Food and Travel

Liverpudlians flock to Pudding Night

By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / November 4, 2009

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LIVERPOOL - Most days folks flock to the Monro restaurant on Duke Street for its cozy atmosphere, regional specialties, and cask ales, custom brews delivered just shy of maturation and served only when the resident cellarman determines that they’ve reached peak flavor. There’s nothing finer than settling into a dark wood booth in this historic building, tucking into toad in the hole (sausages baked in the popoverlike Yorkshire pudding), and sipping a Filly Drift by the fire.

But once a month this popular gastropub goes straight for the sweet tooth. Pudding Night, held on the last Wednesday of every month (except July and August), lets diners cap each meal with a profusion of decadent desserts. “It’s a way to do something innovative that doesn’t cost a lot of money,’’ says general manager Jenna Strickland.

Technically speaking, the Monro’s desserts are not all puddings as we know them. The term refers to British confections baked or steamed with eggs, flour, and fruit - and also all manner of sweets. But Monro owner William Lyons likes the term pudding not only because it’s traditional, but also, he says, because it evokes “cozy emotions, associations with warm, sweet tastes.’’

Lyons admits to having a sweet tooth himself. He was raised on homemade biscuits (what we call cookies) and as an adult was often disappointed when he went to high-end restaurants where dessert seemed like an afterthought. “I wanted to create a menu where dessert was the star,’’ he says.

Pudding Night can take many forms - puddings featuring a particular ingredient (such as chocolate), puddings from a specific place (such as France), or puddings from a specific time period (those from the 1950s include such time-honored classics as blancmanges and jellies).

During our September visit, we lucked out with a sugar-dusted platter of five mini-desserts, showcasing the range of pudding chef Mark Jones: chocolate bread and butter pudding, banana panna cotta, sticky toffee pudding drizzled with toffee sauce, cherry and chocolate cupcakes, and a brandy snap basket filled with berries and vanilla ice cream. Hearty eaters in our party went for an appetizer, entree, and pudding platter, all for about $36, while others settled for an entree and puddings for about $26.

Putting a contemporary spin on traditional British dishes is something of a specialty at the Monro. Several times a year, the restaurant rolls out a week of “posh pies,’’ updated versions of the humble Cornish pasty, a semicircular pastry case filled with meat and vegetables that tin miners carried to work. Lyons and his staff hold brainstorming sessions to come up with innovative fillings for the rich, buttery pastry. “We talk about what tastes are most popular, foods we remember from childhood, and ideas people on our staff bring back from holiday travel,’’ says Lyons. Recent concoctions include Thai pi pie, chicken in a fragrant Thai green curry, and Matterhorn pie, a vegetarian mixture of goat cheese, sweet potato, spinach, red onion, and roasted garlic.

The restaurant also asks patrons to suggest posh pie fillings on its website. While they’ve received a few good ideas, says the owner, there was no support on staff for a pizza filling.

Pudding nights and posh pies are a way to keep the menu fresh and fun and give regular patrons a reason to return, he says. A few years ago they were just a couple of crazy ideas. Now, he says, “we’re known for them.’’

The Monro, 92 Duke St., Liverpool, (from US) 011-44-015-707-9933,