“ Address: 12 Sheep Street / Spalding PE11 1BE / Lincolnshire / Tel: 01775 714269 „
On the rare occasion when I choose to write about a recent dining experience, I only tend to put finger to keyboard after visiting an unsatisfactory eatery: after many years, I'm still yet to reveal just how many portions of sticky toffee pudding I could devour in one sitting at Prezzos or praise my village's local pub, The Merry Monk. But after evenings like the one we had in Spalding a few weeks ago, it seems crystal clear as to why I feel the need to name and shame substandard restaurants...
One Sunday afternoon, we were going to stop at the tried and tested Hungry Horse in Spalding on the way home from Peterborough. Sadly, the many vehicles on the car park deterred us so we travelled on until we reached Bootleggers, a recently opened Steak House, Grill and Carvery located in the heart of the town. Bootleggers is situated above a Chinese buffet and was an Indian restaurant beforehand. When we arrived at half past five, it wasn't very busy and we thought that was something to do with the time. However, it seems that the good people of Spalding were avoiding Bootleggers for many other reasons...
FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND AMBIANCE
I'll point out from the start that it's like an Olympic event to reach Bootleggers; the many, many steps leading up to the establishment may be a tad difficult for small children to negotiate or indeed the elderly who are unsteady on their feet. I could be wrong but we did not see a lift for wheelchair users either near the entrance or in the back so if you or anybody else in your party requires some assistance, give Bootleggers a call - they might even be happy to help.
Admittedly, the 'might' in that last statement should have its own flashing neon light. As we arrived at Bootleggers, my Dad asked for a table for four and the grimacing woman (who appeared to be the manageress) asked us if we'd booked. Um, pardon me for being pedantic, but surely we would have said 'we've got a table booked under the name of' so-and-so if that was the case? Instead, we were shown to our table next to the window (to prove to the entirety of Spalding that Bootleggers IS the place to be on a Sunday night) and left to our own devices to scan the menu.
The decor of the restaurant resembled that of a fancy, American steak house with thick, heavy leather chairs galore and pictures scattered across the walls of American sweethearts from years gone by, including the ever fashionable Audrey Hepburn. The huge fish tank near the entrance was a nice retro touch and the wooden tables were wide and spacious enough for our needs. The rest of the room, on the whole, was well furnished.
I have three minor complaints regarding the overall 'feel' and appearance of the restaurant and the first of these is the lighting; although it wasn't dark outside on the occasion we visited, in the restaurant itself the lighting was non-existent and made everywhere look, and feel, very dull. Perhaps they sat us by the window to do their bit for saving electricity but still, a low wattage light would have cheered the place up no end. Another point regarding the restaurant's interior was the fact that signs directing customers to the toilets and whatnot were typed and printed from a computer. If Bootleggers wants to establish itself as a cut above other eateries of a similar nature in the local vicinity, it needs to make sure that the signposts are in keeping with the fancy decor in the restaurant itself. I appreciate that the restaurant has only recently opened but the paper signs are cheap and make the place look very unfinished. The large menu printed at the bottom of the stairs might seem like a good idea but in actuality contradicts the lavishly furnished insides; the billboard would be more suited to a seaside caff with garden furniture rather than an eatery with leather chairs and a borderline ostentatious fish tank.
Finally, the ambiance of the restaurant wasn't aided by the rather depressing music playing in the background. Now, I like a bit of 'Let It Be' as much as the next Beatles fan but I would sooner have a mix tape of relaxing, soothing songs rather than tearjerkers such as 'There You'll Be' by Faith Hill. Sadly, the music was a lot jollier than the food...
Bootleggers offer an array of spiced meats, pastas and burgers. When I first glanced over the menu, it reminded me of two restaurants, one situated in Norwich and the other Great Yarmouth, called Fatsos because of its emphasis on spicy, Mexican-influenced meals. It is kind of puzzling that Bootleggers don't refer to the Mexican inspired cooking under its heading of steak house, grill and carvery and this may cause some confusion for people who arrive on a whim and who aren't as fond of fiery foods.
At Bootleggers, the starters vary in price from £3.75 for unspecified homemade soups to Acapulco prawns, grilled in fresh lime and garlic, for £5.95. The other appetisers on the menu include regular favourites a la Frankie and Benny's, such as calamari (curiously called Texas Toothpicks for the paprika flavouring, presumably) and garlic bread. Other dishes seem unique to Bootleggers, including lamb halo skewers with haloumi cheese and spices.
