Food review: McKenzie's In The City, Litchfield
We reached a traffic island a few miles west of Lichfield. Left for Walsall, straight on for Shrewsbury. My partner had a moment of inspiration. “If we turn left, we’ll reach The Boat Inn,” she said, pointing in a direction that would take us miles away from our route.
I indicated. We turned.
And 15 minutes later we were sitting in the region’s best quality restaurant-bar, smiling for the first time in a morose and unrewarding evening.
We ordered a starter and dessert – a mini dinner for two, if you like – enjoyed fabulous service, the best of local, seasonal produce and relaxed in convivial surrounds.
This is not, of course, a review about The Boat Inn.
We’ve ticked that box earlier this year.
And we stand by a recommendation that billed it as the best this side of Birmingham.
Nights like Tuesday, however, did remind us of the gulf in class between that and others.
It’s the first time in this corpulent life that I’ve visited two restaurants in one night.
Three gigs in a night, yes. Multiple countries in day, that too. But restaurants? Don’t be silly. Stomachs weren’t made for that.
Nor, however, were humans designed to be underwhelmed or to be satisfied when things aren’t up to scratch.
And that brings us neatly to this week’s restaurant: McKenzie’s in the City.
We’d selected it because of a decent online profile, which suggested high standards and a gastronomic experience.
I guess we ought never to judge a book by its cover, or a restaurant by its online profile.
For McKenzie’s was mired in mediocrity.
Service was poor and the food was so-so, though the room was pleasant.
It’s not a place we’d choose to revisit.
Lichfield has a burgeoning reputation for decent food. In addition to the brilliant Boat Inn, there’s the fabulous Larder, which has made an excellent impression.
Nearby Swinfen Hall is consistently reliable while there are numerous decent independent restaurants, including the ever-generous little gem that is Pizza By Goli. McKenzie’s hasn’t kept up with the Joneses. Ours was a tired and unloved evening characterised by mistakes and indifference.
The restaurant is located in Lichfield’s beautiful former Corn Exchange building and the shape of the building is its finest feature.
Oh, and it’s well branded.
A stag’s head sits beneath a delightful, classy font that suggests something considered and classy.
Our food was anything but.
We’d booked a table for two early in the evening and were only the second table to arrive.
A waitress showed us to our table, though she was disengaged and provided no reassurance that we’d enjoy our evening.
First impressions count and when she returned soon after with our drinks, we noted they were the wrong ones – she’d clearly not been listening when we placed our order.
A different waitress returned with the correct order and apologised for her colleague’s error.
The drinks, in fact – putting to one side the delightful architecture – were the best part of the evening as my partner enjoyed a lemony gin cocktail; a thrilling way to start.
And that was the highpoint – before the food had arrived.
Aside from boasting a clutch of decent restaurants, Lichfield is surrounded by productive countryside.
There are numerous producers in the region who harvest great meat, fruit and vegetables – and much of that finds its way onto the menu of places like The Boat Inn.
If you’ve not yet eaten their Lichfield Raspberry tart with elderflower custard, then get thee there.
Whether or not McKenzie’s has a similar sourcing policy is beyond my comprehension.
It’s online proclamation studiously avoids clarity and reads like so: “The products that we source are from partner suppliers that have an interest in producing the highest quality and then caring for it in a way that helps us bring the best products to your table.”
Well, I guess all catering suppliers want to be associated with the best; but we live in an age where most self-respecting restaurants are able to tell you the name of the farmer who reared their steaks – opacity no longer cuts the mustard.
I started with chicken wings that were advertised as being served with a BBQ sauce and citrus zest.
The zest was noticeable by its absence while the BBQ sauce was overpoweringly tomato favoured and lacked the zing, smokiness and complexity that it might have.
The wings were fine.
The bread was stodgy.
Rocket leaves upon which the wings had been placed had wilted by the time they reached the table.
My partner started with king prawns in garlic.
The prawns were fine but there was no small river of hot, indulgent, melted butter with finely chopped garlic in which to dip the focaccia.
It was underwhelming.
McKenzie’s prides itself on serving steaks, though its website is again inconclusive as it talks of procuring supplies from the right breeds without specifying what they are or, indeed, for how long it’s been aged.
My sirloin was fine, nothing remarkable.
It had been well-cooked, the first moment of reassurance of the evening, with delicious caramelisation and tasty, slightly bitter scorches across top and bottom.
It was meltingly pink and had been well-rested before being plated. Twice-cooked fries were okay, though lacked any sort of crunch or golden colour.
My partner’s king prawn linguine was distinctly average.
There was nothing to distinguish the dish from regulation boiled, packet pasta with a wan, watery sauce, though the chef had been generous in piling on plenty of king prawns.
Service wasn’t great.
It lacked engagement and warmth.
There’d been nothing about the evening that persuaded us to move onto desserts and so we called it a night, reflecting on a restaurant that needs to do considerable work to catch up with others.
Gloomily we began our journey home – and that’s when the fun really started.