Lincoln is a beautiful city and Matt and Cat could easily spend their entire holiday exploring the environs of its spectacular cathedral. There’s everything a visitor could want; bijoux jewellery shops for The Cat, musty old second-hand bookshops for Matthew and plenty of eateries for them both to enjoy.
Having spent the morning poking around the independent shops in the cobbled lanes and alleys, Matt and Cat fortified themselves with a light lunch at the Steep Hill Tea Rooms before heading down the hill – which in this city is an inevitable direction of travel. Their trip south led them away from the boutiques, past art galleries then charity shops and finally to the end of town that was home to the tattoo parlours, nightclubs and Primark. Cat was not used to this abundance of shops and had to be given a strong cup of Starbucks coffee and some sugary cake before she was able to consider the long hike back up the hill.
The consequence of Cat’s late afternoon high-calorie intake was that hers and Matt’s alimentary canals were out of synch. Matt’s gauge is always set to empty even if he’s just eaten but, having troughed a Starbucks millionaire’s shortbread and a venti-sized cup of coffee, Cat was not going to need feeding for hours. This hunger incompatibility led to some anxious moments which were resolved by Matt demanding they go out for food, even if it meant that Cat would just jolly well have to watch him eat while she sipped at a glass of iced water.
So, having worked off some of the cake with the ascent back to the cathedral, and worked up a bit of an appetite writing postcards, Cat conceded to Matt’s demands, and off they went to find a place for supper.
Matt and Cat walked to the nicest part of town again and found The Grille, a classy-looking joint in the centre of the historic cathedral quarter. This venue seemed to be associated with the large central White Hart Hotel and initially put Matt and Cat in mind of Ryde’s Yelf’s Hotel and its sister venue the Lakeside Park Hotel at Wootton Bridge. The Grille is, according to the promotional puff, “An Elegant Contemporary Hotel”, whose marketing officer clearly revels in the use of hotel grammar or Over-Capitalisation.
The swanky-looking venue appeared to be busy and Matt and Cat entered and asked for a seat. All the window seats were full; the staff had obviously been instructed to fill the most prominent tables first, so M&C were seated at a banquette in the centre of the restaurant. The place was very well appointed, clean and trendy with linen napkins and chandeliers. The staff seemed attentive and brought out a basket of bread, a jug of water and iced glasses.
Matt and Cat gave their order and didn’t have to wait long before Matt’s starter of Loch Duart oak smoked salmon with capers, parsley and lemon crème fraiche arrived. This is where the good first impressions became a little tarnished. It must be said that the tables at The Grille were pretty tiny – however this is not unusual and most restaurants deal with this by clearing away dirty crockery before bringing out fresh stuff: but not at The Grille where this elementary principle seemed absent. The waiter, finding that there was not enough room on the table for the dish, lifted the empty bread basket, laid Matt’s starter down, replaced the basket on the table and left it there with the two empty and used side plates before walking back to the kitchen empty-handed.
Oak smoked salmon £6.50
Cornfed chicken £14.50
Goat’s cheese tart £8.95
French beans £2.50
Matt and Cat couldn’t believe this complete absence of waiting. The first rule of waiting club must be ‘Don’t talk about waiting club’ but the second rule of waiting club must surely be ‘Never go back to the kitchen empty-handed’.
Still, the smoked salmon was the highlight of Matt’s meal; a simple classic dish, elegantly rendered. Plenty of very fresh and moist scotch salmon complemented by the decent sauce and a generous handful of capers. And when the waitress came by to clear away his plate she nearly rectified the earlier mishaps by taking the rest of the dirty crockery on this second pass – apart from Cat’s used side plate.
Although this haphazard method of clearing the table wasn’t to M&C’s liking the speed of the service was not at fault; the main courses arrived in pretty quick time. However, delivery returned to form as the waiter went to even greater extremes to avoid clearing the table: rather than remove the dirty side plate left by his colleague he tried to push it aside by poking at it with the main dish. This, of course, ended with dirty cutlery falling into Cat’s lap but still he pushed with the larger plate until it was on the table and his hands were finally free. Cat was looking at the cutlery in her lap with what Matt has come to know as The Look. The waiter, oblivious, continued. “Is there anything else I can get you”, he said in a rehearsed manner. “Perhaps you can clear away this plate,” suggested Cat, in a dangerously meek tone “and please get me some fresh cutlery”. Having to instruct a waiter in such fundamentals was beyond what was reasonable and, had this been the Eurovision Waiting Contest, he would have got nil points.
Matt had corn-fed chicken breast with morel mushroom sauce. The gritty morels were the tiniest fungi imaginable, no bigger than currants – almost invisible to the naked eye. This was a real shame as these nutty mushrooms are usually a real treat. However, the more generous allowance of chicken was nice and moist and the ring of sautéed potatoes soaked up the sauce adequately. Matt had been persuaded to order a side dish of French beans – at an exorbitant £2.50. As regular readers of this website will know, M&C do not like having to supplement a meal with side dishes; there should be enough to eat without this additional expense. When they arrived, there can only have been about twenty beans in the dish – not good value at all. Nonetheless, the beans were very fresh; nicely cooked with a bit of bite and an enjoyable hint of butter.
Cat was delighted with her goat’s cheese and beetroot tart. Like Brown’s Pie Shop pies, the tart was not what she was expecting but it was none the worse for its variation. The filling of this tall flan was like a mousse, light and fluffy but with a beautiful taste and subtle colouring. A layer of beetroot had been laid on the pastry case and its crimson juices had soaked upwards into the cheesy fluff giving it the colouring of really rare beef. It was topped with some fresh rocket and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. This light meal was just what Cat wanted after her afternoon cakefest.
Although Cat was satiated by her modest meal, Matt was not. However they had had enough of The Grille with its slapdash service and expensive food. The waitress, who had to be prompted to bring the bill, did make some effort at the end of the meal by chatting in a very friendly way to Matt and Cat about the sights of the city and a promise of decent weather. This wasn’t enough to make Matt want to stay: he was still hungry after his day spent tramping up and down Lincoln’s famed hilly streets.
So the reviewing duo bade farewell to The Grille, and rounded off their evening with an enjoyable stroll through the Cathedral Quarter in search of a chip shop.