The main courses offer a fairly varied choice as long as you are both a meat eater and not afraid of spices in most cases. Prices here range from £5.95 for a plain or vegetarian burger and increase to £19.95 for an Al Copone, a 20oz rump steak infused with brandy, sautéed onions and wild mushrooms, served with a mustard sauce. The main course menu is divided into six sections: ciabatta burgers, pasta, signature steaks, junior steaks, house specialities and flaming fajitas. Most of the prices on all six sections of the menu seem pretty reasonable, particularly the 'jumbo' fish and chips for £7.95, but others seemed a little steep, including the prawn fajitas, served with onions, mixed peppers and dips, for £13.95.
For reasons I'll address later, we didn't stay at Bootleggers long enough to order desserts. However, according to the Sunday carvery menu, puddings such as apple crumble, banana split, cheesecakes, gateau's and bog standard ice cream flavours are available. The carvery menu is well priced at £6.98 per head with a choice of an unspecified vegetarian choice, beef, honey & mustard glazed gammon, pork or turkey. For an extra £1.50, you can add either a pud or a starter. Bootleggers also promote a T-Bone steak night for £10.95 (normally priced at £16.95) on a Tuesday as well as two meals from a selection of ten on a lunchtime for £8.00.
OUR DINING EXPERIENCE
Currently, Bootleggers offers a fairly mediocre range of alcoholic drinks; white wine was limited to chardonnay (the Devil's pee) and I couldn't see any cider on the menu either. I settled for a diet Pepsi, which tasted more like the sweeter, full-calorie version when it arrived and was borderline flat. My Dad chose half a pint of John Smiths, my Mum had half a larger and my Brother settled with a pineapple juice costing £1.50.
As we were visiting on a Sunday, my Dad and I decided to try the BBQ rib special which is for two to share costing £10.95. The two half rack of ribs come with wedges, onion rings and garlic bread and is available from 4pm. Ribs can be a funny thing to order in restaurants: sometimes, they are dry and elsewhere, they're severely lacking in meat. Although those trepidations did cross my mind, we decided to try the ribs anyway, the logic being that if this is a genuine steak house and grill then the quality of the meat is the key to its success.
After twenty or so minutes, my Mum and Brother received their main courses. After another minute, the waitress returned with a plate (presumably to place bones on) and a bowl of cool water with a slice of lemon on top for washing our fingers between picking at the ribs. Five minutes later, the ribs finally arrived and I felt like saying to the waitress 'is that it?'. Perhaps I was expecting too much for £11 but the portion size - for two people - was very meagre; there were two, admittedly, very large onion rings between us, four spoonfuls of wedges, a ridiculously small, semi-burnt, three slice portion of garlic bread and a limp iceberg lettuce salad with a couple of slices of tomato and cucumber and minuscule squares of onion and pepper.
Truthfully, it was possibly the worse meal out I've had in years (yes, even worse than the Wild Man!). I could barely eat the wedges or my onion ring because they had this awful, jalapeno-like flavour to them which wasn't specified on the menu. In fact, I'd go as far to say that the wedges were purchased from Iceland at a quid for a fifteen-stone bag. It also wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that my Dad and I must have shared about two ounces of meat between us; most of the ribs I had were very fatty and very sparse on the meat front. The BBQ sauce actually had a nice smoky flavour to it but that just didn't make up for the poor - well, non-existent - meat.
Although the wedges were piping hot, the rest of the meal was luke warm which is probably as a result of standing on a hot plate for many minutes longer than expected. Both my Brother and Mum's meals arrived visibly hot and both portions seemed plentiful, or at least more plentiful than the meal Dad and I shared.
My Mum opted for the Milano Mushroom pasta (£7.95), one of the five vegetarian dishes on the main course menu. Mum isn't a big fan of spicy foods and she did struggle to find something she would happily eat although, for keen carnivores, many of the steaks do not come with hot flavourings. The Milano pasta was meant to be served with a garlic and mushroom cream sauce which, in actuality, turned out to be very bland, very boring, and very lacking in garlic and mushrooms (Mum thinks she had a grand total of four pieces of mushroom in the entire bowl). The tagliatelle underneath the sauce was cooked well and had that roughness in texture that you expect from the pasta which was a good addition to the rather thick sauce . Like our rib meal, the garlic bread was apparently the best bit although Mum got the same amount as we did all to herself! Lucky so-and-so.
