inside, which was surprising as the food that was tricky to get right had been prepared and cooked so beautifully. Hand cut, double fried chunky chips would have taken the dish from good to fantastic.
When the waiter asked if everything was alright with our food we said, “yes” as there was nothing wrong with the chicken burger, it just wasn’t to our taste. I didn’t mention the chips as the fish was so big that I couldn’t have eaten them anyway. I’m sure the friendly and professional waiter would have offered an alternative had she known, so there are no complaints there. We didn’t have the time or the space for a dessert, though they all sounded wonderful.
Although the price of the set menu has increased it is still excellent value for the quality of the ingredients, the food, the generous portions and the service. The music is spot on, the decor is cosy and I am confident that the sticky table was an oversight in an otherwise clean and well-kept restaurant. A quick Google afterwards revealed that it holds a reassuring five star food hygene rating. I believe that the Theatre Street Bar and Grill deserves its place towards the top of the TripAdvisor list of best restaurants in Preston and I would definitely visit again.