Any restaurant which calls itself Ego Mediterranean will always tend to conjure up images of sun-kissed beaches on a Greek island or the rugged coastline of the Costa Brava, of glorious sunsets and picture postcard azure blue skies.
It’s hard to imagine any location which could rival such a setting in cold, grey England – but visitors to Ego in Lichfield might argue that the scenery is, at least for culture-lovers, quietly comparable, if starkly contrasting, to the blue skies of the Mediterranean.
Substitute the crashing waves of the Med for the calm and tranquillity of Minster Pool or the rocky cliffs of the French Riviera for the towering majesty of Lichfield Cathedral, a site of Christian worship for more than 1,300 years, and the only moated cathedral in England – and you might, with a bit of imagination, get the drift.
Sun-lovers enjoying their annual holiday may chortle merrily at such a comparison and quite understandably prefer to eat their calamari or paella al-fresco under a boiling sun – but for the other 50 or so weeks of the year the Lichfield eaterie can provide a genuine taste of the Mediterranean, even in the bleakest days of January or February.
The Lichfield restaurant’s location is stunning, cheek by jowl with the ducks swimming around the picturesque Minster Pool in the shadow of one of the UK’s most dramatic cathedral settings. It may not quite be the Bay of Naples but on the plus side you don’t have to queue up for seven hours at an overcrowded airport to sample the delights of this Staffordshire diner.
And what a varied array of Mediterranean style dishes are available in this serene corner of Middle England, whether the sun is shining or the rain is pouring down in bucketloads under the West Midlands night sky.
A Tuesday night in mid-September may not necessarily be the highlight of the calendar for many restaurants, with the impact of lockdown still fresh in the memory – but Ego was bustling with customers eager to enjoy the Mediterranean fare on offer on the night of our visit.
For extra-hungry diners there’s an appetiser called an Ego Sharing Board, including skewered King prawns, calamari fritti, fried halloumi, Lamb Kofte, falafel, breaded manchego and chorizo with honey.
Starters vary from the exotic to the more familiar, from Lamb Kofte (Harissa spiced lamb, carrot, raisin and orange salad with tzatziki) to Grilled Goat’s Cheese and Breaded Camembert. I opted for Chicken Liver and Rosemary Pate, complete with clarified butter and pink peppercorns, toasted bread and chilli tomato marmalade. It was as mouth-watering as it sounds, and would have been so whether eaten in St Tropez or next door to Lichfield Cathedral.
Julia opted for the salmon and dill fishcake with soft poached egg, lemon and chive hollandaise and mixed leaves. She declared it light and fresh-tasting, leaving plenty of room for her main course, pan roasted chicken supreme.
The chicken dish was accompanied by pommes puree, buttered green beans and wholegrain mustard cream. The verdict was that the dish had provided a mouth-watering combination of tender chicken and well cooked vegetables.
Meanwhile, I went for a personal favourite, Belly Pork. The Ego version came, as you would expect, with a dash of two of suitable Mediterranean flair, listed on the menu as Iberian Belly Pork, slow roasted and honey glazed with spinach, chorizo and black pudding, thyme red wine jus and pommes puree. It would be hard to believe the dish could have been any tastier had I been wolfing it down in the fashionable eateries of Barcelona or Madrid.
There’s a wide variety of other main courses to tuck into at Ego, from Roasted Lamb Rump to Pan-Fried Sea Bass, Stonebaked Pizza, Steak Frites, Chargrilled Kebabs, Pasta and Paella or Moroccan Chicken, Lamb or Falafel. Enough choice for any palate, you might reflect.
It’s always nice to indulge a sweet tooth Mediterranean-style, and desserts at Ego include classic creme brulee, warm frangipane and raspberry tart, tiramisu and warm triple chocolate brownie. I chose the creme brulee, which lived up more than adequately to its description on the menu while Julia rounded off proceedings with a couple of dollops of ice cream.
The meal was washed down satisfactorily with a couple of pints of lager for me and a glass of white wine for Julia. Shut your eyes and rely on your taste buds and you might have imagined yourself dining in a taverna in Corfu or a bistro on the French Riviera…..
Kayleigh Blades, the manager at the Lichfield site, described the Ego business model as a family-style enterprise, with 14 restaurants dotted around the UK, including other Midland outlets at Cannock, Bromsgrove and Worcester.
“We started off with six and now we are up to 14. I have been here for seven years and previously ran a pub in Lichfield. I was a happy, chirpy landlady and had to adapt to the world of fine dining.
“It’s what we call relaxed fine dining, everybody is welcome here from newborn babies to 99-year-olds. It’s not a niche restaurant at all. We feel that our location is number one, with beautiful views of Lichfield Cathedral. Lichfield gets it right as far as the tourist trade is concerned, with its cobbled streets and its history.”
With a 35 to 40-strong team of full and part-time staff, and up to 90 to 100 covers, Ego seems more than adequately prepared to meet the demand for Mediterranean dishes, whether at the height of summer or in the depths of winter.
As Kayleigh says: “The team do not last long if they do not love the job – they really want to be here.” And why wouldn’t they, with a working environment overlooking the ducks gliding across Minster Pool and Lichfield Cathedral as an inspiring backdrop?
Ego is open seven days a week, from 11am to 11pm. Pre-booked afternoon teas are also available from Monday to Saturday, 2pm to 4pm. For more information see firstname.lastname@example.org