My Brother decided to have the Classic Sirloin Steak which was 8oz of meat served with peas, mushrooms and chips for £10.95. He requested that it was cooked medium although it was a little undercooked in the centre. The steak itself looked lovely and a good quality piece of meat but he says it was a bit tasteless, presenting the flavour of mint at some points. The eight to ten non-crispy chips were stacked on his plate as if Bootleggers were the makers of Jenga which might look pretty but is essentially pointless.
In fact, 'essentially pointless' seems to be the perfect slogan for Bootleggers. Deciding not to try a dessert, we headed off home, stopping at the local Chinese on the way. That is honestly the first - and hopefully last - time I shall ever be forced to get a takeaway after dining out anywhere!
SERVICE, TOILETS AND OTHER POINTS
I have to say that the service at Bootleggers was a little hit and miss; one waitress seemed to think it would be a good idea to come and take the drinks order when some of us were at the loo. Yet it was good to see that the staff were efficient when it came to dropping off the condiments before the meal arrived which is always a pet hate of mine when you have hot food and have to wait for vinegar or sauces. The cutlery on the table was heavy but noticeably new and clean.
One thing that did strike me as odd was the fact that the kitchen staff did not cut the ribs in half: as the meal is advertised as two half a racks of ribs for two people, it would have perhaps been best if the ribs had been divided before being served. Instead, my Dad fought to cut into them as the ribs were plonked in the middle of a very small plate with wedges and salad either side with onion rings and garlic bread on top. The waitress seemed a little miffed when it was pointed out to her that it would have been better if the ribs had been cut in half before serving and didn't offer to help or take it back to the kitchen to be dealt with.
One thing I did find amusing was the moment the waitress told the manageress (Mrs. Smiley who 'greeted us' on the way in) that we weren't enjoying our food. Neither she nor the waitresses confronted the situation, instead asking us at the end if we'd 'enjoyed the meal'. Urm, why ask if you already know the answer? Better still, if you'd suspected that we were unsatisfied as we were eating, why not come and ask if there was anything else we wanted instead of or in addition to? I may have left Bootleggers feeling a little more positive if someone had come and attempted to correct the issues we were having but that didn't happen.
The female toilets were fine; there was plenty of soap in the one dispenser and plenty of toilet roll but the hand dryer was positioned in a tiny space next to one of the cubicles. You wouldn't have to be very big to squeeze in the gap and I did find it off-putting to discover some printed signs above the basins discussing inappropriate behaviour that was not acceptable in the restaurant. Perhaps Bootleggers should add 'serving rubbish food' to that list...The men's toilets were apparently of a similar nature but with another printed out sign saying the urinals were not working. Some people would say that's taking the pis-
OVERALL: WHY WE WON'T BE RUNNING BACK TO BOOTLEGGERS
Although the bill, including drinks, came to a very reasonable £39, the quality of the food puts me off revisiting Bootleggers for the duration. I'm willing to accept the fact that the establishment hasn't been open for that long and that it could have just been a bad night for the chefs. However, if Bootleggers is to continue advertising itself as a grill, they need to reconsider the purchasing of their meat when it comes to the ribs: on the ordinary main menu, they are advertised as costing £13.95 for a rack. If they are the same as the ones my Dad and I ate, well, it's fair to say that you'd be wasting £14 by ordering them.
It perplexes me as to why Bootleggers advertise a night dedicated to such a poor quality meal. Sundays are notoriously quite slow in many restaurants (apart from Spalding's Hungry Horse, seemingly) and many eateries need to generate a level of interest to keep customers coming back. The rib night is a good idea in theory, just not practise. It's obvious that if the owners of Bootleggers want to create an honest, decent business for themselves than they need to reconsider the purchasing of some of their meat or else they will close within the next year.
We were not the only ones to be disappointed by the quality of the food and friendliness of the staff at Bootleggers; two reviews posted on qype.co.uk confirm that others in the Spalding area feel disappointed by a restaurant which offered so much promise on paper. Although there are a few pubs in the area which offer similar dishes like pasta and steaks, it would have been good for Spalding to offer something different to the slew of chain restaurants, very much like the Hungry Horse and Frankie and Benny's. Alas, Bootleggers seems to me to be a poorly advertised, poorly executed and badly run establishment that just doesn't make me want to visit again, not even to see if they can prove me wrong and make me like some of their food.
Address: 12 Sheep Market, Spalding, PE11 1BE
Phone number: 01775 714269
Parking?: Across the street; some is pay and display.
Website?: Currently, Bootleggers don't have their own site. Me thinks they will have closed down way before then anyway...
(Please note: review previously displayed on the other side under my same user name. Thanks!)